Let’s ‘AV A Beer!

I found this on the Progressive Review. Instant run-off voting makes a LOT of sense, and this clever ad from England puts in pretty clear terms why:

We’ve long advocated instant runoff voting and now Britain is voting on adopting it (over there it’s called alternative voting or AV).
This is one of the best graphics on the topic we’ve seen. (FPTP is “first past the post” or the way most American elections are run)

Spring Greetings With ‘Dark Wave Radio’

It dawned on me today that I’ve been listening to a lot of “dark” music lately. That’s not unusual, as I have an affinity for bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division and the Bauhaus.

I find pleasure in these dark musical corners.

But in the last year, I’ve come across some really good “dark” bands that have really grown on me. I thought perhaps I’d share.

The first is White Ring. This is a fan-made video. I don’t know much about the band, other than their album “Black Earth That Made Me” is in heavy rotation on my mp3 player. They have a MySpace page, but it doesn’t really give away too many secrets.

Salem. Another fan vid. This song kills every time, but especially if you’re in a car with lots of bass. Ellen Page aka “Juno” digs this band. But, uh, that’s not the only reason I like them.

This fan video for Soft Kill’s “Death in the Family” is creepy. The band takes sounds from the Cure and Joy Division, as well as other familiar bands of that vein, and makes them their own. I’ve been piping their album, “An Open Door,” into my ears a lot lately.

Zola Jesus. Such a powerful voice. She reminds me of Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Except Zola’s voice carries more weight, I think.

oOoOO can be real shapeshifters. When I hear this song, I picture a devil in some deep, lonesome cavern singing. No idea what he is singing about, but it sounds like quite a lament. But with the vocal manipulations, he could be singing “Friday, I’m in Love” for all I know.

Another oOoOO song. But you’d never guess it was the same band that made “No Shore.” Very pretty, but I still find it has a somewhat foreboding atmosphere. I find this song particularly helpful when I want to write.

And with that, I’ve concluded this (perhaps only) edition of “Dark Wave Radio.” I hope I’ve completely quashed any sunny springtime thoughts floating about your mind. Well, at least for a few joyous musical moments. 🙂

Sometimes It Takes The ‘Easter Turkey’ To Start A Conversation

A childhood “friend” informed my column in today’s Press & Dakotan:

Sometimes it takes the Easter Turkey to start a conversation.
Yes, you read that right — the Easter Turkey.
Let me explain.
As a child, I could make the prospect of having a conversation with me daunting to even the most brave adult. I had an arsenal of one-word volleys for any grown-up trying to get into my business.
“How are you doing?” a nice woman might have asked. “Good,” I would fire back.
“How is school?” My clever response? “Fine.”
“Kid! Your pants are on fire, and if you don’t stop, drop and roll, you are going to die!!!” I may very well have looked down at the flames emanating from my pants and responded with a succinct, “Yep.”
You get the idea. I was unflappable.
My Aunt Jeanette was determined to crack my defenses and took it upon herself to get beyond my evasive one-word answers using whatever means necessary.
And so began the legend of the Easter Turkey.
I know this may seem late. Easter has already come and gone. But, in fact, it may help give this story the focus it deserves.
Usually, all anyone can ever talk about around the Easter holiday is the Easter Bunny. This is precisely why the Easter Turkey is typically in such a fowl mood. (He would appreciate the pun.) He is forever overshadowed by those big adorable bunny ears. Put a turkey and a bunny in a “cute animal” contest, and the bunny is going to win every time. That’s a scientific fact. A twitch of a bunny nose will conquer the heart of a human every time. The wiggle of a turkey wattle just doesn’t have the same effect — especially when it belongs to the Easter Turkey.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of meeting this mystical creature, let me paint a picture of him. It’s not pretty. He wears a small, battered top hat to keep his dry, wrinkled head warm. Fittingly, the old, ruffled Easter Turkey wears an eyepiece over his droopy, crusty left eye, and his right foot drags ever so slightly when he walks. This is due to the fact that, one year, there was an egg shortage, and a kung fu fight broke out between the Easter Bunny and the Easter Turkey (Pandas aren’t the only animals who practice kung fu, you know). The only problem was, the Easter Turkey doesn’t know kung fu. He did some serious damage to his leg during that battle royale — and lost miserably. The Easter Bunny did feel bad enough afterward to share some eggs that had gone bad, though.
I admit that, like most kids, I was absorbed in Easter Bunny lore. How did he carry all that candy around in a basket? Was he white and hopping around on two legs? Did he distribute chocolate bunnies to discourage people from eating actual bunnies?
On Easter morning, I would check the yard for evidence that he had indeed been to our house. I kept my eyes peeled for bunny tracks and other evidence.
It’s been suggested that the Easter Bunny excretes jelly beans, but sadly I never found candy lying around the farm. Just the normal rabbit “stuff” …
But here I am, playing into the Easter Bunny hype machine and ignoring the real subject at hand: The Easter Turkey.
I haven’t even told you the coolest facts about him yet.
The thing about the Easter Turkey is, he doesn’t limit visits to Easter. Unlike the comparatively lazy Easter Bunny, he works year-round to spread filth and unhappiness to all of the world’s naughty children. So why is he the “Easter” Turkey, then? Because what turkey wants to be the “Thanksgiving” turkey?
He doesn’t bring candy. No, not even close. He brings smelly socks, rotten eggs and, if you’re really bad, dirty underwear.
Considering his payload, you can understand why the Easter Turkey isn’t exactly a happy fellow. Usually, he is downright mean, though he does have his own twisted sense of humor.
Normally, any mention of Thanksgiving around the Easter Turkey would earn you not just a pair of dirty underwear, but also a painful peck on the bottom. Well, when I asked him once if he would be so kind as to deliver me a rotten turkey for Thanksgiving (I had a practical joke in mind for my annoying brothers), he informed me that, “I’m the only rotten turkey that’s going to pay you a visit this year, kid.”
He also has a penchant for telling bad jokes.
“Why did the turkey cross the road?” he asked me once. “Because he’s a turkey, ya turkey.”
To be honest, Aunt Jeanette probably gave me the gift of the Easter Turkey with very few of these details.
But the story did get me to talk. We built the legend together.
At many family gatherings, we discussed the Easter Turkey — if he had visited, what he had brought, what cruel jokes he had played. (I think he may have stolen some of Aunt Jeanette’s socks at one point to dirty them and pass them along to some other bad children. She wasn’t happy about that.)
Sure enough, my one-word answers at least occasionally became sentences with subjects, verbs and prepositional phrases.
I guess I must have been a pretty bad case, as Aunt Jeanette told me recently that she has not passed along the story of the Easter Turkey to her children.
But I’ve never forgotten the Easter Turkey, and now I pass the story along to you.
After all, it sometimes takes the Easter Turkey to start a conversation.

