Monday, September 29, 2008

The Yard Dogs Road Show

Well this is fun. Apparently I'm involved enough in the burlesque/drag/performance scene now that I get to give away tickets to an awesome upcoming show at the Majestic Theatre! I'll be going to see the Yard Dogs Road Show this Thursday night, and as a special treat to Lost Albatross readers, I've got two tickets to give away to one lucky soul.

This is how it will go down:

First - Check out the Yard Dogs Road Show's website, watch some videos, and be amazed!
The Yard Dogs Road Show is a hobo cabaret, a living patchwork of vaudeville and rock and roll. In the enchanting land of stage show entertainment theirs is both pleasant and formidable terrain. They require a sensitivity to the subtle and the absurd. They lead the modern hobohemian on a visual and sonic journey through part of history that may or may not have existed – followed by an ambitious return to the emotional challenges of our punch-drunk contemporary world. It’s a true story on stage: sword swallowers, dancing dolls, fire eaters and sunset hobo poetry - all animated by the live sounds of the Yard Dogs cartoon heavy band. Yard Dogs Road Show is pure visual and sonic voodoo.

Born from the saloon vaudeville that toured the Wild West in the late 1800's and slammed into the underworld of modern American road culture. The Yard Dogs create a timeless space for the union of ancient theatrical alchemy and modern pop culture.
Seriously, this show looks like it will be a ton of fun, so be sure that, even if you aren't the winner of my super fabulous ticket giveaway, you buy some of your own and go check it out.

Second - Want to try your hand at winning the two tickets? Wonderful, I'd love to see you at the show! To win, just be the first to leave a comment answering this question: what was the name of the big drag/burlesque show that I put on this summer at the Majestic? Totally easy. I mean, you can look it up on this very blog. Be sure to leave either some way I can contact you via email to get your full name (or just your full name) in your comment so I can put you on the guest list +1.

Serious replies only, please! Don't win the tickets if you don't want to or can't go to the show, eh? Otherwise, have at it!

More show info:
w/ opening act, the Scarring Party
Thursday, October 2 @ 8:00PM
The Majestic Theatre, 115 King St., Madison, WI

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Brunch: God and Breakfast

In yet another bout of shameless self-promotion, today's brunch comes courtesy of Rob and my latest Wis-Kino short.

I should mention that I normally never ever eat Cap'n Crunch, and that doing so throughout the course of filming caused my stomach to feel like someone had poured a bowl of acid-covered angry kittens into it, and my mouth to become scraped and sore. Gross.

But I did get to pretend to be God, so hey, that was kind of neat (see: delightfully blasphemous!).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lost Albatross word cloud

Courtesy of Wordle. Clearly, I talk about Van Hollen and McCain way too much.

h/t Daily Mitzvah.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Do you need WYOU?

Mayor Dave would like to cut funding for Madison's public access television station, WYOU. As part of his proposed 2009 operating budget, the mayor would shift the money currently given to the station ($140,000) over to the Madison City Channel, which "broadcasts government meetings and civic events." This would apparently "spare the city from having to supplement City Channel's budget with property tax dollars" but, "The $140,000 makes up 80% of WYOU's budget, says Guy Swansbro, the station's interim director. Without it, 'It would all be over. It would certainly wipe us out.'"

Threats of having their budget axed come up quite often, so it's not entirely clear if this proposal will actually go through or not. But it brings up an interesting question: what value does a station like WYOU have? Is it worth continued public funding to maintain public stations? Especially in this era of cheaper and easier access to the internet, where anyone can upload videos and podcasts and the like, do communities still need public access television?

My initial response is yes, of course. The airwaves are publicly owned, and having at least one public access station is a vital part of maintaining locally oriented, non-commercial programming on the air. But the question of relevancy in the internet age got me to thinking a bit more about this. Couldn't WYOU just move online, offer its programming there? It might be cheaper, and have a wider reach.

But then, not everyone has internet access (or high-speed access). Heck, a lot of us are still trying to work out the switch from analogue to digital television receivers. Wouldn't it be a little presumptuous to assume that everyone could just log on for WYOU's local content? And beyond that, shouldn't we be fighting to maintain every scrap of public space that we can get?

WYOU has already been through the elimination of PEG funding from the Video Competition Act, and several channel moves courtesy of Charter. It's likely that, should this budget proposal pass, they'll be pretty much done for. They've started a petition drive to stop this from happening, and you can find it on their website if you're interested.

Little by little (and sometimes in big chunks), we seem to be losing the battle for non-commercial, public access media. Even when the economy isn't in the shitter, securing funding for public media is an uphill battle. For various reasons, it just doesn't seem to be a priority--or even a concern at all--for a lot of the folks who make those decisions. And cable companies often seem to be downright put out by their responsibility to make available those airwaves that have been entrusted to them.

I would argue that in spite of the hit-or-miss quality of programming, despite the internet, despite its overall viewership, public access does still matter. Perhaps WYOU and the budget would both be better served by having the station combine resources with the Madison City Channel, as Mayor Dave goes on to suggest, but that would need to be balanced by a much smaller cut to their budget than first proposed.

It might have also helped if legislators had taken out the part of the Video Competition Act that let cable companies off the hook from having to pay out fees to communities for use in supporting their public access channels. It's a little something called foresight. But then, this may also come down to people simply not giving a damn.

Which is a shame, because regardless of whether or not you make a regular habit of watching public access channels, I would argue that they're a vital part of any community. They're part of an essential, democratic net of public space, wherein everyday members of the community can air their opinions, their creative endeavors, their roasting meat, and more. Without them, those publicly owned airwaves become nothing more than corporate machines, with little hope of truly local content.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Good heavens is it difficult to keep up with what the hell is going on up on Capitol Hill today.

There is a bailout deal. There is no bailout deal. There is an "outline" of a plan. McCain has suspended his campaign until a deal is reached. But no, he's going to be giving interviews on all the major networks tonight, and several of his campaign surrogates have been appearing on TV all day to attack Obama (how is that a suspended campaign, again?).

And in the midst of all this bailout hullabaloo, McCain has been trying to make himself look like the very serious politician. Only, he can't seem to hold his poker face very well. This short paragraph from an article in the New York Times is particularly illustrative:
Mr. McCain grinned and mordantly chuckled when reporters began shouting questions, none of them answered. Mr. Obama, who sat with his fingers laced, maintained a somber expression.
Bonus points to the author for use of the word "mordantly." I think it sums up McCain's attitude about most things quite well.

Will McCain show up to the debate on Friday? Honestly, at this point I think either way he looks like an ass. But he looked like an ass before, so I suppose that's not news.

Will Congress approve a massive bailout plan? And what will the final product look like? Honestly, I don't think anyone has any clue at this point, but we should all be watching very, very closely.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I'm still hearing from people who continue to receive faulty absentee ballots from the McCain campaign, and now, in addition to just checking to see whether the information on them is correct and reporting problems to the city clerk, there's another course of action we can take.

One Wisconsin Now has created a petition "to the newly-created Election Task Force and the Government Accountability Board...calling for an immediate investigation of the mailing." There's also a tool to report bad ballots for those who've already gotten them. Both can be found here. Go! Report! Sign!

