Thursday, June 17, 2010

Conservative watchdog group SO ANGRY at county employee blogging while on unpaid furlough

What else could explain such a needless and sloppy investigation and accompanying complaint? If you've been paying any attention to the political blog scene in Wisconsin lately, you may have noticed that the chattering classes are currently abuzz with talk of the Milwaukee County DA seizing the computer of a one Christopher Liebenthal, aka "capper."

Why would the DA, presumably someone with a fairly heavy caseload of slightly more pressing issues, swoop in to sniff around in one guy's computer, you might ask?

Well, as it turns out, conservative (the exceptionally silly kind, specifically) activist group Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) filed a complaint with said DA alleging that capper, a county employee, was blogging while at work. Which, if true, would certainly be a giant no-no and even I, friend of the capster, would advocate appropriate legal wrist slapping.

Oh but there's a whole lot more to the story than that, surprise surprise. Let's put it all in handy, bullet list format, shall we? Makes it more digestible, like taking a lactase pill before eating cheese:
  • Though bloggers have long used the tactic of "I bet you write while at work!" to attack their political foes, back in May one was actually caught doing just that: Darlene Wink, constituent services coordinator for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, got caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar and was forced to resign because of it. Turns out she'd been posting comments, under several pseudonyms, at a bunch of sites in turn praising Walker, her boss, and lambasting his critics. Tsk tsk.
  • Curiosity then piqued, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed an open records request for the internet browsing history of computers in Walker's office - just to be sure no one else was up to Wink-like shenanigans as well. (Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. also filed a complaint with the DA asking that a criminal investigation of Wink be started.)
  • In response, Cheryl Berdan of the county executive's office claimed that making those records available would cost anywhere from a cool $400 to nearly $900. Apparently no one bothered to tell anyone at the county exec's HQ that the world's upgraded from mimeograph machines, because I'm fairly certain just exporting browser history into a word document of some sort is pretty dang cheap.
  • Anyway, all of this made a lot of the more rabid right-wing bloggers in the state feel especially butt hurt and angry, and many began looking for potential targets to redirect the controversy onto. Enter capper, an outspoken and somewhat prolific lefty blogger who also happens to work for the county. BINGO.
  • So the CRG figures, "Hey! That guy totally has to be writing and posting on county time, because our people do it, like, constantly, and my worldview is so skewed because of it that clearly my opponents must be just as daring/stupid." They go right to the DA with a complaint, who for some reason decides he has nothing better to do and seizes capper's work computer. For the CRG and its allies, there is much rejoicing.
Putting aside the fact that blog time stamps are almost entirely useless as evidence because you can schedule them to go up automatically at any time you want - looking at the dates being paraded around as evidence of capper's (who gets his blog on at both Cognitive Dissidence and Whallah!) terrible malfeasance, it doesn't take a whole lot of sleuthing to realize that the whole thing is complete bunk.

Every single one of the dates in question was either 1) an unpaid furlough day county employees were all forced to take (thanks, Scott Walker!), 2) a pre-approved vacation day that capper usually announced directly on the blog, or 3) an official holiday. Like MLK Jr. Day and Memorial Day. THE HORROR.

Capper's rightfully employed a lawyer to handle what could very well turn into a defamation or libel suit against CRG and any of the several bloggers who've been posting scurrilous nonsense about the incident, some even pretending to be capper.

One such comment, posted at Boots & Sabers, even went so far as to claim that the investigation had uncovered pr0n on capper's 'puter - which put Owen Robinson, owner of the site, on the receiving end of a take-down letter from capper's attorney.

Really, the whole thing strikes me as one giant waste of the DA's (and the public's, for that matter) time, all because of some petty political vendetta. For a group that claims to be all about more responsible government and use of taxpayer money, CRG sure does seem to be overly prone to irresponsible behavior.

But hey, this is just the sort of ridiculousness Wisconsin will be in for if it elects Scott Walker as its governor - or Ron Johnson as its Senator. In addition to their own, personal shortcomings, they're liable to bring along a whole posse of like-minded supporters who'll spend all their time on partisan bickering and one-upmanship, instead of on, oh I don't know, job creation? The environment? Education? Silly little things like that.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On finding some solace in being robbed

The past several weeks have been difficult, I won't lie. Certainly not the most trying time of my life by any means (thanks, ages 14 - 16, for providing that perspective), but no fun nonetheless. What's especially interesting is that things have been all about extremes: some really great stuff tempered by the really bad. So it goes.

For instance, as I mentioned before, recently I spent a long weekend in Seattle. I'd never been to the city before and was looking forward to exploring new territory and meeting new people. Officially I was there with my sister to perform our Twins act for something called Freakshow-A-Go-Go (aka FAGG), which was exciting on its own. Unofficially it was to be a chance to tromp around unfamiliar ground and get away from the increasingly depressing hunt for income back in Madison for a short while.

