Blotting out the sun still not a good idea
Jack Craver from The Sconz recently pointed out some new developments in the case of a law that would restrict access to the state's online court records database. It had been looking all but dead in the Legislature, but now Justice David Prosser (a Republican) and the rest of the state Supreme Court have indicated that they will likely study what gets posted to CCAP.
This is significant because it has the potential to breathe new life into the bill sponsored by Reps. Kelda Roys, Fred Kessler, and Martin Schneider (all Democrats). As written, the law would prohibit the display of pending or dismissed cases on the CCAP website.
While I understand the concerns involved, I think the law is a terrible idea.
First of all, the open dissemination of information to the public has been and should continue to be one of the cornerstones of a free society. It's a little something we call sunshine and it's a vital part of maintaining even just a semblance of democracy. As soon as we begin to allow the obfuscation of information that affects the public, we run into trouble. Think Watergate, think Iran-Contra, think WMD and illegal wiretapping and CIA rendition.
Records of civil and criminal court cases in the state may seem like small potatoes in comparison, but they're still important. Plus, CCAP makes a clear distinction between those people against whom charges were dropped and those who were actually charged with a crime. It also prominently displays a warning about the state's laws regarding abuse of the information.
That abuse is one of the main reasons cited by supporters of the bill as a reason for passage. Thing is, should we really be punishing everyone by limiting access because of the actions of a few? Shouldn't we instead be focused on ways to punish the abusers?
(Not to mention the fact that Schneider did some serious exaggeration in terms of how many complaints he'd received about the database)
The argument in favor of the bill becomes even odder when you consider that the law contains an exemption for journalists-though how they'd decide who qualified and who didn't, I don't know.
There is another bill up for consideration that would bar the broadcast of 911 tapes which does seem like a reasonable idea to me. We shouldn't restrict reporter's access to those tapes, but actually broadcasting their content to the public serves no purpose other than to sensationalize. Meanwhile, relatives and others close to the victims have to suffer through a very public heartache every time those tapes are played.
A great load of manure
Recently there's been a lot of talk about the use of manure digesters on big dairy farms around the state. These machines take the increasingly large amount of waste created by cows and other animals and turn it into methane for electricity, fiber, and a liquid fertilizer.
That's a great step toward cleaning up these farms and providing a somewhat perpetual source of energy. But it's not the end-all-be-all, and if we don't implement things like this with forethought, they can also lead to the further consolidation and expansion of industrial farms-at the expense of smaller, family operations.
As much as I dislike the giant "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations," which tend to produce enormous amounts of pollutants while cramming thousands of animals together in filthy and inhumane conditions, but I understand that we're not going to be entirely rid of them any time soon.
Still, there are things we can do to make sure smaller (and oftentimes cleaner, more ethical) farm operations aren't left in the dust. Manure digesters are currently very expensive, costing anywhere from $4 to $8 million. Requiring that all animal farming operations above a certain size use them is a good idea, but it would need to be coupled with funding sources for those businesses that couldn't otherwise afford them.
So too should be the case with other pollution controls. Manure digesters, after all, don't remove nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from the manure. Those are the very things that tend to get into and pollute our groundwater. But there are machines that can take care of that problem, too.
Mike Larson, owner of Larson Acres, a large industrial-sized dairy in Rock County, is using a system marketed by Integrated Separation Solutions of Sharon, Wis., to treat manure. The system runs liquid manure through a four-step process that separates solids and liquids and reduces levels of nitrogen and phosphorus with filters.
Larson is left with a peat-like material that can be used for bedding and a liquid called tea water that he can spread on fields using an irrigation system, rather than a manure spreader and miles of pipe.
If the state can develop some sort of program that both encourages the further refinement (and hopeful lowering of cost) of these machines and helps smaller family farms afford their use, we might actually be able to come up with a long-term scenario that benefits us all.
Room for everyone at the UW table?
I'm still working on the polling issue, though I must admit that I'm more at sea over the whole thing than ever before. So I want to put a question to you all: Do partisan organizations have any place partnering with a non-partisan research institution to conduct public opinion polls?
Consider both "left" and "right" partisan groups before you answer, because in addition to the recent hubbub over the WPRI poll, there are groups like Center on Wisconsin Strategies (COWS) that work with the UW as well. A self-described "nonpartisan" but decidedly progressive think tank, its director is also on record as having been vehemently anti-Bush. And while I certainly sympathize with the man, it does illustrate the potential for bias. And while I agree more with COWS' potential bias than with WPRI's, I still have to ask: How should the UW determine which groups are OK to partner with and which are not?
Diversity of opinion and thought are important parts of the university environment. I still don't feel comfortable with WPRI's decision to ask a polling question that proposed a Feingold/Thompson race before Thompson had even made noise about running. Their alleged coloring of answers regarding school vouchers also seems worthy of criticism. But they appear to be one of the few, if not only, polling groups that release all of their results to the public (you just sometimes have to look beyond their press releases).
But pretend for a second that we're just talking in general and not about these specific groups. What belongs and what doesn't? What sort of ground rules need to be set in order to foster a good, diverse learning environment? I honestly believe that partisan groups do have a place on campus. But I think all of them-left, right or in between--should be held to certain standards of academic honesty. What about you?
I tried to get into last night's Primate Research Debate at the UW but, like a good and thorough journalist, completely missed the part where it was a ticketed event. Though I was turned away from the sold-out event in shame, I will be checking out information about the content of the debate and further developments with the issue. It's an important one, and something I'm glad to see being seriously discussed.
Mayor Dave says "options are good" when it comes to considering locations for a Madison high-speed rail station. I agree, though I'm still leaning toward the Yahara Station idea, especially since E. Washington could really use the development.