Friday, December 19, 2008

Why not invite David Duke?

Like a lot of gay people, I've been fuming lately about President Elect Obama's decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.   Yet again, the party establishment  would prefer that we keep it down in front of the christianists.  The right wing loves to see dissension in Obama's big hopey family and, besides, we're told, the President Elect is just trying to include diverse viewpoints.

Nonsense, the showcasing of Rick Warren at the Presidential Inauguration is a slap in the face to the GLBT community, particularly coming on the heels of Proposition 8.  There's no place in a national celebration for the type of demeaning bigotry that Warren espouses and, if the Obama Administration can't figure that out, then they should pay the political price.

No, I'm not against diversity.  This is a vast country populated by people of countless races, religions and creeds and I'm glad to see that reflected in the inauguration of our leader but, as 300 million people don't fit on a stage, I'm pretty confident there will be limits.

Choices had to have been made about what people and viewpoints to highlight.  Apparently, the choice was made to give one of the most prominent positions in the ceremony to man who likened same-sex relationships to incest and pedophilia

I would really like for the President Elect to think about his relationship with his wife and how he would feel if somebody placed it on the same level as the sexual victimization of a child.  Then, perhaps, he'd understand why the gay community thinks Rick Warren's viewpoint is best kept to himself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You may interpret this as an attack on Joe the Plumber

The guy has been completely full of crap from the time he made up that ridiculous yarn about buying a business he couldn't possibly have afforded (or worked for) that, in any event, made less than half what he claimed it did.  (He's alright on the name thing, though. I know people who go by their middle names.)  The point isn't so much that the story is BS as that, in any credible scenario, Joe is much better off with Obama's tax plan.  

Now Joe the foreign affairs expert claims that an Obama presidency will mean the destruction of Israel.  

The McCain campaign latched onto Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher like a lamprey, desperately hoping to exploit his cred as an average, everyday working man.  I don't buy it.  Regular people tend to know what the hell they're talking about when they open their mouths.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The World Doesn't Work

The famed $700-billion bailout plan, Largely as a throw to taxpayers having trouble swallowing a plan using hundreds of billions of dollars of their money to prop up banks run by executives who make more in a year than most people earn in a lifetime, contained restrictions on the compensation that could be offered to executives of companies that accepted the money.  It was more a punitive measure than a constructive means of solving the credit crisis.  Lavish as they are, executive compensation figures still pale in comparison to the shear scale of the problems facing the global economy.

That being said,  when Alan Greenspan made his little admission last week that the world doesn't work quite the way he thought it did.  He said he'd been working under the assumption that institutions would act in their own self-interest in a way that protects their shareholders. 

Could it be that, as compensation packages became more and more larded with extravagant bonuses and golden parachutes, the interests of managing executives became dangerously decoupled from those of the shareholders?

Conservatives have often pushed to grant corporations the legal rights and protections the constitution affords people but it's important to remember that they're not actually people.   They're large groups of people and it's entirely possible for some of them to act against the best interests of the rest.  The consequences of this are worst when those people happen to be in charge.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thanks, I guess

I just had to comment on this article by Christian Schneider, largely because it's not the sort of thing one would expect to see coming from a conservative think-tank.  Milwaukee is apparently again feeling the slow creep or urban exodus and, as crime fears rise and condo projects falter, Schneider is admirably concerned for the future of our state's largest city.  He hits on an interesting solution for urban revitalization, namely "The Gays!"

As a card-carrying Madison homo, I'm pleased, if a bit bemused ("Gay" is only to be used as a noun ironically, Christian.) .  It's nice to see that some conservatives have stopped peaking into our bedroom windows long enough to realize that the rest of the house is rather well kept. That said, there's a little more to it than just inviting the friends of Dorothy to fix up a neighborhood or two.

Schneider is talking about the "creative class" ala Richard Florida and frets over Milwaukee's relative disadvantage in attracting creative bohemians (like gay people) who tend to have high incomes and foster a vibrant, tolerant atmosphere.  To his credit, he realizes the folly of the city trying some sort of clumsy pandering.  If Milwaukee is really interested in courting the creative class (gay and otherwise) she need look no further than her smaller sister.  

It wasn't long ago that the differences between Milwaukee and Madison were really striking.  Milwaukee was hemorrhaging population to the suburbs as crime rose and manufacturing jobs left by the thousands.  Madison was riding the swelling tide of the knowledge economy and saw the university's research prowess parlayed into billions of dollars in development.

Milwaukee has largely learned that lesson.  Its four large universities have taken the lead in trying to turn a city built on brawn and beer into a brain trust but there was a severe caution a couple of years ago.

Conservatives didn't consider Wisconsin's marriage ban to be an economic development issue but they should have.  It was not an issue of great internal contention in Madison.  The UW - Madison was unequivocal about the chilling effects of writing bigotry into the state Constitution and, effectively, hanging a not-welcome sign out to an entire group of people, not that most people here needed to be told.  The city rejected the ban three to one. 

Milwaukee did not.  The ban's passage was all but assured when the state's largest metropolitan center voted for it by a slim margin.  

It's hard to cover up that kind of intolerance.  Milwaukee has a thriving gay community but, to really become known as a city that values the creative class, it has to demonstrate that it shares their values.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No, Virginia, there is no timeless architecture.

The State Journal released its paean to the State Street redesign today and there it was, in the photo caption: "timeless."  Specifically, the new look is said to create, "a more modern but timeless landscape."

What the hell does that mean?  My guess is that they're trying to encompass both the "sleek" buss shelters and the trite, bastard-victorian curlicues tacked onto the streetlamps and kiosks.  Nothing highlights State Street's waning status as the center of Madison counterculture like faux old-world charm.

"Timeless" is usually used as a code-word for old-fashioned.  It's symptomatic of the mistaken impression that things only started coming in and out of style within the last fifty years.  The solution is imagined to be a reversion to the architectural fashions of yore or, more likely, kitschy misinterpretations of them like the hulking "prairie style" pedestrian bridge that looms over East Washington Avenue.  Surely, Frank Lloyd Wright would've designed something just like that if someone had gotten him blind drunk and dulled all of his pencils.

There's no avoiding time.  The current wave of post-modern nostalgia will pass and, in twenty years, people will wonder who could've thought those lamp posts were a good idea.  What I think distinguishes tired old relics from cherished icons is the care that went into them.

