Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The good news for March 31, 2009

I was going to write a proper post today, but then I burned myself out on an article for Dane101. The solution? Do a news run-down wherein I include a link to my own article. Brilliant! There is, of course, another item of note to be had here, and I hope you'll take some time and learn something new from each.

  • [Dane101] "A tale of District 2: Brenda v. Bridget" - I was getting a little fed up that most of the coverage of this particular local race felt pretty one-sided (one way or the other), so I tried my hand at presenting a relatively unbiased account of the candidates. They were each kind enough to take some time to sit down and talk with me for this purpose, too, so many thanks to both Bridget and Brenda, for whom I cannot vote, because I live in District 8.
  • [Queerty] Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, ie. the Ts in "LGBT" and an equally important part of the greater community. Unfortunately, even amongst us queers there are still a lot of misperceptions about transgendered people, so all of us owe it to ourselves to get more educated and open about the whole thing. Jezebel has video of a remarkably frank discussion about gender reassignment surgery up to help with the cause.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Vote 'yes' on the Garver Arts Incubator

Election day draws near (it's April 7, in case you forgot), and in amongst the many candidate and referendum choices available to Madison residents will be a question on whether or not the city should sell the old Garver Feed Mill to Common Wealth Development. And I highly encourage you to vote 'yes' for that move.

Why? Because CWD, a non-profit organization that has done a lot of good for our community over the years, wants to transform the beautiful old--currently vacant--building into an arts incubator. They're proposing a LEED-certified renovation of the space so that it will provide much-needed, affordable studio and learning space for area artists. According to a CWD press release:
The Garver Arts Incubator will include 40 art studios. Visitors can enroll in art classes, attend performances or view a gallery while interacting with artists. A three-story atrium, indoor/outdoor café, gift shop and rooftop garden are also included in the plan. In addition, the renovation will be a sustainable development project and the building will be LEED certified.
They go on to emphasize that the center will not be paid for with city taxpayer money. Instead, "If the referendum passes, the City of Madison will sell the Garver building to Common Wealth who would retain ownership of the land through a minimum 30-year lease." Money for the project would be gotten through private funds, tax credits, and some federal assistance.

Certainly there's added appeal for me in a project like this. I'm heavily involved in the arts community, and many of my friends are artists who would likely benefit from its creation. In fact, the idea reminds me very much of the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center in Louisville, Kentucky. A few of my Wis-Kino comrades and I went down to Louisville to participate in their 48-hour filmmaking festival, and the final screening was held in a very nice room in the center.

It's an old, converted meat packing warehouse that now houses artist studios, a cafe, fitness center, some retail space, galleries, and teaching spaces. I remember being very impressed with the look and feel of the building, and that the city had such a great resource for its artists. The Garver Arts Incubator could be just such a space for Madison.

The main reason it's had to come up for referendum is that, "Under the city's shoreline preservation ordinance, voters must endorse the project located near Starkweather Creek before construction can begin." I'm hopeful that, based on CDW's track record of working closely with the community and paying close attention to environmental concerns, shoreline preservation will be a top priority in construction plans. They've already made plans to have "on-site storm water management and a comprehensive transportation plan that minimizes parking," which is a good start.

I encourage you to read more about it over at the CWD website. They have detailed plans and proposals available. And if it means anything to you, The Capital Times has endorsed the idea, and my own alder, Marsha Rummel, has been championing the project as well.

Vote Yes for the Garver Arts Incubator.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cyclist bashing on parade...again

And the ridiculous war between motorists and cyclists continues. Seriously folks, how do we keep missing the central point in all of this? Everybody has to obey the rules of the road, and nobody has any excuse to abuse, either vocally or physically, other road users. We all have the right to be there.

Some poor souls still can't seem to wrap their minds around the concept, though, and even get so twisted in their ignorance and anger that they resort to completely mind-boggling outbursts like the one aired on WJJO the other morning. I'll let the venerable Bike Snob of NYC take it from here, as he does a far better job of commenting on the incident than I could ever do:
Basically, some guy with a goofy Harry Shearer radio voice says he's sick of bicyclists, or "spandex cowboys." He then segues into some skit which is a parody of a hunting show, in which the host goes to the "Wisconsin Bicycle Trail of Death," where he kills bicycles instead of deer "because we feel they're flamers and they should be shot at!" He then launches into some weird homoerotic reverie in which he positions himself near someplace "gay and retarded" because that's where cyclists like to congregate. Once he spies some effeminate male cyclists, he then shoots them and excitedly declares that he "bagged me a nancy boy!" Then the host comes back and says that "if motorcyclists...if we did what bicyclists do we'd be in jail and our bikes impounded." Then they go to commercial.
You should read the rest of his response, because it's both spot-on and hilarious. You can listen to the actual radio broadcast over at madvelocity.com.

