Are you part of this kakistocracy?

Because Anne Althouse was watching the spelling bee, I now know that The Raconteurs weren't just just making up words. Wikipedia:
Rule by the least-able or least-principled of citizens, is a form of government in which the people least qualified to control the government are the people who control the government.

That's so Madison!

I still liked the word better when I thought it referred to rule by people who wear khaki pants.

New Orleans - Randoms

Now that I've returned, I hope to post a few thoughts on more specific topics about New Orleans, its culture, and its recovery.


"Busted Flat in Baton Rouge" or Where I Go From Here

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train
And I's feelin' near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained
It rode us all the way into New Orleans...

It's raining here in the French Quarter tonight - a gentle, relaxing rain that mirrors my state of mind at the tailend of a whirlwind excursion to The Big Easy. After many months, I finally have some certainty about my next step.

This August, I'll find a carpetbag, pack up the laptop, and head south to attend Tulane Law School here in New Orleans.

It's an exciting prospect. I look forward to starting my life anew in a city that is doing likewise. I think I have found a place as idiosyncratic, as eccentric, as lively, as haunted, as unique as I am. Katrina, as one Bourbon Street saxophone player noted last night, was a bitch. But floods leave fertile ground when they recede, and so I think I will plant myself in this peculiar little spot for a few years and see what opportunities surprise me.

And, if nothing else, it will be one hell of an interesting cockpit to blog from. Live music. Live oaks. Live nudes. Live catch of the day. Laissez le bon temps roulette.

Tulane Law School itself looks promising. It's a top 50 law school with a nationwide reputation that has, if anything, been enhanced by Katrina. It places grads around the country. The building itself is nice and centrally located on campus. The Uptown neighborhoods seem livable. The unviersity abuts the great green expanse of Audubon Park, as well as the St. Charles Avenue Cable Car (when it resumes service this fall), which makes for a short ride into downtown and the French Quarter. And, if Wikipedia is to be believed, Tulane is the only American university to transition from a public to a private institution.

Admittedly, I think Bucky Badger could take Green Wave mascot, Riptide the Pelican, anyday.

Having only been in New Orleans briefly once in 2003, I wanted to make sure it was a good fit, hence the extended weekend foray. And it is. From my runs and ramblings, I know there are still many portions of the city in dire need of revitalization and repair.

Yet even with all those who left as a result of Katrina, new people are swirling in as of late, smelling not just the odor of occasional rot, but the scent of excitement. The new Loyola theater professor I had dinner with by complete chance. The bartender at Oceana in the Rue Conti. The bookseller at Faulkner's old lodgings in Pirate's Alley. My Pakistani cabbie. It's a heady sensation that counterweights the blue tarp roofs and street corner rubble piles.

I'm eager to dig into New Orleans, much as I did with Madison. My interval year after graduation has been memorable. I've worked as field director on a state senate campaign, legislative aide at the state capitol, restaurant host, freelance writer, law firm messenger, and street musician. I made new friends. I've avoided debt. I've seen some great shows. I've become more physically fit. I've changed in a number of ways for the better.

At the same time, the year framed many of the darkest periods and moments of my life. Suffice it to say, I am glad to be moving beyond them. And some of their underlying causes.

So, as droplets closed the day's curtain on the palms of Jackson Square, I sat contentedly in the warm air at Cafe du Monde near the Mississippi, powdered sugar from beignets scattered as if the place was awash with Columbian smugglers, digesting my jambalaya and Abita beer over a cafe au lait, reading Faulkner's Mosquitoes, which described not only the very square I looked upon, but also education:

"I don't think it hurts you much, except to make you unhappy and unfit for work, for which man was cursed by the gods before they had learned about education. And if it were not education, it would be something else just as bad, and perhaps worse. Man must fill his time some way, you know."

Perhaps. And so it seems I will fill mine here, an entrancing place, a place where even the most cynical, the most dour of observations are muffled by the veiled tinge of a smirk on the speaker's face and the wry gleam in the eye as a tiny lizard climbs the wet wrought iron railing, echoes of a brass band slipping in from down the street.

So, to answer the infernal, nagging question of questions, I'm going to Tulane for law school. I'm going to New Orleans. And I'm grinning to think of it.

We'll see what this means for the blog; likely only good things. More posts from the Crescent City if I get the chance.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Where Am I?

Photo Bleg

So, I've been snapping a wealth of photos lately...too many to share efficiently on the blog or facebook, but still worth sharing.

Any recommendations for online photo-sharing sites?

I love Picassa's offline features, but haven't tried the web albums, which supposedly align well with blogger. I'm not sure if all my photos are quite Flickr-worthy (although maybe that would force me to cull pictures). And then there's Snapfish, Ofoto, and Photobucket...but I don't want any gimmicks.


Do President Bush's new sanctions mean anything if Chinese companies are still allowed to trade with and support the Bashir government?

