American ways


Driving along the Mississippi River today, my wife and I listened to Muddy Waters singing "I may be getting old, but I got young-fashioned ways." We drove past coal plants, record stores, lock-and-dam installations, and plenty of historical markers. We saw cell towers, hybrid-electric cars, and a small town with "No Frac Plant Near C-FC" signs in what seemed like every single yard.

America is changing.

Of course, that's completely fatuous; it's always changing. That's what makes America America. But the changes happening now -- environmental, technological, infrastructural changes with local and global impact -- are so significant and so tidal that they'll happen without our encouragement. We either let loose the mooring, or that tide leaves our collective boat swamped -- or run aground.

We'd spent the first half of the week in the Twin Cities, visiting Kristine's extended family. The dogs were boarded until Thursday morning, so we had a little slack in the line that allowed us to take a slight detour. It was a jaunt south, to tiny Stockholm, Wisconsin, that I'd wanted to make on numerous trips in the past. Today was my day, and it turned out to be a scenic route dialed in perfectly to the Independence Day holiday.

                      

Stockholm (pop. 66) is home to the appropriately-named Stockholm Pie Company; it has received no shortage of praise, even over the legendary Norske Nook. The trunk of our car was filled with Minnesota beers, and the pie stop was a no-brainer. As it happened, the entire trip took place on the Great River Road, one of the US Department of Transportation's America's Byways routes.


A few observances felt germane to the American Idea as we drove along this road that the US government thinks is scenic and important. We saw some signs in Maiden Rock (pop. 119) that read "Save our bluff!" I assumed this was just due to development and soil erosion. But later, when Fountain City (pop. 859) yards repeated the exhortation, "No Frac Plant Near C-FC," I gathered the two campaigns might be one. For the couple dozen signs we saw opposing the project, only one sign read, "Sand = Jobs."

In Alma (pop. 781), there is an old coal-burning power plant operated by the Dairyland Power Cooperative. The Alma Station plant was built in 1947, and utilizes five units of operation. The last went online in 1960. It's a massive facility, and would be an imposing sight on its own -- if it wasn't paired with the John P. Madgett Station right next door. (Indeed, they now comprise collectively-titled Alma Site.) JPM has been operational since 1979.

The coal comes from Western states, to be burned for Midwestern states' energy needs. It might be easy to see the temptation in exploiting local resources like oil sands for energy, environmental impact be damned. And it might be easy for local workers, perhaps desperate for steady employment (most towns we drove through are bleeding residents), to think that frac mining is the answer.

But one looks at the US Army Corps of Engineers' lock-and-dam setups that dot the Mississippi River (and many, many other waterways), and one is wise to remember that the federal government can do some pretty significant work when it is encouraged and allowed to do so. The interstate highway we'd left in St. Paul, Minnesota (pop. 285,068), and would return to in Onalaska (pop. 17,736), is another example. The Trempeleau National Wildlife Refuge we passed, yet another.

We can save the things that deserve saving, and we can connect the people and places that want to be connected. We can do these things by employing Americans and training them to succeed at these tasks.

As we were leaving Stockholm, miniature triple-berry pie in tow, our cell signal disappeared. An indecipherable symbol (a lonely 'o') appeared where 4G might show up otherwise; the only meaning we could discern from this strange little donut was that it meant "try again later." I hoped we were still on the right highway. (We were.)

o as in "nooooo"

Eventually, the signal returned -- slow, but at least present. When it disappeared again -- completely -- near Holmen, Wisconsin (pop. 9,005), and didn't reappear until we were at the doorstep of the outermost businesses that surround this growing town of nearly 10,000, we'd come to the conclusion that all of these issues -- energy, jobs, connection, environment -- should be addressed in harmony. Cellular networks and wind power both proliferate via towers; certainly there's a way to make that commonality work to everyone's benefit.

Our infrastructure is changing even as its bones stay the same. Cell towers line the same old interstate, but signal strength is still questionable in many areas, and short-sighted politicians still think that less access to data networks is the answer. Our representatives still allow mining companies to write broad-sweeping legislation with big payouts for narrow interests. The federal government is still maligned by many as incapable of any good deed, unless one considers big explosions and unmanned drone warfare to be good deeds.

No, the federal government is the backbone of this country. It's what we celebrate on Independence Day: the day we said we'd be our own country, thanks. "To institute a new Government," the Declaration says. And all the old stuff shouldn't be thrown out because it's old; indeed, the physical infrastructure of America is in serious need of repair and refitting. Flying cars aren't coming any time soon.

But on this Independence Day, as this county creeps closer and closer to 250 years old, it's clear where the tide is pulling us. It's not coal, oil sands, dial-up data speeds and isolation. It's common purpose, interconnectivity, and sustainability. We may be getting old, but we should embrace those young-fashioned ways.

Madison and the Overture Center: A blog duel

A couple weeks ago, Wyndham Manning and I got into a lengthy discussion in the least appropriate space short of adjacent stalls--Twitter. 140 characters at a time, in blasts that rarely maintained chronological order when viewed from above, we debated the merits of Madison's Overture Center for the Arts, and whether Madison was a city that could support such a large arts venue.

This conversation was spurred on by comments from newly-elected old mayor Paul Soglin. His outlook on Overture is grim, and his plans apparently so distasteful to the Common Council that he has little hope of salvaging the current operational model in any form.