Clearly, we've all still got a long ways to go on this issue. Which is sad, considering we're talking about people's ability to be somewhat safe while traveling. This should all just be a given. But the same could be said of the homophobia so clearly on display in the radio spot, too.

Madison recently took a step in the right direction by passing a (long overdue, in my opinion) ordinance that "made it illegal for someone to open the door of a parked or standing vehicle into traffic without checking to make sure it’s safe." It also "makes it illegal for someone to leave a door open facing traffic for an unreasonable time."

Both requirements seem perfectly logical to me, but that didn't stop an absolute shit-storm of virulently anti-cyclist comments from cropping up in response to the article about the ordinance.

It's frustrating as all hell because the comments weren't really about the content of the article and ordinance itself, but rather people using it as an excuse to vent their spleens about the few cyclists they have (or maybe haven't) seen bending or breaking laws. But you know what? I see motorists doing the same crap all the time. Do I think it means they're all scum, not deserving of space on the roadways I share with them? Nope. It means I think those who break laws and put other people's safety in jeopardy, no matter their mode of transportation, should be held accountable. And I think the laws need to be better understood and enforced.

This kind of irrational hatred has no place in our society--not toward cyclists, not toward any group, period.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The newspaper is dead, long live the newspaper

Anyone paying an iota of attention to the current media situation knows that things are looking dire. We're talking Fall of the Roman Empire dire. The rebels at the end of "The Empire Strikes Back" dire. Y'know, bad. Major news organizations across the nation are folding, shuttering their offices, laying off workers, slimming down, cutting back, and desperately trying to find ways to keep afloat.

Charge for online content. Employ fewer journalists. Combine operations when a city has more than one newspaper. Shrink the actual size of the paper. And the list goes on.

What few of the major media conglomerates who run many of these operations seem to realize, however, is that the old, profit-driven, mega-consolidated way of doing things is coming to an end. And, I'd say, it's about damn time.

I'm a writer who sometimes moonlights as an actual journalist, so I certainly have a vested interest in finding ways for folks like me to get paid for their work. I think it's important to have a healthy balance (operative word being "healthy" here) between the so-called "citizen journalism" of blogs, etc., and the professional, comprehensive news gathering of honest-to-goodness trained journalists.

Things are fast becoming unbalanced, though, and we need to act very quickly to see that our country, our world, does not lose one of the most vital elements of any democracy: The free press.

Madison's Mayor Dave Cieslewicz yesterday penned a post wherein he called for newspapers to begin charging for online content:
Charge me. Please charge me. Why is it that I should expect to pay for news delivered on paper, but not expect to pay for the same story I read online? It costs something to hire reporters and editors and why shouldn't I, as a consumer of the news, pay for some of that cost?

So first and foremost, charge me. Second, charge me twice. Competition is a good thing. The blending of our two daily newspapers into one is not a healthy thing. When I see a Cap Times byline in the State Journal I wonder what that means. I know who wrote it, but who edited it? And what does it mean for competition between the papers? Are reporters tripping over one another to break a story or are they sleepily cooperating?
His concerns are not misplaced, but his solution, I believe, is. Jesse Russell, writing at Dane101, makes a counter offer and points out Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin's current proposal to allow newspapers to reorganize under non-profit status. They would then enjoy benefits typically only previously given to educational entities. They could claim circulation revenue and advertising as tax exempt. The caveat, however, would be that those newspapers could not "make political endorsements."

That's where you lose me. John Nichols and Robert McChesney of The Nation have another idea (and it's a fantastic article, so please do give the whole thing a read): Government intervention.

My hackles raised almost immediately upon reading that. Letting the government have any say over how a newspaper runs its operations is a recipe for disaster, 1984 style. But wait! they say, that's not what we mean:
Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism. We understand that this is a controversial position. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently engineered a $765 million bailout of French newspapers, free marketeers rushed to the barricades to declare, "No, no, not in the land of the free press." Conventional wisdom says that the founders intended the press to be entirely independent of the state, to preserve the integrity of the press...

