Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Only News Coverage That Got It Absolutely Right

Friday, April 12, 2019

Big Dark Out-of-State Money in the Supreme Court Race

In the wake of the recent elections for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the camps of both candidates have recriminated against each other for campaigns financed by massive amounts of dark, out-of-state money. Both sets of complaints are fully justified and reflect the appalling politicization of what, by all rights, should be the least partisan offices in the state: the impartial, unbiased, unbought, thoughtful, professional judicial tribunal of last resort.

But the position of justice has become disgustingly partisan, because the Democratic and Republican Parties have the most effective fund-raising machines, and they’re leading the big-money parade. Brian Hagedorn was a Republican operative before a courtesy appointment by Gov. Scott Walker allowed him to campaign with “Judge” in front of his name. Lisa Neubauer is the wife of a former state head of the Democratic Party and mother of a Democratic state representative. Their campaigns absolutely reeked of partisan favoritism.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and for one brief shining moment it wasn’t. In the waning years of the Doyle Administration, the Legislature adopted a plan for public financing of state Supreme Court elections. You may not remember it, because it was never put into effect; it was one of the very first laws repealed by the new Legislature after the Walker Administration took over in 2011.

That was the first year after the disastrous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC opened the floodgates to political spending from all comers, for what purposes nobody knows, because accountability and transparency were right out the window. And now we see how fatuous was Justice Kennedy’s observation in that decision that big money in politics will lead to “neither corruption nor the appearance of corruption”.

Woe betide anyone bringing a case before the Supreme Court if the justices sitting in judgment on it are financially beholden to the opposing side instead of, as they properly should be, to the general citizenry.

The question will arise, and arise in your day, ... which shall rule — wealth or men? Which shall lead — money or intellect? Who shall fill public stations — educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?

— Edward Ryan, Chief Justice, Wisconsin Supreme Court, addressing the UW graduating class of 1873

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Russell Lottery

Cindy Polzin of the Wisconsin State Lottery tried to put the best face on the scam she's running like this: "Of every dollar spent on lottery products, approximately 57¢ is paid in prizes, 30¢ goes to property tax credits, 7¢ to operational expenses, and 6¢ to neighborhood businesses."

I've got an even better deal. I call it the Russell Lottery. Its great advantage over Wisconsin's shabby equivalent is that, in mine, every player is a winner every time. Here's how it works: You send me $10, and I send you back $6. That's 60¢ on the dollar, also a better deal than Polzin's. An identical 30¢ on the dollar goes to relieve property taxes (mine), and I promise to spend 5¢ out of every buck at the corner bar, certainly a local business.

How can I do it? I keep my administrative expenses low, low, low. I stocked up on Forever stamps back when they were only 45¢, and that's all it takes to mail you your $6 check. Such a deal, right?

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.

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Last week there was a primary election in Madison, and I always serve as an election official at a campus ward. Turnout for primaries is normally low to begin with, and in this case the only races on the ballot were for city offices that were of minimal interest to students. The upshot of this is that it was a VERRRRRY slow day. Thus I had my book polished off by 2 PM. (The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi, BTW, an engaging read.)

Facing the prospect of another 6 hours with nothing to keep my mind occupied, I took advantage of a break to nip across the street to the University Bookstore to pick up another one. Let me repeat the name of the place I was headed toward: University BOOKstore. The sign at the entrance said textbooks were downstairs and “general books” were on 1st floor, so that’s where I headed. But, after a couple of minutes of wandering around looking for them, I thot maybe I’d misunderstood the sign, so I asked for directions. A helpful employee walked me over to a remote corner and said “Here it is”:

And that’s it! That’s their entire “general books” collection, fiction and non-fiction both! For a campus of 40,000 students. Hardly any title in any category had more than a single volume represented, and about ⅓ of the sections had books discounted by half in an effort to move inventory. Science fiction occupied only 2 shelves, and I’d already read almost everything on offer. (I ended up getting a non-fiction book, Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker.)

What is happening? Is this really the death spiral for actual books?

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. — Desidarius Erasmus (1466-1536), Dutch philosopher

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Monday, February 11, 2019


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Monday, January 28, 2019

How Cold Is It?

Temps Around 53

Getting Warmer in Wisconsin

How Cold Is It?

An annotated thermometer
(degrees Fahrenheit, then Celsius)

+50 / +10
• New York tenants turn on the heat
• Wisconsinites plant gardens

+40 / +4
• Californians shiver uncontrollably
• Wisconsinites sunbathe

+35 / +2
• Italian cars don't start

+32 / 0
• Distilled water freezes

+30 / -1
• You can see your breath
• You plan a vacation in Florida
• Wisconsinites put on T-shirts
• Politicians begin to worry about the homeless

+25 / -4
• Boston water freezes
• Californians weep pitiably
• Wisconsinites eat ice cream
• Cat insists on sleeping on your bed with you

+20 / -7
• Cleveland water freezes
• San Franciscans start thinking favorably of LA
• Cranberry bog frost warnings

+15 / -10
• You plan a vacation in Acapulco
• Cat insists on sleeping in your bed with you

+10 / -12
• Politicians begin to talk about the homeless
• Too cold to snow
• You need jumper cables to get the car going

0 / -18
• New York landlords turn on the heat
• You plan a vacation in Hawaii
• Wisconsinites go swimming

-5 / -21
• You can hear your breath
• Sheboygan brats grilled on the patio, yum!

