Wednesday, February 28

the Battle of Bascom Hill

On facebook on Monday, Tom declared a snowball fight on Bascom Hill, Wednesday at 12:55 pm. I guess it was in celebration of the recent snowfall. On facebook about 85 people said they were coming and approximately 200 said they might. I turned out with my camera to document for the ages the ensuing battle.

some people starting to show up

It ended up being a fizzle, but the Badger Herald and the Daily Cardinal both showed up, the media blowing up stories like usual. I was representin' the Beacon.

For most of it, it was about 25 people standing in the middle of the green throwing snowballs at people walking down the hill in front of the Law Building. I'm surprised the Althouse Vortex didn't at least snap a few pictures; it happened right outside her window.

Some passers-by freaked out and unleashed strings of inappropriate words. Others returned fire towards the belligerents. Many a snowball was struck down by the trees. It was over within about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, February 27

Hear Ye!

Do you know what today is? It's an every other Tuesday, ergo there's a new Mendota Beacon out around campus.

We've got our third action packet issue out! The big story in this issue is an interview of Ray Allen, who's running to unseat the mayor this spring. Be sure to check it out, leave some comments, and click the ads! Or pick it up on campus.

A special thanks goes out to Dan C. for lending us his driving services.

Monday, February 26

Funny Stuff

Saturday Night Live hasn't been spectacularly funny for the past couple of years, but this sketch made me laugh hard.

Some nice Pythonesque type humor.

Saturday, February 24

A Political Conundrum

It's no secret that I'm a Republican: I'm a College Republican (secretary for a semester), I have a bunch of Republican friends, I helped Republican campaigns (all but one lost), and I run a conservative student newspaper. I feel like I'm in a closet.

I was apathetic up until civics class in 9th grade, and then I went diehard Republican. I witnessed socialism this summer in Europe and all August long, I thought long and hard and questioned my beliefs. Looking around, I came to find that my beliefs are closer to the Libertarians than the Republicans.

I still agree with the Republicans, I guess, but I'm willing to trade social issues for economic issues. I used to be really strongly against gay marriage and abortion, but if I could, I'd make a deal with Democrats. I'd cede them those issues to cancel social security and most of the federal executive departments.

Religious people, no offense to God, Who I truly hope and believe exists, rub me the wrong way. As it was put in Monty Python's Holy Grail, King Arthur is explaining to the anarcho-communist peasants why he's king:

King Arthur: Her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excaliber--That is why I am your king!

to which the peasant replies: Listen--strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate of the masses; not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

I kind of cringe inside whenever a politician or anyone starts talking about religious things in public. For me religion is a private thing. If we go around letting it dictate policy, then we'd end up back in the Middle Ages, just like in the Middle East.

Another thing, back in high school, I was having an animated debate with some people and I was accused of only thinking and not feeling at all. I promptly told the people, who were liberals, that they're only feeling and not thinking at all. Animals can 'feel'. People are unique because they can 'think' and so that's what we should do. A welfare program may make you feel good, but what incentive is there to not be on welfare (teaching a man to fish versus giving him a fish, as the saying goes)? It doesn't fix it; it only makes it tolerable.

Competition in the free market is the best solution. There is no perfect way to distribute and produce, but free capitalism is the best humans can come up with. If there's no profit motive, then no one would be motivated to put their neck on the line to make risky decisions with responsibility, no one would work those extra hours to come up with the next great thing, and no one would make the risky investment to let the ideas take off.

Europe is socialist. Once you hire someone, there are a ton of rules about how long they can work, how much vacation, how much pay, how much benefits they get if you have to fire them. (That's where we're headed by the way) Therefore, few companies can afford to risk hiring someone that might be crappy because they won't be able to fire them until they retire. France's unemployment runs about 12%, and it's nearly 25% for young adults. In the U.S. our economy is doing great and unemployment is around 4-5%.

In my environmentalism class, there's a lot of bad things said about free trade and globalization. For instance Mexico used to be able to feed itself, but since NAFTA, their farmers can't compete with ours and they have to import our corn. If our government and other ones didn't get involved with farm subsidies, then the playing field would be level.

As Thoreau put it "the government that governs best governs not at all". People seem to get upset that politicians and the bureaucracy are crooked. Of course, there's lots of money involved. If you eliminate the cookie jar, then people can't be stealing the cookies. Example: the hundred million dollar Alaska Bridge to Nowhere.

The government getting involved with things only screws them up further. You've probably been to at least a few sporting events in your life. I've been to countless high school games. The worse games happen when the referees think they're playing in the game. The point of the referee is to enforce the rules without bias. The government is our referee between the individual and every other individual, company, etc.

