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Scott Walker: Bad for Teachers and Other Living Things

Posted in Education / Schools, Events / Celebrations, Politics on February 18, 2011 by eposognatus

Wisconsin is open for Business! So says Scott Walker in his campaign ads and in response to criticism to his increasingly criticized proposals. So far as one can tell, it is open for business, but only if you swear to cling to a fossil-fuel economy, reject proven, efficient technologies, and want to turn back the clock on worker’s rights about 100 years.

All this week in Madison, tens of thousands have been protesting Walker’s “budget repair bill.” You have likely heard that this proposal will increase the amount state employees must pay towards their pensions and healthcare, and this is what many on the right have made all the fuss out to be over. However, the bill would also strip these workers of their collective bargaining rights. You remember collective bargaining, right? That little thing that brought us the weekend and a decent wage?

The events of this week in Madison have played out in extraordinary sequence. A brief timeline to summarize:

Friday, 11th February, 2011: Walker introduces his Budget Repair Bill

The plan calls for cuts to 175,000 state employees, including teachers, nurses, and prison guards… but not Police or Fire personnel (who supported him heavily in elections…).

Walker also announces he has alerted the Wisconsin National Guard, and that they are “prepared to respond wherever is necessary.” He declares that he has every confidence that state employees will continue to show up for work and do their jobs. But he says he’s been working on contingency plans for months just in case they don’t.

Walker says he’s not anticipating any problems…

Sunday, 13th: Protests begin in Horicon.

Monday, 14th: Students and Teachers begin protests state-wide. 400 Gather at capitol for nightime vigil.

Tuesday, 15th: Teachers hold a sick-out. 40% (~1040) of Madison area teachers and staff call out and schools are closed. Teachers and students protest. 3,000 fill the capitol rotunda and an additional 10,000 fill the capitol square. Hundreds testify during 17 hours of public hearings.

Wednesday, 16th: Crowds swell to a reported 30,000. Schools remain closed.

Thursday, 17th: All fourteen Democratic senators walk-out, leaving the senate without a quorum and unable to place a vote on the bill, stalling it. Walker’s attempts to round them up with the State Highway Patrol are foiled when it’s later discovered they’ve left the state entirely. Walker declares he will not concede on collective bargaining.

Friday, 18th: Obama called Walker’s bill “an assault on unions.” Walker tells Obama to mind his own business, saying on Fox News Friday morning, “It would be wise for the president and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budget, which they are a long ways from doing.”

Many here feel this to be a historic moment. Not only because protests of this magnitude have not been seen here in some thirty years, but also because of the unity they represent. Many have joined the protests to support those who cannot go themselves for fear of reprimand or loss of their job. Parents, children, friends. All have come to engage in a clear demonstration of direct Democratic process, which Walker and other state Republicans continue to condescendingly refer to as “disappointing” and “disrespectful,” pointing out how they of course responsibly “showed up for work today” while so many others couldn’t be bothered. Last we checked, Walker’s healthcare was pretty secure, and he probably doesn’t need to worry too much about his bargaining rights.

Walker calls to Democrats to return to session “Out of respect for the institution of the Legislature and the democratic process” yet it is the Democratic process he and his cronies seek to destroy. His threats to use the National Guard to put down rebellion are particularly distasteful, in light of past clashes in this country.

Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member, Iraq War Veteran from Appleton, WI says: “Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet – but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent. The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the Governor is about to cross.”

We must also asks ourselves, as one protester’s sign does, “Can the National Guard teach Organic Chemistry?”

Oh, baby, now you’re such a drag.

Posted in Cooperatives / Communities / Networks / Travels, Sustainability on December 21, 2010 by eposognatus

The aisles of Target and their ilk, replete with inexpensive imported tripe, purchased predominately by svelte young women in yoga pants, all quite fine to behold, but leaving one feeling that too much plastic purchased portends a plastic soul.

