Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
30 June, 2008
Rath's Rant Gone Incommunicado
What happened to Jay Rath's rant that he posted this weekend up at POST
? In it he was critical of this editorial
by the WSJ regarding the use of land around James Madison Park. By "critical" I mean he basically told the WSJ editorial folks to go fuck themselves and to let downtown residents determine their own fate.
I thought it was a fun read but now it's gone down the memory hole. However, we are left with Brenda Konkel's thoughts
on the matter.
28 June, 2008
Atheists on the TV
Local godless heathens Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor are taking their radio program, Freethought Radio
, to another medium – television.We are excited to announce that our weekly radio program, Freethought Radio, will soon be joined by a weekly half hour TV show. The program, with an interview format, will be recorded in a professional studio and will broadcast on a major network Sunday mornings (a sort of "unsermon") in Madison, Wis., and, we hope, gradually appear in other cities.
No word on when it is to start being shown or on what channel. It will be interesting to see what businesses sign on for advertising during the program.
Lagers are Dead, Long Live Lagers!
I made my second trip to The Malt House on Thursday, accompanied by The Dulcinea. Since my first visit
, they had printed a beverage menu. Looking at the front, I saw that the entire side was dedicated to ales and that the list finished on the reverse. Also on the reverse were wines, malt beverages, sodas, and finally lagers. The lagers were relegated to the upper right-hand corner – all 15 or so of them. There were about 2 million ales, including a whole row of taps dedicated to Belgian varieties, yet the style of beer which made Wisconsin famous is given almost token representation. Very disappointing. To make matters worse, I don't recall seeing a single lager on tap so everything was in bottles.
Don't get me wrong, the lagers they did have were great. I had a bottle of a German import the name of which I cannot recall and it was very tasty. There were also the usual imported suspects such as Stella Artois, Spaten, and Pilsner Urquell. On the domestic front, Sprecher Black Bavarian and Special Amber – two of my faves – were representin' the bottom fermenters as were selections from Capital: Wisconsin Amber, Munich Dark, and Special Pilsner. (At least that's how I recollect.) Oh, and there was Miller Lite.
With the exception of the Miller, they were all good beers. But their paucity meant that there were some varieties left out and others drastically under-represented. There were probably more IPAs alone than all lagers. And there are so many tasty varieties of lagers:
American All-Malt Lager
American Amber / Red Lager
American Double / Imperial Pilsner
California Common / Steam Beer
Euro Dark Lager
Euro Pale Lager
Euro Strong Lager
Dortmunder / Export Lager
Keller Bier / Zwickel Bier
Maibock / Helles Bock
Munich Dunkel Lager
Munich Helles Lager
Märzen / Oktoberfest
Japanese Rice Lager
OK, I'm not really expecting there to be an Eisbock on tap or anything, but still…
While I love ales, I also hate to see its sibling given such short shrift. I'm trying to get over the trendiness of ales but I am having a rough go at it. New Glarus' Hometown Blonde, Yokel, Zwickel, and Norski are now but distant memories. (Though Edel Pils remains, thankfully.) And what's up with Kirby Nelson over at Capital? I've been drinking his brews since the days when their bottles read "Garten Bräu". They eased me into microbrews and nurtured my desire to drink local back in my delicate college years. Kirby was the Lager King. This is not to say that he has lost that title but look at what's he's brewed lately
: U.S. Pale Ale, Island Wheat ale, Rustic Ale, Baltic Porter, Vintage Ale, Prairie Gold Belgian blonde ale. Here's how the brewery's website describes him:He has been involved with Capital Brewery since February of 1986 as Assistant Brewmaster, moving up to Head Brewmaster in September 1987. Since then, Kirby has made a name for himself as a world-class lager brewer.
And to pile Pelion upon Ossa Fest has been retired?! I cut my tender teenage liver on Garten Bräu Fest. They may not have been the exact same beers but there's been a brew coming out of Middleton named "Fest" for seemingly ever and now Kirby is killing me! It's the destruction of history – like the Egyptians razing the Pyramids or the Romans tearing down the Coliseum. This is the first summer in a while sans Fest and it just ain't the same. I understand that despite tasting for shite, Island Wheat brings in the bucks, but must every new beer be an attempt to be part of a trend? I swear to Christ, if Kirby brews an IPA I'm going to…going to…going to drink it and then do something to register my dismay.
26 June, 2008
To Carry Fire Arms
The Supreme Court handed down
a decision today in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller which ruled unconstitutional Washington D.C.'s ban on handguns. The City of Chicago is mulling over
the fate of its own handgun ban, the Chicago Weapons Ordinance. At this point, I don't think the full decision is yet available but it should be posted online soon. No doubt constitutional scholars are salivating.
:During oral arguments in the case, former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, arguing on behalf of D.C., said that the amendment protects "a right to participate in the common defense."
The court disagreed, and found -- for the first time -- that the amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.
While I'm no constitutional scholar, this decision colors me further unimpressed with Scalia's claim to be an "originalist". I looked at the matter
recently and am convinced that the Second Amendment was about ensuring that citizens were able to fulfill their responsibility to participate in militias when needed. I quoted Nathan Kozuskanisch
at my previous post:The right of self-defense was widely accepted as a natural right that had been incorporated into the Common Law, but none of the sources in these databases make the crucial link between personal safety and a constitutional right to bear arms…Rather than an individual or collective right, Americans viewed the right to bear arms as a civic right linked to militia service.
I also quoted Saul Cornell
:The original understanding of the Second Amendment was neither an individual right of self-defense nor a collective right of the states, but rather a civic right that guaranteed that citizens would be able to keep and bear those arms needed to meet their legal obligation to participate in a well-regulated militia.
The Wisconsin State Constitution says, "The people have the right to keep and bears arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose" but I believe that Madison has made it illegal to discharge a firearm within city limits. (Can anyone clarify the laws of our municipality?) This law would seem to be in danger with the decision handed down today. In addition to ruling on the ban, SCOTUS also struck down a law mandating trigger locks on guns kept in the home as these inhibited "immediate self-defense" and prohibiting the discharge of a lawful weapon would also certain put a crimp in one's ability to defend oneself with all due celerity.
