Friday, July 31, 2009

Republican Party leadership out of touch with its base.

Right-Wing Harassment Strategy Against Dems Detailed In Memo: ‘Yell,’ ‘Stand Up And Shout Out,’ ‘Rattle Him’

These extremist loonies, along with the birther loonies, are the new normal.

To my Republican friends: do something about this please. We have our hands full right now.


God breaks promise to Man

Something else for the holy crusaders against moral turpitude. Maybe some of them will join others of their kind to exhibit Christlike compassion at Saturday's book signing in West Bend.

I have faith.

From illusory tenant: God breaks promise to Man

WAUSAU -- A central Wisconsin man charged with killing his daughter by praying instead of taking her to a doctor read from the Bible while testifying Thursday that he couldn't seek medical help without disobeying God.

"I can't do that because Biblically, I cannot find that is the way people are healed," Dale Neumann told the jury. "If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God. I am not believing what he said he would do."

Maybe after he gets out of prison Dale can help to get the library closed in West Bend.


West Bend Library story is number three in the Blogosphere worldwide.

Even more famous than Prof. Gates.

From the Pew Research Center:
The second-largest story in the blogosphere last week was far removed from American politics. A BBC report (which received 14% of the links) revealed the new costume for British TV science fiction character Dr. Who. That was followed by a report on a fight over library books in West Bend, Wisconsin (11%) that cost board members their jobs and led to demands for a public book burning.

The fourth most linked-to news story in social media intertwined the thorny issues of politics and race. The arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and the subsequent controversy fueled by remarks from Obama received 8% of the week's links. The Gates arrest also generated significant attention in the mainstream media last week, coming in No. 3 (at 12% of the newshole), according to PEJ's News Coverage Index. The top two stories there were the debate over health care reform (25%) followed by the economic crisis (12%).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ready or Not...They're Gay: book signing at Fireside Books on Aug. 1st.

Hi everyone,

More fuel for the library discussion.

Some friends over at Fireside Books asked me to post up a press release for them:


On Saturday, August 1, Fireside Books and Gifts in West Bend will host the authors of a book that everyone in the area should read.

In light of the controversy that has enflamed passions on both sides of the censorship issue and led to the non-reappointment of public library board members, this is an opportunity for community members to look at one aspect of the issue from the viewpoint of a couple who speak from very real personal experience.

Paul and Hjordy Wagner know what it’s like to have a child come out of the sexual orientation closet. In fact, they’ve had that experience not once, but twice. Both of their sons are gay. Their book Ready or Not…They’re Gay tells the story of their acceptance of their sons’ sexual identities and encourages others--in a non-confrontational and loving way--to come to the same acceptance of gay and lesbian young people in our society.

The Wagners--who live in Eau Claire--embraced their sons’ sexuality immediately, but they soon realized that for many other families the transition is not easy or smooth. Many young gay people today--if they muster the courage to come out to their families at all--are ostracized, even abandoned, by their loved ones. Ready or Not… attempts to equip other families with the attitude and compassion to help them accept the news of a gay child or loved one in a healthy, positive way.

In addition to the Wagners’ personal experience, the book includes a range of perspectives from their circle of family and friends. It offers sensible guidance for parents and teachers of gay students and provides suggestions from the GLBT community on how to make the coming-out conversation more loving and sincere.

The event on August 1 will begin at 10:30 a.m. The Wagners will begin with a short talk and then answer questions from the audience. Afterwards they will sign copies of their book.

Those interested in attending should call the store (at 262-334-1444) to reserve a seat. Fireside Books and Gifts is located at 1331 West Paradise Drive, between Wal-Mart and Office Max.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

West Bend book banners still haven't gone far enough.

Hi everyone,

I suspect many of my Fundamentalist readers will miss the irony that I commit precisely the same act for which I'm criticizing them.... irony is the first casualty of Fundamentalism. And so it goes.

And for those of you with your own lists of favourites, my apologies. I'm limited to around 720 words and picked what came to mind.

Saturday's column

Overlooking library’s most dangerous book?

Bored with the library flap? Me, too. But we’re not done yet. The book banners have overlooked one mighty important book that must be removed.