"The best I can do is put the community in a position that when this plan fails we might be able to right the ship," he says. "I do not know if we can. It may be too late by then."

"I am deeply concerned about it," he continues. "A majority of the council will not support the path I recommend, so the best I can do is just wait for this to crash and burn. It is going to be pretty horrible."

I'm not a fan of this outlook; it sounds petty. Images of scuttling ships, arson for the insurance money, and cutting off one's nose to spite one's face all came rushing into my mind upon reading it.

So there are two questions. Can Madison support an arts venue with so many stages and seats and such a large infrastructure? And secondly, should it ever have been built in the first place?

One of Wyndham's postions throughout our dialogue was that the 1,000-seat Capitol Theater, formerly the Oscar J. Meyer Theater, was "enough." All the big shows that have come through Overture--Broadway shows, major recording artists, other stage performers--could just as well have been carried off in the Capitol. The Overture renovation wasn't needed.

I took a semi-random sampling of the venues coming up on the tour for Wicked, a production that recently ran in Overture's 2,200-seat main hall. The Creighton Orpheum Theater in Omaha, Nebraska (population: 409k) seats 2,600. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia (population: 578k) seats 2,900. The Peoria (Illinois, population 115k) Civic Center seats a massive 12,000 for stage events.

The Wharton Center in East Lansing staged a production of The Lion King in which the 2300-seat capacity was barely enough, according to management. I don't think a thousand-seat venue is going to be able to draw the kind of production Overture Hall can attract.

And according to Rob Chappell from Overture (in a press release dated 5/24/11), those big shows are drawing a lot of bodies to the venue.

Sales, attendance and fundraising results for the 2010/11 season at Overture Center for the Arts exceeded expectations and bode well for the future, Overture officials announced today.

The total number of Broadway subscriptions -- ticket packages that included Wicked, Young Frankenstein, Legally Blonde and Les Miserables -- came in at more than 5,300 -- more than double the total for 2009/10. And total Broadway attendance exceeded 87% of capacity.

While Chappell acknowledges that these shows don't generate a lot of retained revenue--much, I imagine, like convenience stores don't make money on fuel sales--they do generate visibility and consumer loyalty.

In his email to Wyndham and I, Rob addresses one of Wyndham's other complaints: that Overture is a black hole of sorts, drawing attention away from the small venues and local artists that are either bleeding overhead or leaving town completely. "[W]e booked about 100 touring artist performances altogether and local artists put on about 150 here in our building," Chappell says.

Overture Center has a lot of seats and stages, yes. Could it have been developed just as well with one fewer? Maybe. But it's there now, and doing a controlled burn on the investment--like Soglin seems to be resigned to doing--isn't going to fill the seats at Bartell, or Broom Street, or the Project Lodge. It's a matter of efficient utilization; smaller cities than Madison have supported similar venues without letting things "crash and burn".

My example of choice is Appleton, Wisconsin. Appleton's population is just over 78,000. The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, with two stages totaling 2,500 seats (2,100 alone in the Thrivent Financial Hall), still manages to put on the same Broadway shows as Overture.

Using the metropolitan area populations for Appleton and Madison (source: Wikipedia), there are 144 available citizens per seat at the Performing Arts Center. For Overture Center's 3,701 total seats (according to its online seating chart site), there are 151 citizens per seat. The PAC generated its first annual gain in 2010, after opening in 2002. The Overture Center opened in 2004, and its financial state is the subject of this entire conversation.

Poorly managed? Sure. Inefficiently utilized? At times, probably. I'm not an expert on the performing arts, so much of my position is speculative. But if, in eight years, little Appleton can generate an annual performing arts gain from a strikingly similar profile of shows and events, then I think Madison's Overture Center can do the same, even considering the hit the arts have to endure in a down economy.

I say "can", because it cannot--it will not--if the leader of Madison's city government would rather let the entire operation fail than engage someone else's baby (philanthropist Jerome Frautschi got the ball rolling during Sue Baumann's administration, and it was built during Dave Cieslewicz's) and make it work. While it is perhaps not currently supporting Overture, I firmly believe that Madison can.

Taste and memory

Another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, with the usual summery temperatures and unpredictable precipitation. This year the political climate added a new dimension to the change in seasons, and what used to be an assumed visit or two to Bratfest turned into choosing between any of three protest events in Madison.

I was out of town on Saturday, so Wurst Times and The People's Bratfest were out. But I'd staked myself to attending Alt-Bratfest during my totally-unexpected radio appearance, and even though the weather conspired against an outdoor festival, Kristine and I made the trip.

It was completely and wholly worth it. For $15, we shared two ample brats (Underground Kitchen and Merchant, though others were available) and a brat-seasoned pulled pork sandwich (Alchemy). A few cups of flavored tea, and we were won over. (My hope is that Joey Dunscombe and his fellow organizers stick with this one for next year; the one-and-done tease that was the Pork-Off was hard enough to get over.) It wasn't a strident protest, but in the midst of its success we were reminded of why we were there, and what we opposed in the giant effort across town at Willow Island.

In keeping with the fundamental purpose of the holiday, we stopped at Madison's Memorial Mile and made a donation. The Mile is an extremely effective installation designed to deliver the full impact of the losses we have sustained in our continued involvement in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm proud of Madison for displaying it, and for respecting it.