The State Street redesign, with its design by committee, its lack of any sort of coherent theme and its upcoming pathetic excuse for public art (a friend referred to the chosen design as a horizontal phallus with a beaver) is unlikely to stand the test of time.  That's alright, too.  Time marches on and, if everything we built were worth saving, future generations wouldn't have anyplace to leave their own mark.

How to not debate

You really have to marvel at the skill (or luck) of the Republican political machine.  Coming into last night's vice-presidential debate, they were faced with a quandry: Sarah Palin has serious knowledge gaps on national issues.  Her interview answers with Katie Couric had turned into a magnificent fiasco for the McCain camp.  She would simply fall apart whenever Couric insisted upon a direct answer to a question Palin couldn't bluff.  

Despite her inability to fabricate information she doesn't have, Palin is rather adept at political BS. She has a demonstrated ability to effectively deliver pre-packaged talking points, be they off a teleprompter or from memory.  The challenge was to ensure that Palin would not be knocked off her talking points.  They had to turn the debate into a speech.

They had a few tools at their disposal.  First, Joe Biden, Palin's debate opponent, is a notorious "gaffe machine."  The Obama camp had a comfortable lead coming into the debate and wasn't enamored of the possibility of Biden running his mouth a bit too long in the highest profile event he's likely to headline. 

Second, (and I'm speculating here) they had some dirt on moderator, Gwen Ifill.  The fact that Ifill has been writing a book on the african-american political experience, including a chapter on Barrack Obama, was well known before the McCain people  agreed to the debate.  They could've brought it up at the time but, by agreeing to Ifill as host, they had something to tar the moderator with should things not go their way.

Now the stage was set and it was time to pick the format of the debate:  90-second responses with no follow-up.  Ifill was effectively neutralized as the follow-up, the bain of Sarah Palin's existence, is off the table.

Come debate night, the outcome was predictable.  Whenever Sarah Palin was asked a question outside of her prepared talking-points, she simply didn't answer it, choosing instead to rattle off a prepared screed on an unrelated topic.  Thus, we got a lot of unasked-for fluff about energy policy and whatever the hell she was talking about when asked about her greatest weakness. Even if the format had allowed, Ifill was not in a strong position to insist on any sort of substance from either candidate, especially Palin.

An effectively-moderated, actual debate might have turned out substantially differently but neither campaign wanted to take that risk.  Whoever won the debate, we lost.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Senate to Future: F$@k You!

In a bold move to make the famed $700 billion bailout bill more palatable to house republicans, the Senate made it horrible.  In a bill that aims to add probably the largest single portion ever to the nation's multi-trillion-dollar debt, the Senate actually introduced . . . TAX CUTS!

Yes, that's right, as long as we're spending almost three-quarters-of-a-trillion-dollars we don't have, to bail out a bunch of shortsighted, rich pricks, we might as well blow an even bigger hole in the budget.

The tax cut bonanza includes language to prevent the Alternative Minimum Tax from effecting 20 million middle-class Americans, 8 billion dollars in tax relief to midwest disaster victims, and 78 billion dollars in additional lard to extend other tax breaks (unnamed in the article) and fund renewable energy.

On their own merits, arguments could be made for these provisions.  The AMT has been malfunctioning for years and hitting people it was never meant to.  Disaster victims are swell people and could use help getting back on their feet and not all renewable energy is as big a boondoggle as ethanol (no specifics on where that funding is going or what the other tax breaks are).  The point is, when you're taking out a couple thousand dollars in debt in the name of every man, woman and child is this country, you should at least be sensitive enough not to add to the insult, especially when the bill still doesn't contain any direct help for people losing their homes in the crisis this bailout is actually supposed to address.

I hope this blows up in house republicans' faces.  First they claim that they tanked the bill in a fit of pique because Nancy Pelosi blamed the financial crisis on the president.  We need this thing or we don't and if any of these guys actually thought they were consigning the U.S. financial system to total collapse on account of bruised feelings, I'd very much like to break more than their egos. It's more likely, though, that they just didn't want to admit that the government could actually be a solution to a problem the private sector created.  The Senate's hoping a little deficit-financed tax-cutting will buy them off.

In any case, these people need to go.  What is needed right now is a pragmatic solution negotiated with the best interests of the public in mind.  What we've got has already been held hostage to petty partisan scores and ridiculous ideological inflexibility.  This is unacceptable.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eine Kleine Unpleasant Musik

Mads (UW Madrigal Singers) is launching headlong into modernism this semester with Vinko Globokar's "Kolo," written in 1988.  "Kolo" is as much a piece of performance art as a piece of music.  The choir plays the "archaic mass" to trombonist Mark Hetzler's "isolated modernist man."  We'll be circling, whooping and all manner of things on the stage of Mills Hall.  A more fitting venue than the brutalist (a descriptively named movement in modernist architecture) Mosse Humanities Building one would be hard pressed to find.

The piece opens and closes with a lovely chorale but most of it is thoroughly unpleasant.  The archaic mass is somewhat unkind to our trombonist hero.  There's truth in Globokar's portrayal of a large mass of people (particularly a choir) displaying disdain toward a modernist.  The genre never gained really wide public acceptance and, even now, there's been some dissention within the ensemble about performing a modernist piece but is it necessary that the ensemble like the piece when that wasn't necessarily the point?

As with all musical/artistic genres it's difficult to clearly date and define modernism but it's a movement that came of age in the middle of the twentieth century in a world that had just experienced two horrific world wars.  Large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa were decimated as humankind witnessed its capacity for inhumanity reach new heights.  In the coming decades, artists and composers became interested in communicating some of the darker emotions and realities that had been so prominent in the first half of the century.

Public response was . . . mixed.  Modernism certainly held considerable sway (though not total dominance) in the academy for the better part of the twentieth century.  Lay acceptance was not as general.  Audiences, especially in symphony halls, are likely to hear much of the same repertoire today as was heard a century ago.  Newer pieces in those venues are also likely to be by composers who bucked modernism in its heyday (Copeland, Barber, etc . . . ) or neoromantic composers of the post-modern period.

As time passes we can view modernism with more sympathetic eyes.  With a little perspective, the visceral and the primal can be appreciated for what they are and, with an open mind, we can start to appreciate what the composer was trying to say to us.

