Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 June, 2009

Wisconsin's Unemployment System Is Bankrupt

Now that Wisconsin has a budget for the next biennium, we can look forward to "more than $2 billion in tax and fee increases". Note to Republicans: nominate a socially libertarian candidate for the next governor's race who has as part of his/her platform to eliminate the Department of Administration and you've got a good chance of taking back the executive branch here.

After reading about the budget approval, I found out some disturbing information: Wisconsin has borrowed almost $290 million to cover our bankrupt unemployment insurance system. This info comes from ProPublica. According to another article there:

The federal government's stimulus package gave states extra time to pay off the loans. But by 2011, Washington will start charging states interest at a rate of about 5 percent, which must be repaid out of states' general budgets.

How does this budget address this? Does it? I can just see this state not paying any of it back and then getting an interest payment due of nearly $14 million. And how long will the roughly $29 million left in the fund last? Is more borrowing on the horizon for our unemployment system?
|| Palmer, 8:22 PM || link || (0) comments |

25 June, 2009


I can't wait for this heat to break.

Even my Galilean thermoscope is unable to measure just how bloody hot it is in my living room. I finally broke down yesterday and bought a window AC unit. Considering that I live in a house that was built in 1913, I was pleasantly surprised that turning it on tripped no breakers.
|| Palmer, 5:38 PM || link || (0) comments |

Herbicidal Battering

Isthmus' Bill Lueders has a follow-up to the tempest in a teapot that is the spraying of herbicide on sidewalk and fence lines at the O’Keeffe Elementary and Marquette Middle school.

Doug Pearson, director of building services for the school district

says what was applied at more than a dozen city schools was not pesticides but herbicides, to kill weeds on sidewalks and along fences. The once-yearly application was done at a time when fewer people were present, and authorized by the school board, as required. But the state classifies herbicides as pesticides and requires use of these signs.

This explanation didn't cut it with Bert Zipperer, who works at the school. Lueders quotes him as saying "Agent Orange was just a herbicide, too."

Gee Bert, why don't you just get all of the bullshit hyperbole and false analogies out of your system and note that Pearson is a human being just like Adolf Hitler was.

And shame on Lueders for making Zipperer's asinine comment the last word. When Larry Gleasman, the owner of Grampa's Gun Shop says, "I've got two young sons coming up — I want them to have their choice of guns in the future", Lueders felt free to inject a sarcastic "Awwww". But when Bert Zipperer spews bullshit from his gaping maw to rally the Marquette neighborhood against Monsanto, his is the final word.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised since Lueders' initial article on the issue also ended with a bit of hysteria: "The woman kept saying…'Can you believe they’ve done this?!'" Since I live in the Marquette neighborhood, I await a neighbor at my door with a petition to recall the school board members who allowed the herbicides to be applied.
|| Palmer, 10:39 AM || link || (1) comments |

22 June, 2009

Wii Baseball Games?

Anyone out there play baseball games on the Wii? My friend and I are looking to start a Wii baseball league but are completely unfamiliar with such games.

I've found Major League Baseball 2K9 and The Bigs 2, which comes out next month. My understanding is that The Bigs (1) did not allow for 2 people to play at the same time – will The Bigs 2 suffer this same fate? We're looking for a season mode and to be able to play together.

Any recommendations?

Computer baseball games have sure come a long way since Hardball!.
|| Palmer, 3:36 PM || link || (2) comments |

Lynch Teams Up With Herzog

Only bad things can come of this. David Lynch is producing a film that is being directed by Werner Herzog.

The film is entitled My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and was "inspired" by the matricide committed by Mark Yavorsky in 1979. IMDB describes it as: "Inspired by a true crime, a man begins to experience mystifying events that lead him to slay his mother with a sword." It should be interesting, to say the least.
|| Palmer, 8:53 AM || link || (0) comments |

21 June, 2009

Jon Rowe on George Washington's Religion

Last year I interviewed Jonathan Rowe who blogs about the "Christian Nation" idea and the Founding. He has now taken to YouTube with his first video tackling the subject of George Washington's religion.

|| Palmer, 9:01 AM || link || (0) comments |

19 June, 2009

The Teaching of Research at the UW Is Somewhat Lessened As of Late

The Badger Herald seems to publish anything these days. Take "Read between the lines" by Joey Labuz in which he inveighs against a proposal to build a new Central Library here in Madison. In the first paragraph he writes:

After months of debate, a proposal to build a new central library has been approved. Near as I can tell from the wrong end of I-90, it doesn’t seem like anyone is going loco for libraries, bonkers for books or even deranged for the Dewey decimal system.