On Monday, we invited a dear friend who had to endure a beer-less cookout to our comfy patio for some brats and burgers. It was the best possible way to embrace the weather, and our modest level of prosperity, and the time we've been given to appreciate the good that we have in this country in spite of--and occasionally, because of--the bad.

As we gear up for recall elections and a long hot summer, the holiday weekend we just finished was the perfect prologue to kick off a reinvigoration of the palate, the mind, and the heart.

This space NOT intentionally left blank

I just turned 33; it was no big deal. But mileposts are mileposts, and this one is as good as any to use as instigation to refresh my commitment to this blog. So I'm going to do my best, marshal my thoughts, and try to produce something worthwhile here again.
 
If you happen to follow me on Twitter--and also follow Wyndham Manning--you were treated to a far-too-long-for-the-medium conversation on Madison's bedeviled Overture Center for the Arts, the general arts scene in Madison, and how city government plays a role in fostering the growth of that scene. We ended the conversation with a friendly gauntlet-slap to produce a blog post on the subject in the near future. You'll find mine here; I have yet to determine where Wyndham does his blogging, but I'll be sure to give you a link once I do.
 
I'm sorry to say my time as a Top Chef recapper has probably come to a close. Not to say that I won't post thoughts on the empire as they come to me, but full recaps are a thing of the past, I suspect. It's just not an expenditure of time I can still support. But I'll see you all again soon, with something scintillating and fresh.
 
Or, just something. One or the other.

Kyle Ate Here - The solidarity edition

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There just aren't enough hours in the day--there's so much to oppose, and so much to accomplish. The month started quietly, but by the end of the second week of February, it was clear this wasn't going to be like any other time in my life to date.

The new governor of the state of Wisconsin introduced a piece of shameful, cynical, vengeful legislation that promised to harm me and thousands like me, and wouldn't you know? That actually managed to turn my entire life upside down, eating habits included. My Arabic genes are screaming for me to call our protests a peoples' intifada -- just to throw the Fox Newsies into a tizzy--but I'll resist further temptation, and just call it an uprising.

Pre-uprising

My wife started February with a doozy of a cold. When she gets sick, she really feels it, and this required brothy countermeasures. Despite having lived a couple blocks away, we'd never been to Wah Kee Chinese Noodle and Restaurant until this month. Their noodle soups are terrific; American Chinese food staples like General Tso's, less so. I was also passive-aggressively schooled on pronunciation by our first visit server, which was particularly galling for two reasons. I normally try to be educated on basic pronunciation rules, and there was a typo in the menu that led me astray in one circumstance. Regardless, I recommend anything with BBQ pork--are you surprised?

A visit from an old friend brought us to Underground Kitchen again. Our server was a bit vacant, but the rabbit tagliatelle special (it was the night before Chinese New Year) was amazing, and the cocktails continue to impress. (A trip later in the month, unfortunately, featured some of the haughtiest and sloppiest service I've seen in Madison.) We also hit The Old Fashioned for their new weekday breakfast menu. Get there for it. Really. You can spend the money you're not spending at Ella's Deli there; I haven't ever been more unimpressed with a legend than I was with our meal of matzo noodle soup and hard salami sandwich.

The uprising

I'm certainly not going to say "post-uprising," because it's still happening, at this very minute on the grounds of the Capitol and all around the state. But on Valentine's Day was when everything really changed. And from that point forward, we've been protesting, and shouting, and paying attention to who supports us and who doesn't. We've enjoyed a couple meals at Mermaid Cafe, who has been donating coffee and other treats to the protesters (try the Erik the Red ham and Swiss). We've become familiar faces at The Old Fashioned. Hawk's Bar and Grill has been a great supporter and serves a heaping Mediterranean plate.

The Coopers Tavern is crowded and the service was iffy, but their Reuben is an all-star. They may not have the BL(F)T sandwich anymore, but the absence of fried tomatoes doesn't make Alchemy Cafe a bad choice; I'd never noticed their very promising cocktail menu before, but will give it more attention next time. And we did manage to eat off the isthmus once, meeting for a lunch date at Sushi Muramoto. It is seriously always good there; the fennel chutney was a new flourish on a familiar chicken katsu.

The best thing I ate

Sorry, pancakes at The Old Fashioned. Apologies, guong chow noodles at Wah Kee bibimbap at Graze (EDIT: whoops. you got a sneak preview of something from next month, and I didn't realize I'd omitted Graze). Maybe next month, steak torta at Antojitos El Toril. Even the now-emblematic Ian's mac and cheese pizza being donated from supporters worldwide can't beat out this month's best thing: the PBR-battered tilapia taco at King and Mane. They're fresh, they're satisfying, and they have pickled onions and chipotle mayo. I'm not lying--we've been there five times, almost exclusively for tacos (and beer), since the 22nd. My wife might love them more than me. We certainly love them more than Scott Walker, and we'll continue to fuel our chanting and fist-pumping with PBR tacos as long as we have to.

Show me what democracy looks like!

#wiunion

So, yeah. Love all you guys who come here for the food, but this blog started out political, and now the food is taking a back seat to political once again.

