Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

27 October, 2008

Achtung Pizza Extreme, Poppa Coronofoulos, Fraboni's, and the rest of you!

My mom was up here a couple weekends ago and she helped remedy a tragedy. Three days previous I'd ordered an Italian beef from Pizza Extreme. It had been ages since I'd ordered anything from them and, upon gazing at their menu for the first time in years, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had Italian beef available. That sounded good to my Chicago ex-pat palate. Unfortunately, it turned out to be shite.

My mom called a couple days later and said that she'd be coming up to visit – was there anything I wanted her to bring? The first words out of my mouth were "Italian beef" as I had to make up for the travesty that Pizza Extreme sold me. And, man, did I ever.

Mom came armed with about half a gallon of gravy and two or three pounds of beef from Joseph's Finest Meats on Addison near Harlem and this provides me with a good learning opportunity. So listen up Pizza Extreme, Poppa Coronofoulos, Mad Dog's, Fraboni's and the other places around town that serve Italian beef sandwiches that range from mediocre to absolute shit.

Look at the gravy. Here's a close-up for you:

Look at it! There's actually herbs in it! See the rosemary, red pepper flakes, and oregano taking a leisurely swim, imbuing the gravy with their aromatic goodness. You don't dip Italian beef in what you get when you ruin perfectly good water with bouillon cubes; that's how you make soup in prisons.

|| Palmer, 7:12 PM || link || (2) comments |

24 October, 2008

To Widen or Not to Widen

Jim Rowen is wrong.

Fellow blogger Emily Mills posted her reaction to news that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is planning on widening I39/90 from the Illinois border to Madison from 4 to 6 lanes. I was going to respond via a comment but it got rather lengthy so I've decided to note some things in a proper post.

With Americans driving less in the wake of inflated gas prices and government making overtures towards improved public transportation, Emily asks, "Why, then, spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an interstate expansion?"

The Cap Times article indicates why the expansion is being sought:

"Increased volumes of traffic on the interstate prompted the DOT to start looking at adding a third lane in each direction three years ago. The current average daily traffic count is between 47,000 and 68,000 vehicles a day."

The author or authors of the article ought to be taken to task for simply throwing out some numbers with no explanation. What do these numbers mean? Are travel times up significantly? Does this volume exceed a safety threshold of some kind? 99.9% of readers do not work for the DOT nor have the planning/engineering knowledge to make sense of that statistic. The Cap Times apparently never bothered to ask anyone with the knowledge to explain. They also neglected to tell us how current this "current" traffic count is. When was it made? Three years ago when the plan was first hatched or this year? Before or after gas went above $4/gallon? I think it's reasonable to assume that the section of interstate is near or at capacity for a 4-lane highway. Certainly during the summer it is maxed out with people from Illinois vacationing in our fair state. And I wouldn't be surprised if we see an increase on this stretch with more people who lost their jobs in Janesville commuting.

I also have an issue with Emily's reasoning. She took an aggregate statistic and applied it locally. You can't look at national trends and assume that it applies wherever you go. For example, just because George Bush won the 2004 election doesn't mean you can randomly pick a county and assume that the majority of people there voted for him. Similarly, while the nationwide trend is towards less driving, that doesn't mean that any given stretch of highway will see less traffic. You have to look at the traffic volume on a case-by-case basis.

One commenter noted the potential for Amtrak service to Madison. We really don't know how much congestion relief Amtrak service would provide, if any. For one thing, we have no idea how often the train would run. Currently it makes its Chicago<—>Seattle run once a day in each direction. While we may get Amtrak service here in Madison, I am doubtful that we will have the Empire Builder running through town more frequently than it does now. Plus the train would be coming in from Milwaukee – how likely are folks in Chicago's exurbs going to head east, nearly to the Lake, to catch a train that would bring them back west? I find any notion that Amtrak service in Madison would decrease traffic on the stretch of interstate at issue to be dubious.

Before anyone makes their mind up about this project, they should be considering the many variables at play and be asking a multitude of questions. Here are a few:

1) What is the daily average traffic count here in the second half of 2008?

2) What is the capacity of a four-lane backbone highway?

3) What are the projections for traffic volume over the coming decade and how were these numbers calculated?
|| Palmer, 4:17 PM || link || (2) comments |

21 October, 2008

Polish Grandmothers and Christmas Trees

The theme of this year's Wisconsin Book Festival was "Changing Places" and, of the three events I was able to take in, it was Sunday's at the Wisconsin Historical Museum which dealt most closely with the idea of a change of place – "Motherlands and Other Lands". It was hosted by the Polish Heritage Club of Wisconsin – Madison, of which I am a member. A triumvirate of writers was on hand who graced us with tales real and imagined, stories of people who came to America and one of an American who went abroad.

Kicking off the afternoon was Anthony Bukoski, a resident of Superior where he teaches and writes stories. His family emigrated from Poland to Superior and so it should come as no surprise that much of his fiction deals with the Polish-American community of his hometown. He read one of his short stories, the name of which I cannot recall, but it had "butterfly" or "butterflies" in the title and featured a narrator whose grandmother had died. I found it very moving since my own Polish grandmother is dying.

Bukoski also read about three paragraphs from another story which I believe was "Children of Strangers". Like the first story, it had a very gentle tone and it too dealt with old people. Indeed, my favorite line was "In finding the old people, they have found the past." Unfortunately, I cannot recall the context of that sentence in the story; I only have it written down in my notes. Again, my grandmother came to my mind. She is 93 and ailing and a lot of family history will disappear once she passes away. Perhaps 36 is too young for a person to start looking to the past and taking an interest in one's family history, but I became interested in keeping one eye on what came before 10-12 years ago and it's too late to change now.

Fred Neuschel spoke next. His book, Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships, uses the sinking of the Rouse Simmons in 1912 as a launching pad for investigating the lives and communities of those who grew the Christmas trees and sailed the Great Lakes to deliver them to markets in Chicago and elsewhere. Neuschel described the book as examining the "men who died in the shipwrecks and what they did between wrecks".

His book fit into the festival's theme because the men who sailed those ships were mostly German and Irish immigrants who'd come to America, in Neuschel's words, "seeking a harbor of refuge." Sailing those schooners gave these men an identity and a sense of solidarity which endowed them with strength & pride to resist being mere commodities in a labor market they cannot control.

Knowing this event was hosted by the PHC, I was a bit surprised that Neuschel was present. It was quite felicitous as I've recently been considering buying a poster of Great Lakes shipwrecks to adorn a wall at my new apartment.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Leonard Kniffel, author of Polish Son in the Motherland. Kniffel began by explaining why he wrote the book. He didn't grow up in a Polish neighborhood. Instead it was his grandmother whom he described as being the "Polishness" in his life as a child. With the death of his mother in 1996, Kniffel found himself without any immediate family but with a desire to look back and understand his family history. Four years later he traveled to Poland in order to find his grandmother's ancestral village. Kniffel ended up spending several months in Poland and described the experience as the most transformative of his life. As long as he was there, he thought, why not try to find his grandfather's ancestral village. And he did.