However, as Scalia himself says, the ruling doesn't mean that felons or the mentally ill would now be able to pack heat. Nor are laws banning weapons from schools and government offices in jeopardy. But, in my view, this ruling shows that the conservatives on the court are not afraid to legislate from the bench.
If anyone reading this can recite Madison's laws concerning guns chapter and verse, please enlighten me.EDIT: There's more on the ruling at the SCOTUSblog. Also note Russ Feingold's reaction:
"I am very pleased the Supreme Court finally recognized that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms," the statement read. "This is an important decision for millions of law-abiding gun owners. Public safety must be ensured without depriving our citizens of their constitutional rights."
25 June, 2008
Sprecher Root Beer #1
A crack squad of root beer drinkers at the New York Times
has pronounced Sprecher Root Beer
to be #1. They described it as "a wonderfully balanced and complex brew".
Congrats to the folks out east at Sprecher.
I Guess I Was Wrong About Jack Lambert
As a kid in the 1970s I was a big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don't have a good explanation for this; this was probably because they gave no quarter and just kicked ass. I remember how crushing their defense was and can still picture those guys from my football card collection. Sure, they murdered opposing offenses but most of them looked like decent guys when Topps got their photos.
Lee Greenwood, Dwight White, Donnie Shell – they all looked like normal hard-working guys who just happened to tackle other men for a living; Jack Ham had a full beard for a while which made him look all scholarly; hell, Mel Blount looked positively avuncular. And Mean Joe Greene? How mean could he really be if he gave that kid a towel?
But there was always this guy:
Jack Lambert was a psycho. His cards always showed him on the prowl for some rookie running back or with his mouth open exposing all those missing teeth. He was the one guy on that defense I'd not want to look at cross-eyed.
Thirty years later Terry Bradshaw has admitted
to using steroids, albeit, he claims, for abetting the healing process instead of bulking up.
According to one ex-footballer, the Steelers were the leaders
in making steroids chic back in the day. While hearing that many guys on that team used 'roids, I do have to admit that this took me off-guard:Courson has also said that teammates such as Jack Ham and Jack Lambert adamantly refused to use them.
Are you shittin' me?!
Here's what rookie John Elway said of Lambert back in 1983: "He had no teeth, and he was slobbering all over himself. I'm thinking, 'You can have your money back, just get me out of here. Let me go be an accountant.' I can't tell you how badly I wanted out of there." The man admitted to getting satisfaction for hitting a guy and watching him lie there on the ground. Lambert body slammed Cliff Harris after Harris taunted the Steelers' kicker for missing a field goal.
And now I'm being told that the guy was merely a mean, toothless son of a bitch instead of one on steroids?! Sure, Lambert was never a goliath but surely anyone who is so mean as to hate himself was getting chemical boosts.
My illusions are shattered.
23 June, 2008
The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Cherries and Beer
The Cap Times reports that our state's tart cherry crop is going to be almost a total loss
due to the stress of last year's crop and some dramatic temperature fluctuations last winter. The cherry crop is going from over 10 million pounds to a paltry 200,000.
New Glarus' Belgian Red
uses whole Montmorency cherries from Wisconsin which are a tart variety so I'd expect the price to be going up at some point in the near future.
20 June, 2008
Potential Abuse, Potential Standard Operating Procedure
When I went to see Errol Morris' latest film, Standard Operating Procedure
, I was saddened to see that I was but one of 8 people in the theatre. Had this been a Michael Moore film, Madison's lefties would no doubt have been out in full force to have their views reinforced. As it was, yesterday was S.O.P.
's last day at Sundance after a solitary week's run. I've already remarked upon
the review by Cap Times writer Katjusa Cisar so let me offer my own thoughts here.
At the post above, Mr. Morris himself left a comment in which he said "I tried to put the Abu Ghraib photographs into the context of Abu Ghraib" and this becomes clear very early in the film. It doesn't explicitly try to place the events at Abu Ghraib in the larger context of the war in Iraq. There's not much of a prelude to help us understand where they fit into a larger tale. For example, we get no idea of how John Yoo's memos or the decisions of the powers in Washington D.C. abetted what happened at the prison. This is reinforced by the fact that the film never really leaves the Abu Ghraib: the reenactments take place there and all but one interviewee was at the prison at the time the infamous photos were taken. (The lone hold out is the guy who analyzed the photos for the trials of the military policemen and women.)
Despite having narrowed his focus, Morris proceeds to muddy the waters. The most glaring example is Specialist Sabrina Harman. Many of the photos were taken by her and we see and hear excerpts of letters she wrote to her partner which are sad and rueful. In the letters, which are shown to us in extreme close-up, Harman explains that she is taking the pictures to document what happened because no one would believe the shit going on around her. So are we to reconcile her words with the photo of her bending over a corpse smiling as she gives a big thumbs up?S.O.P.
centers on the photos themselves and works its way out from them. While photographs may not lie and thusly present a certain truth, they are by no means the whole story. At one point, Lynndie England, another of the military specialists, notes that her sister in arms, Megan Ambuhl, was visible in the photo of her holding the leash around the neck of one prisoner but that Ambuhl was cropped out by Specialist Charles Graner, who is portrayed as the ringleader here, as Ambuhl and Graner were intimately involved with one another. Ambuhl(?) comments later in the film that photos don't show you what is outside the frame. The film also notes that they don't give you context. For instance, England says that the photo of her holding the leash around the neck of the prisoner nicknamed Gus was staged for the camera. "He (Graner) would never had me standing next to Gus if the camera wasn't there." And then there's that corpse with Harman crouched over it. We see the bruises on the corpse and Harman's pose, but those pictures don't tell us how that man ended up all bruised in a body bag. We are told that he died during torture and this surely makes the act of having one's picture taken with a dead body pale in comparison.
The interviews were shot with Morris' own invention, the Interrotron, which has the subject looking straight into the camera and thusly straight at us in the darkened theatre. In a departure from convention, there's no cuts to Morris as he asks questions so we are forced to looked directly into the eyes of the interviewees and ask ourselves what we think about these people as they tell their stories. And their stories mirror the photos in that these "bad apples" often refer to people that are never interviewed, shadowy powers we really don't understand. Graner is in military prison and was not allowed to go before the camera; Army officers give orders for the subjects to follow; and there are the "ghosts", interrogators from Other Government Agencies whose activities are stricken from the records. The interviews aren't definitive – there's more outside their frames and more context to be had.
