oh yah, i’m really in the zeitgeist now

Soundtrack in my head:  The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"

Sometimes when I tell people I have a blog, I feel like I immediately get put into a category with teeny-boppers who hang out at Hot Topic and listen to My Chemical Romance over and over again.  To test myself, (and to set the record straight), I took a quiz that asked how much I knew about blogging.  Unlike the weight quiz mentioned a couple of posts ago, this one is dead-on accurate.


Well, You Know What a Blog Is…

You got 4/8 correct!

But, truthfully, most blogs probably bore you.

hooray for our side?

Soundtrack in my head: The Polyphonic Spree, “When The Fool Become a King”

My housemate and I joined the other revelers in the downtown hotel celebrating the Democratic Party sweep in the elections and the stunning defeat for Bush and the Republicans. The champagne flowed freely in the room, the bubbles feeding the effervescent giddiness all around us. With a little more “vino” in our systems than usual, my housemate and I decided to stand up on a couple of chairs and lead the crowd in a jubilant chant of “No more years! No more years!”

Why were we chanting “No more years?” Because it was 1992, not 2006, and we were making mocking reference to the often repeated chant of “Four more years!” by supporters of President George H.W. Bush, our current President’s father.

So, after my cute little bait-and-switch story above, I was originally going to write a long treatise that detailed my disillusionment with the Democratic Party between 1992 and 1994 and how they slit their own throats by alienating a large section of their own supports. It was going to be a detailed, footnoted eloquent argument for a Democratic Party that maybe possibly might start standing for something again, and finally concluding with an analysis of the current party ascending to power again, pointing out little positive signs here and there.

I spent several hours crafting and honing this epic piece of political workmanship, but every time I looked at it, it was about as interesting as office ceiling tile.

I think a lot of it is because my view about the role of politics in this troubled world has changed. I no longer see it as the only source of change. American politics is locked in this rugby scrum between red and blue states that has little effect on the ever-growing threats to our environment, standard of living, and national security.

It doesn’t mean that politics is irrelevant. You wouldn’t see me baiting Sen. Kohl on the issue of Net Neutrality if I thought politics wasn’t important. I write a lot of letters to my Congressional representatives on a whole wide variety of issues. The difference is that I no longer view politics as the be-all and end-all of things.

I think change needs to happen at a more fundamental level than just the political level. I don’t believe that the Democratic Party or Green Party are going to save the world—although a few individuals within those parties could significantly contribute if they are allowed to. I hate to say this, but politicians, as a general rule, follow, not lead. Even if they stop following the lead of special interests and actually follow the lead of the people, change still has to occur within individuals in society.

Okay, that sounds cliché, but the hardcore truth of the matter is that our current way of life is unsustainable over the long term. We are the same hoarding and conflict-ridden people we have been for thousands of years, except now we hold the tools of our own destruction in our hands—many different tools, actually. So, logically speaking, change isn’t going to occur until the people who elect our politicians change.

The changes needed—living simply and moving further away from our consumerist culture—are not easy changes to make. Nor is it easy to follow even the common and most basic tenets of most religions—such as loving your neighbor as you would yourself. Yet we see the results when we don’t—it’s the world we have today.

This is why I’ve dedicated so much of my time to spiritual matters over the last fifteen years. Tuning in with God, the universe—whatever you want to call it. That’s where it starts. Why is it that spiritual leaders have led some of the most powerful social movements? Of course, religions can also lead people into war with each other, but what part of “Thou shalt not kill” don’t they understand?

So with the Democratic victory, is there a light at the tunnel or is that just someone waving a cigarette lighter yelling, “Play ‘Freebird!’ Freeee-buurrrrd!”

I resist gushing over the current Democrat leadership because I still need to see what they will do with their power. But I’m seeing a few positive signs. The Democrats ARE somewhat better on issues like the environment and Net Neutrality. At least somewhat. And the Republicans needed to be sent a message about the travesty that this so-called War on Terrorism has become.

