Thursday, February 26, 2009

Of gardens and plants

Two pieces of good news today, which is especially welcome given how every morning, when my alarm goes off, NPR comes on detailing further economic woes and such. The first item I'll just mention briefly, but the second I'd like to delve into a bit deeper (as I promised to do in a previous posts' comments section).

First up: Official indication that a White House organic garden, if not a farm, is an entirely probable eventuality. Neil Hamilton, an adviser to USDA head Tom Vilsack, was heard saying:
I believe that by this summer there will be a garden – another garden, a vegetable garden – on the White House lawn...I believe the Obamas are committed to that. It’s a big idea, and its gonna happen. During the campaign, going around shaking peoples’ hands, he never got sick once. He was eating well, and it could have to do with having an organic chef with him. This is someone who 'gets' nutrition.
Maybe Claire Strader will get her Obama Administration post after all, even if it's just as official White House Gardener instead of Farmer. In any case, this is good news.

Secondly, our new Attorney General, Eric Holder, made it clear in a recent press conference that, under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department will no longer raid places that distribute medical marijuana in states where such things are legal.

Under Bush, the JD had been instructed to carry out the rather draconian raids based on state law conflicting with federal law on the matter. So this new policy is definitely a step in the right direction, even if we, as a country, still have a long way to go on this issue.

Simply put, US drug policy as it specifically relates to marijuana is outdated, misdirected, highly flawed, and costly - both in terms of the cash required to enforce, and in the sense of pushing its cultivation and distribution underground, feeding into an often violent culture of organized crime (Prohibition, anyone?).

I am not a pot smoker. Frankly, I don't smoke anything, as I think it's gross. But you know what? I've still done the research, and I've talked to the people most effected, and I've come to the same conclusion as that of thousands of other, more well-informed and qualified individuals. We need to, at the very least, decriminalize the stuff.

As most advocates of relaxing laws related to pot will readily admit, marijuana is not an entirely harmless substance. But it still poses similar, if not lesser, risks to that of the use of alcohol and tobacco. As those things are legal but heavily regulated, so should marijuana be.

The US spends billions of dollars a year on the arrest and incarceration of people for pot related offenses. According to the most recent set of statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly half of all drug related arrests in the country are made for marijuana related offenses. Furthermore:
According to the new BJS report, "Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004," 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses. Combining these percentages with separate U.S. Department of Justice statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners suggests that there are now about 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates behind bars for marijuana offenses. The report failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county and/or local jails for pot-related offenses.
Decriminalizing pot wouldn't get rid of all of those offenders. Some of them are desperate or nasty sorts who will find other ways to make money, no doubt. But I think a pretty solid argument can be made that such a move would drastically reduce the overall number of arrests and incarcerations. The associated savings combined with tax revenues from good regulation would stand to make/save a decent amount of money for the country/tax payers.

Part of the problem that leads to our current, misguided policies toward pot is the sheer amount of misinformation that's been fed to the public for the past century. The stigmatization of the "demon weed" by moneyed interests has been well documented but somewhat poorly marketed.

The propaganda campaign aimed toward instilling a sense of fear and menace in regards to this plant has ranged, over time, from the ridiculous to the sneakily mundane, but much of what we've been taught has been either outright falsehood or very stretched truth. Worse, because of that atmosphere, truly scientific medical studies of its use were almost non-existent until very recently.

The real casualties of all this aren't to do with perpetually stoned hippies, but rather with those who stand to really benefit from its medicinal uses, and those who've come up with a whole slew of ways in which to use its non-intoxicating counterpart, hemp (read a comprehensive explanation of the plant and its many uses here).
Industrial hemp has many uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, health food, and fuel. It of the earliest domesticated plants known. It also runs parallel with the "Green Future" objectives that are becoming increasingly popular. Hemp requires little to no pesticides, no herbicides, controls erosion of the topsoil, and produces oxygen. Furthermore, hemp can be used to replace many potentially harmful products, such as tree paper (the processing of which uses chlorine bleach, which results in the waste product polychlorinated dibensodioxins, popularly known as dioxins, which is carcinogenic, and contributes to deforestation), cosmetics, and plastics, most of which are petroleum-based and do not decompose easily. The strongest chemical needed to whiten the already light hemp paper is non-toxic hydrogen peroxide.
While some inroads have been made in certain states through the passage of bills making it legal for farmers to grow industrial hemp, there are still several hurdles to jump and a ways to go before the practice is legal and commonplace throughout the country. In the meantime, we're missing out on a valuable, sustainable, low-impact source for all sorts of goods.