...We are sympathetic to that position. As writers, we have been routinely critical of government--Democratic and Republican--over the past three decades and antagonistic to those in power. Policies that would allow politicians to exercise even the slightest control over the news are, in our view, not only frightening but unacceptable. Fortunately, the rude calculus that says government intervention equals government control is inaccurate and does not reflect our past or present, or what enlightened policies and subsidies could entail.

Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press. They would have been horrified at the notion that journalism should be regarded as the private preserve of the Rupert Murdochs and John Malones. The founders would not have entertained, let alone accepted, the current equation that seems to say that if rich people determine there is no good money to be made in the news, then society cannot have news.
They go on to explain that, during the early decades of the country, the Founders worked with government to create and implement "extraordinary postal subsidies for the distribution of newspapers. It also instituted massive newspaper subsidies through printing contracts and the paid publication of government notices, all with the intent of expanding the number and variety of newspapers."

The trick in this scenario, of course, is making sure that the policies and regulation remain "enlightened" - that is, the government provides money and subsidies, with pretty much the only thing it gets in return being a vibrant, independent press. So beyond funding, they lay off--no editorial control, not even a tiny bit of leaning.

Honestly, that may well be what it takes. Or maybe a combination of the non-profit and government subsidy models. Because newspapers should be freely able to editorialize and endorse. That's part of being a free press, after all. But they should also be recognized as a vital part of our society, one worth funding so that they're not run according to what might bring the most profit to their owners.

Newspapers, indeed all news organizations, should be run according to news. And it should be readily available to everyone, regardless of the size of their pocketbook. That's the great thing about the internet, and the sooner everyone recognizes this major, fundamental shift in how things are done, the better off everyone will be. Including our dying newspapers.

(photo by jamesjyu on Flickr)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Your daily spoonful of crazy, courtesy Mark Vivian

Former Fitchburg Mayor Mark Vivian wants his old job back, and apparently the ambition has driven him to Crazy Land.

At least, that's the conclusion one reaches after reading a recent campaign fundraising letter sent by Vivian to various members of the community. In it, Vivian claims that his opponent in the race, Fitchburg Common Council member Jay Allen, has links to a domestic terrorist group.


Here's what it says:
My opponent, Jay Allen, has introduced legislative action to use the City’s police powers to condemn land owned by the Novation Campus, and threaten 2.5 million dollars of your tax money to interfere in what should be a private matter between current tenants living illegally on Novation property and its owners. The illegal tenants have known ties to an organization identified on the U.S. Federal Government list of domestic terrorist groups.
Here's the whole thing:
(click for big)

I caught wind of this particular little work of political art last week, and today Bill Lueders, writing for The Daily Page, has a delightfully snarky piece up about it. You can read it here. When I first read the letter, I couldn't for the life of me figure out what group Vivian was referring to when he claimed terrorist ties. Turns out, it was Food Not Bombs, possibly one of the most innocuous, peacenik organizations around and hardly a candidate for domestic mayhem. They once gave me a nice, warm grilled cheese sandwich while I was at a protest rally in the middle of winter, so I may have some internal bias in their favor, but really--just look at their name. Then look at their website. Then look at their history.

Yeah, not so much down with the violence.

What really seems to be at issue here is how the land at Drumlin Farm gets used. Vivian accuses the current tenants of the land of being there "illegally" - though currently they do have a lease. He also claims that Allen's legislative action to condemn the land would "threaten 2.5 million dollars of your tax money."

Thankfully, Lueders sets the record straight:
Allen explains that he recently introduced a resolution to begin an eminent domain process against Alexander Co., which is developing the Novation Campus. He says the goal was to compel the company to discuss the possible sale of Drumlin Farm, a five-acre community garden that enjoys huge community support.

The stratagem worked: Novation is now in discussions with Fitchburg officials about a possible sale. That led Allen to table his resolution, about three weeks ago. Fitchburg’s current mayor, Tom Clauder, has said he’s been told the land has an appraised value of $2.5 million, the amount cited used by Vivian. But the Alexander Co. hasn’t set an asking price and the city hasn’t agreed to spent any amount ("threaten … your tax money," as Vivian puts it) for its acquisition.

