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.

Friday, April 22, 2016

"What will I do with them anyway?" "Throw them out, dear."

Forget about DSLRs or digital point-and-shoots. These days, anyone with a smart phone can easily shoot dozens of pictures a day. They keep piling up at a rate unprecedented in human history -- let alone the history of photography, which is less than two centuries old, and which for about half that time was amostly confined to specialists. But even in the heyday of amateur film photography there were those who wondered where it was all heading:
Long ago a picture must have been an event. Capturing a living image has become too ordinary a miracle, perhaps. They go about with their automatic-drive Nikons and OM-2's and their Leicaflexes, and put their finger on the button, and the hand-held machinery makes a noise like a big toy cricket. Reep, reep, reep, reep. A billion billion slides, projected once, labeled, and filed forever. Windrows of empty yellow boxes blow across the Gobi, the Peruvian highlands, the temple steps at Chichicastenango. The clicking and whirring and clacking is the background sound at the Acropolis, at the beach at Cannes, on the slopes at Villefranche. All the bright people, stopped in the midst of life, looking with forced smile into the lenses, then to be filed away, their colors fading as the years pass, caught there in slide trays, stack loads, view cubes, until one day the person dies and the grandchild says, "Mom, I don't know any of these people. or where they were taken even. There are jillions of them here in this big box and more in the closet. What will I do with them anyway?" 
 "Throw them out, dear."
-- John D. MacDonald, The Empty Copper Sea, 1978

What will happen to the photographic detritus of our time? Who knows? Considering how long it takes to even glance at the contents of a multi-gigabyte memory card, the answer may well be, "Throw them out, dear."

Earth Day Remembrance of Jens Jensen, Wisconsin's poet of the natural landscape

Jens Jensen The Living Green: CLIPS from Viva Lundin Productions on Vimeo.

A couple days ago we saw a wonderful documentary, "The Living Green," on Wisconsin Public Television about Danish-American landscape architect Jens Jensen. It's showing again tonight, on Earth Day, on Channel 21 in Madison (11:00pm). If you can't catch it, this 10-minute series of clips on Vimeo captures many of the highlights and much of the spirit of this extraordinary man.

Jensen and his wife landed in Chicago in 1884 as penniless immigrants from Denmark. He began working for the Chicago Parks Department as a laborer but soon worked his way up and became the system's self-taught landscape architect, starting as superintendent of Humboldt Park in 1895. He was ahead of his time as a passionate advocate of natural, urban green space, and his design work for the city can be seen in such parks as garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Douglas Park and Columbus Park. He was instrumental in helping save the Indiana Dunes near Chicago. He retired from the park system in 1920 and began private practice, with influential projects around the country, including major projects for Henry Ford and his son Edsel.

After his wife died in 1935 he left the Chicago area and moved to Ellison Bay, in Door County, Wisconsin, where he established "Wisconsin's other Taliesin," The Clearing. Like his friend and contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, he was known for his prairie style. Like Taliesin, he designed The Clearing as his home and school, as a way of passing on his vision. He also designed this lovely winding road between Gill's Rock and Rockport. He died in 1951 at the age of 91.

There are two Jens Jensen projects in Madison -- the Council Ring in the sliver of the UW-Madison Arboretum near Monroe Street and the nearby Glenwood Children's Park near Glenway Street. They're fitting memorials to this pioneer landscape architect and visionary, who was so far ahead of his time, and who spent the last 16 years of his long life in Wisconsin.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Vanishing Pleasure

A Vanishing Pleasure

I'm talking about book page design and typography. I've been reading some of my favorite mysteries -- James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux mysteries set in Louisiana bayou country, in hardcover editions published by Doubleday. Most were ho-hum in their design. But a few pages into Purple Cane Road I knew I was holding something special. Not only is it one of the best of the Robicheaux series, in which Dave finds out the mother who abandoned him as a child was actually murdered. The other thing that was unusual was that the pages were physically gorgeous, hearkening back to a time when books were precious objects worthy of a craftsman's care and devotion.

The pages were laid out with wide margins, and the lines of crisp text were laid out with generous leading between the lines. My eye flowed easily down the page. Subtle signposts helped lead you through the book without being obtrusive -- chapter numbers were set off in light gray, screened back cursive. The first page of each chapter was set with even wider margins. The first line of each chapter started with a large initial cap, nicely kerned so it didn't look out of place. Chapter sections had their own, smaller initial caps. Taken as a whole, these subtle cues helped orient the reader in the book in a way that's unique to print books.

These days publishers usually don't bother, because most folks do their reading on screens and devices with type set on computers working on autopilot, or the modern equivalent, HTML cascading style sheets. Since the other books didn't look like this at all, I wondered why the publisher bothered. Then I saw a note on the copyright page: "A signed limited edition of this book has been published by B. E. Trice Publishing, New Orleans." I imagine Doubleday arranged to use the same files to print their edition.

They say e-books seem to have reached their peak and that print books are making a comeback. Maybe it's because there's just nothing like being able to page through a well-designed book.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Friday, April 01, 2016



One of my favorite works at the Milwaukee Art Museum, partly because this outdoor sculpture has so many moods, depending on the lighting and the time of day. It was created in 1974 by Alexander Liberman. The Russian born artist had worked in Europe as a graphic designer and editor; he immigrated to the US in 1941 and began working for Conde Nast. From 1962-1994 he was the hugely influential editorial director of Conde Nast. He took up painting, and later, sculpture in the 1950s.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thank You, Madison Police Department!

Thank you, Madison Police Department!

There's something especially sickening and dispiriting about the theft of a well-loved bike. That's what happened to T a couple of weeks ago. We never expected to see the bike again, a Raleigh Detour that would be especially hard to replace. The frame fit perfectly, but it also had some features that don't usually come together as a package -- internal gears and brakes, generator hub and lights, chain guard and rack. But mostly, T just really loved that bike.

It was really gloomy this morning, but I decided to take a walk in the rain. Suddenly my phone rang. Juggling phone and umbrella, I took the call -- and it was as if the sun had suddenly come out. It was the police, and they had recovered the bike, none the worse for wear.

I was glad I had filed a police report. (You only need the serial number -- or a bike license -- and a description.) They told me when I went to pick up the bike that they actually recover a surprisingly high percentage of the bikes that are reported missing, but that many people never file because they wrongly think there's no point. But there is. Thanks again, Madison Police Department!