If you haven't been watching any other TV than Top Chef, you're missing a truly amazing event in Wisconsin. Workers public and private, union and non-union, adults and students, have been taking to the streets and the halls of the Capitol to protest the governor's proposed union-busting legislation.

I've been there in part for the past three days. I still haven't watched this week's Top Chef. I know I still haven't published last week's recap (Fabio bites it! Richard boosts someone else into the winner's circle!). I honestly don't know when I'm going to get back to recapping, and I'm not planning on recruiting any guest-bloggers because all my friends are as engaged with the rallies as I am.

So please--take a look at the news coverage of this event on MSNBC and BBC News. (You could see my flashlight in the crowd on The Ed Show last night!) When the time comes that I can return to food blogging, I will. Feel free to check out my latest review for Isthmus, on the new Great Dane Pub location; it'll be linked up to the right later today.

Solidarity!

The day TIME called me back

No, this is not some esoteric riff on metaphysics or overwrought romantic sci-fi concepts. I mean literally, I got a call back from TIME--as in, the magazine.

Specifically, I came back from my honeymoon to find a voicemail from the Caitlin Flanagan of my recent post on how marriage is doing, and how much it matters to the state of our nation. Ms. Flanagan is the author of the piece titled, "Why Marriage Matters."

Now, I need to say something right off the bat. Two somethings, actually. The first is a basic assumption that the woman who left the voicemail actually is Caitlin Flanagan. The second is that, agree/disagree/miss the point entirely, Flanagan deserves credit and respect for making a call to a fairly insignificant voice in the blogosphere and responding both subtantively and convivially. She could have gotten a wild hair up her ass like my anonymous commenter did on the first post, but she didn't. And I respect her for having the integrity to interact with me on a higher road.

However, she misses my point entirely.

"You're exactly right that marriage is really in excellent health," she says. I agree that the institution of marriage is not teetering on the brink, but my point was not so much that marriage is alive and well but that it's not the culture-crushing causation of "hardship and human misery" that Flanagan thinks it is.

She pins the bleakness of her statistics on "repeat divorcers" skewing the curve. Okay. That might be true. You know what can't hurt, then? Standing up and saying that every American couple should have the right to establish a legally-recognized union. But Flanagan didn't mention the affect gay marriage would have on her assessment of the State of Our Unions, and she didn't mention it in her message to me.

To bemoan this perceived "ambivalence" toward marriage and not discuss the scores of gay couples in the United States wishing they could have a recognized relationship is like wishing more people visited your house while you have a barbed wire fence around the perimeter of your yard.

And I'd be fine, by the way, in legally divorcing the term "marriage" from whatever federal name someone wants to apply to the legal act of coupledom. Marriage is for the churches to handle, and if they want to have a No Coloreds/No Jews/No Queers policy, then go right ahead.

I can't recall where I read this recently, but there's a bon mot from Napoleon that goes, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." If the churches want to be bigoted and closed-minded, let them make that bed and lie in it. Meanwhile, churches like the United Church of Christ can stand up and announce that all are welcome, and look very intelligent and compassionate for doing so.

I'm happy to see, by the way, that TIME's readers got the same itchy feeling I did when they read Flanagan's article. While the unfortunately-named Mandi Mangler "applaud[s] TIME and Caitlin Flanagan for highlighting the strong case for marriage" (another one who doesn't get it), five the other seven letters express different facets of the same argument I made.

George Kalmar, Pacific Palisades, CA: "Flanagan grossly understates the complexity of the causes of infidelity and divorce in the U.S." Irene Burkhard in Becket, MA, and Shannon Sawicki of San Francisco were insulted that Flanagan would be so dismissive of childless marriages. Clifton Snider from Long Beach and Karen Baker from Cottage Grove, WI (yeah, home state!) brought up the glaring omission of gay marriage. Clifton says it pretty succinctly: "Once again, I notice a major story that reads as if I, a gay man, do not exist. Today such an omission is inexcusable."

So thanks, Caitlin, for the call, the politeness, and the well-wishes for the future health of my new marriage. But please read my posts again, and understand that pinning the health of marriage in America on just us staights stickin' it out and makin' babies is becoming more and more antiquated every day.

...

ADDED: And hey, look at that. Today, news has reached The Advocate that Jerry Nadler (D-NY8), Jared Polis (D-CO2), and our gal Tammy Baldwin (D-WI2) will be introducing a bill aimed at repealing the "Defense of Marriage" Act. One of the more disappointing aspects of the Clinton presidency, DOMA looks to be opposed by 50 or more congresspeople when it is officially circulated for co-sponsorship.

TIME Magazine and Caitlin Flanagan: a shameful take on marriage

I know TIME can be a little conservative sometimes. The whole Matthew Cooper/Valerie Plame thing was kind of the exception that proves the rule, to a certain extent. So I don't expect them to be Newsweek. Newsweek's Newsweek, and TIME is TIME.

But what I didn't expect is for TIME to publish a cover story on the allegedly sorry state of the institution of marriage, and to call it "our most sacred institution" ON THE COVER. Thanks, guys, but let's leave that to GOP.com. How about just being journalists?

No, author Caitlin Flanagan--who, I'm relieved to discover, is no stranger to controversy--goes that far and farther. She writes, "There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage." People without health care, education, or affordable housing might beg to differ if they weren't busy begging for those other things right now.

