Friday, January 29, 2010

Best Joke I've Heard All Week

Attributed to porn queen (and Cathouse regular) Sunset Thomas: "Brett Favre wants to retire, but every time he throws in the towel it's intercepted!"

h/t The Kats Report

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Which Wisconsin Public Figure SHOULD Pose for Cosmo?

After calling attention to Senator-elect Scott Brown's Cosmo centerfold past, Grumps reminded us to be grateful that there are no Cosmo pictures of Jim Sensenbrenner.

I cannot think of a single Wisconsin politician who SHOULD pose for Cosmo. The thought of Dave Westlake wearing nothing but blaze orange body paint is enough to make me lose my lunch.

So, I'm asking my readers, are there any Wisconsin public figures (they do not have to be politicians) that people would like to see pose in the buff? Enquiring minds want to know...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

TIF Is Not a Loan; It's a Handout

With all the talk about the $16 million in tax incremental financing sought by the proposed Edgewater development, I keep reading references to the city being "paid back" through increased property taxes. People seem to be forgetting a few pertinent facts:

1. If the developer did not get the TIF money, but financed the entire cost itself, the property owners would still owe the same increased property taxes to the city, and the developer would have to repay the bank (or other investors) the entire cost of the development.

2. If the city did not give out the $16 million in TIF, and if the project was built anyway with private financing, the city would still get to collect the same amount in increased property taxes.

3. Keeping these two facts in mind, the $16 million in TIF cannot really be a loan. It is a development grant. The use of TIF is meant to make possible developments that are in the public interest but could not happen without TIF assistance.

Furthermore, the cost to the city would be more than just the $16 million given to Hammes. The city would have to borrow the money, which would increase its debt and raise the interest rate it has to pay on all its borrowing.

I am not impressed with the way the city wants to give this developer a free pass to ignore city ordinances (not just the Landmarks ordinance, but also the shoreline development rules, which are meant to protect the lakes and prevent property damage from flooding).

What really pisses me off, however, is the eagerness to throw millions of dollars of taxpayer money at a private developer for a dubious economic development argument. The developer refuses to commit to hiring local construction workers for family-supporting wages. How much do you want to bet we'll be seeing out-of-town subcontractors bringing in immigrant construction workers for minimum wage?

I do not begrudge hard-working immigrants the right to work in this country, assuming they are here legally. However, when the primary justification for public financing is the addition of jobs to our local economy, I want to make sure those jobs go to permanent Madison-area residents (whether immigrants or native-born citizens) who will spend much of their salaries on goods and services in this area, rather than send it to their families in Milwaukee or Chicago or Mexico.

Several years ago, Beaver Dam gave Wal-Mart a whole bunch of tax incentives to build their distribution center there, in the name of economic development. Residents were horrified to learn that prisoners were brought in for the construction work.

To all the folks who think the city should give carte blanche to any developer in the name of making Madison more "pro-business", be careful what you wish for. The Edgewater is already a profitable hotel. The owners have chosen to neglect the building in order to squeeze more short-term profits out of it. It's kind of like the Rio hotel in Las Vegas, which was recently described as "the most tired and used up looking 20-year-old I know, hands down."

Why should the city give money to an entity that refuses to properly maintain its property?

Why should my tax dollars be spent on corporate welfare, when the city refuses to put enough plows on the street after a major snowstorm?

Why should my tax dollars be spent to further gentrify downtown, when we are already stuck with the white elephant that is Overature Center? That was supposed to re-vitalize the downtown and foster economic development, at no cost to the city. Yeah, right.

I've heard this sales pitch before, and I'm not buying it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Explanation for Near-Death Experiences

Doctor Jeffrey Long, in his new book Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences, claims that near-death experiences cannot be culturally determined, because they transcend age and culture.

From this he concludes that they must be evidence of an afterlife.

Many years ago, I read a great deal about accounts of near-death experiences. The common elements (the ones which transcend age and culture) are a moving through a dark tunnel toward a bright light, being surrounded by (usually deceased) family members and (according to some sources), a vague buzzing noise that suddenly ceases.

I am amazed that no one seems to conclude that these experiences are influenced by long-buried memories of our birth. We start in a dark place, surrounded by the sound of our mother's heartbeat and intestinal gurglings. We move through a dark tunnel and emerge into a bright light, surrounded by family members.

Of course the images transcend culture and age. Being born is a universal human experience.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mayor Dave Disses Huey Newton on MLK Day

On his taxpayer-funded blog, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz made a point of using Martin Luther King Day to call for patience and moderation in current politics. While he specifically referred to the enormous problems faced by President Obama, I suspect he was subconsciously thinking of all of the commenters on any of's articles about the city's snow removal efforts.

Mayor Dave concluded by saying: "We don't remember the ineffective extremists, but rather we remember those who moved the middle. We don't celebrate Huey Newton Day. We remember Martin Luther King Jr." (h/t Brenda Konkel)

Maybe we should celebrate Huey Newton Day. Newton was not "an ineffective extremist" as Mayor Dave implies. The Black Panthers were innovators. Every low-income family whose children are fed a nutritious breakfast at their public school owes a debt to the Panthers, who pioneered the free breakfast program that was later co-opted by the federal government. Every Open Carry Picnic organizer owes a debt to the Panthers, who were the first to deliberately demonstrate their second amendment rights by peacefully and publically bearing arms. For the historically curious, this is a good place to start:

It amazes me that the supposedly well-educated Mayor of a supposedly progressive city like Madison could be so ignorant and so dismissive of the importance of Huey Newton.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Deal with the Devil

Many years ago, Pat Robertson made a deal with the devil. This is a true story. He promised, fifty years ago, that if he achieved worldly fame, wealth and influence through his Christian Broadcasting Network, that he would use it to serve the Prince of this World.

