Friday, July 07, 2006

There will always be a Hollywood

You just can't make this stuff up.
A lot of it to me is just physics now. We're finally starting to recognize and admit that the senses are creating as much as they are perceiving. The eye is pretty much creating the image that it perceives, which is just so weird. For everyone that I know, and I expand that to pretty much all of us that have that intuitive hint that there is so much more going on than could ever meet the eye, it's unsettling as hell. I have a feeling that we're recognizing how unsettling the bigger picture can be. When, in fact, shouldn't it be comforting to know that it just ain't all that serious? Having that sense of play and feeling that you can actually kind of create your own reality to a certain extent.
Robert Downey Jr., interviewed by Keith Phipps in The A.V. Club. So, when I see him in Richard Linklater's animated Philip K. Dick adaptation, "A Scanner Darkly," my eye is pretty much creating his image, in fact, maybe I've imagined the whole thing, and you know, like maybe the whole world, my own reality, really, which is just so weird...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vilas Park deathtrap

The picturesque stone bridge at the west entrance of Madison's Vilas Park was especially busy on the Fourth of July. It's quaint and old-fashioned. It's also a death trap.

Cars come hurtling down the steep Edgewood Avenue hill and often fly onto the one-way, one-lane bridge way too fast. And because they also have to turn slightly before entering the bridge, they often swing wide, occasionally scraping the stone wall. The wall can be repaired, and is, from time to time. Adult pedestrians, wandering young children, runners, bicyclists, and the occasional car going the wrong way -- which the steep incline of the bridge often obscures until it's too late -- wouldn't fare nearly as well in a collision.

I've seen way too many close calls here, and experienced a few in the narrow bike lane myself. The bridge is a fatality waiting to happen -- unless something is done to slow down the auto traffic.

Simple solution
The solution is simple: Install a stop sign at the base of Edgewood Avenue, at the intersection with Edgewood Drive (it would also help with bicyclists coming from that direction). Or, alternatively, put a stop sign right before the bridge itself. The important thing is to make cars coming down the hill stop before they get to the bridge. There is absolutely no need for them to have an unobstructed run at the bridge, tempting absent-minded drivers to get in over their heads. What's the hurry? They're entering a crowded park. If they have to stop, they'll still be moving slowly when they start over the bridge, and they'll be better able to react to unforeseen congestion on the bridge.

If somebody gets killed at the bridge, it might be someone you know. Why wait to do something that would seem obvious after tragedy strikes? Let's do it now.

Use the email button below to send this post to your alder or Mayor Dave and ask that something be done.

Fourth of July fireworks

Botanical fireworks. (Asiatic Lilies, to be precise.)

Reverse Lake Wobegon Effect

Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon is well known as the place where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Now Paul Soglin has discovered what might be called a Reverse Lake Wobegon Effect. It's found in the alternate universe of right wing think tank business studies. As Soglin reports in Waxing America on a recent visit to this upside down world, it's a place where, paradoxically, nearly every state is below average in its business climate.
My methodology is flawless. I used only studies offered by right wing foundations, or the shill front groups trying to disgrace the home state. I took seven studies and looked at the bottom 12 or 13 states in each ranking. The studies covered taxes, so called 'tort reform', overall taxes, business taxes, and the overall cost of doing business.

The finding is very simple.

78% of the states are ranked in the bottom quarter in one or more of the studies.
You've seen these studies -- they're the ones inevitably cited by business groups lobbying their state legislatures for special interest legislation to reverse the state's alleged hostility to business revealed by the research. Soglin only had time to document the Reverse Lake Wobegon Effect for 78% of the states, but he's sure there are more out there.
I am sure that with enough time, I could find enough studies to rank every state in the bottom quarter.
Take a look at the cool chart he's compiled. If you've seen a business study that ranks another state not yet identified as hostile to business in the lowest quartile, let him know.

It would be nice if the blogosphere could help complete the picture of how there really are -- to paraphrase Twain, or Disraeli, or somebody -- "Three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies , and right wing research statistics."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Republicans have a solution for Medicare drug benefit recipients -- "Let them eat donut holes"

Republicans have a unique take on skyrocketing medical costs. They want to use the market to solve the problem -- mainly by giving consumers a greater financial stake in the outcome, by making them pay more of the costs out of their own pockets, which presumably would make them better, more cost-conscious shoppers for medical services. The newly unleashed market forces would drive down costs in no time. In theory, anyhow.

This blindly ideological economic philosophy drove the development of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, with its notorious "donut hole" in coverage that potentially leaves recipients with a gap in coverage of nearly $3,000, after they've used their initial benefits and before catastrophic coverage kicks in. It wasn't some kind of an accidental screw-up. It was a deliberate attempt to jump-start those market forces.

The only reason there hasn't been a big uproar so far is that not many seniors had exhausted their initial benefits. But as we suggested in this post last April, the time was fast approaching when that would change.
Most people haven’t thought much about the Medicare donut hole. They will when it starts hitting them in the pocketbook — not just seniors, but family members who help them with their bills. They’ll be livid. Right about election time.
That time has come. As the LA Times reports, millions of American seniors are starting to enter the twilight zone of the donut hole.
The program pays most of a participant's drug bills until expenses reach $2,250 in a year. Then it stops paying until costs exceed $5,100. That leaves a hole of $2,850 that seniors with serious prescription needs are expected to manage on their own.

Now, six months into the drug program — the first new major healthcare benefit for the elderly in decades — 3.4 million seniors are approaching the doughnut hole.

