Phoebe Snow: R.I.P

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In 1975, when Phoebe Snow’s Poetry Man hit the airwaves, I was living in Honolulu, taking a few classes at the University, playing guitar in a Waikiki showroom, eating coconut cream pie and reading Husserl’s Ideas during the breaks, and generally enjoying life before I had to return to Reed College in Portland Oregon for my final year of college. I was extremely impressed by Snow’s unique voice and style. Back at Reed in the Spring of ’76, a friend of mine from New Jersey told me that her brother had known Snow in high school. He’d learned that Snow had failed an audition with a local band because, according to one of the band members, she just wasn’t “cute” enough. For years, my friend – an ardent feminist who liked to imagine those band members forever regretting their narrow minded stupidity – never tired of retelling that story. As it turned out, Snow never realized her full potential; after 1975, her career was hampered by her decision to take care of her severely brain-injured daughter, Valerie, who died at 31 in 2007. Snow herself died yesterday at the age of 60.

Here she is in a club appearance in 1989, voice quite intact-



Senator Hopper Meets Constituents At UW-Oshkosh

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I attended Wisconsin State Senator Randy Hopper’s “listening session” at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh this evening. After the negative press coverage of his recent Fond du Lac listening session (see my previous post), at which he refused to answer questions or respond to comments during the session, here he did respond to some questions. He reiterated his – and Governor Walker’s – position that the reason Public Employee Unions have to be all but destroyed is because the state is “broke” and there is no time to negotiate. So, there is nothing new to report on that front. However, Hopper was clearly trying to tack a bit to the center tonight, suggesting that he and the Republicans in the legislature would try to solve the problems afflicting the poor and middle class, just as soon as the economy improved and the state began collecting more revenue from a growing economy.

Although a couple of Hopper supporters spoke near the beginning of the session, the great majority of the speakers were either skeptical of or quite hostile towards the Senator’s recent votes. Here’s a clip (taken on my iPhone – forgive the poor video quality) of a woman whose feelings of disappointment and disenfranchisement seemed to be shared by the vast majority of the attendees-

Bad Week For Lord – I Mean Senator – Randy Hopper

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Earlier this month, citizens groups submitted petitions requesting a recall election of Randy Hopper, the man who represents me (along with all his other constituents) in the Wisconsin State Senate. Last Monday night, Baron – I mean Senator – Hopper faced an angry crowd at a town meeting in his home city of Fond du Lac when he announced that he would condescend to listen, but that he would not deign to reply to any criticisms or answer any questions. As reported by Tuesday’s Oshkosh Northwestern-

Several people in a crowd of about 200 displayed anger and dismay Monday night when state Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, said a listening session would not involve answers from him.

Citizens filed into the Prairie Theater at UW-Fond du Lac, 400 University Drive, with concerns about loss of collective bargaining; signs supporting Hopper’s apparent Democratic opponent in a recall election, Jessica King; and worries about the educational system in Fond du Lac.

Hopper began the session by criticizing media for presenting the proposed budget as already being enacted, noting changes can be made with the input of citizens.

Michael Hochrein, a recreational supervisor at Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI) and the first person to speak, asked why Hopper would support removing collective bargaining rights from correctional officers.

When Hochrein finished, there were yells from the crowd demanding that Hopper address the question.

“I’m not going to be commenting and we’re not going to take questions,” Hopper said. “I’m here to listen to you today.”

Hopper’s announcement was met with shouts of “Shame,” “You’ve never answered anything,” “You’re out of here” and “What the hell is the point of this?”

To top it all off, the Northwestern reports today that a typo in a recent Hopper quarterly newsletter directed constituents to call an adult chat line, instead of his office-

In Hopper’s quarterly letter, the office number is listed as 1-888-736-8729. That, in turn, directs callers to 1-800-475-TALK, “the country’s favorite live talk,” where the conversation with “students, housewives and working girls” is not about Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.

The Huffington Post notes a snide comment made by Mike Tate, Chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party-

“Randy Hopper won’t listen to his constituents and stand up to Scott Walker so apparently he is sending his constituents someplace where the chat lines are still open.”

Of course, if the Northwestern’s summary of Monday night’s meeting is accurate, that’s not really fair. Sir – I mean Senator – Hopper will listen to us peasant folk, he just won’t respond. Apparently it’s beneath him.