Let’s recap: a local group of fundamentalist Christians asks that a number of books be removed from the library’s shelves on completely unconstitutional grounds. Another group of even more fundamentalist Christians joins the fray, demanding the books be burned and filing a law suit against the city for the damage caused to its members by the mere existence of these books. A well-educated local Library Board, relying on established case law and federal court findings and using constitutionally vetted guidelines from accredited national organizations, says “no.” These local fundamentalists then claim West Bend is being victimized by “outsiders,” as if the U.S. Constitution was a set of values being imposed from outside. Julaine Appling, whose Wisconsin Family Council seminars provided the Maziarkas with the organizing skills now costing us bad press and tax dollars, comes to their defense in a recent guest editorial. The complaints depend on smoke and noise because they have no legal basis on which to rest. America hears the noise and smells the smoke. Reports are filed. West Bend becomes a national spectacle, featured prominently at this year’s meeting of the American Library Association and in all the major media outlets including, this past week, CNN's Web site. The fundamentalists vow to fight on.

So far so good.

Some people think all of this publicity is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s just a beginning. These morally righteous folks haven't got it wrong, they simply haven’t gone far enough.

They need to go further with their demands and insist the library remove the most dangerous book in the kids section, a book more hazardous to teenagers than “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and even more perilous than those dreadful biology books on sexuality (and evolution!) from the adult section; a book which is, arguably, the single greatest cause of spiritual distress and physical bloodshed in Western history: the New and Old Testaments of the Christian Bible.

Let me be the first then to ask the Library Board this question: Do we want our children exposed to a book that includes obscenities like the following?

1. Depictions of daughters getting their father drunk so they can seduce him in order to become pregnant with their own siblings? (Genesis 19:30-36).

2. Descriptions of a prostitute trading sex for a goat? (Genesis 38:13-24).

3. Suggestions that you have your friends killed if you want to sleep with their wives? (2 Samuel 11).

4. An encouragement to marry your half sister and then let her arrange for her maid to become your mistress? (Genesis 16 and 20).

5. A defense of slavery, so long as the slaves come from neighboring countries? (Leviticus 25:44).

6. The conditions for selling your daughter into slavery? (Exodus 21:7).

7. An insistence we kill any young entrepreneur who wants to deliver Sunday papers? (Exodus 35:2).

8. Forbidding playing football with the old pigskin? (Leviticus 11:6-8). 9. Shocking phrases like “She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose semen was like that of horses”? I mean, at what age is this appropriate? (Ezekiel 23:19-20).

10. Lurid language comparing your lover’s belly button to a goblet overflowing with wine and her breasts to fawns? (C’mon, fawns?) (Song of Songs, Chapter 7).

11. Communistic values like selling everything you own in order to subsidize the poor? (Matthew 19:21).

12. The claim that spiritual development is only possible when you learn to hate your parents, siblings, wife, and kids? (Luke 14:26).

13. And, finally, do we want anything on the shelves that teaches children to reduce matters of profound spiritual development to unanswerable, existential questions? (Ecclesiastes and Job).

I say nay! Let’s get it out of the hands of children immediately. In fact, let’s restrict access to those who can actually read the thing in the original Hebrew, Aramaic or koine Greek. OK, maybe we could allow people with classical (or even medieval) Latin to have a peek, too, but that’s it. Anyone without these skills would have to rely on politically warped translations into less accurate languages, like English, and might come up with all kinds of cockamamie interpretations. Some people might even cherry pick this dangerous book in order to justify imposing their own personal tastes, and beliefs, on their fellow citizens.

Thank heavens the Constitution protects us from letting things like that happen, even in our little town.

They won't even let *me* decide what should and shouldn't be in the library. Ahem.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Playing politics with health care.

Hi everyone,

It's now more important for conservative strategy to continue propagating our health care system than to do something good for everyone.

Oh wait, that's been true for 30 years.

Okay, what I meant to say was, here's the latest:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Texas May Bar Students from Learning About Cesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall

Is this where the "Safe Libraries" (sic) people want to take us?

Texas May Bar Students from Learning About Cesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall


West Bend finally going to the Dogs

Hi everyone,

New dog park is inbound.

Saturday's column:

It’s not a dog’s world, but West Bend’s getting better with new park

Two weeks ago we got an 8-month-old puppy from one of the local rescue groups. His papers say he’s a shepherd/beagle mix, but he looks like a Rottweiler that was left in the dryer too long. He’s a mutt.

I haven’t owned a dog for some years and the last week has been a refresher course on municipal ordinances and doggie etiquette. There are obvious courtesies like don’t let your dog jump on people, teach him to sit down when cyclists or other pedestrians pass you and always keep your pooch on a leash when in public. But two concerns in particular outweighed all the others: 1) your plastic poop bag must be visible at all times and 2) you can’t walk your dog in the city parks.

The visibility of the poop bag is not a mystery. During the first week of dog walks we just stuffed a couple of plastic shopping bags in our pockets. Big mistake. When you walk past people out in their yards, and neglect to display your plastic poop bag, homeowners give you the evil eye. I should have known better because I do this, too.