I doubt it:

Chinese companies have developed a reputation for going where others won't because of political, environmental or ethical concerns, or because profit margins are too slim. State-owned companies in China, analysts say, have the ability to forgo short-term profits in pursuit of the government's long-term strategic interests.

China's oil interests in Sudan run deep.

The Scholarly Side

Of Facebook.


A Few Pictures from Today

Congrats, Hodags!

The University of Wisconsin men's ultimate frisbee team, the Hodags, took top national honors, led by Callahan Award winner Dan Heijmen:

Early on at the 2007 UPA College Championships Open final, it looked like Colorado would be the first team all weekend to challenge a dominant Wisconsin team. In the end, however, the Hodags were too tough for Mamabird, as Wisconsin cruised to a 15-7 victory.

Dan was in a small creative writing course with me a few years back. He was always notably positive, something that no doubt translated well on the field.

Oh. Don't know what a hodag is? Here. It's pure lumberjack Wisconsinalia.

Greenhouse Effect


Chris Garneau Show - Madison, Wisconsin

God, what a show. Chris Garneau knows how to shut down a room.

It was impossible not be riveted to the stage at the front of Cafe Monmartre last night as singer-songwriter Chris Garneau whisper-crooned his way through a distinctive, sterling set on piano, backed by not one, but two cellists and a jack of all trades on drums and harmonium.

The audience, not too large, not too small, ate it up. Every song was tightly crafted, as characteristically and catchily "Garneau," much as a Billy Joel or Elton John piece belongs indisputably to its author. It was open, it was honest, it was mesmerizing. Even when called back enthusiastically for an encore - only to stumble - Garneau's candor bridged the gap.

You could almost hear heartstrings snapping as people called out to help. And Garneau proceeded to nail the closing with "Halloween." It was almost as good as his rendition of my favorite, "Baby's Romance" or the spine-tingling "Not Nice." Or even, sitting behind his eccentric lampshade, his strange, short tune that appeared to be a shout-out to Jeffrey Dahmer.

At one point, someone's Oasis ringtone went off and it was as if someone was interrupting an eloquent lecture. Or inexucusably destroying the silence in a church. Garneau held the evening under a spell. People at my table agreed that if a night timeline of appropriate music is divided into courses like a multi-course meal, Garneau is the final item to be served.

It was great to see Chris again. I met him randomly several years back on a flight into LaGuardia. Yesterday, I ran into him before the show outside Monmartre as I was carring my accordion back from the farmers' market. After the show, he said he was thinking of heading down to Paul's Club for a drink. One of the cellists said the crew was driving overland to Seattle starting today. Yikes. And good luck.

Madison blogger and show organizer Kyle Pfister was making the rounds of the cafe during the show. He deserves all the kudos he can get. In fact, go out and plant a field of praise, harvest it, put it in bushel baskets and place at his electronic doorstep. The venue was perfect. The opening band, Track a Tiger, wasn't terrible. And an incomparable musician put on one hell of show, saying Madison is a city he'd like to come back to...


Madison After Midnight

More from Steve S's epic farewell shindig later...


Defeat still being snatched from the jaws of victory

Boy, they just can't seem to get this Union referendum thing straight:
In October, UW-Madison students voted to increase student fees to pay for the projects, but construction won't move forward unless the state issues $126.2 million in bonds, Wisconsin Union Director Mark Guthier said Thursday.

Plagued by hypocrisy and opposition from all sides, the beast just couldn't get off the ground. It looks like this is one bird that's going to stay flightless for a little while longer.

What Memorial Day is all about

Memorial Day has become known as the unofficial start of summer and a chance to cookout and enjoy a long weekend.

That isn't why we have the day off though.

We have the day off to honor all those who gave their lives in service to our nation. This holiday is a day of remembrance and reflection. We should take time on Monday to think about what the more than 1,090,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who died in wartime means to each of us. We also should take the time to remember those who, having survived war, are now no longer with us.

We must remember the men and women - most of whom were no older than those of us attending college - who fought bravely for their fellow comrades, and also for those they would never know or meet. The heroes who fought in World War II secured for us a world of freedom. The heroes of Korea and Vietnam stood firm to stop the onslaught and spread of an evil ideology like communism.

We must take the time to at the very least say thank you to our heroes. This holiday is not for me, I survived the war I fought, rather this holiday is for the ones who did not survive. It is for those who lie buried in the fields of France and the jungles of Vietnam.

This year, take a moment to remember those who fought a gave their lives for this nation. It is the very least we could do for them.

As Time Goes By

I've noticed Memorial Union Terrace chairs bear an uncanny resemblance to the chairs outside Rick's Cafe Americain in the movie Casablanca.

I thought the modern Terrace chairs looked similar, but the historic version from the Wisconsin Historical Society look even more alike.

