It’s been over a month since Kristen and I officially became a couple (i.e., boyfriend-girlfriend). Just looking back at how it happened is an interesting story.

Kristen and I met at as employees at Lands’ End. She started working there in June 2005, and I began the following August. The following month, she passed the Wisconsin Bar Exam so she could practice law in the state (she graduated from Notre Dame Law School in Indiana). But she was still making retail wages. Around that time, I was given permission to hire two limited-term employees for the livestock premises registration program at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP, my full-time employer). I suggested to Kristen that she apply, not thinking of anything other than hiring her because she had very good customer service skills and knew the computer systems at Lands’ End (they use a legacy mainframe system that’s slightly less user-friendly than DATCP’s licensing system). After interviewing nearly a dozen candidates, a coworker and I agreed that Kristen was one of our top candidates. She accepted the position and started working for DATCP as an limited-term employee (LTE) in October.

Kristen and I continued to work together at both Lands’ End and at DATCP on a professional level. At Lands’ End, I started asking people that closed on Saturday nights if they wanted to join me for a drink after work. One other coworker, Mike, and I went out a couple of times (no other takers). One night, Mike couldn’t make it, but after sitting at the bar and having a beer, Kristen showed up with her brother David (they share an apartment in Madison). We hung out and had a good chat. Kristen started coming out more regularly after that. By the end of November, Mike had quit working at Lands’ End, so it became just Kristen, one or two other coworkers, and me.

In December, one of the associate managers put in her two-weeks notice. Her last evening was December 31. Since it was New Year’s Eve, the store closed early. I asked if anyone wanted to go out for Erin’s last night, and I had no takers (Kristen did not work that evening). So it was Erin and me. We had dinner and a nice discussion, but we both decided to call it an early evening.

The following Tuesday when I worked at Lands’ End, I mentioned that only Erin and I went out. I felt a little sorry for her because I was the only one that took her out. Then I asked, “so what was that?” Kristen responded that it was a date. I argued that it couldn’t be because we hadn’t thought of it that way. But Kristen explained that because there we assume that certain expectations exist… actually, I still don’t follow her reasoning about it. So, Kristen convinced me that it was a date. The following Saturday, Kristen and I went out after work. I brought the subject up again and asked if we were on a date, but we both agreed that we weren’t dating because she worked for me and that there could be ethical consequences.

But it’s amazing how things may not always be what they seem. Every time I asked people to go out on Saturday night, Kristen always came out. One night, she suggested that we see Brokeback Mountain with another coworker (which, by the way, I thought was a good movie). Saturday night became our night out, and others were welcome to join us. But every time I asked, Kristen was willing to join. Others at Lands’ End saw a pattern, but Kristen and I continued to explain that our professional relationship precluded us from pursuing something more personal. And yet, our discussions every Saturday night were a little more personal (albeit not romantic).

Around the middle to end of February, we started realizing that we may actually like each other beyond coworkers or friends.

On March 2, we had a meeting at DATCP, and I invited both of my LTEs to join and listen to the Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator of the US Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Veterinary Services. Kristen said she would be able to stop in when Dr. Clifford was scheduled to start; Ashley (the other LTE) was unable to attend due to class. By this time, I realized that I had feelings for Kristen; after all, I was attracted to her, I knew that she and I had a lot in common, we shared the same humor, and she and I could really hold a conversation with each other. But when she came into the room, I felt a rush of emotion that made me realize how I really feel about her. I thought to myself, “Holy crap, I’m in love with Kristen!”

Of course, I perceived this as a problem. Kristen works for me at DATCP, even though she is only here for a limited time. But I couldn’t resist how I felt about her. That Friday, I bought a new cell phone (I was having issues with US Cellular, so I switched to Verizon), and I stopped at Lands’ End to show it off. Kristen was working that evening, and at one point, she asked another coworker to have me talk to her while she was on break. When I talked to Kristen, she merely asked about the new phone. I felt something else was going on, but I was afraid to talk about it (I’m pretty shy about such things, and there is the whole work issue). Kristen and I agreed to go out again after closing at Lands’ End, and we both started sharing some flirtations. It became obvious that we started feeling more to our professional and friendly relationship, but I still felt uncertain about how she really felt. The next evening, Saturday, we went out again, this time with one of our fellow coworkers Lourdes. Kristen sat next to me in a booth, and she started leaning on me. It was obvious to Lourdes that we felt something more about each other (I called Lourdes afterwards to explain how I felt). Of course, we ended up closing the bar, and Lourdes drove Kristen home.