And medical marijuana holds the promise of extreme pain relief, sleep assistance, and appetite increase (among other things) in patients suffering from a range of maladies. Peer reviewed studies have shown this to be the case, even in the face of continued ignorance on the subject by those making the laws.

I am only somewhat hopeful that the new administration will take a serious, scientifically-based look at and approach to US drug policy. We need to do our part to hold them to this, and to see that action is taken from the ground up, too - starting with our own communities. Such action makes economic, medical, and social justice sense.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Walker hates government, wants to be governor

Well I can't say that this comes as a surprise, but it sure doesn't make sense: Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is definitely angling himself for a run at the governor's office come the 2010 elections.

Why doesn't that make sense? Because Walker has shown himself, time and time again, to be a person who doesn't believe government has any role to play, whatsoever, in much of anything at all. Dustin Beilke, writing at The Daily Page, has a good piece about this sort of moronic hypocrisy on the part of people like Walker. In the grand tradition of Grover Norquist's "drown it in the bathtub" attitude toward government, Walker has already succeeded in getting the county's public assistance role stripped by the state due to rampant incompetence. He's also come under recent (rightful) fire for his call for federal stimulus money to go toward a sales tax reduction, and Walker would like nothing more than to privatize just about everything you can think of.

Many others have done a great (and likely painful) job of keeping track of all the many and varied ways in which Scott Walker has worked so tirelessly to destroy everything he touches, so I won't go on just now. Click the links, and have a read. Try not to throw anything at your monitor while you do.

Suffice to say that I'm both humored and troubled by his apparent decision to run for the top office in the state. Humored because he's such an unflagging political idiot, and troubled because what if enough people actually support his run? I'm no great Doyle cheerleader, but compared to Walker the man's a savant.

(graphic courtesy the Brawler)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The horror and the gory glory

Yesterday morning, as I stumbled in to work all bleary-eyed and with the slightest hint of something pink stained along the sides of my mouth, a few people stopped to inquire about how I'd spent my Sunday. My response? "I passed several hours soaking in a pool of blood."

As you might imagine, that response earned me more than my fair share of raised eyebrows. Allow me to explain.

My friends and I like to make movies. I'm more of the dirty actor type, but fortunately I know quite a few people of the directorial persuasion and so I end up getting to be involved in several film projects. Even more amazing is that these director types that I know make actually a habit of finishing any given project, which is definitely an added bonus.

Currently, we're wrapping up "principal photography" on a new horror/dark comedy called "High School Sweethearts." It's a little something dreamed up by the twisted mind of Will Gartside, with assistance from the indomitable Rob Matsushita--the same crew that brought about 2007's horror-musical-comedy smash sensation, "Massacre! The Musical."

I worked on the soundtrack for that particular opus, but this time yours truly gets to take a turn in front of the cameras. They were even kind enough to go completely against my usual type casting by having me play the role of the ingenue. They're making me work for it, though. I've now spent more time than I'd care to recall covered in cold, sticky, fake blood. I also spent 40 minutes in near total sensory deprivation, fighting off panic attacks, to get my head cast in alginate. And through the vast majority of this, I've been duct-taped to a rickety wooden chair in a tarp-lined basement during the middle of a Wisconsin winter.

But what can I say? I love it.

Working on such extremely low-budget films can be a pretty thankless task. None of us are being paid in anything more than free food (which is a lot, considering). I don't think there's one of us who thinks being involved in this project is going to break us big in the movie world, and we're all giving up fairly copious amounts of our free time to allow our director free reign to torture us for hours on end.

So why do we do it? Because we love to create, try new things, make art we think will entertain, and probably most of all, because we enjoy working with each other. I can't stress enough how having a good crew can make or break productions like this. After all, if your director is a pompous jerk, your fellow cast members are complete nincompoops, and the guy holding the boom mic keeps hitting you in the head with it - why on Earth would you want to stick around?

In my case, I have been incredibly fortunate to find myself fallen in amongst people who do what they do because they truly love it, who treat everyone with respect, and who are very much down in the trenches with you through the whole process. They're also motivated, creative, and hard-working, which certainly helps when you're lying on a chilly cement floor, wallowing in pools of red Caro syrup and the shards of a broken flower vase, trying to look like a glassy-eyed corpse.


Anyway, I've put together a little photo collage to illustrate some of the shenanigans and general trials of making a low-budget film. These were all taken this Sunday, but if you'd like to see more from the whole filming process, I will be periodically uploading quite a few shots to my Flickr pool. If you're not into fake blood and the like, though, feel free to steer clear.
We took time out from shooting to practice our hair cuttery skills.