Oh but the voting shenanigans don't stop there. J.B. Van Hollen still insists that his last-minute lawsuit against the GAB is totally nonpartisan, but for some reason, keeps changing the story about whether or not he or anyone in his department spoke with Republican party members prior to filing.

Here's a handy timeline of events and statements, courtesy of the (admittedly partisan) Democratic Party of Wisconsin:

September 10, 2008

Van Hollen filed suit against the Government Accountability Board, stating “The goal of this requirement is to protect the integrity of elections by ensuring that only those who are qualified and properly registered would be permitted to cast ballots.” (Source: AG Van Hollen release, 9.10.08)

September 17, 2008

During an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Van Hollen said, “I can’t imagine what’s partisan about asking for fair elections … this should be about as nonpartisan an issue as there is. … Once again, I don’t know who is making this a partisan issue. Our decision to sue is non-partisan as well. (Source, WPR, Joy Cardin, 9.18.08)

During an interview with the Appleton-Post Crescent, Kevin St. John said the only motive fueling the complaint less than two months before the election is compliance with rules. (Source, APC 9.18.08)

September 18, 2008

Following a court hearing, St. John wouldn't confirm or deny whether Van Hollen consulted with the Republican Party or McCain's camp before launching the lawsuit. When pressed by reporters he responded by saying Van Hollen doesn't use any consultation with any party as a basis to decide whether to sue. (Source: AP, 9.18.08)

"This is not a coordinated lawsuit. I can say that absolutely," St. John added. (Source: WSJ, 9.18.08)

Later in the day Van Hollen said "There was no discussion with anybody involved in leadership with the Republican Party (or the McCain campaign) about this lawsuit before it was brought."

Van Hollen said he did not believe any of his aides discussed the matter with the party or campaign either. "I can't say for certain what they have or haven't done with every minute of their day any more than they could speak about mine, but I have no reason to believe - none of them have reported to me - that anybody involved in the Republican Party or the McCain campaign about this lawsuit," Van Hollen said. (Source: MJS 9.18.08)

Van Hollen's attorneys defended his lawsuit as legal and appropriate, with no conflict of interest or consultation with any Republican Party official. (Source: WISC-TV, 9.18.08)

Later in the day, a GOP attorney said he complained to the state Department of Justice about two weeks before Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen sued the state's elections authority, but Van Hollen said he was unaware of that contact. He also said he had “no reason to believe” any of his aides discussed the case with the GOP or the McCain campaign.

Finally, St. John admitted, “at least one person” at the department had contact with someone from the party on the matter. (Source: MJS 9.18.08)

September 19, 2008

Contradicting earlier statements made by DOJ staff, news reports revealed that the lead Department of Justice attorney for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s lawsuit against the state’s election authority met with Republican Party representatives about a week before filing the suit.

Justice attorney Steven Means said he met with Republican attorneys Chris Mohrman and Jim Troupis at their request to discuss the Government Accountability Board’s policy on checking voter information. Other Republicans participated in the meeting via conference call, but Means said he could not recall who they were. (MJS, 9.19.08)

“The elections board is violating the law, so of course we went to the attorney general,” Mohrman said. “There may have been multiple contacts, different people to different people.” (MJS, 9.19.08)

September 21, 2008

In an interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette, Van Hollen said, “Anything I do anything related to a campaign, that's on our own time and it's on our own dime.”

“Once again, we're just flat out enforcing the law,” Van Hollen added. “Whether that hurts McCain or helps McCain, I frankly don't know. The reality is the law says that we do this to make elections fairer, and no matter whom I support, I'm enforcing the law, so I don't see what the McCain campaign has to do with it at all, frankly. (Source: GBPG, 9.21.08)

September 23, 2008

RPW Chair, Reince Preibus, admitted to the Wisconsin State Journal that he discussed his frustration with the Government Accountability Board’s decision to not commence the voter checks demanded by the RPW several times at the Republican National Convention, including at a delegation breakfast attended by Van Hollen and in a small group setting also attended by Van Hollen.

Preibus also admitted that he had multiple contacts with Van Hollen’s top aide, Deputy Attorney General Ray Taffora, regarding his belief that the Government Accountability Board should expand voter registration checks before Van Hollen filed the Lawsuit. (Source: WSJ, 9.23.08)

So, not exactly a smoking gun, but certainly more than enough to raise some serious alarms. Who talked to who and when? Is that at all common in a case like this (and if so, should it be)? As more and more interested parties pile onto the lawsuit and new details about the case emerge practically every day, I can't help but wonder: who's policing our top cop?

h/t Whalla!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The circle won't be broken

If you've been paying any kind of attention to anything lately, you know that the US economy has been rather down in the dumps (understatement of the year!). I've been dutifully listening to and reading the news, waiting for Kai Ryssdal's velvety voice to tell me what's up every afternoon, and trying to sort through what all of it really means. Fun stuff, oh yes.

I was a liberal arts major, so not exactly an expert on the financial markets, but I'm also a huge history nut and can't help but get this eerie feeling of familiarity from our current crisis.

I'm sure economic bubbles and their inevitable bursts go back even further, but I know that, at least during my lifetime, those bubbles seem to be all we've had. In the Reagan-tastic 80's, we had the savings and loan thing. That carried over into the 90's, but that decade also saw the growth and popping of the dot-com bubble. Now, we've got ourselves a debacle of monumental proportions to do with everything from investment banks, mortgage brokers, loaning institutions, and just about anything else you can think of.

It's a cycle of greed and deregulation, far as I can tell, and one that could (somewhat easily) be avoided if we ever bothered to learn from past mistakes. Thing is, you put a big pile of money in front of people and all common sense seems to fly right out the window. Republicans--or, more specifically, unbridled free market loving Republicans--surely bear the most blame for our current situation, having aggressively lobbied for a won increasing deregulation of the markets and financial institutions over the last couple of decades. Democrats, however, are not free from that blame heaping. Hoping to score political points and maintain some shred of legitimacy in a government primarily dominated by the opposing party for so many years, Democrats have given in on crucial issues time and time again.

And now I'm left watching and waiting to see what they do with this patently ridiculous plan put forth by Henry Paulson wherein he gets free reign over $700 billion in taxpayer money to bail out massive failing companies that, quite frankly, should have known better. This is all very strange, of course, because the very same people who are crying about the need to save these firms from bankruptcy and such are those folks who, until very recently, were the most vehement critics of government intervention in private business.

And hey, maybe my memory of my high school economics class is a little fuzzy, but isn't our capitalistic system supposed to be built on merit? That is, your business succeeds or fails based on how well you do/how good your product is--and should it fail, that's that. Survival of the fittest. How does propping up a company with a crappy business plan do anyone any good in the long run? Doesn't it just encourage further waste and create a drain on the economy? That's what I was always led to believe, but the world has gone topsy on me over these last few weeks.

What will be especially interesting (see: maddeningly infuriating) to watch is how those people primarily or at least partly responsible for this crisis (deregulators and strident free-marketers in both private business and public office) spin the situation to make them look like the good guys. If Democrats allow Paulson's obscene plan to pass, for instance, it's not at all unlikely that Republicans will then skewer and run against them for doing so--even though they're just as culpable for the mess.

