Tuesday, September 4, 2018

How It Ends

As Republican lawmakers give their tongue bath to poisonous SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, this piece by legendary journalist Bob Woodward drops that paints an even more terrifying picture of the Trump White House than previously known.

I mean, I'm glad some folks in the administration are trying to prevent greater catastrophe by simply hiding stuff from Trump, BUT IT SURE WOULD BE NICE IF SOME PEOPLE COULD GROW A SPINE AND SPEAK OUT PUBLICLY ABOUT THIS.

Don't just retire and then get loud. Don't stay off the record and behind closed doors. DO SOMETHING, YOU COWARDS. If Trump truly poses this much danger to our country (and I believe he does), it is not enough to merely sabotage a little bit here and there behind the scenes.

(it also makes it all the more galling to see those who are still happily kissing the ring at this point, and so focused on preserving their fleeting sense of petty power that they would install a monster-enabling judge to a lifetime appointment on our highest court to do it, consequences be damned)

Further reading: Why Brett Kavanaugh's nomination and potential lifetime appointment to the SCOTUS is a real and present danger to everything from reproductive rights to the environment to LGBTQ rights to our very democracy.

Monday, September 3, 2018

A chapter closes

This past weekend saw the publication of my final opinion column with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

It's a bittersweet ending, to be sure. I'm ready to move on to new and different kinds of writing (having an Opinion on a weekly schedule can get to be a little exhausting), but I also recognize that their decision to end the section entirely is sadly indicative of larger problems and challenges facing newsrooms across the country.

The MJS was locally owned for decades before Gannett (which owns USA Today and 14 other papers in Wisconsin) bought it out in 2016. There have been several rounds of layoffs and budget cuts over time, as old school attitudes toward the news business have become increasingly obsolete - but the people with power over them continue to make poor and/or desperate decisions that see deep cuts being made to substantive local reporting and dedicated, knowledgeable reporting staffs.

Fewer people are being made to do more with less. More wire stories run, creating duplication between newspapers and gutting any real local connection (or reason for people to subscribe to/read something that's ostensibly locally printed because all they see in it are national wire stories and, too often, forcibly syndicated op-eds and editorials that reflect the corporate and political interests of the owners, not the actual staff).

I've had the privilege and pleasure of working with truly supportive and hardworking editors during my time with the MJS. They never once tried to influence my choice of topic or opinion, only offering light copy editing and fact-checking as needed. They and many other reporters at the MJS do truly great work with very little support. I honestly hope the pivot toward "solutions-based journalism" reaps rewards both in terms of community engagement and financial sustainability - but I also recognize that it's an increasingly uphill battle for the latter in particular.

I don't have the answer yet for how to make quality news reporting a sustainable endeavor again. I've been part of a start-up non-profit media outlet that attempted a grassroots approach to the problem, and we managed for about 8 years before throwing in the towel. It was an eye-opening experience. Lots of well-meaning liberal/progressive people and organizations assured us that by becoming a non-profit we would reap financial support from sympathetic sources, but we quickly learned that 1) most of the money is on the other side, and 2) the money that is ostensibly on the side of progressive causes is tightly held and often narrowly applied to groups/people working on issues near and dear to the already well-off. Surprise!

Anyway, before this becomes an even more unwieldy post, I mostly just wanted to say that, despite all of the examples of really nasty feedback I received during my time writing for the MJS, I got at least as much in the way of positive and supportive emails and personal comments from folks all across Wisconsin.

I learned about folks living in far-flung rural communities and other medium and large cities about their experiences and frustrations trying to do the right thing for the greater good in the midst of such a divided and often vitriolic public discourse.

We remain a very purple state, in point of fact.

As far as I could tell, however, the vast majority of the feedback I got came from folks in their middle age and up. I think that's telling about the struggle news outlets like the MJS have to remain relevant to younger people - who, despite what some pearl-clutching pundits might have you believe, are by and large incredibly engaged in their communities and driven to do good work to build a better world. They are, in my experience, light years ahead of us in several key areas. I have hope.

