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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Wild Babies Expeditionary Academy

Kids, Wauwatosa, no child left inside

On colder days, about the only people you encounter on the streets of western Wauwatosa are Hearty Old Broads (HOBs) Out Walking Dogs (OWDs), along with an occasional younger or male counterpart.

But seldom is a child to be seen. Most snowmen have the look of parent-built models,  especially the impressive Easter Island jobs lined up on 119th Street.

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Abortion, Super Bowl, and marketing; truth or entertainment?

Abortion, Superbowl, Ads

It's not the Budweiser frogs but abortion that's generating the most buzz about Super Bowl Sunday ads this year. Focus on the Family produced a 30 second spot about Pam Tebow, mother of former college quarterback Tim Tebow, and her decision not to have an abortion.

The message: if you decide to have that baby, everything will be fine: he'll be a strong, handsome, successful guy, and you can ride the story to glory in support of a cause you believe in.

That's a snarky and slanted interpretation, of course. Still, like most snark, there's truth in it. Feminist and other groups tried unsuccessfully to get the antiabortion ad pulled, claiming it's misleading, controversial, and maybe not quite true.

Some choices are easy, but others are not. The choice to have an abortion is not often easy, but the choice about running this ad is. Of course it should run.

The way to deal with difficult issues in the media isn't to prevent people from telling and hearing their stories. It's to make sure the stories presented are free of lies, errors, and deliberate misleadings. They can still attempt to persuade you.

Tebow's story (as I interpret it) is that she was pregnant, in the Phillipines, and taking medication for a serious illness. The medication was known to have the ability to alter fetal cells in a way that would or could harm the fetus. Her doctor suggested an abortion, and she refused.

I know how she felt. In late 1989, I was pregnant with twins. My doctor made the same recommendation to me. Only in my case, the suggestion was to abort one of the twins. The reason? A prenatal genetic test, the alpha-fetoprotein test (AFP), suggested that one twin might have Down Syndrome.

I had told the doctor no genetic testing because I wasn't going to do anything with the results if they were negative. And I especially did not want the AFP test, which I knew had a high incidence of false negatives. This was my last chance to have a baby and I'd worked hard to get pregnant.

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How's that mockey, snarky stuff working for ya, Sarah?

Sarah Palin, mocking, disrespect

If you’re a woman and you call anything about Sarah Palin into question, be prepared for the assault. It’s always the same: “you’re jealous because she’s younger better looking successful happily married smarter yadda yadda yadda.”

And if you raise the question I raised in the headline, how’s that mockey, snarky stuff working for ya, Sarah, the answer is pretty darn well, thank you.

In her speech to the Tea Party conventioneers last night, Palin delighted the crowd by jabbing at the President and anybody else on the purported left. The jeer that will live longest in the minds of her fans? “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working for ya?” Already, you can buy the tee-shirt.

Let’s face it: we don’t listen to Palin. We react to her. The same tone and triggers that thrill her supporters annoy the ones she slams.

That’s exactly what’s intended, of course.

I’ve been struggling to understand why this energetic, attractive woman bothers me so much. Last night I figured it out. Her speeches are half popular-girl-running-for-student council-cheerleading. That part’s fine. But the other half is mocking-bully-girl-rabble-rousing.

Bottom line: it’s disrespectful. I don’t remember George Bush being disrespectful of his opponents in speeches. Strong, adversarial. But not mocking. I don’t remember Ronald Reagan, whose name Palin invoked repeatedly, being disrespectful of his opponents. Strong, adversarial. Humorous, even. But not mocking.

It’s also unfortunate. Though most of Palin’s emotionally-targeted speech was intellectually vague, she had some valid and important points to make about transparency, about the failures of the Democratic senate, about the bailouts. But those points were never developed.

And her flip and snide presentation assured that no one who really needed to hear them would.

Today in Quaker meeting (what we call our services), a man rose and spoke of being careful with our speech. Everything we say should come from a spirit of love, he said. “When we talk to one another, we are saying ‘you matter enough for me to put my love into words.’ And then the love transforms the words.”