Indeed, the nonprofit Madison Area Community Land Trust has expressed interest in acquiring the site, said to be the birthplace of Wisconsin’s urban agricultural movement. That means it could become a protected community asset at little or no cost to Fitchburg taxpayers – unless, of course, Mark Vivian gets elected.
Basically, Vivian's letter is a pile of crap, and an incendiary one at that. The issue of land use rights and specifically what happens with the Drumlin/Novation property is an important one, and deserves a higher degree of debate that that which Vivian appears to be prepared to offer. I can't imagine that someone who would put out a piece of literature as ridiculous as that would make an even remotely good mayor. But, ultimately, that's for the fine folks of Fitchburg to decide.

Monday, March 23, 2009


For those of you curious to see what we got up to this weekend as part of the Wis-Kino 48-Hour Kabaret, behold! Part 3 in our ongoing series about the character of Chapel, who, incidentally, is also the main character in my book, The Fix Up. Ah, sweet sweet tie-ins.

Fair warning: The movie has some strong language and a lot of fake blood. I wouldn't recommend watching it while at work (unless you're employed by Troma or something), or if that sort of thing isn't your cup of tea.

It was a lot of fun to make this, and I feel like it's the best of the series so far (the first two being "Complicated" and "Distracted"). That's definitely the result of having a really great team working on this particular installment. And bonus! No fake blood for me this time. I think I've dealt with my fair share for awhile.

Thanks to everyone who came out and made this Kabaret such a success! We showed something like 15 films, all made over the course of the weekend, and had a great crowd at the final screening on Sunday. See you for the next one in July!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wis-Kino Spring Kabaret starts tonight

It's that time again! Madison's own chapter of the International Kino micro-cinema movement, Wis-Kino, is getting ready to throw their spring 48-hour filmmaking "Kabaret" - starting tonight!

These are always a blast, and a great opportunity for both budding and experienced filmmakers alike to flex their creative muscles. Even better? There's no hefty entrance fee. You just pay to come to the screenings themselves, and the film challenge is free!

Past participants have ranged from enthusiastic grade school kids to college students to working stiffs and even some industry professionals. And if you don't have your own camera, you should come anyway just to check out some great, short, local films. You can also get involved in other projects - filmmaker's often need actors, extras, location scouts, musicians, grips, and everything in between.

Details are as follows:
WHAT: Wis-Kino Spring Kabaret ‘09
WHEN: Kick-Off Screening on Friday, March 20 at 7:00p.m. - Final Screening on Sunday, March 22 at 7:00p.m.
WHERE: Sundance Cinemas, Hilldale Mall, 430 N. Midvale Blvd, Madison, WI
COST: Kick-Off Screening is just $2, Final Screening is $5 (for everyone, including filmmakers - no extra charge to participate).

Questions? Comments? Drop us a line at Wis.Kino.Films@gmail.com or read more about Kabarets at the link above.

(Full disclosure: Yes, I'm one of the co-directors of this group, but I promise it's lots of fun!)

To give you an idea of what's been done for Wis-Kino and the 48-hour challenges in the past, check out some of these short films:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Returning competence to the helm

This looks like really good news for the much beleaguered Dane County 911 center:
John Dejung, a UW-Madison graduate who has worked the past 12 years as 911/311 director for the city of Minneapolis, has been named director of the Dane County Public Safety Communications Center, County Executive Kathleen Falk announced Thursday.
Dejung comes with some pretty damn impressive credentials:
The Minneapolis 911 Center was awarded the 911 Call Center of the Year for 2008 by the 911 Institute for its handling and emergency response coordination of the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in 2007, according to a news release.

Dejung oversaw millions of dollars in technical upgrades to the Minneapolis 911 Center including the 2006-07 replacement of that center's computer aided dispatch system.

He has served as president of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association, was two-year chair of a 911 national industry group called the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, and also served as chair of the Minnesota Metropolitan 911 Board Technical Operations Committee.
The article goes on to note that Dejung spent some years as a Coast Guard officer as well. Between that and everything listed above, he sounds like absolutely the right person for the job, and I commend the county for hiring him at a time when the center desperately needs qualified, quality leadership. It definitely signals that someone, somewhere is taking seriously the public's outcry over how the center has been handled in the recent past.

I am optimistic (but reserving further judgment until things actually start happening) that the necessary upgrades in equipment and procedure will be made, and that hopefully we can completely avoid tragic situations like the Zimmermann and Lake Edge Park cases in the future. This is, of course, the kind of person who should have been hired years ago, and it's important to continue to look for honest answers and accountability for what has happened.