And Seattle was beautiful. It was rainy and cool almost the whole time we were there but I had expected as much, and even so it was still lovely. The rain there is different than what you typically get in Wisconsin. Instead of downpours, there would be short, light showers followed by intermittent drizzle - which sounds more dreary than it was, I assure you. Though I'd probably change my tune if I actually lived there. Still, we stayed with two excellent hostesses who took good care of us, hiked through some gorgeous city parks, gazed out over Puget Sound, and I also made a point to check out the I-5 Colonnade. A spectacular and very cool example of good urban planning, the Colonnade is an inner city dirt bike park that accommodates riders of all skill levels. And it's all underneath a massive freeway overpass, so it stays almost entirely dry year-round.

I took photos of all of this, of course. And I'd be posting them now if it weren't for the Bad Extreme that happened next.

The show was on Saturday at the Rainier Valley Cultural Arts Center, a little venue in the Columbia City section of town. We had to be there a bit earlier in the day for our tech call, and while we were running our act had left some of our bags downstairs in the dressing room. Mind you, the dressing room door was not visible from the street. And there were performers in it almost all day. Somehow, though - and perhaps I'm just the luckiest girl in the world - during the (maybe) 10 minutes during which everyone was watching two particularly talented acrobats do their tech run, some desperate soul managed to wander in off the street and steal my bag.

At first I thought I was just losing my mind and had misplaced the thing, but after another girl discovered that her phone and wallet had been taken from her purse, too, there was no denying that we'd been robbed.

All told, I lost both of my cameras, my wallet, and those wonderful, custom-molded earplugs that had been a very thoughtful birthday gift from my friends a couple years ago.

And this happened about two hours before the show was to begin. I chalked it up to a good lesson in taking "the show must go on!" to heart, called the police to file a report, and went about the business of putting on my costume and makeup and trying to focus on putting on a solid performance. Which I'm told we did. I had fun, anyway.

To the credit of the Seattle police, they sent an officer by in a fairly timely fashion to take our statements about what was surely a dime-a-dozen crime. I had to laugh, though, because the cop showed up during intermission and promptly found himself surrounded by dozens of performers in all manner of weird get-ups, including me looking like the photo at right and the other girl dressed as a cat (she being part of a group called Catittude with which I am now absolutely in love). I'm sure he's seen stranger things in his time as a cop, of course, but he took it all with good humor.

I don't expect to see any of my stuff ever again. At the time I tried to take some comfort in the notion that my renter's insurance might well cover a lot of it, but when I got home and saw that my deductible was $1,000 and the total worth of what was taken only about $900, that shred of comfort went out the window.

But in the midst of all that, I had to make up my mind to have a good time for the rest of my trip. What else was there? And I had some faith in humanity restored by how kind everyone was to me - including the surprise chunk of change that my fellow performers donated at the end of the night. Sure, I had no ID and only the cash given to me, all my vacation photos were gone, and I had to deal with the tedium of calling to cancel all of my cards and such.

But I wasn't hurt, and I was surrounded by good people, and there was still plenty of city to explore. And, ultimately, I got to go home to my beloved fella and city (turns out they will let you fly without ID - you just get treated to extra special security screening fun times).

Strangely, the whole thing left me feeling...lighter. It's hard to explain. I'm still frustrated as hell about losing my cameras and those completely awesome earplugs. They were, after all, things I use in my art and work. I still felt violated and helpless, which I hate. And yet I had/have this sense of lightness about the whole thing. Like it slapped me upside the head and cleared a few of the heavier cobwebs that had gathered there and focused my attention on more important things.

Getting robbed certainly didn't bring me any Buddha-like enlightenment about the impermanence of things - though it was definitely a lesson toward that end - but I have to think that it was a valuable experience. Even if that's all that I can get from it, it's not bad. And if it helps balance one extreme with another, I'm all for it.

(top photo by Chethan Shankar on Flickr)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

All work and no pay

Just back from a long weekend in Seattle and boy, was that a mixed bag. Met a lot of really great people, got to be part of a fun show, tromped around a very pretty city...and had my bag stolen.

My bag that contained my wallet, my custom molded musician earplugs, and BOTH of my cameras. So yeah, that sucked. Needless to say I have no photos to post of the trip.

While I was gone, though, Rob posted the most recent episode of "Chapel" that we shot and I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. We learn a little more each time we do one of these, and it's generally good fun. If you're curious, you can watch the whole series (thus far) in order right here, or just check out the more recent installment (in three parts) below. Fair warning, it's NSFW.

The Lost Albatross