I can't seem to find a solid picture or YouTube selection from the film showing the chairs alone outside Rick's. Humphrey Bogart always seems to be sitting anxiously in them, resplendent in white, smoking away like a chimney.

You can see a sliver of the top of one chair in the background of this still, though.


'Scansin Street Folk

Hey, if a beat-boxing flautist can hit it big, I suppose our funky trio with homemade drum, acoustic bass, and button accordion has a chance, too.

See you Saturdays at the Farmers' Market!

A Dangerous Dance with China

Thank you, Secretary Gates:

Gates said a new annual Pentagon assessment of China's military, due to be released on Friday, depicts "a country that has steadily devoted increasing resources to their military, that is developing some very sophisticated capabilities. Some of the capablities that are being developed are of concern."

In the wake of the rather lackluster U.S.-China trade summit, it's good to see some signaling from a Defense Department embroiled in a number of major issues. With all of the U.S. military irons in the fire worldwide, attention to China's martial rise has been less than adequate, as I've long argued.

Media attention in advance of the summit focused largely, and not surprisingly, on economic and trade issues. The Economist's cover story and a related piece at TIME put China front and center. Taking a firm stand on enforcing WTO obligations while maintaining the Sino-U.S. free trade relationship - critical to U.S. consumers - comes off as a reasonable stance:

The simple truth is that no one is forced to trade with China. As Bo Xilai, the minister of commerce, noted in responding to U.S. protectionist threats, “If they [American businesses] could not make money doing business with China, they would not have been doing it.”

Yet the military "externalities" of China's rapid growth should be of greatest concern. While the U.S. is still the world's largest manufacturer, China's economic dynamism puts its government coffers in a strong position to develop a long range military capability - this longer-range frigate, for example - while the U.S. is engaged in Iraq and staring down Iran. Taiwan, as always, provides convenient cover.

China's government, paragon of freedom that it is, may preside over an increasingly market-based economy, but its long term aims of regional and, I believe ultimately, world hegemony, put it on a strange course with America.

Economically, the U.S. and China are dancing together more closely than ever. And yet the embrace allows for a dagger to be raised even as Uncle Sam looks distractedly out across the rest of the dance floor.

Kudos to Secretary Gates, who forces us to glance warily back at our partner in the red dress.

Play The Black Keys

Because they sound so good, like a reincarnation of an old school gritty rock blues duo touring as hip, primitive grunge survivors.

Magic Potion has been in my player regularly...I might just have to hit up a show this summer, as they will be in the Twin Cities and Chicago on their circuit.

Get a "free live EP" online at the band's MySpace page.

Tell Him to Come to Madison

Advise the NYT's "Frugal Traveler."

Maybe we can whip up another blogger roundup and get him a pitcher at the Terrace if he shows...

Surprise, Surprise






CIA leaks like a sieve

First, I'm not surprised that we have an operation aimed at destabilizing Iran. Anyone who is surprised is hopelessly naive and should pay more attention to the world.

What really concerns me though, is anybody going to be prosecuted for leaking top secret information to the press? Is ABC News going to be prosecuted for actually printing the information?

This doesn't fall under the whistleblower protection act either, it's classified information and the leaking and printing of it is wrong. There are chains of command within the CIA and the military that allow for those who are uncomfortable with administration policy. Going to the press is not the correct path.

The real test of journalistic integrity in all of this is whether or not the media will get as hot and bothered as it did for the "leak" of a non-covert agent named Plame.

Garneau Show Saturday

Make it.

Death On State Street

This is quite disturbing.

I have not yet learned the identity of the 23-year old male victim shot outside The City. Frankly, I'm afraid to find out who it was.

Madison.com outlines the rather unfortunate details.

In my eyes, this hurts the State Street image more than the four rowdy years of Halloween combined.


Ivan, Peter, Catherine, Nicholas

America has a new "war czar." Now Wisconsin has a "water czar."

How did the imperial Russian term for "caesar" get incorporated into the American political lexicon, I began to wonder? Why not at least "tsar" for use in the republic? Has it always been as prevalent as it is today?

Well, I scrounged up a few shreds of history. Listen to what I found.

Right on Height

Soglin makes sense on his thoughts for growing the isthmus.

As a resident on the shores of the "powerplant wasteland" that is the heart of Madison between the lakes, I see it as an area ripe with potential for revitalization.

Unfortunately, Alder Konkel wants to keep dragging her feet.

Get Your Scimitar

They're back. It's time to raise an independent force against the pirates.


The McBride Hubbub

According to just about every major Milwaukee-based blog, Jessica McBride got axed from her radio slot with WTMJ.

My reaction: a muffled meh...? McBride has always had a bit of a Coulterish streak to her. If the flap does anything, it shows the blogosphere as a life-raft for free speech.

Interestingly, the story nearly monopolized the content at yesterday's Wisopinion. Meanwhile, I had a substantive post on whether or not we should change our state presidential primary date, which, incidentally, didn't make the list. Now that's closer to a real travesty.