I picked up Kristen the next day and brought her to work. After work, we picked up her car, and she invited me to her place to watch the academy awards with her and her brother, which I accepted. At one point, David left to run an errand, leaving Kristen and me alone to talk. I told her that I really liked her in a romantic way, and she responded in kind. But we both felt that we couldn’t really be together because of our working relationship. But we continued to sit and hold hands (it was really sweet), and it seemed that we both felt more than before.

As the week wore on, we both continued to work as if things were business as usual. But when we had a chance, we shared glances. But that Thursday evening, we planned on joining some colleagues for Karaoke. Kristen and I agreed to get dinner and do a little window shopping before going to join the others. I couldn’t stand the thought of no longer being without her; I just felt it was no longer appropriate to hide it. So I spoke to my administrator Sue about how we felt about each other. She said that she it was great and that she was excited for us; that took me by utter surprise.

That evening, I picked up Kristen to get something to eat and to look at furniture (she was looking for a new mattress). I told her what Sue had told me. Kristen was pretty happy to hear it, and I was happy to report it. We looked at mattresses at one store, had dinner at the local Olive Garden, and looked at mattresses at another store. But we never made it to karaoke because of the weather (it was pretty foggy that evening). Instead of karaoke, we chose to hang out at Barnes and Noble and enjoy each others’ company. This included climbing a big snow bank outside, buying tea in the little Starbucks, and sitting on a couple of chairs and just talking and holding hands. Afterwards, I drove her home; that night, I asked her if it would be okay to state that we were officially dating, and she gave me the okay. That was March 9, which we’ve since marked as our first date anniversary.

Kristen Kristen

Brian and Kristen Brian and Kristen

My 2006 Resolutions

Another year has gone by, and it’s time for my 2006 resolutions. I reviewed my goals from last year, and I can’t really complain much.

Last year was the second year that I published a list of resolutions. In keeping with some tradition, it’s time to review my list and update it for the New Year. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll start with my 2005 accomplishments and move on to what I’d like to complete this year.

2005 goals

Continue staying healthy

I managed to keep in pretty good shape in 2006, but I still need to move away from eating out much. At least I don’t hit the fast food places as often as I used to. I also managed to finally quit smoking on January 31. So far, I haven’t even smoked a puff. I think that alone is a great accomplishment, but I have more work to do.

Keep playing the guitar

I stopped taking lessons earlier, due because my teacher left to join a band. But I continued to try to work on my skills alone. After doing so, I realized that I need to take lessons again or force myself to get beyond the really basic stuff that I already know.

Improve my wardrobe

I started buying new clothing earlier this year, but then stalled for a little while. Then I started working for a clothing retailer. Now I have a fairly new wardrobe. I also started watching “What Not to Wear” on TLC. I am proud to say that I no longer have pleats in my wardrobe. I’ve adopted the philosophy, “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”

Keep improving my analytical skills

I was thrown into project management this past year, which forced me to just hone my analytical skills on the fly. I have more work to do here, but I will continue to improve my policy analysis skills over the next couple of years.

Keep reducing the clutter

The apartment isn’t a fire trap, but it’s not immaculate either. I have to focus on cleaning it again. This past year, I cleaned out a lot of clothes that I didn’t wear anymore, and I managed to purchase new clothes (as I mentioned earlier). There are other areas that I need to focus on, and I’m sure I’ll get to them this year.

Keep adding content to the new site

I wanted to add dynamic content to my site, but that requires creating a SQL database and rewriting a number of pages in PHP (for those of you who have no idea what that means, let’s just say it’s all programming beyond what I know). I didn’t complete some of the things I wanted to finish, but I may work on that this year.

