Saturday, August 26, 2006

Picasso, bunny and his borrowed friend, Lump

David Douglas Duncan, now 90 and living in the south of France, is an American photographer known for his war photography and his photographs of his friend Pablo Picasso. He has so far published 25 books of photographs, including eight of Picasso at work and play. The latest of these is “Picasso and Lump: A Dachshund’s Odyssey”. That's Lump the dachshund on the right in 1957, with Picasso and the paper rabbit Picasso made for him (which Lump promptly took out in the garden and started chewing -- leaving one less Picasso masterpiece for posterity).

The dog originally belonged to Duncan, as Alan Riding explains in the New York Times.
The sequence starts on April 19, 1957, the day that Lump met Picasso. Mr. Duncan, who had first photographed Picasso a year earlier, brought Lump along for the ride, largely because the dog did not get along well with Mr. Duncan’s other pet, an Afghan hound called Kublai Khan.

“Lump immediately decided that this would be his new home,” Mr. Duncan recalled in an interview on a visit to Paris, noting pointedly that “lump” means “rascal” in German. “He more or less said, ‘Duncan, that’s it, I’m staying here.’ And he did, for the next six years.”

Picasso was apparently equally entranced. That very day, he did his first portrait of Lump, a signed and dated portrait of the dog that he painted on a plate while having lunch with Jacqueline Roque, his new partner, whom he would marry four years later.
Lump stayed with Picasso for six years, during which time the little dachshund and the artist were inseparable. Lump often was in the studio with Picasso while he worked, a rare privilege, which may be why he appears in so many paintings.
Yes, that’s Lump at the bottom of the canvas in Picasso’s multiple reinterpretations of Velázquez’s masterpiece “Las Meninas.” Gone is the somnolently regal hound of the original. In its place is, well, a sausage with four short legs and two pointed ears. [See example at link.]

Picasso painted 44 studies in his “Meninas” series between Aug. 17 and Dec. 30, 1957 — and Lump appears in 15 of them.
When Lump contracted a spinal problem common to dachshunds in 1963, Duncan took him back so he could take him to Stuttgart for treatment. Lump stayed with his original owner for the rest of his life. In April 1973, Picasso -- and the canine friend he had once borrowed -- died.

Bolton, Bushco preparing to act alone on Iran sanctions. Sound familiar?

Haven't we been down this road before? According to the LA Times, we're not getting a lot of traction in the Security Council and so are preparing to act alone, if need be.
But in case Russia and China do not accept it, the U.S. is working a parallel diplomatic track outside the U.N., Bolton said.

Under U.S. terrorism laws, Washington could ramp up its own sanctions, including financial constraints on Tehran and interception of missile and nuclear materials en route to Iran, Bolton said, and the U.S. is encouraging other countries to follow suit. "You don't need Security Council authority to impose sanctions, just as we have," he said.

The U.S. has had broad restrictions on almost all trade with Iran since 1987. Exceptions include the import of dried fruits and nuts, caviar and carpets. In addition, U.S. companies can obtain licenses to do limited trade in agriculture and medicine. The United States also initiated the Proliferation Security Initiative, involving a coalition of countries that have agreed to intercept shipments of materials to Iran that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.
So if Iran responds by "easing off the gas pedal" and gas prices go up to $10.00, would that be an act of war on their part, justifying a retaliatory (and possibly nuclear) airstrike?

That's why it's so important to keep reminding the public what's at stake in the congressional elections this fall. Timid measures won't do. We need to have at least some degree of oversight over these maniacs for the final two years of the Bush administration.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I know the weather has been weird around here, but dangerous ground-to-ground lightning? That's just too much.

We've had the humid part of the Dog Days here, but it' s been more rain than heat lately. It's just been one long series of soggy doggie days.

I was out in the open countryside, driving to work and dodging thunderstorms this morning, watching lightning in the distance and wondering about the liquid LP gas truck in front of me. What are those guys supposed to do in a thunderstorm? Pull over and run like hell? Or just pray, and keep on truckin'? What am I supposed to do?

Suddenly my reverie was interrupted by the alarmed voice of the announcer reading off the latest in an endless stream of stunningly obvious weather alerts -- thunderstorms (no kidding), high winds, potential hail, and then, (get this) "dangerous ground to ground lightning."

Ground to ground lightning? Were Mother Nature's neurons misfiring? Short-circuiting? Something didn't seem right. After all, the ground and the clouds have opposite electrical charges in a storm. That's what makes lightning jump from clouds to ground, or vice versa.