Oh, Joey my child of clay.

This bit of alliterative madness comes a full week after Kristin Czubkowski noted recent trends in library usage. To wit:

...according to a 2006 annual report from the Madison Public Library, library checkouts increased 41.7 percent between 2001 and 2006 and library visits increased 18.7 percent (this information is on page 6). Also during that time, Web page views increased by more than 200 percent and Internet access by 360 percent. Between 2003 and 2008, library statistics were a little more flat, with circulation growing by 21 percent and visits by about 7 percent, but they still showed significant growth in library use.
|| Palmer, 4:30 PM || link || (0) comments |

18 June, 2009


I read today that Pavlov's Pizza on Willy Street has closed. It is genuinely surprising for me that it's been open this long considering that the joint was open a mere 5 days a week - Wednesday through Sunday - and then only from 5-10PM. My theory was that it was a front for drug runners or some such thing. Still, they made a good pizza pie.

At least the structure will be occupied - by a bakery that is an offshoot of Ian's Pizza.

The new bakery will have a small retail shop in front selling sourdough bread, croissants, baguettes, brownies, cookies and cupcakes, according to Cindy Gross, executive chef at Ian's.

I had no idea Ian's had an executive chef but at least now I know who is to blame for the culinary atrocities they pass off under the guise of being pizza. Perhaps a sacrifice to the gods is in order so that we can avoid chicken pot pie croissants, spinach mashed potato baguettes, and stir fry cookies.
|| Palmer, 2:02 PM || link || (1) comments |

On the Waterfront '09

Last weekend was the Marquette Waterfront Festival and I spent a few hours there last Saturday.

In addition to all the food and vendors hawking their wares, there were hay-less hay rides.

There was plenty of beer to be had at the festival. Capital was selling their Wild Rice summer seasonal. It was wonderful to be able to drink it again after a four year absence. But I also spent time in the garage of a local homebrewer, who has some commercial brewing aspirations I might add, across the street from the park where some of his suds were on tap.

His rye kölsch was really tasty and incredibly refreshing on the hot & sunny day. Kölsch glasses were not provided so we made do with plastic. The IPA was not his best batch and I never did get to try the chocolate cherry oatmeal stout.

A martial arts group of some kind did a performance that afternoon. I want to say that they practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu but don't quote me on that.

Here are some photos of Taj Weekes and Adowa:

Lastly, I noted a country ton of dead fish on and just off the shore of the park.

They looked like bluegill to me but weren't as round as I'm used to. Perhaps they were young.

I even caught a photo of what I think was a carp popping up out of the water. Not sure if it was feeding on the carcasses or just digging in the muck and weeds.

Next up: the Orton Park Festival.
|| Palmer, 11:56 AM || link || (4) comments |

The Dark Satanic Mills of the Overture Center

Emily Mills had an opinion piece in last week's Isthmus called "Leave those buskers be!". In it she decries a proposal to license street musicians, charging them $50 per year to grace the ears of passers-by and earn some coin. Like Mills, I too have come down against the idea.

However, I was annoyed to find that, in addressing this city government issue, she took advantage of the opportunity to once again scorn the Overture Center:

Madison makes a lot of noise about its thriving arts community. And the city does have dedicated, hard-working folks who've helped make it into a creative cultural center. City government, on the other hand, seems more intent on sterilizing and washing away the elements that make us unique.

The Loft teen center was exiled from State Street some years ago, freeing the area of pesky, hormonal adolescents. Plans are constantly being floated to beautify Peace Park and kick out its transient population. The Overture Center, now racked with financial woes, displaced several well-loved shops and restaurants (I miss the Radical Rye like a hooked fish misses water).

McDonalds is well-loved too but I'm not going to go around trumpeting it as a unique Madison fixture. And, Emily, are you seriously claiming that the transient population is a vital cog in Madison's uniqueness? Well, we as a city should then stop trying to help these people from improving themselves lest they get stable employment and a place to live whereupon there goes more uniqueness down the drain. Yes, shops and restaurants got displaced when the OC was built. Some, like Dotty's found new digs while others, like Radical Rye, went the way of the dodo. But I think we got something in return – anyone can walk in the OC and see walls covered in art by local artists for free; they can listen to concerts by local musicians for free; they can bring their kids in on Saturdays during the school year to experience some culture for FREE. Personally, I think it's rather "unique" for this city to have a big, shiny, expensive arts center that offers so much to the public for no cost. In addition, there are short films on the roof during June and another movie screen to abet the Wisconsin Film Festival. Overture Hall surely can accommodate productions that required a stage larger than that of the Capitol Theatre.