Interspersed among the shots of the horrible photos and interviews are reenactments. They are highly stylized and most, if not all, of them look as if they were the work of Bob Richardson. The harsh light in some of them is a dead giveaway as they look exactly like certain shots from JFK
, which he also shot. (I'm thinking particularly of the one where Garrison and his cohorts are sitting at a table discussing what they've uncovered. The light above the table appears as if it were the sun itself.) They are mostly close-ups of events inside the prison, such as the mouth of a guard dog as it barks at a prisoner or of shell casings hitting the floor. But these short extreme slow-mo shots are not there to advance a narrative. Instead they serve to illuminate the interviews in the same narrow way the photographs present a view of what was happening inside Abu Ghraib. If the photos give a slice of decontextualized reality, the reenactments are seemingly hazy bits of the interviewees' memories, as if we could get inside their heads. They also stand as microcosms of the prison just as Abu Ghraib is a microcosm of the wider Iraq war.
Now that Standard Operating Procedure
has left Madison theatres, any locals reading this will have to rent it. And I highly recommend you do. But understand what this film is and what it isn't. If you want to get a bigger picture and have the Bush administration implicated, then watch something like Taxi To the Dark Side
by Alex Gibney. Morris only hints at a larger scene and refrains from giving you a chronological narrative where someone writes a memo in Washington D.C. and then Army commanders in Iraq give certain orders which are then carried out by the grunts on the ground. At the end of S.O.P.
, the military investigator labels certain acts in the photographs as abuse while others are standard operating procedure. For a schmoe like me, it's all abuse. Morris is interested in the miasma of Abu Ghraib and how those of us who were not there can come to understand it via the infamous photographs.
19 June, 2008
De mortuis nil nisi bonum?
Yesterday morning I went down to the lobby of the hotel to eat some breakfast with my co-worker before heading out to make things right in the world of IT again. The TV in the dining area had the Today Show blaring and it was a constant drumbeat on how great a loss Tim Russert's death was. The talking heads endlessly repeated the same platitudes as the war raged on, American dealt with the economy, floods destroyed homes and crops, etc. It was ridiculous.
Apparently the stupidity was not confined to television. A local blogger called Russert a "stalwart of democracy"
. When Russert's son was to appear on the Today Show, this same blogger breathlessly informed us
of the impending moment when the visage of Russert the Younger would grace us with his cathode ray goodness. The hagiography at Caffeinated Politics is disgusting.
Gwen Ifill wrote a nice encomium
for Russert and, not having ever met the man, I can say that it seems he was a real classy, stand-up guy. But a stalwart of democracy?
I have never been a dedicated Meet the Press viewer but, when I did watch, Russert did not impress me. Sure, he came off as being amiable, but when Dick Cheney is there before the cameras, I want his interlocutor to be an attack dog, not someone who just rolls over. Russert's specialty was the soft ball followed by a fat pitch. No wonder he got all the big dogs on his show – they knew they'd never be challenged. Watching Meet the Press made me feel like Jim Garrison in JFK
watching the results of the Warren Commission on his television. I'd sit there yelling at the TV because Russert would never call anyone's bullshit. The warmongers of the Bush administration walked all over his ass when I was tuned in.
And what made him a journalist? Perhaps in another life he actually pounded a beat and investigated matters but, on Meet the Press all he did was to invite politicos on and ask them to comment on what the New York Times or Washington Post wrote. All he managed to do was elicit the same old party lines and K Street pieties. I'm sorry but that ain't journalism.
While I'm sure Tim Russert was a nice guy, I fail to see how democracy lost a stalwart with his passing.
P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula has a disturbing post
today about the plight of Colleen Leduc who is nowt under investigation for the sexual abuse her own daughter, Victoria, who is autistic. But the disturbing part is that the allegation comes from the educational assistant that helps Victoria at school and she (the assistant) was told about the supposed abuse from a psychic.
From City News
:"The teacher looked and me and said: 'We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of "V." And she said 'yes, I do.' And she said, 'well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"
Leduc was shaken by the idea. "It's actually your worst nightmare your child being violated," she admits. "So for them to even suggest that, and that be my worst nightmare, it was horrific."
But things got worse when school officials used the "evidence" and accepted the completely unsubstantiated word of the seer by reporting the case to Children's Aid, which promptly opened a file on the family.
"They reported me to Children's Aid," Leduc declares, still disbelieving. "Based on a psychic!"
The mom, who is divorced and has a new fiancé, adamantly denied the charges, noting her daughter was never exposed to anyone of that age. And fortunately she had proof. The mother was long dissatisfied with the treatment her daughter had received at the school, after they had allegedly lost her on several occasions.
As a result, the already cash strapped mom had spent a considerable sum of money to not only have her child equipped with a GPS unit, but one that provided audio records of everything that was going on around her.
So she had non-stop taped proof that nothing untoward had ever happened to her daughter, and was aghast that the situation had gone this far. But under the Child and Family Services Act, anyone who works with children and has reasonable grounds to suspect a youngster is being harmed, must report it immediately - and the CAS has an obligation to follow up.
And so a case worker came to the Leduc home to discuss the allegations of sexual misconduct, only to admit there wasn't a shred of evidence that anything had ever happened at all. They labelled Leduc a "diligent" mother doing the best she could for her child under difficult circumstances, closed the file and left, calling the report "ridiculous."
And certain folks love to tell me that there's no harm in people believing in psychics. It makes me wonder how many incidents there are of people doing stupid, if less dramatic, things after consulting a psychic. That assistant's ass ought to be in a sling; fired with a big red mark on her record saying that she has no critical thinking skills and is grossly incompetent. Luckily the Canadian authorities seem to recognize the assistant is a fool and are trying to rectify things.
Kudos also must go to the Canadian government for a proposed bill, C-51
, which would regulate "herbal supplements" more strictly. This has prompted an outcry of hyperbole and lies
from "alternative medicine" supporters. There's even a website called StopC51
which portrays itself as a grassroots movement in opposition to the bill.