Part of that hope includes eventually figuring out newer and better ways of sharing information and ideas, and collaborating on work that lifts us all. That will mean some things many of us have always known or grown used to will have to come to an end, and that can be scary/painful. But we have to learn how to let go of certain things in order to make space for new life to grow and flourish. Let Millenials kill Hooters and diamonds and even consumerism. Let new generations cast off old institutions that reinforce gatekeeping by one narrow demographic, and embrace a messier, more diverse, more inclusive public sphere. Let's use our big ol' brains to figure out new and different ways to support one another.

Some things must burn, so that greener shoots may grow in their place. We just have to make sure the outgoing regime doesn't fully poison the ground behind it.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mail Call #15: Wrong, and Racist!

Hello hello! A whole bunch of kids and teachers were murdered in their school recently, and the national conversation has once again turned to What Can We Do? I wrote about it. I fully expected to get some...interesting...responses, and boy did I.

Today, I'd like to focus on one in particular that feels fairly representative of a particular genre of political and social thought that is still all-too prevalent in America. It's based in false premises, racism, sexism, and a sort of peculiar fatalism inherent in so much of the unwillingness to really face the core issues that lead to things like mass shootings.

Anyway, here's the email, annotated!
It struck me that the terrified students prayed when in danger. Remember praying isn't allowed in public schools.
OK I'mma stop you right there: This is a lie. Anyone can still pray in public schools. It simply cannot be an organized/school-sanctioned event, because, you know, for now we still live in a country with separation of church and state, and there are kids from all different religious and non-religious backgrounds in these schools, so prioritizing one flavor of religion over another would be pretty shitty and exclusionary. Also, you don't know how those kids reacted. Some probably prayed, sure. But you don't get to make a blanket statement like that.
And there you have insight into the core cause of our social problems. The Democrats/politicians always want to solve every thing with legislation. That's fine do it. Hasn't stopped the drugs. Burn the NRA down. Fine wont stop the guns.
This is that fatalism I was talking about. Strange, coming from the folks who are usually so hardcore law-and-order, this "why do we bother passing laws at all they don't work" POV. Why anything, indeed?
Our problems are behavioral. Our society is now subject to mass shootings, massive drug usage, road rage, hit and runs, adultery, perversion, abortion, hate speech, scammers, homeless, rapists, bullying, weak soft kids (USA Olympic kids showed that) and more, at unprecedented levels we have ever seen and it's growing and will get worse.
OK now you're gonna shit on the young Olympic athletes? What the hell, man? Many of them kicked ass in their competitions, and I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that they've worked harder at this one thing than dear letter writer has at much of anything in his life. What a weird thing to harp on. The rest of his list is pretty standard, alas.
As we have tried to remove God from our culture, broken up the family, have kids who have grown up without even knowing who their father is, minimized responsibility, ignored marriage, shunned religion, and mongralized our cities, what are you going end up with. A society and culture of the above paragraph.
"Mongralized." Gee, what on Earth could he be dog whistling here, I wonder?
This has been a slow progression over many years. I am no sociologist
NO REALLY?! GET OUT. No, really, get out.
but take away the cornerstones of the family and everything that goes with it and the void will be filled by people who have lost their way. We have a very sick country right now, particularity high school kids who are under a lot of social pressure to be liked and fit in. I remember. We wanted progress, we wanted liberalization, at the expense of our core foundations, were getting it. Legislate away. Behavior is in the mind.
Ah, the old "when you're young, you're liberal - when you're older, you're conservative!" line my own aunt tried to use on me a few times. Dude, I'm sorry, but this just means you're getting more bitter and closed off in your old age. Doesn't happen to everyone, thank goodness.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A whole lotta me

Thanks to Craig Sauer for inviting me to be a guest on The Wisconsin Podcast! It's kind of rare that I get to be the one being interviewed, as opposed to the other way around, so it was great fun. You may also be unsurprised to find out that I can talk.