And regardless of who ends up in the White House come January '09, they'll have been left with a shitpile of epic proportions--trillions of dollars of debt, an economy in shambles, an unpopular war, etc. etc. I'd much, much rather it be Obama who gets the job, but I sure don't envy what he'll have to deal with.

Kos at the DailyKos had this astute observation to make about the potential scenario:
So as Obama looks to invest in health care, alternative energy, education, and other Democratic priorities, watch Republicans suddenly become born-again fiscal hawks, oh so concerned about the nation's finances and the unfortuante lack of funds to pursue such initiatives. All of a sudden, they'll become the nation's staunches [sic] defenders of your money, even though they watched Bush piss away trillions over the past eight years with nary a word of dissent.
Funny how that works. I'll be happy to eat my words if that doesn't end up being the case, but I won't hold my breath.

Thing is, much of this could have been avoided--and that's not just hindsight speaking. Greater minds than my own have long spoken out against unbridled deregulation of the markets. We've had good laws governing how businesses can operate, but most of them have been cut down in recent years by the Reaganomics Ghouls in government who are far more interested in lining their own pocketbooks than they are in creating a better country for all of their fellow citizens.

And now that their policies are crashing and burning in one great conflagration of capitalism run amok, they expect the American People to fork over upwards of one trillion dollars to bail their asses out.

I say, dump the bosses off your backs! Hold your elected officials accountable, for Pete's sake--Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever. Simply injecting provisions for the limiting of CEO pay will not make this proposal better or less insane. We must demand that any bail-out include re-regulation of businesses and the markets, checks and balances on those who we leave in charge of the implementation, and some sort of plan to make back the money we dole out.

In short, we have to do whatever we can to make sure this doesn't happen again.

This crisis has been looming for months (if not years), so don't let their calls of "Act now before DOOOOM!" fool you. Congress should take the appropriate amount of time to really examine this deal and make sure all angles are covered. This is far, far too important to just push through without debate or critique or revision. I'd argue that, in fact, it would be criminally negligent to do so.

This is the future of our country, our lives, that we're gambling with here. And frankly, I've never liked gambling. We need to get back to being a nation of sensible producers and innovators, reigning in the speculative, nebulous Wall Street shenanigans in favor of more solid, tangible endeavors.

This bubble's popped, and while we're still cleaning the shit out of our hair, I'd rather we didn't just shove another stick of gum into our mouths.

UPDATE TO ADD: I just read an article at Roll Call detailing the Bush/Paulson push for this bail-out plan to be passed as quickly as possible, and one paragraph especially stood out:
Fratto insisted that the plan was not slapped together and had been drawn up as a contingency over previous months and weeks by administration officials. He acknowledged lawmakers were getting only days to peruse it, but he said this should be enough.
So despite the months of "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" coming from the White House, Paulson and the like, they were aware enough of the situation to come up with this massive spending plan "just in case". That seems...I dunno, fishy? But then, this is the same tactic the Bush Administration has been using since day one: hatch crazy plan, implement plan, plan goes to shit but refuse to admit it, wait until last possible second and then call for a new crazy plan to solve the old plan's problems (and insist it must be passed right now or there will be dire fucking consequences), lather, rinse, repeat. The folks at Firedoglake have an interesting take on this, too.

Link of the day, sign of the times

The economy is tanking, the government has been buying up banks and such left and right, and now Henry Paulson wants the taxpayers to foot a $700 billion bill to buy what has been charmingly dubbed "Big Shitpile" by bloggers in-the-know.

Well, now you can let Paulson and the others in on your own Big Shitpile of bad assets!

...submit bad assets you'd like the government to take off your hands. And remember, when estimating the value of your 1997 limited edition Hanson single CD "MMMbop", it's not what you can sell these items for that matters, it's what you think they are worth. The fact that you think they are worth more than anyone will buy them for is what makes them bad assets.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Uniting American Families

Some good news on the Uniting American Families Act front:
The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill that grants equal immigration rights to Americans in same-sex binational relationships, garnered an unprecedented level of support in Congress this month when four more Senators and sixteen more Representatives joined in cosponsoring the legislation.

Senators Chuck Schumer of New York, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Maria Cantwell of Washington raised their level of support for UAFA and brought the total number of cosponsors to a record breaking eighteen Senators. The bill currently has 116 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.

My previous post on the subject. Keep pressing your representatives to get on board with this!

Liquid Overture

News came on Friday that Madison's ivory tower of the arts, the Overture Center, was being forced to liquidate its trust fund in the name of paying off some substantial debt. Given the current state of the markets, and the 2005 refinancing deal that basically relied on them never ever going bad, I can't say that this comes as much of a surprise--to me, or to anyone else, I suspect.

It's a shame, because while I have disagreed with much of the center's business plan since its inception, I've never wished to see it fail. Which isn't to say that it will, but this new development doesn't exactly paint a pretty picture.

The lowdown:
"The liquidation of the trust fund will have no noticeable effect on the Overture Center whatsoever in the short term," said Ald. Mike Verveer, who is a member of the Madison Cultural Arts District board that runs the Overture Center. "It's not as if there will be any theaters going dark, performances being canceled, wedding receptions and other parties needing to scramble to find new spaces."
That's good to hear, but we're talking short term. The longer-term looks a little sketchier:
The liquidated fund will pay off approximately $87 million of the Overture Center's $115 million of debt, leaving W. Jerome Frautschi, the major donor for the Overture Center, the city, and the Center itself in charge of the remaining $28 million. Due to built-in firewalls that were in the city's controversial refinancing in 2005, Frautschi will pay the $2.5 million annual debt service for the next two years and the Center will use its reserve fund for the third year, but Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the worst-case scenario for the city would be having to cover the third-year costs if the reserve fund runs dry before 2011. After 2011, the refinancing deal expires and all the parties will have to look at the remaining debt again, Cieslewicz said.
Thankfully, the city and the center have until 2011 to get their ducks in a row, and I'm hopeful that, as Mayor Dave himself says, this whole liquidation thing will spur people into serious action to make sure it doesn't come to a big taxpayer bailout (hmm, that sounds familiar). But we'll see.

My favorite part of the article, though, comes courtesy of Ald. Brenda Konkel, who makes this astute observation regarding the function of the center:
"I'm not even sure a lot of our community even particularly wanted [the Center], to tell you the truth," she said. "I think our community appreciates the arts, but we're more into local arts, and I don't think this venue that really promotes that very much."
And that's the rub. There was a lot of grumbling and protest over how the center was to be designed and used by much of the Madison community, most of which went relatively unheeded. The place payed a lot of lip service to local artists when it had its grand opening--I was even part of some of the theatre companies that were given time and space in which to perform there during the festivities*--but since then, the majority of what goes through the center seems to be national touring acts. Most of the people who attend functions there, too, seem to be coming from out of town. There's nothing inherently bad about either of those things, but Madisonians, it would appear, are more interested in local arts in more welcoming, local venues. I suspect the sterile white walls of the Overture Center are less-than appealing to many folks.

Perhaps if the center was more accommodating of local bands, artists, and functions, that would held to bring in more attendees and more cash. Perhaps not. It would, at least, make it more of a community space and not just an incongruous behemoth in the midst of otherwise homey State Street.