So what's the point of this gross oversimplification of a century of music history?  Only that beauty need not be the sole aim of art. 

Returning to the venue, perhaps the Humanities Building holds a caution.  There is certainly validity in the artistic exploration of negative emotion and general "ugliness."  That being said, people will generally find unpleasantness to be . . . unpleasant.  Attempting to chain people to a brutalist aeshtetic statement for forty years made architect Harry Weese no friends at the University.  Kolo, on the other hand, is twenty minutes long.  I think peple will be willing to Give Mr. Globokar at least that long to make his point.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why is Wisconsin Public Television so spastic?

I've been a bit of a nerd since I was a kid.  Since about the time I was thirteen, I would plop myself down in front of Wisconsin Public Television on idle weekends and watch woodworking programs.  New Yankee Workshop, This Old House, I even used to watch Hometime.  

Now that I'm a member of productive society, I've built myself a mythbox (open source Tivo . . . nerd, remember?) and that has had some consequences.  I've meant to donate to WPT to show my appreciation for my weekend shows but it's difficult.

In earlier days, I would invariably turn on WPT one Sunday afternoon and find, to my horror, that there was a pledge drive.  Instead of Norm Abram, I'd see some self-help guru spouting his worthless BS *for hours* or maybe I'd find Andre Rieu gassing some room full of unsupecting Vienna blue-hairs with the fumes from his industrial hair-care products.  My favorite part was when they would cut away to some green-screen shot of him hacking artlessly away at that violin in front of an alpine lake, his naugahyde face grinning emptily at the camera.  I think he's an android.

Anyway, nowadays I see none of the horrible fill-programming Wisconsin Public Television rolls out to extort people into ponying up if they ever want to see the good shows again.  I see nothing at all because my Tivo isn't set to record crap.

Thus have I not remembered to send my gift to WPT and tell them to keep the woodworking on the air and thus do I now see no woodworking programs in the month of guide data my computer keeps on hand (except one measly TOH on WPT cable which doesn't come in well enough to record).  I could call and complain but I haven't actually given them any money.  I could donate and complain but they might just use my money to air more Wayne Dyer.  I'm screwed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Who’s Whining?

The whining war has started in earnest. Last month, when Phil Gramm famously suggested that these United States might be a "nation of whiners," it was considered such a catastrophic gaffe that the McCain campaign immediately dumped him as economic advisor. In the interim, though, it's become clear that Gramm's remark wasn't as random as it appeared. It seems that some conservative talking heads and "scholars" have set about trying to argue Marie Antoinette's point. One wonders if Gramm started the ball rolling or merely spilled the beans.

My favorite example thus far comes from my second favorite New York Times columnist, David Brooks (Nobody tops the Krug-Man). Brooks faces that wrenching internal conflict that bedevils all neoconservative 'intellectuals'. He'd desperately like to write like William F. Buckley but he'd prefer his persona to more closely resemble that of Chuck Norris. The result is a column that delivers broad-brush generalizations and shallow logic in really fine, learned language.

Brooks' column two weeks ago was a truly stellar example of the form. Fresh off his hilarious lampooning of pseudo-intellectual pretense, (One can only guess if he was really aware of that last layer of irony.) Mr. Brooks jetted off to China. He wasn't there to buy bootleg electronics either, he was there to learn.

The first Chinese dispatch took the form of an insightful gloss of Asian collectivism. For the second, Brooks was on assignment in earthquake-torn Dujiangyan and there he found a brand of stoicism that would shame Winston Churchill. People whose loved-ones had been crushed in an instant by the quake then cremated without ceremony by the military were cracking jokes under a communal tarp. Instead of getting choked up over their loss, they dwelt on the free healthcare they'd received from the government and the adequacy of their temporary digs.

It was obvious where he was going. Massive disaster, terrible loss of life, lethargic government response; his professed incredulity at the sanguine attitude of these Chinese survivors had to have its root in some sort of contrast. To whom would Brooks compare these happy-go-lucky proletariat mascots? The answer came in the last sentence. "When you compare these people to the emotional Sturm und Drang over lesser things on reality TV, you do wonder if we Americans are a nation of whiners."

Reality TV!? Really? Are you absolutely sure there's not some other group of people you were thinking of but didn't think you could call "whiners" in a national newspaper?
I know it's Tim Gunn's phrase and all but, as you toured the crumbling ruins of a Chinese village were you really thinking about Project Runway?

Just in case he was contrasting this Chinese unflappibility with another group of disaster victims that interrupted the president's vacation and wrecked his approval ratings, lets' not forget where we live. Despite the fact that we can no longer claim to be the world's greatest carbon emitter, the United States still has a larger economy than China's. This is despite the fact that we have fewer than a third as many people. In a nation as rich as ours and as powerful as ours, people tend to have higher expectations. People tend to expect the infrastructure around them to work and they expect their government to work for them. If it doesn't, instead of just making-do, people in the United States have a recourse that perhaps the Chinese don't. They can simply elect people who'll do a better job. It's not whining as much as accountability.

I suppose it's possible, however, that David Brooks was actually thinking about reality TV. In that case, it bears mentioning that Michael Kors can be a total bitch if your hems aren't straight.

Friday, August 22, 2008

John Wiley is Pissed!

There's ample evidence in the public record that John Wiley has an extraordinarily low bullshit tolerance. I don't think I've ever seen someone in such a politically connected position with such an obvious allergy to other people's crap. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that the agenda of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce ("We want a highly skilled workforce and first-rate infrastructure and *NO* we don't want to pay for any of it.") would tend to rub him the wrong way, especially as the university budget is chronically hamstrung by the horrible political culture they dominate.

Wisconsin's prima donna business lobby took the full brunt of one of Wiley's rhetorical stiff-arms today and I don't think anyone is surprised that they immediately started bawling.

I'll admit, I'm too lazy to check it out myself but it appears WMC's list of "factual errors" contains a few . . . well, factual errors. The Journal Sentinel pointed out that, if WMC actually did lobby for the passage of the university budget, they failed to report it to the state. Illusory Tenant piled on by helpfully explaining to James Buchen that, really, ad hominem is a fancy Latin word for a personal attack so, yes, WMC most certainly did level personal attacks against Lewis Butler.