Not so many miles away, in a small-town grocery, the aisles perhaps not so laden with “gourmet” or “premium” goods, but stacked with much more from not nearly so far away. The customers offer a rare and fascinating cross-section of a diverse people. A young man with gauged-out ears can be seen at the deli counter besides old women, who banter with the butcher just as does the hunter in his camo or the farmer in from his field, wearing wet and worn overalls and stinking of manure. Friends and neighbors meet here, and talk of life and love and dreams. Last night’s episode of that hit TV show… not so much.

It is for many in this country becoming an uncommon or even unknown scene, such that we think of it as some nostalgic view of the past, or representative of some quaint backwater. The rapidity of this change is staggering: “In Iowa the number of grocery stores with employees dropped by almost half from 1995 to 2005, from about 1,400 stores in 1995 to slightly over 700 just 10 years later. Meanwhile, “supercenter” grocery stores (Wal-Mart and Target, for example) increased by 175 percent in the 10-year period.“

Quaint backwaters do still exist, and ironically, may be more progressive than those enviro-conscious consumers at Target. They are closer in their habits and purchases to their fore-bearers, and though they may much more readily accept food presented in a can or box or plastic than their grandparents, they still tend to eat seasonally, buy locally, and recycle both materials and their money back to the community.

This isn’t strictly out of a sense of altruism, but more out of practicality. You can still (sometimes) find milk here in glass bottles not because the customer’s conscious shies away from plastic packaging, but because the dairyman can wash and re-use them. Products purchased directly from local farmers are less expensive and better tasting, if not always available. But to get one’s corn from the roadside farmstand, honey from a small home-based business, or anything not containing high-fructose corn-syrup is an arrangement often arrived at not by design, but through neglect. These places have been passed over by big box stores and national chain supermarkets as having insufficient economic density.

Many of us cannot imagine that any exit we take off the Interstate should not yield precisely the same array of stores as the last and the next. It is predictable, and that predictability is reassuring, in that we know what we’re getting (even if it isn’t particularly good for us). This isn’t a new phenomenon, as evidenced by a bit of dialogue from an episode of M*A*S*H (Out of Gas, 1972), in which Hawkeye Pierce checks in on a patient:

Hawkeye: Where are you from?
Patient: Idaville, Indiana. 
H: No kidding? Idaville?
P: Yeah. 
H: Ever go to the dances at the American Legion Hall there? 
P: Yeah, sure.
H: And, um… on the edge of town, there’s this little place… where you can get the world’s greasiest french fries. 
P: Right, Mona’s. – Yeah, yeah. 
H: And, uh, uh, what else? The Studebaker dealership, always has those search lights when they bring in new models. 
P: Hey, when were you in Idaville? 
H: Never. I grew up in the same small town in Maine. 

Rather than the predictable few, here the greasy spoon at the edge of town goes by many names, lending familiarity but not necessarily sameness. The menu is more or less the same, but each establishment is more reflective of its owners, clientele, and community. National chains deliberately look to avoid this, and, mistaking sameness for familiarity, plasticize the experience.

Maybe we’ve reached a point where we can only think of anything but what we know as that which others do, but not ourselves. Our nation is so hypocritically proud of its ethnic diversity yet always striving for utter culturally homogeneity. Perhaps it is unfashionable to think of more intimate and comfortable relations with our food suppliers, or it is has become so distant from our experience as to be unfathomable. Jane Jacobs, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities describes interactions that today seem somehow improbable, even fictional, as if the idealized world Norman Rockwell illustrated for us was founded on fantasy:

“The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts. It grows out of people stopping by at the bar for a beer, getting advice from the grocer and giving advice to the newsstand man, comparing opinions with other customers at the bakery and nodding hello to the two boys drinking pop on the stoop, hearing about a job from the hardware man and borrowing a dollar from the druggist…”

What she was telling us back in 1961 wasn’t strictly about the city, it was about the people in it and the communities they form. A city just happens to be a large community, but we don’t think of them that way because people in them rarely behave as one. Jacobs rightly spoke to this as founded in trust, and that all of the seemingly trivial interactions we have with one another build that trust. Without interaction, or interaction conducted solely in the name of “customer service,” we all keep our guard up even if behind a facade of friendliness.