2006 Resolutions

Improve my organizational and career skills

I was thrown into managing my first major project in 2005: livestock premises registration. When I first agreed to take on the project, I didn’t realize how large the project would become. After about a year of managing this project, I’m glad to say that we’re done with phase one and have already kicked off phase two. Additionally, I’m now managing the implementation of the program and supervising staff to implement it. To stay on track, I really need to stay organized. So 2006 will see some improvements in my organizational and project management skills.

I’ve listed a number of goals for 2006 in my profession. I won’t bore you with the list here, but it involves dealing with much more than livestock premises registration and animal identification.

Keep my Web site fresh

I have to admit that I haven’t done a great job of keeping the site fresh lately. This is in part because I took on a part-time job and haven’t had time to manage the site. I also had to change the domain from .us to .net. There are a number of items that I still want to work on, and I hope to address those in 2006.

Save for a house

I stepped up and got real about saving for my first house last year. I am now putting away funds directly from my paycheck that I can’t touch until the certificate matures in two years.

Keep reducing the clutter

I started getting rid of a number of things in 2005. I plan on continuing this effort so I don’t have so much crap around me in 2006. Let’s just call it some major spring cleaning and preparing for the move.

Start running

I want to start running, but I need to find some motivation. I am surrounded by a number of people that run, so I hope to get advice from them this year. I also started developing my plan to start running, and I’ve already selected my starting date.

Continue making healthy choices

I managed to remain I shape for most of 2005. I even quit smoking once and for all on January 31. I hope to stay on track and possibly make even more healthy choices in 2006.

Improve my guitar playing

I discovered that I have music in me that’s trying to get out. I managed to write and record my first song last winter (it was a metal Christmas song that reflects the true feeling of Christmas in the middle of the Christmas season). Since then, I realized that I still have a long way to go with becoming more familiar with the guitar. I’ve been toying with the idea of joining a band, but I still have to work on my technique, speed, and knowledge.

What are my chances in 2006?

I took on my resolutions in 2005 and added some that I didn’t anticipate. The next year will see continued efforts at improvement.

My 2005 Resolutions

Last year I published a list of resolutions for 2004. It’s now 2005, so I took the time to review my list and update it for the New Year. I’ll start with my 2004 accomplishments and move on to what I’d like to complete this year.

2004 resolutions accomplished

Eat healthier

I started off pretty well in 2004, and was able to maintain it for most of the year. But then I fell into the trap of finding convenience in the nearby McDonald’s drive-thru. Fortunately, they now sell salads. At any rate, I need to maintain eating healthier, and follow Benjamin Franklin’s lesson, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”

Be more active

I didn’t play as much golf again this year, but I made up for it by playing softball. I was pretty active for the summer, but I need to maintain it year-round. And I need to prepare for softball and golf this year.

Spend more time playing guitar

I think I made some pretty good strides playing the guitar in the past year. I still want to learn more, so I keep plugging away.

Be more assertive

I managed to spend more time away from home this year by hanging out with friends. I also dated for a while (no, really). I also managed to show people that I’m really a fun-loving, nice guy.

Keep the apartment clean

I cleaned it, but it became messy again. I plan on doing some major cleaning this spring, so I hope to be done with this before the middle of the year. The other trick, of course, will be to maintain it.

Be less cynical

I had a rough time when I was put at-risk earlier this year. Yet I managed to see a silver lining in losing my job, though, and I landed on my feet in a job that I truly enjoy. Perhaps I’m not as cynical as I thought I was.

Meet that special someone

I managed to meet some people this year, but things didn’t work out. At least I tried, though… that counts, doesn’t it?

Finish my desk

I had the desk finished and installed by March of this year. Consider this one done.

Read more

I managed to spend some time reading this year. However, I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to. It’s that darned television and the new DVR that will make this more difficult to accomplish throughout the year.

Finish my web site redesign

I just published the site in early December, so this is another finished resolution.

Complete my England vacation scrapbook

I never started putting together an actual paper scrapbook, but I managed to publish an electronic version on my site. I’d consider that an accomplishment.