She begins the article by relating a scene wherein she remarks to her father at the dinner table that it's amazing he and his wife (her mother) have been married for fifty years and he's never cheated on her. (It's all a build-up to a very lame payoff, the punchline delivered by Dear Old Dad: "I can't drive.")

Who says to his or her father, "I can't believe you haven't cheated on Mom yet!"? Who does this?

I don't want to come across as a firebrand for marriage just because I'm about to buy membership in that club in a few days. But please. Marriage is fine. Fascination with Jon and Kate + 8 doesn't equal an "ambivalence" toward marriage. It indicates the same thing as our fascination with the O.J. Simpson trial, the Michael Jackson memorial, and Winona Ryder getting caugh shoplifting: modern Americans like to see trainwrecks, scandal, ceremony, and comeuppance. We're gawkers. It ain't good, but it ain't a mystery.

The whole article is an absurdist take on love, family, and romance, and it's no better highlighted than by this little factoid: not once does Flanagan mention "gay marriage." Not once. So while pointing out Jonathan Edwards and Mark Sanford as symptoms of a disease rather than the disease itself, she conveniently leaves out the scores of couples across the nation, yearning for the right to be legally recognized as families.

No, instead Flanagan flogs us with "man and wife," "man and wife," "man and wife." Fertility, Cialis, procreation, and the failing of the heterosexual male to keep it in his own yard. Not only shamefully one-sided and misrepresentative, but BORING AS FUCK.

Do better, TIME.

You can tuna fish, but can you fish a tuna?

I've eaten one tuna melt in my life (at Barriques, was pretty tasty). I've never made one. I'm no connoisseur, but I know this was not the template for traditional tuna melt. But christ if it wasn't one of the tastiest sandwiches I've made at home. Ever. And I like to make sandwiches. I do it respectably well.

I used American Tuna. In the Madison area, you can find it at Woodman's. It's not cheap; it costs $5 per can. But open it up and you'll see the difference. Hardly any water, packed tight. Aroma and taste are FISH, not FISHY. And the albacore from American is procured responsibly. No mega-trawlers. No drag nets. Pole caught. And if it means something to you, it's all done by Americans in the US of A.

Starkist tuna (albacore, really) costs a fraction of this. You might think it wasteful or unfrugal to spend five times as much for what seems like the same thing. Again, I refer you to the taste and aroma, texture and low water volume. If you need more convincing, Slate.com wrote:
A new study warns that overfishing has shrunk marlin, swordfish, and tuna populations by 90 percent since 1950. Given the crisis, why does a can of tuna still cost under a buck?

Because the species that end up in your tuna casserole aren't the ones being severely depleted.

As visitors to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market can attest, a choice southern bluefin can fetch upward of $40,000—a price that makes it an uneconomical choice for, say, Starkist's Chunk Light tuna. That's why big-time canners instead prefer smaller, less flavorful species. Albacore, the so-called chicken of the sea, is what you'll get if the tin says "white meat."

A recent study by the WorldFish Center estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, prices for tilapia, carp, and other low-grade fish could jump by 70 percent, in real terms, by 2020. On the canned front, albacore, skipjack, and yellowfin stocks are generally considered "fully exploited," meaning that a marked increase in annual catches could, eventually, put an end to your supermarket's two-for-a-dollar deals.
(emphasis mine)

If you're not thinking about sustainability, responsibility, and the health of our world's oceans when buying seafood, you're neglecting a very important issue. The new documentary film The End of the Line can tell you what you might not realize is the case.



The sandwich I made, at home, for about $3 worth of ingredients, would likely cost you $7 for the same ingredients at a local cafe. Think about that before you bemoan the cost of a $5 can of American Tuna. More importantly, don't focus on the dollars and instead think about what an ocean devoid of abundant life would be like for the health of our planet. It's a change you can effect in your own life, and trust me when I tell you that it'll taste better to eat right.

Is the death of the newspaper REALLY that bad?

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Today, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer folds, and not in the way it's always folded (a tired joke in the newspaper industry, I'm sure). It will be an online-only publication from now on.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had to file for bankruptcy earlier this year. Locally, the Capital Times was pared down into a shadow of its former self. The LaCrosse Tribune and now the Wisconsin State Journal have both switched to narrow, thinner editions.

I write for a paper (had you heard? was my self-promotion not loud enough? if not, please check out the links in the upper-right hand corner of this page); I don't want the journalism industry to fail. I don't want blogger schmoes (ahem) and 24-hour cable news to be the sole purveyors of what's happening in the world. They've got tinted glasses that I don't have an interest in looking through.

So I ask this question with all the necessary sensitivity and self-interest: is it that bad if newspapers stop being newspapers?

There's the comic analysis that would tell you that there's no futuristic movie or TV show that shows people reading newspapers. They've all got tablet computers or holographic heads-up displays in their self-piloted Tom Cruise-mobiles. But why shouldn't that be a goal?

Yeah, print is nice. I'm a librarian. I know that sooner or later, I'll be the guy reciting "First they came...", and books will turn into an electronic medium only. Hello, Kindle 2.0?

Isn't that just nostalgia, though? Don't you think people said that telephone would be infinitely worse than telegraph? Touch-tone phones worse than rotary dial? Ashley Tisdale's new nose worse than her old one? You bet they did! (gotta move on past the HSM reference) But I'm sure I'm not alone in not wishing for a return to waiting 5 seconds to dial the first 1 after the 9 in 911.