All that pink makes it hard to be intimidated...until the blood starts gushing out of the dummy.

Being horribly tortured makes my eyes go all hooey.

This may well be my favorite shot of them all. Kelly makes an excellent axe murderer.

Yep, that's me with my head between the legs of a mannequin, about to be covered in blood. Good times.

If all of that hasn't effectively scared you off from ever seeing one of the film projects I'm involved in, be sure you keep you eyes peeled this fall for the release of a DVD that will include "High School Sweethearts," its double feature, "The Girls," and a bonus in the form of "Massacre! The Musical."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't leave tax incentives on the cutting room floor

No, no, and a thousand times no. Gov. Doyle has proposed eliminating the tax incentives for film productions in the state and offering a $500,000 grant in their stead.

And just when I was actually feeling mildly impressed by his new budget proposal, too. But hey, no one's perfect: that's why us uppity citizens are here to call Doyle and other elected officials out when they start spoutin' nonsense.

At first blush, it may seem like a good idea to limit tax breaks in the midst of a recession, but the film industry has already proved itself as something that creates jobs and brings millions of dollars in revenue to the state. It would be downright foolhardy to get rid of that now, just 13 months after first making the incentives available and after years of fighting to get them in place at all.

The upfront investment in film productions by the state leads to longer term benefits. It offers local industry professionals an opportunity to work near home instead of having to go to California. It creates jobs. And it brings cash to everything from hotels and restaurants to locations picked for filming and businesses that rent cars, do catering, etc.

So no, Gov. Doyle, now is not the time to cut out those tax incentives. It's tempting to start slashing and burning in the face of economic crisis, but that sort of tactic can often lead to the accidental chopping down of perfectly fruitful trees. Put down your axe.

(photo by gnecoffee on Flickr)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The good news for Feb. 19, 2009

I can't work up a full post today, so instead I'm going to offer you the thoughts and news of other, far more motivated people. I hope you'll take a moment to read them, and then check back here tomorrow, when I will again attempt to write something more substantial.
  • [The Daily Page] Transportation analyst Tim Wong (who served on the Madison TPC for five years before getting the boot from the mayor) has a pretty interesting and well-fleshed out argument for why bus fares in the city should not be increased. I'm inclined to agree.
  • [Discovery] The smartypants over at MIT have come up with this neat gizmo for your bike called the Green Wheel. It's an electric assist hub that recharges through pedaling and plug-in, but doesn't actually rub up against any part of your bike (Bluetooth technology!) so provides a much smoother ride. Plus, it looks like it will be a lot cheaper than existing electric hubs. Very cool.
  • [Dane101] Things to do in Madison when you're (not) dead. Music, this weekend, so much!
  • [SPLC] This is not good news. In fact, it's quite disturbing. Racist extremists are finding a foothold in our nation's armed forces, but officials continue to deny that there's a problem. Happily, the SPLC (my civil rights law firm crush) is on the case.
  • [Wonkette] Rick Santorum still an idiot, last name still hilarious.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Doyle's budget plan remarkably sound

I'm reading over Doyle's budget plan and shaking my head - because, overall, it actually seems to make sense. Especially when compared to California's current budget gridlock, this is particularly refreshing.

Instead of the tired old (typically Republican) insistence on across the board tax cuts being the savior of us all, there's actually a proposal to raise taxes on those enjoying the top 1% income bracket. There are spending cuts which may result in some painful decisions for the affected organizations, but may well be necessary for the time being. He's also included funding for commuter rail (praise be that this is finally catching on nationwide). And the icing on this money cake? A cigarette tax hike and another proposed statewide smoking ban.

Two things in the budget likely to raise the most hackles are the income tax hike and the early release of certain "low risk" felons. The former strikes me as a non-issue - those people bringing in the most money should be taxed proportionally. Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, took umbrage at this proposal, however, saying that "the income tax increase would strike at small business owners who already have difficulty maintaining or creating jobs." Maybe I'm missing something, but how exactly would this hike for the top 1% of earners affect small businesses? I'm willing to bet that most of them don't make enough to qualify for this in the first place. If someone can better explain this to me, though, I'm all ears.

And as for the early release program, done with the appropriate amount of thoughtful consideration, I can see this as being the right (if most controversial) step. Our prisons are wildly overpopulated as it is, and letting so-called low risk inmates out early could help solve that problem and save the state money. The trick, of course, lies in making sure these people have proper support once on the outside, so that they aren't as likely to reoffend.