Instead it is pure astroturf and a front
for Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd, an online purveyor of supplements. Only if we had such a front group here in America. It would mean that there was actually a bill before Congress to make herbal supplement makers prove the safety and efficacy of their products. Of course, no politician has the guts to actually take on the herbal supplement industry. Plus folks like many of the shoppers at Community Pharmacy and the Willy Street Coop here in Madison would no doubt be very vocal in crying foul and seeing a Big Pharma conspiracy as they look the other way while another large and very profitable industry pawns off pills which have no more effect than placebo and are potentially dangerous.EDIT
: Here's more
from a Canadian paper.
14 June, 2008
Where's Kent Williams When You Need Him?
Katjusa Cisar reviews
Errol Morris' latest film, Standard Operating Procedure
at The Cap Times yesterday. While she makes some good observations, I have a bit of advice for her: watch Morris' previous films. You come across as a total maroon when you say, "…has been tainted by his apparent penchant for slick reenactments". Have you ever heard of a little film he did called The Thin Blue Line
? Or The Fog of War
which won an Academy Award?
Saying that Morris has a penchant for reenactments is like saying that John Woo apparently has a penchant for shoot outs. You do realize he's done more films since Vernon, Florida
, I hope. I guess not because, if she had, Ms. Cisar would understand there's nothing apparent about this penchant which just happens to be a major part of Morris' style. She also remarks, "Here, in contrast, Morris rips his subjects out of their environs, depicting them only with head-and-shoulders shots in front of a plain studio background." Hello…? Mr. Death
ring a bell? Read up on the Interrotron
some time. Why is his choice of framing bad? What effect does direct eye contact have in Morris' films?"The reenactments add little to the documentary and have the unsettling effect of looking like a Nike commercial."
This, Ms. Cisar, is because you went to the film expecting a Frontline documentary or a conventional look at the psychology of the soldiers involved. Instead you got something very different and apparently could make neither heads nor tails of it. Did you spend any time trying to understand what those staged scenes do for the film? How do these scenes relate to the interviews? How do they affect the pacing, the flow of the film?
Morris is a former gumshoe and he's spent hours in his films entertaining the notion of truth – watch The Thin Blue Line
, Mr. Death
, and The Fog of War
. Listen to this interview
with Morris by Christopher Lydon. You get to the heart of what intrigues Morris when you ask, "Where is the big-T "Truth" in these photos?" but you dismiss this, the kernel of things, after but one paragraph. No wonder this review is so terrible. Ms. Cisar stumbles onto the director's favorite theme and then forgets about it as if she'd never come across it in the first place. She wants "an emotional and disturbing expose of the soldiers' inner psychology" but, since that's not what Morris' has on offer, the director's stylistic devices that deal with his theme of choice are just white noise for the reviewer.
Ms. Cisar, your review reads like you've seen only one of his previous films so you can't place S.O.P.
in the larger context of Morris' oeuvre. Plus you sound dumbfounded at stylistic elements that the director has been employing for years. Come on! The Thin Blue Line
came out in 1988 and all you can muster is that Morris "apparently" likes reenactments?! He's used the Interrotron since 1997 when he debuted it in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
, which is where you should turn if you want portraits by Morris of people's inner psychology.
I've been impressed with some of Ms. Cisar's recent work but this is highly disappointing. Without taking the time to consider what Morris does, it's little more than an extended complaint that the director doesn't conform to convention.
12 June, 2008
Madison Abets Assault on Beer
Having written about beer lately and chided beer critic Kent Palmer earlier, I want to point out a piece by Andrew Leonard up at Solon.com called "The King of beer mergers"
which addresses the hostile takeover big by InBev of Anheuser-Busch. Leonard quotes a column from a nearby town which is essentially an encomium for A-B. He then launches into a wonderful screed.But hold on just a minute.
The best of the brewer's art?
The heritage that we hold as common?
We must fight to keep the Eagle flying?
I know these are dangerous waters in which to tread, and that I will soon be pilloried as a coastal elitist beer snob, but I must be true to my own deeply held beliefs. Anheuser-Busch, the controller of half the U.S. beer market, symbolizes everything that is wrong with America. With special emphasis on the foul stain upon the brewer's tradition that goes by the name, Bud Light. Great-tasting? Have we all gone mad?
For true beer-lovers across the world, Budweiser is a joke. It's embarrassing. Since when does America mean watered down pablum, forced down the throats of an unthinking populace by sheer power of mass marketing muscle? Since when does America stand for homogenized, lowest-common denominator swill?
Unfortunately, America has stood for homogenized, lowest-common denominator swill for some time. I believe the trend started after Prohibition was lifted when it was decided that folks who used to drink beer with flavor just couldn't hack it any longer. More proof of America's love of swill comes with the news that Miller (which looks like it's going to flee Milwaukee after its merger with Coors) is introducing
MGD Light 64. The brew is a 64-calorie version of Miller Genuine Draft Light with 2.4 grams of carbohydrates. MGD Light 64 will replace the 110-calorie Miller Genuine Draft Light in designated markets.
No beer has a lower calorie count than MGD Light 64, but Miller contends that the beer has the full taste of the original Miller Genuine Draft Light. By comparison, Bud Light has 110 calories, Coors Light 102, Heineken Light 99, Miller Lite 96, Amstel Light 95 and Michelob Ultra 95. Regular Miller Genuine Draft contains 143 calories.
And the decision to go with a wide release for this stuff came after it was test marketed here in Madison. Where did they have this stuff available? Sororities? If using adjuncts and Emka malts wasn't bad enough, they've now essentially started bottling water. We need some American equivalent of the Rheinheitsgebot
purity law establishing that a beverage needs to have more than mere traces of grain to actually be called beer. One part per billion of malt does not a beer make.
Lastly, I have read the Madison Beer Review's review
of The Malt House. It saddened me to read it as the author expressed a desire for the joint to be infested with televisions. (Or a pool table.) Too bad. It's disheartening to find out that someone is unable to enjoy being with good beer and an interlocutor for more time than it takes to drink one glass. No wonder you can't swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a bar that doesn't already have 40 big screens loudly blaring most of the time and every fucking restaurant has music that is usually cranked up to 11. Being able to give another human being your focus and attention is now strictly passé and I feel stupid for having had 4 beers all without having watched a lick of TV during that time. Instead it was wasted on chatting with a trio of wonderful co-drinkers. Silly me.