Topics covered ranged from my upbringing, coming out as queer, having a pastor father, writing weekly opinions for the MJS and dealing with online commentary/insults, the value and risk of social media, the hows and whys of Our Lives magazine and being an editor, roller derby, and the 2011 Wisconsin protests and state politics generally. SO MUCH STUFF.

Listen here: https://www.wispod.com/podcast-political-commentary-in-a-divisive-era-emily-mills-17/

And be sure to give his podcast the ol' subscribe!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Best of 2017 Music Mix Tape

All right, here it is! Finally winnowed down my picks for my annual mix tape to something that fits on an honest-to-goodness CD. But you can listen to it on Spotify RIGHT NOW if you want!

What a fucking year. Good music becomes all the more important in keeping us sane and focused and also allowed to sometimes check out from this too often cruel and ridiculous world. I take enormous comfort in the continued dedication of humankind in creating art, though, and all those day-to-day small acts of kindness that persist.

But seriously, 2017 can pretty much get fucked. This music, however, can definitely stay. Lots of amazing work coming out of all genres, despite what some of the naysayers like to claim (ahem Bono). Music is alive and thriving. A lot of it definitely reflects the current atmosphere, too, with deeply political messages.

Obviously, this is never meant to be a definitive "best songs of the year" list so much as a "some of my favorite songs that came out this year" so it is highly subjective and likely misses a whole bunch of real good stuff. (I even try to capture more in my main/longer list here)

Enjoy! And feel free to let me know in the comments what songs and artists you were digging on this year.

1. "Blood in the Cut" - K.Flay
2. "Cut Connection" - Jesca Hoop
3. "Die Young" - Sylvan Esso
4. "Drew Barrymore" - SZA
5. "Disco Tits" - Tove Lo
6. "Woman" - Kesha
7. "Momentz (ft. De La Soul)" - Gorillaz
8. "Antifa" - Ministry
9. "Venus and Serena (ft. Taj Raiden & Q the Sun) - Lex Allen
10. "Uncle Usi Taught Me" - Brother Ali
11. "Atalanta" - Rina Mushonga
12. "Cold Little Heart" - Michael Kiwanuka
13. "Fool's Errand" - Fleet Foxes
14. "Back In Your Life" - TINA & HER PONY
15. "Fire" - Beth Ditto
16. "Strangers (ft. Lauren Jauregui)" - Halsey
17. "VRY BLK (ft. Noname)" - Jamila Woods
18. "Two Thousand and Seventeen" - Four Tet


1. K.Flay has had herself an interesting career in a short period of time, surfing the lines between genres and now seemingly settling into a really interesting spot that blends elements of roots country and electronica in a way that I decidedly do not hate.

2. I've loved Jesca Hoop since I saw her open, years ago, for either Ani DiFranco or the Ditty Bops (I honestly can't remember which). She has such a unique take on folk that I hesitate to even call it folk. Just good stuff, and doesn't really sound like anyone else. I think she may secretly exist on an entirely different plane.

3. Sylvan Esso stormed onto the scene with their debut record, and I adored the mix of quality lady vocals, poetic lyrics, and creative electronic underpinnings. Plus, the fella in the group is from Middleton, Wisconsin (right next door to Madison), so their tour stops here are always super packed and fun, with shoutouts to parents in the crowd.

4. SZA came to my attention thanks to a DJ friend of mine (mad thanks to Lolo) dropping her track, "Julia," in the middle of a set a little over a year ago. I've been hooked ever since, and thank goodness, because her newest album, Ctrl, is fantastic. Definitely check out the whole thing. Consider SZA part of the bleeding edge of the insanely good/evolving genre of alt. hip-hop/R&B/electronica. I don't even know what to call it, frankly.