I'm hopeful that Wisconsin can get this budget into place and make the necessary choices and moves to see our state through the economic downturn with as little pain as possible. It helps that we don't have the ridiculous 2/3rds majority rule for passage as in California, but we do have bitter partisan battles, so who knows. One thing's for sure: We need smart, swift action to stay on track - not petty power struggles and old, tired ideas.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hip hop is not the problem

I physically cringed when I read yesterday's headline that a fight had broken out and arrests made (including that of Rob Dz, one of the area's most well-respected emcees) at a local hip-hop show at the Brink Lounge. Great, I thought, just what we need more of in Madison, another excuse for people to stigmatize the music based on the actions of a few bad actors.

Lo and behold, I (and many others) was sadly right: The Brink has now officially decided to stop booking hip-hop acts all together.

The Daily Page reports on several elements of the incident that I had only suspected, but do now look to be the case. That police likely responded with excessive force, quickly and needlessly escalating a situation that was, by the time they'd arrived, well under control. Sixteen MPD officers (plus an undisclosed number of Capitol Police) showed up when called about a fight between two women at the show. How is that at all reasonable? They then peppersprayed and arrested several of the event's performers for, as far as I can tell, trying to 1) get their equipment out of the building, and 2) protest when they saw what they felt to be excessive force being used on the female suspects.

I wasn't there, so I can't make any definite judgments on how things were handled and why, but after hearing from several witnesses and people directly effected, I can't help but suspect that this was a case of inappropriate action on the part of the MPD, based mostly on the overall stigma now associated with hip-hop in this city.

It's an absolute shame, too. As mentioned in the Daily Page article, " and political attention to hip-hop in Madison is focused on negative matters and doesn’t focus on positive events like recent shows geared towards registering voters, collecting winter coats for the indigent, or raising money for a child with cancer."

Every experience I've had with Wisconsin hip-hop artists has been an overall positive one. A lot of the emcees and DJs do a lot of work in the community to not only bolster the profile of their music, but to help kids find a productive purpose in life, to do community organizing, and to work on behalf of social justice issues. Hell, sometimes what they do is just artistic expression without any immediate or grander purpose, but that's just as valid.

The problem isn't with the genre as a whole (you could make an argument against certain specific artists glorifying violence, etc., but I can't think of one single local musician who'd fit that profile). The problem is with individuals who happen to be in the audience and decide to do something stupid. But that happens at shows of all different genres. I'd be really curious to see statistics on fights and other disturbances breaking out at live shows in general, and if there's any correlation between their frequency and corresponding genre. I doubt it.

So now, based on ill-founded but widespread fears, hip-hop artists have one less venue to play in town. We could start focusing on regular ol' security issues, good capacity and organization regulations, and personal responsibility - or we can keep choking out an otherwise vibrant and relevant form of artistic expression. Which is it, Madison?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy crass consumer culture day!

Ha ha, just kidding...

Try it yourself here.

More importantly, though, tomorrow is St. Skeletor's Day! How will you be not celebrating?

Friday, February 13, 2009

The tenacity of the reporter

Nathan Comp, writing in yesterday's edition of Isthmus, broke a story wherein new details about the disappearance of Amos Mortier were brought to light. A freelance writer who recently moved from Madison to Philadelphia, Comp got his hands on grand jury testimony related to the case and decided that some of the facts revealed therein didn't quite mesh with the official story given by law enforcement. It basically states that a suspect allegedly admitted to killing Mortier, but that Fitchburg police never really followed up on that lead.

It's compelling stuff. And though it's hard for any of us to yet say exactly what the truth of the story is, these new details do beg to be more thoroughly investigated.

What's really interesting about all of this to me, though, is the skepticism with which a Wisconsin State Journal reporter, Ed Treleven, wrote about Comp's article - and, too, the fact that all of this is based around a marijuana ring. I still have a hard time believing that, in this day and age, we still so demonize that particular plant*.

Comp has since posted an open letter in response to the WSJ article, and I suspect won't be letting the overall issue drop until the truth really does come out. Which is exactly the kind of attitude we, as a society, should expect out of our journalists.

Jason Shepard displayed this same fighting spirit when he doggedly covered the 911 center's bungling of the Zimmermann call and the problems with the Joel Marino murder case. And there are countless other relatively unsung heroes of journalism, too, out there every day trying to get at the real stories so that more people can be made aware of what's really going on in their world.

Unfortunately, they're not in the majority, nor are they generally given as much space in the more mainstream press. Add to that the current crumbling of various media outlets and the environment isn't exactly great for hardhitting journalism.