Kniffel said that he found the Poles he met to be very curious and warm people. He ended his talk with a brief passage from his book.

Now, for reasons beyond my understanding, the presenters were told to keep their talks to 10 minutes. This meant that the Q&A session and reception afterwards were lively discussions.

The first question was to ask Mr. Neuschel to read a bit from his book, which he did. Later someone asked him if his book was 100% non-fiction and, if so, had he has ever written any fiction? Neuschel replied that Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships was all factual but that there were many myths & legends surrounding the sailors. Although he didn't elaborate, I suppose that there are stories about the ghosts of dead sailors and the like.

This was followed up by a woman who asked Mr. Kniffel if he was in Poland for Christmas and, if so, what were the rituals around it? He replied that he was there for Christmas and that the celebration was exactly how you read about it in books. The highlight of the season was Wigilia, the Christmas Eve dinner. One Wigilia tradition is to leave an empty seat at the table should a stranger come to your door. There was no space at the table that night as Kniffel was given that seat. Another tradition involves a wafer called the opłatek. You offer a piece of the wafer to others at the table and wish them luck and happiness. As he recalled this, Kniffel noted a difference between Polish and American kids. After breaking the wafer, Polish children would go up to adults, look them straight in the eyes, and wish them well. He observed that, for Polish kids, it was a rather earnest affair whereas American kids tend to go through the motions.

Most of the questions directed at Mr. Bukoski were about his craft. It was revealed that much of his fiction is autobiographical in nature. After this, his Polish pride came out as he went on a tangent with the proclamation that it was unforgiveable that the popular consciousness is unaware of the plight of Polish gentiles after World War II. He gave an example of some Poles who settled in Louisiana. They worked on sugar plantations under wretched conditions. Their complaints led to an investigation led by the Truman administration. Mr. Bukoski was also asked how his literary voice has changed since his first book. He replied that he didn't know but thought that he'd gotten better after 30 years of writing.

All three authors attended the reception that the PHC held after the events. It gave folks a chance to get autographs and chat with them on a more personal basis. Each was a real gentleman and seemed genuinely pleased to be talking with readers, answering their questions, and listening to their stories. I even got a bit choked up as I told Mr. Kniffel how touched I was by his story and that I too am Polish by my grandmother, who is, unfortunately, not long of this earth.

For more info on Mr. Kniffel and A Polish Son in the Motherland, check out the book's website.

Fred Neuschel and Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships both have a webpage to be found here.

Anthony Bukoski is published by Southern Medodist University Press.
|| Palmer, 7:48 PM || link || (0) comments |

20 October, 2008

Learning About Each Other Differently at the Wisconsin Book Festival

On Friday evening I was to be found at the Overture Center for a Wisconsin Book Festival event – "Black Contributions to Madison, Wisconsin, and the World". It featured Dr. Edward Powe, Dr. Richard Harris, and Betty Banks, a Madisonian who was taking the place of Clayborn Benson, executive director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society.

As I waited outside the Wisconsin Studio for audience members to be allowed inside, five or six college-aged folks assembled with me by the door. I thought it was rather nice to see some members of the younger set taking an interest in the history of their community and a history which is doesn't get much attention when we look back at ourselves. Once we were let it, I noticed Madison's poet laureate, Fabu, wandering the aisle chatting with folks all the while.

It wasn't too long before the emcee welcomed us and introduced Dr. Powe who would talk on the subject of black contributions to the world. It's difficult to think of a broader topic. He began by discussing who black people are and noted three racial categories that have been handed down to us: Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid. Africa, he said, had many people who were "purely Negroid", but that there were millions of people throughout the world who have very dark skin and kinky hair. Dr. Powe proceeded to give examples of peoples who are combinations of these three racial groups. There were Creoles, the black Seminoles of Florida, mulattoes in the Dominican Republic, and many more examples.

The first part of his talk ended with him saying that the notion of "any people with Negroid characteristics" are Negroid is a very American conception of race.

Next Dr. Powe addressed why he writes about blacks as a group. He first considered the idea that we are all the same species with skin color being a minor difference before rejecting it on the grounds that color is a condition. This was followed up with the observation that blacks almost always find themselves in a subservient role when their skin color is not of the majority. In this time of the Obama candidacy and lots of talk about America having morphed into a post-racial society, I found Dr. Powe's comments here quite refreshing.

Lastly he stated what should be obvious to all, namely, that black have contributed to humanity in all manners possible: the arts, science, etc.

(L to R – Dr. Powe, Dr. Harris, and Ms. Banks)

The second speaker, Ms. Banks, was next. She told us that she was a descendant of one of the first black families in Madison. Her grandparents were William and Anna Mae (I hope I've got the spelling correct here) Miller. William, a lawyer, had been invited by Bob La Follette to come to Madison and be one of his advisors. When they arrived, both William and Anna Mae, who was a teacher, both found themselves unable to practice their professions. Due to the racism of the day, William could not technically be an advisor to La Follette and was instead given the title of "messenger". Despite setbacks, the couple did well for themselves here and would go on to found a church as well as a boarding house on Dayton Street.

If all of this sounds Madison-centric for a speaker who was to talk about Black contributions to Wisconsin, then know that William was part of Du Bois' Talented Tenth. As theorized by Du Bois, the "Talented Tenth" were the one in ten black men who would get a liberal education and become public intellectuals. With this background they would push/agitate for social change. Both Booker T. Washington and DuBois were guests in the Miller home. They founded the Negro Book Lover's Club which was a precursor to the Madison chapter of the NAACP.

Ms. Banks described her grandparents as "elitist" and said that they only socialized with people of the same social class. When William died, Anna Mae found herself in dire financial straits and eventually became a housekeeper for white families in Madison. Despite this rather sad ending to their tale, Ms. Banks said that they left her a rich legacy of political activity to build upon. She worked for Family Enhancement for many years before starting a show for kids on WYOU called "Club TNT" (Today Not Tomorrow) and is active on many boards and committees in Madison.

She ended her talk by saying that most white historians ignore her family when writing about the history of Wisconsin. I was reminded of a recent op-ed in The Capital Times by Fabu which lamented the absence of blacks on the walls of the Capitol which depict the history of our state.

Perhaps this situation will be remedied a little bit by the last speaker of the evening, Dr. Richard Harris. Dr. Harris is working on a book which chronicles the history of blacks in Madison. At 71, he was lively, engaging and made us laugh many times beginning with his comment that his parents tried to set him up with Ms. Banks when they were younger. His talk was more a long bout of reminiscing than anything formal.

Like Ms. Banks, Dr. Harris is descended from one of the early black family to settle in Madison. When he was growing up, most blacks lived in one of three areas in Madison. First there was the area from the Capitol to about Blair, then there was Greenbush (which he called the west side as a kid), and finally South Madison, an area around the intersection of Park Street and Wingra Drive. As a youth, he thought everyone in Madison was black.