But you never know. They're discovering new stuff all the time. You can't be too careful, and I kept a sharp eye out for lightning bolts that a suddenly malign Mother Nature might hurl at me from silos, barns and cornfields.

As soon as I got to the office, I did what any modern person does. I conducted a quick, superficial Internet search. I'm happy to relate the results of my research here:

You can relax. There ain't no such thing. The term "ground to ground lightning" scarcely exists on the Internet, and when it does, it's almost always attached to this photo. It's an Earth Science Picture of the Day posted last month and endlessly reposted. (You can click backwards and forwards to see other neat pictures of the day.) It was photographed in southern France on May 10 by Vincent Jacques. And as the caption explains, it's not really "ground to ground" lightning.
Since the ground is charged opposite that of a cloud base, and will not discharge to itself, it's likely that this picture is showing two cloud-to-ground strokes. Perspective makes it appear as though a single lightning bolt is arching above the hill top.
But then what about the weather alert? I was sure I heard it correctly as "ground to ground lightning."

Fortunately, I receive the same weather alerts in my email and a bunch was waiting for me when I got to the office (the other day, 30 had piled up overnight -- that's the sort of weather we've been having).

And there it was -- exactly the same wording, except for one word change: "dangerous cloud to ground lightning." I even checked some of the other alerts, and none of them said "ground to ground."

So the weather guy must be been flipping through the Earth Science Picture of the Day recently, saw the picture, retained the term (maybe he never read the caption) and then misread the weather alert as a result. Mystery solved.

A couple of great posts about Bush and his buddy Turd Blossom to ease you into the weekend smiling

If you don't regularly hang out at Daily Kos, here are a couple of posts well worth the trip.

Inland's "Why Bush Can't Talk: It's not the drugs, and it's not senility" will make you listen to Bush's every word, certainly not with more sympathy, but with more understanding (of what he is really saying). It's hilarious, and so true.

Eventually, even the most brilliant marketer will fall into a rut and go to the well once too often for tactics that used to work before the market changed. That may be the case with Turd Blossom, contends Wisconsin marketer Rippe in his "Karl Rove, Marketing, and a Grave Miscalculation." Find out why Rippe says "The Republican Party has jumped the metaphorical shark, and the man with the skis is named Karl."

With both posts, check out the numerous comments -- they're half the fun.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who is the woman who had the guts to rule against Bush on warrantless NSA spying?

It takes guts for one, lone judge to go up against the legal machinery of the entire White House on a matter of national security during wartime. That's what United States District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor did when she ruled that Bush's secret instructions to the NSA to engage in warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens violates both FISA and the Constitution.

The outcry was immediate. Administration supporters loudly criticized the decision, many of them without completely informing themselves about the decision and the court proceedings that preceded it. Ann Althouse wrote a somewhat disingenuous NYT Op-Ed in which she dismissed Taylor's thinking as "careless." A host of wingnuts called Judge Taylor far worse than careless. Glenn Greenwald has had a series of excellent posts on the decision and rightwing reaction to it.

But what sort of a woman is Justice Taylor, who has consistently been portrayed by Bush backers ever since the decision last week as a burned-out old Carter appointee and political hack? Geoffrey Stone, writing in the University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog wondered the same thing and did some digging. What he found seems admirable and courageous.
Who is Judge Taylor, anyway? Knowing little about her, I decided to check her out. She is an African-American graduate of Yale Law School (JD '57). In 1964, she spent the summer ("Freedom Summer") in Mississippi to help provide legal services for civil rights activists. She arrived in Mississippi on the very day that three young civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner) disappeared in Philadelphia, Mississippi. When she and several other attorneys went to the sheriff's office to inquire about the disappearance, they were surrounded by a mob of hostile whites who hurled racial epithets at Taylor and her companions. Forty-four days later, the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were found at Olen Barrage's Old Jolly Farm, six miles northeast of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
After her experience in Mississippi, Anna Diggs Taylor had a distinguished legal career in Detroit, where she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, special counsel to the city, and a private practitioner. Among her many achievements, she won a landmark anti-discrimination case. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed her a United States District Judge.

