May 28th, 2013

Concerning the Current Carnival of Corruption at our Capital

It occurs to me that headline might be taken two ways. Obama-bashers look elsewhere--the Capital I'm writing about is Madison.

When Scott Walker was elected governor, his announced agenda included the slogan "Wisconsin, Open for Business." Since it included proposals such as selling state-owned power plants to sweetheart buyers, my thought was "It might as well be, 'Wisconsin: For Sale'."

That Wisconsin is indeed for sale is proven by the recent barrage of corrupt, questionable, and just plain bad legislation included as part of this year's biennial budget package.

Unlike the Federal Government, Wisconsin is constitutionally required to pass budgets. Since this is a must-pass piece of legislation, although it is not supposed to contain policy provisions, the fact is that every administration crams in things they want part of a must-pass bill that they don't want to fight over individually. That Walker has done this also is not remarkable. What is remarkable is what is in there.

We have (had) a provision to specifically exempt rent-to-own businesses from provisions of the Consumer Protection statutes, specifically "truth in lending" sections. There's absolutely no explanation as to why this is supposedly a good idea,other than that the business owners want to be able to better disguise their predatory lending practices from their victims. At the moment, this has been taken out by the Senate Finance Committee who found it smelled a bit too bad, although numerous Republicans voted to keep it in.

There is a provision to totally gut tenant's rights, desired by Republican donors the Wisconsin Realty Association (read: landlords). Among other things, this would allow landlords to perform "self-help" evictions without going to court or having Sheriff's deputies perform the evictions. Landlords would also be permitted to "distrain" or confiscate renter's property for alleged unpaid back rent or damages, a privilege they haven't had in Wisconsin for many decades. Besides the potential for abuse inherent in these changes, I can just visualize the shootout occurring when a tenant attempts to defend his home from the landlord's thugs, who of course would NOT be peace officers, and not have any warrant to enter--.

The Governor also proposes to bring back the business of bail-bonding, something else Wisconsin has survived perfectly well without. No court, prosecutor, sheriff, or police chief has asked for this. Although I would agree that too many people are held in jail not able to make bail, especially in urban counties such as Milwaukee, the answer is for the courts to take a more sensible approach to bail. Instead, it is proposed that we expose more vulnerable families to a disguised form of predatory lending, and allow unsworn and minimally regulated individuals to attempt to serve warrants, make arrests, and take alleged bail-jumpers into custody. This because someone thinks that it is good business.

And, the proposal to sell off State property has returned in a newer and more widespread form. The current proposal would allow the Governor to negotiate the sale of ANY state property, other than certain parks and other facilities specifically entailed to the public trust. The sales are a no-bid process and can be negotiated in secret, although the Legislature appears to be holding out for a review/consent role. The supposed virtue of this plan is that state property can be sold to raise money to pay down public debt. One insidious part is that the proceeds need not be dedicated to the good of the organization whose building it was. For example, University of Wisconsin dormitories could be sold off in order to pay monies owing to highway constructors (some of the state's real owners--). This is also a way to funnel taxpayer money into the pockets of the Administration's cronies while saddling unpopular agencies with crippling costs.

This improvident way of raising short-term funds by assuming permanent expenses was popular in business circles in the last century, when it seemed a good idea to sell corporate properties to management companies and rent them back--until realities of increasing rents and decreasing maintenance hit home. The company I work for, which I have always felt was relatively well-managed, never went for this fad. In fact, for years they have been consolidating OUT of leased offices into company-owned properties.

When it was pointed out to her that, under the plan as written, even the State Capitol building could be sold, Walker's chief Senatorial stooge, Albert Darling, snapped, "That's ridiculous, we would never sell the Capitol!" I would agree that it's ridiculous--but only because the Capitol has already been sold.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Wiscon 37, Friday

Friday morning, we drove over to Madison for WisCon 37. Driving was fine, and we had some of the best weather of the weekend, which otherwise tended to be cool and damp. Checking in to the hotel was no problem, and we were surprised that we had been "upgraded" to the Governor's Club on floor 12. What this meant was that we could use the exclusive elevator, but the Governor's Club lounge and complimentary food and drinks weren't included (unless we wanted to pay the extra, which we declined. The room was nice as the Concourse rooms usually are, but I don't believe otherwise any different from regular rooms. The express elevator was a nice perk though, particularly when hauling baggage in and out.

Our first activity was a joint reading at 4PM. We were proxy reading for Pat Bowne, who couldn't be there due to her academic responsibilities. Georgie and I jointly read an excerpt from Pat's story, "Want's Master," which the audience seemed to enjoy. Mark Rich read a very entertaining section on "Dejah Thoris," from "Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse," forthcoming from Aqueduct Press. Fred Schepartz read from "Guitar God," a "Jewish, suburban, rock and roll fantasy with a 1970's soundtrack," which was also very good, and "Rez" read a suite of time-travel poems that were quite cleverly put together and as good as any contemporary poetry I have heard in quite a while.