Unlike every Democratic presidential nominee since 1988, House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean don’t seem afraid to take a stand on issues. It had been painful to watch presidential candidates Dukakis, Gore and Kerry nervously watching the polls and clumsily walk a tightrope while trying to appeal to as wide of a range of people as possible. But Dean is the first Democrat I’ve seen (and I’ve been following politics pretty much since 1980) who can match the Republicans in their ability to define the national agenda and set the parameters of public debate. I think that’s partially why the Democrats did so well this year. At the same time, Dean has also demonstrated a bit of savvy by developing party organizations in even the reddest of the red states. I think that laid the groundwork for victories in places like Montana and Virginia. which previously would have seemed impossible until a series of events turned things in the Democrats’ favor.

Because Democrats were able to succeed in so-called “red states” when events provided an opportunity, I am beginning to see a strong argument for supporting grassroots efforts to build the Green Party. My political beliefs have been usually the most consistent with the Green Party platform. I think that Green Party Senate candidate Rae Vogeler would have actually done a better job than re-elected Senator Herb Kohl. And while she got only 2% of the vote, by just being out there campaigning, she and those of the other Green Party candidates in Wisconsin certainly helped build the movement, which could potentially become influential under the right set of circumstances.

So, while I’m not standing on top of chairs and leading revelers in drunken chants in this watershed year of 2006, I am watching Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi with a little more enthusiasm that I had for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. This current crop of Democratic leaders seems to be more shrewd strategists, but it’s still up in the air how they will use their power.

see? i am not a discipline-challenged food fetishist contantly stuffing twinkies into his hapless gullet…

Soundtrack:  Stacie Orrico, "Stuck"

On a blog I was reading, I found this quiz that I couldn’t resist taking.  It asked me thirteen questions about diet, lifestyle and genes and then endeavored to guess my weight.

I answered the questions in the quiz ACCURATELY.  For the record, I said that I’m 1) a male; 2) in his 30’s; 3) I exercise (for at least a half hour) just once a week or less; 4) I eat fast food a few times a week; 5) I weigh myself several times per week; 6) I eat 1 or 2 fruits and vegetables per day; 7) everyone (well almost everyone) in my family has a weight problem; 8) when I eat at home, I cook something for myself; 9) I eat dessert only as a very special treat; 10) compared to others of my gender and weight, I gain weight very easily; 11) when it comes to protein, I get it mostly from red meat or cheese, 12) When I go out to eat at a restaurant, I usually order an entree and eat the whole thing; and 13) my beverage of choice is water.  

The woman who posted this on her blog said that the quiz guessed her weight almost exactly.  Me, well, those of you who know me well are probably rolling on the floor in laughing hysterics or unable to keep yourself from having the beverage you’re drinking squirt through your nose and all over your keyboard.  For those of you who don’t know me well, let me just say that I weigh A LOT more than that. 

My point in posting this is that the mass media and pop culture often get it really wrong as to what really causes us to gain weight.  Last spring, I asked some of my housemates for accomodation of my wheat allergy, since I found that wheat makes me gain weight.  A couple of them put through the wringer in a very public way by questioning my assumptions (in front of everyone in the house) that maybe I should just eat better and exercise more instead.  (Is Dr. Phil skinny?)  Luckily the main ringleader of this public interrogation no longer lives in my house, and I’ve reached an understanding with the other one. 

So, for now, let me enjoy a little bit of fun at the mass media’s and pop culture’s expense.  And yes, I’d like extra whipped cream on that Twinkie.

You Should Weigh 186

If you weigh less than this, you either have a fast metabolism or are about to gain weight.
If you weigh more than this, you may be losing a few pounds soon!

sealed in for a…ah…um…wait a minute!

Soundtrack in my head:  Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”

Yeah, right, maybe we shouldn’t shake those snow globes yet.  Sixty freaking seven degrees.  Heat index 78.  I think the long nap I was referring to in my last post should be occuring out on one of our porches, with a nice tropical drink and some Jimmy Buffett playing in the background.  Next thing you know we’ll start seeing alligators in Monona Bay.  Aloha from Wisconsin y’all!

sealed in for a long winter’s nap

Soundtrack in my head: Brooklyn Funk Essentials, “Take the L Train (To 8th Avenue)”

The change of seasons truly doesn’t occur until the plastic goes up.

At the end of every October our co-op house weatherizes the house for the winter. We have a work day once a month in which house members will work on various house projects together, and our October work day is almost entirely dedicated to making sure that plastic covers every window in our house, which includes three stories, a basement, and an attic.

