Monday, November 30, 2009

Mountain bikes in Middleton

Outside its borders, our fair state of Wisconsin isn't exactly thought of as a place to find great mountain biking. We don't, after all, really even have mountains. But those of us who live and ride here know full well that there are some seriously awesome trails around. You just have to know where to look.

Or you have to take the initiative to get them built.

That's what Capital Off Road Pathfinders have been doing for several years now right here in my own backyard. The local chapter of WORBA (the state chapter of IMBA), CORPS has built and maintained a series of really good single and double track trails all over Dane County. Which I had managed to completely overlook until just recently. I discovered the Quarry Ridge network over the weekend, and unable to contain my excitement I took a quick, cold, muddy ride to get acquainted with an area that's a mere 15 minute drive from my apartment.

It's a prime example of how Wisconsin trail builders are able to make the most out of our sometimes limited terrain. We may not have mountains, but we do have lots of ridges and moraines and with the right design and imagination you can really milk a lot out of the land.

And now it looks like we're on track to get some singletrack, as well as a skills park and pump track, right next door in Middleton. Just this evening the Park, Recreation & Forestry Commission approved bids by Mike Riter of Trail Design Specialists and Ben Blitch of B4 Construction so they can begin work on the project out on the west side of the city.

I have no idea when it will be done, but there's a good chance some of it will be ready next season. Which is insanely cool.

You see, I've been riding on and off for about two years now and am more than ready to step things up. I have officially fallen in love with the sport, and the more opportunities to ride new terrain with new people the better. I'm lookin' to learn, be challenged, and have fun. But I'm also looking to help out, which is one of the great aspects of the mountain biking scene: stewardship. These groups do a lot to help with sustainability efforts in a given area, building trails that are low impact, help prevent erosion, and provide a pretty green means of bringing people and dollars to the nearby towns. It's kind of win-win, if you know what you're doing.

I'll be looking forward to seeing what I can do to chip in with future trail building and maintenance, and also to riding as often and learning as much as possible (hopefully without breaking myself too badly in the process). And I'll be looking forward to seeing what these folks bring to little ol' Middleton, Wisconsin.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dobbs teaches us all a lesson in how not to run for office

Lou Dobbs! What a wiener. But a useful one! The former CNN anchor/pundit has now offered up an extraordinarily clear example of crass political maneuvering for all of us to marvel at and learn from:
Former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, pondering a future in politics, is trying to wipe away his image as an enemy of Latino immigrants by positioning himself as a champion of that fast-growing ethnic bloc.
Oh ho ho! That's an about-face quick enough to make even the most securely screwed on head give a little spin. Dobbs, you see, made a career and a name out of lambasting immigrants--particularly those of Mexican origin--and associating himself and his opinions with some of the most virulently xenophobic organizations in the country.

Now that he's out of a job, though, a run at public office must look mighty appealing (a cherry position to be sure, what with the government-run health care program and decent salary--something the majority of Americans would just about kill for these days). But oh man, those Latinos, it turns out, make up a significant block of voters, especially in the Senate district in which he's looking to run. Against incumbent Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who just so happens to be the Senate's only Hispanic member.

Cue Dobbs pulling nervously at his collar and tie.

All that nasty stuff he said about Hispanics and immigrants? Yeah, if you could just, y'know, forget about it:
"Whatever you have thought of me in the past, I can tell you right now that I am one of your greatest friends and I mean for us to work together," he said in a live interview with Telemundo's Maria Celeste. "I hope that will begin with Maria and me and Telemundo and other media organizations and others in this national debate that we should turn into a solution rather than a continuing debate and factional contest."
Yep, just ignore all those times he blamed (inflated/exaggerated) US cases of leprosy on immigrants. Or when he raised the alarm against an alleged Mexican movement to re-annex parts of the Southwest, using information and graphics sourced to a extremist, right-wing group with white power ties. All of this while refusing to admit to or even explore the possibility that racism has anything to do with the various anti-immigration groups he otherwise so readily profiled.

Well, if his sudden professed love for undocumented immigrants doesn't piss off his old support base, I can't imagine his long history of attacking Latinos in general and immigrants in particular will play well with the other group he's hoping to woo. It's an almost impressively ridiculous strategy, and one that, hopefully, most people will see right through.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Emily's Post: One Month Update

Oh ho ho, what's this? A blog post about my blog posts at another website? Scandalous! But behold it's true, I've been writing a weekly column for the Isthmus Daily Page for lo this past month now, so I wanted to post some links for your reading pleasure. After all, if no one reads these things, my benevolent masters may get to thinking that hiring on yours truly for the job was a mistake. Now we don't want that, do we? The Queen demands her tea!

