Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don Pridemore: a Glenn Grothman wannabe?

Hi folks,

A friend from WaxingAmerica dropped this link bye -- I think to make me feel better about being represented in Wisconsin's 20th Senate district by Mr. Grothman.

I confess, this helps a lot.

Hard to know even how to file this, except circularly.

Taxation without representation.

I note that the Washington DC, largely Republican, wrecking crew is already complaining about their taxes going up -- even though 95% of the rest of us are going to get a tax break this year. Apparently, the same thing is happening in Madison, with the Gov. restoring old and perfectly workable tax rates on the top earners.

What's interesting to me is that Mr. Pridemore, like Mr. Grothman, as state employees, make about what *I* do, except they get to hold outside jobs that raise their net income... maybe if they paid taxes like the rest of us do, they'd be more sympathetic to the idea of a government providing services none of us in the bottom 95% can afford on our own?


Practicing safe Facebooking

Hi everyone,

What's up this week?

Another hard hitting Menckenesque attack on the straight-jacketing comfort swizzle of Washington County soma?

Nope. This week's column is a bit more like cotton candy -- except that I did have three or four local friends sign up for Facebook in the past month and leave their privacy settings set to "please steal my personal info," so it seemed appropriate to remind new members of the virtual universe to keep an eye on their settings.

Saturday's column:

Practicing safe Facebooking

Facebook is in the news. The social networking site, begun as a way for college students to keep track of their friends, topped 150 million members in January. If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than Russia or Japan. Today, Facebook is used by students, parents and grandparents in more than 35 different languages and from 170 countries and territories to stay in touch with family, find old friends or play Scrabble across continents – and, best of all, you don’t have to remember anyone’s e-mail address.

I opened my Facebook account two years ago when a lot of college faculty signed up. Students get a look at my favorite movies, books and the eclectic blend of music I listen to, plus getting a look at your professors online makes them seem a little less dangerously alien. It also gives students the chance to rib me about my ukulele playing.

Being online requires a bit of caution these days, but social networking sites are only hazardous if you make one of two mistakes: 1.) leave too much personal information in places where identity thieves can find it, and 2.) post something foolish where the wrong people can see it.

You can avoid both by adjusting Facebook’s privacy settings.

To help prevent “phishing,” the process of fishing out personal and sensitive information in a way that makes identify theft possible, start by removing your birthday from public visibility and restricting your personal info to family and friends. A name and date of birth is the beginning of all identity theft. Removing your birthday and restricting access to personal data takes care of number 1.

See? Easy.

Saying something foolish in front of the wrong people is the other danger and, let’s face it, this can be hard to avoid in the real world. Fortunately, Facebook allows you restrict access and protect your privacy. Start by thinking about who you want to see your profile. If it’s for friends and family, no worries. Odds are they already know about you. But if you want a wider range of people to have access to your information (for the purposes of job hunting, networking or if, like me, your public profile is a way to humanize your otherwise frightening professional face) then you’ll have to decide who should have access to your photos and whether or not your profile is visible to search engines (either from within Facebook or from Google).

You probably won’t post embarrassing pictures of yourself but, let’s face it, your friends might. That’s part of their job but, no worries – Facebook lets you control whether or not your name gets attached to pictures of you posted by other people.

A lot of students seem to love posting pictures of themselves partying. Friends who teach high school tell me they’ve actually nabbed a number of students who put up pictures of themselves playing beer-pong. Um, note to students: remember that some pictures might not impress future employers who, these days, routinely check out Facebook or MySpace accounts to get a look at off-duty or prospective, employees.

Fortunately, the most embarrassing pictures of me probably show me playing the ukulele. Fortunately, public knowledge of ukulele addiction hasn’t hurt Warren Buffett (a well-known uke freak) plus, the odds of my working in a job that bans ukulele playing is pretty remote.

Finally, you can decide how searchable you want to be, either from inside Facebook or even via Google. Whether you want employers (or future employers) to see your Facebook page should determine whether you want to be Google-able. Again, if your profile is for your friends and family, keep it private. If, on the other hand, you have a compelling and marketable profile, by all means make your profile searchable from Google.

The easiest solution of all is to restrict everything to “friends only” and stop worrying. Access to my profile, for instance, is restricted to friends or, in some cases, to the UW Colleges Network.

Parents worried about what their kids are doing online whether in Facebook or MySpace – and who want to drive their kids crazy – should sign up for an account themselves. That’s the best way to see what the fuss is about and how easy it is to protect themselves, and their kids, from the possible dangers of life online.


Monday, March 23, 2009

They're heeeeere: Emerald Ash Borers land in Newburg.