UPDATE: And Erik had already braved the swirling sands.


Paoli, Art Noveau

I ended up in Paoli yesterday. I randomly chanced upon the opening weekend for a new art gallery in the little country hamlet. So, I stopped in for a few minutes to check out the works.

One piece in particular caught my eye. "Now" by Christian Andrew Grooms, a Madison artist who splits time with New York, struck me as one of the more bracing artistic expressions of our Post-911 time.

Pictured above, it's almost as if Baghdad and Brooklyn are morphing into one another, black helicopters hovering as ominous tokens of both U.S. actions abroad and domestic surveillance. And yet the panorama never quite hits cliche, its central figurine speaking a universal dumbfounded, speechless silence for all as bits of brimstone rain down, almost searing their way out of the canvas. The ambiguous cityscape burns off in the distance and she, the archetypal American in her comfy Adidas hoodie, is no longer certain about crossing the street, the white walk looming out into dangerous half understood traffic.

The rooftops are ablaze. And yet she holds a tiny bit of the flame in her own hand, a dark artist awestruck by what she never realized she had wrought as it comes home to roost.

Perhaps you get something different out of the painting? I could see Ron Paul getting into a spat over the meaning of the piece.

If you happen to be in Paoli, stop by and browse the tiny gallery. While there, Grooms, who has some great portraits of musicians on diplays as well, discussed "Now" a bit over coffee; it definitely drew on his experience with 911. He was kind enough to permit me to take the photo.

Oh yeah - stop by the Paoli Cheese House across the street, too. Three out of five roommates agree: the leek and morel cheese is damn tasty.


Wisconsin's Primary Quandary

To move or not to move?

There's a slim possibility that the Badger State might have more influence if the February 5, 2008 uberprimary doesn't produce conclusive results:

And if the early primaries and caucuses don't produce a clear front-runner, Wisconsin could be in a strong position to name the eventual nominees, he said. "If that happens, we are geniuses to keep our primary where it is," Franklin said.

But that prospect seems highly unlikely.

I'm all for federalism. It's great to have states making independent choices, flexing their 10th Amendment rights.

Yet frontloading the presidential primaries - with talk of bumping some into late 2007 - is getting out of hand. Perhaps the amazingly early start to this election cycle is an anomaly, but I doubt it. The unreasonable campaign duration will sour even more people on the political process. Candidates will wilt. Or wither Tippecanoe-style. And the major political parties appear incapable of halting the leapfrogging.

Short term, I support moving Wisconsin's primary to "Super Duper Tuesday" on February 5. For the time being, we should engage the market, vote concurrently with most major electoral powerhouse states, and attempt to have a smidgeon of influence.

I wonder, though, if it's possible to federally bar states from holding primaries before the actual year of the presidential election. It's the presidential race of 2008. Having primary debates 9 months in advance is ridiculous enough.

Constitutionally, the 24th Amendment mentions the right to vote in presidential primaries, the 12th sticks to the general election, and there's little else since state presidential primaries didn't emerge until 1910 in Oregon. January 1 should be a line in the sand.

First Comes Love...

All Ears

Been to Disney World? Experience it anew through the loquacious mind of James Lileks:

The Teacups: Daddy worked that wheel, hard. Daddy had to sit down for a few seconds afterwards, because we were pulling some serious Gs, and I nearly blew a spume of masticated hot dog. Which would have been a pity, because that was a really, really good hot dog.

Lileks recently lost his column slot at the Star Tribune, so the family trip to the kitschy cultural touchstone comes off as a catharsis of sorts (here he reflects while in the Haunted Mansion):

But dammit: I wasn’t going to avoid frickin’ Disneyfargin’world because of that. I was cured. Testify, brother! Yes, I was cured. And then the bottom dropped out of the world in the dark.

And I was fine.

As always, it's sharp, entertaining, dead-on. Regarding Epcot:

"...the bones stick out, and remind us that nothing ages faster than yesterday's tomorrow. In the future, plants will be grown in circular pods made of tinted aggregate! In the future, everything will resemble a 1972 college campus!"

For more: Arrival, Magic Kingdom 1, Magic Kingdom 2, Epcot


At least the Dems are paying attention

If you've been following Wisconsin politics at all lately, you're surely well aware that Joe Wineke, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, is also a paid lobbyist for AT&T, and that this has led to some understandable consternation:
Wineke's lobbying for AT&T raises questions over whether the Democratic Party is also officially endorsing the bill, said Jay Heck, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of Common Cause, a government watchdog group.

Ideally, it would be better if the head of a political party did not muddy the waters by registering as a lobbyist, Heck said.

Well, never fear - the Democratic base, tireless crusaders against anything questionable, are on the case! Or, well, at least groaning about the case:
Great....just freaking great...we're getting mocked in Political Cartoons and the Republicans are making us look like we're just as corrupt as they are...