Ahem, where was I? Oh yes! Links!

I would be much obliged if you took a moment to click and read, and hey, maybe even leave a comment? It's up to you. I'll be grateful even if you remain silent.

Expect a post or two right here at TLA this week, despite the holiday. Or perhaps because of? You'll have to check back to find out!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A very Wisconsin ideal meal

Just over 10 years ago, I made up my mind to officially cut meat out of my diet. I had been toying with the idea for awhile before that, removing beef (easy, because I'd never been a fan) and then chicken (tricky, because so much has stock in it), and finally turkey (the most difficult--I love turkey).

The choice was based on a combination of factors: One, I have always been far more into my fruits and veggies, even from an early age, than any animal flesh. I distinctly remember taking a few token chews of steak at dinner and then hiding the mangled bits in my napkin so my parents would think I'd finished my meal. Second, I'd learned more and more about the inhumane and unhealthy process by which our country went about raising and processing much of its meat. I just couldn't ignore that any longer.

There was some small amount of empathy and the "oh but they're so cute" factor, but I've always understood how the food chain works. Human beings are, by nature, omnivores and I believe there's nothing inherently wrong with that. What is wrong is how we've come to mass produce and industrialize the process. Huge factory farms are bad for the environment, terrible for the animals, and often dangerous to the people who consume the meat that comes from them.

So I've been a pretty good vegetarian for over a decade now, even doing my best to get my dairy products from reputable, organic sources that treat the animals well and don't include artificial hormones or antibiotics in their products.

Then, over the last year, disaster struck. I developed a rather severe and debilitating case of lactose intolerance. It was the thing I'd always singled out as my worst dietary fear, something I swore could never happen to me, the girl who'd drank a glass of milk a day for pretty much her whole life. And yet, there was no denying it: I either needed to cut all sources of lactose out of my diet, or spend the rest of my life suffering (seriously suffering, I'm not joking when I say it's pretty severe).

I sucked it up and cut all of it out. No more milk, no more un-aged cheese, no more cream, no more butter. This has not been an easy task living in Wisconsin as I do, but slowly and surely I've been finding ways to deal.

In the midst of this tribulation, I also decided that my diet had been too thoroughly restricted by this change. Though I have deep love for the major advances in vegan cooking that have taken place in recent decades and rely on them every day, I could not bring myself to go fully without animal products. I decided to take back some control over what I could eat: I would start consuming flesh again.

The one caveat? I would only eat it sparingly, and only when it had been locally sourced from a place that raised and processed the beast as humanely as possible. Thankfully, this locavore trend has taken firm root in my area, and finding meat that falls under these guidelines is not as difficult as it once was.

So when I heard that the Underground Food Collective, now somewhat famous for their pre-industrial pig dinners, was helping to prepare a venison-centered meal in association with a lecture being given on the history of deer hunting in Wisconsin, I decided that it would be a great way for me to get back into the game.

Last night, me and The Boy headed out into the cold, drizzly November evening and over to the Wisconsin Historical Museum for the event. We were greeted by a room full of long tables and fellow diners who looked just as full of anticipation as we were. And after chatting up the people with whom we shared a table (who just so happened to be friends with the guys cooking the meal), it wasn't long before the first course was brought out.

We had a lovely salad of winter hoop-house grown spinach (from Snug Haven Farms) with pieces of low-key venison loin, dried squash seeds, red onions, and an unidentified but delicious dressing.

That was followed by a dish of three different kinds of squash all mixed together with good spices, something that pretty much screamed late autumn to my taste buds.

Finally, the main course: Extremely tender and expertly cooked strips of venison haunch with a light but very tastey almost barbeque-y sauce, with roasted parsnips and loads of yummy potatoes (the latter two coming from Driftless Organics). I'd never had venison before, and I'm told that it's the kind of meat that tends to reflect how it's cooked more than having a consistent flavor. In this case, it was delicious - not too gamey, nice and tender, with a good flavor infused, presumably, by the excellent sauce and cooking technique.

The cherry on top of this already amazing meal was the dessert, a perectly humble serving of apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. After everyone had finished and could speak coherently again, the cooks came out to tell us about the meal and take questions. Someone asked where the deer had come from, and after joking that they'd "hit it with their truck," we discovered that it had come from a farm raised operation in the area.