Count me in on the no-TV-at-The-Malt-House side. There are times when I'd like to go out in public and not have a constant stream of background noise courtesy of the idiot box. I don't need a distraction from the people with whom I choose to chat, I don't give a flying fuck about sports scores, and I don't want to have some talking head blaring at me about the latest bellicose statement by Dubya or trying to sell me something.
Kent Palmer's Folly
Kent Palmer of Madison Magazine recently strayed from his usual subject of beer to rail in a post called "Training Wheels"
. While I’m sympathetic to his general cause, I found the post to be highly misleading.
After an encomium to Chicago and its transit systems, Mr. Palmer describes a recent trip he took on one of Chicagoland's Metra
commuter trains. It was so good that he is forced to declare:Commuter trains would be a boon to Madison and other communities tied into the rail line.
When I turned 21 and could bar hop, I lived in Chicago. Buses, subways and elevated trains were a Saturday night salvation, a ‘safe’ ride home from the brewhouse…
Even though one can’t drink on a Metro bus -- or a mythical Madison commuter train -- if one behaves reasonably, Dane County regional commuter rail and mass transit could be an option to get people safely home after bartime.
It is completely disingenuous to sings the praises of a commuter train and then turn around and talk about the need for trains in Madison to haul the inebriated around. Metra commuter trains are not for people who get drunk downtown and need a ride back to their apartments in Bucktown; they are for people who work downtown (or elsewhere in the city) and need to get there and back to their homes in places like Palatine. Check out the Wikipedia entry on commuter rail
. Commuter trains have big double-decker cars and are pulled by multiple big, loud diesel locomotives. They are not run in places like down the middle of East Washington here in Madison. Such trains are for getting people like my friend The Polack from his home in Edgerton to his job at The Wisconsin Club, not shuttling drunks from State to Willy Street.
In addition, comparisons to Chicago are inherently unfair. For starters, the metro area down there has, as Mr. Palmer notes nearly 12 million people while Madison is at the center of an urban area of around 350,000 people, with a metro area perhaps closer to half a million. Mr. Palmer notes a bit of the history of Chicago but fails to note that much of that history includes rail transportation. Rail infrastructure has been a part of the Windy City for ages. The El is nearly 100 years old. While Madison and Chicago may be in similar circumstances with regards to burgeoning sub- and exurbs, the scales are vastly different. Chicago is able to address this issue from a far different position in terms of existing rail infrastructure than Madison.
The only city in the U.S. of Madison's size that has a rail system is Salt Lake City. In 2000, it had a population of 178,858 people. However, the urban area at that time was home to 887,650 and the number jumps to over 1 million for the metropolitan area. Let's face it, Madison has neither the population nor population density to support rail. To be sure, public transportation is not about making profit, but it's also not about being a money pit either. Mr. Palmer is wrong to characterize Madison in this case as a petulant teen that refuses to grow up. This is not an issue about age but rather about size.
People who promote light/commuter rail for Madison love to talk about feeder bus routes. We won't fund our current bus system adequately yet they think there's going to be all this money growing on trees, not only to install highly expensive rail systems, but for new buses and routes to accommodate train stops. It's going to take more than some new malls and brewpubs along the routes to pay for rail here.
Believe you me, I'm not anti-rail nor against public transportation generally. Trains are part of our country's mythology as Los Lobos noted in "Everybody Love a Train" and just yesterday I wrote a post
calling for Congress to help out Amtrak. Like Mr. Palmer, I used to live in Chicago and the El and Big Green Limousines were part of my daily life. (Although I haven't taken commuter rail down there since it was the Northwestern.) Here in Madison, I take the bus to work and on my treks downtown.
People concerned about public transportation should stop unfairly contrasting Madison with Chicago because Madison is not Chicago. Instead let's promote improvements in the Metro bus system. Park'n'Rides and express routes are needed to attract riders and reduce traffic. If the state wants to spend our money on rail and procure funding from the Feds for the same purpose, then it should direct it at Milwaukee with a metro population of around 2 million people and an ailing bus system.
11 June, 2008
Waiting to Derail
Milwaukee writer James Rowen has been sharply critical of the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation's plan to expand I-94 from the Flatlands border to Milwaukee both at his blog
as well as in a recent opinion piece
for The Cap Times. The project would last about 8 years and cost an estimated $1.9 billion. In addition, the plan excludes funding for public transportation for the SE corner of our fair state.
With this in mind I read that on 4 February President Bush's budget request slashed Amtrak funding by $525 million or 40%. Congress is now considering H.R. 6003
which would restore funding, improve Amtrak, and move the process forward of creating a better national passenger railway system. Right now the only Cheesehead in the House co-sponsoring the bill is Rep. Steve Kagen who represents the northeast part of the state, including Green Bay. Check out this action alert
from the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
While there's nothing in the bill to extend service to Madison, we should try to convince Tammy Baldwin to get aboard and derail the Republicans' attempt to kill Amtrak.
(And yes, I've been thinking about Whiskeytown lately.)
10 June, 2008
D&D 4th Edition is Here
Now that the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been released, commentary is making its way to the Net. For instance, here's one
by an experienced DM. It sounds like they've simplified things in many respects, especially combat. Not a big deal for me as my DM, Marv, often said "make a dex check" when it came to things other than hacking'n'slashing. Here's Marv's first take:It's got a lot of really good stuff and I think it would work well for a group like ours, older with not so much time on our hands.
But there is enough missing and different that I think it loses some of the feel of DnD.
Still reading and I'm gonna go online to see if anyone can put my concerns to rest but I'm not convinced I would like to switch.
I am also aware of the 'change is bad' effect and I am doing my best to give it time to sink in.
I guess I'll point this out as an issue. It seems the PC are very much more 'heroes' now right from the get-go with more power right off the bat. Kinda takes away from the 'pulled myself up with my boot straps' feeling I prefer in my campaigns.