Besides, what's "unique" anyway? Is "uniqueness" a virtue in itself or does content count? Madison had a "unique" thing going in the early 1980s with state workers, students, and those in the sex trade at an uneasy détente downtown. Prostitutes patrolled King Street while State Street had more than a few "adult entertainment" venues. Watch Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography and get a glimpse of Madison uniqueness circa 1980. Should we lament the city having cleaned it up and disposed of its uniqueness?

A lot of this has to do with how we take a snapshot of the past and romanticize it as being the pinnacle of unique or desirable somehow. Madison still has its unique qualities. Those haven't gone away. Has downtown become a place more amenable to the bland and the middle class? Sure. And it started long before anything Mills listed in her piece. To me, downtown lost a lot of charm around the time that the Monona Terrace went in and the Square started to cater to condo dwellers and conventioneers. Hotel Washington burned down while Jocko's was raided. The Hideaway suffered the indignity of the wrecking ball so we could have Marigold while the 602 Club transmogrified into Wando's. Then the Comic Strip and O'Cayz burned to the ground. The Chamber – gone. R'n'R Station became the Paramount became a dorm. I fondly recall buying vellum at Marmalade Skies back in the days when I actually wrote letters as well as the funky wrapping paper they sold there and it's gone. The city's actions certainly have a role in determining the culture of State Street & downtown but let's not forget that private business owners do as well.

Yet others older than myself and who have been here longer surely lament the losses of Headliners or Merlyn's or the Stone Hearth and some of these people will be talking about how great things were in the mid-to-late 80s this weekend at the Senior Scenester shindig at the High Noon.

Ms. Mills, being younger, wants to look back to the early days of this millennium to find her preferred panacea.

Who gets to say which incarnation of "uniqueness" we ought to have?

Another problem, I think, comes in the tension between high and low culture. My impression is that Ms. Mills and other bloggers find that art & culture which they deem worthwhile generally, if not exclusively, come from below. It is produced by non-professionals and not mediated by what they see as elite aesthetes who reside in arts centers that cost $200 million or some such thing. That's why a spray painted stencil on a wall is worthy art while the works by local artists painted onto a canvas that end up in the Overture Center are ignored by these people. It's why Mills can write that the homeless people at Peace Park help make Madison unique while dismissing the Overture Center as contributing nothing of interest to the town's character and it's also why such bloggers ignore what happens at the OC until A) it encounters financial program which gives them an open-ended opportunity to bash it while it's down or B) a band like Wilco plays there which is OK because Wilco is "indie". Aside from an appearance by Wilco or Ryan Adams, it's as if the activities at the OC are worthless just by virtue of happening within its walls.

And can we please stop characterizing Madison as State Street? A lot of things and people exist in other parts of town that are part of the melting pot of Madison. Take sports teams. Neither the Mad Rollin' Dolls nor the Mallards have much of anything to do with State Street. What about the south side with its plethora of ethnic stores, restaurants, R Place on Park, a Latino radio station, etc.? Many beer drinkers are quaffing quality suds at places like The Malt House and Dexters, both of which reside away from State Street. And guess which side of town is the only one to have a brewery (as opposed to a brewpub)? The north side. You cannot define Madison sola State Street.

Madison was unique in 1980 and then things changed. Lo and behold it was still somehow unique in 1990. The process repeated itself and the uniqueness was present as at the change of the millennium. If you wait long enough, everything that was old will be new again. Mark my words: Madison will be a polka town once again.
|| Palmer, 10:34 AM || link || (3) comments |

17 June, 2009

New Gamer Comic

An acquaintance of an acquaintance has started a new gamer comic called Gaming Law. All geeky readers are encouraged to check it out.
|| Palmer, 2:58 PM || link || (0) comments |

10 June, 2009

Further Food, Inc. For Thought

My review of the movie Food, Inc. has been linked to at SafeFoodInc, SafeFoodInc being "an alliance of associations that represent the livestock, meat and poultry industries". Their website is aimed at countering the claims of Food, Inc. Curiously enough, mine is the only review critical of the film they link to so either everyone loves it or they don't look very hard.

