Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Savannah Lesson

Lori and I recently returned from four days in the Savannah, Georgia area. We spent much time on Tybee Island, a sunny gem located about 18 miles east of Savannah. (If you ever get out to Tybee do make it a point to visit The Crab Shack; it's the epitome of "low country" cuisine and lots of fun.).

Savannah is quite possibly the most walkable city in the United States. It features 22 public squares, all of which have wide cobblestone walkways, wonderful landscaping, benches, and central focal points. [Note: In its most beautiful public areas, one cannot find a $600,000 restroom. They use porta-potties which seems to suit the wealthy and those of more moderate income just fine.]. The squares are very much like outdoor rooms, and most of them seem almost like front yard entrances to the historic homes and structures that surround them. The city's riverwalk might be too tourist-y for some, but even there one cannot help but be impressed by the way historic buildings have been turned into restaurants and shops.

While most American cities in the 1970s were abandoning historic properties and replacing them with cul-de-sacs, sprawl garbage and grotesque architecture that now makes up the urban landscape, Savannah was beginning the process of restoring and reusing its historic structures. Much of this was the result of the efforts of the Savannah College of Art and Design, which put massive resources into the preservation of the city. Savannah's status as a major international port city also helped provide the resources necessary to redevelop the historic district.

Savannah has the same problems (i.e. crime, not enough high wage jobs) that can be found in all urban areas. But what separates Savannah from most cities, and I'll call this the Savannah Lesson, is that they have created a city worth caring about. The ethic of preserve and reuse is deeply entrenched to the point where even new developments are forced to conform to architectural standards consistent with the classic structures.

In Savannah there's an ethic of preservation, the most beautiful homes are easily accessible via sidewalk and you find porta-potties in public parks. In Oshkosh our first instinct is to close buildings that have not been well maintained (see "Scenario 7"), just placing sidewalks in neighborhoods with nice homes is controversial and we had to have golden commodes in Riverside Park. So much for the progressive midwest!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Whom will we honor Memorial Day?

In 1976 historian Howard Zinn's bi-weekly op-ed column for the Boston Globe was canceled after he wrote a piece called "Whom will we honor Memorial Day?" That piece can be found here.

I won't be posting again until after the holiday. Have a great weekend. Peace, -Tony.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A New Low At Miles2Go

Even people who hate Paul Esslinger should have the decency to agree that this anonymous cheap shot on Miles Maguire's blog crosses the line:

This man is a pathetic example of a lion who gets a nail stuck in his paw. Even though the nail was removed when Dell Antonia was voted off the council, that wasn't good enough for Esslinger. He holds grudges and they eat away at him like a cancer.

Paul Esslinger's ordeal with cancer is a matter of public record, making the comment above one of the most disgusting I have seen on a local blog in quite a while. Certainly Miles and those who have been supporting his no-sidewalk-now conniption in the blog do know about Esslinger's bout with cancer, and yet as of 11:45 p.m. Wednesday none of them have renounced the remark.

The more vicious of the Internet Trolls usually avoid Miles' blog, but perhaps one of the consequences of conniption commentary is that it attracts those who tend toward low blows, ad hominem attacks, and hissy fits.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Democrat Bob Kerrey On Iraq

In a Wall Street Journal piece that sounds like it could have been written by Joe Lieberman or Dick Cheney, former US Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska) says that Iraq has become the "primary battleground against the same radical Islamists who declared war on the U.S. in the 1990s and who have carried out a series of terrorist operations including 9/11."

Kerrey asks policy makers, "what does your conscience tell you to do?" He should know something about conscience. Read all about his "One awful night in Thanh Phong." Kerrey and his men killed at least 13 unarmed women and children in a massacre that the former senator says he feels terrible about but did not constitute war crimes based on the rules of the time. The article quotes experts who disagree.

I don't think any declared Democrats running for president will take Kerrey's view, but I am quite sure the Republicans will exploit the WSJ piece for all it's worth.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"I know this is going to work"

Yesterday the Common Council and the Redevelopment Authority met with Akcess to discuss the latter's progress on where they are as regards The Waterfront proposal. Given that Fred and Tim Rikkers had been speaking to the press on a fairly regular basis before this meeting, there really were no surprises. I appreciated their enthusiasm for the project, the fact that they use [and seem to appreciate] green building principles, and what seems to be a genuine desire to bring something worthwhile here.