He noted that on Friday and Saturday nights, there was always a party in someone's basement for the blacks in Madison. Sundays meant church but also a stop at the Chicken Shack on West Washington afterwards.

(Some photos of South Madison residents from Dr. Harris.)

At this point, Dr. Harris went back a bit farther and explained how his parents ended up in Madison. His father was originally from Kentucky but was living in Cincinnati when he was part of a crew that moved some items to Madison for another gentlemen. The elder Harris liked Madison so much, he decided to stay. Dr. Harris' mother was originally from Georgia. Her uncle had a run-in with a white man and the black family was frightened by the prospect of revenge on the part of the whites. So the uncle left town and was soon followed by many of the women of the family. Dr. Harris' mother left Georgia and settled here.

This was in the early 1930s when racial discrimination in employment and housing was common. Dr. Harris got a bit choked up as he told the story of how his parents built their home here in Madison. They found a plot of land they wanted and approached the seller who was white. The guy told them that there were already too many negroes in the neighborhood and that they didn’t want any more. And so the Harris' kept looking and found another plot owned by someone who didn't have a problem selling to blacks. The Harrises got to work on building their home. One day the man who had refused to sell to them earlier wandered by and started going off on a tirade of indignation and racism. The Italian owner of a nearby store called the police. When they arrived, they quickly grew tired of the guy's yelling and one of them proceeded to smash him in the mouth with his billy club before arresting him. It was the first time Mr. Harris had seen white police officers arrest a white man. Strangely enough, the man the police arrested and Mr. Harris would eventually become the best of friends.

Dr. Harris recalled that, as a child in the 1950s, blacks and white got along very well. His white teachers talked about black history in classes whereas his children's teachers did not. This was something that I and, judging from the reactions I heard, many in the audience were not expecting to hear.

All too soon Dr. Harris' allotted time was up and the panelists fielded questions from the audience. Three questions stick out for me.

The first was by someone who sounded like a young woman. She asked Dr. Harris why race relations are better here in Madison than Milwaukee. His response was that it is not; perhaps even worse. He observed that, as Madison's black population has increased, the racism here has increased commensurately. This was certainly something that no one in the audience wanted to hear. Dr. Harris pointed out that Dane County (Madison, for all intents and purposes) locks up more blacks than any other in the state. While I would argue that this statistic in and of itself is not proof of an increase in racism, it should be deeply troubling to our community.

Not being black and having moved here only in 1990, it is difficult for me to say whether or not Madison is more racist now that it was at some time in the past. Anyone have thoughts on this?

A young man seated just behind me asked Dr. Powe what he was most shocked to encounter during his extensive travels around the tropics. While his voice and demeanor earlier had been rather dry, Dr. Powe really showed some excitement in answering the question. It was a rather simple response – "Everything is new when you travel" – but he said it with such glee that I immediately wanted to hop on a plane and go somewhere else.

The final question of the evening wasn't even a question. A white woman seated several rows behind me said that she had moved to Madison in the 8th grade and that she knew Dr. Harris. Her family, which was German, had moved from Westport to Madison, near what is now the Mendota Mental Health Institute which, back in the day, was a place where soldiers convalesced with their families. With sadness in her voice, she related how the military men at MMHI would not let their kids play with her because of her ethnicity.

This prompted many to gasp in shock. Ms. Banks chimed in that, when she was a child growing up in the Greenbush neighborhood, people generally got along well and were able to resolve conflicts. She said that there were no Dane Dances back then because they were not needed. In her words, "We learned about each other differently than we do now."

I stopped by Dr. Powe's table after the lecture where he had an array of his books available. Many of them were very thick volumes and, from my browsing, seemed to be serious ethnographic treatises. However, there were some slimmer volumes including one that caught my fancy, Black Cuisine of the Tropics: We Are What We Eat & Drink. He was quite amicable and very willing to engage folks one-on-one. It was also at his table that I ran into a young man clutching a laptop. He said that his Afro-American Studies professor was offering extra credit to students who attended this event and wrote a paper on it. I am hoping that he was the only student there and that the rest of the people who looked to be in their 20s had attended out of their own personal interest. Regardless, I hope they got something out of the event.

His books are published by Dan Aiki Publications and you can find out more about his work at the BLAC Foundation.

Ms. Banks can be heard on Saturday evenings from 6-8 on WTDY AM 1670 on the Heart and Soul program which is a mix of talk about our city and music. She is also the executive producer for the children's TV show Club TNT.

Dr. Harris told me that his book, Growing Up Black in South Madison, will be published next April, if he can successfully deal with his editors.
|| Palmer, 7:33 PM || link || (0) comments |

17 October, 2008

Universal Health Care Is a Long, Long Way Away

Earlier at work today I was given some instruction on how to record meetings, conferences, and the like for webcasting. My instructor and friend showed me the equipment as I helped him setup for a lecture. He pulled out one of the microphones and placed it on a table. "It is a directional mic and very sensitive," he warned.

To illustrate just how sensitive it was, he told me the story of a meeting he recorded for the Division of Public Health. It was a gathering of DPH, various health officials from around the state, and big whigs from various private companies in the area such as American Family Insurance, Dean Health, and the like. The topic was a state initiative called Healthiest Wisconsin 2010 and how to transition it to Healthiest Wisconsin 2020.

Participants were warned not to chat with one another as they would likely be picked up by the microphones. One big whig from the private sector did not heed the warning and decided to whisper a remark to the person sitting next to him. He said something close to, "This is bullshit. My job is to make money for the shareholders."

I think, but am not sure, that you can find the webcast with the offending comment at this page.

I am reminded of the quote by Dr. John Geyman that I referred to a couple weeks ago:

The problem is the private insurance industry itself…It cares more about its shareholders than its enrollees or patients.

Want universal health care? Don't hold your breath.
|| Palmer, 3:41 PM || link || (0) comments |

16 October, 2008

German Americans: Coming to America

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies. (And that's pronounced like MAHKS KAH-DUH, for those who do not have a Teutonic tongue.) As part of the year-long anniversary celebration, the Institute is offering a three-part lecture series, the first of which was last night at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community.

The event was unlike any I've attended in a while in that the audience was not asked to silence cell phones before the lecture. At the tender age of 36 I was, as near as I could tell, the youngest attendee. Although the event was free and open to the public, folks were asked to register. As we filed in, we were asked for our names and it should be noted that many people gave them using the German pronunciation.

The speaker was Cora Lee Kluge, a professor of German and the director of the Max Kade Institute. She was to speak on the very large subject of immigration and gave us a broad overview of whys and wherefores of the millions of Germans who made their way across the Atlantic into the United States. Her lecture was divided into four main headings: Statistical Overview, Important German-Americans, the story of one ordinary immigrant, and "Separate & Different: A Constant Struggle". Prof. Kluge focused on the period of 1830 until World War I as this narrowed the scope of her lecture and the MKI is sponsoring another speaker next month, Professor Frank Trommler, who will elucidate upon the effects of the war on German-American identity.