Interactive Map Shows Problem Bridges In Your Area

I wrote an article in March regarding a study done by Transportation for America about the state of South Dakota’s bridges. South Dakota ranks 5th for the highest percentage of structurally-deficient bridges, while Nebraska ranks 6th. At the time the story came out, the individual bridges were not identified in their research. Consequently, local officials were a little confused, because they weren’t aware of the number of structurally-deficient bridges that were being attributed to Yankton County. The county highway superintendent knew of only one, and the county oversees the vast majority of bridges here.

Now, Transportation for America has a useful interactive map where, by typing in your location, you can find information on every bridge within a 10-mile radius. It may help clear up some of the confusion among local officials. I’m in the process of checking with them.

In the meantime, check this interactive map out for yourself: Interactive Bridge Map

Here is a short intro to the study provided by Transportation for America:

Despite billions of dollars in federal, state and local funds directed toward the maintenance of existing bridges, 69,223 bridges — 11.5 percent of total highway bridges in the U.S. — are classified as “structurally deficient,” requiring significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.

Two key problems persist: while Congress has repeatedly declared bridge safety a national priority, existing federal programs don’t ensure that aging bridges actually get fixed; and the current level of investment is nowhere near what is needed to keep up with our rapidly growing backlog of aging bridges.


Finally, this is the story I wrote on the issue in late March:

A study by a national transportation advocacy coalition shows that one in four bridges in Yankton County is structurally deficient. However, local transportation officials were left scratching their heads when looking at the figures.
Transportation for America says the condition of South Dakota’s bridges is the fifth-worst in the nation. It claims that just more than 20 percent of bridges statewide are rated “structurally deficient” according to government standards, which compares to 11.5 percent nationwide. The study was compiled by using data from the United States Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
“Things are really rough in South Dakota,” Transportation for America Field Organizer Andrea Kiepe said. “But, frankly, things are rough all over the country. It’s really poised to get worse. We’re going to have a backlog of bridge maintenance descend upon us. We need to be prepared for that.”
In Yankton County, about 26 percent of its 101 bridges are structurally deficient, according to the study.
Federal law requires states to inspect all bridges 20 feet or longer at least every two years. Bridges in “very good” condition may go four years between inspections, while those rated “structurally deficient” must be inspected every year.
By that criteria, Yankton County Highway Superintendent Alan Sorensen said he knows of one bridge owned by the county that would qualify as structurally deficient. It is located 1.5 miles north of Highway 46 along 444th Avenue. It wasn’t determined to be structurally deficient until recently, and the Yankton County Commission signed a resolution earlier this month stating that it is to be inspected annually. It’s the first time a county bridge has been declared structurally deficient and required annual inspection in at least 15 years, according to Sorensen.
“(This study) bothered me, because I was wondering where these 25 other bridges are,” he said. “I don’t know of them.”
The county is responsible for 71 bridges.
The state is responsible for five bridges in the county, and Yankton-area engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation Ron Peterson said he is aware of only one that may be structurally deficient: The Meridian Bridge, which is currently being renovated for recreational uses.
“(Transportation for America) could be using different criteria to determine structural deficiency than we use,” Peterson stated.
According to Transportation for America, in the surrounding area:
• 49 of Bon Homme County’s 135 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 32 of Charles Mix County’s 105 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 21 of Clay County’s 94 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 29 of Hutchinson County’s 155 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 53 of Turner County’s 140 bridges are structurally deficient; and
• 20 of Union County’s 175 bridges are structurally deficient.
Transportation for America has not yet released a report on Nebraska.
Yankton County Commission Chairman Bruce Jensen said he was also concerned about the figures when he first looked at the study but received some peace of mind after speaking with Sorensen.
“We need to continue upgrading them, but I believe our roads and bridges are in pretty good condition,” he said.
Sorensen admitted that the county has many bridges with posted limits, but that doesn’t necessarily make them structurally deficient. He also said that the county attempts to replace a bridge every year or two as funding allows.
Inspections done on bridges every two years are put to good use, Sorensen stated.
“The inspection tells us what we need to do to keep them the way they are,” he said. “After I get these, I give them to the foremen, and they try to repair them. Sometimes, there is no keeping up because of the bridge’s age.”
Kiepe said upkeep of transportation infrastructure is a popular issue with average Americans.
“People care a lot about infrastructure,” she said. “They want it to be rebuilt and think it is one of the things that made America great. That sentiment is not making it through the beltway and into Congress. If we can get those voices and get a public outcry, maybe we’ll get some movement. It’s such a critical issue. That’s why we have so many businesses in our coalition.”
Transportation for America has formed a coalition of housing, business, environmental, public health, transportation, equitable development and other organizations that are working to align America’s national, state and local transportation policies with an array of issues like economic opportunity, climate change, energy security, health, housing and community development.
With Congress writing a six-year transportation bill, Transportation for America is trying to generate civic concern on the issue. According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 70,000 bridges nationwide are classified as “structurally deficient,” and $70.9 billion would be required by transportation agencies to overcome the current backlog of deficient bridges.
Approximately half of the state transportation funding in the nation comes from Washington.
“(Congress is) going to be making the decisions about what the priorities are (and) how much money to devote, and this has got to be a priority,” Kiepe said. “It’s a matter of safety. It’s a matter of economic vitality. It’s a matter of economic recovery.”
With double-digit unemployment in the construction sector, Kiepe said there is no better time to invest in crucial infrastructure.
“These bridges are going to have to get fixed eventually,” she said. “We might as well do it now, when people are desperate for jobs. When you delay the maintenance, it only gets more expensive. If we don’t have a healthy transportation network, the recovery is going to be slower. That’s the last thing we need right now.”

Yankton Has Some Lessons For The Twin Cities

Minneapolis doesn’t have it all.

Granted, it has a lot more than Yankton, but apparently the Mother City of the Dakotas has some lessons for the big old Twin Cities.

Jeff Skrenes has some family in Yankton, and when he paid a visit to the area over Easter, he found some things he liked while touring the city’s historic residential area.

The problem I was having, as I mentioned above, was that my sister-in-law didn’t know too much about these houses.  Were they historic because of an occupant?  A designer or architect?  A certain architectural style?  Was the historic figure or style of local or broader importance?  All excellent questions, and virtually none of them were answered.  What Yankton’s historic district did have, though, were these interesting little placards showing which houses in the district were officially designated.

Do we even have those at all in Minneapolis?  Because I’ve been through some areas in SoMi, like the Healy block, and I can’t remember ever seeing one.  I happen to rent an apartment in a house that has a historically designated exterior, and the only time anything is ever posted that would mark it as historic is when an orange placard notes an upcoming hearing.

To be honest, he had a few complaints, too.