None of that will matter, of course, if the people who run the place can't get their financials in order. I wish them the best, honestly, because it would be nice to have the chance to transform the place into something the whole community can enjoy, and not have it become a stone around the city's neck.

*whole other story I could bitch about, but suffice to say that it wasn't the greatest experience ever.

(photo by Phil Ejercito, All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jam-packed weekend

So much to do, so little weekend in which to do it!

I don't know about you, but I'm super psyched about the first-ever Forward Music Fest, starting tonight and running through late tomorrow evening/early Sunday morning. I'm somewhat biased because I'm friends with the organizers, but I have to say, in all honesty, this thing is going to rock so hard.

And how impressive is it that a group of volunteers, without major corporate sponsors, have managed to put together a massively huge line-up of both big name headliners (like Neko Case, Bob Mould, Killdozer) and a slew of more regional and local acts that's garnering buzz and attention all over the place? I think it's pretty cool.

I'll be "covering" some of the concerts for dane101/FMF as an official press-type photographer person, so be sure to say hi if you happen to catch me at it (no wedgies, please). I'll be at the Majestic Theatre tonight for the Screamin' Cyn Cyn & the Pons / Leslie & the Lys / Dan Deacon show, and then tomorrow I'm going to hit up the Momo for the A Catapult Western show, followed by a trip to the Frequency for the hip-hop showcase featuring my favorite Madison ex-pat, el guante (and Rob Dz, and dumate).

In the midst of all this--as if all that wasn't enough to keep me busy--I'll also be hitting up the Willy St. Fair, which runs Saturday and Sunday and features a whole bunch of other really great acts, including some in conjunction with the Madison World Music Festival, which is also in progress at the moment.


How one weekend can contain so much awesome, I do not know, but there it is. The weather looks to be lovely, too, so be sure to get out and enjoy some of what our fair city has on offer! I'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Support Equal Benefits Ordinance tonight!

I've been hearing a bit about this, and I firmly and proudly stand behind the Dane County Board's decision to push for this ordinance. You can lend your support, too, by showing up at tonight's board meeting.

Here's the note I got about it:
Please show your support for the Equal Benefits Ordinance and the Dane County Domestic Partnership Registry by signing in at the Dane County Board meeting before 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening, September 18, 2008, in Room 201 of the City-County Building.

The Equal Benefits Ordinance will require County contractors to provide the same benefits to employees with domestic partners as they do those with wives or husbands. It will also create a domestic partnership registry for Dane County.

If the amendment passes, it will be the first such law in Wisconsin! Please help make history by lending your support. The trade unions and right-wingers have been lobbying the Board to amend or stop O.A. 13. You can make the difference to help pass this law.

Support O.A. 13 by signing a blue slip that will be read by the Board Chairman before the debate. Thank you for your help!

Kyle R. Richmond
Dane County Board, District 27
Until such time as we realize that we're currently denying LGBT citizens of this state the equal protections and rights under the law that they're supposed to have--because of our discriminatory ban on gay marriages--ordinances like this one are necessary.

Caffeinated Politics has a good take on the issue, and Kyle Richmond also wrote an editorial about it that appeared in yesterday's Capital Times.

UPDATE 9/19: Hooray! The ordinance passed. Thanks to everyone who voted for and supported this move. Every small victory counts!

A car-less you

Gas prices got you down? Thinking about the negative impact on your environment and your health that so much driving might have? Just want to try something new? Then I recommend checking out the upcoming "Car-less U" event - a week of "fun, free eco-transportation events" put on by the Madison Environmental Group's EnAct program.

This is a good chance to get basic information about things like bike trails and routes, bike safety, how to navigate the sometimes wonky Madison Metro bus system, community car programs, and other tips and tricks for lessening your reliance on automobiles.

The full schedule of events is available here.

I love programs like this, because they help to make things like bike commuting and public transportation more approachable for everyone.

And I should mention that dane101 publishes a regular feature about biking called Bike-It-Yourself that offers some pretty good, down-to-earth advice on the subject, too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Disenfranchising voters with J.B. Van Hollen

Van Hollen sure has started himself a good old-fashioned shit storm, hasn't he? Not that the issue of alleged voter fraud and disenfranchisement hasn't been around since time immemorium, but recently it's blown up here in Wisconsin thanks to several strange incidents involving misleading absentee ballot mailers sent by the McCain campaign and our AG's last-minute lawsuit.

Now the Democratic Party of Wisconsin wants in on the action, filing to be added as a party to Van Hollen's voter registration suit. Their goal, according to State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke, is either to pressure Van Hollen into recusing himself from the suit or, failing that, to represent the estimated 1 million Wisconsin voters who might be wrongly purged from the voter rolls if it goes through.

All this, and Common Cause just put out a report that casts Wisconsin's voting process in glowing terms--best in the nation, even. Van Hollen and the McCain campaign seem hell-bent on making that report as irrelevent as possible, as quickly as possible.

I came to Wisconsin as a student, and the same-day, motor-voter registration was a huge boon to me and my fellow classmates. Most of us moved to a new apartment or dorm every year, making it difficult to keep our DOT records up-to-date at all times. And since many of us were coming from out-of-state, it was especially nice to be able to cast our votes from here, and not through the often difficult and unpredictable process of absentee voting.

I had this fact hammered home just recently when, at the behest of Lee Rayburn, I headed over to to look up my own voter registration status and discovered that there was no record of me having voted in the 2004 presidential elections. That's curious, because I did vote that year, and by absentee ballot, having been told that I could cast my vote early by doing so and thus avoid long lines at the polls. Turns out, it was likely never counted.

I've heard in the past that absentee and provisional ballots are sometimes not counted until well after election day, and then only if the results are very close. This strikes me as incredibly stupid--all legitimate votes cast should be counted! But not only that, the election for which my vote was apparently not counted was damn close in Wisconsin, where Kerry won by a razor-thin margin. So what gives? And how can you expect me to trust that absentee ballots, especially those with incorrect city clerk information on them a la the McCain campaign, will be counted at all?

That's why Wisconsin's current voter registration methods are so important--and why, as Common Cause's report points out--they work so well. Less hassle at the polls means shorter lines, and fewer people turning away in frustration or for lack of time. And, despite mostly Republican claims to the contrary, there has been very little evidence of wide-spread voter fraud. Where it does crop up, it's in very small numbers and gets dealt with quickly and appropriately. Certainly, we should be sure that there are no dead people registered, no felons, and no duplicate applications. This is a worthwhile effort. But we need to balance that rather carefully with the need to make sure that everyone who is eligible and wants to vote can do so without impediment.

For another good, insightful and well-researched take on why Van Hollen's move is dangerous and ridiculous, please read Bruce Murphy's piece over at Milwaukee Magazine. Here's a choice excerpt:
It was the Republican Party, not Van Hollen, that originally demanded the Government Accountability Board take action to bar all these voters. The GAB is nonpartisan and run by six retired judges. The six judges were selected from a list by Gov. Jim Doyle, with three appointments getting approved by the Republican-led state Assembly and three getting approved by the Democratic-led state Senate. Its members, and its legal counsel George Dunst, did not believe the federal law required the action demanded by the Republican Party.