So you can put a grocery in a small town, but you can’t necessarily put the small-town in the grocery.

And a hundred years ago we didn’t even need electricity.

Posted in Environmentalism, Sustainability on December 16, 2010 by eposognatus

A recent headline from The Guardian entitled “Fox News chief enforced climate change scepticism” reveals a leaked email demonstrating an official policy of denial disguised as even-handed newscasting. Aside from this mandated skepticism, you may have noted many others in your daily life (or are one yourself) who debate the reality of “climate change.” Such articles invariably produce a slew of comments for and against, with few in-between, each side thinking the other absolutely mad, in much the same manner that only topics of religion seem to inflame. And really, we can treat both subjects similarly, in that the answer itself really doesn’t matter.

Yes, truly, for whether climate change is occurring, or if God exists or does not, does not matter. What matters is the question, and how we choose to approach it. I believe that religion or faith are not required for one to act in a moral manner, and neither should belief in climate change be required to behave responsibly. Nearly everyone agrees that we should have clean air, pure water, and fertile soil, but few are those who act to maintain such. Sadly, far too few. Nearly all of us – myself included – are part of the problem, and minimizing how big a problem we are should be our goal. A particular affliction of my countrymen is an overwhelming lassitude to take any action which infringes upon perceived comfort, though this nearly always means a change from the status quo rather than any real inconvenience. And, as Doctor Horrible so eloquently stated, the status is not… quo.

What is most confounding are those who simply regard environmentalism in general and climate change in particular as some sort of liberal scam, invariably having the objective of taking one’s money and forcing us to drive smaller cars. We may debate the means by which we get there, but how is it even sane to think of cleaning up our air, earth, and water as a “scam?” There are those who point to wind and solar and say “well, they can never meet all our energy needs” which by their reasoning makes them useless. So, rather than do something – anything – we should do nothing? I might liken this to a life-threatening illness which one treatment may not cure, but against which several in combination may work, or at least have a chance. Do you take the chance to live, whatever the cost? Or do you allow the affliction to consume your body until you suffer a horrifically miserable death?

“Their” answer, by the way, is almost always nuclear or “clean coal,” which are a physical and metaphorical cancer themselves.

The saying is an old one, but we all share the air we breathe. This is true, and so we logically have made certain we have the capacity to pollute it all equally well. While there are some 800 million operational automobiles worldwide, this does not even begin to account for the emissions of aircraft, industry, and energy production. In fact, nearly all figures on annual global emissions neatly avoid those produced by military operations, which can be staggering. Officially, the US Military consumes 340,000 barrels of oil per day. That’s 14,280,000 gallons. Every day. Each soldier is responsible for about 16 gallons each day. This works out to around 1.4 million tons of CO2 – or the annual emissions about 194,000 Toyota Camrys. Every day. This doesn’t include emissions from non-petroleum sources such as rocket propellant or explosives nor does it hint at chemical and radiological contamination from weapons systems and nuclear propulsion.

For most, these figures are meaningless. The only thing that matters is that when they get to the pump, they can fill up their tank and keep driving, keep consuming, keep polluting, and keep complaining to their co-workers about their “over-priced” fuel. Honestly, there is no price too high. Gasoline is one of the cheapest liquids you can buy. Never considered this? Take a look at your grocery bill next time you go shopping and see that milk, sports drinks, olive oil, laundry detergent… even water are all more expensive, and some many times over.

These numbers may also not impress you because you believe that humans are not causing climate change (or that it’s not occurring to begin with). So let us assume for a moment that the generally held view of the scientific community – that CO2 is a major agent in climate change – is false, or that it’s not taking place at all… CO2 emissions have no effect on the climate, and humans are not affecting the atmosphere through its production. Well, CO2 is merely one product of combustion, and the others aren’t all that particularly nice to inhale. If you disagree with this then you are welcome to go sleep in your garage tonight with your precious car running.