It’s pretty obvious that I managed to work towards my goals in 2004. But I have more to accomplish in 2005. Some are repeats, while others are new initiatives.

2005 goals

Continue staying healthy

I’ve got a couple of minor health issues, so I want to attack those and get myself into better shape. This will require remaining active year-round and really trying to keep away from the burgers, fries, and sweets. It’s time for some winter activities.

Keep playing the guitar

I love to shred. I don’t think this will be a problem. But I still have a lot to improve upon, and much more to learn. I plan on working harder on remembering those long Metallica solos.

Improve my wardrobe

I managed to purchase new clothes for work, but I don’t have much in terms of just casual, yet dressy, clothes. If I had to go on a date tomorrow, I’d pretty much be limited in what to wear. Hooded sweatshirts and Metallica T-shirts just won’t cut it. It’s time for some new shirts and pants.

Keep improving my analytical skills

I realize that I still have much to learn in my current job. In time I’ll understand more about my agency and the things that need to be accomplished in order to make everyone’s lives easier, including our customers (that is, the citizens).

Keep reducing the clutter

As I stated earlier, I managed to clean the apartment, but it became messy again. I have no excuses now that I have a desk to help keep me organized. I’ll keep clearing things out and prepare to really start looking for a new place to move (it’s time to start building equity in a house).

Keep adding content to the new site

I want to keep the site fresh, so I have to continue adding content that’s worth reading. Due to my work on the new site redesign, I didn’t write any new soapbox articles after January. I also want to complete the article on building my desk, and I’m thinking about doing more with the blog (although I’m still not sure I want to have people responding and posting to the site yet). I’ve had a lot of positive feedback on it, so I hope people continue to find the things I publish either useful or entertaining.

What are my chances in 2005?

I’ve already started down the right path, although I had a few slip ups along the way. My list this year is much shorter than it was last year, showing that I managed to really get into some positive habits. I have some challenges ahead of me, but I’m working on them now so I can keep them going strong throughout 2005.


Originally posted: June 2000 

Metallica is a heavy metal music band. For a heavy metal band that’s been around for over 20 years and can still sell out a concert, I can’t help but notice some people still whining over their recent recordings. Since Load and ReLoad were released in the mid-90’s, I have heard people say that Metallica has sold out. I beg to differ.

Metallica began as a heavy metal group in the early 80’s. They actually brought heavy metal as we know it to the US from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. They were pioneers. As they progressed into the 90’s, they continued to increase their momentum as a dominant heavy metal force.

But they changed their tunes with Load. ReLoad was no different (basically, music that didn’t fit on Load). They began to move into areas they had never before recorded. For me, it was a great change of pace. They are still Metallica, and the music is still as skillful as it ever was. Yet some people think they’ve gone downhill. I thought rock ‘n’ roll was about doing what you enjoy doing, not what the critics have to say. And if they’re doing something wrong, then perhaps all of those people who are buying tickets and helping them sell out concerts are missing something.
As a person who has come to appreciate music on various levels, I think Metallica has actually gotten better. Singer James Hetfield really produces a range of tones with his awesome voice. Bass player Jason Newsted has done some amazing things to jam his riffs in your face. Drummer Lars Ulrich rolls and bangs the life out of the skins. And guitarists James Hetfield (yes, he sings and plays) and Kirk Hammett ride wild and daring riffs that scream and wail, plunging you deep into their twisted and wicked world. Hearing them play just sounds like they really are pouring their souls into the music.

I especially like the sounds they’re producing now. Don’t get me wrong, I still love what they did years ago. But their range of sounds is amazing. Some songs are bluesy, others are somber. But it’s still loud, present, and alive. And they still found room to put out music that has just as much thrash as their earlier stuff. Their a true heavy metal band that can perform a wide range of sounds and show more talent than many other bands that have been around in the last 20 years.
Perhaps some people are afraid that Metallica is getting old. Those people should try listening to the double-album where they play with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. They haven’t lost their touch… they really rock! Or maybe they’ve been together too long. Given the average lifetime of most music groups, I’d say Metallica seems to have some longevity in them (despite Newsted’s departure in 2001).