The government messes up nearly everything. Take for instance, urban planning. (Read Jane Jacobs) How many non-dysfunctional public housing projects has it created? We've given our cities to it. By creating zoning laws, it forced America into the car culture. Zoning created the suburbs and subdivisions, where the only way to get around is by driving. Now you need a car to get anywhere. Wait until the oil runs out. I'm going to laugh hard.

The government should stop subsidizing things. Airlines, farmers, car companies, people who live in cities below sea level or in natural disaster prone areas, (dare I say education?). Perhaps the reason why the government has to give billions to the airlines every few years is because there's too many of them. Perhaps they have to give money, our tax money, to automakers because they build crappy cars that can't compete internationally. I say "Live and let die."

I've always been a "suck-it-up" kind of person. Someone has a problem, tough beans. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade (or kill someone by ramming them down their throat). All I want is for the government to protect my property and I will pay my taxes and not make a stir. I don't expect to be entitled to anything or receive anything unearned. I don't want to mind anyone's business and I don't want anyone minding mine. For example: I really could care less who's banging whom. "Don't want an abortion," so the chant goes, "don't get one". But they never say, "don't want a gun, don't get one".

The Republicans could be making huge strides in the economic arena, but they seemed to have abandoned that to get stuck in the fight over social issues. I think they could have made lots of friends across the country by fixing economic things. I think that's what made Reagan so popular. For example, social security (privatize or even opt-out!) or education (vouchers to let kids go to whatever school they want).

On a side note, it makes me happy to think that in the 2040's social security is expected to go kaput. In 2040, I'll be 54. I'll have paid the taxes for most of my life to get nothing!

So, as I've laid it out, I feel like a Libertarian hiding in a Republican closet. I don't really know what to do. It seems almost too easy to be a libertarian. Imagine a debate between the GOP, the Dems, and Libertarians. The GOP would say that there's a certain way to fix a problem, the Dems would suggest throwing money at studies and discussions, and the Libertarians would say that the government shouldn't even deal with it. Besides, there aren't very many libertarians for whom to vote, anyway. Also, if I remember correctly, the Althouse said something about how "a libertarian has to look inside himself to see whether he has a soul or not" (I'd link to it, but the search crashes because her blog is so big).

The Republicans are the party of Lincoln, T.R., Goldwater, and Reagan. I hope it's salvageable. It seems that they've been hijacked by the social issues people lately and the sky doesn't seem to be clearing anytime soon, unfortunately. My "Quotationary" tells me that David Broder said "Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he'll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office." 2008 doesn't look too bright. The Democrats are not to be trusted and the GOP isn't putting up anyone good.

On a side note, if I were president this is how it'd go :
year 1, cut half the programs
year 2, cut the other half
year 3, cut half the taxes
year 4, cut the other half

Of course, a lot of other stuff would happen in between, but I'll spare the details. Let me just say, there'd be a lot of office space for rent in Washington. (I turn 35 in December of 2021, so the earliest I could run would be in 2024.)

Anyway, that's what I think about politics. I feel relieved to get that out. So what should I do? Suggestions?

Friday, February 16

Madison's Transit Future; or How I Don't Believe There Should Be a Trolley

Once upon a time, a mayor had a grand dream to build a trolley in a beautiful city. Using the philosophy that "if you build it, they will come" he continues to relentlessly pursue it.

I, however, believe, politics aside, that it should not happen. It is not a wise decision financially and streetcars wouldn't fit the type of city Madison is.

Madison is expected to grow. I've heard 100,000 people, or something like that, in the next decade or two. But, the city is not growing up, it's growing out. A few days ago, one of the leaders of 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin spoke to my environmental studies class. He made a big deal of how lots of surrounding farmland is going to be developed and that a streetcar was a good idea.

Building a trolley will do nothing to stop the city from spreading out. Especially when it may only run within this area:

I don't think the bulk of Madisonian's trips originate and terminate within these bounds. Perhaps people would drive in, get off the Beltline at Park and ride the trolley in? They can already do that with the buses. Who would drive 20-30 minutes towards the city, then park, wait another 10 minutes for the streetcar, then ride it for at least a half an hour as it stops every other block for a few miles into the downtown instead of just driving another 5 or 10 minutes?

Taking out a lot of the city residents and most commuters, that leaves tourists and UW students. We already have the free buses around campus and bus passes. It would be silly to build streetcars for the Kohl Center and Camp Randall. Then the only other people who come to the downtown are people and school groups going to the Capitol.

Buses are a better option for the city. We already have them. They are flexible and don't need tracks. They also go faster than streetcars, which typically go about as fast as bicycles. I believe that people who already use alternative methods of transport or live in the downtown and already bike, will continue to bike. I think a trolley would be pretty cool, but I wouldn't ride it to go on a trolley ride.