Another patron capped things off my declaring, "It was a helluva meal!" And I had to agree. It was good, too, to see all different sorts of people at the event--young and old, city and country. Following the meal, the group shuffled into a nearby lecture room for a talk by Robert Willging, author of On the Hunt: The History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin. He gave us a run-down of what's in the book, which includes well-researched details about the tradition in the state dating back to the Paleo-Indians who lived here thousands of years ago.

And luck was with me, as I happened to sit in the chair with the raffle prize ticket taped to its bottom, so I got to take home a free copy of the book to cap off my night.

Great food, good company, some learnin', and a free book - couldn't ask for much more. Happily, my stomach accepted the new addition to its diet with grace, too. Like I said, I won't be eating meat very often, and certainly never from fast-food joints and the like, but I feel incredibly lucky to have access to the really good stuff right here in south-central Wisconsin for whenever I get the hankering.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The delusional haze of oil addiction

When I first read this Badger Herald piece detailing a lecture by a visiting member of the Ayn Rand Center, I had to chuckle. "Oh boy," I wondered dismissively, "What are those silly Randians up to now?"

Alex Epstein, said lecturer, wanted students to know that oil has gotten a bad rap in recent years, that crude is really our friend, and that so-called "green dogma" has infiltrated our schools such that children are now raised to be environmentalists who actually give a crap about caribou herds in Alaska. The horror!

Granted, the Ayn Rand Center isn't exactly the most influential institution in the country, but many of the uber-libertarian ideals espoused by folks like Epstein do permeate our politics to a disturbing degree.

What folks like Epstein seem to be championing is the sort of responsibility-free liberty that allows human beings to do pretty much whatever they want, regardless of consequence. The important thing, as far as I can tell, is that no one is telling them what to do.

The problem, of course, is immense: This petulant refusal to think long-term, examine the hard facts of a situation, or take into account the needs of others, can only lead to ruin. We're already reaping some of the rotten fruits of that sort of thinking now, in our rapidly shrinking glaciers and ice sheets, massive plastic debris fields in the middle of the ocean, groundwater and soil poisoning, more extreme weather patterns, and even the oppression of entire peoples as the result of selfish policies.

Epstein is right enough when he points out that oil (petroleum) has helped shape the modern age, and that it's present in many of the products we rely on today. What he entirely fails to grasp is that our over-dependence on oil has led us down a very dangerous path, one that has resulted in destruction of ecosystems, bloody human conflict, and health hazards. We're long overdue to do what Epstein and is ilk so often laud in regards to the wrong thing: innovate.

There are viable and safer alternatives to using petroleum in our goods and gas tanks. If even half of the money and time dedicated to the oil industry were put into researching and developing alternate sources of fuel, I have no doubt we'd already be well on our way to a much more balanced world.

That will only happen when more people are willing to take a long, hard, critical look at the current situation and then be willing to dedicate real elbow grease and heart to making the necessary changes. That also means striving for a real balance between individual liberty and community responsibility. Let Ayn Rand spin in her grave. We could tap it as a source of clean energy.

EDIT TO ADD: Hahaha, well at least the oil industry used to be honest about what they did.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Legal health procedure? No funding for you!

The current, heated debate over the Stupak Amendment is more than a little mind boggling. The amendment, voted into the health reform bill last week by the House and now sitting in the Senate awaiting its fate, would place extremely tight restrictions on abortions that could be offered through any government-run health care plans. It would also "restrict any private plan in the insurance exchange from offering abortion coverage."

In short: It's crap.

I know that abortion rights are a contentious issue in this country. But the fact remains, thankfully and despite the best efforts of hardliners, that the procedure remains perfectly legal. Private insurance plans offer coverage for it, too, which helps keep women from bankrupting or hurting themselves when abortion becomes a necessity.

But now a handful of anti-abortion Democrats and pretty much all of the Republicans in the Senate are up in arms over the idea that the much-needed and loooong overdue health reforms headed for a final vote might include funding for the procedures. They argue that we shouldn't be asking tax payers who disagree with abortion to help pay for it.

That might seem somewhat reasonable until you consider the fact that we're already asking, say, Quakers to pay taxes that go toward funding our various war adventures. In fact, we ask all sorts of people to contribute taxes toward things they don't necessarily agree with and/or use. That's how this works. So why do the anti-abortion folks think they're so damn special?