Most of them are middle-class seniors with multiple chronic illnesses. (The poor are exempt from the gap.) Some have already experienced an abrupt surge in prescription costs.

Melvin Kinnison, 65, of Huntington Beach was shocked to discover that the out-of-pocket cost to refill his prescription for antiseizure medication was jumping to $178 from $10. He left the pharmacy empty-handed.
In effect, the Medicare drug benefit was jointly written by Republican ideologues and representatives of the drug industry. They're about to feel the wrath of several million people. House Democrats recently offered a solution. I wonder what the Republicans will do, once they wake up and realize there's a problem. They've sort of painted themselves into a corner on this one.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It would be cool if we got the retractable roof

Another "coming soon" sign from Hilldale. This didn't fit in with the other post, but it's a bit of additional background. Turns out this is not the first time Robert Redford has tried to start his own, Sundance-branded theater chain. He also tried in 1997, as this post about the San Francisco acquisition of the Kabuki multiplex recalls.
Not only will this remain open but will become a Sundance Cinema. What's odd about this move is Sundance Cinemas was one of many things to lead to the bankruptsy of General Cinema as Redford refused to remodel existing GC locations in upscale locations. It also didn't help that Redford wanted to spend 2 million dollars per-screen on such weird ideas as natural fiber seats and retractable roofs (this was planned for Portland, OR). GC was later bought by AMC. Redford has aquired what I suspect is a well run and popular house and plans to retrofit at least 5 screens with stadium seating and add two bars in the complex. It will undoubtably be trendy and I can't wait to see it. It will soon be known as the Sundance Kabuki 8.
The post is from Cinema Treasures, a website devoted to movie theater preservation and awareness.
Utilizing the community-building capabilities of the Internet, Cinema Treasures unites movie theater owners and enthusiasts in a common cause—to save the last remaining movie palaces across the country.
Personally, I'd like to know more about that retractable roof. Movies under the stars? What a concept. What would you call it -- an "outdoor theater"?

Depends on how you define "soon"

Right now, the Sundance Cinema Center exists mainly as a construction site and some "coming soon" signs at Hilldale Mall.

Madison's civic pride got a nice boost last autumn when it was announced that the first Sundance Cinema Center would be built right here in Madison, at the south end of the Hilldale Mall, and that it would open this fall. Robert Redford (or his press release ghostwriter) elaborated in words of corporate-speak as bland as they were opaque.
"The independent culture of Madison makes it a great environment for the Sundance Cinema concept and we look forward to creating together with the local community, an experience that captures that unique nature," said Sundance Group President Robert Redford. "I couldn't be more pleased that this location will launch this venture."
The aging matinee idol has not lost his power to make fans swoon. Ann Althouse was positively ecstatic.
Thanks for picking us, Bob! Apparently, Madison has a big reputation for loving great films.
I was excited, too, although I wondered exactly why Redford chose Madison to kick off his new venture. Wouldn't he get more buzz going in a big city? And anyhow, didn't Redford have an embarrassing encounter with the Madison film scene in the first, cheesy year of the Wisconsin Film Festival before Mary Carbine arrived to give it some class? Dane101painted a sorry picture.
In its inaugural, pre-Carbine year, it was called the Great Wisconsin Film Festival and was an entirely volunteer effort driven by the state tourism office, whose genius idea was to bring Robert Redford here to receive its first annual Cheesehead award. That masterstroke became a debilitating stroke -- not only was the Redford thing obviously not going to happen, but the state withdrew its support two months before the first curtains were supposed to rise.
So our ham-handed attempt to publicize our fledgling film festival by exploiting Redford's fame makes Madison "a great environment for the Sundance Cinema concept"? Hmmm. But, hey -- a first is a first. We'll take it any way we can get it.

Now it appears that the scheduled opening this fall has been moved back to next spring, leaving a near west side theater gap after the Hilldale Theater closes this fall. Again, Dane 101 --
Originally the Sundance Cinema was scheduled to open in November just in time for the Hilldale Theater’s lease to run out at the end of October. According to the Hilldale Mall’s internal newsletter, construction delays have pushed the opening to early next year. Sundance Cinema President Bert Manzari said he isn’t 100-percent sure of the actual opening. "Once you get into this construction," he told Dane101, "there are delays and you never can anticipate.”
OK, so there's a delay. But we're still first, aren't we? Well, I'm not so sure anymore. We were talking about the Sundance theater over the weekend. T., my best and most reliable source, found this San Francisco Chronicle story from last March about Sundance Cinemas purchasing San Francisco's AMC Kabuki multiplex.
Renovation would begin after the San Francisco International Film Festival ends May 4 with plans to reopen in early fall this year, according to a news release from Sundance Cinemas and AMC Theatres. AMC is selling the Kabuki complex as part of an anti-trust agreement permitting the merger of the AMC and Loews chains.

Sundance earlier announced plans to build a new theater in Madison, Wis., with a planned opening in November this year. Manzari said it will be "a horse race" to see whether the San Francisco is the first Sundance venue to open its doors.
Interesting. In March, Manzari is telling San Franciscans that they are in a "horse race" to see whether their city becomes the first Sundance venue to open. In June, he's telling us that "construction delays" are holding up the Madison opening.

Construction delays, or marketing delays? It looks as if Redford finally found a location where he's more comfortable debuting his new independent theater chain than he was in Madison.

They should never have tried to foist that Cheesehead thing off on him.