For my part, I'm trying to motivate myself to get a Call of Cthulhu adventure going. When I get some pocket change again I'm going to buy one of Chaosium's monographs. Unfortunately, I've never seen any of them at local gaming shops so I guess I'll be making my purchase online. My D&D buddies have never played CoC so it should be fun to have them go insane as they peruse the stacks at Miskatonic U. or as they traverse the Antarctic.
Any gamer dorks out there that can recommend a good CoC adventure for newbies?
09 June, 2008
The Malt House Opens Its Doors
Today at 16:00 Madison welcomed its latest drinking establishment – The Malt House. The owner is Bill Rogers of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. While I'd planned on being the first person there, things went awry when I had to stay late at work. But I eventually arrived and found a note in the door's window saying something to the effect that Budweiser products were persona non grata
. When I finally crossed the threshold, there were many folks already there.
The joint looked sharp. It was all new and shiny. The 150-year old bar looked just swell and the place had an austere, yet comforting ambience.
There was a selection of brews on tap which were listed on a chalk board in the back as well as a cooler full of tasty suds, many of which were unfamiliar to me. (Mostly the Belgian ales.)
My first acquaintance of the evening was a strapping lad named Pete and together we surveyed the selection of Belgian ales. Drinkers all around us were trying various brews and everyone was taking a look at everyone else's selections asking how it tasted. Pete got a Belgian and was immediately surrounded by others asking how it tasted, where the beer was from, and the like. There was this communal atmosphere of beer drinkers collectively sampling new flavors.
The poor bartender was swamped and there were empty glasses everywhere waiting to be filled. The taps were giving a lot of foam so it took a while for refills. For his part, Bill seemed to be balancing his time socializing and taking orders with the emphasis on the former. There were some wait times but I can't complain considering that the bar had been open for all of two hours.
As Pete and I were talking, a woman sat next to me and she looked familiar. I asked her if she had been at Mickey's last night but she said no. She looked like someone I met at The Dulcinea's birthday gathering the night before. Feeling a bit embarrassed, I continued chatting with Pete. After he left for a prior engagement, the woman, Kelly, and I struck up a conversation. Kelly left southern California for the laid back, friendly, and beer-centric Midwest. She was a homebrewer and a member of the Guild. Kelly remarked how she had brewed lagers over the winter, which endeared me to her, and this relates to my only legitimate criticism so far: the paucity of lagers available. There was no bottled beer menu so perhaps there was stash under the counter that I missed, but I was disappointed at how few lagers were for the taking. Everywhere I turned there were ales – fine ales them all – but I was hankering for a New Glarus Edel Pils or a Pilsner Urquell. A lager, a lager – my kingdom for a lager!
Since the place has no kitchen, some kind soul did a spot of catering. There were hot beef sandwiches and I swear I spotted a tray of cheese. I ordered an O'Fallon Smoked Beer
and remarked that some summer sausage would go well with it. Kelly agreed. We chatted about the available brews, her trials and tribulations of getting tickets for The Great Taste, and where the Guild will hold its meetings now that Wonder's Pub has been transmogrified into a café. And I think I may have talked her into attending Cheese Days in Monroe this year. As our conversation wound on, the gentleman next to her bought a $10 glass of this sour raspberry lambic which sounded quite intriguing. Had my wallet been fatter, I would have no doubt gotten one myself.
After Kelly took off, I found myself talking to Andrew, a grad student majoring in cognitive psychology when not sampling Belgian ales. He told me about the UW's program and explained Steven Pinker and his reputation to me. Quite fascinating stuff – how people acquire language and behaviors, the differences between us and chimps, etc. Had it not been a school night, I suppose that I could have listened to him for some time. But it's a school night and responsibility beckoned.
Next go round I plan on trying Capital's Prairie Gold
, which is on tap. It's Kirby's new summer seasonal, a Belgian blonde ale. Since I didn’t have any Belgians, I'll have to enjoy a few next time I go.
If there were any doubt as to the bartender's dedication and passion to her trade, check out this action photo of her opening a bottle with gusto.
As for The Malt House, so far, so good. There were a lot of Guild members there this evening so it wasn't exactly a good gauge of the bar's future. Still, with a patron doing the catering and Bill's enthusiasm for beer, it certainly could turn out to be the neighborhood tap of choice for east side beer snobs like me.
First it was 100+ inches of snow. Then the distant pangs of an earthquake from the Flatlands. And the memories of this past diluvian weekend are still fresh in my mind. Also still fresh in my mind is the tasty beer that my new acquaintance Page made me drink on Saturday. He had a little soiree in honor of the washed out Marquette Waterfront Festival or whatever it is called. Page had brewed up some suds for the occasion and it was quite tasty. The first batch, anyway. The second, if I recall correctly, had a different strain of yeast which had gone a bit too far in the whole sugar conversion thing. So it goes. It was a good time nonetheless and I got to chat with a fellow Chicago ex-pat. For her part, The Dulcinea found the place to be a Home for Wayward Eastsiders as she met many denizens of the cool side of town that she knew in her previous life as a social diva and backing vocalist.
Since we'll be moving just a few blocks away from Page, it is comforting to know that I'll have a hoopy homebrewer who really knows where his towel is for a neighbor.
Speaking of beer, the Malt House opens today @ 4! It moves in the space formerly known as the Union House Tavern and I plan to head over there after work to check it out. It's the child of Bill Rogers of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. It'll be all microbrews and imports and I'm pleased to announce that there will be no TVs which will be a nice change of pace. Still, I have to wonder how long that will last. With no screens for Badger and non-Sunday Packers games, a lot of people won't give the place a thought on gameday.
Sunday involved beer as well. It was The D's birthday and she opted for a night at Mickey's, it being a block from her place and her new hangout of choice. I am still coming to terms with having lost my girlfriend to the place. It's never been a favorite bar of mine and, now that it has a menu involving truffle oil, it is no longer a dive. Mickey's is certainly not a bad place but it's always had this vibe which rubs me the wrong way. I generally felt more comfortable at Jocko's Rocket Ship than Mickey's. It's surely just me.