Hi everyone,

Invasive species are a huge threat to our quality of life, and they're pouring in every day. I noticed in the Wall Street Journal this morning that some beauty parlor owner in Virginia apparently imported a bunch of special little carp (species garra rufa) that will nibble the dead skin off your feet. Nowhere in the article was it mentioned that this guy had simply imported 10,000 of the little rascals into North America without anyone checking to see whether there might be "environmental implications." One of the major box-stores did this with dogwood trees over a decade ago, and brought in a fungus that wiped out North American dogwoods across the south.

And so on.

Anyway, checking through the invasive species list for Wisconsin was pretty scary (fresh water jellyfish?!) -- and now the emerald ash borer has landed: next door, in Newburg.

Saturday's column.

They’re hungry and they’re here

Do your part in fighting EAB invasion

Washington and Ozaukee counties are under a quarantine. The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has confirmed infestations of the emerald ash borer in Fireman’s Park in Newburg, on private land about 1 1/2 miles east of Newburg and in a number of trees are along the Milwaukee River. First spotted last summer in the two-county border area, this is the EAB’s first appearance in Wisconsin. We’re at ground zero.

The quarantine prohibits moving any ash product – including all hardwood firewood – that could transport larval or adult emerald ash borers. The origin and age of these infestations are still under investigation.

The emerald ash borer is a beautiful little beetle that lays its eggs in ash trees. The eggs hatch into larvae that eat the inner bark lining. Trees tolerate this for about two years and then die. The adults fly off to find new trees. The bugs have overwhelmed DNRs – and DNR budgets – everywhere they’ve appeared. Since surfacing in Michigan in 2001, they’ve killed over 30 million trees.

Here’s an example of what might be coming. Right now, just outside of Chicago, the village of Homewood is preparing to cut down every one of its parkway planted ash trees – nearly 2,600. I lived next door to Homewood during the late ’60s when Dutch elm disease swept through the Midwest, wiping out the elms that had formed those beautiful Gothic arches over neighborhood streets. A lot of elms where re-planted with silver maples and ash trees. Homewood’s town government was vigilant and prepared – and still, they couldn’t do anything to stop the infestation from putting holes in the sky that will last for a generation.

Beauty is one thing. Losing trees also costs money. Ash trees, used to replace American elms after the Dutch Elm epidemic, now make up nearly 20 percent of trees in urban Wisconsin. The DNR estimates that to replace and dispose of the nearly 5.4 million ash trees on public and private property statewide could cost taxpayers as much as $1.5 billion for tree replacement, $776 million for tree removal and disposal, $13 million per year in “lost tree-canopy function to reduce pollution, lower heating and cooling costs, & absorb storm water runoff.”

As bad as this is, it’s just the tip of an even bigger iceberg. The ash borer is not alone. Invasive species constitute one of the greatest threats to the long-term health and sustainability of Wisconsin’s forests – not to mention our lakes and rivers.

Here are some other highlights from the DNR water-born invasive species survey, each with a name scarier than the last one (along with the number of lakes and rivers statewide they’ve infested in parentheses): there’s the banded mystery snail (105); the Chinese mystery snail (217); Eurasian watermilfoil (479); the freshwater jellyfish (61); and, of course, the big favorite, zebra mussels (212).

All I could think of when I read this was “mystery snails?” and “yikes! freshwater jellyfish?!” Fortunately, these have yet to appear locally, but Washington County is already home to Eurasian milfoil (in Big Cedar, Little Cedar, and Pike Lake) and zebra mussels (in Big Cedar). If the milfoil doesn’t clog your outboard, we can expect massive algae blooms and eventual fish extinctions wherever the zebras take root.

So what do we do about these ash borers?

The DNR has created pages of “best management practices” but most are common sense: learn to recognize invasive species and report them; before you move your trailer, boats, etc., clean them off (remember, milfoil and zebra mussels got into Big Cedar hitching a ride on somebody’s boat or trailer); volunteer to help control invasive species; and, above all, do not transport firewood.

There’s a lot of easy to access information online at: (or phone 1-800-462-2803) or the DNR’s Webs ite on other invasive species,

The DNR is getting cut back in the next budget, so we can’t rely on government to take care of this – they can’t protect us from crooks on Wall Street so why should we expect them to protect us from a bug, even one that threatens our forests and the quality of our neighborhoods? What’s needed is good, old-fashioned civic responsibility. We’re worth it. West Bend has won the National Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA award since 1982. Today, in 2009, there are thousands of ash trees in West Bend and as many as 7.2 million (yes, million) in Washington County. We could lose all of ‘em.

Everyone is a warden now. Put your hat on.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Diversity, UW system and American casserole.

Hi everyone,

This week's column.