Less paper will be used. You can't really argue with that. I'd like to think that bailing out the newspapers would be a better expenditure of money than bailing out the internal combustion engine industry, but the fact remains that cars maintain relevance. Newspapers...well, newspapers have been much less than relevant in recent years. Even the relevant ones publish their content online almost simultaneously with the print edition.

My sticking points are A) the loss of jobs, and B) the threat this decline poses to journalism at large. Maybe that's the bailout I want; save the jobs of good journalists around the country, so that people can continue to have solid knowledge and updates on the real world at their fingertips.

Even if their fingertips stay clean in the process. I was a paperboy too, you know, and I hated newsprint.

New year, same shitty economy

Kristine and I hit the streets today, around 1:30 (despite no hangovers, we slept in very late). First up, lunch. I called ahead, and confirmed that the elusive Mermaid Cafe was open for business. Yay! They've got fussy weekday hours, and when so many of our weekends are occupied by trips to Appleton, it's just plain hard to get there.

We were very happy with this, our first visit to the Mermaid. Half-sandwich of the New Delhi Deli for her, Bahn Mi for me (ba-DUM). Tasty. My hot apple cider went most perfectly with the sweet/tangy roast beef bánh mì.

The most noteworthy thing, however, was how insanely busy they were. IN-SANELY. We got there with two people in line in front of us, and before we could even order, five more people filed in behind us. Plus, the folks already there who were waiting for their coffee refills to finish brewing.

After a very enjoyable lunch, we moseyed over to Target for some essentials. Again, we found our destination to be buzzing with human activity. At least eight registers were open, lines at them all.

At this point, I finally remembered why I had wanted to venture to State Street earlier that morning, and to the downtown we went. I decided along the way that a lovely beverage from Jamba Juice was in order. We got some prime parking and went to Jamba first.

While almost empty, and while the clerks there looked mighty bored, they were indeed open. I got my drink, and we walked toward The Soap Opera. This is what we noticed:

Bop: closed.
Gap: closed.
The Soap Opera: closed.
Pop Deluxe: closed.
Noodles: closed.
Little Luxuries: closed.
Jazzman: closed.
Himal Chuli: closed.
Parthenon: blessedly and reliably open.
(Incidentally, Weary Traveler and Blues on the way to Mermaid: also closed)

Frustrated, we continued west to Monroe St.

Orange Tree Imports: closed.
Brasserie V: closed.
Trader Joe's: closed.

Additionally, Savoir Faire and Beauty Blossoms were closed on the far west side. Archiver's was open, and business was brisk, as was the Greenway Station Starbucks.

What's going on here? Is this a holiday or something?

Jokes aside, this is a little strange. One would think that, if nothing else, Gap and Trader Joe's would be open as they're chain operations and would likely fall outside of the individual discretion of the manager to close up. The mall's open; every other Gap location must be open. Right?

The only thing we could come up with was the economy. It's a shitty economy. Proprietors are looking to save costs, and New Year's Day is apparently viewed as a low-reward calendar day.

This is almost logical, except look at the places we went! Starbucks, Archiver's, Target, Mermaid Cafe: all open, all packed with money-spending humanity. Are the other places letting hype get to them? Or is the local economy really that bad?

Suffice it to say, we're staying in and making a shitty frozen pizza for dinner rather than risk finding a locked door at whatever joint we might have decided to patronize. Have faith, Madison. People still have some money to spend.

Throwback

Gas is now under $2 per gallon in Madison ($1.85 in St. Paul! $1.77 in Memphis!). Honestly, I don't think I ever expected it to drop below $2.50 for the remainder of the decade. I know it's a very lay opinion, and not based in any keen understanding of petro-theory, but still. I figured the taste of profits would be too sweet to turn down for the producers and refiners of oil.

So now we're back to paying an accurate price for what we're getting: no national health care. No free higher education. Not even a properly-segregated fund for infrastructure development.

Get with it, (majority of) America. Europe isn't paying $5/gallon for funzies. They're paying for more services than just the right to tool around aimlessly in a car. It's too bad this isn't a position the Obama Administration could latch onto. People just aren't ready for it, and that's a goddamn shame.

Vote early, watch House often

So, tomorrow's the big day. A 16-hour House marathon on USA Network!

No, The Big Day. Probably the most important and meaningful presidential election of my lifetime, presuming it goes the way it's looking like it'll go. Ed. - thought about this, and it's a BFD election regardless.

Kids are still going through grade and middle school who, not too long ago, still asked and were asked if a Black person or a woman could ever be elected President of the United States. Hell, pundits have been asking that question up until a few months ago.

A woman made a hell of a run of it this year, and it looks like a black man is gonna take it the distance. I'll be doing my part to help.

I know this blog isn't as political as it used to be; I'm not as political as I used to be. Part of that is because Air America Radio has gone downhill in quality since 2006, in a big way. Part of that is because I lost access to Daily Kos for a while.

But a big part is because it just got really tiring, and tiresome. Politicians are infamous for having a lot of advisors and yet learning nothing. I knew that W wasn't going anywhere, and the Democratic Congress wasn't going to do all that I wanted it to do (that was primarily for its own good, but it was still disappointing to see so many concessions to bad legislation and unscrupulous agenda-pushing). It just seemed like too much effort to maintain a full-throated bluster.