But this would appear to be a big step in the right direction. I wish Dejung and everyone else honestly dedicating themselves to this work all the best.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Fix Up: The Update

I have continued to be humbled and amazed by the willingness of people to buy copies of my first book, The Fix Up. Not only that, but many of them have even said they liked it! That's about as good as it gets for an author.

Nathan Comp, a fine writer himself, was kind enough to give the book a proper review, and you can read it over at dane101.com today. His criticisms are constructive, and his compliments quite flattering. Deeply appreciated.

I'd also like to mention that I only have 9 copies left that can be bought directly from me for a discounted price. If you'd like to get a book using this method, now's the time to act! Just drop me a line via email to arrange it, or send $12 (cash or personal check only) to me at the following address:

Emily Mills
P.O. BOX 3001
Madison, WI 53704

Be sure to include your preferred mailing address and I'll be sure to sign the copy for you. Otherwise, you can still purchase copies at A Room of One's Own bookstore in downtown Madison, or securely online at my e-store here.

And now? Well, I must admit that I've already written the first page of the sequel to this book, but I'm also heavily focused on working on a novel I've been mulling on and off for the past couple of years. You could say that it's a bit different than this one--it deals with a woman who poses as a man and fights in the American Civil War. Because I'm a huge history dork! And because it's based on a real person, and real events, which interests me. It's going to be quite the project, but I'm excited to really tackle this one. Heck, I may even shop it out to proper publishers once it's finished. That is, if there are any proper publishers left at that point. What a world, what a world.

(photo is of my good friend Jenny, who was so enthusiastic that she had to eat my book)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Another ridiculous notch on Morlino's belt

I've ceased being surprised by any of the ridiculous things Bishop Morlino says or does. I am heartened by the growing chorus of dissent amongst area Catholics in response, though.
Forces advocating change in the Catholic Church clashed with the church establishment Saturday at St. John Vianney Church.

The issue was the firing last week of Ruth Kolpack from her job as pastoral associate of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Beloit.

The firing came in a meeting with Bishop Robert Morlino. Kolpack said Morlino asked her to renounce her master’s thesis, make a profession of faith and take a loyalty oath.

Loyalty oaths? I guess some of us are still riding on the "refusing to learn anything from history" train. And as for that masters thesis found to be so objectionable?

Kolpack said her thesis discussed the evil that can come of blind obedience. She said she can understand how that could be a red flag for the bishop.

“But if he would’ve read the whole paper, he would’ve understood it... he didn’t give it a chance,” she said.

The thesis also criticizes the church’s language of worship, which refers to God with words such as “he” or “Father.”

Kolpack said that’s harmful.

“I’m concerned about women, about young girls, who grow up in a patriarchal, male-dominated society. What does it do to their self-esteem?” she said.

But heaven forbid we, as humans, strive to become more egalitarian, more compassionate, more inclusive in all things. Because apparently a centuries old text, written by men living in a very different time with very different understandings of morality and equality, should be considered infallible. This sense of refusing to grow and learn baffles me - it is, essentially, the worst kind of anti-intellectualism. It's saying that everything we can and should know has already been carved in stone, and to study those words or to come to different conclusions based on new evidence and reinterpretations is heresy.

But that's what the people in power prefer. If the hoi polloi were to start questioning the very foundations upon which these officials base their authority, well, they'd be plum out of a job. It's happened before, and they're fools to think it won't happen again.

My favorite (ie: the most outrageous) part of the article comes in the form of a quote, though:
Spokesman Brent King said that Catholics owe obedience to their pastor, bishop and the pope, because they represent Jesus.
I admit that it's difficult for me to understand why anyone could claim to be a direct representative of a man who died 2,000-odd years ago, or of a spiritual entity that goes far beyond physical being. I suspect that it results from one of two things: True delusion, or full knowledge that it's a bullshit claim but still useful in attaining a position of great influence.

My father is a pastor, and he has never claimed to "represent Jesus" (but then, he's a dirty Protestant). Rather, most clergy worth their salt simply claim to be dedicated and tireless scholars of their chosen religions, interested in sharing their knowledge and ideas, and in attempting to bring some degree of order and kindness to their fellow man.

Too many fall far short of that noble goal, though, when they get caught up in the desire for authority, glory, riches, etc. And their all-too common weaknesses sometimes lead to things like war, oppression, and senseless struggle.