Judges are who they are. They strive to follow the law, but personal experience and character matter. I have little doubt that Judge Taylor's willingness to face the merits in ACLU v. NSA was in part the consequence of who she is as a person. Her decision took personal courage and a genuine commitment to the rule of law. The same kind of courage and commitment she manifested forty years ago during Freedom Summer. We need judges cut from such cloth.
Check out Stone's post. He goes on to compare Judge Taylor's ruling favorably to a famous opinion by Judge Learned Hand on a challenge to the Espionage Act of 1917, during the height of World War I, an opinion that "is today regarded as one of the truly great judicial opinions in the history of the United States."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Would Ann Althouse call this "carelessness," or what would she call it, do you think?

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision in American Civil Liberties Union v. National Security Agency, which enjoins Bush’s warrantless surveillance program, was almost instantly reviled by wingnuts everywhere, almost before they even had time to inform themselves on the case. The talking point of the day seemed to be that the decision was sloppy and careless. (I suppose, from one point of view, a black woman jurist taking on the president is, by definition, sloppy and careless.) Glenn Greenwald has had some excellent posts analyzing the "experts" who jumped in and too carelessly accused Taylor of being careless -- one of them being Ann Althouse.

Althouse's commentary, which culminated in a New York Times Op-Ed piece today, struck me as a poorly reasoned ad hominem attack on Taylor and a "divine right of kings" defense of the president -- considering the source, only to be expected. But what especially caught my eye was this barb that first appeared on her blog (emphasis added):
Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ends her opinion with a quote from Earl Warren, whom she refers to as "Justice Warren." How can you forget to call him Chief Justice? -- Ann Althouse, Althouse, 8/20/06
She seemed pleased with her line about Taylor being too dim to know what to call the Chief Justice, so she repeated it to kick off her Op-Ed today:
To end her opinion in American Civil Liberties Union v. National Security Agency — the case that enjoins President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program — Judge Anna Diggs Taylor quoted Earl Warren (referring to him as “Justice Warren,” not “Chief Justice Warren,” as if she wanted to spotlight her carelessness): “It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of ... those liberties ... which makes the defense of the nation worthwhile.” -- Ann Althouse, New York Times, 8/23/06
Far be it from me to challenge a law professor on a matter of terminology, but something tugged at the back of my mind. Was she making not only a trivial accusation here, but a false one as well? My understanding as a sometime journalist is that when citing the Chief Justice's written opinions, the preferred title is "Justice," since in his opinion he is simply acting as first among equals. The opinion, in and of itself, carries no more weight than that of any other justice, and thus "Justice" is appropriate. In contrast, in referring to the Chief Justice's duties as head of the federal court system -- or in an impeachment trial -- as well as a general public honorific, using the full title would be warranted and appropriate.

Being unable to find a rule confirming my understanding regarding accepted usage, I decided to search the New York Times archives for examples of their usage. Imagine my surprise when one of the first citations that came up was another Althouse Op-Ed (sorry about the Times Select link):
Well, quite aside from the tedium of cliché, we might want to consider whether Judge Alito really is all that much like Justice Scalia. If you're old enough, you might remember how savvy it once seemed to respond to the nomination of Harry Blackmun by lumping him with Warren Burger and calling them ''the Minnesota Twins.''

Both men were appointed by Richard Nixon, who, like George W. Bush, ran for office saying he wanted to appoint strict constructionists to the bench. Yet while Justice Burger remained conservative, Justice Blackmun went on to write the opinion legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade and, eventually, to vote consistently with the liberal justices. -- Ann Althouse, New York Times, 11/01/05
And that would be Chief Justice Warren Burger, right?

It was Emerson who famously said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Apparently the New York Times agrees -- at least when it comes to selecting Op-Ed columnists.

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

David Foster Wallace searches for Roger Federer in a forest of footnotes

Rob Tringali/Sports Chrome

The New York Times must have thought they were wrong-footing the competition and hitting a clear winner when they commissioned David Foster Wallace to write an essay -- "Federer as Religious Experience" -- for their glossy sports supplement Sunday. Two geniuses for the price of one -- a great athlete, and a showy, trendy author with a signature style, who knows tennis from the inside, having been a regionally ranked junior player before graduating to literary fame.

It’s the signature style that’s the problem. Lengthy, numerous and only marginally relevant footnotes have become an instantly recognizable feature of the David Foster Wallace brand. On the Charlie Rose Show in 1997, Wallace said the footnotes were used to help “dis-lineate” the flow of the narrative. The Times was happy to accommodate this stylistic tic and included more than a dozen hard to read, tiny footnotes. A good copy editor could easily have integrated the footnotes into the text -- but who knows? Maybe the Times actually requested the footnotes so readers could easily recognize the David Foster Wallace brand.