No, no dear Scribe - it isn't the Republicans doing it - it's your own damn leadership.

And the funniest bit is, the same Scribe didn't see the potential problem until the whole thing blew up.

Update: yeah, I can never keep the two Winekes straight...


Sheepshead and Booyah

Both get bandied about in a fun piece on the Dictionary of American Regional English. After forty-four years, the mammoth undertaking is still chugging along in the bowels of Helen C. White Hall on the UW-Campus.

I guess, reading the article, I'm a rather regional guy.

Both words mentioned in the title were commonplace for me growing up. My maternal ancestors come from the epicenter of "booyah" consumption in the state - the Belgian Settlement northeast of Green Bay. Booyah is a hearty chicken and vegetable stew, often with the bones left on the chicken. It's often a social thing. Each fall during the local kermiss, or traditional harvest festival, the big metal cook pots would be outside the tent early in the morning, their little smokestacks standing in a row.

My paternal family comes from the Germanic heartland of the Sheepshead Belt on the East Coast of Wisconsin, where, in rural areas, the complex game still retains a near-monopoly on card-playing, even in the face of poker. I recall my grandfather pounding the table during holiday games when I was small, cracking the picker. During high school, we always had at least three raucous games with 4-7 players each at lunch tables over the noon hour.

Naturally, in the war over what we drink and drink from, I rally to the "soda" and "bubbler" banners. And chili has noodles in it where I come from.

If you're intrigued, take the quiz at the end of the article, too!


A Peek at Madison's Online News Association Conference

Ryan at Miles Per Gallentine does a yeoman's job live-blogging the Online News Association event here in Madison.

He presents one section for the first panel (featuring Mike Westling who interviewed here earlier in the week) and another section for the second panel. Check them both out. Some interesting observations on evolving journalism and the '08 race crop up.

My favorite excerpt from the first panel:

Brixey talks about "backpack journalist" - carry around cameras and being a constant one-man-band. Says the "Facebook generation" (I hate this label) has unique and creative ideas on how to tell the story, much more so than old-school folks.

I would say that's an exact description of some our exploits here at LIB.

Thanks again, Ryan - a nice window into the conference.

Captain Ed from Captain's Quarters was also live-blogging. He skewers Westling, unjustly I think, for some of his comments.

I hate to disrespect the dead...

...so I'll let Hitchens do it for me. He posts a fantastic takedown (can you take down someone who's already six feet under?) of the former preacher:
The discovery of the carcass of Jerry Falwell on the floor of an obscure office in Virginia has almost zero significance, except perhaps for two categories of the species labeled "credulous idiot." The first such category consists of those who expected Falwell (and themselves) to be bodily raptured out of the biosphere and assumed into the heavens, leaving pilotless planes and driverless trucks and taxis to crash with their innocent victims as collateral damage. This group is so stupid and uncultured that it may perhaps be forgiven. It is so far "left behind" that almost its only pleasure is to gloat at the idea of others being abandoned in the same condition.

The second such category is of slightly more importance, because it consists of the editors, producers, publicists, and a host of other media riffraff who allowed Falwell to prove, almost every week, that there is no vileness that cannot be freely uttered by a man whose name is prefaced with the word Reverend. Try this: Call a TV station and tell them that you know the Antichrist is already on earth and is an adult Jewish male. See how far you get. Then try the same thing and add that you are the Rev. Jim-Bob Vermin. "Why, Reverend, come right on the show!" What a fool Don Imus was. If he had paid the paltry few bucks to make himself a certified clergyman, he could be jeering and sneering to the present hour.

Meanwhile, let's truly celebrate the lives of two fascinating and cultured individuals who had close ties to the UW.

Pupils Overwhelmed By Irises

Many people know about the weekly Farmer's Market on the Capitol Square each Saturday. If you're yearning for cheese curds, artisan bread, or fresh flowers by midweek, however, check out the little farmer's market on Martin Luther King Boulevard each Wednesday morning.

Murphy Farms sells some fine squeaky cheese curds and zucchini bread in front of the Madison Municipal Building. And get your cheese curds while they're cheap.


Russia Unleashes Bitskrieg on Estonia

Or so says The Guardian:

A three-week wave of massive cyber-attacks on the small Baltic country of Estonia, the first known incidence of such an assault on a state, is causing alarm across the western alliance, with Nato urgently examining the offensive and its implications.

Russia and Estonia have been tussling over the removal of the Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial in Tallinn. The latter nation, a small Baltic state, is also notably susceptible to cyber attack:

Estonia, a country of 1.4 million people, including a large ethnic Russian minority, is one of the most wired societies in Europe and a pioneer in the development of "e-government". Being highly dependent on computers, it is also highly vulnerable to cyber-attack.