I was disappointed by the fact that when you cut through the optimism and public relations, there's really no guarantee that anything other than an office complex will be developed. Add to that the fact that 95% of the potential tenants will simply be relocated from other Oshkosh buildings (meaning we will be creating even MORE vacant office space) and all of a sudden the proposal looks quite thin indeed. The Rikkers' kept coming back to the point that the office building has to be done before anything else can happen, which may or may not be true but which got me thinking that we are right back to Faith Based River Development again.

At one point Tim Rikkers said, "I know this is going to work." Great, but we've heard that before (can you say "100 Block"?).

But what do I know? I'm just a one-term Tony.

I can't say at this point whether I will vote for or against whatever Akcess brings forward, but I can say this: before any meeting at which the Council must vote on an Akcess proposal, I will call a Town Hall Forum and ask for citizen feedback. You can also respond here, email me at the city email address or call me at 235-1116.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

At Least Lute's Not a "Peace Czar"

If he receives Senate confirmation, Lt. General Douglas E. Lute will become the nation's first "War Czar." Apparently Czar Lute is quite the opposite of the Commander in Chief; Mr. Bush says that Lute "understands war and government and knows how to get things done."

Czar Lute is quite the student of history. According to the Washington Post, he cites Thucydides as his "favorite military scholar for helping him to understand the connection between civil society and armed forces." There's a famous Thucydides quote that pretty much sums up what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan today: "The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

At least Lute's being called a "War Czar." In this age of Orwellian Newspeak, we should have expected that he would be called the "Peace Czar." The Department of Defense was once the War Department, so perhaps it's only a matter of time before the War Czar becomes the Peace Czar. My guess is that the name shift will happen right after Czar Lute presides over an operation that burns down a village in order to save it.

Finally, I'm sure peace rocker Sting won't be a fan of Czar Lute, but he does play the lute:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bike To Work Week

May 12-19 is Bike To Work Week.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Keep Doug Boone in Your Thoughts

Oshkosh resident Doug Boone, a tireless peace activist who singlehandedly collected thousands of signatures against the Iraq war, sits in a coma tonight at Mercy Medical Center. According to Doug's partner Jane Spietz, Doug went into the coma shortly after coming through surgery for a disc problem. Jane has been calling all of Doug's friends and acquaintances and is asking all of us to spread the word.

In addition to working to end the Iraq War, Doug has long been a champion of workers' rights, the environment, voting rights, and many others. He has been a great help to many political candidates, including my own race for Common Council.

It's difficult to imagine the Fox Valley activist community without Doug Boone. Please keep him in your thoughts.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tony Blair's Legacy

British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently announced his resignation. The London Independent's feature on Blair's legacy is worth a read.

I think years from now historians will have a difficult time trying to figure out how someone of Blair's intellect became the key European apologist for the looney "anti-terror" policies of the Bush administration.

When mainstream historians write about Churchill and FDR, they give us two small-d democrats standing against fascism. But Blair and Bush? Their conduct of the global "war on terror" has been conducted with an ineptitude and arrogance that almost makes one yearn for the days of Thatcher and Reagan.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Political Cartoon Anniversary

On May 9th, 1754 Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette published the first political cartoon in American history, "Join, Or Die."

My favorite political cartoonists are Lyle Lahey, Tom Tomorrow, and Matt Bors. Matt Wuerker is pretty good too. Do you have any favorites?

Monday, May 07, 2007

PMI on Leach: "The perception that it's a failure is wrong"

The article below by Jim Otey appeared recently in Pollstar, a leading entertainment industry trade publication. It's fascinating that PMI uses the existence of Waterfest and lack of permanent or covered seats as reasons why they have not been able to deliver what was expected from them at the Leach--as if those things were not already known in 2005 when they were signed on to manage the facility. And how's this for the community centeredness that was promised: "As far as suggestions from council members that the facility should be used for more than live music, Wachter said he's tried to bring in other things like weddings. He's open to anyone who wants to use the venue, but people lose interest when they find out it'll cost them."