This election, though, is a different matter entirely. While the advisors try to keep McCain above the mudslinging fray, his "pit bull with lipstick" is living up to the unfortunate imagery with which she chose to swathe herself. She asks if the Democrats think the terrorists are "the good guys now". She impugns the value of "community organizers," while critics point out that such useless figures as Jesus and the Founding Fathers of the United States might be viewed as community organizers.

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The McCain backers assign all sorts of terrorist background to Barack Obama, where no evidence supports them. They play on the funny name with which he was born, just because it sounds vaguely "Arab" or "Muslim".

Sadly, I know people who give this baseless scaremongering even a little opportunity to sway them. People I care about greatly. People who should know better.

So when you vote tomorrow (if you haven't voted already), don't vote scared. Don't vote angry. Don't vote ignorant. Vote your own interests, but know who's actually going to protect your interests. Don't assume. Vote smart.

VOTE.

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Monkey see, monkey don't

I suppose the time for being surprised by American scientific willful ignorance has come and gone, but color me surprised at American scientific willful ignorance.

The setting: I was processing a donated book for inclusion in the collection here at work. It's titled ape•man: the story of human evolution. It's based on a BBC documentary, and here's the cover:



You'll notice that the link goes to the Amazon.co.uk site, because this is the cover of the US edition, which was released after the documentary made its way to the TLC network:



Yep, that's right. ape•man became Dawn of Man, and I don't think it was to eliminate the unusual character or unconventional capitalization.

The really unexpected part of this stupid story is that it didn't take place during the W presidency. The UK edition was published in February 2000, and the US edition followed in June 2000.

What this really shows is that the United States has been on an academic decline for longer than the W regime, but it has been because of entities like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Christian Coalition, and Bill Donohue that we have been forced to accept a simplified and often falsified version of scientific reality.

There are more apes that come to mind when the subject of science trumped by faith comes up:

Enviro-vandalism

It was with extreme glee that I, after learning about the practice on a local message board, discovered that my front right tire had been bled overnight.



On my window was a small, inexpensively reproduced sign.



Now, I live on a very liberal street in a very liberal city. Most of the cars parked here overnight are Subarus, Toyotas, Nissans, and the occasional Mazda. There are very few pickup trucks, very few sports cars, and the few vans are often used in the service of the small natural bakery next door.

So you'd have to understand my frustration, and the frustration of many more people in my larger neighborhood, at having our cars singled out for a demonstration in favor of energy conservation and environmentalism.

This was part of a larger enviro-vandalism effort. I'm not going to link it, but it's called Fossil Fools Day. Witty. Too bad they picked the most conservation-conscious neighborhood in the city to fuck with. I hope the news reporting on this highlights how stupid and self-damaging this little stunt was.

By the way, a couple very friendly guys from down the street had a compressor and refilled at least three cars' tires, including mine. They also helped out a guy who ran his tire off the rim trying to drive to a gas station (whose air pump had a bad coin jammed in the slot...funny thing), and needed to get jacked up to install his spare.

Unlike the douchebags who did the tire bleeding, the guys with the compressor and my fellow victims of vandalism actually helped to enhance the community spirit and create the kind of environment that engenders respect, not immaturity.

Cowards.

Clinton Portis. Mike Golic. Carmelo Anthony.

Famous men. Large men.

Cowards. And I'd tell them so to their faces.

They are all advocates for the so-called "Stop Snitching" movement. They may not all announce their support explicitly, but they make it clear by their statements.

Clinton Portis, running back for the Washington Redskins,
said:

"I don't know if he was fighting dogs or not, but it's his property, it's his dog," Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis told WAVY-TV in Virginia. "If that's what he wants to do, do it. I think people should mind their business."

When told that dog fighting is a felony, Portis replied, "It can't be too bad of a crime."

This morning, on his ESPNRadio program, Mike Golic stated that, if he were aware of performance-enhancing drug use in his sport, he would not report that use to a supervising or investigating authority.

In December 2004, NBA star Carmelo Anthony appeared in an underground DVD entitled "Stop Snitchin'." While he did not advocate violence, the purpose of the video was to discourage cooperation with police.

These men insist that their comments were taken out of context, or that the brotherhood of professional sports prevents them from turning in wrongdoers. This is the height of cowardice.

There are websites, which I will not link here, that provide lists of known or suspected informants, cooperating witnesses and undercover law enforcement agents. The thin excuse for this database is to keep people in the community informed about whom they can or cannot trust. In truth, this list allows criminals and would-be criminals to skirt the law and harm people who might stand in their way. It also allows for unscrupulous cowards to place their personal enemies in the line of fire by falsely submitting their name, address and photo for inclusion.

The law protects all of us, and it is only as strong as we allow it to be. This is the case for any rule or authority, whether municipal or social. Men like Carmelo Anthony, Mike Golic, Clinton Portis, as well as Scooter Libby, Busta Rhymes, Cam'ron and others, weaken our social order by placing blind loyalty to friends or cohorts above proper behavior. To do so is cowardice, pure and simple.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Although not rising to the level of offense of the individuals listed above, I'd like to add former Dane County Board member Dave Blaska to the list. Dave was so upset by my fair responses to his inane posts at the
IsthmusDaily Page that he implored me to go away. Poor thing.