Not to mention the fact that the RNC's insurance plan for employees covered abortions up until the fact was pointed out by Politico and suddenly they needed to save face so they got rid of it. Now that's compassionate conservatism!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Live Blog: My first night at the opera, with "Carmen"

I've been hiding a terrible secret. Though I've spent nearly my whole life immersed in the world of live theatre and film, a true thespian geek having acting in and seen countless plays, musicals, shorts, experimental pieces, and more--I have never, in my truly ancient now nearly 28 years on God's green Earth, seen an opera.

I know! A terrible oversight on my part, to be sure. And it's not that I don't like opera, or at least, what I've heard of it. But that's just it; I've only ever just heard opera and frankly it never really caught and held my attention. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that much of the appeal lies in the viewing of opera's famously colorful and larger-than-life stagings. So when Madison Opera’s manager of communications and community outreach Brian Hinrichs contacted me about taking part in their first-ever "Bloggers Night Out" at their upcoming production of George Bizet's "Carmen," I jumped at the chance to right this particular wrong.

It's a great idea, and it's also encouraging to see more entrenched institutions seeking new ways to reach wider audiences. Frankly, the more people we get interested and involved in the arts, the merrier. And I'm pleased as punch to be part of the effort!

So tonight I'm pulling out my opera glasses, changing out of the Blogger Pajamas and into my gussiest outfit, and getting ready for some no-holds-bar operatic action! And I hope you'll stick around to follow me as I marvel and ramble about all things "Carmen" and Madison Opera for an evening. If nothing else, my near complete lack of opera knowledge should provide for an entertaining train wreck of an entry.

You can also follow along with my fellow bloggers this evening:
And for more information about Madison Opera (and there's one more production of "Carmen" coming up this Sunday!), check out their website, blog, and Twitter feed.

Now! On with the live blog! Check back often for updates as the show progresses. Starting around 7:15 p.m. (CST) I'll be writing before, at intermission, and at the conclusion of the event.

(All photos courtesy James Gill / Madison Opera)

7:22 p.m.

I've just breezed into the Overture Center from an impromptu trip to Milwaukee to see a friend defend his graduate thesis (passed!). Catching my breath after battling traffic to get here on time, but everything seems to have worked out.

I would feel more out of place in my somewhat rumpled outfit and fabulous white Chucks if this wasn't Madison, but really, nothing in this town is that fancy. So I'm hopeful they won't kick me out.

Us dirty bloggers have been given a couple of tables in the main lobby where we're all sitting in a row, pecking away at our laptops, presumably all talking opera. I should probably be doing that, too, come to think of it.

Lots of well-dressed folks milling about. I'm sitting next to Dane101's Maddie Greene, who wrote an excellent behind-the-scenes piece about this production of "Carmen" that I recommend checking out here.

So I've been reading up on the show, and I'm told that there will be captions for those of us who don't speak...wait, what's this in? French, I think? Oh man, clearly I'm just terribly unprepared and unqualified for this gig, but don't tell. I've created quite the reputation for myself based on the ability to pretend I have any clue what's going on. I'd like to thank the Academy...

7:36 p.m.

Flamenco dancers! Not gonna lie: I already love dance, but add some percussion to the mix and you can be sure I'm going to love it. This particular group is Tania Tandias Flamenco & Spanish Dance, and they're quite good.

Excuse the crappy camera phone picture, but it's the limit of my technology this evening. Anyway, there's really no way to fully appreciate the dance unless you see it live. I dig how you can trace the influence of flamenco (a relative/forefather--depending on who you ask--of Celtic step dancing) and it's ilk in modern step dance and groups like Stomp. They're all related, of course, and it would take a far more knowledgeable scholar to break it all down. The important thing is that it's all fabulous, of course.

7:45 p.m.

I suspect the doors will be opening soon, and it looks like Brian and the Opera have hooked us up with pretty nice seats. But I'm still enjoying the dancers, so not going in just yet.

By the way, if you'd like a good overview of what "Carmen" is all about, take a look at this handy .pdf and read up. Basically, it's your standard story of a naughty lady tempting away several men and the drama that arises from the love triangle. Women. So life disrupting.

7:52 p.m.

Chimes! Sounds like it's time to head into the theatre. I am prepared for spectacle!

9:00 p.m.