Here's the full article (many thanks to Matt Beringer for forwarding the piece):

As The Oshkosh Shed Turns

So far, this isn’t the Year of the Amphitheatre. Some are going up for sale while others – Germain Amphitheatre in Columbus, Ohio, specifically – are booking as few as seven shows this season.

Then there’s the case of Oshkosh, Wis., where city officials are scratching their heads, wondering why a facility operator hasn’t booked Roger Waters yet.

PMI, the Green Bay-based promoter responsible for managing the Leach Amphitheatre in Oshkosh, has found itself the target of the criticism.

It began following the submission of a report outlining PMI’s goals for the 2007 season, according to the Oshkosh Northwestern. Members of the Oshkosh Common Council told the paper they don’t think the company is making the best use of the facility.

PMI President Ken Wachter told Pollstar his company has been managing the amphitheatre, which is home to the city’s annual Waterfest summer concert series, for three years under an agreement with the city. His company also runs the Resch Center and the Meyer Theatre in Green Bay where PMI can bring in acts like Josh Groban and "Dancing With The Stars."

But when it comes to the Oshkosh shed, without permanent or covered seats, Wachter says he has to explain himself.

"We pay the city $30,000 a year for the rights to run the amphitheatre," Wachter said. "We keep the promoter profit, plus food and beverage which we also run. So far, we’ve yet to make money.

"We keep trying to book events that will make money. We just haven’t been able to find the right events at the right time, I guess."

Wachter said that Waterfest, which is run by a local nonprofit group, does about 16 events a year on Thursdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

"That’s part of the agreement," Wachter said. "They do their shows and then we book things around their Thursday nights."

Even though Waterfest organizers are flexible, the concert series has been harder to work around than he anticipated, Wachter said. He also said he thinks Waterfest’s cheap tickets (shows run around $7) and status as an Oshkosh tradition work against him.

"I don’t want to bad-mouth Waterfest, because that’s why they built the building," he said. "But they’re not necessarily in the business to make money, where I have to. By having a very inexpensive ticket for all these years, it’s hard for me to have an expensive ticket the next day."

As far as suggestions from council members that the facility should be used for more than just live music, Wachter said he’s tried to bring in other things like weddings. He’s open to anyone who wants to use the venue, but people lose interest when they find out it’ll cost them.

PMI has two more years on its contract with the city. Wachter said that despite what he thinks are unreasonable expectations, he believes the venue is a success.

"The perception that it’s a failure is wrong," he said. "When you have 20-something nights of entertainment in a community of less than 100,000, that’s pretty good in my opinion." -Jim Otey

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Dilbertian Goals Completed

Readers of this blog know that last year's Oshkosh Common Council put forth nine goals for the City Manager to accomplish for 2007. Two of the goals were to be accomplished by May 1:
Goal #4: By May 1, establish a highly visible public comment and suggestion station that will encourage citizen feedback. Also work with the IT staff to develop a Web-base public comment and suggestion system within that time frame.

Goal #6: By May 1, have developed and implemented a more citizen-friendly way for citizens to sign up and serve on City boards and commissions.

Although it's still not clear why relatively simple tasks like these would be part of a CEO's goals for the year, I'm pleased to say they have been accomplished. There's now a suggestion station in City Hall, and a comment box on the city's website.

It's now also somewhat easier to sign up for City boards and commissions (though I'm not sure it's easier to serve), with application forms more easily available online.

Yesterday the Oshkosh Northwestern had a story and editorial commemorating the completion of these Dilbertian goals.

A majority of the current Council refuses to discuss the goals in public, which is too bad because I was going to move to amend them to require that by June 1st the City Manager attach a big smiley face to the suggestion table. Oh well, there's always next year.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Media Rant: Shame On NBC

My May Media Rant is a criticism of [what I see as] the shameful manner in which NBC handled the Virginia Tech killer's "Manifesto."

Shame on NBC

by Tony Palmeri

A colleague at UW Oshkosh used to conduct an activity in one of her courses designed to demonstrate the unreliability of eyewitness recollections. She would recruit a student to enter her classroom unannounced and fire a loud toy cap gun into the air. After allowing everyone a split second glance at him, the “shooter” would flea. When the students’ shock subsided, they were asked to describe the shooter. Sure enough, in a classroom of 25 students there would be close to 25 different descriptions.