The Estonians seem to be quite certain it's the Russian government at work, going so far as to try and invoke NATO collective defense:

"At present, Nato does not define cyber-attacks as a clear military action. This means that the provisions of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, or, in other words collective self-defence, will not automatically be extended to the attacked country," said the Estonian defence minister, Jaak Aaviksoo.

But is it even war "if it's only on in the press and on the Internet?" This guy notes other examples of state-based cyber attacks during warfare. There was a little "infowar" during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, as the BBC notes.

What is at the root of Russia's bellicose posturing as of late? Not only has this ostensible harassment of a former satellite state been unleashed, but there's also been a marked coldness toward the U.S. (and if Condi Rice says there is no new Cold War, 50% of America probably thinks we're already in one). I know Russia is no fan of our ballistic missile shield and probably unhappy with our encroachment on its southern environs.

But what gives? In the two level game, is something on the domestic front driving Putin to send such unfriendly signals? I've never thought he was anything new - just another embodiment of the longstanding Russian need for a single, strong leader figure. That's looking more and more the case these days.


MORE: Maybe the Russian hackers attacked the CIA factbook page on Estonia, too. It comes up as NOT FOUND as of late night 5.16.07 CST.

We don't need none of this "diplomacy" nonsense - just a war czar

Isn't one supposed to stop after three strikes? At any rate, Bush seems to have made contact with... something on his fourth swing - and he's come up with another layer of bureaucracy and added a position that seems to do some heavy damage to the institutions of the State Department and the position of Commander in Chief itself:
To the extent that the State Dept. has a role currently in Iraq it should be subordinate to the military role and to ensure that it functions smoothly, and any State Dept personnel in country should report to the military chain of command. That is well within W's authority and it is fairly common for military folks to be attached to diplomatic missions, so geese and ganders on that. While the two agencies have different missions they are both completely connected as part of the continuum that starts with diplomacy and ends with military force, the iron fist in the velvet glove.
(incidentally, I believe this is the same "Uncle Jimbo" who used to blog for the first incarnation of the madison.com blogs section at Military Matters)

But will this position, as hoped, "cut through bureaucracy that has hindered efforts in Iraq"? The position seems to be set up for failure - more a "cover yer ass" position that anything else, there being now just one more layer of bureaucracy between Bush and the actual war effort he's supposed to be overseeing:
"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.
It is hopeful that Lute has been a critical voice, arguing
that a short-term "surge" would do little good and that any sustained increase in forces had to be matched by equal emphasis on political and economic steps, according to officials informed about the deliberations.
At any rate, here's a pretty good roundup of blog reaction.

Has Ron Paul Jumped the Shark?

You may quibble with the phrase, but Ron Paul's assertion last night that America, in essence, deserved the 911 tragedy went too far.

For those who "don't care about Paul" or see him as "vying for the John Hinckley vote," the moment was little more than a softball for Rudy Giuliani to slam out of the park and redeem himself before a rabid South Carolina crowd hungry for red meat.

For me, it was a truly unfortunate line being crossed. As someone gravely disillusioned with the Bush administration, I welcomed Paul's substantive contributions to the debates. Last night alone, he railed against federal spending and the size of government. He talked about the Constitution as if it were relevant. He's a consistent champion of internet freedom and against higher taxes. I even enjoyed hearing his nuanced non-interventionist outlook on foreign affairs, with Bob Taft as the embodiment of a Republican Party determined to bring us home from wars (what about Lincoln, McKinley, TR?).

But all those ideas, all those points the GOP would do well to heed, at least in part, are now banished to a leaky life raft that won't make it to the nearest island. Ron Paul's absolutist line on non-intervention went overboard. Americans - myself included - do not go for a "blame us" mentality in our leaders. I don't go for a 100% "blame them" mentality either. It's just unfortunate that many of the positions Ron Paul espouses will now be poisoned in a large portion of the public mind.

We live in a time that makes some of Paul's ideas about pure non-intervention laughable. I'm not talking about a post-911 era, but a post-WWII era. Positives and negatives have resulted from American involvement worldwide, just as good and bad would likely come from a wholesale Middle Kingdom-style isolationism. At the end of the day, I'm not prepared to justify the thousands of civilian deaths on September 11th for the sake of maintaining a consistent foreign policy vision.

Even if Ron Paul's active net contingent had him leading the FoxNews interactive debate poll last night (or is it a bunch of Democrats?), even if he brings a healthy dose of libertarianism to the table, I deeply question whether I could ever support him after last night. And as far as the Republican primary electorate is probably concerned, he didn't jump the shark - he got swallowed by it.

More: Mike, pulling for Paul, has a link to the debate video and a Reason piece on Paul's performance.

Even More: Maybe jumped the couch would be a better term?


National Geographic Gets It Wrong

Each day, I get a new photo on my iGoogle homepage courtesy of National Geographic. Like the venerable magazine itself, they're usually vivid, intriguing, and informative.