First intermission (of two!). We've just left Carmen and poor Don Jose after an encounter wherein his attentions were turned from a painfully chaste relationship with Micaela, the young orphan girl adopted by his mother, and to the seductress gypsy woman Carmen. All because of a "charmed" flower. Men are so easy.

So far so good. It's easy to forget (or just not know in the first place) that a lot of the music from "Carmen" has permeated our popular culture. You hear pieces of it in all sorts of things--cartoons, movies, etc. And there's a reason: It's quite good. Catchy, even, if opera can be called such.

The set, on loan from another opera company (I'm blanking on the name), is gorgeous--towering walls with lovely scene painting. It's impressive without being cluttered or overdone. Much credit goes to the costumers, who've taken an enormous loaner wardrobe and tailored, trimmed, and taken in all manner of get-up for a fairly numerous cast.

The whole production, so far, seems to have come together very well. A great orchestra (the Madison Symphony Orchestra, lead by the venerable John DeMain), excellent scene and costume work, and a solid cast. The Madison Youth Choirs even got in on the action, providing the always somewhat gratituitous but adorable counterpoint to the melodrama of the adults on stage.

And I had to laugh - Carmen is one of the girls who works at a cigarette factory and, naturally, almost all of them smoke. Very un-PC, all that puffing and tobacco enjoyment. Had this been written and produced in modern times, I suspect the cigarette factory might have been replaced by, say, a solar cell manufacturing plant. Hah! The bells are chiming, back to it...

10:04 p.m.

Aaaaand second intermission. This blogging between acts is quite the high pressure gig. Don't feel there's enough time to sum up everything we've seen or thought about the performance, but in general I should say that this is quite entertaining.

The main lesson I'm taking from this story is that women are tricksy, and men are easily duped fools. Basically, a tale as old as time. But told with such flare! And plenty of soaring lyrics, dance, and color. Can't complain, really. I do appreciate the high drama and production value, and frankly, there just isn't enough of this in mainstream culture these days. Unless you count "Glee," which I do, but it's only one show after all.

Anyway, impressed overall with the main vocalists. Have to say their Carmen, Katharine Goeldner, is extremely talented. She not only has the pipes to pull off the various pieces, but a great, jaunty, assured presence befitting of her character. And Adam Diegel as silly ol' Don Jose has a beautiful voice overall (though I'm pretty sure I've heard him falter on some of the quieter notes--I don't feel quite qualified to criticize this style of singing). I even heard a few shouted "Bravos!" at the end of his solo in the last act.

But the bells chime again and we must obey. Back to the show!

11:20 p.m.

Fin! After a healthy standing ovation and my hands near falling off from the clapping, we come to the end of the show. My first opera! And it was, indeed, worth seeing. Many kudos to Madison Opera for putting together an excellent production--to the cast, crew, and everyone else behind the scenes. And I'm told they're putting this on again this Sunday, so I would certainly recommend looking into getting yourself some tickets and injecting some culture into your weekend.

My sincere thanks to Brian Hinrichs for the opportunity to see this show, and to sit in the lobby and have people look askance at me as I sit here and type away. All worth it! And it's not as though I'm not somewhat used to drawing confused glances.

Honestly, at this point I need to put some sleep between myself and the experience, and I may have more coherent thoughts on the whole thing tomorrow. Overall, however, I'll sum it up this way: Not a knock-your-socks-off type of show, but still very entertaining and professional.

And with that, I'm spent. A simple girl like me can only handle so much high drama and sung dialogue before she needs some downtime to process everything she's just witnessed. In the meantime, I intend to dream of flamenco dancers and a world where we solve our problems through song. Ah, if only.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Of blogs, bands, and opera

A couple of quick, but really very important links for you today. Regular blogging will commence soon! And I'm excited to announce that I've been invited by Madison Opera to take part in their "Bloggers Night Out" this Friday, which means I get to see their production of "Carmen" and write all about it for your (hopefully) enjoyment. It will be my first opera ever, so I'm kind of excited and nervous, because it's something I know so little about. But hey, that could make what I have to say quite entertaining, in a train wreck sort of way.

In the meantime, my first blog for The Daily Page is now live! I'd be much obliged if you sent some traffic their way and checked it out. And feel free to leave a comment, of course. You have to register, but it's free and relatively painless, I promise.

Also over at Isthmus, my band Little Red Wolf has happily moved on to the second round of voting in their Band to Band Combat. We'd love for you to go on over and cast a ballot in our favor to help us advance yet further in this fun little contest. Also free and easy!
The Lost Albatross