My main complaints about the film were 1) that it romanticized our food supply as it was pre-Mcdonalds to the point of caricature and 2) that it ignored the reality of poor people. Since writing the post, I've come across some interesting articles that are relevant to the latter criticism.

First I encountered an article by Mark Bittman in the NYT called "Real Food Can Be Cheaper Than Junk Food". In it, Bittman points to the site Cook For Good wherein "a compelling set of instructions for how to shop and cook inexpensively enough to live on food stamps" is to be had.

Saying that there is more to the picture than simply eating a steady diet of beans and rice is La Vida Locavore who wrote:

A Raleigh woman has a great method for eating on the cheap. She makes her own bread, pizza dough, tomato sauce, yogurt, you name it. Her meals average $1.12 per person and the cooking takes her 4.5 hours per week. You can see more about her methods on her site - http://www.cookforgood.com
Is this the key to eating well for actual food stamp recipients? I'm not convinced. Her methods involve little money but they require transportation, skill, cooking equipment, and food storage - all things that somebody living on a low income may or may not have.

When looking at the diets of the poor, it is often noted that their neighborhoods tend to be heavy on fast food with grocery stores a good distance away. Hence La Vida Locavore's comment about transportation. (I also believe this was mentioned in Food, Inc.) Time Magazine recently had a profile of a grocery store that has opened about 10 months ago on Chicago's south side - Farmers Best. As the article asks: "Can an inner-city supermarket profitably specialize in fresh produce and meats — and, ultimately, be a model solution to urban America's health crisis?" Only time will tell but, unfortunately, the store has yet to turn a profit.

The last thing I encountered about this issue is an interview with Sasha Abramsky about his new book Breadline USA which is "about the millions of Americans who work 40 hours a week and still go hungry". I've not read the book but here are some important issues brought up in this interview: 1) There are lots of working poor who go hungry; 2) going hungry or having a poor diet as well as just being poor have deleterious psychological effects which impede improving one's diet and bettering oneself; 4) and lastly, Abramsky's book is not purely about hunger. He sees hunger as being a symptom of poverty more generally and it demands an economic solution – controlling health care costs, a higher minimum wage, the cost of transportation, et al.

Finally, Food, Inc.'s director, Robert Kenner, was interviewed on last week's NOW. You can watch it here.
|| Palmer, 8:47 PM || link || (0) comments |

Blade Runner Inspired Web Series from Uncle Ridley

The New York Times is reporting that Sir Ridley Scott is working on a video series for the web based on Blade Runner:

On Thursday the film’s director, Ridley Scott, announced that a new division of his commercials company, RSA Films, was working on a video series called “Purefold.” The series of linked 5- to 10-minute shorts, aimed first at the Web and then perhaps television, will be set at a point in time before 2019, when the Harrison Ford movie takes place in a dystopian Los Angeles.

“We don’t take any of the canon or copyrighted assets from the movie,” said David Bausola, founding partner of Ag8, who said he hoped the series would debut later this summer and that the first episodes would depict events about two years into the future. “It’s actually based on the same themes as ‘Blade Runner.’ It’s the search for what it means to be human and understanding the notion of empathy. We are inspired by ‘Blade Runner.’”

It could be really interesting and it could be just dreadful. We'll see.
|| Palmer, 6:20 PM || link || (0) comments |

A New Polish Deli On the Way?

A couple weeks ago my co-worker Jason and I were talking about how we've noticed more people around town who speak Slavic languages. And not just downtown where we work but on the west side where he lives and the east side where I live. There is a project here where we work to install card readers on doors and we found out that one of the guys doing the installations is Polish. He wandered into the IT dungeon yesterday and we cornered him asking whether or not he thought there were more Slavs about town.

Our conversation turned towards the Polish delis that have come and gone here in Madison when the gentleman remarked that he has thought about opening one here himself. He had certainly made the comment to the right people as Jason and I have been known to frequent Polish delis in Chicago. We talked about what those in Madison have done right and what they've done wrong and, in general, did our best to convince the guy that opening one is a wonderful idea. I think we made something of an impact as he told us that he'd been wanting to change careers and do something which may not make a lot of money but at which he'd be happy.

The gentleman continued by telling us about an uncle of his in Poland who makes kielbasa. In fact, he raises and slaughters the pigs himself. Plus he apparently bakes a mean loaf of bread. By the time the tale was finished, I was salivating.