The GAB went further than consult the law, however. It solicited testimony from the experts on local polling places, the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association and the Wisconsin County Clerks Association. Representatives of both groups predicted the Republican Party’s proposal could not be accomplished in the 10 weeks remaining until the election and would “create havoc” at the polls (and we're now down to seven weeks). Bushey says she checked with her membership in the state’s 72 counties and the members were “overwhelmingly” opposed to the GOP idea. Nancy Zastrow, head of the Municipal Clerks Association, said the feeling was the same among her 1,300 fellow clerks.

Only after the Republican Party’s demand was shot down did Van Hollen go into action.
Frankly, I don't see how you wouldn't view this as a boldly partisan move on Van Hollen's part. So while there is room for improvement in how we register and verify voters in this state (not to mention nationwide, where people mostly seem to have a tougher time of it than those of us in Wisconsin), this particular effort only seems aimed at making the situation worse. And with so much riding on this next election, we simply cannot afford to let bad partisan politics take control of our voting system.

Fleischman plea deal dissolves, goes to jury trial

In "eating my words" news, yesterday's hearing in the Donald Fleischman case did get some press (despite what I claimed this morning on Lee Rayburn's show--it was early!). Here's the quick update, thanks to the Green Bay Press Gazette:
A dissolved plea deal Tuesday means a child-enticement case against the former head of the Brown County Republican Party will go to a jury.

Donald Fleischman, 38, was scheduled to enter a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of harboring a juvenile fugitive, but Brown County Deputy District Attorney John Luetscher said the deal had fallen apart.

"We won't be able to settle the case," Luetscher told Brown County Circuit Court Judge Donald Zuidmulder. "I don't think either side is going to give in."

Luetscher said the prosecution and defense could not agree on the specific charges to which Fleischman would plead guilty or no contest.

No further word on goofticket's retraction posts (he has since deleted his account on Daily Kos, but as far as I can see that's the only change).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The good news for Sept. 16, 2008

There's ever-so much doom and gloom in the world and media, and as unpleasant as it is it's important to pay close attention, but even still, for a slight change of pace I'm going to attempt to highlight some positive news today. Wish me luck.

  • [Wisconsin State Journal] Anonymous donors gave $20 million to the UW-Madison School of Music for the construction of some nice, new performance spaces downtown. It's a nice change of pace to hear that people gave money to something other than a law or business school for once.
  • [Yahoo News] Firefighter saves kitty through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation! D'awww.
  • [The Capital Times] Barack Obama, in addition to pledging to help the Great Lakes, has actually released a detailed plan for how he would go about doing it.
  • [grist] A U.S. District Judge tossed out a federal plan that would have allowed more snowmobiles into Yellowstone National Park.
  • [TreeHugger] GM finally ponies up photos and specs on their new Volt model of electric-hybrid vehicle. It looks pretty tasty, and the engine design sounds damn cool. Hey GM? More of this if you want your business to do better, and please, keep the manufacturing in the U.S.
  • [The New Yorker] This is one of the more insane--and hilarious--essays about Sarah Palin that I have yet to read.

The world giveth and taketh away

Here's a little news one-two punch for you to chew on this morning. First off, it looks like everyone's favorite crazy bishop, Robert C. Morlino, will be in good company when he receives the St. Edmund's Medal of Honor for Service to the Church and Community in Mystic, Connecticut on Oct. 3. Joining him will be cantankerous Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, another pillar of the nation and raving jerk.

Apparently, the guy giving out the award thinks the "recipients are very likeable people who don't try to force their views on people but hold up their lives for people to see." Uhh, yeah, sure. Has this guy been paying any attention?

On the other end of the spectrum--and I suppose you could file this under schadenfreude--comes this tale of a Colorado delegate to the RNC who was robbed blind by some lady he took back to his hotel room the night after Sarah Palin's big speech. And, though I never condone burglary, it really couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Yikes. (h/t Wonkette) This is my favorite bit:
Asked by the interviewer how America would pay for a military confrontation with Iran, he said the U.S. should take the country's resources.

"We should plant a flag. Take the oil, take the money," he said. "We deserve reimbursement."

A few hours after the interview, an unknown woman helped herself to Schwartz's resources.
It's not common, but sometimes the news brings a small smile to my face.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blogger in Fleischman case issues strange retraction

Tomorrow, Don Fleischman has his day in court. I've written about this before: the former chairman of the Brown County Republican Party was charged with several counts of felony and misdemeanor child enticement back in February (though the incidents that led to these charges took place in 2006), but the plea hearing/sentencing for them was pushed back several times.

So it is that the timing of recent online retractions regarding posts about this subject by someone going by the name of "goofticket" seem especially strange.

If you'll remember, goofticket was the first blogger to bring the allegations and charges to light, even before any local news outlets picked up on it.

Now, though, it would appear for all the world that someone, presumably associated with Fleischman and the case, has threatened some kind of legal action against goofticket. What grounds they have for this, I don't know: pretty much all goofticket did was post publicly available information to various blogs, and call for more media scrutiny of the story.

I certainly respect this person's right to issue these statements if it's necessary to avoid lengthy and expensive (if ultimately fruitless) litigation. But it's interesting to note that this is all happening just days before the sentencing is to take place. Forum moderators where goofticket initially posted the retraction have since claimed to know that it's for real, and not a hoax, which is why I'm leaning toward there being some sort of legal threat involved. Which would be right shitty, if you ask me.

There are also some claims that certain news articles about the case have since been "scrubbed" from the internet, though I can't verify that at this time. Just a curious side-note.

In the meantime, I'll be keeping my eye out for the results of tomorrow's hearing, and any further information regarding goofticket's retractions, etc.

Gay and religious

Though the progress made toward acceptance and equal rights by gays and lesbians in this country over the last century has been enormous, it's still no easy thing to live openly in this society. Just when you think you've found your place in the world, some comfortable niche worked and hoped for since who knows when, your whole life can get turned upside down in an instant--simply because of who you love.

This has always struck me as being deeply, deeply unfair and unjust. And so it was with a heavy heart that I read a recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal that detailed the firing of openly gay music director Charles Philyaw by St. Andrew Catholic Church in Verona, WI.
After decades of honing his musical skills, Charles Philyaw landed his dream job in 2004 as the full-time director of music liturgy at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Verona.

The church, with 1,643 adult members, was more than just a place to work for Philyaw. He and his partner, James Mulder-Philyaw, joined the parish and community.

Then in June, it all collapsed. Philyaw said he was told by the parish priest, the Rev. Dave Timmerman, that he would no longer be retained because he was living an openly gay life. He was given two weeks' notice.

Philyaw later learned that five parishioners had raised concerns about him and his partner being so prominently involved in church activities. Bishop Robert Morlino's office became involved, leading to his dismissal, Philyaw said.
I'll get this out of the way right off the bat and say that I'm not surprised to read that Morlino got involved. I've pretty much come to terms with the fact that nothing that man ever does publicly will make sense to me, or be particularly compassionate.

Aside from that, though--and more importantly--I'm saddened by the decision of the church and those members who saw fit to complain. Certainly, I can understand that, having grown up as part of a church that's pretty direct about how it views homosexuality (not well), it might be confusing and an issue worth discussing when confronted with an open, happy gay couple serving in your congregation. I don't place any blame on those involved for their desire to talk about it, and to debate, within their own church, the place of homosexual members in their congregation.