In April 2000, Metallica filed a lawsuit with a company that puts out MP3 files of their music. Apparently, copyright infringement does not seem to be an issue on the Internet. But do I blame them? No; in fact, I hope they set a precedent. How would you like it if you worked hard on a project and someone else reaped the benefits of it? I’d be upset and frustrated, and I’m sure Metallica feels the same way. I don’t think it’s about the money. I believe it’s about taking advantage of someone else’s talents. Essentially, the band was ripped-off, and I’m glad they fought back.

In 2001, the band seemed to be falling apart. Early in 2001, Jason broke away from the band, feeling the need to focus on other things in his life. The break-away was amicable (from MetClub sources). In April the remaining three band members went back into the studio to start work on their next original album (Bob Rock, their producer, filled in on the bass), all while on the search for the next Metallica bass player. In July, Metallica settled their suit with Napster, which seemed to be a windfall. But a week later, James was admitted into rehab for “alcoholism and other addictions.” This postponed many Metallic-events and left things in the hands of Lars and Kirk. Things were probably starting to look abysmal. Then September 11 happened. It seemed that everything else suddenly seemed so insignificant. A week later, Metallica expressed that their site was a hate-free zone and put the word out that they don’t want people to spread the hate that many of us felt after the morning of September 11. Although still looking for a new bass player, Metallica informed its members on its web site that James was out of rehab and “feeling rather good about life.” Despite all the adversity of 2001, this band is dedicated to its music, its expression, and (most importantly) its fans.

With the release of St. Anger, it seems that Metallica is missing one long-standing component to its music: the guitar solo. But this album is not business-as-usual; instead, it’s a vehicle for the band to get over one of its most difficult obstacles and move forward. After seeing Metallica in May 2004, I realized that it was as strong as ever, despite what the critics say (did I mention that it sold out the concert in Madison in a record 22 minutes?). Some people say that St. Anger is the biggest disappointment from the band. I think it’s one of the greatest albums, because it’s raw, heavy, emotive, and absolutely genuine.

Metallica as a band does something that some people just don’t seem to get. This is a band that really has recognition, that has a great track record, and that really does what others are afraid to do… write and play music that allows them to really express themselves. And as for me, I love listening to it. Some people think I’m off my rocker when I say that my favorite band is Metallica (I usually listen to them in the car, at the office, at home… just about anywhere I can). If I were to choose an example of someone with celebrity status who sets a good example, it has to be them because they know how to express themselves through some amazing tunes. They do the one thing that they do best: play some really loud, awesome music. And if they’re good enough to play with a symphony orchestra (and you’re reading from someone who loves the symphony), then they deserve more praise and credit than they’ve received. Did I mention that they write their own music, play their own instruments, and actually sing their own tunes? How many “bands” and “musicians” do that nowadays? And for a band that’s over 20 years old, they still have this amazing ability to sell-out concerts wherever they may roam.

My New Year Resolutions – 2004

Most people make resolutions to improve themselves every year. These usually include losing a few pounds, giving up a vice, or improving their appearance. I’m no better; I usually come up with something that I could improve. So I’ve reexamined my usual promises and added a few new interesting resolutions for 2004.

Eat healthier

Okay, this is one of the more usual ones. I started out really well earlier in 2003 by avoiding fast food and eating more nutritiously at home. But I haven’t been watching what I ate in general over the last couple of months. Lately, I’ve noticed more meals eaten out, and fewer meals with any real nutritional value at home. I’m not suggesting that I become a vegetarian; instead I should limit my sugar and fat intake. I’m not trying to lose a few pounds; rather, I’m trying to keep myself from gaining it back.

Be more active

In conjunction with eating healthier, I also need to keep the juices flowing. I work in an office, so I spend a lot of time sitting. That doesn’t keep the muscles toned. So, 2004 will be the year in which I take up something more than just hitting golf balls (which I only did a few times in 2003). Perhaps just more walking in general would be a good start. Again, the goal isn’t weight loss; it’s just to remain healthy to avoid problems in the future.