So hopefully he'll take the plunge and open a Polish deli here in town and all you people can thank me for it. (Ahem.)
|| Palmer, 4:22 PM || link || (2) comments |

Hop Bock and Other Capital Stirrings

Yesterday was The Malt House's first anniversary so The Dulcinea and I headed down there for some suds.

It gave me the opportunity to try a new brew from Capital that has not yet been bottled, if it ever will be – the Hop Bock which weighs in at 7.8% ABV.

It's a dark doppelbock with hops, essentially.

You can see the color above. The head was thick'n'foamy with but a faint hint of hops in the aroma. When it hits the tongue, you get the sweet, caramel malt flavors first and then a wash of hop bitterness. It also has a thick, chewy mouthfeel. While the hop content here pales in comparison to an IPA, I found the bitterness to exceed the "slightly hoppy" description in the menu. This doesn't make Hop Bock a bad beer, but my tastes are currently favoring less hoppy brews. Unless I held the beer in my mouth and moved it around like mouthwash, the malt and hops were very segregated on my palate. First came the intense sweetness followed by the intense bitterness. Personally I'd like to taste less hops here and find out if the two flavors can mingle a bit more rather than compete for my gustatory attention. But, if a heavy, hoppy brew sounds good, this beer is for you.

Hop Bock seems like a compromise beer. I really enjoy bocks and feel very lucky to live so close to a brewery which has a rather large variety of them that taste great and aren't less filling. Simply put, brewmaster Kirby Nelson excels at bocks and, unfortunately, put his dark doppelbock into hibernation a couple years back. Hop Bock seems like a way to bring back a preferred style of beer while at the same time catering to the current trend of very hoppy brews.

The rumor is that Hop Bock will become the next installment of the Capital Square series of limited brews that come in 4-packs. We'll see how that pans out.


While I'm on the subject of Capital, let me add a couple more notes.

Firstly, I've noticed Rustic Ale going for $5.99 a six-pack lately. Not only at Woodman's but also at the Jenifer Street Market where everything is expensive. Is this a recession special or is the stuff just not moving?

Just when I was getting into my car to drive to the brewery and tell Kirby to brew an IPA and get this hop thing out of his system, I get a double dose of good news.

Capital has announced that this year's summer seasonal is going to be Wild Rice instead of the Prairie Gold. I love the nutty flavor of Wild Rice and am really looking forward to tasting it again. A real treat for us Upper Midwesterners. Since Kirby is only going to brew it every few years, some of this stuff is going to make its way to my cellar which will promptly be locked up tight.

While it may be on store shelves as I type, I was told last week that distribution of the stuff is on hold until the spring seasonal is gone. So let's get the Maibock quaffed.

Lastly, there's Supper Club, a new American Lager.

"Harking back to an era where Supper Clubs were In Vogue and Wisconsin had numerous regional breweries making their version of American Style Lagers. You know, back when these types of beers exhibited regional soul. And many of these beers were enjoyed during an evening spent at a local Supper Club, visiting with friends and family and having a good dinner. Supper Club is an eminently drinkable version of a true American Lager. Featuring a greater depth of refreshing malt character than the mass marketed versions of the style, Supper Club is clean yet satisfying. Classic Wisconsin Lager at it's finest."

Supper Club is on tap at the Capital Bier Garden and possibly select taps around town – no bottles. I've not yet had it but hope to soon.
|| Palmer, 11:50 AM || link || (0) comments |

Rhubarb Pie '09

Well, I made my first rhubarb pie of the season not too long ago. I am not a particularly good baker but it turned out fairly well. The filling is simple enough but making a good pie crust is an art that I have not mastered. Still, my half lard-half butter concoction was tasty.
|| Palmer, 8:50 AM || link || (0) comments |

08 June, 2009

Trustafarians Seek (GASP!) Work

As long as I'm blogging about class...

Some trustafarians are feeling the recession. For instance, one poor guy is having to downscale his condo ambitions:

Eric Gross, 26, a construction worker, was going to buy, with help from his father, a $600,000 one-bedroom condo with city views at Northside Piers, a luxury building, he said.

So Mr. Gross is scaling back, shopping for a $300,000 apartment, said his real estate agent, Binnie Robinson of AptsandLofts.com.

Yet others are even worse off. Yes, some are actually looking for a job:

Luis Illades, an owner of the Urban Rustic Market and Cafe on North 12th Street, said he had seen a steady number of applicants, in their late 20s, who had never held paid jobs: They were interns at a modeling agency, for example, or worked at a college radio station. In some cases, applicants have stormed out of the market after hearing the job requirements.