Prof. Kluge began by noting that millions of Germans left their homeland between 1830-1900 to such disparate areas as Russia, Australia, and the United States. Over 5 million of them immigrated to the United States. By 1890 there were nearly 2.8 million German-Americans who made up about 4.4% of the total population; 30.1% of all foreign-born people in the country were German. Here's a map based on the 1890 census showing the distribution of German speakers who were born in Europe.

The darker browns indicate greater density. Lots of Germans settled by the Great Lakes. This stretch of tan and brown is known as "The German Belt".

In 2000, 42.8 million people identified themselves as having some German ancestry. This is 15.2% of the population, the largest single ethnic group. Locally, 42.6% of Wisconsin residents claim German ancestry at around the same time.

Prof. Kluge then turned to the topic of from where the immigrants originated.

The early immigrants (c.1845-1865) mostly came from southwestern Germany – Baden Württemberg - that brown/tan area on the map above. From around the end of the Civil War until 1885, the epicenter shifted to the northwestern part of the country, those tan and pink bits which are, I believe, now called Westphalia and Lower Saxony. (Someone more familiar with German geography correct me if I'm wrong here.) The last great wave of immigration (c.1885-World War I) saw people mostly from the northeastern part of the country making the journey here. The map above is from the mid-18th century so eastern Germany comprises some of what is now Poland. Unsurprisingly, immigration dropped during times of war.

Now, why would these people emigrate from their homeland to Wisconsin? Was it our lush, verdant landscapes? Perhaps our great weather? Prof. Kluge identified several reasons which she placed into two main categories: "push" reasons and "pull" reasons.

Push reasons were conditions in Germany such as political/religious oppression, crop failures, and overpopulation. She also mentioned inheritance laws which varied around Germany. In some places, your estate was divided amongst all of your sons while in other locales everything went to the eldest son. So, if one were in an area with laws like the latter and wanted all of your children to share, you might have emigrated.

It is often thought that one of the major attractions of Wisconsin for German immigrants was that the land resembled that of Germany. This is partly true. Land was a definite draw. In fact, the state actively tried to recruit immigrants. They did so, in part, with cards like this one:

The upper half is in English and asks that Wisconsonians who had family in Germany to send the card to them. The lower half is in German and asks that prospective immigrants consider Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Central Railroad was given a lot of land by the federal government on which to build their track but they put large tracts of it up for sale to raise funds. German immigrants were attracted to the available land and often found themselves with many more acres than they had in their homeland.

Also, there was the fact that Milwaukee was very German and it, and Wisconsin generally, had a strong German cultural life.

The PowerPoint slide then changed and the new one read "Important German-Americans". Prof. Kluge went through this section rather quickly. However, the name of this gentleman was quite familiar to me.

Carl Schurz. I lived not too far from the high school named after him in Chicago. I learned that Schurz was one of the Forty-Eighters, the name given to immigrants who fled Germany after the failed attempts at revolution in 1848. They were generally quite liberal which generally meant being anti-slavery. Many Forty-Eighters enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War with four becoming generals. Check out the Wikipedia link above for more info on this group of people.

The third section of the lecture was a look at the life of an ordinary German immigrant. In this case, it was Henry Ise, born Heinrich Eisenmenger. Prof. Kluge noted that Ise's ninth son, John, wrote a book about his family. Their story was used to illustrate how other German-Americans might seek out information about their ancestors. The first was to simply talk to family members and look for any family records; second was genealogical resources, many of which are on the Internet these days and has made digging around for such information much easier; there are also tons of government records to look through, both here and in Europe. Prof. Kluge noted the multi-volume Württemberg Emigration Index and showed an example of its pages which listed names, birthdates, and date of application for emigration, amongst other data. Lastly she mentioned newspapers which have obituaries.

Listening to this part of the lecture, I was reminded of how little I know of the German side of my family. (I'm a quarter German.) I do know that it was two brothers who first came to these shores. They both shipped out from the port city of Bremen with the first arriving in Baltimore in 1835 and the second making his way to Philadelphia about five years later. Then it gets all convoluted with a trek to Sheboygan where the family split with one half anglicizing the name and moving elsewhere. I am a branch of this line of the family. I'm told that I have distant relatives here in Wisconsin who have the original German spelling of the family name but I haven't found any of them.

The last several minutes were given over to the assimilation of Germans into the larger American society. Prof. Kluge noted that German immigrants were slow to adopt American ways and described a German-American society that grew up parallel to the Anglo-American one already in place. She offered two main reasons. Firstly was American nativism coupled with anti-immigration stances which affected not only Germans, but also groups such as Catholics and Irish immigrants. The Know-Nothings and the American Party were examples of these attitudes. Secondly was what she called the German-American's "cultural chauvinism". Prof. Kluge gave quotes from German-language newspapers which expressed the idea that German Kultur was superior to all others.

The Temperance Movement also served to distance German-Americans from mainstream American culture. In November of 1853, the unthinkable happened when a referendum passed to ban alcohol consumption in our fair state. However, nearly 78% of Milwaukee County voted against the ban and it also failed in counties with heavy German-American populations. What saved our state from becoming dry was the failure of Governor Farwell to sign the legislation. He declined fearing the loss of the German-American vote.

Prof. Kluge described the German-American community in Wisconsin as being very self-conscious and she said that members would talk about what the Anglo communities thought of their own in the pages of German-language newspapers. As examples, we saw how the two communities reacted in print to two separate lynchings in 1855.

Lynching #1 happened in an Anglo-American community. An English-language paper here in Madison used the opportunity to editorialize in favor of bringing back capital punishment. By contrast, a German-language paper in Milwaukee opined that, if it had happened in a community that was anti-temperance, it would have been used to promote the prohibition of alcohol.

Lynching #2 occurred in a German-American community. The English-language paper lectured readers on the evils of alcohol while its German-language counterpart said how regrettable the incident was.

In closing, Prof. Kluge said that Germans did not quite feel at home here. There was the feeling on behalf of many German-Americans of cultural superiority plus the dissonance between them and the Anglo community at large. Still, English speakers gave some due to the German immigrants. They copied German schools ("kindergarten" is German), many Americans studied at German universities, and English speakers celebrated German scientists & writers as their own.

Perhaps there is a lesson for us here in 2008. As more and more people emigrate from south of the border, we should ask ourselves if expectations of swift assimilation for them are realistic. It seems to me that some patience is in order.

The next lecture is on 12 November and will feature Professor Joe Salmons talking about German dialect and how it became integrated into Wisconsin Englishes.
|| Palmer, 2:19 PM || link || (5) comments |

13 October, 2008

From a Vile Radical

Salon has an article today about Elizabeth Dole's struggle to keep her Senate seat in North Carolina. The piece notes that Dole is running a rather lackluster campaign against Democratic challenger Kay Hagan and explored the issue of race as well as how the race is part of the larger issue of the unpopularity of Republicans right now.