I try to do my part to help, but I'm hardly the best or the brightest out there. So it's always comforting to come across reporters who are still working hard, even in the face of increasingly tough odds, to get important information out to the masses. Whether or not the details relayed by Comp come to fruition, the service he and others like him provide are essential to maintaining an informed citizenry, and to keeping our public officials honest.

Perhaps most important of all, too, they can sometimes help to bring a little bit of peace to people like Mortier's mother, Margie Milutinovich, who is still just trying to find out what happened to her son.

*I could, and may still, write a whole other post about how ridiculous our country's policy toward marijuana is, and how de-criminalizing it could seriously help in reducing prison populations, assisting people with legitimate medical issues, bringing in more tax revenue, and providing a more eco-friendly resource for the construction of a whole slew of products.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Buying up the land

Alexander Co. is a development company. Buying land for development is what they do. OK, fair enough, right? But I can't help but notice that their name has come up at the center of several contentious land-use and development debates over the past year or so.

They're currently in the midst of an argument over the future of Drumlin farm, a situation that certainly paints them as being somewhat overzealous and thoughtless about the needs and realities of the community. Recently, they tried to get permission to remodel the Acacia House in downtown Madison, as well as build a new apartment building in the small lot behind it (the proposal was shot down by the Madison City Council).

And just today it was announced that Alexander Co. has purchased the Northgate Mall complex on Sherman Ave.

I can't help but have mixed feelings about their plans for the space. While revitalization of the area is needed, the company's track record isn't exactly pristine. It's worth keeping a close eye on any future plans and proposals made by them--and other such companies--to make sure we create an environment that is both good for businesses looking to invest in city improvements and that fosters thoughtful, ecologically sound planning.

Hopefully, I'm reading too much into all of this and it won't become more of an issue. But I have a feeling that the people currently dealing with Alexander Co. over Drumlin farm would tell me otherwise.

UPDATE: This is a good step on the part of AC, so long as they don't end up asking a prohibitively expensive amount for the land.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All the liberties that are afforded to believers

The Capital Times today has an excellent article on candidate for state Supreme Court, Randy Koschnick, courtesy of reporter Steven Elbow. In it, we're given a pretty solid picture of just who this guy is, and how he'll likely rule if elected. Thankfully, incumbent Judge Shirley Abrahamson is quite popular and already thoroughly creaming Koschnick in fundraising, but that doesn't stop me from worrying a little bit. After all, wildly indept Michael Gableman was able to unseat the vastly more qualified Louis Butler in the last round of judicial voting. And as much of an underdog as Koschnick is, his extremely conservative background is enough to give one pause.

Take, for example, this declaration made by his campaign manager, Seamus Flaherty: "I think that people of faith will like a justice who construes the Constitution as written, with all the liberties that are afforded to believers, and doesn't play politics from the bench. So in that sense I wouldn't be surprised if they see a candidate they like in Judge Koschnick." (emphasis mine)

No, Flaherty, the liberties and rights afforded in the Constitution of these United States apply to all citizens, regardless of faith or lack thereof. That's an incredibly important distinction, and if Koschnick's own campaign manager doesn't get it, do you think the candidate himself does?

The article goes on to note Koschnick's connections to several far-right groups that I've already mentioned on this blog (Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Family Council), and adds that he was, at least for some time, a member of the Promise Keepers. If you're not familiar with the organization, you can get a general idea of them here. Suffice to say that it's a mens group that focuses heavily on Biblical literalism and an extremely patriarchal, controlling attitude toward women and marriage.

We're also informed of Koschnick's membership and active participation in an evangelical church that espouses anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, and anti-evolution views.

Someone looking to take away the rights of his fellow citizens and who willfully ignores hundreds of years of scientific research is not someone I'd want sitting on the bench of the highest court in the state. Koschnick is certainly free to hold those views, of course, but we're also free not to elect him to a position where objective, law-based critical thought and decision making is supposed to reign.

Oh and Flaherty? Try this on for size: It's "all the liberties that are naturally inherent for all human beings." Not just the ones with which you happen to agree.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A public reading

Well, tonight's the night. I'll be reading a selection from my first book, The Fix Up, in front of a live studio audience at A Room of One's Own bookstore, starting at about 6:30p.m.

If you've always wanted a chance to either a) meet me in person, ask questions, and maybe even buy a copy of said book, or b) heckle me mercilessly in public - this is your chance! I may be a little nervous, though, so please keep all taunts NC-17 (it's those PG-rated names that throw me off the most).