Another high-profile shot across (if not into) WMC's bow. On the one hand, you could say that all of the heat they've been taking has been coming from "Liberal Madison." On the other hand, you could say that they've now been castigated by the state's most successful high-tech firm (Epic Systems) and the leader of its largest economic engine (UW - Madison). For a business lobby, things could look better.

Monday, August 11, 2008

If You Build It, Some Might Come

The State Journal's AP pile held an interesting tidbit, today. Apparently, the National biothreat lab that the UW Madison was hoping to host at its Kegonsa Research Campus might be going to Mississippi. Well, probably not anymore if people want to save face. It seems that Flora Mississippi was one of five sites short-listed for the facility over several places (including UW's KRC) that were scored higher by an expert panel.

The panel was overruled by a political appointee, Undersecratary Jay Cohen, who obviously took more away from his meetings on the subject with Mississippi representative Bennie Thompson (D- MS) than Thompson did. Thompson claimed never to have talked with anyone at Homeland Security about the center. The department says he talked to Cohen twice. Indeed, all of Mississippi's powerful congressional delegation seemed very sure they weren't aware of the ratings system and indignant that such a "rumor" would get started. At any rate, the department was free to disregard the recommendations of this "phantom panel."

Bottom line, it stinks and clearly Cohen anticipated why. With several biotech powerhouses vying for the opportunity to host the center (UW - Madison kept company in the losers pile with sites in California, Texas, Georgia, Maryland and Missouri) why slip in Flora Mississippi? Cohen's logic on the subject is a simple misquote of Kevin Costner, "When Built, they come."

The phrase holds partly true here. No-doubt, Homeland Security could build the thing in Guam and they'd find people to staff it. The question is, who? Are top researchers in bacteriology and virology, who can command a lucrative research position at any of the multiple institutions trying to lure them, going to pack up and move to rural Mississippi? What opportunities for collaborative research and technology transfer are going to be lost because the lab is unaffiliated with a major biotech hub? Did anyone consider any sort of accountability to the taxpayers to build the facility someplace that might actually facilitate its function?

Oh well, another victory for blatant cronyism. Maybe, with better placed congresspeople, UW could snag a federal grant to study gulf-coast hurricanes.

p.s. It should be noted that, in dismissing UW-Madison's bid, Cohen cited local opposition in the form of resolutions from the Town of Dunn and the Dane County Board. I suggest that, in thanks to the board and town for torpedoing a multi-hundred-million-dollar facility to pander to a bunch of cottagers, we uproot the disgusting monolith of a courthouse the county threw up in the middle of one of Madison's signature views and plant it squarely on the shores of Lake Kegonsa. Just a thought.

Friday, July 25, 2008

You can tell it's worthwhile if it pisses someone off

UW art professor Jack Damer wrote a column for the State Journal today about the impressive string of fiascos that comprise Madison's attempts at public art. The latest project, the State Street-Frances Street Plaza gives every indication of continuing that track record. Mike Verveer lauds it as ". . . the type of piece that hopefully won't evoke strong opposition." I can't wait.

Damer's right, of course, in pointing out both the mediocrity of public art in Madison and the staggering blandness of the State Street redesign. He's also right to point out the city's habit of ignoring the expertise at the west end of State Street in favor of committees of well-heeled novices or, I might add, expensive outside "experts." I suppose it's worth noting that the University's own athletic department probably didn't consult the art faculty either before they erected a giant phallus . . . er obelisk-made-of-footballs in front of the fieldhouse.

Damer's advice to the city is to simply stop trying create public art pieces and use the money instead to create an actually attractive streetscape. My guess is that would fail too. It seems to me that the problem here is the entire concept of design by committee.

When I took my first job as a choral conductor, I considered some of the people I was directing to be better musicians than I. (This is going somewhere, I swear.) This bothered me at first because I was constantly afraid that my interpretive ideas would differ from theirs; and who was I to overrule them? It finally occurred to me that I was the conductor. It always helps for the decision-maker to be the best qualified but, in music, its more important that the decision-maker is one person. Had everyone felt the need to assert all of their own ideas about tempo, phrasing and interpretation, we'd either have taken months to work everything out or simply sounded like crap.

In visual art, it seems that the artist should be her own conductor. Committees are perhaps a fine way to pick an artist to begin with, provided they have actual expertise to judge the field of candidates but, that person having been selected, every demand, every outside direction and every compromise is a step along the path to mediocrity. If you trust your artist to have good ideas, then you should give her leave to fully realize them.

But what of the controversy? What if people hate her idea? Well then they do. If you've chosen well, a fair number will love it too. Good art should evoke strong emotions in people. No-one wants to spend a quarter-million dollars on a giant visual conciliation. The last thing you want, the lowest of the low, is that piece that no one really hates. Everyone just dislikes it a little.

Monday, June 16, 2008

When to Stop

Remember the spotted owl? I was just a kid when the fight heated up over this little, old-growth-loving bird but I still remember the choice put forth by the logging companies: Owls or jobs. Protecting the owl's habitat, we were told, would cost thousands of loggers their jobs. The thing about this argument is that, even if it was technically true, it was total crap. It wasn't the owl that eliminated those jobs, it was logging. The owls habitat was being protected because most of the old growth-timber in its native range had already been logged.

Old growth is not a very renewable resource. Old-growth trees are typically centuries old and they acquire their sought-after close grain and high density from growing slowly in the shadow of pre-existing, centuries-old trees. Thus, the question is, if the Pacific Northwest had been logged down to a few owl-islands in a little over a century, what were they planning on doing once they'd logged the rest of a resource that takes a good chunk of a millennium to replace? The issue wasn't whether or not to stop logging. It had to stop. The issue was whether to stop before or after destroying an entire ecosystem.

A similar issue stands before us today. Oil prices are rising, apparently as a result of tight-supply in the face of rising world demand. This puts stress on the economy, most directly manifested here in the closing of the GM SUV plant in Janesville. To combat rising oil prices, many would have us drill in areas currently closed to resource exploitation due to environmental sensitivity. We need that oil.

The issue here, again, is that, even if drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve and elsewhere could provide immediate relief (it can't), we'd only slightly postpone the inevitable. We're going to run out of oil and, as production declines and demand continues to rise, it's going to get more expensive. Until SUVs run on something other than gasoline, they're just not going to be that practical. GM would've done well to realize that earlier and re purpose that plant before things got this bad. They didn't.