After Columbine my colleague ceased conducting the cap gun activity. The omnipresent threat of real violence takes the fun out of such exercises, and the learning outcomes produced pale in comparison to the high anxiety left behind.

After Virginia Tech school populations across the land might be that much more jittery, wondering whether to worry about the overly silent student in the back of the room, daydreaming while contemplating how to block a door or jump out of a classroom window when the shooting starts, and overreacting to any behavior or statement suggestive of a troubled individual in the midst. Were it not for the ease with which any individual in America can obtain a firearm, we might say that such post-traumatic stress disorder style reactions sound unreasonable. But since it’s easier to buy a gun than it is to adopt a puppy (the humane society usually consults character references before turning an animal over to just anyone), such reactions are reasonable indeed.

What’s not reasonable is the behavior of corporate media in response to such tragedies. Fiction writer Lionel Shriver, whose best selling We need to talk about Kevin deals with a high school assassin, in a Washington Post op-ed eloquently captured the problem with media “coverage” of school tragedies:

Even more than these gruesomely gratuitous incidents themselves, I have come to dread the campus shooting's ritual media aftermath -- a secondary wave of atrocity, all conducted under the guise of grief, soul-searching concern and an ostensible determination to ensure that no demented loner ever opens fire on his classmates again. Yet the bloated photographs on front pages, the repeating loops of interviews on cable news, the postings of warped creative writing assignments on the Web, and perhaps above all the airing of Cho's self-pitying, quasi-messianic video clips on every network all help ensure that similar incidents will indeed recur -- and soon.

Shriver’s “secondary wave of atrocity” covers all media outlets, but in the case of the Virginia Tech tragedy the behavior of NBC news was especially shameful. The news executives, who just a week previously in the wake of the Don Imus firing promised to be more thoughtful stewards of public discourse, displayed an amazing lack of judgment in the manner in which they released portions of a multimedia package sent to them by the Virginia Tech killer. The best statement I saw on this matter appeared on an Internet discussion list for Communication Studies professionals, and was written by University of Colorado emeritus professor John Bowers:

Let's discuss NBC News and its treatment of the multimedia package it received from the Virginia Tech killer.

Brian Williams introduced the material with a statement of NBC News' awareness that the messages were from a murderer. He went no further in analyzing the implications of NBC's coverage.

If I were planning an analogous massacre, these are some of the lessons I'd infer from tonight's NBC News broadcast:

(1) After I carry out the massacre and suicide, NBC News will broadcast pretty much anything I say, emphasizing pictorial material, if I give the package to them exclusively. (2) My story will lead that evening's coverage and will occupy at least half of a thirty-minute program even if other stories, including Iraq war stories, involve greater loss of human life. (3) NBC's coverage will include my own statements of ideology. (4) NBC's coverage will include my statements of solidarity with like-minded persons. (5) NBC's coverage will broadcast my message in multiple venues, including at least the Evening News and the Today Show. (6) NBC will extend the coverage of my message over multiple days.

Two other inferences that are slightly more subtle: (7) NBC's use of my material in general will reinforce my tacit view that a capitalistic media organization will broadcast almost anything if the material promises a substantial competitive advantage, even a temporary competitive advantage, over rivals. (8) Given the exploitative nature of the coverage, NBC News will try to dissociate itself from my views in order to conceal the exploitation, but NBC's empty disclaimers will ring falsely for many viewers.

Professor Bowers’ comments about the nature of a capitalistic media organization rings especially true when considering the strict rules NBC made competitors follow in order to broadcast the killer’s “manifesto” on their own networks. According to the New York Times, competitors were sent rules that said “No Internet use. No archival use. Do not resell,” and “Mandatory credit; NBC News.” We know that media corporations are bottom-line outfits of the worst kind, but it’s still shocking that even they could choose to exploit one of the worst tragedies in the history of the nation as a “media exclusive.”

Shame on NBC.

Mission Accomplished - 4 Years Later

Nicholas Riehl of Shiocton on Monday became the latest Wisconsin soldier to die in George W. Bush's war in Iraq. As we mourn the dead, let's not forget that it was 4 years ago to the day that the President announced that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."