I hope to see you there! The low-down:

WHAT: Yours truly reading from her book, The Fix Up (plus shilling, signing, and talking)
WHERE: A Room of One's Own (307 W. Johnson, Madison, WI)
WHEN: Tonight! Tuesday, February 10th at 6:30p.m.
COST: It's totally free, y'all.

Hooray for books.

P.S. If you can't make it down for the reading but are still interested in purchasing a copy of the book, please check out this post for details on all the different ways you can go about doing that.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Doyle disses Reagan

I'm not a Gov. Doyle cheerleader. In fact, I'd put myself at lukewarm (at best) when it comes to the guy. But I have to give him major kudos for resisting the peer pressure on this one:

Friday marked the 98th anniversary of former President Ronald Reagan's birth, the fifth since his death in 2004.

Almost two-thirds of U.S. governors -- both Democrats and Republicans -- enacted a proclamation to delegate Feb. 6 as "Ronald Reagan Day."

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle was one of only a handful of governors to deny recognition of the late president, according to the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project based in Washington D.C.

I know a lot of people have this posthumous hard-on for the guy, but you know what? I feel nearly the same way about them as I do about those people still clinging to the idea that Richard Nixon was a great man.

Shall we take a quick look at some of the highlights of the Reagan administration?
  • Reaganomics / trickle-down theory - "...income tax rates of the top personal tax bracket dropped from 70% to 28% in 7 years, while payroll taxes increased as well as the effective tax rates on the lower two income quintiles."
  • Iran Contra Affair - "In October and November of 1986, it was discovered that for several years, agents of the United States government had been running an illegal operation to sell weapons to Iran and funnel the profits to the Contras, a military organization dedicated to overthrowing the leftist government of Nicaragua."
  • Hollywood Snitch - "As Anthony Summers makes clear in his book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, the “Gipper” had his own code name – “T-10” – and regularly provided the FBI with information on Communists, real, imagined and manufactured."
  • Genocide in Guatemala - "In 1999 a report on the Guatemalan Civil War from the UN-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification stated that 'the American training of the officer corps in counter-insurgency techniques' was a 'key factor' in the 'genocide…Entire Mayan villages were attacked and burned and their inhabitants were slaughtered in an effort to deny the guerrillas protection.' According to the commission, between 1981 and 1983 the Guatemalan government—financed and trained by the US—destroyed four hundred Mayan villages and butchered 200,000 peasants."
And the list goes on. I am dismayed by our country's ability to ignore the past in favor of mythologizing bad men who managed to have a decent public image, so it's damn refreshing to hear about at least a few public officials refusing to give in to that urge. Reagan probably wasn't the worst president ever, but the continued effort toward virtual canonization is ridiculous at best, offensive at worst. So Doyle? I've got your back on this one.

P.S. For what it's worth, yesterday was the 2 year anniversary of this blog. Hooray! Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Brunch: Edwardian Ball

Part of the motivation behind throwing the Fire Ball was to give those of us interested in the so-called "steampunk" aesthetic to dress up accordingly. I've been fascinated by the whole genre for awhile now: I love its combination of history, science, sci-fi, and DIY ethos. And it's catching on around the world.

The second annual Edwardian Weekend in San Francisco (also a de-facto steampunk convention) happened this January, and someone with a camera was there to document the action:

Who doesn't love an excuse to get dressed up and play with mechanical toys? Crazy people, that's who.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The good news for Feb. 6, 2009

Frankly, I'm too brain fried today to type up a proper post. I think all this Koschnick nonsense did it to me. Whatever the cause, though, I'll be bopping over to Der Rothskeller tonight for some hot Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus (the band, not the play) action, so that's likely to help the situation a bit. My new band is also doing some work on our new rehearsal space tomorrow, which I'm excited about. It'll be quite nice to have a proper, private room in which to make our music without too much bother to neighbors and the like. And soon we may actually have a name! Imagine that. In the meantime, here are some interesting bits of news for you to digest:
  • [Capital Times] The Charter Street power plant here in Madison will burn bio-mass fuels and not coal, according to Gov. Doyle. The station had been one of the worst pollution offenders in the state until legal action was taken to force it into compliance. This is great news, as bio-mass puts far fewer particulates into the air and is generally far, far less disruptive to harvest. The creation of a bio-mass industry could also lead to significant job creation. It's damn nice to get some good news here and there.
  • [Badger Herald] The three banks that loaned the Overture Center money for its construction are threatening to foreclose if the debt isn't repaid soon. Things just keep getting worse for the beleaguered center, don't they? Seems like the majority of those involved in decision making, both on the OC and bank sides of things, have been fucking up left and right. I have no desire to see the place closed and hope some equitable solution is worked out, but things sure don't look too hot right now.
  • [Wisconsin State Journal] The Dist. 2 alderman debate was last night. I can still only detect minor policy differences between the candidates. Ultimately, it seems to boil down to dissatisfaction with the style and communication techniques of the incumbent.
  • [Fat Cyclist] Fat Cyclist is one of my favorite bloggers. He's currently promoting Twin Six, an awesome cycling apparel company, as they're donating 50% of every cent spent on their goods today to the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help fight cancer. Go check it out and buy something already!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Koschnick and the anti-abortion fringe