Lest anyone think that all I did to celebrate my girlfriend's natal anniversary was to buy her a couple cocktails at Mickey's, let me assure you that this is not the case. Indeed, she will be having an all expenses paid trip to Milwaukee this coming weekend. She'll be enjoying deluxe accommodations at a Comfort Inn & Suites and taking in Onkel Fish's
show at Shank Hall. Nothing says love like progressive rock.
Also this weekend I watched Southland Tales
, the sophomore effort by Richard Kelly whose first was Donnie Darko
. Admittedly, the film was a mess but it was a glorious mess. The Rock (a.k.a. – The Rock) does a great job as Boxer Santaros. I thought he was great as a wrestler and am pleasantly surprised by his acting ability. He may not win any Oscars, but he was a hoot in those mummy movies and he was great in Be Cool
. Between his acting ability and his talent at choosing roles that play off of his former career well, the guy is just a pleasure to watch onscreen.Southland Tales
is a very Phildickian story. Indeed, there's a scene where Jon Lovitz's character is pretending to be a cop and shoots a couple people only to say, "Flow my tears…" In addition to the strange characters and the time travel here, the other recognizable homage to the crazed sci-fi author is the portrayal of women. While he may have obsessed over his twin sister who died at a very young age, Dick spent precious little time trying to flesh out female characters. Here we have Krysta Now, a dimwitted former porn star turned media mogul wannabe; Serpentine as playing by Bai Ling basically slithers around showing off her cleavage while smoking a cigarette in one of those filter extender hoolies that duchesses use; and then there's Madeleine, the spoiled rich daughter of a Senator. There are lots of other women characters to be had, such as the pair of neo-Marxist revolutionaries, but they're just caricatures. In fairness, basically everyone here is less than developed because the film is not about characters and how they change – it's more about the plot, the quotes from the Bible and T.S. Eliot, and the symbolism. Besides, this is an ensemble piece. And so I don't mention the female characters as a swipe at Kelly but more of an observation from a fan of Philip K. Dick's work. Still, the film quotes Marx about how social change is only possible with feminine upheaval yet having your story parallel the Book of Revelations means that the messiah is a man, not a woman.Southland Tales
has humor, especially the head of the U.S. government spy agency, USIDent, led by an over-the-top Miranda Richardson. There's a bit of musical with Justin Timberlake as Pilot Abilene, a soldier who became the victim of friendly fire. Plus there's the rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" aboard the zeppelin which was almost an outtake from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive
. What I could have done without is the lengthy opening sequence and the voice-over narration. VOs just don't work for me 99% of the time and here is no exception. It doesn't ruin the film but it is annoying and made me wish that Kelly had taken the time to integrate that info into the plot. I've read that the film was originally three hours (the theatrical cut is about two and a half) and that, when it was pared down, the Irving the Explainer bit at the beginning was tagged on.
Despite everything, it's a fun movie with lots of bits referring to other films or literature so it's a puzzle, reminiscent of LOST. Again, it's a mess but a glorious one.
03 June, 2008
Compline in Mauston
If I were Hunter S. Thompson, I might say that I'm in ringed-bag-hunter-dragonfly country. Well, close anyway. I had cranked up Reservoir Tales
by The Treats
and, before I knew it, I found myself up nort. I'm in lovely Mauston, Wisconsin, USA. Back in the 1840s one General M.M. Maughs of Galena, Illinois took over the local mill and the town was named Maughs Mill. General Maughs platted the town in 1854 and it was renamed Maughstown which eventually got corrupted and became Mauston.
I walked into the motel and my nose was immediately accosted by the smell of chlorine from the pool. Upon checking in, I was informed of a fee for the use of the safe in the room which I could have removed from the bill at check out. No matter. I'm here on business so I'm not footing the bill. My job today (and tomorrow) was to lend an IT hand at the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center which is home to the Dairyland's finest sex offenders. They come here seeking rehabilitation.
Turning onto North Road, I saw a brace of cranes on the horizon which towered over the facility. Entering the parking lot, I saw what seemed like miles of chain link fence topped with razor wire. The front desk was manned by a gentleman with whom you'd not want to fuck. He was tall and very stout. If you were shooting a movie about ancient Rome but didn't have the money to CGI up yourself some lions, you'd throw the Christians to this guy. After he saw my badge and I had told him that I was an IT geek, it became apparent to me that he was an old softy. If I'd poked him in the belly, I bet he would have giggled like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. My contact came out to get me and I was led back to the IT office.
My hotel is right next to the Park Oasis Restaurant. I've eaten at this family establishment many a time although it's been 20+ years since I've stepped foot inside. You see, my family would stop there on our summer treks to my parents' cabins up in Stone Lake. Mauston is more or less the half way point between Chicago and that gem in Sawyer County. (My sources say that no one really knows how the town got its name.) I remember very well pestering my dad with "How close are we?" as our pine green Econoline van charged up the interstate. It's funny that I should be near the Park Oasis thinking about family trips. This past weekend I was driving around and running errands to the strains of Son Volt. Trace
is one of the best driving albums ever and it was in my car, leftover from my drive to Chicago a couple weeks back. "Windfall" is blatantly catchy and uplifting – a perfect way to start any journey. "Live Free" gives the first sign of electric guitars. Despite being a "loud" song, I've always felt this sense of yearning underneath all the rock trappings. Next came "Tear-Stained Eye" which is one of my favorite songs by any musician or band. Plaintive acoustic guitar, the lilting banjo and steel guitar, and Jay Farrar's less than dynamic voice which somehow manages to cut to the bone anyway all conspire to something special.
So there I am driving down Aberg Avenue singing (if you can call what I was doing that) along – "Like a man said, rode hard and put away wet" – and tears begin to well in my eyes. When I get to "you'll find it's better at the end of the line", I'm ready to bawl. I just can't listen to that song anymore. Not alone. Not driving a car. This is because I listened to it many times while driving home from Louisiana after my father's death. There I was speeding up I55 along the Mississippi with a bag of ashes in the back seat and I was cranking Son Volt. Hell, I probably had "Tear-Stained Eye" playing as I passed the exit for St. Genevieve. I never wanted to be home so badly in my life. Too many memories with that song.