We are strict about this rule—the heat doesn’t go on until every last window is weatherized. This was an unusually cold October, and adhering to our rule meant toughing it out for a few days, as we endured a few nights in the 20s without heat. But it’s nice and warm in the house now.  (Ironically, the weather today is sunny and 56 degrees.)

It’s sort of a weird feeling when we put the sheets of plastic up and snap them in on the built-in runners alongside the window. The plastic invariably diminishes the visibility of the outdoors. My room, in particular has a pretty good view of the trees and the backyards to the east of us, and this view becomes blurred. I have to make an effort when I look through my window to make out the features of the view outside. This does not bother me, strange as that may seem. It’s also at this time of year that most of the remaining leaves have fallen, and oddly enough that makes our house a little bit brighter because light is blocked less by the trees. From our third floor back porch we can see the sky. And because it’s still reasonably warm most days, we can still enjoy our outdoor porches for a little while longer, though the snows eventually make that impossible.

Oddly enough, I sort of like this new sealed-in feeling. The view from my window in the morning is replaced with a bright whiteness. It’s quieter indoors with all the windows closed. Winter is a time of quiet reflection and the sealed windows seem to help with that. I envision many evenings spent in the living room journal writing, lit candles in my room and on the mantle of the fireplace (which, unfortunately, was sealed years ago).

Eventually, I will begin to crave the outdoors and fresh air once again. I wish I could say that this craving wouldn’t occur until April, but typically the longing for the outdoors starts in late January or early February. But come April, we’ll finally be able to tear the plastic off the windows like gift wrap on a birthday and embrace the outdoors with its sights, smells and sounds. Until then, I will enjoy the quiet.

the senator & me

Soundtrack in my head: Robbie Williams, “Millennium”

On my way to the cafeteria at work yesterday I was surprised to find myself greeted by Doug LaFollette, who is running for re-election as Wisconsin’s Secretary of State. Then I remember the email circulated at work saying that local candidates or their representatives would be in the cafeteria today greeting employees.

As I sat down to eat my lunch, I saw Jessica Doyle, wife of Gov. Jim Doyle making the rounds of the lunch tables, as well as Dave Mahoney, the Democratic candidate for Dane County Sheriff.

I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try to get specific answers to my questions about Sen. Herbert Kohl’s positions regarding Net Neutrality. I’ve had serious misgivings about the U.S. Senator’s vague answers to my questions about the issue, and I thought that maybe this might be a good chance to get some clarity, since he’s up for re-election this year.

I originally called the Senator’s office in July because Savetheinternet.com listed the Democratic senator as not having taken any position on the issue, unlike his Wisconsin counterpart Sen. Russ Feingold. Then in mid-August, I got a two-page letter from the Senator’s office responding to my inquiry. He spent much of the letter neatly summarizing the debate over Net Neutrality and outlining the positions and arguments of people on both sides of the issue. It was a nice summary, but it was very difficult to determine where HE, SEN. KOHL stood on the issue. The only place where I saw anything that resembled an opinion was where he said, “you can be sure that I am committed to developing policies that foster greater competition among service and content providers and lead to a wider service selection and lower rates to consumers. We must ensure that consumers have unfettered access to all Internet content free from discrimination and that broadband providers do not determine winners and losers on the information superhighway. However, at the same time, broadband providers need to be able to manage their networks so that the profusion of video content does not degrade the Internet experience for everyone.”

To me, that “however” looked like it could be a loophole large enough to drive an AT&T fleet truck through. What constituted “unfettered access,” or “winners and losers on the information superhighway?” Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but I noticed that he took no position on whether he thought that the two-tiered system proposed by the telcos constituted “equal access,” even though content providers paying a premium price to telcos would be able to have their websites download faster than others.  He did not say whether would join in any filibuster of the proposed communications bill until solid Net Neutrality provisions are added. Even more curious is how he mentioned, but didn’t state his position on S. 2917, the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act” introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)—he mentioned the bill (which failed to make it out of the Commerce Committee on an 11-11 tie) but only said that “a consensus on the issue of net neutrality has yet be reached” on the Commerce Committee. That has to be the first time I ever heard the word “consensus” ever used in the context of the U.S. Senate—I could just imagine one hundred pairs of hands in the Senate Chamber waving their fingers co-op style and “sparkling” their consensus to a given issue.