5. I'm a little obsessed with Tove Lo. Turns out she's amazing live, too, with great production value and live band elements, plus costume changes! All on what must be a pretty tight budget, from what I can tell. I appreciate the hell out of her commitment to raw and honest tunes with dark techno underpinnings but superbly poppy hooks. And being unabashedly sexual. Also her videos are works of art, generally. If you haven't seen "Fairy Dust" yet, get on it.

6. KESHA, Hot damn, what a re-debut album this is. She came back from years of fighting with her old label for freedom from an abusive producer with full proof that she's an incredible artist. Fuck the haters. Also, tell true, this record is definitive proof that she'd been undervalued and underused by said old label and fuckwad producer, because her voice is legit, the lyrics are delightful, and the genre-bending (from country to dirty rock to electro-pop) is done with aplomb. I struggled between including "Woman" vs. "Old Flames" because the latter is a spectacular duet with the amazing Dolly Parton. But you can't really beat "I'm a motherfuckin' WOMAN" for a refrain, so. Anyway, point is, GOOD FOR YOU KESHA, GET IT ALL KESHA. And fuck rape culture.

7. It's been a long time since Gorillaz put out a record, and their strange and wonderful Humanz pretty much made up for the lapse. What can I say? It's strange as hell, but it just works. Bonus: De La Soul!

8. I'm always excited when an old industrial band puts out new shit that's actually good and relevant. Ministry pulled that off with "Antifa," from AmeriKKKant, which is obviously super duper political and timely. It's all the grungy guitars and stompy beats and biting commentary/quotes that I want and love in my angry tunes.

9. Lex Allen is from Milwaukee, and I've had the pleasure to both meet and see this incredibly dynamic and delightful human perform live on several occasions. The video for this track in particular is an awesome ode to body positivity and basically a big ol' queer celebration. What's not to love? Cat is going places.

10. Good Brother Ali always lays out the real shit with pointed but smooth lyricism, and this tale of travel woes and discrimination and the wisdom of our elders is no exception.

11. I stumbled randomly onto this Rina Mushonga track thanks to Spotify's wanderings and have been in love with it and her music generally ever since. Kind of a lovely cross between R&B, Caribbean rhythms, and some nameless soul of the city (with hints of Little Dragon). I look forward to hearing a lot more from her.

12. Michael Kiwanuka was also a random Spotify find, but I immediately dug his throwback Motown/TSOP-inspired sound. I think this track got some radio play, and rightly so. Great groove.

13. I've yet to be disappointed with a Fleet Foxes record. They have such a distinctive sound that it would be easy for it to become repetitive, but somehow they infuse each new album with fresh energy, and frankly the sound is so lovely that I don't mind some amount of familiarity between efforts. Their music makes me want to wander in the woods and go barefoot in streams.

14. TINA AND HER PONY were introduced to me by a family member who is a huge folk and roots fan, and saw them perform a criminally under-attended show here in Madison. He's since made it his mission to tell more people about them, and hopefully bring them back to town to a better response. I think they're worth it.

15. Holy shit was this solo Beth Ditto record everything I could have hoped for. I'd always enjoyed her work with Gossip, but it always felt like one final element was always lacking to keep their music from feeling complete. Hard to put my finger on. Whatever it was, though, got added to this solo endeavor--it feels full. Fantastic grooves, and that big, beautiful voice to tie it all together.

16. I'm supposed to like Halsey because she's an out bisexual (solidarity!) but I'm a little hit and miss with her work. I really, really like this song, however, and good Lord if I am not a sucker after all for a duet between two women, who sing openly about a relationship between two women. All in a lush, wistful pop tune? Count me in.

17. I came to Jamila Woods' song via recently discovering the work of Noname, who joins her on this playful but serious song about identity, racism, and solidarity. All good stuff, check them both out.

18. It felt appropriate to end the mix with this gorgeous song by instrumental electronic outfit Four Tet, from their newest record, New Energy. I honestly just enjoy everything they do so much, but this track in particular feels extra special. Good way to ring out the old year, refresh, and get ready to do better in the new. Plus, I'm always a sucker for hammer dulcimer.
The Lost Albatross