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick wants to be a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Problem is, incumbent Justice Shirley Abrahamson is in his way, so he's launched a campaign to unseat her in the elections this spring (the primary is Feb. 17 and the general election is April 7).

I've been having nasty flashbacks to the campaign between Michael Gableman and Louis Butler ever since I heard Koschnick was running. Were we in for another round of scurrilous attack ads placed by obnoxious interest groups like WMC? Would Koschnick start misstating case law and twisting the record of his opponent?

Pretty much yes. Call it a case of deja vu all over again - the only difference being the name of the players. Several of the more powerful conservative interest groups have curiously opted to sit out of this election cycle, including WMC, Club for Growth Wisconsin, and Coalition for America's Families.

Why? That's a damn good question, but their decision may be based on a combination of the massive amount of scrutiny and criticism WMC came in for last year, and perhaps a perceived lack of a real chance at winning. After all, they've already achieved getting one under-qualified conservative hack (Gableman) onto the bench, and two potentially easier-to-win seats will be coming up in the next few years as Justices Prosser and Roggensack come up for re-election.

But never fear! Several other right-wing interest groups have taken up the cause and are endorsing and campaigning for Koschnick. One of these noble citizen's groups is Wisconsin Right to Life, the same group currently backing efforts to stop a new abortion clinic in Madison. Another group that's backing Koschnick? The NRA Political Victory Fund. Yep.

It should be noted that Koschnick has also been speaking with the Wisconsin Family Council, run by the notoriously homophobic crusader Julaine Appling, one of the loudest proponents of the anti-gay marriage bill passed in Wisconsin in '06. Thanks to an open records request, it's possible to note that a call to the WFC was placed from Koschnick's desk phone back on Sept. 22 of '08. Whether or not the group will publicly endorse his run, it's certainly worth noting their interactions. I should add that the records request also revealed phone and email conversations, both from Koschnick's state offices, with Patti Chmielewski, the Jefferson County contact for WRTL.

I don't think there's much question as to what Koschnick's political affiliations are. And though the apparent use of his official phone and email to conduct conversations with interest groups now actively backing his campaign may or may not be legally suspect, this does serve to beg several important questions.

Would Koschnick really be an objective voice on the court, one that adhered to the actual law of the land and displayed thoughtful understanding and interpretation of its trickier aspects? I sincerely doubt that.

For further proof that that's not likely to be the case, the illustrious Illusory Tenant lays out Koschnick's shaky comprehension of the law here, and Super Id has a pretty good take on the issue, too.

What it all boils down to is this: Randy Koschnick appears to be nothing more than a partisan, far-right conservative hack with poor judgement and suspect interpretation of the law. I would say we need not worry about so weak a contender against the established and knowledgeable Abrahamson, but then again, Gableman did manage to win his bid - so it's important to get educated on the real issues here, spread the word, and decide what kind of person you'd rather have sitting on the bench of the highest court in the state: a political ideologue, or a proven and thoughtful judge.

P.S. Blogger informs me that this is my 500th post! Woo! Honestly, I'm not sure whether to be proud or mildly horrified...maybe both. :)

(EDIT: Changed the date of the WFC phone call - records were misinterpreted)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Looking for common ground on the issue of abortion

For many, there simply is no middle ground on this issue. I get that. Though I am ardently pro-choice, I understand that for some people, the issue of abortion is like the issue of the death penalty to me. I am completely against it, period. Between that lack of gray area and the heated passions often raised by the subject, a major schism has developed in our society over this one thing: should the woman have ultimate say over what happens to her body, or should outside interests? When does life begin, and when does a human life begin to reap the benefit of the law?

I've addressed the subject several times before on this blog, as it comes up time and time again. My stance has been and continues to be that both sides have both irreconcilable differences and mutual interests.

