Saturday, November 28, 2009

Money Down the Drain

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is so proud of their new $22 million rest room project near Portage. They got the feds to pay for 90% of it, so I guess it can be considered a stimulus project, kind of like the old CCC facilities built during the Depression.

I had the privilege of using this fancy new facility during my Thanksgiving travels. The ceilings are very high, which means it is probably expensive to heat. The ladies' room felt noticeably chilly. The automatic toilet flushed three times while I was sitting on it. It flushed twice more while I was pulling up and fastening my jeans. I wonder how much more water this facility will waste compared to the old one.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

To those who are travelling, drive safely. To those who are overseas, thank you for your service, and I hope you will spend next Thanksgiving at home with your families.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Will Pope Benedict Bring Back the Interdict?

Pope Benedict has made it very clear that he wants to turn back the clock on several matters of church policy and politics. He is backing away from many of the Vatican II reforms. He is aggressively competing with the Anglican communion for priests and parishioners. The Catholic Church in the United States also seems more aggressive in its involvement with secular politics than at any time in the recent past.

The Catholic Church partnered with the LDS Church in a campaign to promote California's Proposition 8. It has brought pressure to bear on Washington, D.C. regarding recognition of same-sex marriage (threatening to close down its charitable service organizations in the District if they are not allowed to discriminate against homosexuals). It is actively opposing health care reform legislation unless it includes abortion restrictions (effectively saying that everyone, regardless of their own religious beliefs, should be forced to live according to the dictates of Roman Catholic doctrine).

Whether or not you think it is a right and proper thing for the church (any church) to get involved with politics is a matter of subjective belief. Right now, I am more interested in the tactics the RC Church is using, and the other tools that Pope Benedict may choose to deploy.

The Bishop of Rhode Island has banned Rep. Patrick Kennedy from receiving communion because of his support for abortion rights. Note that Kennedy is not an abortion provider, nor is he accused of procuring an abortion for someone else, or encouraging anyone to have an abortion. He is being punished by his church because he does not support the notion of secular law enforcing church doctrine.

Kennedy is not the first politician to be denied communion for supporting abortion rights. I find it interesting, however, that the RC Church has not withheld communion from politicians for supporting the death penalty (also contrary to RC doctrine) or the elective invasion of Iraq (which caused the death of many innocents).

Thus far, politicians have not been swayed by this tactic. I have not heard of any who have changed their positions in order to get back in the good graces of the church. This may be because most Americans, even Catholics, are uncomfortable with the idea of the Papacy (which is, after all, a foreign government) giving marching orders to their elective officials.

Historically, however, the RC Church had a much more powerful weapon to use against rulers who defied Papal orders. A local interdict was sometimes imposed against an entire jurisdiction -- banning the sacraments and effectively excommunicating everyone within its borders -- until the leader bowed to the Papal will.

It hasn't been used since the days of the counter-reformation (perhaps because the RC Church was afraid to lose market share to the Protestants). However, Pope Benedict has shown himself willing to preside over a smaller but purer flock. Will he go so far one day as to place Kennedy's Congressional District under interdict until he is voted out of office?

Time will tell.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Time to Remake Smokey and the Bandit?

Anyone old enough to have seen Smokey and the Bandit may remember that the plot revolved around a bet/dare involving the illegal transport of a regional microbrew with a cult following across state lines from Texas to Georgia in time for a special event.

The beer in the movie was Coors, which became a nationally-available brand not too many years after Burt Reynolds first drove that TransAm. I thought that movie plot was a quaint relic of the past, in today's age of widely available craft beers.

It seems I was wrong. Some latter-day, real-life Bandit is running Spotted Cow to a bar in New York City that is known for Wisconsin alumni events.

Does that mean that, a decade from now, Spotted Cow Light will be the drink of choice of college kids across the nation?

Flying Monkey Captured?

Downtown may be safe again for girls from Kansas (and their little dogs, too). Police have arrested 24-year-old Sean Longabaugh, who is suspected of assaulting another bar patron on Halloween while wearing a flying monkey costume.

On a less humorous note, the victim, former basketball player Darin Schubring, was seriously injured in the assault and remains hospitalized.

If Longabaugh is guilty, I hope that he gets sent to jail, and that the other inmates throw poo at him.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Aaron Rodgers in Oz

I'm the second-leading rusher,
Can get away from pressure,
If I have a little time.
I would throw more to Driver,
Improvise like MacGyver,
If I only had a line.

I'd help the Green Bay Packers
Look less like lazy slackers
And make the fans feel fine.
I'd win the division,
Star in ads on television,
If I only had a line.

I've no reason to be hating
My season QB rating;
My stats are just divine.
I'd hand off to our fullbacks,
Instead of taking more sacks,
If I only had a line.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Questions About the Edgewater TIF

I read the account of the city council meeting where the $16 million in TIF funds for the Edgewater was kept in the capital budget.