It is quite clear to me that the only effective means by which to drive the American consumer is through their wallet. While the Government tends to agree with this thinking it prefers to rely on rebates and incentives, tax breaks or refunds. Not good enough – these usually require paperwork and take time and few are responsible enough or can read well enough to take advantage of them. They would simply prefer to purchase the cheapest crap available to them. Corporations resist government limitations or standards, and individuals decry such actions as moving against their freedoms. Freedom to recklessly consume and endanger not only themselves but billions of others, and that is where we come to issue. Presently, I pay a premium on my electric bill to ensure that I am purchasing and supporting energy from renewable sources through the Second Nature program. This is backwards. Conventional energy production should cost a premium, and the balance used to subsidize startup and operational costs for new renewable sources. Still, we must start somewhere, and I’m voting with my wallet.

For an example of how un-quo the status is, take a look at this clip from The Age of Stupid. In it, wind-farm developer Piers Guy has his proposed fifteen-turbine project rejected by local opposition group CLOWD. It sounds like a bad Saturday-morning cartoon organization of villains, and they certainly act the part.

Way to Throw (at) A Birthday Party

Posted in Arts (Design & Performance) on April 27, 2010 by eposognatus

Often, though we desire a thing for ourselves, we’ve little reason to create it for that reason alone. It takes the spirit and joy of another to bring that thing into creation, and when this exuberance takes hold it works one’s hands just as deftly as if in a fit of our own creative passion, though with a strange blindness to the desires of self.

This piece came into being as if of its own will, to be given to another and never destined for any other purpose. It was remarkable how each scrap from which it was made came together, as if all intended. It is always a delight to serve as the midwife to such a simple delivery.

Materials: Wood (cherry), antler, artificial sinew, leather.
Fibreglass fencing poles, leather.

A Blind Hammer Destroys What It Cannot See

Posted in Film Reviews, Military, Sustainability with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2010 by eposognatus

This week President Obama announced a proposal for a three-year spending freeze on all domestic programmes, with the sole exception of defense spending. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) precisely echoes my feelings on this, saying “Defense represents a significant part of our discretionary spending in this country. The defense establishment needs to be under fiscal discipline, as do all of our agencies… I don’t think defense should be exempt. If there are extraordinary things that occur that require us to respond for national security, we always will be prepared to do that. But to exempt the normal military spending just because it’s military, to me, is wrong.”

The idea that the military and actions conducted by it or in the name of defense should take ultimate precedent over all others is both pervasive and baffling. Senator Cardin was being modest when he said that defense accounts for a “significant” part of discretionary spending, as it is in fact a majority. According to the Office of Management and Budget, military spending comes to about $657 B for 2009, as compared to $584 B on all other non-defense discretionary spending. For perspective, $45.4 B went to the Department of Education, the DOE got $25 B, NASA received $17.2 B and the National Science Foundation… $6.9 B. We can perhaps agree that yes, the military is an expensive machine, and that these costs do not pay solely for guns and bombs, but the livelihoods and careers of thousands of men and women. There is also arguable benefit in national defense, peacekeeping, disaster relief, and other causes…

However, can these pursuits not be met through other, non-military means? I think the answer is a simple and emphatic “yes.” Yet there seems to be a long-standing and strongly socially enforced attitude that the military in some way is privileged to remain faultless and unanswerable even when its function is questionable or ineffective. It is perfectly accepted to put a sticker on one’s car stating that a son or daughter is in military service, but to proclaim “My son is a scientist,” invites confusion if not ridicule.

This is merely a prelude to a question that I have pondered increasingly of late. That if one browses television programming, there can be found a number of highly dramatic, over-the-top “edutainment” shows devoted to the military, warfare, weapons, and combat. There is of course a “Military History” channel, and popular shows go by names like “Future Weapons” and “Deadliest Warrior,” while in contrast the NASA channel features exciting offerings like “STS-130 Crew News Conference” and “ISS Mission Coverage.” Which titles do you figure will draw the attention of the average viewer at home? I think it’s clear, and it’s also undeniable that we all enjoy a good explosion or demonstration of the destructive capabilities of the human species. It’s fun and somehow liberating to see such carnage, but it is invariably dissociated from the suffering, pain, and death they are designed to inflict.