After that, we went out to a quick dinner, and decided to try Five Guys Burgers and Fries on State Street. We found this widespread chain to be quite good. A standard burger there consists of two patties, or a "small" is one. We got one small hamburger for Georgie, a regular cheeseburger for me, a large order of fries to split, and soft drinks. The burgers were quite tasty, moist without being drippy. The cheese was standard American, nothing to write home about, and condiments, including ketchup, mustard, and pickles, of good quality. Judging by the sacks of actual potatoes in evidence, the fries are locally cut in the rustic style with the skin on, which gave them good flavor, but they were a bit too enthusiastically salted.

The restaurant has an old-school "White Castle" decor, with lots of white tile and red accents, liberally posted with their Zagat rating and "best burger" rating from many cities. The major down-check for us was the too-loud music, which is evidently part of the chain's vibe, but caused us to chow down and escape as quickly as we reasonably could.

The Opening Ceremonies were short and sweet, with no sketch or divertissment this year, which was a bit disappointing. Afterward, we went to "Betty Boop: The Original Slutwalker?" presented by Magenta Griffith. There were some problems with the AV equipment, so I rushed up to my room and brought down my laptop with DVD player, which interfaced with the projector just fine. Since I am a fan of Betty Boop, I was glad to act as the "projectionist" for the presentation. Magenta gave a good program on Betty Boop's history and development, and showed a number of representative cartoons detailing her transgressive career.

After that, we did a bit of mild party cruising and went to bed relatively early.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Wiscon 37, Saturday

Saturday, neither of us had panels scheduled. We got up in time to go purchase croissants from L'Etoile and take a look at about half the Farmer's Market before coming back to the hotel to eat breakfast, and then go to the "Real Life Science Fiction" panel, which dealt with the most interesting recent science stories. Kylee Peterson, Jacqueline Gill, Heather McDougal, David Peterson, and GoH Joan Slonczewski gave a fascinating presentation on the frontiers of science.

After that, we had the obligatory Saturday lunch at the Tiptree Bake Sale, which seemed to be particularly good this year. After the break we went to the reading session, "A Confederacy of Troublemakers," which featured Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Annalee Newitz, Madeline Robins, and Nisi Shawl. They gave us an excellent set of selections from recent and forthcoming works that we will definitely want to find and read.

Next, we visited the Art Show and the Dealer's Room. Both had very good selections this year, and were very interesting.

The next panel we attended was "Food in Spaace!" which dealt with the kinds of issues a long space voyage would need to resolve. How much food, and how would you store it/grow it/ create it? Are 3D printers the food replicators of tomorrow? What kind of cuisine? Who gets to cook? (Who does the dishes didn't come up--.) Panelists Liz Gorinsky, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, Magenta Griffith, Penny Hill and Heather McDougal covered the topics well and with humor.

We went to dinner at Spice Yatra on the Square, which had pretty decent Indian food (Tandoori Mixed Grill was good) but the service was a bit slow--apparently not expecting the number of people in on Memorial Day Saturday.

We made a point to get back early in time for Tiptree Auction setup, because we were delivering two cakes that Georgie had made, one for each of the winning works. Georgie put in a lot of work translating the cover art for both works into cake, since the watery photo-manipulated covers they BOTH had ("The Drowning Girl," by Catlin R. Kiernan, and "Ancient, Ancient" by Kiini Ibura Salaam) were less than ideal for rendering as butter cream frosting. Everyone who sawthem seemed to think they were beautiful (as did I) and they took in $340.00 for the Tiptree Award.

Ellen Klages was in good form as auctioneer, and we stayed until after the cakes were auctioned and the siren call of the parties drew us upstairs and eventually to bed.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

WisCon 37, Sunday, Part 1

Sunday, I had the dreaded 8:30 AM panel slot ("How Many More WisCons?"), so we breakfasted on Green Room scones and orange juice, and go to the panel room in good time. There was a very good audience for this early hour, and we had a very interesting and informative panel, although a bit of a downer. As posted elsewhere in this journal, I have become a convert to the Club of Rome's forecasting, which leads me to the conclusion that we have f*cked up the planet, and we're pretty much screwed. Not that there's nothing that CAN be done, but, given the political and social dynamics, nothing WILL be done while there's time and money to do it. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid I'm right. Shannon Prickett, L J Geoffrion, Noelle Reading, and Adrian Simmons were other members of the panel and made very solid contributions. As I concluded--I'm sure we will make it to WisCon 40. WisCon 50 or 55, I'm not at all sure of.

The next thing we went to was the Programming Recruitment meeting. We are both thinking of getting more involved in ConCom work, and a lot of this can be done remotely, so we are both considering options.

Then, I was scheduled to be Moderator on the "Fear and Masculinity in SF & F" panel. Panelists Liz Argall, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Michael Underwood gave a highly literate and very nuanced panel on this topic that I thought was just fantastic. Afterward, I got a couple of compliments on my moderating style from audience members, so I was pleased.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.