Even with lots of responsible dog owners in the city, when I go out walking I still run into poop-o-plenty littering the parkways and trails. It’s terrificly annoying. I mean, the ethics of dog ownership are pretty clear – the dog doesn’t know it has to clean up after itself. That’s the owner’s job. So when I see people walking their dogs, the first thing I look for is The Pooper Bag of Responsible Dog Ownership. If I don’t see it, my first (and uncharitable) thought is, “that guy doesn’t care where his dog poops. I wonder if the cops could ticket him.”

Last week I called to check on the fines. Cost for not picking up your dog’s poop? First offense: $172. Second offense: $266.50! That’s what it means to say that “every litter bit hurts.”

Solution: Be sure to pick up after your dog and be sure to let that bag hang out of your back pocket so it’s visible at all time. It’s amazing how much comfort it gives the neighbors.

A more mysterious restriction is that no dogs are allowed in West Bend city parks (although they are allowed on the Eisenbahn Trail and in Washington County Parks).

I’d love to run with the pooch through Regner or along the Riverwalk, but there are signs everywhere referencing municipal ordinance 20.02 7 (a). The rule actually states that you can’t walk dog, cat, “fowl or other domesticate animal within a park.” I have friends who walk their cat, but I’ve never seen anyone walking their duck in West Bend. Still, it wouldn’t be in the ordinance unless someone had tried it.

The fine for walking dogs in the park is cheaper, for some reason, than letting your dog poop without cleaning it up. The first offense for walking your dog through a city park costs $121.60; a second offense runs $172, in line with the fines for littering and, my favorite from this section of the municipal code 20.02 section 8, annoying people in the park by playing Frisbee. Usurp any park area “to the exclusion peril or injury to others,” and it’ll cost you $172.

Fortunately for all of us dog owners, the Common Council amended the No Animals in the Park Ordinance back in March to allow dog walking “within a park designated by the city as a dog park” – which brings us to this happy ending: West Bend could get a dog park, the first real one in Washington County.

Scheduled to open in Spring 2010, it will be located off of 18th Avenue just south of Highway 45. The city will develop 30 acres of the 40-acre property with nature and hiking trails. Ten acres will make up the proposed dog park.

K9 Friends of West Bend, the folks who made this possible, worked with the parks department and the common council to reach an agreement that made everybody happy. The dog park fences and everything inside, including mowing, picking up, maintaining the way-stations (with pooper scooper supplies, etc.) and benches, will be paid for through donations. The council votes Monday to approve the agreement.

The president of the group said they’ve had nothing but positive comments since starting the process. Most people have said “it’s about time!” For more information on how you might help out, contact them at the group at the Web site:


I know... I've been too nice lately. Next week, let's finally act responsibly and ask for the Bible to be removed from public access in the public library.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reefer madness continues in the 2009 Wisconsin Assembly

Hi everyone,

A little choppy this week, I thought, but there was too much interesting material about hemp history and production so I just kitchen-sinked the thing -- plus, I managed to sneak the word "oeuvre" past my editor.

So, why aren't we growing hemp again?

Oh yeah.


Saturday's column.

Reefer madness continues in the 2009 Assembly

Now that the state budget is put to bed, tossing and turning and trying to figure out whether it’s a dream or a nightmare, other bills are smoldering in the capital. One bill in particular caught my attention while I was churning through the history of Wisconsin agriculture for a class I’m teaching this fall. Assembly Bill 206 creates a committee to study the uses of industrial hemp. (An apology to hopeful students: the course will include bioregional capitalism but will not be hemp specific.)

Hemp, it turns out, is an old and profitable Wisconsin industry. Wisconsin led the nation in industrial hemp production into the 1950s with mills across the state, including Beaver Dam, Hartford and Juneau. Nationally, hemp was always an important crop: George Washington grew hemp, early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were printed on paper made from hemp, the first U.S. flag was sewn from hemp, the first pair of Levi’s was made from hemp fiber and Henry Ford intended his Model-T to run on ethanol which, until the 1930s, had hemp as a major feedstock. (Thanks to Fortenbery and Bennett’s Agricultural & Applied Economics Staff paper for the details).

Seriously: Betsy Ross, Henry Ford, and Levis? What’s not to love?

Love is fickle. Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs and alcohol. One of our earliest, and most American, tax insurrections was the Whiskey Rebellion and yet, in 1919, we also passed the 18th Amendment.

