Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit: "Bit of a dog's dinner, innit?"

I was glued to the computer last night, watching the BBC's streaming special on the Brexit vote, seeing reactions unfold in real time as the scope of the UK's reckless flying leap into the unknown unfolded. One of my favorite reactions was from a phlegmatic Brit who uttered the immortal words, "Bit of a dog's dinner, innit?"
On this side of the pond, I liked my FB friend Greg Fallis's use of a science fiction metaphor to describe the way the world we thought we knew seems suddenly to be turning upside down and backwards. Wait till you get to the giant underground insects waking up after a sleep of centuries...
There's much to be said for giant underground insects, but I prefer to blame sunspots. The Russian biologist Aleksandr Leonidovich Chizhevsky hypothesized years ago that massive, intense disruptions in normal human behavior such as wars, revolutions and sudden cultural changes were caused by solar maximums, those periods of intense solar activity and the proliferation of sunspots that take place about every 11 years.
This is usually dismissed as crackpot science, but could Chizhevsky be right? Hard to tell. The trouble is that sunspot cycles are roughly periodic, but the periods vary, and historical data is spotty until we get to modern times. So it's easy to fit the solar peaks to just about any series of events you want to explain. And, as we all know, correlation doesn't prove causation in any event.
Maybe it's just that the human species has a deep-seated, genetic predisposition to really shake things up now and then and start all over again -- especially when many people are miserable and think their leaders don't understand them and don't give a damn about them.
It's a real wakeup call to elites everywhere.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trash-picking with a Lexus SUV

This is a picture I didn't take (not for lack of trying, but because I had left my go-to camera, the iPhone, home in the charger): Visualize a big black Lexus SUV parked next to an off-white sofa and matching lounge chair, which had been set out at the curb, the chair piled up on top of the sofa for easy pickup by the city's large-item trash truck.
A middle aged couple with what might be their adult daughter, all impeccably dressed in upscale leisurewear, are carefully assessing the chair. They open the tailgate and measure with their hands whether the big chair would fit. It seems to. Then they turn the chair up, remove the cushion and methodically inspect every nook and cranny of the chair for flaws or stains. They are about to load it into the SUV when they discover the dark stain on the armrest I could see all along. That's a deal-breaker. They close the tailgate and drive off.
In a student town like Madison, trash picking is an art form, but these were unusual practitioners. I wondered, has it come to this for the American upper middle class? Or were they just looking for something for the cottage?
As I sat watching, camera-less, from my car, I was reminded of photographer Michael David Murphy's wonderful blog, Unphotographable -- all the posts are beautifully written short vignettes describing photographs he did not take, for one reason or another -- "Unphotographable is a catalog of exceptional mistakes. Photos never taken that weren't meant to be forgotten. Opportunities missed. Simple failures. Occasions when I wished I'd taken the picture, or not forgotten the camera, or had been brave enough to click the shutter."
If you've never visited his blog, check it out. The verbal "pictures" are vivid and touching:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Moon and Mars and Wingra Park

Moon and Mars and Wingra Park

The Moon and Mars looked so pretty over the darkness of Wingra Park tonight that I did what I'm often tempted to do when walking at night, which is pushing my little companion devised by Steve Jobs beyond its limit -- that is, shooting handheld with iPhone in near darkness. I know it will scarcely register an image. It will take a lot of post-processing to bring out any sort of image at all, and it will be noisy as hell. Usually it doesn't work (the number of nocturnal iPhone shots I've deleted runs to the thousands). But sometimes I get something that seems to capture the magic of the moment, at least for me.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Star Light, Star Bright


When T and I were inside the starry vastness of the infinity chamber at the Milwaukee Art Museum recently, I asked if she could recite a poem about stars. The result was magical.
("Walk-in Infinity Chamber," Stanley Landsman, 1968.)

Today this isn't about the 2nd Amendment. It's about national security.

As American as Mom, the Flag and Apple Pie and Guns.

I took this several years ago at a "Gun Appreciation Day" rally on the Capitol Square, as several hundred people once again demonstrated their determination to fight for their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The nationwide Gun Appreciation Day rallies around the country was the gun lobby's response to another gun control proposal that went nowhere.

That's the problem: Whenever people try to enact reasonable gun control proposals, the political right uses the occasion to fire people up about a perceived threat to their 2nd Amendment freedoms. But today this isn't about the right to bear arms. It's about national security.

A terrible, tragic hate crime and act of terrorism took place this morning in Orlando. I'm not holding my breath, but maybe this time the country will begin to see the easy availability of automatic weapons as more of a national security issue than a 2nd amendment issue.

Until we find an effective way to get these weapons off the street, we're doing half the terrorists' job -- making the tools of their trade easily available. This madness has to end.

Wingra Moment

Wingra Moment

Lake Wingra, Wingra Park, Madison, WI.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Political disinformation and how it slips into the media

Whether you call it disinformation, propaganda or just plain fake news, it's all around us -- provocative, unsourced or unverified stories that give a veneer of plausibility to an assertion that comes with an agenda but no basis in fact. The Planned Parenthood body parts video was an example that went viral before it was discredited.

Many other stories never achieve enough notoriety to get get fact-checked and investigated. They just slip into the general chatter of media and social media. Sometimes they piggyback on vague fears of something that's real, but poorly understood and frightening. Something like the so-called "Dark Web," where most of us have heard that a variety of evil-doers traffic in contraband of all sorts.