Spend more time playing guitar

As an aspiring guitarist (well, one with a real job to fall-back on), I really need to devote more time to practicing and learning how to play this cool instrument. In 2004, I plan on expanding not only my song repertoire, but also my understanding of the instrument and of music theory in general. I just hope the neighbors don’t complain when I start cranking up the amp while playing Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy.” Also, since I’m working on becoming more active, it should become easier to thrash (head-bang) while rolling through a few metal riffs. This should help justify my next guitar purchase, too!

Be more assertive

I hate when I’m shopping and I suddenly can’t get past a couple of people that park their shopping carts in everyone’s way. I usually just say, “Excuse me,” but either I have such a quiet voice or people just don’t hear me. 2004 will be different. Forget the niceties; I’m going to push people out of my way or just hide their shopping carts on them.

I’m also a pretty shy person, so I need to be more vocal. So I also plan to meet and befriend more people. This will include going out and seeing more around town.

Save for a house

I don’t dislike where I live now, but there are so many more benefits to owning my own house. For example, I can actually paint my walls whatever color I want, I can crank up my guitar amp and not bother so many people (well, usually), and I don’t have to wait for a washing machine. Furthermore, I would like more room to spread out. The apartment complex in which I live has been wonderful, thanks to some really good neighbors and great management staff. But I need to think about the big picture… including writing off those mortgage interest payments on my taxes.

Keep the apartment clean

Since I want to move into a house, I should make this a priority. It will make moving easier. Included among the things I need to do this year are finding a better spot for my guitar effects pedals and keeping the dining room table clutter down (which will become easier once the desk is home and in place).

Be less cynical

In case you haven’t noticed by reading most of the stuff I publish on here, I’m pretty jaded. I would like to see the good in people, but I usually let some little bits of reality sneak in and take hold of my world view. So I’m going to start giving more people the benefit of the doubt and try to be nicer in general. That should go over really well with my heavy-metal reputation.

Meet that special someone

As you’ve probably read and gathered from reading other things on this site, I’m single. Hey, I’d like to meet a special woman, fall in love, and offer her everything I can (uh, within reason). So I’ve made that a priority in 2004. No more cynicism and becoming more assertive may lead to me meeting someone nice enough to go on a date or two with me. However, I do have some criteria: she must accept that I like playing metal guitar (or any guitar); she must accept that I like the Green Bay Packers; and she must be able to help out with cooking and cleaning (help out means that I will also cook and clean). Speaking of cooking, she can’t be overly fussy about what she eats (still wondering why I’m single?).

Finish my desk

Okay, this is something I’ve been working on for almost two years. Yes, it probably would have been completed if there wasn’t a miscommunication about the lumber order. But great progress was made over the past year, thanks mostly to my great friends Chuck and Emil. Now that most of it is stained, sealed, and varnished and we only need to install hardware and give it a test-fitting, this should probably be the most achievable resolution for 2004. However, if I’m still writing about working on it a year from now, I’m giving up on it altogether!

Read more

I purchased a lot of books last year, but I haven’t read them yet. I’m only on Chapter Three of the latest Harry Potter book, and I bought it right after it was released this past summer. So I’m going to put aside an hour or so every night just for reading. I plan on finishing about one book a month this year, depending on the size and the topic (if it turns out to be a clinker, though, I’ll stop reading it and move on to the next book). I don’t have a list of what I’ll read yet, but I’m sure I’ve got enough material to keep me busy throughout the year. Maybe I’ll even get a newspaper just to keep up with the news… then again I have access to most articles through the Internet.

Finish my web site redesign

As you may be aware, I started redesigning this site again recently. I don’t expect it to be active soon, but I would like to have it ready by the summer. So I want to spend some time learning more about web site design and putting what I learn into practice. Speaking of which, I also would like to keep more current on my site… I know, I know; you’re still waiting for those pictures from England. And speaking of which…

Complete my 2003 England Vacation scrapbook

I took a series of classes this past summer to learn how to effectively put together a scrapbook. Since then, I’ve purchased enough material for the first four or six pages. Yet all I have is materials… no cutting, no pasting, no planning. So I would like to at least start on my scrapbook in 2004; I’d even like to finish it as soon as possible, assuming it doesn’t drive me nuts.