-10 / -23
• American cars don't start
• Too cold to skate

-15 / -26
• You can cut your breath and use it to build an igloo
• Miamians cease to exist
• Wisconsinites lick flagpoles

-20 / -29
• Cat insists on sleeping in your pajamas with you
• Politicians actually do something about the homeless
• People in LaCrosse think about taking down screens

-25 / -32
• Too cold to kiss
• You need jumper cables to get the driver going
• Japanese cars don't start
• Milwaukee Brewers head for spring training

-30 / -34
• You plan a two-week hot bath
• Pilsener freezes
• Bock beer production begins
• Wisconsinites shovel snow off roof

-38 / -39
• Mercury freezes
• Too cold to think
• Wisconsinites button top button

-40 / -40
• Californians disappear
Car insists on sleeping in your bed with you
• Canadians put on sweaters
• Record ice-fishing catch on Lake Mendota

-50 / -46
• Congressional hot air freezes
• Alaskans close the bathroom window
• Michiganders put gloves away, take out mittens
• Green Bay Packers practice indoors

-60 / -51
• Walruses abandon Aleutians
• Sign on Mount St. Helens: "Closed for the Season"
• Boy Scouts in Eau Claire start Klondike Derby

-70 / -57
• Glaciers in Central Park
• Superior snowmobilers organize trans-lake race to Sault Ste. Marie
• Hudson residents replace diving boards with hockey nets

-80 / -62
• Polar bears abandon Baffin Island
• Birkebeiner at Hayward

-90 / -68
• Edge of Antarctica reaches Rio de Janeiro
• Lawyers chase ambulances for no more than 10 miles
• Minnesotans migrate to Wisconsin thinking it must be warmer

-100 / -73
• Santa Claus abandons North Pole
Girl Scouts in Eau Claire start Klondike Derby
• Cheeseheads pull down earflaps

-173 / -114
• Ethyl alcohol freezes
• Only Door County cherries usable in brandy Manhattans

-297 / -183
• Oxygen precipitates out of atmosphere
• Microbial life survives only on dairy products

-445 / -265
• Superconductivity

-452 / -269
• Helium becomes a liquid

-454 / -270
• Hell freezes over

-456 / -271
• Illinois drivers drop below 90 MPH on I-90
• Madison study committee on downhill water flow turns in findings

-458 / -272
• Incumbent politician renounces campaign contribution

-460 / -273 (Absolute Zero)
• All atomic motion ceases
• Wisconsinites allow as how it's getting a mite nippy

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Monday, January 07, 2019


Wisconsin has a lieutenant governor named Mandela!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

No System To It

Rob Thomas is the film critic for The Capital Times here in Madison, and I always find his reviews to be informative, insightful, and well written. The one he did last week was no exception. It was a sympathetic interview with Milwaukeean Steve Burrows, director of the HBO documentary Bleed Out, about his decade-long struggle to find justice for his mother, who had been seriously disabled in what should have been a routine medical procedure.

Something about the review nagged at me, however, and I finally realized that it was the use of the term “health care system” in the headline and thruout the article. It perpetuates the mistaken notion that there is such a thing in America.

There is not.

I’ve done a fair amount of systems analysis in my time, and I’ve got a good grasp of what a system is supposed to be. Above all, it’s something that’s been designed, something to serve an intended purpose, with all its parts properly constructed to fit together smoothly to produce the desired result. If that were the case here in the US, we’d actually have proper health care for everybody. But it’s not. It’s stupendously excellent, world-class, cutting-edge health care for the privileged few, occasionally adequate and fitful attention for the bulk of people in the middle of the economic spectrum, sincere wishes of good luck for the people between jobs, bad nutrition and emergency-room visits for the poor, and “suck it up or please die quickly” for the desperate.

No, health care in America is like our measurement system. Not neat, orderly, consistent, and easy to learn and use like the metric system used by 95% of the world’s population. Instead it’s a cobbled-together patchwork of disparate profit centers like hospitals, pharmacies, independent medical practices, X-ray and lab-test providers, insurance companies, employee-benefit plans, lawyers, accountants, marketers, lobbyists, claims deniers, and of course corporate CEOs whose only joy greater than their annual 8-digit bonuses is pissing all over their competitors. The sole purpose of each of those independent components is not health care or patient sympathy but the ability to make a buck. And if there’s no money to be made, there’s no service.

That’s why, for example, you can get mail delivered to your front door 6 days a week for any address in the United States, or flip a switch and be assured that the lights will go on anywhere in America, but good luck if you need an emergency appendectomy in the northwoods of Wisconsin. No money in it, you know.

And that’s Wisconsin. Imagine what it’s like in Appalachia. Or Alaska. Or ranch country in Wyoming. Or Indian reservations in the Southwest. Or even inner-city Los Angeles, with no public transportation.

We can do better than this. Congress needs to buckle down and give us a serious health-care SYSTEM, like every other industrialized democracy on Earth! Sorry to say, they apparently have higher priorities. Instead of health care, they’re focusing on wealth care. But my rant on big money in politics is a topic for another day.

= = = = = =
Health tip: If you can’t afford a doctor, go to an airport. You’ll get a free X-ray and a breast exam. And, if you mention al-Qaeda, they’ll throw in a free colonoscopy.

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