Prohibition, however, was a straight jacket we quickly learned to unbuckle, often with the assistance of a mysterious woman named Mary Jane, a favorite companion, we’re told, of all those 1930s jazz musicians. The Marihuana Tax Act, passed in 1937, placed all cannabis under control of the U.S. Treasury Department and hemp, an innocent bystander, got caught in the same dragnet of purity designed to arrest marijuana, its naughtier sister.

Today, the ban on hemp is easier to understand as part of a reflexive, irrational, post-Prohibition fear of marijuana use. A delightfully weird artifact of this national freak-out is, of course, the movie “Reefer Madness.” Released a year before passage of the Marihuana Tax Act, it remains, along with the cinematic oeuvre of Ed Woods, one of the great cult movies of the pre-Rocky Horror Show era.

Netflix it.

Trust me.

The problem, of course, is that hemp contains tiny levels of THC, marijuana's active ingredient. Hemp usually rolls in with THC levels around 0.3 percent while medical marijuana, the kind with enough kick to produce an effect, starts at 1 percent and runs all the way to 20 percent. In a nutshell even though you’d have to smoke a field of hemp to get high, the plants are legally identical.

Hemp industry advocates typically employ an analogy to illustrate how stupid the law is. They note that, in order to protect us from the dangers of rabid St. Bernards the government has banned Chihuahuas since, after all, they’re both dogs. Marijuana is the St. Bernard and hemp is the Chihuahua.

So, you can’t really get high from the stuff plus there are some important industrial advantages over other crops. Hemp can be grown for food, fuel, and fiber – its seeds are rich in protein and amino acids, but also produce an oil that can be converted into biodiesel.

Hemp has roughly four times the biomass potential of corn. Corn, we should remember, is subsidized for the corn-based ethanol industry (to the tune of $7 billion in 2006) and consumes more energy from fossil fuels than it yields. Moreover, with a nod to your 501s, hemp produces more fiber and uses half the irrigation water and nitrogen fertilizer that cotton does. Car manufacturers are even using it to strengthen and lighten new plastics.

The economics of large scale cultivation remain largely untested but Canadian hemp production, begun as an experiment in 2001, grew from 3,200 acres to 48,000 acres by 2006. A 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture report suggested that Wisconsin could field as many as a million acres of hemp for paper production.

This same bill has died in committee in previous years but there is no good reason not to look into this potential resource more carefully. America is the world’s only industrialized nation to prohibit growing industrial hemp, even though the World Trade Organization and the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements all recognize industrial hemp as a legitimate crop.

In Wisconsin, we have AB 206. In Washington, Rep. Ron Paul introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009 to amend the Controlled Substances Act and exclude hemp from the definition of marijuana. That could start the ball rolling nationally.

There are still plenty of questions, but until we start looking into them, we can’t know what the answers, and opportunities, might be.

Bad puns left out of the newspaper version: jokes about a hemp bill smoldering in Madison, rolling up a doobie and rolling up one's sleeves, and a kind of wicked shot at a Wisconsin politician -- a Republican -- who introduced a medical marijuana law a few years ago, after opposing the very idea, because one of his relatives got cancer and 'needed' it.

And so on. Most of you probably wrote your own as you passed bye the obvious rimshots.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

No patriotism without potlucks.

Hi everyone,

And now for some hilariously ironic karma embodied in a screw up by the Daily News.

This week's column was attributed to Owen Robinson -- who notes the mix up in his blog, but whose byline and picture accompanied the column in both the print and electronic versions.

The editor assured me they'd reprint it on Tuesday with the correct attribution. I'll include the link then.

I'd love the idea of Owen actually mentioning the Federalist Papers now and again, but I suspect that'll never happen. We can, of course, always hope.

In the meantime...

No patriots without potlucks

Two wildly different ideas lit some fireworks in my head last week while making plans for a Fourth of July potluck. First, I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s latest book, “In Defense Of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” where he lays out a menu of dangers from our increasing dependence on the convenience of fast food and asks one critical question: “whatever happened to real food?” Second, every year around The Fourth, as the media unfurl a sickly sweet nostalgia for an imaginary “good old days” – like red, white, and blue bunting to camouflage pressing national problems – I’m haunted by John Prine’s Vietnam-era song “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” For the last decade we’ve been fighting wars overseas, and each other, over childish ideological disputes which encourage a kind of patriotism that, once carefully examined, is as thin – and long lasting – as a bumper sticker.

There’s a useful analogy here between the danger and addiction of fast food and the danger and addiction of flag-decal patriotism.