We will find a way to meet our energy needs without fossil fuels. The choice before us is how much of our world we'll irrevocably destroy before we do.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Just du . . . stupid

Some things you should just let slide. I'm not capable. I was reading a State Journal editorial today and this sentence caught my eye, "Why not? Because a painted chest ban is a dumb idea."

I agree with the thrust of the editorial; banning painted chests at WIAA events does seem to be a solution in search of a problem. What annoys me is that the State Journal Editorial Board seems to be stuck in grade school. I don't remember exactly when it was that it was explained to me that "dumb" means mute, not stupid, but I'm pretty sure it was well before a box of crayons ceased to be a requisite school supply.

Generally, I'm not one of those people who thinks we should all be speaking Victorian English out of reverance for the grand edifice of the English Language. Our language has been changing for as long as it's existed but that's not what's going on here. The editors weren't using some new bit of common parlance to keep up with the times nor were they, in this instance, fudging arcane grammatical rules to match common speech (something that can also drive me insane). They simply chose to use the wrong word. The State Journal could defend this as an attempt to sound less like the literary elite if it weren't for the fact that most people who don't know what "dumb" means haven't learned to read yet. For those people and the State Journal Editorial Board, here are a couple helpful examples of "stupid" and "dumb" properly used in sentences.

1. It's stupid to use a word in a published article that doesn't mean what you're clearly trying to say.*

2. I was literally struck dumb by the inanity of that State Journal editorial.**

. . . Now you try.

* Note my use of the second-person in this sentence where the third would be more formally appropriate. I'm totally hip.

**I also might have underlined "State Journal" but I'm not using the full title and it's the wild, wild internets. Anything goes. Language policing always balls up into a petty game of tit for tat but, really, words should mean what they mean.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I will still not have met the president

My last year in college, after semesters of sniping at their columnists in the feedback forums, the Badger Herald offered me a column of my own. I hadn't expected there to be any journalistic trappings but, one morning, I found myself heading to Milwaukee with some colleagues to a forum on the USA Patriot Act sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union.

We were the first people to wander into the room and, after I'd relished first pick of the donuts and continental breakfast, I took a seat just near enough the end of the U-shaped conference table to be inconspicuous (any closer would've looked weird for the first people in). As I enjoyed my fruit medley, a well-dressed gentleman sat down next me. It was ex-Clinton-nemesis turned libertarian evangelist, Bob Barr. He was accompanied by his lovely wife and we had a polite conversation innocuous enough that I've completely forgotten what we talked about; then he and ACLU President Nadine Strossen gave a presentation on the abuses of the Patriot Act.

All in all, my encounter with Bob Barr was thoroughly unremarkable. He's a pleasant, principled man . . . who will not be president.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Esenbergian Philosophy

A while ago, I decided to count the phrase "activist judge" among the ranks of "terrorist" and "fascist." Words (in this case a phrase) which used to have a defined, common meaning but have been reduced to epithets. You can't really tell anything about someone to whom these words are applied (in contemporary parlance) other than the obvious fact that the person who did the applying disagrees with him or her . . . vehemently, and would rather not have a civil argument.

Enter Rick Esenberg who applied the "activist" label to a decision of the California State Supreme Court last week (he did scrupulously avoid an ad hominem attak). He alleges the four majority justices disregarded the meaning of the plain language of the California State Constitution (which I'd wager he's not familiar with) when they rendered their decision (which he admits he hasn't read). I can't argue with that. We'd both need to know what we were talking about. Fortunately, his actual argument is philosophical . . . and wrong.

His first stab recycles a popular conservative yarn about the procreative nature of marriage. He's not a bigot, you see, marriage is just about creating a framework for raising children.

This is nonsense. Disregarding, for the moment, the fact that marriage has, historically, mostly been about property rights, (I remember attending a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony where the contract illustrated this pretty clearly) there's the inconvenient fact that couples without the ability or intent to have children get married all the time. There's also the intention of many same-sex couples to adopt children. Conservatives would be quick to point out the potential "damage" to the child but, with mounting evidence, nobody's ever been able to demonstrate any systemic disadvantage to the children of gay and lesbian parents. What would be needed to make a compelling argument against same-sex marriage is a clear disqualification unique to same-sex couples. This argument fails to disqualify and the absence of a functional, matched pair of reproductive organs (with intent to procreate) is not unique.

Next, there's the strain on poor marriage. Already she's endured the sexual revolution and no-fault divorce, another rapid change could do the old gal in.

Personally, I don't think the cultural defense argument really holds any water. It seems singularly unamerican to place the perceived welfare of some cultural orthodoxy ahead of individual liberty. At any rate, two years after its own decision, Massachusetts' divorce rate doesn't appear to have shot through the roof.

Then, finally, we get to the meat of the "activist" accusation. Regardless of what the California constitution says, when its framers said "equal treament," or words to that effect, they couldn't possibly have meant to include gay people. Everybody hated gay people until "a few years ago."

When one attempts to characterize constructionism by claiming its adherents are simply attempting to divine the thoughts and subliminal intentions of a law's authors, (unless it's an environmental-protection or anti-discrimination law) one is usually in for a verbal thrashing. In this case, I fail to see what else Esenberg could be doing. When the founding fathers said "All men are created equal," it is likely that they did, in fact, mean just men, and only white ones. Since then, it has often been the "activist" courts who have had to be at the fore in saying that, in plain language, equal means equal, and there's no substantive distinction between white men and black men, men and women, or straight women and lesbians. Yes, it's taken a while to figure this out but do we really expect the courts to pretend the last two-hundred years never happened? We know more than our forefathers did and we'd be fools to ignore that knowledge.

But wasn't the court overturning the "will of the people?" Yes, and so what? If this were actually a direct democracy, we wouldn't need a constitution in the first place. If it was allowed a vote, the body politic may indeed come to a different opinion about what should be done with my hair or my lawn but they don't get a vote. It's my hair, its my lawn and its my marriage. The idea that civil liberties should be put to a vote is ridiculous. Regulation of public behavior is something we do, for better or worse, quite regularly. Regulation of private conduct and access to public institutions is rarer and requires greater care than a year-long slug-fest/slogan-contest over a poorly worded ballot question. It requires actual evidence that curtailing freedom yields a public good overriding the violation of private liberty. A history, however long, of violating that liberty for no good reason does not constitute a justification.