I came across this example last night on our local news, Channel 15, Madison WI. (Since Channel 15 did not post the story on the Web, the link is to another station that ran the same story.) The story claimed that in 2008 Barrack Obama absentee votes were bought for $1,400 each on the "dark web" (cue up the spooky music). What slanderous bs. In 2012 the presidential candidates spent $22 per voter on TV advertising. Why would anybody ante up 70 times that much per vote? They wouldn't. The figure was chosen purely for its scandalous impact.

The story seems to be personalized by the voter demographics of where it's going to air. In the story at the link, Trump votes were going for $400 each. In Channel 15's otherwise identical story, Hillary votes were going for $400. Again, do the math -- it makes no sense. The only thing this story is designed to do is to implant the notion "Hillary is buying votes" in the casual viewers' mind and encourage them to share it with their friends.

What the hell are you doing, Channel 15? And why? Please stop it.

Monday, May 16, 2016



Remains of old stone farmhouse at Halfway Prairie Dane County Wildlife Area (across Hwy 19 from Indian Lake County Park).

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Garden Kaleidoscope at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Garden Kaleidoscope

One of my favorite things to visit at Olbrich Gardens. Give it a whirl, and watch the patterns twirl -- a miniature rotating garden viewed through an optical kaleidoscope. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I hope the Democrats get it together before Trump sucks all the media air out of the room

The media now seem to be 100% Trump 100% of the time, shamelessly whoring after the clickbait he so irresistibly provides. The Democrats are disappearing from the news cycle altogether -- while still arguing about whether Hillary is a tool of Wall Street, a useless controversy if there ever was one, because it's so devoid of context.

Yes, there was a Democratic presidential candidate who got twice as much money from Wall Street as the Republican opponent. His name was Barrack Obama in 2008. That didn't make him the pawn of Wall Street either. The Democrats passed Dodd-Frank, and Wall Street turned against them big time. Look at the chart. Hedge funds gave three times as much to Republicans as to the Democrats in 2012. Since then, the ratio has held steady or even worsened.

Donald Trump has already said he won't self-fund his billion-dollar presidential campaign. If recent history is any guide, he'll get a lot of it from Wall Street. It's time for the Democrats to unite against the GOP and Wall Street.

(btw, Trump boasts about being a "master of debt," and it's true that his real estate and casino empires were built almost entirely on debt, much of which he successfully walked away from. Banks were his enablers.)

We're going to be seeing some really lurid red sunsets the next few weeks.

We're going to be seeing some really lurid red sunsets the next few weeks.

Like this one in Marshall Park, Middleton, Sunday night. Sunlight passing through dust, haze or smoke shifts toward the red -- but not all red sunsets are created equal. What we're seeing now is due to the jet stream sweeping smoke from Canada's Fort McMurray fire across the atmosphere of the upper Midwest and as far south as Florida.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Natural Bridge State Park

Natural Bridge State Park

This sandstone natural bridge is the largest in the state. The natural rock shelter underneath the arch was excavated by archeologists in 1957. Their findings showed that people they called Paleo-Indians lived in the shelter 12,000 years ago and apparently hunted megafauna like mastodons and woolly mammoths in the shadow of the retreating glaciers. (The park is about 10 miles west of Hwy. 12 on County Highway C in Sauk County.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Last Park Designed by Landscape Architect Jens Jensen, and the Only One in Madison

The Last Park that Jens Jensen Designed, and the Only One in Madison Glenwood Children's Park: "This park, transformed from a former quarry, is significant as the last major project of nationally renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen. Designed for children to experience nature through unstructured play, the park features open meadows interspersed with forest, playing fields and trails. The park's native plantings and council ring are particular hallmarks of Jensen's designs."

The park was created in 1949, but the elderly Jensen wasn't able to see it all the way to completion of his planned design. Over the years it fell into disrepair, but in recent years the neighborhood has been working to restore it. They hold a wonderful Winter Solstice ceremony in December, with luminaria illuminating the path up to a bonfire at the council ring.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

As a photographer I didn't have any problem giving JFK directions, but I was too shy to shake his hand

I've taken pictures of two, maybe three, American presidents. JFK I photographed for my high school newspaper. Bill Clinton I photographed for the heck of it. Same with Hillary.

About 6 weeks before the 1960 Wisconsin presidential primary JFK made a campaign stop in Madison and spoke about the importance of primary elections and Wisconsin's role in the history of primaries. This was still the tail end of the "smoke filled room" era, and former President Truman had recently dismissed primaries as "eyewash." JFK said eyewash would be the drink that made Wisconsin famous. It certainly put him on the map -- his upset victory over Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey in his own backyard really shifted his campaign into high gear.

Three of us from The Madison Mirror, Madison Central High School's student newspaper, decided to do a story. When we approached the senator, he was incredibly patient and gracious. (Maybe he was thinking we would be voters by the time he ran for reelection.) Jean Nelson and Marilyn Mitchell handled the story. I had tagged along as the photographer, which is why I'm mentioned in the story but not pictured.

"Senator, would you please move to your right," I said, trying to maneuver him closer to our intrepid journalists. With a politician's automatic response to a camera, he did as he was told, and I snapped the photo. I had no problem telling the future leader of the free world what to do, but that was only because I had a role to play. Later, when Jean and Marilyn went through the receiving line to shake the hands of Jack and Jackie, I didn't join them. I had some misbegotten idea that photographers should be neutral, but really, I was just shy.

The photo is really dark and muddy, because it was badly processed and exposed (back then I rarely used flash, even when I needed it). The original negative and 3x5 print were lost long ago. So all I have now is a low-res copy of a copy from a microfilm of a bad halftone in an old high school newspaper. But memories are like that. They don't always come in high resolution.