As you can see, I’ve actually spent some time really thinking about areas where I need to make improvements and strategizing how I can achieve these resolutions. I hope to write next year with positive results. I don’t know if I’ll achieve all of my goals in 2004, but there are a few that are worth focusing my energy. So, if you find this kind of thing worth reading and learning about, I’ll go through this process again next year.

Ice Cream: Coronary in a cone

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently distributed a press release stating that eating ice cream is essentially hazardous for your health. They claim that the number of calories and fat are so high, it seems that retailers are essentially trying to see who can contribute the most to the nation’s widening beltline. Click here to see the press release: (this links to another web site)

Fortunately, I live in a state where such statements are denounced. Wisconsin is nicknamed America’s Dairyland (among other things) because it used to be the leading state in dairy production. This long heritage continues to keep dairy alive here. Despite federal milk price fixing (the closer to Eau Claire that milk is produced, the pricier it gets), Wisconsin is still the king of good dairy, as far as I’m concerned.

So, what’s wrong with ice cream and other dairy products? Are we so hot to blame what we eat that we can’t see where the real problem lies?

The following links lead to two articles from Madison newspapers. The first is from the Wisconsin State Journal and discusses the press release as well as local reaction. The second is somewhat related, but describes how four men in their 70s and 80s are still going strong. (this links to another web site)

Higher Education Access

In Wisconsin, the largest state agency has got to be the University of Wisconsin System. With its flagship campus in Madison, the UW System has 13 four-year colleges and 13 additional campuses statewide. That means that it educates a lot of students. And since it’s in the business of educating the hopefully best and brightest, it also means that our lawmakers have a strong interest in keeping the system going strong.

Unfortunately, the State’s current economic climate does not allow its government to funnel the level of funding to the System that it has in the past. As a result, the UW campuses are looking for ways to live within its budget limitations and provide a good education.

Like every other agency, the UW System has been crying wolf at budget cuts. It threatens to raise tuition and admission standards to provide quality education to those students that are already attending as well as the incoming freshmen. In my opinion, that’s a good move. But it is also a politically controversial one, since it realizes that many students will be denied access to higher education within the system.

So why do I care? I was a product of the UW System. I received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at UW-Milwaukee (UWM). My college did provide me with a good education and a good curriculum, but I’m still paying back the tuition. Overall, though, after several years of college, I think I got a bargain.

Every year since I started studying at UWM, I saw tuition increase. Every year, I paid it (well, borrowed to pay it). Every year, I realized that I was still getting a quality education. And yet, I chose to go there because it was a lot cheaper than going to a private school. Tuition for a private school would’ve cost me about three to five times as much as what I paid at UWM. In fact, my annual high school tuition was higher than my annual college tuition.

So, getting back to why I care, I’m sick and tired of hearing students bitch and whine about how it’s becoming more difficult to get into school and afford it. I’ve seen and heard some students suggest that they might have to work and go to school at the same time. Oh no, many of them might have to find part-time jobs to pay for college. And oh my, it’s tough going to school full-time and working at the same time. (Do you sense a bit of sarcasm yet?)

Yeah, right. I’m no honor student, and yet I managed to not only work while going to school, but I did both full-time. While working on my master’s degree, I worked full-time in a retail shop selling plumbing and hardware. Amazingly, I managed to pay for school (most of which I’m still paying), get and maintain good grades, and find work in my field. I even took summer and winter classes so that I could graduate sooner.

So I think I have every right to say to all those students out there, “Deal with it!” All state agencies are hurting, not just the UW System. Even the Department of Transportation (my employer) with its own fund is struggling during this economic slump. So all agencies need to find creative ways to deal with the budget deficit. If the UW administrators need to cut enrollment and increase standards, then more power to them. I don’t see any real solutions coming from those whiners that want to study there.