So was the California court being "activist" when it decided to look at the world in front of its nose rather than gazing into Antonin Scalia's crystal ball? Who cares? Regardless of what label gets attached to the decision, it's left the state of California freer and more fair.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hypothetical Kindness

The Chicago Tribune is calling it a backlash. After three unsolved murders, some in Madison have decided to pin the guilt collectively on the city's homeless community. Thus, after nearly a decade of failed social and economic policies have driven thousands of people formerly on the margins over the edge into homelessness, our overdue public dialogue about the homeless centers on how best to lynch them.

Fred Mohs' "Out of My Backyard" suggestion simply moves the problem to a different part of town. The Trib article points out that one possible reason for increased trouble in downtown student neighborhoods is recent efforts to move panhandlers off of State Street. The rants since the start of the latest "backlash" seem to fall into two camps (apart from David Blaska's macabre, victorian workhouse fantasy). First there's the "let's all throw away this namby-pamby, liberal compassion pretense and judge them!" response. John Roach, for instance, suggests we dedicate an official month to brainstorming ideas for combatting the homeless menace. This dovetails nicely into the "Throw them all in prison!" camp, which is really what these people are getting at. Fining people with no money doesn't work. Moving them around the city with petty restrictions doesn't work. We're talking about incarcerating a group a people we're afraid of. Imprisoning Madison's estimated 3400 homeless residents, at $30,000 per inmate, would cost right around $102 million a year. Are these people really willing to spend this much? If they are, I've got a better idea.

Let's return to reality for a moment. Let's come back to the world where (assuming it even was a homeless person) we're worked up about one guy in a community of thousands of people who've been completely neglected by society and whose only common offense is lacking a roof and four walls. How about we take just a fraction of that hundred-million-dollars a year (say a tenth) and invest it in transitional housing, humane mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, and even a few more level-headed beat cops like Officer Meredith York (featured in the Tribune article).

Will it mean an end to unsolved murders, aggressive panhandling and even homelessness? Of course not. There are too many issues here and too many individuals to fall under any blanket solution, especially with the poverty rate rising. What it will do is get more of these people off the streets and into programs focused on helping them, rather than prisons focused on punishing them.

Regardless of who's to "blame" for any one person's homelessness, there are people in this city in need of shelter. We can deal with them constructively or we can deal with them punitively. . . or we can try not to deal with them at all. No points for guessing which we'll choose.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Now Fear This

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal published a short op-ed piece responding to Governor Doyle's characterization of the results of Tuesday's Supreme Court election as a "a tragedy". To be fair to Doyle, he was actually characterizing the loss to the state of Louis Butler, paying Butler a compliment more than making a comment on the election process. I, on the other hand, would characterize the entire election as "a tragedy" without any reservation.

The Journal goes on to frame the election as a contest between a liberal judicial philosophy and a conservative one and, after listing Justice Butler's myriad assaults on corporate liability protections ends with this stern warning, "A seat on the bench is not a sinecure, and justices who abuse or contort the law must sometimes answer for their actions."

What a load of crap. The merit of the right's all-encompassing "activism" label notwithstanding (it's implied here and used explicitly earlier in the piece) to frame the discourse of this election as having anything but the slightest connection to corporate liability is horribly dishonest. To be sure, protection from civil liability was at the heart of the corporatist push to elect their hired man at any cost but this wasn't something the Gableman campaign or any of its surrogates were eager to share with the public. "Elect me and I'll slam the courthouse door in your face." isn't a rallying cry that really resonates with the rank and file. No, apart from using a liberal enough sprinkling of the "activist" label to make it clear that even he wasn't sure what he meant, Mike Gableman ran his campaign on pure fear.

In tough times, the right has made fear its weapon of choice. Fear of communists, fear of minorities, fear of homosexuals, fear of terrorists, they've all been used to justify and defend some of the worst decisions in this nation's history, everything from draconian civil-rights abuses to our current, disastrous foreign policy.

Gableman's choice was fear of criminals. He used it to blind the public to the true role of Supreme Court in Wisconsin's judicial system to say nothing of the role of public defenders. In Gableman's world, there was no presumption of innocence, no right to due process of law and no ethical obligation to ably represent the accused. He wanted you to think that Butler was just trying to let these people out SO THEY COULD KILL YOU!!!

So do I, as the Journal suggests of Doyle, think too little of the Wisconsin electorate? If I thought so, I wouldn't be writing this. These types of scare tactics have played far too large a role in our public discourse lately and they wouldn't work if people took the trouble to think about what's really going on. We live in a state that incarcerates twice as many people as Minnesota (at $30,000 a piece) with no real difference in crime rate to show for it. We live in a state that barred equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians without a shred of credible evidence that fears of some catastrophic societal degradation were remotely founded. We now live in a state where corporate interests from all corners of the globe can sully our airwaves and lie to our faces for months and be rewarded with a bought-and-paid-for partisan hack on the Supreme Court bench, twice!

A century ago Wisconsin cleaned up nonsense like this and I think we can do it again. All it takes is understanding where the true threats lie, not to fear them, but to face them.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Live Radio

So I had perhaps my largest audience to-date today as I performed the Benedictus from the B-Minor Mass on WPR's "Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen." It was a good experience and, above all, I learned one thing. Hydration is tricky. . . The bladder can be as limiting as the larynx.

The Benedictus is no cakewalk and, especially for a younger tenor, it's not so easy to pull off those high notes in a tone that would be widely considered appropriate for Bach (my effort was marginally successful), especially when one is expected to sit silent for a half-hour before getting up to sing (singers begin to de-warm-up after about ten minutes). The solution, hydration! The more water I've got in me the happier my cords are. But therein lies the problem: I have to sit silent for a half-hour after loading myself up with as much water as I think I can hold. Nobody was looking forward to that intermission more than I.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Identity Crisis . . . response to a response

Stanley Fish wrote an intriguing little blog entry the other day in the New York Times. The topic is the academic credentials (actually the utter lack thereof) of Bruce Benson, the newly appointed president of the University of Colorado. Fish lists many of Benson's titles and pursuits but suffice it to say he's a businessman and republican operative whose academic career topped out at a BA. Faculty and students were understandably annoyed. Fish goes on to explore some interesting issues but more on that later. The article did not go unnoticed in Wisconsin.