Some things are just too important to leave up to the middle school cafeteria gang. If Sarah Palin wants to begin to fill the considerable promise that she holds, she’ll have to get a little of that strong-but-respecty-transformy thing going on. And so will the gang that eggs her on.

A sense of proportion and history

Wauwatosa, historic preservation

I love old houses, their surprises and unpredictability. Of course, when that unpredictability has to do with plumbing or electricity, the charm fades. Still, there’s something about adapting to a house built in another time that ties you to the stories that went before. It gives you context.

Two WauwatosaNow stories make me think other Tosans have some of that same sense.

The first is the plan of Mo's Irish Pub to move the modest ranch houses on the lots it bought for expansion. These are not houses that make people swoon with envy. They’re ordinary houses of the kind in which many of us grew up or raised our children. 

Kudos to the neighbors for objecting to the wastefulness of demolishing a perfectly good house, and kudos to owner Johnny Vassallo for respecting their wishes, for going the extra mile.

Sometimes I walk in Elm Grove, and I’ve been astonished to see fine houses being obliterated to make way for grand houses. A few years ago, the daughter of Clark Oil’s Emory Clark tore down his “dated ranch” and replaced it with a 12,000 square foot mansion with 14 bathrooms, a theater, and more. One visitor exclaimed "I feel like I'm in The Great Gatsby."
Of course people can do what they want with their land, within code regulations. But I can’t help wondering about what drives the need to replace the good with the grand. Or what it feels like for a single woman, rattling around in that much space.

I like a little more cozy, myself.

And as I said, I like old houses. Even ranches. I’m going to stop calling mine that, though, and call it “mid century” when I put it on the market in spring. That gives it a little more context and panache.

The other story is about turning Wauwatosa Avenue into a historic district. The Historic Preservation Commission is working on that designation for the wonderful houses between Watson and Warren avenues. Most of those houses are big enough to hold our dreams and more than enough possessions. And they delight the eye. They were built with an architectural sense of proportion that's largely lost in the era of builder-designed McMansions.

It’s a great idea. It would be a shame to lose those places with individual charm and character, with stories about our past, to something more – but less. Gatsby might have a thing or two to teach about that.

Truck, the movie

Oshkosh Corp.

It would make a great movie.

The newer kid on the block, Oshkosh Corp. (henceforward known as “Truck”) wins a dream contract, some $3.2 billion over 5 years to build the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTVs) armored trucks for the front lines in Afghanistan.

(Pan in on huge tanky vehicles roaring through sand and water.)

It wins the contract fair and square by underbidding the 17-year exisiting contract holder, BAE Systems, and another favored defense contractor, Navistar.

The older, more comfortable, connected-to-the-establishment BAE pretends to be a lil’ ol’ good ol’ boy from Sealy, Texas, but really is a hoity-toity posh Britisher. And it does not like this one little bit.

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Oshkosh Corp: The book, not the movie

Oshkosh Corp., Oshkosh, war economy

The triumph of Oshkosh Corporation (Truck) in winning a big defense contract away from BAE Systems in Texas is satisfying on all sorts of levels. We cheer the local team, the Davids when they take on Goliath. Our ideas about how competition works are satisfied when the low bidder gets the job-and when he's our guy.

So what’s not to like about $3.2 billion and the good it can bring to our neighbors up Highway 41?

Our gain is someone else’s loss. We’re not talking about a net gain in jobs creation as much as a shift. Whatever positive employment and economic impact the contract will have in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, chances are the negative impact on the good people of Sealy, Texas, is greater. I’ve seen mention of creating 800 jobs at Truck, a number that seems inflated. And not all of them will be in Wisconsin. But 3,000 jobs may be lost in Sealy, a town of less than 6,000 souls where the only other major employer, with 800 employees, is Walmart.

To gear up for increased business, the state of Wisconsin and the city of Oshkosh are anteing up a considerable chunk of money, some $40 million to Truck’s $11 million. The money is going into bricks and mortar and tools, strictly physical stuff held (and eventually owned) by the business. It’s money not spent on schools, health, or community infrastructure.