However, I was surprised that the author neglected Dole's smear campaign and her gleeful hatchet job on my fellow godless heathens.

A fellow heathen blogger named Robert Eldredge has scanned in some of the Dole campaign literature that he received.

Hagan met with some folks from the Godless Americans PAC and Dole jumps on this saying Hagan was "the guest of honor at a fundraiser hosted by the most vile, radical liberals in America". The implication being that godless people generally are vile because they don't believe in Yahweh, the sea monster fighting deity.

May a pox fall upon the house of Dole.
|| Palmer, 2:31 PM || link || (0) comments |

Some UW Students Are More Equal Than Others

Back in the early 1990s I was a junior at the UW. I recall very well one of my classes that I had in Vilas Hall. My schedule worked out so that I had a bit of time before class so I'd go to the bakery in the now defunct University Square Mall and get a chocolate muffin and a cup of java. Then I'd amble next door to Vilas and find a spot in the hallway outside of the classroom where I would eat my muffin, drink the coffee, and read the student newspapers. The Badgers' star running back, Brent Moss, was in the class before mine and I'd see him everyday sitting in the back row right next to the door. I'd also see him leave class about 10 minutes early everyday.

This is what comes to mind when I hear about UW athletics and academics mixing. (Well, the moneymaking sports and academics, anyway.) Let me also add my astonishment at seeing Math 099 and English 099 in the UW timetable as well. I always presumed these classes were for athletes who somehow escaped high school without having grasped the curricula there.

With my biases in tow, I was prepared to be surprised by a recent WSJ article, "Growing emphasis on academics is helping athletes at UW-Madison". Unfortunately, it's more of what I'm used to: athletes being given special privileges and emphasizing sports over academics.

Officials laud the growing emphasis on academics, which stems in part from increased rigor in NCAA guidelines and in part from a desire for student athletes to succeed in school, thereby staying eligible to compete.

In other words, academics aren't particularly important unless poor grades impede an athlete's ability to play. This attitude has a couple corollaries: 1) Academics are unimportant as a means to other ends besides sports and 2) academics are not important in and of themselves. Most college athletes don't end up in the pros which means they'll have to find a vocation other than playing a sport. Plus this attitude degrades the idea that learning is in and of itself a virtuous pleasure.

It's also disturbing to find out that the university spent $1.4 million to help athletes with their studies when the NCAA has such abysmal standards. To wit:
Athletes must maintain a full course load and at least a 1.8 GPA to stay eligible, according to NCAA rules.

How crappy were athletes' grades that $1.4 million had to be spent, in part, to get the GPAs of some players up to a measly 1.8? Did no one at the UW care enough that athletes were sliding by with Ds that it took a change at the NCAA to for the university to get serious about this issue? (Rhetorical question.) There are two facilities where athletes can study and get tutoring but discriminate against non-athletes. You don't play sports? Well, then you're just not welcome at either Fetzer Center. Almost $24,500 of that money was spent on so-called class checkers, i.e. – people who get paid $10/hour to ensure that athletes make it to class. If you happen to be going to school to become a doctor or an engineer or a teacher, you don't get a water carrier.

Spending on academic programs for athletes at UW-Madison has more than doubled in the past 10 years — with the intent of building up the classroom performance of athletes and hopefully making it nearly impossible to fail.

Apparently failure is not an option when you help bring those TV cameras to Camp Randall and the Kohl Center. When you don't contribute to the budget of the athletic department, you don't get all the privileges or get to hang out at the exclusive facilities. Not going to class shows that you rank getting an education lower than other pursuits, whether it be sports or partying – whatever it may be. If you devalue your education and get poor grades, you deserve to fail. Perhaps failure will be a lesson itself. Drop out and come back when you're serious about school.

Chris Pressley, a UW football captain is quoted as saying, "We say to ourselves, if I weren't an athlete I would have time to do this and my grades would be better. Some guys make football their plan A. My plan A is getting a degree."

Good for him. If you play sports and can't find it in yourself to devote time to studying then you deserve to fail, not have someone wiping your ass for you.
|| Palmer, 9:10 AM || link || (0) comments |

10 October, 2008

Sails at an Exhibition

Starting on 18 October, the Chazen Museum of Art will feature an exhibit called Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas.
Beautiful and seductive, protective yet dangerous, the African water deity Mami Wata (pidgin English for “Mother Water”) is often portrayed as a mermaid, a snake charmer, or a combination of both. She and related African spirits dwell in rivers, seas, and other bodies of water.

The countdown to the exhibition was last Saturday at the Memorial Union Terrace with the Mami Wata Regatta.

A variety of local artists were invited to paint sails in the water spirit theme and the results casually cruised just offshore.

The Dulcinea's father was one of the folks who painted a sail. Here he is with his creation:

The countdown continues next Friday with a lecture by Henry Drewal, the exhibition's curator, which will be followed by a costume reception. Check out this page for info on these events and others surrounding the exhibition.
|| Palmer, 2:12 PM || link || (0) comments |

Erdklumpen: No Place For Children

A couple weekends ago The Dulcinea, M., and I headed south for "Performing in Paoli – Live Art". Galleries around town here a-hoppin', painters were paintin', and arts & crafts of all sorts were to be had. We spent some time at the Artisan Gallery which also houses the Creamery Café so we were able to take in some art and quell our hunger pangs in one location.

The gallery sits next to the lazy waters of the Sugar River.

The folks at either end in the photo above are arty types with their canvases and easels painting away at the bucolic scenery. Perhaps the beginning of the Sugar River School…? Meanwhile the patio is littered with sculptures such as this one:

In the gallery there was lots of ceramics which were quite uncheap.

And one artist had some kind of fowl fetish.

The building is the former Paoli Creamery and the old cooler now serves as a gallery. On display was Marlene Miller's show entitled "Erdklumpen" which featured some rather harrowing clay figures which were made all the more disturbing by the lighting and the sterile tile walls. M, at the tender age of nine, was quite spooked and bounded out of the room almost as quickly as came in.

The pamphlet accompanying the installation was full of classic lines such as "In certain figures, we see a pointed exploration into themes of power, aggression, and war".

Obviously my appreciation for fine art is lacking because that's not at all what I got out of the macabre figures. The smaller ones certainly had a cadaverous feel to them which almost made me feel like I was in a mausoleum. The larger busts generally featured figures dressed in what appeared to be doublets and tunics lending things a medieval air. I was reminded of those plaster casts made at Pompeii of the spaces left by the victims of Vesuvius.

I really liked "Erdklumpen" as it was rather unsettling (German names will do that) in a good way and fit into the autumn perfectly. While it certainly brought death to mind, I didn't get power, aggression, and war out of it like Susanne Nestory of Bradley University. But I guess that's what I get for having unrefined tastes.

