Archive for the ‘Wisconsin society’ Category

Pressure mounts against UW “closed meetings”

February 2, 2010

A recent article in the Badger Herald questioned the legality of a “closed” meeting of the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates Oversight Committee. Besides being a long-time champion of free speech and open government, the Herald had a specific dog in this fight –– it was a Herald reporter who was shown the door by university officials.

What’s next? Dare I say lawsuit?

A potential legal battle would concentrate on one point: Is the committee a governmental body? According to the university, it is not because it is “purely advisory.” However, according to the Attorney General’s office, governmental bodies are defined by how they are created, not what they do. And then there’s this:

Minutes from the May 7, 2008 Board of Regents meeting indicate the committee’s formation may have been formal, however. The minutes describe their approval of the tuition increase and then say a Madison Initiative Oversight Board will review the tuition differential annually.

In response to questions on the matter, UW spokesman John Lucas sent me the following:

In the spirit of transparency in which MIU was created, tomorrow’s meeting (9 a.m. in 260 Bascom) and all other meetings will be noticed and open.

There is some confusion that still exists about whether the Regents meeting minutes you mention references a separate committee that still needs to be formed in order to make an accountability report to the Regents.

But that point is really technical and moot– the MIU oversight committee will be considered to be a governmental body for the purposes of the open meetings law and open to all.

Does that mean UW admits fault? Or does it mean that it is simply doing students “a favor”?

No sexual bending

January 26, 2010

“When dancing back to front, all dancers must remain upright – no sexual bending is allowed,” the policy reads. “Examples are, no hands on knees, and no hands on the dance floor with your buttocks touching your dance partner. There will be no touching of the breasts, buttocks or genitals. There will be no straddling of each others’ legs.”

New dance rules for students at Union Grove High School.

Back in the good old days, you’d take your steady girl to the prom, dance the jitter bug for a half hour and then go conceive your first born in the back seat of your dad’s car. These days you stay on the dance floor as long as possible, desperately trying to simulate sex with every girl in your graduating class before midnight. Less STDs, more variety and many more orgasms.

“Sconnie” nominated for word of the year

January 8, 2010

Bad news Carol. City Dictionary, a website that specializes in local jargon all across the country, has come out with its finalists for the 2009 word of the year.

The word “sconnie” can mean anything relating to Wisconsin, or—when capitalized—”Sconnie” can refer to a person from Wisconsin. While the concept seems rather straightforward, very few people are in agreement as to where the word comes from and who actually uses it. On City Dictionary, people have documented use within Wisconsin and in neighboring states like Michigan and Minnesota, as well as far away places like Colorado and Hawaii. With that said, many naysayers within Wisconsin consider it a term that ought to be relegated to other-state obscurity. City Dictionary user madnick calls sconnie a “bogus term made up to sell t-shirts.”

Some other localities definitely brought their A-game, however. The Sodies amongst you probably recognize “Meat Raffle,” and hitchhiking is apparently seeing a comeback in Washington D.C. under a new name: “Slugging.”

O Minocqua, where hast thy trains gone?

August 30, 2009

A trip to Minocqua, WI (Oneida Co, pop 4,859) wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the town history museum. I was thoroughly impressed by the two rooms of local lore – so much so that I donated the only remaining dollar in my wallet to the cause. I especially enjoyed some of the original maps of the area drawn and labeled by French explorers. Although the explorers documented all the local flora and fauna, I did not see anything about des blaireaux (badgers).



The town was started as a commercial hub for lumberjacks in the area after a railroad station was established. It connected the north woods to Milwaukee and the rest of the country.

The town had a horrendous fire in 1912 that required that firefighters be called up by train from Wausau.

In 1959 passenger rail service was stopped.

In 1981 the rail line was abandoned forever.

How ironic. Now, in the 21st century, we’re desperately trying to grapple with the consequences of the infrastructure we substituted for the railroads, and trying to get trains back on the agenda. Maybe one day, as an old man seeking a peaceful place to retire, I will be able to once again take a train from Chicago to Milwaukee to Minocqua.

Soda or Pop…or coke, what camp are you in?

July 10, 2009

A valued reader from the east coast tipped me off about the most profound study of linguistics ever commissioned in American history.

I wish I could paste the map for you right here dear readers, but it won’t work for some reason. Trust me, go to the link.

Basically, it turns out that despite what some people in eastern Wisconsin say about “pop being a Minnesota thing,” it still remains the word of choice for many, many Sconnies when describing a generic soft drink. Although this survey showed that the word was practically non-existent in Milwaukee and the surrounding counties, it dominates in western and central Wisconsin.

What is truly puzzling about the data is this whole stretch of eastern Wisconsin seems completely out of sync with the rest of the Midwest. For instance, people in the northeast, bordering the UP, tend to say “soda,” however, not one county in all of Michigan has a majority of “soders.” These people in eastern Wisconsin are isolated statistical anomalies.

Do we happen to have a linguistics prof out there who could explain this phenomenon?

Dane County is split – with pop slightly edging out soda.

In the South of the country, people tend to say “coke” when referring to soda.

Wisconsin is not that fat

July 3, 2009

All the cheese curds and beer only managed to get us into the top 25 for obesity rates in the country. It must be that goddamn “MGD 64.” Make no mistake – Wisconsin is supposed to be a fat state.

Paul Soglin says we should care about obesity because it plays a big role in health care costs. He compares society’s indifference to fighting against obesity to those who are against motor cycle helmet laws – because we end up paying for the health costs regardless. However, he fails to propose what we should do to combat obesity. I would propose labeling foods with high fructose corn syrup, or high levels of it. Also, while we’re at it, we might as well end subsidies on corn. Neither will ever happen.

Obesity will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.

That the two conditions are comparable is telling. The smoking rate nationwide is generally put at around 18-20%. The number is declining and our generation’s smokers are not the smokers of the Marlboro cowboy era. My grandfather, who died of lung cancer at 53, easily smoked upwards of two packs a day. He smoked when he worked, when he ate – any time was a good time. President Dwight Eisenhower once expressed interest in decreasing his daily cigarette intake from five packs to three. These days it’s practically impossible to have that kind of smoking habit without becoming a social troglodyte. The cultural restrictions are much more powerful than the recent onslaught of legal restrictions that politicians focus their attention on. Most people would be stunned if a guest lit up a cigarette in their house without asking, and frankly, very few smokers even bother asking anymore – the social stigma associated with smoking is too strong to bear. People aren’t used to hanging out in big clouds of smoke, having the smell seep into their clothes – something that used to be a given at any social gathering.

It will be interesting to see if a similar cultural backlash against bad foods could do something about America’s obesity problem. Although I don’t have numbers to cite, I have a strong feeling that attitudes towards fast food have changed significantly since I was a kid. I remember McDonald’s being something semi-respectable, something that parents weren’t ashamed to treat their kids to on a regular basis. My older brother (who was in high school at the time) talked about spending all of his allowance money at Mickey D’s, in part as a reaction to our family’s cooking, which he described as “rabbit food.” Now McDonald’s is something of a caricature of American indulgence, and the idea of going there for a real meal, meaning anything besides french fries at 2 a.m., is considered somewhat of a joke. Trips to McDonald’s always seem to be accompanied by self-deprecating humor, and the inevitable statement that “you only live once.”

Yet the numbers show that McDonald’s grew 27% between 2005 and 2007. Let’s hope it’s in other countries. The French could use some fat people.