What dismays me is that it was so swiftly and carelessly dealt with via simply firing the poor guy--who'd done nothing wrong at all, and who, by all accounts, was an asset to their community.

The legal ramifications of the case will be tricky because this is, after all, a church, and churches are excluded from the state's anti-discrimination hiring and firing laws "if an employee's main duties are ecclesiastical or ministerial." I would argue that the music director is not particularly ecclesiastical or ministerial, but I'm not a lawyer, and that's something that should, perhaps, be better defined by the courts.

I'm disappointed and displeased that the Christian faith is seemingly so often hijacked by divisive in-fighting over something that really shouldn't be an issue. Poverty is a worthwhile issue, as is violence, the health of our environment, and social justice. There are lots of faithful members of the Christian community (not to mention every other religious and non-religious community) who recognize these issues and work hard to address them as best they can, and I honor them. That work, to me, embodies the true message of Christ's ministry--not this strange debate over homosexuality (which, it's worth noting, the Man J.C. never said anything about).

The most frustrating and infuriating part of the entire article deals with the diocese's attitude toward the subject:
...the diocese made available the Rev. Monsignor James Bartylla, director of vocations, who is helping to coordinate locally a program called Courage, a national Catholic initiative that counsels people with same-sex attraction.

While same-sex attraction is considered a disorder by the Catholic Church, it is not a sin in and of itself, Bartylla said. "It is acting on the attraction that makes it a sinful act, a grave depravity," he said.

People with same-sex attraction must control their desires and live chaste lives, he said. If they do so, they can participate fully in church life, including in leadership positions, he said.

Because of this distinction between same-sex attraction and acting on it, it would be a mistake to say the Catholic Church dismisses anyone from employment simply for their sexual orientation, King said.

As for parishioners who are sexually active homosexuals, Bartylla said the church would welcome them, then "begin dealing immediately" with the issue. "We'd encourage them and challenge them to come into conformity with church teaching, the same as with any parishioner dealing with sin."

If a parishioner thinks a church leader is not living according to church doctrine, Bartylla suggested that the parishioner discreetly tell the parish priest.
It's intolerance and discrimination couched in vaguely accepting terms. Asking a homosexual person to "control their desires and live chaste lives" is just as ridiculous as asking a heterosexual person to do the same thing. But then, the Church has never had a particularly healthy view of human sexuality, so I suppose this shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

I have no idea how any feeling person could look at a committed, loving relationship between two people, regardless of their gender, and see a "grave depravity."

Happily, there do seem to be a large number of Philyaw's fellow parishioners who are extremely unhappy with his being let go--and some have even signed a petition that expresses their displeasure. It will take more of that open support to put enough internal pressure on the powers-that-be before real change takes hold on a larger scale, but it's a start. After all, while litigation and equal rights laws are extremely important facets in the fight for justice and equality, the ultimate victories come through personal experience, and the opening of eyes and minds on a person-to-person basis. On that level, you can't force it--nor should you try. You have to teach by example, and Philyaw was/is doing just that.

Eerily familiar

The New York Times published a really excellent, well-researched article about Sarah Palin in yesterday's paper, and I highly recommend giving it a read.

The most telling quotes from it, however, have got to be these, from Laura Chase, the campaign manager during Palin’s first run for mayor in 1996:
[Chase] recalled the night the two women chatted about her ambitions.

“I said, ‘You know, Sarah, within 10 years you could be governor,’ ” Ms. Chase recalled. “She replied, ‘I want to be president.’"

And then...
"I'm still proud of Sarah," she added, "but she scares the bejeebers out of me."
Much of the article details the Palin administration's seeming obsession with secrecy and cronyism: using private email addresses for official government correspondence so they couldn't later be subpoenaed, firing anyone who disagreed with their policies, hiring old school friends for top level positions they were pretty unqualified to hold, etc. It all seems strangely, eerily familiar, doesn't it?

And for a slightly less scary, but still fairly right-on commentary about this whole debacle, be sure to watch the opening skit from this weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live, featuring, thank goodness, the (all-too-brief) return of Tina Fey as Palin.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Brunch: Protein synthesis super hippie freakout!

Oh man, if I had been shown this film when I was studying protein synthesis back in school, I might have been compelled to pay more attention and actually retain the information. Or, it's entirely possible I would have been so distracted by the hilarious hippie science orgy taking place that it would have all gone over my head anyway.

Regardless, it makes me happy to know that this is still shown in some classes, and I am pleased now to present it to you in all its glory: "Protein synthesis: An epic on the cellular level" as produced by the Department of Chemistry at Stanford University in 1971 (featuring, if you can spot him, Frank Zappa!).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Misleading absentee ballots sent by McCain campaign

This smells interesting and potentially ridiculous: reports are coming in from various people, mostly registered Democrats in mostly purple states, it seems, who've been getting absentee ballot registration forms sent to them in the mail by the McCain campaign. Only, all kinds of the information on these applications is wrong and/or misleading.

Here's what we're seeing so far, per Lee Rayburn's show this morning and a few select blogs who've been following the story:
Many people, all registered democrats here in Southern Wisconsin, have been sent a form in the mail from the John McCain campaign, full of "Country First" slogans. It includes 2 requests for absentee ballots in the envelope. It includes an addressed envelope to send it back to the city clerk.

The problem is, that the address of the city clerk is not in the right voting district. For example, the people living in Middleton, Wisconsin (a suburb of Madison) have an envelope to send back to the Madison City Clerk. This, in the best circumstance, would mean an administrative nightmare for the Madison County Clerk, meaning she would have to forward the application to the Middleton City Clerk. At worst, people would either not get their absentee ballot in the mail, or again, would have the wrong city clerk address. If this occurred, the vote, sent to the wrong clerk, would be voided.
And then this, from
Another caller from Detroit. Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida: That's where the absentee ballots are being sent to Obama voters. Add Missouri to that, per one of our commenters.

California caller from registrar's office: McCain should take the application for absentee and submit within 3 days. But the applications will most likely be held for the 3 days and "die". They'll most likely submit the Republican ones, and throw away the Democratic ones.

The return address for the request card goes to the wrong city clerk office address, per Rayburn.

Michigan caller: Wrong home address, and then, wrong city clerk address on the one he got. He donated to Obama, but not a Democrat, so he wonders if that's how they found him.
Voter caging, unfortunately, happens on all sides of the political spectrum, and isn't always directly connected to the candidates themselves. So while I'm absolutely furious that people sent these misleading, potentially harmful ballots out at all--regardless of if it was through malice or incompetence--I will be keeping my nose to the ground in an attempt to find out more about this before passing final judgment on the McCain campaign (for this episode, at least).

At this point, though, this seems like a story worth some media attention, so I'll be curious to see who, if anyone, picks up on it.

More in the comments section here.

If anyone has gotten one of these in the mail, or knows anything about it, please feel free to mention it in the comments or email me at lostalbatross AT - thanks!

UPDATE 1: The only mention of this in the regular news that I've been able to find comes from Ohio, where the faulty McCain absentee ballot registration forms have now caused some 750 of them to be deemed invalid by the state. I'm still seeing a lot of people in comments section noting that they got these, and all of them seem to mention something being wrong on the damn thing.