A Couple Of Notable Films

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I’ve seen two films lately worth blogging about. The first, Gaspar Noé’s Enter The Void, sports the following blurb on IMDB: “A drug-dealing teen is killed in Japan, after which he reappears as a ghost to watch over his sister.” That pretty accurately summarizes the plot, but plot has very little to do with this film. It’s really all about the visual imagery, thanks to the largely first-person point of view from which it never deviates. The only time you see the protagonist’s living face, in fact, is in the mirror. And for the majority of the film, the perspective is not only subjective but also out-of-body: a ghost’s-eye POV, soaring over roofs, and through walls and heads. Early on, this discomfiting perspective includes perceptual distortions of the sort produced by various psychedelic drugs and magnified by the uber-alienating cityscapes of Tokyo. But the best of the imagery focuses on far more mundane subject matter, some of which – especially near the end of the film – is graphically sexual, but not particularly erotic… Rather, the point of all that feverish coupling is, well… surprisingly Buddhistic. Enter The Void is definitely not for everyone, but if the brief description above piques your interest, I recommend your checking it out.

The second film is the documentary, or near-documentary, Catfish, by three rather young filmakers: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, and Yaniv Schulman. Unlike the technical virtuosity of Enter The Void, this production is shoe-string city, shot partly on little hand-held cameras, mostly in natural light and with ambient sound. But the low production values rarely get in the way, and sometimes they actually help by reinforcing the film’s sense of authenticity; you feel as if you’re watching a well-edited home video, and that somehow makes the film’s dénouement all the more touching. Catfish raises interesting questions about the ethics of internet relationships, but, due in part to the self-centeredness of the film-makers (which they make no attempt to hide), it also raises questions about the documentary form itself. For while the film-makers document a sort of romantic “abuse” that Yaniv suffers at the hands of a Facebook friend he has never met in person, the way they doggedly pursue their investigation into the matter itself teeters on the edge of abusiveness, without ever quite falling off the cliff. For the most part, Catfish pulls off its delicate high-wire act, and you’re left with a surprisingly complex aesthetic and emotional experience that adds up to far more than the sum of its low-budget parts.

Every Vote Really Does Count

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I’ve been following yesterday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election with some amazement. A few minutes ago, NBC affiliate TMJ4 announced this jaw-clenching (sorry, pun intended) result-

Supreme Court REPORTING 100%
Joanne Kloppenburg 740,090 50%
David Prosser (inc) 739,886 50%

So, out of 1,479,976 votes cast, this election was apparently decided by 204 votes (the inevitable recount will provide the final word). Put somewhat differently, if 103 people who voted for Kloppenburg had voted for Prosser instead, the outcome would have been different. 103 people out of 740,090. 103 people out of nearly three-quarters of a million. Less than the number of students in my two classes today (most of whom, it turns out, did not vote).

Ah, democracy.

UPDATE 4/7/2011: Well, well, well… it appears that over 7000 Prosser votes were mistakenly left out of the original tally, thanks to… uh… human error. TMJ4 now reports-

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — A conservative incumbent surged to a commanding lead in Wisconsin’s hotly contested Supreme Court election Thursday, after a predominantly GOP county’s clerk announced she had incorrectly entered vote totals in the race seen as a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s divisive union rights law.

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said more than 14,000 votes weren’t reported to The Associated Press on Tuesday due to “human error.”

“This is not a case of extra votes or extra ballots being found,” Nickolaus said. “This is human error, which I apologize for.”

Nickolaus said the most significant error occurred when she entered totals from the city of Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee, but they were not saved.

Before the announcement, it was assumed 68-year-old conservative Justice David Prosser’s race against liberal assistant state attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg was headed for a recount.

But Waukesha County’s corrected totals gave Prosser a 7,500-vote lead, which is likely to stand if none of Wisconsin’s 71 other counties makes significant adjustments while reviewing their ballots.

Oh well. If I’m right about Wisconsin’s Open Meetings law (and I’d by happy to be wrong), the Supreme Court probably will not be overturning Governor Walker’s anti-collective-bargaining law any time soon, regardless of whether Prosser or Kloppenburg is elected. This is one battle that will be fought at the ballot box for several elections to come.