So I'm glad there are people like Kolpack who are willing to keep searching, keep trying to improve the ways in which we seek truth, compassion, justice and greater meaning in life. I just wish their were fewer Morlinos to stand in their way.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Taking it to the streets

A Milwaukee-area Fox News photographer and avid road cyclist apparently experienced one car-swipe too many and decided to start filming the SOBs. I say good on him.

I'm a strong advocate for bike rights and safety, and firmly believe that everyone needs to be better educated about the rules regarding how to share the road. I also believe that we need stricter punishment for those, both drivers and cyclists, who break the rules. It puts people's lives in danger, and that should simply be unacceptable.

H/T EcoVelo.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mistele, Blaska, wrong for Dane County

I've been busy with things other than blogging lately and feeling relatively uninspired to post anything--until good ol' Dave Blaska came along to save me. Thanks Dave! Your continued ignorance on matters of government and politics has cured my writer's block.

Blaska's newest screed over at The Daily Page has him playing a fairly tired tune: Kathleen Falk is history's greatest monster, Nancy Mistele will be our supervisorial savior, boo to funding for commuter rail and environmentally & economically friendly projects, etc. etc.

His fresh spin on this old refrain comes in the form of maligning the current move to provide state funding (mostly coming from its share of stimulus money) for two manure digesters. These machines help to remove phosphorous--that thing that so pollutes our lakes and makes them nearly impossible to swim in--from cow manure on area farms. In the process, they also use the bacteria on manure to create methane gas, which is then used to power generators and provide electricity.
Each digester also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12,000 tons each year and generate $900,000 a year in renewable energy...
Still, this is somehow a terrible idea to Blaska, who claims that Falk and co. should be focusing their attention on more "urgent priorities" and that the digesters are a "project better left to the farm co-ops." Because farm co-ops have buckets of money to spare, and because apparently the quality of our local watersheds and renewable energy aren't urgent enough priorities for Blaska.

I, for one, rather miss being able to swim in lakes. I'm also rather keen on passing on a planet to my children that's in better shape than how I found it. Guess that's the old Girl Scout in me talking again.

Blaska goes on to point to the current pothole-a-riffic situation on University Ave. as further proof of Falk's incompetence. He completely fails to mention the fact that Falk recently announced a major reconstruction project on that very road. But! Both he and Mistele would much rather see the county go forward with a far more invasive project: The North Mendota Beltway. Can we say boondoggle?

Instead of adding more space for more cars and more emissions and increased traffic and higher pavement pollution run-off rates, how about we actually invest in mass transit? It cuts down on all of the aforementioned problems, and benefits people with lower incomes who might not otherwise have a way to get around town.

Falk is by no means perfect. In fact, I've been calling her on the failings surrounding the 911 center and other things for some time. But Mistele? Definitely worse. And quite a bit of a one-note wonder (OK, two if you count the NMB idea) with her incessent "noun-verb-911-center" prattle.

We should absolutely work to hold Falk and those associated more accountable for incidents like what happened with the Zimmermann case. We should foster better future leaders. We should be able to focus our attention on multiple priorities at once (unlike Blaska and Mistele's insistence on one thing at a time, but only if it has everything to do with "public safety" and nothing to do with conservation, etc.).

We should not vote Nancy Mistele into office.

(with apologies for the terrible Photoshop at top)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Win tickets to see Alice Russell this Sunday

What is it with incredibly talented neo-soul singers and the UK these days? Something in the water? Whatever the case, fact is that several really impressive female voices have come out of the British Isles over the last decade, helping to spawn a revival of sorts for the kind of catchy doo-wop usually associated with the late 50s-60s.

Alice Russell is one such voice (one of the better, I'd say), and she's coming to the Majestic this Sunday. She's sung with groups like personal fav Massive Attack, as well as the Nextmen and Quantic Soul Orchestra, to name but a few. Now she's gone solo. If you're not already familiar with her work, head on over to her Myspace page and give a listen. It's good stuff, and if you dig it at all you should seriously consider coming out to the show.

I'll even sweeten the pot a little and offer a free pair of tickets to the first person to leave a comment with their full name and...well, let's see...a band name for some mythical super group they might form in another life. That should be fun. First person to do so will find their name +1 on the guest list for the gig on Sunday.

Details: Alice Russell at the Majestic Theatre, Sunday, March 15 @ 9:00p.m. All ages show, regular tickets are just $10 (and you can get them online here).


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Taking sexual assault more seriously

Last week, the Badger Herald (one of two student dailies in Madison) reported on a young woman who was allegedly raped last October while attending a party at a local fraternity. You can read the article here, and the accompanying transcript of the interview with the woman here.