UPDATE 2: It's trickling in from everywhere, but still deserves more coverage, I think - this small story from WDBJ7 in Roanoke, VA mentions that their State Board of Elections "will follow up with the mailer to see if it's an isolated incident." Hit the webs! It's happening all over the place.

UPDATE 3: A tip from a source who wishes to remain unnamed tells me that both she and her husband, registered Democrats each, received these absentee ballot mailers--and that, though they live in Madison, the ballots were addressed to the town clerk of Menomenee. Neither of them have ever "set foot" there, apparently.

Also, got my hands on scans of the mailer itself, for your perusal (thanks GT!):

(click for big)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Journalist shouldn't be a dirty word

I'm an aspiring journalist. You wouldn't necessarily know it if all you read was this blog, seeing as how I use this space primarily for opinion writing, but it's true. So it is that I'm always looking around for reporters that I can look to for inspiration--both people out there doing the hard scrabble investigative journalism that seems so sorely underrepresented in the mainstream media these days, and also those folks just doing the day-to-day work of presenting the facts of any town or city as clearly and thoroughly as possible.

It's an essential job, an integral part of any really democratic society, but very often a somewhat thankless endeavor for those not actively seeking the limelight.

It would seem, sadly, that these journalists are the exceptions to the rule these days, especially when we cast our critical eye on the major networks and news outlets.

A hot tip lead me over to and Glen Greenwald's excellent piece regarding the state of modern journalism, specifically Fox News and their complicity in what appears very much to be a major (and sickening) government propaganda stunt. On August 22, an airstrike by U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan killed a large number of unarmed civilians in the city of Azizabad, including women and children, and this has since been well documented by a number of independent sources. The U.S. conducted an initial inquiry into what happened, and came to the conclusion that only "7 to 9" civilians and a lot of insurgent Taliban fighters had been killed, despite what villagers and other reports were saying.

In coming to that conclusion, the government used an "independent journalist" from (who else) Fox News to verify their version of the story. And who was this beacon of journalistic integrity? None other than Oliver "Iran-Contra" North, who has been working for Fox as a correspondent, despite (or perhaps because of) his nefarious past.

Yeah, not entirely the most trusted name in news.

Thankfully, through the hard, on-the-ground work of reporters like Carlotta Gall and documentary video evidence from the scene, enough pressure has been placed on the U.S. government that they are now going back to "reexamine" their original findings. Hopefully, appropriate restitution for this heinous mistake will be made, but no matter what, it will likely do little to ease the minds of those who suffered as a result of the attack, or to restore any sort of credibility to mainstream media in general.

In addition to this specific incident being a blatant example of the sickening consequences of lazy and/or complicit reporting, it also plays into a much larger debate about the duties of journalists and media networks in general.

Greenwald puts it well:
This is what I found so deeply bothersome and inane about this week's hand-wringing over the oh-so-"undignified" spats between various MSNBC personalities during the Convention and the Threat to the Integrity of American Journalism posed by such squabbling, or by the oh-so-inappropriate placement of "blatant liberals" in the sacred anchor chair. There is an entire cable "news" outlet, the highest-rated one in the country, which exists for little reason other than to amplify and certify false government claims -- it's literally nothing more than an outlet for state-issued propaganda -- and our leading news critics and even other "journalists" praise and treat its "news" anchors as legitimate and credible sources of news...

Way beyond Fox, this is the same thing that our media generally (and with some important exceptions) has been doing for years, at least -- mindlessly repeating and confirming false Government claims. That's what makes Carlotta Gall's on-scene actual investigation of the Pentagon's Afghanistan claims so notable -- it's so unusual. From Jessica Lynch's heroic Rambo-like firefight to Pat Tillman's murder by Al Qaeda monsters to pre-war claims of the Iraqi menace to post-war claims of Glorious Progress to current claims of the Grave Russian and Iranian Threats to the concealment and then justification of virtually every act of government radicalism over the last eight years, our media has, by and large, done what Fox News did in the Azizabad case -- offer itself up as an uncritical conduit for state propaganda.
This is one crucial part of the debate that we (as a country, as a planet) should be having with ourselves. It may be impossible for anything with a human source to ever be completely objective, but that's not to say that we couldn't be doing a whole hell of a lot better when it comes to the standards to which we hold our press and our government.

Do we really care more about lipstick and flag pins than you do about our government killing innocent civilians and lying about reasons for going to war? Good God, I sure hope not. And while those weird little stories have their place, the real estate currently being taken up by them is way out of proportion to what they deserve.

Thankfully, there are still a handful of good, dedicated journalists out there who are working hard to get the pieces of truth out there for all the world to see. What we do with what we're given, however, is up to us.

Van Hollen's Hail Mary

Yesterday, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen decided to file a last-minute suit against the state's elections agency in an effort to get them to force ineligible voters off the rolls. Seems straight-forward enough, right?

Yeah, maybe not.

I have several questions about this move that I'd love to see addressed: first, how many states actually have full compliance with the HAVA law? And what does full compliance mean for voter enfranchisement (let's talk about paperless ballots, shall we)? How long would it take for Wisconsin to conduct this back check of registrations, and would it interfere with the upcoming November elections (something tells me it might)? Are we setting ourselves up to be the next Ohio or Florida because of this?

One of the latest causes du jour of the GOP has been voter ID and fraud, and this move only seems to play into their push. Thing is, voter fraud has been shown, time and time again, not to be at all systemic or very problematic. In fact, the vast majority of inconsistencies found in voter rolls by the state board all seem to be minor instances of typos, variations in how names are used, and incompatibilities between state databases. Certainly, it's worth working to streamline and better the registration system so that it's easier to conduct the necessary checks. In fact, since August of this year, we've apparently achieved that ability as required under the law (more importantly, we should work to ensure that everyone who can vote is able to do so without difficulty).

But since this was later than the deadline laid out by HAVA, and since that meant some time wherein new registrations were not run through the more strict background checks, Van Hollen is irritated enough to sue.

The state's election officials are not pleased, and rightfully so, I think. Coming just two months before the presidential elections--likely to be hotly contested in this state--the suit smells a bit like a last-minute hail Mary, something that might help skew results one way or another. Maybe I'm being overly paranoid, but being that all evidence suggests little real voter fraud in Wisconsin, and being that the elections board did eventually come into compliance with the law, the move seems unnecessary.

At best, it will eliminate a small handful of dodgy registrations. At worst, it might disenfranchise a whole slew of perfectly valid voters. In theory, that's what HAVA was supposed to fix, not contribute to.

But hey, at least we're not Michigan. I hope.

UPDATED TO ADD: Well, turns out Van Hollen is the Wisconsin co-chair of John McCain's campaign. No, that doesn't smack of being a conflict of interest at all.

I'd also like to note that using mismatched address data from WisDOT and voter registrations as reason to bar people from voting is an especially terrible idea when you consider how many people move to new apartments from year to year (students and lower income folks especially). I have some personal experience with this: when you move that often, it's sometimes difficult to remember to update everything, in a timely fashion, with WisDOT. That alone should never lead to someone being prevented from voting, though.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The good news for Sept. 10, 2008

First off, I'd like to take an admittedly somewhat self-referential moment to note that, at some point this evening, this blog will roll over the 20,000 total hits count - and that, frankly, kind of amazes me. I've been up and running for just over a year now, and have a pretty local slant, so enjoying that kind of readership is pretty damn cool. So, thanks very much!