It was reported that the property tax increment from the new development would be approximately $750,000 to $1 million per year. That is very important, since the city cannot count room tax and sales tax revenue toward the TIF payback calculations (since Edgewater will be poaching business from other downtown hotels, whose room and sales tax collections for the city will therefore decrease).

It wasn't clear, however, whether the $750,000 to $1 million property tax increment referred to the city's share of the property tax bill, or to the total property tax bill. This is also important, since the county and school district get a cut of the annual property tax bill (but are not ponying up for the TIF money).

I don't think the $16 million makes sense as an investment for the city in future property tax revenue. The payback will be long, and interest must be paid in the meantime on the $16 million the city will borrow to finance the project.

It may make sense as an economic stimulus measure, to create some construction jobs now and additional service jobs later. If that is the justification for the investment (and it was certainly the reason for organized labor's support of the project), then Alder Satya Rhodes-Conway's attempts to insert some union-friendly requirements on the project make a lot of sense. After all, if taxpayers are forking out money to buy jobs, we should be sure they are family-supporting jobs that will go to area residents (rather than minimum-wage jobs that will be filled by trucked-in immigrants who will send or spend most of their paychecks back home).

How long will it be, though, before Inn on the Park comes to the city to ask for TIF money to remodel and expand, in order to compete with the newly-refurbished Edgewater? Inn on the Park is also past its prime. Will the city be able to deny them a level playing field? Should city government pick winners and losers in a soviet-style planned economy? How many hotels can we afford to remodel?

Woeful Wolverines

I can't remember the Michigan Wolverines ever having a season this bad. The amazing thing is that they still hope to go to a bowl game if they beat Ohio State next weekend (which would leave them with a 6-6 overall record but only 2-6 in the Big 10). It's probably a moot point -- I expect the Buckeyes to thrash them soundly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Memoriam on Veterans Day

To my grandfathers, who both fought in World War II and survived to return home and raise families.

Grandpa T was drafted by the army. He served under General Patton. He rarely talked about the war, but he did give some editorial comments when we watched the George C. Scott movie on television. Yes, he said, Patton really did stand in the open and fire his handgun at that German plane. At the time, every man under his command was hoping the crazy bastard would be shot.

Grandpa W joined the navy when he was 17 (with parental permission). He served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters. He felt better about himself and his life during the war than at any time after his homecoming. His ship was later decommissioned and sunk during an atomic test in the Pacific, which seemed like a metaphor for his troubled life.

Rest in peace.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cetacean Gang Warfare

I came across this bizarre story in the news today:

Monterey Bay researchers say dolphins are causing porpoise deaths

An organization called Okeanis has been observing the same group of 600 dolphins for almost 20 years. In September, they captured video of a group of dolphins ganging up and brutally killing a porpoise.

The dolphins corral the porpoise, ram it with their beaks, scrape or rake it with their teeth and drown the porpoise by jumping on top of it. The dolphins then bring the carcass up to the Okeanis researchers, watch them bring it on board and then swim away.

What surprises me most is not the attack, nor the techniques used to kill the porpoise, but the fact that the dolphins then brought the carcass to the researchers. Did Okeanis lure them to do so with a fish reward? How many other interactions have they had with these dolphins in the course of their years-long "observation" of these supposedly wild creatures? The Okeanis website does not give much information on their methodology.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bay of Pigs Throwback

The creamsicle uniforms and the streaker weren't the only blasts from the past in Tampa Bay today. The play on the field was epically bad, from both teams and on both sides of the ball (or all three, if you count the Packers' special teams). I expected to see Bart Starr on the sidelines.

Football Weather

Today in Green Bay, it's 64 degrees, with 10 mph winds. Perfect football weather.

Too bad the Packers are in Tampa Bay, where it's 82 degrees. At least it's a dry heat (by Florida standards) -- only 42% humidity.

Monday, November 2, 2009

There's No Place Like Home...

Only in Madison on Halloween...

'Flying monkey' allegedly punches man; victim in critical condition

Anyone who's seen The Wizard of Oz knows that flying monkeys are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

The flying monkey is still at large. I wonder if Stephen Colbert will do another "Monkey on the Lam" segment. It seems appropriate, since the case that inspired the series also happened in Madison.

UPDATE: The victim, Baraboo native and former UW basketball player Darin Schubring, is still in serious condition (recently upgraded from critical). Police are following up on some leads (apparently, the assailant was part of a group Oz-themed costume party). The flying monkey must have some pretty long arms to smack the 6' 10" Schubring in the temple.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

No Joy in the Hoosier State

Not only did the Boilermakers get TP'd by the Badgers yesterday, but the Hoosiers looked for a while like they might win their game before the Hawkeyes cruelly dashed their hopes.

It must be a tough weekend to be a football fan in Indiana. Maybe the Colts will make it up to them.