The story itself is horrifying: The young woman went to a party, blacked out, and woke up the next morning partially undressed and lying in a strange bedroom. Tests performed at the hospital after the fact show that she was likely raped by several men, and though she has since filed a formal complaint with police and an investigation is ongoing, there hasn't been so much as a peep from the frat involved.

But scroll down into the comments section of that original article for the massive insult to this already terrible injury. While a good few people chime in with words of support and reason, all too many (mostly anonymous) start in with the victim blaming.

(There's more commentary over at the Critical Badger's blog, too, including some further insight into the Greek system's private governing board, etc.)

For all our society's progress in dealing with sexual assault, incidents like this make it all too painfully clear what a long way we've still to go.

There is legitimate concern that this story will automatically paint every member of the fraternity as a potential rapist. As a few, refreshingly logical comments have already pointed out, it's of the utmost importance in cases like these to let the investigation play out so that the guilty parties can be properly brought to justice and those who've done nothing wrong don't get their names dragged through the mud along the way. Throwing bricks through frat windows doesn't help, either (though I certainly understand the impulse).

But, with apologies to all perfectly nice and moral members of the Greek system, our main concern in this sort of situation should be for the person making the allegations--not for the frat. Journalists and law enforcement should certainly do their best to keep the story from getting away from them and tarnishing the names of the innocent, but our primary concern should be support for the victim.

You always believe someone when they tell you they were raped. If the facts later turn out to prove something to the contrary, you deal with that then. Up front, it is incredibly important, as a friend or just someone in the community, not to cast aspersions and doubt upon the person who has had to come forward to tell a deeply personal and awful story. Statistically, only a very small percentage of those who experience sexual assault ever come forward and/or press charges. A major part of the reason for that is the social stigma they then are usually forced to deal with: people calling them liars, accusing them of trying to smear the "good names" of friends and family (because attackers are more likely to be someone you know), claiming that by being in a certain house at a certain time or drinking alcohol or wearing revealing clothing means they were just "asking for it."

As though somehow, some way, this was at least partially their fault and they should just shut up and move on.

Bull. Shit.

The only person who deserves blame in situations like these is the perpetrator. No one forced them to commit the crime. Too often, however, our society plays it off as drunken hijinks or "boys being boys" (which, quite frankly, I would be insulted by if I were a guy--insinuating that I had no control over myself).

It hasn't helped that the UW Dean of Students, Lori Berquam, apparently dropped the ball when contacted by the victim. She is now trying to make up for that by holding a forum on sexual assault--which is good--but I'm a bit suspicious of anyone who would say that "We do take [vandalism] very seriously, the same way we take sexual assault seriously." Which one of these is not like the other?

I don't doubt her sincerity in saying that sexual assault should not be tolerated, and in wanting to help provide support for those who've been affected. What I do doubt is a real understanding of what victims often go through, and what they need in the aftermath. My own alma mater had serious problems dealing with this very issue, as they were seemingly more concerned with the appearance of being pro-active than actually being pro-active. Cases involving students from prominent, wealthy families were swept under the rug. And those that did go public were often dealt with incompentently and slowly (for instance: the perpetrator of one sexual assault was allowed to continue living in the same dorm as the victim for months after the case was reported).

Certainly, it's no easy thing for anyone to deal with sexual assault. But we must all keep in mind that the person having the hardest time with it all is the person who was attacked. Taking care of them should be our number one priority, right next to finding the individual(s) responsible and making sure they spend a hefty amount of time behind bars.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Riding bikes indoors

What's sore and bruised and content all over? That'd be me after a weekend at Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Cleveland, Ohio. I'm back from both my blogging and real-life vacations, only a little worse for wear, and even more in love with riding my bike than ever.

My fella and I, feeling the ill-effects of a too-long Wisconsin winter, decided to head out for Ray's this weekend after hearing that it offered an indoor reprieve for northern biking enthusiasts. And though, in the end, I still much prefer riding long, flowing trails in the great outdoors, I can definitely say that Ray's is a pretty rad place and I wish we had something like it a little closer to home.

As it turned out, the park was having a "Ride With the Legends" day when we got there, which included the presence of several pro BMX and mountain bike riders, plus a mob of curious onlookers. Still, the friendly Chicago ex-pat minding the door told us that the events never interfere with regular folks' ability to ride, so we had free reign to explore the nearly 100,000 square feet of park.