Little signs out front don’t go far enough though.  I tried Googling some of the names on the Yankton signs and didn’t really get anywhere.  Sure you can download a historic home brochure from the city’s tourism site, but that information is woefully incomplete and I only found it later anyway.  If we were to mark historic houses in Minneapolis, how would people be able to access information instantly as they see some of the significant homes in our fair city?

Luckily, I have the answer to Jeff’s problems! With the support of the Yankton Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Yankton County Historical Society, I’ve written a book that discusses the history of these homes and the people who built them. Unfortunately, budget cuts have slowed the process of getting the book published. We’re still trying to secure some grants. BUT, maybe by the next time Jeff visits, the book will be available for purchase. 🙂

Read all of Jeff’s post, along with some nice photos of historic Yankton homes here.

Guided By Voices Coming To Omaha

Great news tonight. It’s been announced that Maha, Omaha’s premiere indie rock festival, will feature one of my favorite indie rock legends — Guided by Voices!

I bought their album, “Alien Lanes,” on a whim as a teenager. I had no clue just how good my blind taste was until I stuck that blast of madness on my stereo. Most GBV songs are under three minutes, but have a tendency to stick in your mind anyway. “Alien Lanes” is quite a trip.

I’ve never seen the band live before, so this will be quite cool — especially given that it is the classic lineup that produced some of their best work. Robert Pollard is insanely prolific and, by all accounts, quite a frontman. It’s hard to believe he was once a fourth-grade teacher in Ohio.

Now he is an indie rock god.


Read more about GBV here.

Or just check out Bob practicing his rock star kicks:

Neoliberal Economics Bad For Our Health

Evidence abounds that our economic system and the income inequality it produces is having a very negative impact on our society. Here is a taste of what the research has shown, according to Ben Winegard, a graduate student at the University of Missouri:

Taken as a whole, the research summarized in the above table is damning for advocates of neoliberalism. Youth today suffer from increased anxiety, depression, and mental illness; exhibit inflated self-views and decreased empathy; believe money is more important than previous generations; and are more likely to accept the status quo with cynical acquiescence. These psychological trends are mirrored by a steady decline in social capital and a rise in crass materialism.45 We must be careful not to blame youth for these trends. They are caused by material and cultural changes, not by changes in innate psychology. These are the outcome of a culture predicated on material values and individualism. In short, these are the predictable results of neoliberal policy.

Read the whole article here.

Study: Youth Suicides Highest In Conservative Areas

This study indicates that an environment of tolerance and an effort to understand people’s differences go a long way toward health and happiness. That should hardly be a surprise. It’s just too bad that it’s a lesson that hasn’t been learned in many places.

Here is a story by Medscape:

April 21, 2011 — An unsupportive social environment significantly increases the risk for attempted suicide in gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth (LGB), new research suggests. However, if there is a positive side to this bleak finding, it is that a supportive social environment may significantly reduce suicidality in this high-risk population.


“This study…really challenges the myth that there is something inherent in being gay that puts gay youth at risk of attempting suicide. Instead, what we’ve shown is that the social environment strongly influences the prevalence of suicide attempts.”


A study conducted by researcher Mark Hatzenbuehler, PhD, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York, shows LGB youth living in an unsupportive social environment have a 20% greater risk of attempting suicide than their counterparts living in supportive environments.

“This study suggests that we can reduce suicide attempts among LBG youth by improving the social environment and really challenges the myth that there is something inherent in being gay that puts gay youth at risk of attempting suicide. Instead, what we’ve shown is that the social environment strongly influences the prevalence of suicide attempts,” Dr. Hatzenbuehler told Medscape Medical News.

The study was published online April 18 in Pediatrics.

Read the rest here.


The Associated Press also tackled the story:

Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights, a study involving nearly 32,000 high school students found.

Those factors raised the odds and were a substantial influence on suicide attempts even when known risk contributors like depression and being bullied were considered, said study author Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University psychologist and researcher.

His study found a higher rate of suicide attempts even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed when they lived in counties less supportive of gays and with relatively few Democrats. A high proportion of Democrats was a measure used as a proxy for a more liberal environment.

The research focused only on the state of Oregon and created a social index to assess which outside factors might contribute to suicidal tendencies. Other teen health experts called it a powerful, novel way to evaluate a tragic social problem.

“Is it surprising? No. Is it important? Yes,” said Dr. Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study “takes our relatively superficial knowledge and provides a bit more depth. Clearly, we need lots more understanding, but this is very much a step in the right direction,” he said.

Blum serves on an Institute of Medicine committee that recently released a report urging more research on gay health issues. Blum said the new study is the kind of research the institute believes has been lacking. The independent group advises the government on health matters.