“They say, ‘You want me to work eight hours?’ ” Mr. Illades said. “There is a bubble bursting.”

Must have been nice to be able to make it to your late 20s and not have to support yourself. Surely there's a bailout forthcoming for these people.
|| Palmer, 4:50 PM || link || (2) comments |

Joanne Pow!ers As Antidote to Comfort

The Overture Center bashing continues. This time it's Mike Basford at his Isthmus home:

As long as I'm breathing, I will resist efforts to stop Joanne [Pow!ers] from providing the vital service of unleashing aural reality upon the comfortable Overture Center patrons as they exit onto State Street.

Personally I wouldn't say that Pow!ers unleashes aural reality when she's out on State Street with her sax. When I hear her in that context, she plays lovely melodies intended to get some coin off passers-by and saves the Archie Shepp channeling for when she is in a coffeehouse or club. Either way, I enjoy her music.

But it underscores the fact that the marketing folks at the OC have a long way to go in changing the public's perception of the place. Here's a bit of free advice for them: try an ad campaign similar to Microsoft's I'm a PC. Here's one of their commercials:

I'd volunteer to be in a "I Go to the Overture Center" commercial but I don't think a fat, pale geek wearing a Cthulhu-themed t-shirt would help the cause. But it can't be too hard to find others. When I've been there, I've seen the young and the old; I've seen pale faces and those with darker skin; I've seen those with epicanthic folds and those without; I've seen the wealthy Madison elite as well as those who can't afford a show at the OC on a regular basis. In short, all kinds of people.

The Overture Center is a rather egalitarian place. Sure, you can see the Madison members of Club Croesius at the OC but there's plenty of free activities as well as those directed at children. And tickets are to be had that go for much less than, say, a Badger game. I hope Mike Basford never finds himself at Symphony Hall in Chicago. Once he sees all those Gold Coasters donning their mink stoles, he'd do his Bruce Banner imitation and turn into the Incredible Hulking Marxist Revolutionary.
|| Palmer, 4:14 PM || link || (2) comments |

The Legacy of Thomas Paine

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Thomas Paine's death.

Paine is most famous for "Common Sense", a widely-read pamphlet which rallied many behind the cause of the American Revolution. But he fell out of favor, in perhaps record time, after publishing The Age of Reason which firmly established him as a freethinker who would have no truck with organized religion.

The link above points to a BBC article which mentions a Cheesehead – Prof. Harvey Kaye of the UW- Green Bay. He is the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. (Which sits on my bookshelf unread, alas.) Here is Prof. Kaye on Bill Moyers' Journal:

Part 2
|| Palmer, 2:12 PM || link || (0) comments |

04 June, 2009

Friends, Musicians, Balloon Hat Artists - Give the City Your Money

The WSJ had an article yesterday in which we learned that downtown alderman Mike Verveer had a road to Damascus moment recently at the Dane County Farmer's Market and now favors or is at least wide open to the idea of licensing buskers.

But during this year’s Dane County Farmers’ Markets on the Capitol Square, a glut of street performers — including balloon hat artists and a masseuse — has made even Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, change his position on the issue.

I laughed when I read this. If "the Farmer's Market is too crowded" is not a tautology that screams for government intervention, I don't know what is.

I've never found street performers to be a problem at the Farmer's Market. Now we're poised to tell balloon hat artists and musicians that they have to fork over coin for the privilege of being pushed away from customers while dogs, the baby carriage equivalent of Hummers wide enough to handle the entirety of the Octomom's progeny, and wagons capable of transporting farm animals are welcomed on the sidewalks around the Square on Saturday mornings. Musicians and other performers trying to earn a few bucks in the midst of a recession are being blamed for all the crowding while parents pushing along $900 all-terrain strollers at a pace that makes evolution seem like the Indy 500 by comparison get off scot-free. There is no justice in this world.

Personally I'm surprised the city doesn't just ban buskers outright, banning being the preferred method of change here in Madison.
|| Palmer, 1:41 PM || link || (3) comments |

I Need Some Reassurance, Ms. Berceau

Rep. Terese Berceau reprimands The Cap Times today for its editorial inveighing against her proposed beer excise tax. She begins by saying: "I write in response to your ill-informed and poorly reasoned editorial against raising the beer tax a modest 2.4 cents per 12-ounce can or bottle."