Diversity, UW system and American casserole

First of all, I am not now, nor have I ever been, authorized to speak on behalf of the University of Wisconsin System. They don’t even like it when I ask questions at meetings. My comments reflect only my own views. Having said that:

Last week the UW Regents discussed the current plan for diversity in UW System. As he has in the past, Sen. Glenn Grothman protested what he called the university’s “obsession” with diversity and dared the Regents to answer a few questions. Sen. Grothman doesn’t like diversity, but his letter raises more questions than it asks.

Most of his questions are built around his first one, which asks “even if diversity is good for its own sake ... doesn’t this imply a climate promoting excessive focus on one’s ancestry as opposed to one’s individual accomplishments?”

First of all, nobody said diversity is good for its own sake. There are great reasons to want a big buffet of different cultures and students or faculty with different experiences on a university campus. Diversity for diversity’s sake is not one of them.

The senator forgets that America is already a diverse country – shoot, we invented diversity. Remember, E Pluribus Unum? Moreover, being diverse has never created a climate that promotes excessive focus on ancestry as opposed to individual accomplishment.

Good grief, my ancestry is Norwegian and German Lutherans: imagine if America forced me to focus on lutefisk and herring rather than on my individual accomplishments. Or, more frightening for you non-Norwegians out there, imagine if America forced the rest of you to eat lutefisk and herring. I love ‘em but, c’mon – I can’t reasonably expect anyone else to.

The American casserole (hot dish, paella, hot pot, jambalaya) – doesn't excessively focus on carrots, peas, or (if you’re a Norwegian Lutheran) the cream of mushroom soup. In fact, the main reason any university promotes diversity is that no education is complete until a student becomes familiar with other parts of the American – and now, global – casserole.

So why would the senator worry about the university giving students a taste of the whole world? I suspect his real worry is that some of the carrots are being admitted simply because they’re carrots – something a lawyer should know is explicitly prohibited by a number of Supreme Court decisions.

OK, I'm being metaphorical. The Supreme Court decisions don’t mention carrots, but they do mention race.

The court has ruled specifically on how universities may use admissions procedures to insure an adequate amount of cultural and ethnic diversity, most famously in the Bakke case. Justice Powell’s opinion was crystal clear: preferring members of any one group for no reason other than race was itself racial discrimination. But there is a constitutionally approved justification universities can use to make sure the Pluribus gets to participate in the Unum. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor echoed it when she wrote the majority opinion in a case called Grutter v. Bollinger, the current model for constitutionally acceptable practice in university admissions.

She wrote: “Today we endorse Justice Powell's view that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.”

A compelling state interest – so long as racial quotas are not used, so long as there is a common admission standard used to evaluate all students and so long as race or ethnicity is only considered one factor among many, there’s no problem. At least, not for the Supreme Court.

The UW System’s diversity plan, and the Regent’s resolution (No. 8970) that approved it, follow these requirements to the letter.

So why is Sen. Grothman writing letters asking the Regents whether the university is “obsessed” with diversity, hates white men or if diversity programs at the UW might keep “minority” kids becoming “normal?”

If he thought the plan violated somebody’s rights then, surely, as a UW-Madison trained lawyer, he would have cited case law and said so. But he didn’t. Or perhaps he objects to the Supreme Court ruling itself ? If so, is he suggesting the university should daringly ignore the Supreme Court? Would a politician, in office as long as Sen. Grothman, advise the state to violate a Supreme Court ruling? Hard to imagine.

It’s much easier to imagine he simply doesn’t like casseroles.

Frankly, it seems more likely that Glenn doesn't like carrots in his casseroles.


Another letter to the editor re: Defending the American Dream.

Hi everyone,

A letter to the editor from a reader with a response to my comments on the "Defending the American Dream" True Believer Party last week.

We need wealthy success

Mark Peterson, after reading your last column, I wish you would go back to bed with a good history book about what made our country unique and your “bankie.”

Wealth drives the economy, creates business, creates jobs, creates charitable donations; all the positive things. Those at the bottom of the economic system are not paying for them. Statistics say 48 percent pay nothing. We need wealthy success. This is what keeps our country strong. Incidentally, 92 percent of our citizens are still employed, paying taxes and their mortgages.

On a local level, we have the free clinic established by Dr. Albrecht. It is to serve the financially disabled and funded by the financially stable. When we all are poor, who does it serve?

We do not need a government that punishes success or the hard work, drive and risk that created it. We do not need a government that creates jobs by getting bigger. As an example, Doyle created a new committee to handle his latest hand-out to balance his inflated budget. If you keep government small, you keep the taxes needed to support it small. What is it you don’t understand? What the government gives comes out of our pockets.

This push toward socialism is the evil you perceive. The push against it is made by people who are wide awake.

Jean Schneider
West Bend

Why do people believe that suggesting we wake up to the reality of our economic circumstances, to an unfair and destabilizing distribution of wealth, is the same as promoting a 1950's kindergarten version of the USSR? Some of us have lived in the former Soviet Union (and the "People's" Republic of China) and seen the psychological carnage it can cause -- so, like, I'm a'gin it.