Today, however, the caption of the "Photo of the Day" (see screenshot above) was factually wrong. The short title, 'South Georgia Island, Falkland Islands, 1998' erroneously groups South Georgia Island with the Falklands Archipelago.

South Georgia Island, a speck in the South Atlantic made famous by Ernest Shackleton's harrowing escape from Antarctica, is actually 1,300 kilometers distant from the islands off Argentina at the heart of the 1982 Falklands War (although South Georgia, too, was occupied by Argentine forces and retaken during the conflict).

The extended caption - and the glacial landscape in the photo itself - clearly points to the standard South Georgia Island, not some highly local island "in the Falklands."

Usually I wouldn't nitpick so harshly on matters of geography. But this is National Geographic.

Let's go ride a bike

Fraley has an interesting, and slightly humorous take on state Senator Jim Sullivan's stunt to promote national "Bike to Work" week.

The Wauwatosa Democrat biked all of 80 miles Monday to promote awareness for the "bike" week and to urge everyone to ride their bikes to work. While I appreciate the Senator's good intentions, I can't help but think that Fraley may have something here:

We should all bike to work?

It is supposed to be 87 degrees today.

Where are we? China?

This just in. If you bike more than a mile to work, I have news for you. You STINK. As in you smell. Real bad. Your sweat-soaked clothes reek like a high school locker room. Your slicked back hair isn't fooling anyone. We know it’s not gel keeping your locks swept back, it’s just sweat.

You have to admit, the idea of everyone biking to work is bit silly. Some people can't arrive to work at 2:00 in the afternoon and only work a couple hours - as Senator Sullivan did. Even then, the he got a ride home at the end of the day.

I'm all for biking in the summer to work - if you have a shower at work or at least a place to change clothes. After all, this isn't France, we do have this thing called deodorant. But seriously, outside of Madison, how many cities in the state are really bike friendly enough so that if large amounts of people do bike in they don't all end up as hood ornaments and windshield splatter?

Once again, it's a nice thought, but for those of us in the real world it just doesn't make sense.



You might recognize Ben from things he's written for Isthmus. That we haven't linked him yet is a gross oversight.

Give Them The Boot

Or a boot, at least.

White Stripes, White Light, & Name That Tree 3

While driving around here on Sunday, The White Stripes' new single Icky Thump tore into the sunshine as I spotted this tree. It's pretty tasty music.

Add one part Eminemish rapping by Jack White, two parts distortion, 2 cans Red Bull. Garnish with that weird instrument (the ondioline) used in The Beatles' "Baby, You're a Rich Man" off Yellow Submarine. Serve chilled on a country highway.

And none of this is a clue for guessing the tree. Just note the inverted vase-like silhouette.


Interview: Mike Westling of New Vernacular

Madison hosts the Online News Association Regional Conference later this week, looking primarily at media in the 2008 Presidential Race. While the event costs a few more continentals than I'm willing to shell out, as Erik aptly notes, it does look good.

Some big names are slated to present, including Captain Ed, blogger at Captain's Quarters; my former Journalism professor and human dynamo, Katy Culver; and Mike Westling, a former classmate of mine in Donald Downs' First Amendment course. Westling, a UW senior who blogs intermittently at The New Vernacular (he's back from shipwreck status lately and we're still on his blogroll) recently completed a paper on the political implications of Facebook.

So, I tossed a few questions his way (he notes he "always liked reading Letters in Bottles"), and he was kind enough to oblige.

Brad V: You wrote your paper on Facebook and how it pertains to politics. Why that particular social networking system? MySpace has been very clear about its intentions to jump into presidential politics - why not that site?

Mike W: Thanks for giving me some space here at Letters in Bottles, Brad. I began my analysis with Facebook because I'm just more familiar with the site. I've ventured onto MySpace a couple times, but I just haven't yet put in the time to really get a feel for the network they've set up. From what I've seen, the MySpace network is centered much more around individual profiles while Facebook has put an emphasis on making connections with other members through groups and events. There seems to be a lot more grassroots political activity on Facebook, and that's a direct result of that network's structure.

Brad V: In 2004, Howard Dean was the "internet" candidate. Do you see any particular candidate or candidates as filling that role this time around? Ron Paul as the web sleeper? Also, after your research, are there any presidential candidates "winning" on the Facebook horse race front?

Mike W: I really don't think that any candidate is going to be defined as the "internet" candidate in the same way Dean was in 2004. All of the major candidates in both parties have taken notes on what worked for Dean and what didn't and they'll be incorporating that into their campaigns. All of the candidates are looking to supplement their campaigns with online action (several candidates announced with Web videos and all are pursuing small donors on the internet). Right now, Obama is definitely leading the Facebook race. Perhaps more interesting however, are all the negative Facebook groups that target specific candidates (especially Hillary Clinton).