Irrationality Squared

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Killing innocent people because someone totally unrelated to them burned a book that one worships is irrationality squared. It is exponentially irrational because it is an irrational reaction to an act – the burning a Quran – that is itself irrational. The moral of the story that started in my hometown of Gainesville Florida and ended in Afghanistan is clear: religious extremism is a dangerous sort of madness that feeds on instances of itself.

To a non-religious person, the holy book of any religion is still just a book. Its content might be virtuous or vicious, worthy of respect or derision, but it embodies no supernatural powers. But a religious book burner takes the book burning act just as seriously as the worshiper takes the book itself; he takes the book burning to have supernatural significance, at least when he’s following the dictates of his own insane God (an insane God being one that not only doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, but that would also dogmatically – godmatically? – stick to His ignorant opinions even if He were informed of the truth). The bigoted burner and the murderous worshiper are two sides of the same crazy coin, even if only the worshiper is directly responsible for his extreme over-reaction. And when the religious burner knows that the worshiper will likely over-react in such an obscene way, and he burns the book anyway, he is an accessory before the fact. He is morally responsible – if not for the murders, at least for his own damnable callousness and indifference.

God save us from such men of God.

Open Meetings And Special Sessions in Wisconsin

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I’m not a lawyer, and when I read legalize my mind recoils in horror. However, I’ve been curious about the recent claim by Wisconsin’s Republican legislators that they are not obligated to follow the open meetings law when convening in special session. While there may be other issues for the courts to adjudicate concerning the process by which the Republicans passed the bill that decimates Wisconsin’s public unions, the charge that they violated the open meetings law seems to be front and center at the moment, and they adamantly claim that they complied with the letter of the law when they met with virtually no advance notice. Trying to evaluate this claim, I came up with the following information, which seems fairly reliable and at least partially relevant-

First, the Wisconsin Open Meetings Compliance Guide (written by Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen and dated August 2010) makes it clear that the open meetings law applies to all government bodies, with no exception made for the legislature. However, the law also seems to include a rather gaping loophole-

Generally speaking, the open meetings law applies to the state Legislature, including the senate, assembly, and any committees or subunits of those bodies. Wis. Stat. § 19.87. The law does not apply to any partisan caucus of the senate or assembly. Wis. Stat. § 19.87(3). The open meetings law also does not apply where it conflicts with a rule of the Legislature, senate, or assembly. [Emphasis added]

Okay, perhaps it’s not surprising that legislators should write a loophole for themselves that allows them to flaunt laws that apply to everyone else in the government. But the question remains as to whether there is a rule of the Legislature that allows a committee to ignore the open meetings law when convening in special session. On the Senate side, the relevant rule seems to be #93, particularly clause (2)-

Senate Rule 93. Special, extended or extraordinary sessions. Unless otherwise provided by the senate for a specific special, extended or extraordinary session, the rules of the senate adopted for the regular session shall, with the following modifications, apply to each special session called by the governor and to each extended or extraordinary session called by the senate and assembly organization committees or called by a joint resolution approved by both houses:

(1) No senate bill, senate joint resolution or senate resolution shall be considered unless it is germane to the subjects enumerated by the governor in the proclamation calling the special session or to the subjects enumerated by the committees on organization or in the joint resolution calling the extended or extraordinary session and is recommended for introduction by the committee on senate organization or by the joint committee on employment relations.

(2) No notice of hearing before a committee shall be required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board, and no bulletin of committee hearings shall be published.

(3) The daily calendar shall be in effect immediately upon posting on the legislative bulletin boards. The calendar need not be distributed.

(4) Any point of order shall be decided within one hour.

(5) No motion shall be entertained to postpone action to a day or time certain.

(6) Any motion to advance a proposal and any motion to message a proposal to the other house may be adopted by a majority of those present and voting.

Now, I’m really flying by the seat of my pants here, but as I read Senate Rule 93 (2), the only notice of a hearing that is required when in special session is a posting on a bulletin board. Assuming that the Republicans had the presence of mind to tack up a piece of paper on a bulletin board, it does appear that they did not violate the letter of the open meetings law by convening their committee with so little notice.

Although it might cause me to lose 10% of my paycheck sooner rather than later, perhaps that’s as it should be. After all, it’s the content of law that so many Wisconsinites find objectionable. The rather ugly process by which it was passed seems secondary.