And he has kept that promise. He has given material support to murderous African dictators in exchange for diamonds. He has used the resources of a Christian charity that he runs to help mine those diamonds. He has encouraged Christians to seek worldly power and to harden their hearts against the world's poor and suffering people. He has called for the assassination of political opponents and publically called for others to seek the death of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Every year, with his phony prophecies, he spreads rumors of war.

The devil is preparing a place for Robertson in the eighth circle of Hell, where he will spend eternity with the other false prophets.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stages of Grief

The Packers keep finding new ways to break my heart. Just when I'd begun to accept that it was going to be a humiliating rout (during the 2nd quarter), they came back and gave me reason to hope again.

After that brilliant onside kick early in the 3rd quarter, I thought for sure they would do that again after their last touchdown. Yes, the Cardinals would be expecting it, but it was really the Packers' best hope. It was not reasonable to expect the defense to stop the Cardinals with almost two minutes to play, given the way they had played all game. I also expected the Packers to go for two after their last touchdown, in order to take the lead even if they didn't get another chance to score.

I need to keep reminding myself that I didn't even expect the Packers to make the playoffs at the beginning of the season. Dammit.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Biggest Problem With the American Healthcare System... my opinion, is habitual overconsumption. It raises demand and prices, constrains supply, and makes us less healthy than most of the rest of the developed world.

Health care is like food. You need a certain amount to stay alive and fit. Consuming too much, or the wrong kind, will ruin your health.

Emergency room care is like fast food. Sometimes it really hits the spot, and sometimes it's the only thing available. But making it your only diet will send you to an early grave.

Americans have an obesity problem. We have become victims of our own prosperity. We are also highly susceptible to advertising.

The economic boom that followed World War II, as well as the medical advances that came about during and after the war, led to enormous gains in general well-being and life expectancy for the average American. We learned that modern science can always improve on nature.

Regular check-ups and diagnostic X-rays, just in case, are always a good idea, we were told (despite evidence that too many of those X-rays over a lifetime may actually cause more cancers than they detect). The flap over the federal government's new mammogram guidelines demonstrates just how well Americans have been convinced that if a little of something is good, more must always be better. Many doctors have been concerned for years about the cumulative effect of too many mammograms over a woman's lifetime.

Since pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to advertise directly to consumers, the industry has skyrocketed, as have deaths from prescription drugs. A great many people benefit from the proper medications in the proper dosage. Unfortunately, a significant number of people take medications that do more harm than good.

Doctors push them because their patients ask for them, and because they have been taught (at a medical education conference at a tropical resort hotel, sponsored by a drug company) that the latest colored pill has been shown to be 61% more effective than a placebo, with minimal side effects. They never hear about the studies in which the placebo performed better. That's because, unlike European regulators, the FDA does not require pharmaceutical companies to publish the results of all of the studies they conduct. Big Pharma gets to cherry-pick, and we all get the pits.

It is clear that our government lacks the political will to stand up to Big Pharma (which spends more on marketing than it does on research and development). What we need, independent of any bungling attempts at reform that our government officials may make, is a strong consumer education campaign. Maybe some NGO could get that ad agency that does the anti-tobacco "Truth" commercials to come up with something similar about prescription drugs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fun With Photoshop

Because a picture is worth a thousand words...

Monday, January 4, 2010

What Are the Odds?

Next weekend, there are four NFL wildcard playoff games. Three of them (Packers versus Cardinals, Cowboys versus Eagles and Jets versus Bengals) are rematches of those teams' last regular season games, played yesterday.

Since the regular season schedules were developed months ago, long before the NFL could know which teams would make the playoffs, it could not have been designed that way. Also, the playoff match-ups could have been a bit different if Sunday's games had turned out differently (if the Jets had lost, they would not be in the playoffs; the Vikings were not guaranteed a first-round bye before Sunday's games had been played).

So, has this ever happened before? Any sports betting enthusiasts or statistics majors want to calculate the odds of three week-later rematches out of four wildcard games?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Creepiest Store at the Mall

I hit the after-Christmas sale at Dress Barn to find a nice dress for New Year's Eve. I found several possibilities on the clearance rack, and a saleswoman was nice enough to set me up with a dressing room. She asked my name and wrote it on a slate on the dressing room door. That's actually a convenient service for a customer who sends some items to her dressing room while continuing to browse the racks.

Once in the dressing room, however, the saleswoman kept asking me "How's it going in there?" I told her fine; I had tried on the first dress, decided it wasn't flattering and was putting on the second. "Do you want a second opinion?" she asked. "No, thank you." (I really don't need a 20-something saleswoman to tell me that a dress doesn't flatter my 40-something figure).

She kept asking if I needed help with a zipper, or if she could see the dress on me. I would have wondered about this particular saleswoman if not for the fact that another employee was hanging around the vicinity with nothing to do (it was a slow evening at the store), and so this was clearly standard operating procedure at Dress Barn.

Once my selection was made, I was asked if I needed a shawl or sweater, or any foundation garments, or jewelry, or hosiery. I assured the staff that I just needed the dress. I realize that they have an incentive to sell additional accessories wherever possible, and they are trained to ask customers this each and every time. But I still found it annoying, after I already said I just wanted the dress, to have to listen to the rest of the list of potential additional purchases.

All in all, although I like the inventory at Dress Barn, and the prices are better than similar garments at J.C. Penney, I much prefer the experience at Penney's, where I am never harrassed in the dressing room, and the cashier trusts that, if I wanted jewelry or foundation garments, I would have selected them for myself.