The exhibit will be on display through the 26th of this month at the Artisan Gallery.
|| Palmer, 11:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

09 October, 2008

Amtrak Service in Madison by 2012?

A few days ago I noted some I94 construction and the possibility of the return of passenger rail to Madison. Tonight The Cap Times quotes WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi as saying that Madison could have Amtrak service within three years.

While certainly good news, the piece is a bit misleading.

Congress last week passed legislation that could finally put a Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee high-speed passenger Amtrak rail in place.

High-speed passenger rail travels around 200mph - bullet trains.**** In the near term, Madison is looking at normal, plain old Amtrak service which travels along freight rail lines. We're talking more like 80mph. It is certainly true, as the article says, that "Planners hope eventually to create a 3,000-mile Midwest high-speed rail network spanning nine states, with Chicago as the hub", but that's a long way off and would require a massive investment in new track that can handle the 200+mph maximum speeds of true "high-speed" rail.

As currently envisioned, the Amtrak line will work in conjunction with the commuter rail, getting passengers to a station at the Dane County Airport where they can pick up commuter lines to downtown Madison and other commuter stops, according to David Trowbridge, Transport 2020 project manager. Amtrak would also use the same rail lines as the commuter service from the east end of the commuter line on Reiner Road, two miles west of Sun Prairie, to Madison.

Busalacchi is quoted: "We're not ready. If people start a mass exodus to trains, we're not ready because it takes a lot of equipment and a lot of infrastructure to do this."

Intercity and freight rail both run on the same tracks. While freight trains must yield to Amtrak, our rail lines are congested. Adding commuter rail into the mix could make Madison a nice little bottleneck. Don't count on that Empire Builder to be on time.

And I wonder why plans would put the Amtrak station at the airport. When there was talk of this several years ago, a downtown stop and one at Johnson & Fordem were also vying for consideration and it seems to me that an Amtrak stop downtown would be best. Perhaps that is ruled out by the prospect of commuter rail on the same tracks. At this rate, we'll have Amtrak service before commuter and the initial 16 miles of commuter rail as laid out in Transport 2020 don't call for a line to the airport - that comes later.

There is much planning to be done and millions of dollars to be appropriated before Madison sees regular passenger rail service for the first time since 30 April 1971.

****I think for us "high-speed" is going to be more like 110MPH. Still, use of existing freight lines necessitates slower speeds.
|| Palmer, 9:24 PM || link || (2) comments |

08 October, 2008

The Challenge of Identity: An Interview with Martinez White

Martinez White is a man of many hats. Born and raised in inner-city Milwaukee, he is one of six children in a family headed by, in his words, "a resilient single-parent mother". White came to Madison to attend the UW where, in addition to his classes, he is a member of the Wisconsin Black Student Union and a DJ for the student radio station WSUM. Outside of the university, he is also a contributor to the local paper The Capital City Hues, which is how I became aware of him. In a recent piece White, who is a Communication Arts and Afro-American Studies major as well as an "aspiring multi-media mogul", revealed his intentions to create a documentary about the experiences of a black student at a mostly white school.

The prospect of such a documentary drew the attention of this alumnus so I e-mailed him to ask if he'd answer a few questions and Mr. White graciously consented.

(Martinez White with family)

FS: Let me begin by saying thanks for taking time to answer my questions. It is greatly appreciated.

What made you decide to attend the UW-Madison?

MW: Because of my academic success and extensive community involvement in Milwaukee, I was offered a full-ride scholarship to UW-Madison via the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, which I could not pass up. Especially since I knew without scholarships college was not an option for me. As a PEOPLE-Program Scholar I had attended their summer enrichment program every year throughout high school and I’d been woven into a tight-knit community of scholars who I knew I would enjoy spending my college years with at UW.

FS: In what ways were you involved in your community in Milwaukee?

MW: Videographer, Assistant Producer for Strive Media Institutes "GUMBO TV" & "GUMBO Teen Magazine" where I produced 5 minute news stories about social issues that concerned me and the people in my community. Check my myspace page at www.myspace.com/intuitionproductions and take a look at my work. You can learn about strive media institute at www.mygumbo.com. Other things I was involved in: Peers With IMPACT, The Bickham Project, YMCA Sponsor-A-Scholar Program, 1290 AM WMCS Secretarial Intern.

FS: What is the PEOPLE Program and what did you get out of it?

MW: Check out the people program at the following link: www.peopleprogram.wisc.edu. PEOPLE instilled a belief in me that college was a real option. PEOPLE made getting a college degree achievable and tangible. I am first generation and not many people in my community had been to college unless they were already established in their professions. I did not know many younger people who were college students. PEOPLE embedded a passion in me to come to college and succeed. Being on the UW campus every summer for four years straight prepared me to succeed in college the way I am now.

FS: Were you at all hesitant to leave Milwaukee to go to a school as well as move to a city both of which have relatively small minority populations?

MW: I did not consider racial demographics of Madison before I decided to come to UW-Madison; that aspect of collegiate life was not on my radar.

FS: In your piece for The Capital City Hues you mentioned you were working on a "documentary film about being a Black student on a majority White campus". What has been your experience as a racial minority at the UW? I assume that you get the chance to meet and talk with other students of color on campus. Do you find that you have experiences in common? What are the fundamental differences, in your eyes, between the experiences of white students and students of color at the UW?

MW: Let me make this explicitly clear, I have completely enjoyed my time at UW-Madison. The opportunities to succeed are in abundance, many of which I have and plan to take advantage of. I love being a Badger. Being the racial minority on this campus has taught me how to be open-minded enough to actively listen to, internalize and evaluate ideas from people who have not had similar experiences with me as a Black male scholar. I am in no way regretful or resentful about being a UW student. I have cultivated and strengthened my sensitivity towards other cultures. What makes my and other Black UW scholars' – the ones who feel like I do – experiences worth critical analysis is that as a racial minority, our identity is often challenged. Before I came to UW and sat in a class with White students from rural parts of Wisconsin, I had never truly known and believed in the impact media and people’s personal upbringing had on their perceptions of me, a young Black male from the inner city of Milwaukee. There have been and will continue to be times at UW where I feel the campus culture and climate is not welcoming, understanding or engaging to me as a scholar withholding the agencies of being a Black male – It would be interesting to explore how a Black male on an athletic team describes his experiences. The situation is complicated because in many ways UW is the perfect place for me, but on days when my identity as a Black male from an impoverished family is negatively criticized, I feel categorized as “the other”. I am a very progressive person and I am highly involved in engaging in conversations with students who want to make social steps forward in terms of race relations. The most effective way to deal with the most complicated issues involving race is to engage in discussions where ideas are shared and heard, feelings are candid and there is a common desire to make progress. That’s what we need from students of all racial identities.

FS: Is there anything in particular you want viewers to get out of your film?