Those that are in college and don’t take the chance to work while in school never get a dose of reality until after they graduate and find employment in the workplace. There’s a fairly large difference between theory and practice, and students that don’t learn that before graduation lose out on valuable educational experience.

Furthermore, I’m not sure that everyone belongs in college. There are many students that I’ve met during my college days that didn’t belong there. Their narrow-mindedness and poor academic performance made them more suitable for ditch-digging. Higher education is about more than learning what’s in a book; it’s a chance to open your mind and consider the possibility that it’s not a black-and-white world. Furthermore, college should prepare you to come up with alternatives and think outside the box (well, at least in my field of study). No, I didn’t expect to solve the problems of the world, and that wasn’t why I went to college. Instead, it offers you a foundation of what may work and what hasn’t worked, and how to analyze and weigh alternatives. Not everyone can be a leader; someone has to follow. Likewise, if you’ve read my soapbox on technology, then you know that not everyone can work in IT (or better yet, look at the dot-com bust).

Another thing I find interesting is that the UW System has had it relatively easy versus other state agencies. It has managed to keep costs down because Wisconsin’s taxpayers subsidize the system. Yet students don’t realize that they’re paying only a portion of the total cost of their own subsidized education. While hard-working people have had to sacrifice more out of their paychecks to receive less direct benefits from the State, they’ve continued to subsidize the UW. A quick search of 2001 Wisconsin Act 16 will demonstrate all of the exemptions that the UW System received during the 2001-03 biennial budget cycle. 2001 Wisconsin Act 109 (2001-03 biennial budget repair bill) required additional cuts to most state agencies, with the exception of the UW System.

What’s worse, though, is that most students that earn their degrees in Wisconsin move to other states for work. So the intellectual property that the State produces does not directly contribute to its economy. As a result, the taxpayers end up with a double-whammy of subsidizing students; first through the initial tuition subsidy, and second through additional economic burdens developed by the deficit of those that have moved to other states with their taxpayer-subsidized degrees. As more students graduate and find jobs elsewhere, the State’s economy continues to spiral downwards as those that remain in Wisconsin end up paying more for the State’s overall public burden.

I could just state that the grass is greener on the other side, but I imagine that most UW System students chose their schools because of the lower tuition. As I stated before, a comparable private school could cost at least four times as much. Another benefit that students are receiving, though, is the increasing financial aid they’ll continue to receive because the federal government is also subsidizing student tuition. For those that receive federal financial aid, they know (and hopefully realize) that this lessens their short-term financial burden of paying for school. For those that don’t apply (for whatever reason), they are in the dark about this opportunity. Federal aid does help with the up-front tuition costs of a public school more than the up-front tuition costs of a private school. If tuition for public schools mirrored that of private schools, students would have a much more difficult time with paying tuition, as well as receiving financial aid (with the exception of grants and scholarships).

To conclude, it may be unfortunate that everyone that desires to go to school will not get in. But if it takes higher standards and tuition for people to get a quality education, then perhaps we will see quality graduates. My experience tells me that not everyone is suited for college, and yet we’re promoting it to no end. If you don’t make the cut, you don’t play. If you do make the cut, expect to deal with what’s ahead. High school may not prepare you for that, but that’s life in the real world, whether you’re a college student or not. I could go on about how today’s kids are coddled (I was brought up in that generation), but that’s for another day. College isn’t about parties, whining about paying higher tuition, and avoiding work; it’s about hard work, using and opening your mind, paying now to reap larger benefits later (hopefully), and establishing a foundation for your future.

Also, students need to realize that they benefit from the relatively low cost of their education. Earning a bachelor’s degree at a UW school is still far cheaper than earning one at a private university. Furthermore, remaining in Wisconsin means that they benefit from all kinds of services that aren’t available in other states. Although this state is known for its public funding of services, this fact is usually missed in many statistics about the high amount of taxes and fees paid in Wisconsin. Those taxes subsidize UW System students’ education. So the next time I hear a student whine about his or her tuition going up, I’m going to give them my tax bill.