When Berceau goes around saying the tax is going to amount to only 2.4 cents per bottle, the implication is that the consumer will see the price at the store go up by that amount. But this is not the case. It is true that the tax increase would be 2.4 cents per bottle, but this is levied at the brewery which means that the consumer will be paying more than that. Rob Larson of Tyranena explained recently:

These individuals are advocating raising the excise tax for beer from $2.00 a barrel to $10.00 a barrel to fund various alcohol abuse and law enforcement programs. They claim this tax increase will only add 2.4 cents to the cost of a bottle of beer... Of course, excise taxes are taxes paid by the brewery and passed along through the distribution chain. This would require us to charge $0.56 more per case... but since we price everything if $0.50 cent increments... it will ultimately be passed along to our wholesalers as a $1.00 increase (after all, we don't want to eat these increased costs). And, of course, our wholesalers and retailers will then pass along the increased costs along with their margins. So, our $1.00 per case increase will really show up to you, the consumer, as a $2.00 per case increase... or the $0.50 a six pack I previously mentioned. And then add another $0.03 for the additional sales tax!

Berceau further chastised The Cap Times for how it characterized her proposal: "…the paper attributed the initiative to raise the tax to the state budget deficit when my bill has been out for two terms prior to this session, and the money has always been slotted for a segregated fund to address law enforcement and programs for alcohol and other drug abuse".

I've written about this previously so let me reiterate quickly by saying that, with a poor past record of dealing with tobacco settlement money and a $6.5 billion state budget deficit looming, I personally see the odds of that money being spent on addressing "law enforcement and programs for alcohol and other drug abuse" to be quite small. And what is to stop the state from raiding that fund? Burceau notes that "wine and distilled spirits are already taxed at a median rate with other states". So where do those taxes go? To a segregated fund?

Fred Risser said that the state will raise the beer tax within his lifetime and I believe him. So, when this happens, let's keep track of where the money goes. I want to find out just how much of it ends up in the segregated fund. Berceau says: "It is to use the taxing power of the state to deter behavior which damages society, and to help pay for programs that address the problems caused by that behavior." So how about an amendment to the bill which states that the tax ends the nanosecond that one red cent of that money is redirected from the proper fund or is spent on something other than its intended use?
|| Palmer, 10:31 AM || link || (0) comments |

Book TV Rolls Into Town

I noticed that the Book TV bus was parked outside of the Marquette Elementary School this morning. If I didn't have to work today, I would have done my geek fanboy routine and tried to get on C-SPAN 2 while clamoring for Brian Lamb's autograph.

Presumably the bus is on its way to Chicago for the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest. So why the stop here?
|| Palmer, 9:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

An Amtrak Stop in Madison Edges Closer

Things continue to look favorable for the return of passenger rail service to Madison. The Obama administration met with Midwest governors yesterday and now Vice President Joe Biden is praising the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Vice President Joe Biden lauded the Midwest proposal, which envisions passenger trains speeding through the region at 110 m.p.h., as "one of the most comprehensive plans that have been put forward so far."

The administration gathered eight governors, including Gov. Pat Quinn, for a roundtable at the White House on Wednesday. Interviewed at the White House afterward, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, noted that Obama and his chief of staff, Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel, have taken an intense interest in the rail initiative. He suggested that that would work in favor of substantial financial support for a Midwest network.

The article notes, however, that regardless of how much the Midwest gets from the Feds, the initial round of funding will go towards eliminating slow zones around Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit. For more on slow zones and bottlenecks around Chicago, check out this video.

And Madison isn't the only Wisconsin city with the potential to have passenger rail service once again after nearly 40 years. Green Bay has its own rail supporters looking to bring service to the Fox Valley.
|| Palmer, 9:18 AM || link || (0) comments |

03 June, 2009

Kipp's Medieval Home Cookin'?

Susan Troller of 77 Square introduces readers today to Old Market Bistro, the newest restaurant of Forrest "Kipp" Thomas. One of the signature dishes on the new menu is "a French medieval beer-battered turkey leg". Huh?

I have dabbled in medieval cooking and have yet to run across a dish that a KFC of the Middle Ages in Paris would have served. Secondly, and this is the important bit:


Turkeys were not native to Europe so the French, like everyone else on the continent, had to wait for the Spanish to bring them over from their colonies in the New World. This took a while as there were things like gold and slaves which had higher priority back then.