Like Pollan, I’d like to ask “whatever happened to real patriotism?” Like Pollan, I think the answer is that real patriotism has been replaced with a sugary substitute, packaged by media-savvy political parties to tickle our taste buds with lab-tested catch phrases, but with the nutritional value of a Twinkie. We’ve reduced patriotism from a meal to a snack: from something requiring time to cook, consume and appreciate, to something that takes the edge off your hunger without satisfying your real nutritional, or political, needs.

As a nation, we seem to have developed a taste for the glucose-saturated thrill of television commentators who parade their passionate commitment to a set of “values” as if a passionate commitment were the same thing as the inconvenient but more satisfying work of determining whether those values are the right ones. These guys don’t have political values; they have political tastes.

(For more information on the nutritional content and daily requirements of our political system, see James Madison’s Federalist paper No. 10. It’s a little chewy but it’s better for you than broccoli.)

So how do we kick this habit? When it comes to fast food, Pollan offers two pieces of deceptively simple advice: 1) eat more meals together and 2) don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. This is good advice politically as well as gastronomically.

Healthy patriotism needs a healthy nation, a healthy nation needs healthy communities, and healthy communities need healthy families – the wellspring from which all human civilization emerges. And what’s the centerpiece of all family life?

It’s the kitchen table.

Sharing a meal is how we first learn to get along with each other. It’s where children are socialized and, I hope, civilized. Table manners are the beginning of all manners, manners are the beginning of civility and civility is the beginning of self-governance.

Of course, you can survive without civility at the table, or in politics, but no one likes eating – or politicking – that way for long. It’s exhausting and it ruins what should be a terrifically pleasant and satisfying experience.

I think a healthy political diet is analogous to a good potluck. Everyone brings something a little different to the table. The dishes are prepared with other people in mind. Everyone tries a little bit of everything that looks good, while tolerating all the unfamiliar stuff plunked down on the table by those vegan cousins from California or by that uncle who lived in India during the ’60s. Most of all, you remain polite when you accidentally grab a scoop of something you hate. You may well ask yourself why some lunatic brought lime Jello mixed with shredded carrots and tuna fish – but you don’t say anything impolite; not because you’re not right about the Jello, but because indulging your indignation at a potluck with family or neighbors makes you into a boorish thug who won’t, and shouldn’t, be invited to any more potlucks.

So, this weekend, as we celebrate the nation’s birthday, remember that you’re actually sharing this meal of independence with friends and neighbors. Bring a dish your grandma would recognize as real food: liberty and justice for all, freedom that means accepting responsibility, respect for the rule of law. Remember to chew. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Say please and thank you. Offer to help with the clean up. Enjoy the day.

And one final reminder: Fourth of July fireworks are the dessert, not the meal.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Red Alert! Library Board meets legally: Part Deux.

Hi everyone,

The Daily News reports that, following the Red Alert: Library Board Meets Legally! warning from our colleague Owen Robinson over at Boots and Sabers, and the remarkably quick -- and adolescent -- diatribe from from Mark Belling ....

-- nothing happened.

The library board checked the city attorney's legal ruling with a second attorney at no cost to anyone, and now it's back to business as usual.

And for this Senor Belling puts on a little insulin crash for us? Nice. Maybe it's too much sugar in his diet.

Here's an excerpt from the The Daily News report:
Schanning’s e-mail also pointed out that it was inappropriate for a city official to publicly release an internal email she wrote June 15, which appeared verbatim later that same day on the Boots and Sabers blog run by Owen Robinson, a Daily News columnist.

That e-mail was sent to Library Board trustees, Tyree, Mayor Kristine Deiss and the Common Council aldermen. Making that e-mail public violated attorney-client privilege, Schanning said.

The June 17 e-mail, which discussed the Library Board’s June 18 special meeting agenda, was sent by Schanning at 2:32 p.m. It appeared on the Boots and Sabers blog at 9 p.m. that same day, then was picked up by at least one other local blog, and by a Milwaukee radio personality June 18.
So, some naughty new member of the library board wasn't only Owen's snitch, but actually violated attorney-client privilege. Good thing whoever it is has friends like Messrs. Robinson and Belling. I'm sure they'll put up bail.

I guess the real lesson for our young people is that it is possible to go off half-cocked, insult people you don't know, make claims about social and economic structures without any experience or education, and still get paid a lot of money to do all of this on TV -- or start thinking about running for political office.


Abstinence based education's Main Accomplishment: unsafe sex.

One of my bugaboos with fundamentalist, Old Testament, Christianity.

Unprotected Sex: Abstinence Education's Main Accomplishment

For more data and less preaching, check The Guttmacher Institute.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009