Brad V: Barack Obama, shortly after notoriously taking over a MySpace account, made a pitch to have debates licensed under Creative Commons, a clear shout-out to the net crowd. Any other smart moves you've noticed? How would you advise a candidate to proceed from here on out to succeed online?

Mike W: I'm a big supporter of open debates, so I thought that was a great move that I believe all of the Democratic candidates have supported (maybe the Republicans too… does anyone else know?) John Edwards has created a separate Web site about the Iraq War that specifically targets liberal activists on that issue. Candidates need to remember that the major benefits of the Web come from organizing, fundraising, and generating media coverage. It's great to have all sorts of social networking and interactive stuff on your Web site, but most of the people who use those tools are already die-hard supporters. You want the die-hards to donate and show up at events.

Brad V: Any plans to dig further into your research in this area, as a graduate student, perhaps?

Mike W: I start a new job in June, so I won't be working on academic research in the near future. Still, I think the 2008 election will bring a lot of attention to social networking sites and determine whether Facebook can really engage young people or if it's more useful for checking out whether your buddy still watches Entourage. If you're interested in more quantitative research on Facebook and politics, I recommend looking at a study by two professors at Bentley College.

Brad V: As a student and blogger, what do you hope to bring to the conference later this week?

Mike W: I'm looking to give a perspective on what skills students need to develop in college if they're looking to work in journalism or political communications. A lot of journalism students go into the program thinking that all they want to do is write, but there's a lot more to it than that. To compete in the developing media landscape, grads need to understand blogging, social networking, dynamic content, and basic HTML code.

Brad V: I also see you worked on the Doyle Campaign in 2006. From your perspective, was the gubernatorial race here in Wisconsin mostly a result of national trends crashing on Midwestern shores or an organic homegrown affair?

Mike W: It was definitely a little bit of both. Ethics was a major issue on a national level and definitely became a focal point here in Wisconsin. Stem cell research is another national issue that has a special significance here. Even so, I'd say the majority of folks in Wisconsin were looking for continued leadership on fiscal responsibility and education.

(BV Aside: I can tell he's going to be working in the Doyle communications team :)

Brad V: This being LIB and you being a Poli Sci guy, naturally there's an obscure question to round things out. Who was the better president - John Quincy Adams or William Howard Taft? And why.

Mike W: Adams. He started the time-honored tradition of keeping the American presidency in as few families as possible.

Hi There, Agent

Happy Wiretap the Internet Day.

Return of the Carnival?

We hosted the fifth installment of the original "Carnival of the Badger" back in 2005. Ours wasn't a particularly awe-inspiring rendition, but the overall concept was successful.

It was a great way to build up interactivity and grow readership in the nascent Wisconsin blogosphere. Is Jib bringing the tradition back?

"During that exchange, I promised to do some work on updating the blog and also to begin doing Wisconsin blogger round ups three times a week."

Will U.S. Soldiers Turn to facebook?

A new military policy will impact access to popular websites. I know of at least one U.S. soldier in Iraq who, experiencing some of the Jarhead-like doldrums of war, took a liking to MySpace. That won't be happening anymore:

The Defense Department will begin blocking access "worldwide" to YouTube, MySpace and 11 other popular Web sites on its computers and networks, according to a memo sent Friday by Gen. B.B. Bell, the U.S. Forces Korea commander.

I'm surprised that thefacebook wasn't on the list of blocked sites:

The sites covered by the ban are the video-sharing sites YouTube, Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos and FileCabi; social networking sites MySpace, BlackPlanet and Hi5; music sites Pandora, MTV, 1.fm and live365; and the photo-sharing site Photobucket.

Military officials name bandwith interruption as a motive, but I can also see the very real concern of revealing too much information to hostile parties. Still, while it would probably get out of hand, it might be interesting to let the troops themselves make a propaganda war against the online insurgent efforts (and they still can on private personal computers, which I'm guessing are somewhat rare in the combat zones):

Iraqi insurgents or their supporters have been posting videos on YouTube at least since last fall, and the Army recently began posting videos on YouTube showing soldiers defeating insurgents and befriending Iraqis.

Volunteer soldiers don't go into the field with a full bushel of civilian-type rights and freedoms, but most soldiers belong to a generation that communicates far less by letters and even e-mail than by online social networking sites. I guess the army of one is going to get a little bit lonelier.


Mother's Day

Let's go!

Upon inspection by some of the cousins, the waters of Green Bay are lower than ever this year at the family cottage in Door County. Sandbars and rocks are starting to emerge hundreds of yards offshore where motorboats cruised over a decade ago.

Everyone pitched in for some routine yardwork and maintenance before lunch, featuring Grandma's rhubarb torte for dessert.

The breeze picked up enough for some kite flying.

One little horse chestnut was still desperately trying to take root.

And Little Beth got a handle on her clipper ship kite. Must be The Flying Cloud.