The new study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous research has found disproportionately high suicide rates in gay teens. One highly publicized case involved a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off a bridge last year after classmates recorded and broadcast the 18-year-old having sex with a man.

The study relied on teens’ self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.

The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.

Among straight teens, suicide attempts were 9 percent more common in low-scoring counties. There were 1,584 total suicide attempts – 304 of those among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Hatzenbuehler said the results show that “environments that are good for gay youth are also healthy for heterosexual youth.”

The study is based on 2006-08 surveys of 11th-graders that state health officials conducted in Oregon classrooms; Oregon voter registration statistics; Census data on same-sex couples; and public school policies on gays and bullying.

The researchers assessed proportions of Democrats versus Republicans; there were relatively few Independents. Information on non-voters wasn’t examined.

Zachary Toomay, a high school senior from Arroyo Grande, California, said the study “seems not only plausible, but it’s true.”

The star swimmer, 18, lives in a conservative, mostly Republican county. He’s active in his school’s gay-straight alliance, and said he’d never been depressed until last year when classmates “ostracized” him for being vocal about gay rights.

Toomay said signs of community intolerance, including bumper stickers opposing same-sex marriage, also made him feel down, and he sought guidance from a school counselor after contemplating suicide.

Funding for the study came from the National Institutes for Health and a center for gay research at the Fenway Institute, an independent Harvard-affiliated health care and research center.

Michael Resnick, a professor of adolescent mental health at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, said the study “certainly affirms what we’ve come to understand about children and youth in general.

“They are both subtly and profoundly affected by what goes around them,” he said, including the social climate and perceived support.

It’s Not So Much Death As …

I suppose it’s funny in some morbid way. As I age, I don’t think about death as much as I did in my youth.
I remember lying in bed as a child, dizzy and crying while trying to comprehend “forever.”
It moved so fast. And it was all black.
That was our destination in death.
I imagined my parents falling into that black eternity and being taken away from me. I didn’t think I’d ever see them again.
Somehow I had arrived through this very same current. I was nothing, born into a brief life, and then I was destined to return to the stream from which I had emerged.
It all seemed rather cruel. Why are we given a glimpse of life and love, only to have it ripped away?
At some point, I decided that I have no way of knowing what death will bring. Therefore, it seemed a waste of time to dwell on it. I don’t subscribe to Heaven or Hell. The thought of reincarnation sometimes makes sense to me, even though it can also seem rather silly.
But mostly, I just don’t think about it.
Death will come. I don’t know when. I don’t know how. But I’m at peace with that fact.
I hope.
I would say that’s my biggest fear.
It’s not so much what comes afterward. I have no control over that.
What worries me is that over which I do have control.
I’m afraid I’ll be scared to death, so to speak, of death. I want to believe that if I was looking death in the eye, I could succumb to it without fear. I want to believe that I could lay myself down in its arms and close my eyes without so much as a shiver.
The thing is, I believe that’s one of those things where you can make all the promises you want to yourself, but you won’t actually know if you have that strength until the moment is upon you.
I am reminded of the Stephen Frears film, “The Hit.” In it, a former gangster, Willie, who ratted out his friends and went into hiding for 10 years, is found by some of his old associates. He knows he is being taken away to be killed.
The men hired to take him can’t understand why he is in such a good mood. He knows how things will end.
“It’s just a moment,” Willie explains. “We’re here. Then we’re not here. We’re somewhere else … maybe. And it’s as natural as breathing. Why should we be scared?”
The thing is, Willie thinks he knows when his moment will come. The hired hands have to take him back to the boss for a final conversation. When it doesn’t work out as he imagined, and the barrel of a gun is staring him in the face, he runs. In the end, he is unable to surrender without fear.
My heart sank to watch it unfold — because I could imagine myself doing the same thing.
Most of us are inclined to hold on to our lives — and that is a great and beautiful thing — but I know when my life is at the end of its rope, I want to be able to let go without the fear of falling. I don’t want to have my hands pried away.
I hope I have that strength. I’ll worry about what comes after that when the time comes.

Farewell Elisabeth Sladen

As I mentioned recently, I’m a huge “Doctor Who” fan. Sad news struck this week with the death of Elisabeth Sladen, who played investigative reporter Sarah Jane Smith. She is widely considered the most beloved of the Doctor’s many companions. It’s no mystery why that is so: She was a smart, beautiful and intelligent actress who really loved her character.

Sladen sometimes stated in interviews that although she had left Sarah Jane for the first time in 1976, “Sarah Jane never left me.”

I’ll miss you Lis!!!