Anyway, to Ms. Schneider: my best advice would be to go read Andrew Carnegie's wonderfully clear and coherent essay on Wealth. Mr. Carnegie's observations express my own take on the role of wealth in society -- and he had quite a lot of experience with wealth -- or, if you're up to it, brush up on your John Rawl's theories of distributive justice.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This year's Budget Hero simulator.

This year's Budget Hero simulation.

Turns out I was able to balance the budget, provide health care, and add a couple of new Army Divisions simply by eliminating the Bush era tax cuts. So, like, what were we thinking?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Defend the American Dream – stay asleep

Hi everyone,

Yep, I'm finally cribbing from myself -- from an entry about a year ago... the last time these True Believers met.

What's most peculiar to me is that they're still trying to convince everyone to accept the economic principles that have thrown the entire world economy into turmoil. Why would anyone do that -- if they were awake, that is?

Right, they wouldn't. QED.

Saturday's column.

Defend the American Dream – stay asleep

They're having a big pajama party at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee today called “Defending the American Dream.” They’re going to need their jammies too, since, after the last few months, it’s pretty clear the American Dream only works when you’re asleep. The group hosting this event, Americans for Prosperity, might also think about changing their name to Americans for the Prosperity of Some Americans.

Anyway, waking up is grouchy business, but here we are.

The speakers list is a Broadway Lullaby Review of happy comfy bedtime stories designed to keep us safely dozing while America’s economy crashes and our treasury is looted.

Incidentally, the inherent irony in the list increases as we go along, so have another sip of coffee and prepare yourselves.

Scott Walker is scheduled to speak, presumably about how he’ll help Milwaukee County residents by refusing federal funds designed to help Milwaukee County residents. His speech should serve as a warm up for his run for governor – where he probably hopes to refuse federal funds for people from other parts of Wisconsin too.

Rep. Paul Ryan is scheduled to appear, humming the nap-time favorite “If we continue to lower taxes on the top 5 percent, the way we have during the past eight years, the economy will suddenly act in a completely new and wonderful way. Really!” His speech should serve as a warmup for his run for the U.S. Senate.

At 11:30 the Defender of the American Dream Award goes to state Rep. Jim Ott, former TV weatherman since elevated by the Flat Earth global-warming-is-a-hoax-conspiracy theorists to an expert in atmospheric physics. I suppose Rep. Ott, who insists the president of the Weather Channel understands climate change better than the world scientific community, deserves one of these Stay Asleep awards. He’s a great example of what sleepwalking can do for your sense of self-preservation.

But the most telling speaker is the dreamiest of them all, embodying the economic somnambulance these people represent. It’s Samuel J. Wurzelbacher – yep, Joe the Plumber. He’s a perfect example: he’s called Joe the Plumber, but his first name isn’t Joe; he claimed to be a plumber, but wasn’t licensed; and he became famous because he believed a tax plan that would have cut his taxes was a bad idea. He’s even written a book, although his scheduled three-hour book signing in Washington, D.C., last week didn’t make it through the first hour.

So, let’s see: Politicians running for office on the economic theories that got us into this pickle and a working class hero who can’t figure out his taxes? I feel drowsier and better about America just knowing these guys are in Milwaukee.

OK, back to being serious. The last few months have woken up a lot of Americans to the burglary going on under our noses during the last eight years, but this group of sleeping-pill salesmen is hitting the snooze button in Milwaukee this weekend trying to lull us back into a dreamland where the realities of a lousy job, declining wages, and health care costs that bankrupt more families each year melt away in a haze.

Unfortunately, you can only roll over and go back to sleep so many times before you notice the morning light: despite all these tax cuts, median household income in the US is off .6 percent between 2000 and 2007, and down 5.5 percent in Wisconsin. The number of people in poverty in the United States is up 1.2 percent during the same period, while, in Wisconsin it’s up 1.7 percent.

So, where do you get the brass to stage a day-long orgy of self-congratulation for years of shifting the tax-burden from the wealthy to the shoulders of people at the bottom of the economic system – and still leave room for cake?

These people have spent years convincing Americans, like Joe the Plumber, to vote against their own economic self interests. How do you do that? You stage circuses and hand out glossy easy-fill prescriptions in Milwaukee to make sure all those people at the bottom continue to believe that dreaming is better than living.

The downside? When those folks wake up, or when the cake runs out, they’re going to be irritable.

And to those of you who are awake now, let’s paraphrase Edmund Burke: All it takes for evil to triumph is for people of good will to stay asleep.

The unemployment rate in West Bend topped 10.5% this past week. I have to ask whose prosperity these people are really interested in. My guess, their own rather than their country's.