Another important point is that Madison is not the right kind of city for streetcars; it is not dense enough. I've seen trolleys in German cities. Their cities are also 4 and 5 story, wall-to-wall houses, apartments, and shops for blocks and miles. Here, the streets are wide and the buildings are low-density and surrounded by grass.

A streetcar in Munich, Germany. Notice the size of the buildings on the street. There's nothing like that in Madison, except for on Capitol Square.

Here's more Munich from a church bell tower, typical European city blocks.

Here are a few tips I think the city should take, if it is serious:

  • Make a greenbelt to counter urban encroachment on Dane County countryside. England uses the greenbelt system and it seems to be the only practical way to preserve countryside. My home town has "smart growth" planning but it's too complicated and it usually gets dominated by stupid people. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid. Simply designate land to remain unbuilt. In England, they specify that fields and land within commutable range of a city are to remain natural, which keeps growth in the town. If it weren't for this, a lot of their country would be sprawl.
  • Encourage denser growth. They don't seem to like taller buildings in the downtown, yet that's exactly the city needs more of. Where there are concentrations of people many things work better. City services are more efficient as well as enough market exists that shops will start to open along the streets and people won't have to drive to get to work or shop as much. Madison isn't a Paris or London and it won't ever be, but houses should be built as row houses within a few feet of the sidewalk. People seldom use parks because every house is already surrounded by one.
  • Eliminate most zoning. Once houses and buildings are built closer and with more efficient uses, however the market will allow, perhaps with natural materials like brick, so they'll last for centuries, stores and shops will want to spring up on corners, but if the entire neighborhood is zoned residential, they can't.
  • Encourage mixed growth. As I've mentioned before, when shops are mixed in with residences, people walk a lot more. Also, shops are often locally owned, so their revenue will be put back into the local economy. I think this would manifest as shops on the ground level and apartments or condos above.
  • Don't build more roads and don't make current ones wider. More bigger roads only encourage more cars. Also, by not building, the city will save money. Besides, if/when gas runs out, what are we going to do with all the roads we've built?
  • Run express bus routes. From Johnson and Park, it takes nearly an hour to get the 6 miles to West Town's shopping. The most annoying thing about the bus is that it stops every other block. I think the best urban mode of transport is the subway because its quick and its stops are farther apart. Metro should pick some locations to be important connections, off the top of my head, I would say the N/S/E/W transfer points, Capitol Square, and somewhere in the campus. Then then should plan some new bus routes, perhaps a dozen, that crisscross the city stopping every mile or two and stop at these places for sure. I think travel time is a big deterrent keeping people from taking the bus. Doing it this way, after only a few stops a person would get across town quickly. They should run it quasi-subway style and it may attract some people that wouldn't ride it otherwise.
If these are taken into account, I think the city could prosper without expanding into the surrounding land. Eventually, as newer buildings are built with density taken into account, mass transportation would be used more frequently. Street life would prosper. State Streets would pop up across the city. And eventually, a trolley would be plausible.

Tuesday, February 13

Another new Beacon!

Our second issue of the semester was printed today. We turned two years old yesterday, Feb 12th, Abe Lincoln's birthday. Our centerpiece article is an interview of Mayor Dave. Be sure to check it out, leave some comments, and click on the ads!

Just kidding with the last one, or am I?

Perhaps you've noticed that a new issue of the paper is my main catalyst for posting. I mean to post more, but I don't like blogorrhea.

Besides, the running the paper takes up a lot of time. Trying to make an "alternative" paper successful in Madison is an uphill battle, but it's worth it. By alternative, I mean, of course, conservative with a dash of libertarian.

It's unfortunate, that the "open minded" people are afraid of a different viewpoint. In particular, someone in the physics building really doesn't like us. Last week, most every day when I have class there, I walked past the baskets and someone was trying to cover up the stack and finally, after a week, they just put the whole pile into the trash. So much for trees.

But hardship is good. What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. When I took the helm (ha, maritime) of the Beacon over winter break, I updated the look of the paper. When they're looking for any way to debunk us as a newspaper, the look is the most prominent as it's the packaging. I would venture to say that our appearance is on par with other student publications now.

A good paper doesn't just look nice; we have to fill it with copy. A lot of people seem to think that we are just the angry little conservative newspaper. We do a good job, I think, of keeping the politics to the opinion section. Good news is factual. Besides, so what? Read it and if you disagree, your beliefs are strengthened. What ever happened to "winnowing and sifting"?

We may not be big and few may pay attention to us, but I enjoy making the paper. I see our role as modern muckrakers, just like journalists a century ago, except we plow through the liberals' b.s. And I mean, this is Madison, we're here sitting in the heart of it.

I think the future is bright for the Beacon. A talented group of people has stepped up to the plate and each issue is better than the last.

P.S. I also wrote an opinion in this issue.