Yesterday, on Wisopinion, Tom Still pondered the possible benefits of replacing UW - Madison's outgoing chancellor, John Wiley, with someone from the business community. The obvious reason for hiring a businessperson to lead the university is money. The legislature has made a sport of grumbling about "waste" in the university. Perhaps someone with a little more managerial acumen could curry more legislative favor come budget time. A rapport with the type of person who might donate large sums to the cause would also come more naturally to someone coming from the business community. Still makes a well-argued point that the regents might want to consider someone outside of academia but I think there are few holes. First, putting a businessperson in charge of the university doesn't necessarily mean more money. Second, money isn't really supposed to be the point anyway.

The UW - Madison has a two-billion-dollar annual budget. Currently, the state provides around 19%. State support for higher education in Wisconsin, like most other states, has been falling precipitously. That being said, it's a little naive to think that a change of management on Bascom Hill would convince the legislature to loosen the purse strings. Even assuming mismanagement is a large problem at the university (it's not), one wonders how, precisely, the legislature thinks that massive funding cuts provide a remedy. If they were truly interested in eliminating waste, they'd address it directly. As it is, the perception of waste is simply an excuse to take more public money away from higher education and spend it on things that actually fund legislator's campaigns like contracts and tax-breaks for well-connected cronies. It also helps to fill budget holes created by the legislature's own terrible mismangement. If the University of Wisconsin is to get more state assistance, the shakeup has to happen on the other end of State Street.

In terms of fundraising, the UW foundation's coffers are filled with several billion reasons to think that John Wiley, an academic, was about as effective a fundraiser as the university could've hoped for. Within that bonanza lies the problem with focusing on money. As state funding has been replaced with research dollars and private donations, the university has undergone a transformation. As it chases dollars to keep the lights on and keep the state's economy afloat, those parts of the institution that don't attract their own funding, be it through research dollars, financially successful alumni, or special state initiatives, wither. The arts, humanities and a good portion of the core curriculum are in real trouble in a lot of public universities and UW - Madison is a sad follower of that trend.

When the University of Wisconsin was founded it wasn't dollar signs that drove the state's commitment, it was education. Since its earliest days, Wisconsin has been a pioneer in public education because the state's founders realized that an educated populace is vital to a healthy democracy. A thorough grounding in history, culture and philosophy may not help bring home the bacon but they certainly help someone who holds a vote in the most powerful country in the world understand that world a lot better.

The next chancellor of the UW - Madison isn't just going to have make sure the university remains the state's premier economic engine He or she is going to have make some serious decisions about whether or not it remains the state's premier educational institution. If the UW is to be more than a glorified technical institution, resources need to get to the programs that most need them as well as the programs that most attract them. These issues are not invisible to business people but thinking about them isn't really necessary (in fact it can be antithetical) to keeping the shareholders happy.

So now we return to Stanley Fish, whose actual point was that there are people who have been successful both in the world of business and academia; so why choose someone with no academic credentials? Without money, an academic institution can't survive. Without academics, it can't exist.

Monday, February 25, 2008

About that snow removal fine

To the person who complained about the ice on my sidewalk: Thank you so much for letting me know that the snow you and your fellow pedestrians had packed into impenetrable ice while it fell was getting a little slipperier with the recent thaw. I’d left some sand on it after I'd shoveled all I could but the thaw washed that away and I was out. We’re neighbors and I’m glad that we communicate as neighbors, through the city inspection division. The fine will certainly help remind me that, with the 60 hours I work a week and the 80 hours my boyfriend does, we have more time than the three hours we spent initially trying to clear the sidewalk and the additional three we spent this Sunday fruitlessly searching hardware stores for salt.

To the City of Madison: I’m glad you’re putting that no-warning, whiner’s ordinance to good use. It would be completely unreasonable to expect anything less than dry pavement after an ice storm in the snowiest year on record. I was intrigued, though, that you considered my sidewalk to be dangerous. It’s in exactly the same condition as the sidewalk along that patch of city land that borders my backyard. You know, the one I mow for you. Maybe when you send people over tomorrow to clear my sidewalk they can do yours as well. I went out tonight with the pickaxe and gave them a head start so they won’t have to spend as much time on mine (presumably with hairdryers). Speaking of my limitations, there’s just been an unexpected drain on my pocketbook. I’m afraid I’ll have to cut back on gas for the lawnmower. If your inspectors are less busy in summer, maybe they could mow the patch next to the bike path.

I live in the city because I like the sense of community. Now I know why people move to the suburbs.

Update 5/20/08: Lest anybody think this incident has permanently turned me into the bitter crank I was when I wrote this post, I've been mowing the city patch as often as I mow my own lawn (not often enough). I'm still fighting the snow removal fine, though.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Democracy can be bad for your health

In the aftermath of Wisconsin's finally relevant (though not nearly so relevant as we'd hoped) primary, the whining has commenced. Hillary Clinton lost in a landslide and so perhaps it was inevitable that there would be a great hue and cry from . . . Obama supporters? Yes, it seems that the edifice of democracy is crashing down about our ears. Tammy Baldwin might still vote for Hillary at the convention! GASP!

As everyone is, by now, aware, Tammy is one of the Democratic party's 842 super delegates, not bound by primary results. Russ Feingold is reportedly poised to pledge his support to Obama but Baldwin seems likely to exercise her prerogative to vote her own will as opposed to that of her district.

Four years ago, when the toppling of the Bush administration seemed like a real possibility, I saw Tammy speak at the UW. Her primary issue then, as now, was health care. For almost her entire tenure in office, Tammy Baldwin has been working toward universal health care. So why would she still be committed to Hillary Clinton? Because Clinton is the better candidate on health care.

Yes, the Obama and Clinton health care plans are very similar but Clinton's at least makes an attempt at universality, something that's actually necessary to keep individual costs down. Obama has indicated his willingness to impose penalties instead of Clinton's "mandate" thus punishing you for trying to game the system only if you lose said game. In trying to set himself apart on this issue, he's actually been attacking Clinton from the right, even going to so far as to resurrect the horribly distorted Harry and Louise ads that became emblematic of the right's efforts to sink universal health care the first time Hillary tried to make it a reality. So Baldwin has made her decision, for now.