Currently, debate is raging about whether or not UW Health and Meriter Hospital should begin providing second trimester abortions at one of their clinics in Madison. The idea was proposed when the only doctor providing the procedure retired. Since then, there has been a great deal of outcry from both sides.

Over the weekend, a large group of anti-abortion protesters gathered on Library Mall and marched to the Madison Surgery Center, where the procedures would be performed. They were met by counter, pro-choice protesters and heated words were exchanged.

In the Capital Times' coverage of the rally, there was one quote that really struck me:
"This is the human rights issue in America," said Steve Karlen, founder of Madison Vigil of Life. He invoked Martin Luther King Jr. as he shouted at the crowd to stand fast in their determination to end legal abortion. "We have a dream today," he cried out to applause.
Karlen is apparently content to forget and/or ignore the several other human rights issues that still exist in our country: the exploitation of immigrant workers, equal marriage laws, discrimination against those of different races or classes, etc. Hell, we should perhaps be more concerned that slavery still exists in this day and age.

One of the biggest problems I've had in coming to relate to anti-abortion activists is their seemingly blind insistence on focusing only on those people who haven't even been born yet, as opposed to working to better the lives of those already living and breathing in our overcrowded world.

That combined with my firm belief in the ultimate right of the individual person to make decisions about their own bodies--not the government or church--makes it difficult for me to see and understand the other side of the debate.

But there must be middle ground.

Later in that same Capital Times article, there's an interesting exchange between two of the protesters:

In the midst of it all, two women on either side of the debate talked to one another, quietly, face-to-face.

"I don't like the idea of men sitting somewhere saying 'you can have an abortion. You can't.' I think I am the best one to determine what happens," UW student Olive Oyama said.

Dee McCoy of Sheboygan County said she was 18 when she had an abortion, and it took years until she understood she had been coerced into it.

"I can understand where she's coming from," Oyama said. "The reason women feel so much guilt afterward is because there isn't a space to talk about it."

"I love to meet more people like her who are willing to talk," McCoy said of Oyama. "I would like to find the middle ground."

Abortion is not a pleasant topic for anyone. For the vast majority of women who even consider having one--I'd hazard something like 99.8% of them--it's a deeply personal and painful choice. The circumstances leading up to being faced with such a decision are almost never good. They range from incest, rape, and massive in-utero defects to stupid mistakes and poor education.

I strongly suspect that one side will never totally convince the other to come over to their way of thinking. It's just too polarizing and complicated an issue. What we should be focusing on, I think, is reducing the overall need for and number of abortions. This can be achieved through stronger, comprehensive, and more affordable health care for everyone, regardless of race, social status, or gender. No more of this abstinence-only, contraceptive-phobic approach that's proving to be so harmful. It can be achieved through being honest with ourselves about sexuality, and about the major and serious hurdles faced by those living in poverty.

Because pro-choice and pro-life may never see eye-to-eye on the right to abortion, we should at least work together toward improving the situation for everyone so that the instances in which the procedure becomes a possibility are reduced significantly. To reach that point, we're going to need to put down the signs of mutilated babies, stow the personal insults, stop the threats to personal safety, and really talk with one another. It'll take a lot of hard work and a new level of honesty, but I think it's possible.

UPDATE: The Wisconsin State Journal has an interesting article up detailing the current debate up, including statistics on the number of second trimester abortions performed (which is extremely low).

(photo courtesy UW Digital Collections)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fire Ball success!

Another day, another fabulous party! Actually, I'm not sure I could do this sort of thing full-time. With all of the organization, PR, and general stress work that goes into putting on a successful show, I think twice a year is plenty for me. But it is a great feeling when one of these things goes so well, and it always makes me intensely happy to both help provide a venue for talented performers, and entertainment for my fellow Madisonians. And we managed to raise some money for local theatre, which is also fabulous. So really, I can't (and have no desire to) complain. Maybe I do have a future in this somewhere....

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Fire Ball, and especially large doses of gratitude to the performers (Nick Nice, Foxy Veronica's Peach Pies, Graydancer, Madtown Hellcats Burlesque, and Ashar Dance Company), the High Noon Saloon, and my fellow organizer, Jesse Russell.

If you missed it and are curious to get a small taste of the fabulous mayhem (or were there and want to relive some of it), please check out some of the photos taken and articles written about the affair:
And you can be sure we'll be doing another Fire Ball next January! Now, some time to reorganize my thoughts and energies, and then back to your regularly scheduled blogging. Oh and, I hear there was some sort of big sporting event over the weekend. Anyone know what happened? ;)
The Lost Albatross