Onward, though: another round-up of the articles and items that have caught my attention today. Captivating! Thrilling! Seriously, though, I think they're worth a read:
  • [Architecture 2030] In case you needed further proof that the "Drill, baby, drill!" set are lunatics, here's a handy graph regarding just how much (or in this case, little) impact offshore drilling in the US would have on oil production and usage.
  • [New York Times] Speaking of drilling, apparently "Government officials handling billions of dollars in oil royalties improperly engaged in sex with employees of energy companies they were dealing with and received numerous gifts from them." Yeehaw!
  • [Business Week] OMG! An article that actually details the candidate's stands on a particular issue, without going into any of the ad hominem nonsense that seems so popular these days.
  • [McClatchy] Surprise, surprise, the new McCain ad that attacks Obama for allegedly supporting "explicit sex ed" for kindergarten children is a big fat lie.
  • [The Guardian] A really informative and interesting article about how richer countries tend to take terrible advantage of the food resources of those countries most in need.

Preserving our history and our parks

James Madison Park, located on Madison's near east side and running along the lovely shores of Lake Mendota, has long been a green gathering space for students playing frisbee or football, families with young children who enjoy the playground equipment, people reading on benches, and folks wishing to rent canoes at the boathouse. It used to be the site of WSUM's Party in the Park, and usually hosts a few other festivals and gatherings throughout the year. It's a great resource, and one example of city ownership of lakeshore land in the interest of keeping it publicly accessible.

The state of the park and the various historic buildings that lie in and around it, however, is somewhat up in the air these days. Mayor Dave and certain development interests appear keen on moving those historic buildings, selling some of the land, and re-purposing sections of the park.

From my admittedly recent browsing (this issue has come up, off-and-on, for decades really), it's hard to really gauge the facts of the matter: why move the houses? how much would that cost the city? is it ever a good idea to sell off publicly held property, especially lakefront land? do the current residents want this?

Currently, a committee of alders and citizens, appointed by the mayor, exists to "report back to the Board of Park Commissioners on a proposal for the properties at 646, 640 and 704 East Gorham and the land under Lincoln School." This ad hoc committee has been mostly favorable to the idea of selling off the land under the Lincoln School, whereas the Madison Parks Commission has voted unanimously, on several occasions apparently, not to do so.

The ultimate decision may end up being left to referendum. According to a recent Capital Times article:
The decision to sell the houses, including the land under the Lincoln School Apartments, would likely be considered a change in the legal status of the park, assistant city attorney Anne Zellhoefer told the James Madison Park Property Planning Committee Thursday night. According to a 1992 city ordinance, changes in legal status as well major construction projects on parks bordering lakes and navigable waters require a referendum.
This seems reasonable to me, especially in light of the many passionate testimonials from residents regarding their feelings about the park and the historic buildings. You can read several of them in the meeting minutes from a public hearing held back in June. The overwhelming consensus, with which I pretty much agree, is that selling the historic houses is a good idea, but moving them is not. As for whether or not to sell the land under the Lincoln School, opinion seems fairly split down the middle--and for how little information I can find regarding what a sale like this would actually mean, I can understand why that is.

Selling the historic homes appears to be a good idea because the city has done a sub par job of maintaining them up to this point, and having private parties interested in historical preservation and good use would mean both preserving these places and saving the city a lot of money. In fact, the city would likely take in revenue from the sale of the homes and leasing of the land under them. You can read the original draft proposal relating to this here (click on "Conditions for JMP" link).

However, moving the homes would cost the city a great deal of money, and, in my opinion (and that of many others) take away from the historic character of the neighborhood. All designed by the same architects, they provide a great, cohesive corridor through a historic area of town that would be lost if jumbled around to different locations. Mayor Dave and his committee seem to be arguing that moving them would make for a better sight line between E. Gorham and the lake, but at present, I don't find anything aesthetically displeasing about their location. In fact, I would contend that it adds to the beauty of the park and the area, and encourages people to actually get out of their cars and walk around.

As for the Lincoln School plans, things get a bit more complicated. The current landlord of the building, ULI, has proposed buying the land under the school for a minimum of $600,000 or, if the number is higher, the appraised value (which we don't yet seem to have). Their designs for the site, though restricted from changing the exterior of the building, include turning the apartments into condominiums - something that (rightfully, I think) irks current residents and advocates of affordable housing like the area's alder, Brenda Konkel. The argument is that most of the folks now living in the building would not be able to afford the condos, and installing yet more of the buggers would only contribute to a growing income disparity on the isthmus.

ULI, it's worth noting, are apparently the same folks that wanted to demolish historic capitol square buildings (like L'Etoile and the Old Fashioned) in order to put in a nearly block-sized new development.

Plus, there's the issue of whether or not it's a good idea to sell off public, lakefront land at all. Currently, ULI holds a long-term lease on the land which, I can only assume, limits their ability to alter the use of the building. As far as I can tell, buying the land would allow them to make whatever changes they so wished to the interior, and certain city officials would then plan to use money made from the sale to, depending on what you read, plug holes in the operating budget or improve/expand the park.

But really, I have no idea what pro-selling advocates want to do with the park. That's never been made particularly clear, and that's what has most caught my attention.

It's important to balance historic and parkland preservation with responsible economic development. Finding private parties to maintain the homes seems like a sound choice, all around - but moving them, or selling the land underneath them, strikes me as a poor decision that would likely come back to haunt those who make it in the future.

I think the mayor, the committee, the alders, and the developers owe it to the community--especially the residents who actually live in the neighborhood--to be as open and honest about their plans as possible. We need to make an informed decision about these proposals, and it's understandably difficult to do so when there's so much stalling and lack of details.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The good news for Sept. 9, 2008

I've decided to start another semi-regular feature, "The Good News", on this here blog (in addition to my sporadic Sunday Brunches): a couple posts each week that list news, commentary, and other goodies around the web that I've been reading and want to spotlight in some way, just with less of my own two cents than a normal post. Sound good? Feel free to skip 'em if not, but I hope they're somewhat informative.

Anyway, I've got a few up my sleeve for you now:
  • [The Capital Times] The League of American Bicyclists has ranked Wisconsin as #2 in the nation for best bicycling environment. Certainly we still have improvements to be made, but I agree that Wisconsin (Madison specifically) is one heck of a good place to ride a bike.
  • [Religion Clause] Madison's own cantankerous bishop, Robert Morlino, is angry at Joe Biden for daring to keep his personal religious beliefs separate from how he legislates when it comes to abortion.
  • [NPR - Fresh Air] New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wants Green to be the new Red, White & Blue - and he's pissed off at those who can't/won't see the necessity of environmental revolution. I can't say I blame him.
  • [Chicago Tribune] Former Lt. Governor of Wisconsin, Margaret Farrow, has been brought on by the McCain campaign as part of their "Palin Truth Squad." Good luck with that.
The Lost Albatross