So I wrote back to the Senator’s office in September and expressed my concern about the vagueness of his position, and specifically asked him if we could count on him to oppose Senator Ted Stevens’ telecommunications bill (H.R. 5252) unless stronger Net Neutrality protections are added. Thanks to FCC and Supreme Court rulings in 2005, Net Neutrality does not currently exist as a law that can be enforced, and I said in my letter that if he didn’t take a strong stand now, it would be much harder to restore Net Neutrality in the future.

I have yet to hear a response.

So I had been thinking of printing an open letter to the senator about these concerns, but with this campaign event in our lunchroom, I figured I could just talk to the Senator’s representative and hopefully find out that way. So I walked over to Sen. Kohl’s table, but found that there was no one there—just a few pieces of campaign literature.

I wandered over to the table of Rae Vogeler, who is the Green Party candidate running against Sen. Kohl, and Rae herself greeted me. I’d heard that she was running a well-organized spirited campaign, and as I spoke to her, I was struck with how effective she was as a communicator and how articulate she was on the issues. She was well aware of the issue of Net Neutrality, and let me know that on her website there was a press release she issued speaking out in favor of Net Neutrality and calling upon Sen. Kohl to take an unequivocal stand in favor of Net Neutrality as well. (Later on, I found the text of it on her website here. I looked around the rest of the website and was impressed with what I saw.)

I asked Rae if she’d seen Sen. Kohl’s representative at the event today and she said she had not, so I decided to wander around a little and see if I could find the person. I saw Robert Lorge, the Republican candidate for Senate, but did not see anybody that looked like Kohl’s representative. As I wandered, Dave Mahoney, the Dane County Sheriff candidate, greeted me. After assuring him that he had my vote, I asked him if he’d seen a representative from Kohl’s campaign. He said he wasn’t sure, but pointed out a woman to me whom he said would likely know. I approached the woman and asked her if she’d seen Kohl’s representative, but she said she had not.

For a split second I thought about checking the bathroom stalls, but felt that would be more than tacky. This was starting to look like a scene out of “Roger & Me,” in which Michael Moore went on quest to find Roger Smith, the GM executive at a time in which GM was laying of tens of thousands of workers in Flint, MI and building new factories overseas. Michael Moore and I might be similarly proportioned, but he’s better with a camera and better at growing facial hair than I am.

Of course, there could be many reasons why a representative from Sen. Kohl’s office was unavailable at the campaign event. Maybe the representative needed to step away for a little bit, or was called away in an emergency. I’ve never been involved with a political campaign, but it would seem to me that every campaign has to prioritize and make difficult choices as to how to spend its money and staff and volunteer time, and that Kohl’s campaign felt that they needed to put their resources in places other than my workplace lunchroom.

Out of fairness, I am going to make a public offer to Sen. Herbert Kohl’s campaign. I am willing to offer the Senator’s campaign use of space on this blog for the purpose of letting them publish and clarify his views on the issue of Net Neutrality—uncut and unedited. Or, as an alternative, I will post a link to any statement on either his Congressional website or campaign website regarding the issue. I’ve looked through both websites and haven’t found anything, but perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I did once attend a Rae Vogeler fundraiser. It happened like this—a few weeks ago I asked a former housemate what he was doing on a Saturday evening and he said he was going to see a movie with another friend of ours, but that afterwards we could all get together. The two of them picked me up at 8 p.m. and I was immediately taken to the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center where a fundraiser for Rae was taking place. Our other friend was active in the campaign and she even paid our donation to get in, though both of us chipped in, too. I’d heard good things about the campaign but was undecided about who I was going to vote for. I chipped in a few bucks because, well, I’m tired of Democrats taking my vote for granted. My former housemate and I didn’t even spend a lot of time at the fundraiser—he wanted to grab a drink at The Weary Traveler nearby, and after we got back, we’d missed Rae’s speech and to our surprise, the event was almost over.  I’ve got two witnesses who can verify this.  Also, when I mentioned the fundraiser to Rae yesterday, she tactfully said “Hmmm…I don’t remember seeing you–but then again the room was quite dark.”

But Rae impressed me a lot when we spoke yesterday. I much prefer someone who’s clear and unequivocal on the issues over someone who is vague and difficult to pin down. So Sen. Kohl, here’s your chance to set the record straight. Because right now Rae’s got my vote.