But what of democracy? Isn't Tammy Baldwin an elected official, bound to the people's will? Well, not in the primary. One of the reasons the primary election system in this country is such a hodge-podge is that primaries are a relatively recent development. The Democratic party isn't a public institution. It's a political party and political parties can nominate their candidates any way they want. Less than a century ago, party nominating conventions had nothing to do with the results of public elections.

Progressive reformers began to push for primary elections in the early twentieth century as a way to lessen the influence of corrupt party bosses on candidate selection. As a vestige of the old system, superdelegates would do well to keep the progressive heritage of primary elections in mind. That being said, Tammy Baldwin is hardly a political fat-cat making unaccountable decisions in smoke-filled rooms. She's a well-loved and well-respected public official who feels very passionately about the need for health care for all Americans. We would all do well to respect that.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Unobservant Humanist?

The University held its Darwin Day Celebration Saturday. I had meant to catch some of the morning session but the call of my bed and SWAP's Saturday Sale proved more alluring.

The fact is, Darwin Day makes me a bit uncomfortable. Not because of what it celebrates but because of the capitulation it represents. Detractors of the event are only too quick to point out that a majority of Americans don't believe in evolution but this is precisely why it's held. Promoters of public scientific literacy have been saying for years that the scientific community has been remiss. Science hasn't promoted itself and it's been outstripped in the public marketplace of ideas by religion and superstition. People are happy to take for granted the vast array of technological achievement and medical advancement that surrounds them without any concept of the knowledge and methodology that made it possible, despite the fact that it's taught in schools! So the University of Wisconsin and similar institutions around the world hold these events to try to explain to the public why it is that, yes, science actually is the best way to explain things.

The difficulty lies in explaining science to people who don't think scientifically. To most people, what someone says really is less important than how they say it. A whole lecture of right, complete with visual aids, isn't as convincing as that emphatically, ecstatically wrong preacher they listen to every Sunday. Should science really start acting like a religion and respond to these people on their level?

I suppose it may be necessary. Regardless of how it's done, people have to be educated. Having a majority of people disbelieving one of the central tenets of human self-understanding is a very dangerous thing in a democracy. The church of humanism may yet have to spread its message of hope and objectivity across the land. Just don't expect me to get up for services.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Candidate They Can Disavow

The right-wing punditocracy's hatred of John McCain crested the other day with Ann Coulter's declaration that she'd support Hillary Clinton, were John McCain to get the nomination. According to Coulter, Hilldawg is "more conservative" and stronger in the "War on Terror" having supported the Iraq War and not been so testy about torture. She also got in a couple pot-shots about campaign finance reform and immigration. This denunciation of McCain by the right's talking heads has been seen by most observers as a fit of pique over the public's refusal to pay any attention to their anointed favorites: Rudy, then Romney. That may well be but is that all?

The GOP's witless wonders in media-land have reason to feel a little insecure of late. They've been cheerleaders for the party's two biggest constituencies, bible thumpers and plutocrats for decades now. Neither group is currently in the best PR position and they're none-too-pleased with each other at the moment. The public is not enthused about conservative business as usual.

Enter John McCain, the great maverick of the Republican Party, the man who would buck the powers that be. Except, of course, he's not. There was the John McCain who partnered with Russ Feingold to pass a campaign finance reform bill and stood, momentarily, against his party on the Bush tax cuts but, ever since he bent over backward to kiss Jerry Falwell's ring, America's crustiest presidential candidate has scarcely missed an opportunity to signal to the party elite that he's more than willing to sell it all out for a shot at the White House. He even backpedaled on immigration and all-but lied about his initial reasoning for opposing the tax cuts,

So now we come back to Coulter and Co. throwing eggs at the Straight Talk Express, denouncing a man they should know damned well is every bit their candidate. Are they really incensed at their loss of influence or really desperate to hide that they haven't lost any?

Monday, January 21, 2008


Say you're a progressive democrat trying to decide who to pick in the primary. It shouldn't be too difficult. After all, we know that democrats just love their candidates but, now that there are two frontrunners, who's going the wear the progressive mantle?

Obama jumps to an early lead on foreign policy. Clinton voted for the 2002 authorization to use force in Iraq that ultimately lead to the Iraq war. Obama couldn't have voted for or against it, not being in the Senate in 2002, but he's on record speaking forcefully against war at the time. Furthermore, even recently Clinton displayed a disturbing pliancy to the administration's foreign policy rhetoric by voting for the president's September, poke-Iran-with-a-stick resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. (The Iranians responded by declaring the CIA a terrorist organization. . . touché, though lumping in the U.S. Army was just gratuitous.) So kudos to Obama for seeing the folly of hijacking U.S. foreign policy to get into pissing contests with middle-east despots. How does he do on the domestic front?

Sadly, not well. As Paul Krugman points out over and over and over and over and over again, a lot of Obama's domestic policy positions, specifically on health care and the economy, lie well to the right of reality. Hillary has a more credible health care plan and the sense to realize that, when dealing with the right-wing machine, a conciliatory stance is a weak one.

So what we need is a president who will keep the country out of horribly ill-conceived military debacles that compromise our security and standing in the world. In Iraq, people are dying. We also desperately need a president who will work to restore a strong middle class and really guarantee health care for all Americans. Here at home, people are dying.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure how to finish this. The fact is, they're both politicians (yes, Obama too) and it's hard to see, while they're trying to win the vacuous popularity contest that is the U.S. presidential election, what they'd actually do in office. Here's wishing the stakes weren't so high.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Parading Idiots

In the days between the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary, Hillary Clinton probably made dozens of appearances and spoke for countless hours. There are still substantive policy differences even among the Democrats and what's the line in the media? "How did Hillary Win? Maybe it's because she cried."

Is the media simply too stupid to understand anything beyond petty trivia that wouldn't make it into a school paper's student-council-race coverage or are we?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Thoughts on the Tubes

Throughout the course of a normal day, there's usually a thing or two that sets me to ruminating. Be it a new little factoid or someone's opinion, I start thinking about a response. Until now, these have been published only in my head or the odd letter to the editor if I'm particularly motivated. Well now I've decided to place these musings on a more permanent/public medium, *the internet*!!! Eventually, it'd be neat if people read these things and used the comments feature to tell me how stupid they think I am but, for now, it looks like it's just me. Oh . . . and hi Chris.