I don't know exactly what "a French medieval beer-battered turkey leg" is supposed to be like and it is probably has as much to do with the Middle Ages as an iPod but it sounds rather tasty.
|| Palmer, 2:45 PM || link || (6) comments |

02 June, 2009

12 Angry Russians

This past weekend I caught Nikita Mikhalkov's latest film, 12. It was at once familiar and yet foreign. The former because it's a loose adaptation of the classic teleplay and film 12 Angry Men and the latter owing to it being a Russian film that is all about Russian culture and society.

Things begin quite differently than the original story does with a shot of an immobilized armored personnel carrier replete with the corpse of a Russian soldier. This grisly scene gives way to a shot of someone's feet hurriedly running down stairs. But wait, there's more! An oneiric sequence follows that is shot in bleached out black & white and features Mikhail Gorbachev standing behind a podium that is smack dab in the middle of a field in Chechnya.

After the credits roll, the scene begins to look a little more familiar.

The setting is contemporary Russia where 12 jurors must decide the fate of a Chechen boy who stands accused of murdering his stepfather who was a Russian army officer. The courtroom empties and the jurors are slowly led to a gymnasium of a nearby school by a bailiff who explains that the courthouse is being remodeled. I presume that this, along with an HVAC duct in the gym that seems beyond even the help of Harry Tuttle, is a comment on Russia's crumbling infrastructure. Also symbolic is surely the piano which is locked away behind bars.

We never learn the names of the jurors but they are given ample time to tell their stories and demonstrate just what kinds of men they are. One is a cab driver who, dead set on a guilty verdict, also proves himself to be a racist as he spews invective towards the Chechens as well as one of his fellow jurors who is Jewish. Another is a Harvard-educated reality TV show producer who is vacillates between guilty and not guilty constantly. But it is an electronics engineer who gets things going by casting the sole non-guilty vote in the first go-round. When asked to explain himself, he slowly reveals his love for the underdog and eventually tells the other men his tale of redemption.

In scenes like this, 12 greatly resembles its predecessors. But Mikhalkov tacks his own course as well. We witness the Chechen boy in his holding cell as well as flashbacks to his childhood. For instance, as a boy, he did a knife dance for the Chechen resistance fighters and he does the same dance as he waits for the jury's verdict. The kindness of his stepfather is shown as is the horror that is war. Plus there's one shot which is repeated throughout the film and that is the one which was hinted at in the very beginning of the film. We see the disabled APC with the soldier's body atop it. The camera turns to the right and we can see the figure of a dog running in the smoke. As it approaches, the glint of something shiny penetrates the haze but the shot ends before we are able to make out the details.

Vladislav Opelyants' cinematography is excellent throughout but really shines in the first third or so of the film. The first time a vote is taken, the camera starts on the jury foreman at the head of the table and slowly pulls away from him as he reads the votes aloud to reveal the other jurors. Another great scene comes early on when the men are arguing and the camera just goes in circles around the table like a whirlwind. As the film progresses, the shots become more static but great nonetheless. Also notable is the sound. There's some great music which sets the mood well without being melodramatic. Plus the diagetic sounds of the gymnasium are omnipresent. The Stalin-era heating system constantly creeks in the background while we are periodically hear (and see) bird that flies into the room at one point. These little audio touches lent the room some life and helped make the setting seem fuller, seem something more than a stage.

I was able to discern some of the more obvious references to contemporary Russia and, in addition to the ones I noted above, I would also note that juries themselves are a product of post-Communist Russia. I don't doubt for a minute that many more went over my head. Even so, I found 12 to be extremely compelling as the arguments the men have and the personal revelations they give are general enough to be understood by non-Russian audiences.

With the collapse of Communism, Russia began to reinvent itself in a Western image. But 12 tends to portray the image more as artifice than substantive change. Knowing what I know about The Bear, I think the film makes a nice companion to Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark. Russian Ark examined Russia's past while 12 questions whether the country will ever be able to transcend it.

12 will be at Sundance Cinemas through Thursday, despite not being listed on the Screening Room calendar.
|| Palmer, 3:12 PM || link || (0) comments |

Auf Wiedersehen Taste of Asia

I drove by Taste of Asia on E. Wash on Sunday and was dismayed to find that it had closed. Anyone know why?

What a shame. I appreciated that ToA served a variety of foods - Hmong, Lao, Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese. I will certainly miss the pho soup.

There was some solace to be had in the fact that a new restaurant will be taking its place - Brothers Wok or some such thing. We'll see how it measures up.
|| Palmer, 9:32 AM || link || (0) comments |