The decision to create shows on certain topics, what their titles are, and their content are all choices. Almost invariably, these choices are made to generate profit, but I am not convinced that these choices are made to meet a market demand. Rather, I feel that the programming drives a market. The reality TV genre is evidence of this, and so to are many products (when did we last have input on the type of car that should be built by GM?). Governments and corporations alike have at their disposal the best and brightest designers and marketeers, and spend a lot of time and effort making sure we buy what they sell. If the same energies were put towards selling science and exploration, I cannot see why the latest developments in aerospace technology, bio-engineering, or space exploration could not be topics of conversation around the water cooler just as much as “American Idol.”

This may sound hopelessly romantic, naïve… even absurd. However, we are faced with an interesting pop culture phenomenon which shows it is not. James Cameron’s Avatar is now closing in on $2 B in box offices sales worldwide, and an ask around will show you this is not because of the story, or the even the spiffy 3-D effects, but because we have been presented with a coherent, believable new world to explore and discover. A new people, a new language – a new frontier. A frontier reached through technological means (whether through spaceflight as in the film, or through new film-making techniques, as in the theatre), yet presenting a world of natural beauty and celebrating its divinity and defense. For some, the excitement of this new world will not extend beyond their 160 minutes of entertainment, for others, it may be a life-changing phenomenon. Some even experience depression at returning to their “ordinary” existence. This needn’t be so, for the wonders of Pandora are real and all around us, and we still have a chance to explore and preserve them. Avatar and its success shows us that people do yearn for other worlds, and that when presented properly, they will gladly empty their wallets to explore them. Why can we not mimic this enthusiasm for reality, which is not so very different when put into the proper light?

In the 1972 film Silent Running, As in Avatar, the Earth is a blighted, ruined place, and here the last of the planet’s trees have been put aboard spacecraft to preserve them. While back on Earth there is “hardly any more disease, no more poverty, [and] nobody’s out of job.” The main character Lowell is incensed by the lassitude of the rest of the crew, saying, “Well you know what else there’s no more of? There’s no more beauty, and there’s no more imagination, and there are no frontiers left to conquer, and you know why? Only one reason why! One reason why! The same reason you three in this room are giving me today, and that is, nobody cares!

Like Lowell’s shipmates, many of us are content to sit back and watch what TV execs think we want, purchase goods from corporations who think they know what we desire, and eat foods with no other care than that it is cheap and easy. We accept that the government will spend more money on the military than our education, and for the most part, do not even concern ourselves about it. Whether 1972 or 2009, the message is the same – the wealth of our world is all around us, and it is worth fighting for. Where might we be if we were as financially committed to destroying cancer as we are to combating “terrorism”? What if we glorified blasting off into space as much as we did blasting holes in the ground of Iraq and Afghanistan? Or in saving lives instead of destroying them? While money cannot solely provide the answer to these questions, it certainly doesn’t hurt, and taking funding away from already paltry budgets of non-military research and development is inexcusable. It may be difficult to see how any one of us can make a difference, but remember, none of us are as dumb as all of us.

Yes, that Peter Schickele.

Na’vi Inspired Dagger

Posted in Arts (Design & Performance) with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2010 by eposognatus

Cordite made a Moose Antler Dagger and sheath:

JRR Tolkien and War

Posted in Book Reports, Medieval Tavern, Memorials / Obituaries / Epitaphs, SCOD Fallout Projects, Spiritual with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2009 by eposognatus

While war and glory often go hand-in-hand in fantasy, the reality is – as Tolkien knew far too well himself – vastly different. We have the great fortune to be able to pursue our recreation in peace and without fear of true harm, but let us not forget that the weapons we may carry and their manner of use were devised not for fun, but for brutal and efficient killing. Few who walk upon the field of glory find it, and many do not walk back off at all.

“Wars are always lost, and War always goes on…” -J.R.R. Tolkien

“[Sam] was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil at heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace.” -Ibid