All I know is that it was all too much dis-lineation for me. The essay was fascinating -- and so frustrating that I was tempted to throw it across the room. Each time the densely written essay gathered some momentum and started to intrigue me with its insights into what makes Federer great, I would have to break off, track down the right microscopic paragraph at the bottom of the page, and then eventually find my way back to where I was forced to break off. It might or might not make for an amusing game in purely literary work, but in a sports essay it seemed obtrusive, distracting and inconsiderate.

Just when I would be about to get really fed up, Wallace would serve up a really nice observation, and I would plunge on, trying to stay in the game. Here he comments on how Federer has brought finesses and touch back to a game that everyone had ceded to the power baseliners.
Subtlety, touch, and finesse are not dead in the power-baseline era. For it is, still, in 2006, very much the power-baseline era: Roger Federer is a first-rate, kick-ass power-baseliner. It’s just that that’s not all he is. There’s also his intelligence, his occult anticipation, his court sense, his ability to read and manipulate opponents, to mix spins and speeds, to misdirect and disguise, to use tactical foresight and peripheral vision and kinesthetic range instead of just rote pace — all this has exposed the limits, and possibilities, of men’s tennis as it’s now played.

Which sounds very high-flown and nice, of course, but please understand that with this guy it’s not high-flown or abstract. Or nice. In the same emphatic, empirical, dominating way that Lendl drove home his own lesson, Roger Federer is showing that the speed and strength of today’s pro game are merely its skeleton, not its flesh. He has, figuratively and literally, re-embodied men’s tennis, and for the first time in years the game’s future is unpredictable.
Want to see for yourself? Click this link. An advantage of reading the article online is that the footnotes work much better in html. They’re less obtrusive, easier to get to and easier to read, and it’s easier to return to where you started.

If the footnotes still drive you nuts, remember -- dis-lineation is rarely fatal and recovery is usually rapid once you’re no longer assaulted by footnotes.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Vilas Park deathtrap revisited

About six weeks ago, in this post I called the old stone bridge at the west entrance of Madison's Vilas Park a potential deathtrap for pedestrians and bicyclists. It's a constricted one-lane bridge with a bike and pedestrian path squeezed against one stone wall. All too often cars come down the hill and cross the bridge too fast, often not even knowing bikes may suddenly appear against the flow of traffic. I suggested the city traffic department put a stop sign there to slow down the cars. My alderman passed the idea on to the traffic department for review and nothing happened -- because nobody has been killed there recently, I assume. Call me old fashioned, but I think they should be proactive and do something before somebody is killed or maimed.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I was third in a line of westbound bikes just nearing the crest of the bridge when we heard an oncoming car approaching a bit too fast. You always worry with the speeders whether they will take the turn a bit wide and swing into what seems an empty shoulder along the wall but which is really a bike lane, where people can materialize over the crest of the bridge at any moment. You always hold your breath for an instant, wondering what will happen.

Once again, nothing did. The car saw the first bicyclist and slowed in time. By the time he passed me, the obviously shaken driver was just crawling along, looking totally weirded out. What were all these damnfool bicyclists doing riding against traffic on a one-way street, anyhow? He vented his feelings as he passed me.

"You dumb fuck!" he hissed through his open window.

I was too startled to pay him back in kind with something intelligent like "You dumb fuck -- don't you know it's a bikepath?"

Besides, how would he know? When I had a minute to think about it, I realized the driver was just venting after being startled by bicyclists in his face where he had no reason to expect bicyclists.

Look at the bottom picture, which shows the driver's view. Is there any indication whatsoever that bicycles -- or pedestrians -- might be approaching? Absolutely not.

So how about it, City of Madison Traffic Department? If you think a stop sign would be excessive, fine -- I'll defer to your professional judgment. But how about some sort of highly visible sign to motorists saying something like "CAUTION: Oncoming bike traffic approaching over blind bridge." I'll leave the wording to you. Just do something.

Otherwise, one of these days a car will not slow down in time, and it could as easily take out three or four people as hit just one. Think about it.

Just a reminder we weren't dreaming

Some things you photograph just to remind yourself later you really saw it, you didn't make it up or dream it. On the way back to Madison, somewhere between Algoma and Kewaunee -- endless acres of giant sunflowers as far as the eye can see. Though no horsedrawn vehicles, at least not when we were there.