Think about that: nearly 100,000 square feet of indoor biking. Pretty impressive. I felt a little overwhelmed when I first rolled my bike into the melee. Between the fact that we'd only just recently retrofitted my bike to the point of it pretty much being a brand new ride, and this being my first time on it in months, I was a little shaky at first. Thankfully, there's a very nice "beginner room" that's generally quieter and less crowded than the rest of the building, and I spent some time there getting warmed up. After a few adjustments, the new bike ran smooth and true. After some mental adjustments, I wasn't so bad, either.

We spent a good 6 hours trying out what lines we could (that is, what lines wouldn't kill a couple of relative greenhorns like ourselves). There's the Gary Fisher XC loop, which runs along the ceiling of the converted factory space and then swoops down and around berms and ramps that crisscross several of the other areas. A small pump track provides a good chance to develop that particular skill. A good handful of technical mtb tracks are packed onto one half of the floor, each with varying levels of difficulty: teeter-totters, boardwalks, log runs, berms, tabletops, and plenty of skinnies.

I watched several trials riders bunny hopping their way from line to line and marveled at the degree of skill needed to do what they do. I have no interest in trials myself (I'm not that balanced, nor that patient), but it's fascinating to watch. Check out a video of what I'm talking about right here.

I worked on my jump take-offs and landings, trying to even out my bike as much as possible instead of just bumbling over things, and actually started to feel like I was getting the basic hang of it. I've still got quite a long ways to go, but the day provided a good chance to get to know my new bike and try out some things I'd been wanting to work on for awhile.

Of course, the day was not without injury. I took one pretty spectacular spill as I tried to navigate a long log run, nearly doing an endo before throwing my bike at the last minute and taking the bulk of the hit on my right side. My shin and knee pads did their job, but unfortunately I got a log right to the thigh and ended up with a pretty gnarly muscle bruise that left me limping for the next day. All part of the process, right?!

We took a few short breaks to just watch the pros tackle the big ramps near the front, marveling at the tricks they pulled and how easy they made it look. At one point, as we were waiting for our turn on one of the mtb lines, my fella struck up a conversation with another guy about some fancy new feature on his bike, not knowing that said guy was Hans Rey, one of the pros in for the day and a major pioneer of trials riding. So that was fun.

All told, it was a great day of riding, trying out new things, developing some skills, working up a sweat, and watching some pretty amazing riders do their thing. I was happy to see quite a few other women out on their bikes, too (we're still the minority in this sport, of course). And the overall vibe of the place was good, with little in the way of ego or pretense. And kids! We ran into quite a few tots pedaling around on miniature BMX or bigwheels. One particularly skilled guy was even out on the track holding his own. I talked briefly with his mom, who said he was just 4-years-old but already racing motorcycles, too. I can't say I'm entirely down with letting pre-schoolers race motorized vehicles, but hey, if that kid keeps it up and doesn't get mangled in the process, he's going to be pretty damn good at a pretty young age.

Got back into Madison last night, welcomed by much colder temperatures and snow. Our weekend biking adventure should help to keep me sane until spring really shows up and I can take it outdoors again--but it's Wisconsin, after all, so who knows? Here's hoping.

Tomorrow, it's back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

(full set of photos available at my Flickr account)

Monday, March 2, 2009

A small blogging vacation

I'm pooped. Between wrapping my scenes for the movie, finishing several big articles for actual publications, dealing with some minor health issues, and gearing up for a small vacation this weekend (among other things), I need a quick break.

So, barring any major developments this week, you won't be hearing from me. But I'll be back next Monday and up to my old tricks--there's much to discuss in the coming month. I hope you'll stop by then and say hello.

In the meantime, enjoy your week, go see "Vamp" at the Bartell (it's good, and I'll be posting a review of it later today on dane101), and be sure to pick up a copy of the Capital Times / 77 Square this Thursday. There may be a familiar byline on the cover story.

UPDATE: My 77 Square article is in this morning's paper and online. Feelin' pretty good about that.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday Brunch: Late night ska edition

This, this right here is a piece of fine musical history, folks: A live performance of the song "A Message To You" as played by the Pogues and with guests Lynval Golding, Joe Strummer, Kirsty McColl, David Byrne, and more. This is definitely one of those shows I would have paid good money--or risked sneaking past bouncers--to have been at, had I been of age.
The Lost Albatross