If all goes well, Truck will continue to provide jobs and paychecks, make purchases from local businesses, and generally feed the economy. Everyone will live happily for as long as it works that way.

However, the overall benefit to the community is a little fuzzier than it appears at first glance.

The Oshkosh city monies come from creating a Tax Incremental Fund (TIF). The existing business will be taxed as it has been. But revenue generated from the new TIF development will not be added to the general tax funds during the 5 year period of the $3 billion contract—or for another 20 years after it ends. Instead, it goes to repay the development bonds. So while the need for schools, sewers, public safety, and the rest of services a community needs to stay strong and function well increase with the development, the funds to support them don’t.

If you’re a private property owner near the new TIF district, the value of your property will increase along with theirs. Your taxes will increase.

If anything goes wrong, the taxpayers hold the bag. That may not seem like a major concern, given Truck’s recent history. It may be an extremely good investment. But the $3.2 billion lowball bid sliced the profit margin very close to the bone. Moody's recently upgraded Oshkosh Corps’ corporate family rating and probability of default rating from B2 to B1—but that’s still a junk status rating.

TIF instruments were created as a way to pay for projects for the public benefit where private funding wasn’t available.  More recently, they’ve been used for shopping malls and other questionable “public interest” projects. It would be prudent for citizens to ask some thoughtful questions about the Oshkosh Corporation as a public good.

Sealy, Texas, is learning the hard way how dangerous it is to be a one-big-industry town. Is Truck on the verge of being the business too big to fail in Oshkosh? With 62,000 people, Oshkosh is a more economically diverse community. But there’s only so much Miles Kimball business to rely on for sustainablity. A strong community might want to put eggs in several baskets.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the war economy. How long will the military need armored trucks for Afghanistan—or for the next place to which the endless war front shifts?

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Little children, local heroes

Ruby Bridges, moral lives of children, Robert Coles, Barton Elementary School

If you asked the twins the worst thing about me, they’d say “she doesn’t remember our birthday.”

Like so much child mythology, of course, this isn’t true. But one year, 1997, I was attending a conference in Boston on their birthday, meeting one of my heroes. I’d sent treats to school. Their dad was with them. Grandma hosted a fine birthday party, with duck and schaum torte (I swear to you, their favorite meal even then). But to this day, every spring, they roll their eyes and look pitifully at me and ask if I’m going to stick around for the event.

The hero I met was Robert Coles, child psychiatrist and the author of The Moral Lives of Children. For years, he and his wife had studied children in crises, exploring the effects of the events of their lives, their fragility and their strengths.

Coles talked that day about Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old girl who, flanked by armed United States marshals, integrated Franz Elementary School in New Orleans for the first time.

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Glenn Beck, Jennifer Love Hewitt's butt, and crime in Wauwatosa

Wauwatosa, Glenn Beck, Jennifer Love Hewitt, crime

I lured you here under false pretenses--my own little SEO (search engine optimization) experiment. Just goes to show: you can't trust the media, and especially you can't trust the blogosphere. Or something.

Anyway, a poem for today, February 22.

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Butterflies and buildings on the Community Development docket tonight (2/23/10)

Wauwatosa, Economic development, County Grounds

It's a little slower moving than the kind of action theater we've grown use to, but community government meetings are the best act in town for the patient.

Okay. It's a lot slower. But it's good stuff.

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And what happened at the meeting?

Community Development, Wauwatosa, County Grounds

It was hot in Meeting Room #1 Tuesday night. Hot and crowded. Of course, whenever The Butterflies or The County Grounds are on the agenda, you can count on a full house. Why the meeting wasn't scheduled in the larger council chambers is a mystery, but then so many things are at these events.

The mayor's request for council endorsement of the butterfly habitat restoration plan was discussed but not acted upon. For one thing, it was a  Community Development Committee meeting, and I am thinking that the committee can recommend the full council endorse but no more. In any event, there was a great deal of confusion about exactly what an endorsement at this time might mean.

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