Still, Jay Farrar deserves credit for writing great tunes. Even if his lyrics are on the opaque side, I love the way he draws on Midwestern Americana. Drive down I55 sometime by St. Louis and you'll see signs for place names mentioned in his songs – St. Genevieve, Cahokia, Sauget. I also love how he doesn't try to ape old timey music. His songs may be rooted in the past but he's firmly in the present.
We had to check out some computers "out back", i.e. – in the units where the offenders, er, patients live. You leave the administrative building via two doors until you're outside and then get buzzed through a gate. This outside area is like a DMZ. There are people watching from either building but otherwise it's just a big space. Entering the unit, you swipe your ID card so your movement can be tracked and get buzzed in by some guy in what they call a "bubble". I prefer "panopticon" because it sounds cooler and Gallifrey had one in Doctor Who. They are these circular rooms with windows nearly the whole round. The employees are clad in purple polo shirts with "Sand Ridge" emblazoned on them in big friendly letters which rather make them look like concierges at a resort in the Dells rather than those who watch over sex offenders. We looked over PCs in the low and intermediate security wings where the patients were "free" to roam. Some were using computers on a LAN exclusively for them while another guy sitting at a table busts out singing. Sand Ridge is all men – no wing for the fairer sex – and I'm not sure there is such a facility for women. Probably not. It is we men who do the vast majority of the sex crimes. Why is that? There are those who think that our patriarchal society is to blame. You know the mantra – boys are raised to think of women as being sub-par objects whose vaginas are there to be seized when the feeling strikes. Personally, I think it has more to do with testosterone. Our primitive ancestors didn't survive because they sat around wearing tie-dyed fig leaves while listening to the Stone Age equivalent of a Scarlet—Fire jam. Let's face it, we've got angels on our shoulders yet we still wear the old gods horn. And some people are just plain sick fucks.
Sand Ridge holds about 300 patients and the cranes outside are part of an expansion which will double capacity. (But all the beds will be for medium and high security facilities.)
On my way to the motel, I drove by several folks standing on the sidewalk holding placards which declared that family planning causes mental illness and perversion. I can't recall the phrases verbatim but I presume that "family planning" is ChristianRightSpeak for abortion and that they think it leads you down a path towards patient status at Sand Ridge. Or something like that, anyway. Their logic escaped me and I had to wonder just how much family planning those men in vestments who carried out their own wanton, perverted liturgies with young boys did. I darted my eyes to look for a Planned Parenthood or small town equivalent but didn’t see one.
I turned and quickly made the decision for a pitstop at the Dry Gulch Saloon. It was nice to be able to smoke at a bar again and felt like meeting a long lost friend. (However, I'll admit that being able to smoke at the restaurant where I took lunch was just plain weird.) It was hot outside and the air was heavy and sticky. To make matters worse, the AC on my car doesn't work. Not seeing the likes of Spotted Cow on tap, I went with MGD. Despite being a microbrew aficionado, American pilsners can be palatable, especially on hot, humid days. I went with a glass (vs. a mug) and got several ounces of rather bland but extremely refreshing suds for 80 cents. There was just something comforting about being at a small town hole-in-the-wall where you can get a shorty beer for under a buck and enjoy a post-work smoke.
After a couple beers, I made my way to the motel. Upon entering my room, I proceeded to make it cold. I relaxed a bit and perambulated the short distance between the motel and the restaurant in the rain instead of taking the skywalk. The drops of water on my face were refreshing and, in their own way, cleansing.
Crossing the threshold into a childhood memory, I found that the Park Oasis Restaurant hadn't changed very much since I was last there. It had the same log cabin look and the large sunroom seating area. Finding a booth, I was soon greeted by a waitress who called me "Hon". I love that kind of thing. "Are you ready to order, Hon?", "Are you doin' OK there, Hon?" It makes me feel like I'm in an episode of Alice
. Plus the gal took no (visible) offense to me calling her ma'am. Waitresses here in Madison take such stabs at politeness as fightin' words. If you are reading this and happen to be a waitress here in Madison, please understand that the dorking looking guy with a Porcupine Tree t-shirt means no offense when calling you ma'am. He doesn't know you from Eve and so he refrains from addressing you by your first name. Please understand he grew up a long time ago when people showed respect by addressing total strangers as "sir" or "ma'am" instead of immediately launching into a completely fake and meaningless attempt at being on a first name basis. In addition to the interior décor, a couple other things hadn't changed since I was there in the mid-1980s. First there was the music. "All I Need Is a Miracle" by Mike and the Mechanics was followed by Pure Prairie League's "Amie". Whoever was responsible for the tunes had apparently stopped paying attention to pop music shortly after my last visit.
To round out the trifecta of timelessness was the menu. At first glance, it seemed that no concessions had been made to the previous 20+ years of dietary trends, fads, and general attempts to make people view eating as evil instead of life sustaining. Vegetarians wouldn't have liked it but they could have eked out a meal with the salad bar and an appetizer. On the other hand, vegans would have taken one look at the menu and felt persona non grata
before fleeing. No insets declared fried items to be trans fat free nor was there a Heart Smart logo anywhere as I'm sure no picture of a heart suitable for this menu could accurately portray clogged arteries or do justice to myocardial infarction. Most of the items on the menu were organic inasmuch as they were derived from or formerly part of a living entity but none of the entities were raised locally so locavores would have been out of luck. Aside from the prices, the only sign that the menu had been altered since the Reagan era was, to my surprise and delight, the beer menu which included no less than five Leinenkugel's offerings as well as Capital's Amber and Island Wheat.
I went with the walleye in tribute to my dad and because it's quite tasty. While even Rachel Ray has nothing to fear, it was a warm meal. Back in my room, I continued reading Chalmers Johnson's Blowback
. At some point in the coming days I'm sure I'll write about it, but for now, I want to merely say that it is a very interesting and humbling read. One reason this should be so is that Johnson dwells on his specialty – East Asia. Reading the book serves to show just how ignorant I am about Japan, China, Korea, and other East Asian countries. Quite apart from the author's views on American foreign policy, Joe and Jane Six-Pack ought to read this book for the background material alone. Although still woefully ignorant, I'm a thousand times more informed about China and its motivations than I was before I started the book and I'm only about two thirds through it.