Tom Nelson isn't licked

Unfortunately, neither is political cynicism

“He can raise public opinion against us—if any part of this sticks…”

In 1939, the average American was beset by economic instability at home as political turmoil brewed overseas. In these rough waters, a film by the name of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington gave those same average Americans a glimmer of hope that a citizen of roughly their means could effect positive change in the United States.

Cut to 2007, and we see Wisconsin facing similar economic uncertainty, surrounded by a vituperative political dialogue. In that environment, Representative Tom Nelson (D-Kaukauna) is a charming anachronism, a real-life James Stewart. No, Nelson isn’t a period movie caricature, nor is he facing the creeping spread of totalitarianism in Europe. He has, however, fought one heck of a fight against a determined opposition as he struggles to do his part to get a budget passed for the state of Wisconsin.

The state budget is, as has been widely covered by state and national media, over one hundred days late. Due on July 1, it has been batted around from committee to committee, from Assembly to Senate, and back again. The bill that met with tentative agreement on the 19th of October was the sixth proposal of the year. As this article is being written, news has hit the press that both houses have finally passed the bill. Representative Nelson can claim a certain, significant percentage of the media attention paid to this debate.

Nelson announced, on October 18th, that he would not leave his desk in the Assembly chambers until the budget was passed. A cot would be wheeled in, and his only exceptions to his vigil were eating and visiting the restroom. The immediate response of Assembly Republicans was that this was nothing more than a stunt.

One might ask how Nelson’s decision amounted to much more than overtime. He described his sit-in to me as the same thing that “any rank-and-file member could do…to show up and do my job.” His temperament on the night the budget passed was something between exasperation and desperation. “There are good things and bad things in this proposal,” he said. “It’s not a perfect document but look, we’re running out of time.”

You could almost hear that same hoarseness of voice that afflicted Stewart’s Jefferson Smith at the end of his filibuster to the US Senate. Nelson’s actions should be as inspiring to us now, as Mr. Smith was to Depression-era moviegoers. Perhaps it is, but the determination on the part of his opponents to deride the sit-in is evidence of a creeping spread of a new player in politics: total cynicism.

At the federal level, we see the Republicans endeavoring to use the same filibuster in 2006 that they threatened to take away from the Democrats in 2005. At the state level, Republicans in the Assembly voted to end the Special Session—called for the sole reason of passing the budget—without having passed the budget. It was Nelson’s promise to stay put, however, that inspired Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch to intone, “I’m amazed that the Democrats have now gone so far as to resort to sit-ins to call for higher taxes in this state,” as if it was perfectly clear that this, and not the passing of the budget, was exactly what Nelson wanted to accomplish.

Nelson does not appear to be afflicted by that same cynicism. He seems, in fact, to be armed with a healthy dose of northeastern Wisconsin work ethic. He described a recent encounter that illustrates his matter-of-fact attitude about political machinations in the budget process. “I met a tourist from Greece this weekend,” he recalled, “who was touring the capitol and had heard of my sit-in. He asked me what the ‘consequences’ were of my sit-in. I explained to him I did not face the same consequences that my Greek counterparts might face---thrown out of the party, threats on my life. After I tried explaining my situation three or four times to him, I learned that there was not just a language barrier between us.”

Now that the budget has been passed, Tom Nelson can have a proper night’s sleep. He can have an honest-to-God, sit-down meal. He can go back to Kaukauna and talk with his constituents about his efforts in Madison on their behalf. The response from people in his district, he says, was ten-to-one in favor of his decision to stand firm. This, from an area of the state that couldn’t field a Democratic challenger to US Rep. Tom Petri in 2006.

That ratio of support to criticism reveals the truth about cynicism and faith in politics in Wisconsin. The voters tend to recognize genuine hard work, or are at least willing to grant sincere motives to their elected officials. It is the officials who are often unable to accept that each one of them isn’t the only person who cares about the process. The filibuster is batted around like a dead bird between hungry cats. Special sessions to resolve pressing issues are an inconvenience, while month-long vacations are defended to the last breath.

At least there is this one, thin silver lining to the 2007 budget fiasco; the people still appreciate the efforts of their representatives. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Senator Smith was almost felled in his quest by the presentation of bins full of letters from his constituents, asking for his resignation. A hopeful citizen could almost believe that, with the support shown to Rep. Nelson, some of his best intentions might just stick.

###########

I wrote this for the Isthmus newspaper here in Madison. I don't think they'll use it, because as I was writing it, the budget finally passed. But I was happy with it, and would have been a little bummed out if no one got the chance to read it. Hope you liked it.

W threatens the American Left

Yep. He did. There really isn't even any sneakiness or nuance to this claim. He flat-out told the American Left that we better be afraid.

"And (the Democrats' failure to collectively denounce MoveOn.org's anti-Petraeus
ad) leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org, or more afraid of irritating them, then they are of irritating the United States military."

The Democrats should be afraid of the US military. Is that really what this fucking clown just told us? You better believe it is.

Tell me, W: why in the fuck should we be afraid of irritating the US military, you arrogant piece of shit? What, exactly, would be the unpleasant outcome of irritating the US military? That's the parallel you're drawing, you crayon-fisted jackass.