MW: I want viewers to have an authentic, candid view into the life and experiences of a Black student who comes from an urban community and middle to lower class background and understand what effects the UW environment has on their collegiate experience and academic performance.

FS: You DJ a hip hop show on WSUM and were featured in a UW News article about a class on hip hop culture taught by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Are there a lot of manifestations of hip hop culture on campus? Is it easy for you to find fellow students who are simpatico in regards to identifying with it?

MW: What’s dangerous about Hip-Hop culture is that although it consists of a large population of Black people, it isn’t the summation of the Black Experience. It has been co-opted to be such which allows people to host Hip-Hop events and label them “Black events”. Hip-Hop is not innately the Black New Thing, and it should not be treated as such.

FS: In the article, you are quoted as saying, "This course is what hip-hop scholars personify as the ‘verse of our times'. It speaks to my spirit, philosophies and ideological beliefs and aspirations. I took this course to learn more about myself, the world around me and my generation.” What did the course say to your spirit, philosophies, etc? More generally, what does hip hop culture say and mean to you?

MW: I am MY Hip-Hop.

FS: Lastly, what are your post-college plans? Can you envision yourself putting some roots down here in Madison?

MW: Right now I don’t have any definite plans after college. Whatever I’ll be doing it has to give me joy!
|| Palmer, 8:20 AM || link || (1) comments |

06 October, 2008

Construction Ahead

Wisconsin taxpayers were delighted to hear that the massive multi-year reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee was completed early and came in under budget. Let's hope for the same outcome when we here in Madison get our own bit of I94 reconstructed.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is planning on widening 94 from four to six lanes between the Badger Interchange (that's where 39/90/94 all meet up) and County N. The widening of the interstate necessitates the replacement of bridges at Sprecher Road, Gaston Road, and Cty N; the ramps at the 94-Cty N interchange will be lengthened, a stretch of N at the interchange will be rebuilt, as will 1,000 feet of nearby Cty TT; and a Park & ride lot has been proposed for the northwest quadrant of the 94-Cty N interchange. Look for construction to start in 2010 and finish in 2011.

When I asked someone at the DOT why the construction was needed, I was forwarded a rather cryptic e-mail from a gentleman at Ayres Associates, a firm which does surveying, mapping, and the like. There were all these acronyms and figures that were undefined but I think I've got is sussed out.

The stretch of I94 at issue here has an Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) of 77,650 for "the design year 2030". So nearly 78,000 vehicles are projected to use that bit of freeway everyday by 2030. An AADT of 53,500 is the threshold for considering six lanes, although merely reaching that limit does not in and of itself warrant adding more blacktop. So traffic analysts determined the LOS – Level of Service – for our humble backbone route.

What's Level of Service? Generally speaking, it's how well traffic flows. I found some handy definitions in an environmental impact statement drawn up for the Green Bay Metro Area.

Getting back to our neck of the woods, the westbound portion of I94 hit LOS D in 2004 and the eastbound doing so a year later. LOS D is the "point where service approaches unstable flow and volume to capacity ratios [are] between 0.64 and 0.78". Projections show eastbound lanes to be at LOS E ("unstable flow and volume to capacity ratios between 0.79 and 1.00", i.e. – bad) with the westbound lanes deteriorating to LOS F, the worst there is short of a semi-truck rolling over blocking all traffic. (LOS F is "forced flow and volume to capacity ratios greater than 1.00", i.e. – really bad.)

The gentleman from Ayres notes that, when a section of highway hits LOS D, that's when alarm bells start going off and blacktop gets laid. In our case, the construction will boost I94 to LOS B, which is quite good, before it drops to LOS C by 2014.

I have to wonder if the LOS has gotten any better since gas prices shot up. I also wonder how many fewer cars would be on that stretch of I94 if Madison had Amtrak service.

I bring up Amtrak because Congress recently decided to almost double its funding and, miracle of miracles, Bush is expected to sign onto the program. This is the same president who has wanted to slash funding for the beleaguered rail system.

The legislation provides roughly $13 billion for Amtrak and passenger-rail funding over five years, nearly double current spending levels. The bill also contains a mandate for rail operators to equip trains with collision-avoidance technology that could have prevented last month's head-on crash in California that killed 25 people.

The number of riders on Amtrak, commuter rail and rapid-transit services has soared this year along with gasoline prices, leading Congress to increase federal support. The shift to rail and away from cars -- Americans have been driving less for nearly a year now -- will also affect next year's debate on a transportation-spending bill that could cost as much as $500 billion. Currently, the federal government spends more than $40 billion annually on highways, roughly $10 billion on mass transit and about $1.4 billion on Amtrak. Advocates of shifting those ratios in favor of rail and mass transit hope to seize on the opportunity presented by rising energy prices.

Unsurprisingly, McCain voted against the bill while Obama supported it.

It remains unlikely that Madison will get Amtrak service any time soon. No doubt the projected cost of a few years ago, which was about $350 million, has inched its way upwards. Still, the increased funding is good news. Could we be witnessing a fundamental shift in thinking towards Amtrak?

EDIT: There's a good article up at the Chicago Tribune which notes that the bill also contains funding to develop high speed passenger rail and has info about the initiative to bring it to the Midwest with Chicago as the hub.

Among other precedents, it authorizes $3.4 billion to create high-speed passenger rail corridors and provide rail capital-improvement grants to states.

The ambitious project proposed for the Midwest would cover 3,000 miles in nine states. All lines would radiate from a hub in downtown Chicago. The cost of a fully completed Midwest network is estimated at almost $8 billion.

Planners envision the line running from Chicago up through Milwaukee, Madison, the Twin Cities and eventually Duluth, while separate routes from Chicago would extend east to Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

A high-speed rail line between Chicago and the Twin Cities could be running within five years, according to U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

So we here in Madison have as good a chance for Amtrak service as we've ever had.
|| Palmer, 10:56 AM || link || (5) comments |

Caveat Metro Riders

Luckily it was rather warm this morning because I would have been highly unamused had it been cold out. This was the first morning commute on the new Metro time table and it ended up being a comedy.

I take the 38 and, in the infinite wisdom of the Metro planners, every other bus now goes down John Nolen Drive instead of Wilson Street, presumably to get to Broom a minute faster. I don't think that any of the schedules for route 38 buses has actually changed, it's just that the bus I had been taking now bypasses Wilson so I am taking the previous one. Well, it seems that the bus drivers took the Brewers/Packers/Badgers trifecta of losses pretty hard and had to drink their sorrows away because they were late.

My co-rider Carol and I boarded the bus which came a bit after 6:30. I settled into a magazine and about a block later I hear my name called. Looking up, I see Carol up at the front. "We're on the wrong bus," she calls back to me. We'd accidentally boarded the previous bus which was running late. So we found ourselves on the corner for a while and we're eventually joined by Mike. The next bus pulled up about 10 minutes later. I asked the driver, who said he had gotten out of the garage late, if he went down John Nolen. He had to look at a sheet, which didn't bode particularly well for us. That it was one that would go up Wilson was moot since we'd get off at Blount and hoof it if it weren't so as not to be too late for work. And man, was he trying to make up time. Jenifer Street denizens would have missed the bus going by their homes if they'd blinked at the wrong time.

It'd be nice to get something on the marquees of the buses or with that friendly voice to let us know which bus is going up Wilson and which down John Nolen. Until then, let the rider beware.
|| Palmer, 7:33 AM || link || (4) comments |

03 October, 2008

The Hypocrisy of Bill Maher

A commenter left some remarks at my post about Andrew Sullivan's hypocrisy that was on display last week during his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. The comments related to Maher's criticism of religion and lack of nuance when doing so.

This was a helpful reminder for me of a Wall Street Journal opinion piece called "Look Who's Irrational Now" which I'd meant to write about last week. In it, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway takes Maher to task for his extremely irrational views regarding modern medicine and nutrition. This surfaced briefly during the episode with Sullivan when Maher said, "And don't get me started on doctors" or something similar.


But it turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O'Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman -- a quintuple bypass survivor -- to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn't accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: "I don't believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory." He has told CNN's Larry King that he won't take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn't even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.

If anything, I was disappointed that Hemingway didn't go further and really lay into Maher for his views on medicine. When it comes to the medical realm, Maher is not an advocate of pseudoscience, he is an advocate of pure bullshit.

He said: "That's another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur theory, even though Louis Pasteur renounced it on his own deathbed and said that Beauchamp(s) was right". There is no evidence that Pasteur ever renounced his own theory on his deathbed. Surely Maher would take Christians to task for claiming Darwin recanted on his deathbed or for spreading false quotes by the Founding Fathers to bolster their case for America being a "Christian nation", yet he gleefully spreads his own bullshit.

Another quote: "people get sick because of an aggregate toxicity". When someone on his show uses a nebulous and undefined term like "aggregate toxicity", Maher is all over that person like white on rice. But, again, he has no problem with such bullshit if it fosters his own delusions.

Unfortunately, Hemingway ends her piece rather stupidly.

Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."

A lot of people who think Maher's views on medicine are idiotic are atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists. In addition, many who believe in a god subscribe to the same bullshit that Maher does and march alongside the likes of Jenny McCarthy in her harmful crusade against vaccination.
|| Palmer, 9:34 AM || link || (0) comments |

02 October, 2008

The Trillion Dollars You Aren't Hearing Much About

With all the hoopla about the bailout package for the banking industry, I've seen very little attention paid to the fact that last week the House passed a $612 billion defense authorization bill. Remember all those Democrats who ran on an anti-war platform back in 2006? Well, the vote was 392-39 which means a whole crap load of them thought it was a good idea to keep our ventures in Iraq & Afghanistan going with an immediate outlay of $68.6 billion with more to follow in the form of supplementary funding. And the $612 billion here doesn't account for money spent in the name of national security in departments other than Defense. Energy, the CIA, and other organizations get defense lucre too which prompts folks like Chalmers Johnson to estimate total defense outlays somewhere above the $1 trillion mark.

And why do we need to place a radar installation in the Czech Republic?

The military authorization bill would also fully fund the request for a radar site in the Czech Republic, opening the door for the next U.S. administration to begin building a European missile defense system. That project has been a source of tension in the deteriorating relationship between the United States and Russia. Moscow opposes the deployment of U.S. military assets so close to its borders.

Does the Cuban Missile Crisis ring a bell? We didn't find it amusing for the Soviet Union to put their missiles within spitting distance of Florida and so I can't imagine the Russians would be very keen on having ours in close proximity to Moscow.

No one is going to argue with giving our men and women in uniform a pay raise, but then there's those $5 billion in pork.

This is a massive amount of money that goes to project American military power around the globe and to sustain the Carter Doctrine and such appropriations are made year in and year out with little public comment.

I had two conversations about politics this morning before I made it to work and both were with Obama supporters. (I even asked one of them is she'd heard about the defense bill. She hadn't.) Frustrated, I told each of them that I thought McCain and Obama were scumbags. To be sure, Obama is less scumbaggy, but a scumbag nonetheless. My interlocutors were taken aback but at least the second of them understood that Obama is not the be-all-end-all of anything.

Everyday I encounter Obama supporters who think him some kind of big daddy who, if he were to be elected, would make everything OK again, that he's the definition of altruism and would make the fundamental changes they sought. Well, I call bullshit on that. I also call bullshit on this notion that the president is the only member of government who can affect positive change. I just want to grab some of these people, put them in headlocks, and start giving them noogies while saying, "Hello! McFly!" Stop investing Obama with all this capacity for change because presidents don't do that kind of stuff unless they're pressured to do so. Johnson wouldn't have signed any civil rights legislation if it weren't for a whole movement pushing for change. And a move towards renewable energy isn't going to happen under the watch of a president of a major party that receives millions of dollars from interests who don't want that to happen unless Joe and Jane Six-Pack start agitating for it. Plus the Executive Branch has to contend with this thing called Congress. (At least it should.) It never ceases to amaze me how the brains of otherwise intelligent people seem to shut down when faced with having to deal with something beyond a simple binary opposition of Obama v. McCain. The good side gets one guy and the bad side gets one guy and that's about as complicated as most people can get when it comes to politics. Never mind that Congress controls the purse strings and never mind that Congressional committees determine what legislation gets to make it to a vote. It's just so much easier to invest all your hopes in one figure and his attendant slogans instead of tackling the reality that your fate, as far as the government's role, is in the hands of many people and competing interests.

In short, I don't see a President Obama rocking the boat much, if at all. I do see him wanting to maintain our bloated defense budget, increasing the size of the armed forces, and sending troops into Pakistan. Yes he can!
|| Palmer, 12:48 PM || link || (0) comments |

01 October, 2008

Pusillanimity, They Name Is Cieslewicz

Bill Lueders of Isthmus has uncovered some beatings here in Madison that were mysteriously kept out of the public eye. This has prompted recent editorials from Dave Zweifel of The Cap Times and Lueders himself inveighing against police secrecy.

Where is our mayor in all of this?

This is what Mayor Daley looks like when he gets fired up. This is what I want our mayor to look like when he gets fired up. But it never happens. Cieslewicz is such a milquetoast that he makes my bed-ridden 93-year old grandmother look like James Carville by comparison. He seemingly sat on the sidelines as Kathleen Falk and Joe Norwick blew smoke up our asses when it came to the Brittany Zimmerman 911 call debacle. And now serious doubts are being raised about the integrity of the process by which police reports are made public. So where is the executive of this city? Beats me because I've not heard a peep in response. Then again, I don't keep up with everything in the papers so I asked Bill Lueders if the mayor has made a public response. His reply?

|| Palmer, 10:43 AM || link || (0) comments |