Saturday, October 14, 2006
Under the editorial direction of Ellen Foley, the Wisconsin State Journal has been trying hard to combat the crisis of eroding profits and falling stock prices that beset today's newspaper industry by by luring younger readers with "news you can use." The U.S. is bogged down in the quagmire in Iraq and approaching decisive congressional elections. So what kind of news do we need?
Yesterday, it being Friday the 13th and all, we apparently needed a consumer's guide to haunted places complete with numbered map -- "13 Haunted Places" -- dominating the front page above the fold. Number six on the list was Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin.
Taliesin, Highway C, Spring GreenThe State Journal's tabloid style coverage is part of a long tradition. There always were people who trashed the reputation of Wisconsin's great native son by turning the great tragedy of his life into evidence of his immorality and proof of God's punishment. Of all the reasons to visit Taliesin, stalking ghosts is not exactly high on the list.
In 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright abandoned his wife and children in Chicago and fled to Europe with Mamah Cheney, the wife of a client. On their return Wright built the home he named Taliesin in Spring Green.
In 1914 a servant went mad and murdered Cheney, her two children and five others at Taliesin before setting fire to the estate. Wright later rebuilt, but the restless spirit of Cheney is said to occasionally be seen on the grounds, dressed in a long, white gown.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Every Wednesday night there's a spike in Google searches involving Jericho, some of the searchers end up at my post about the show of a few weeks ago, and some of them stop to comment. I've been surprised by how blasé many of the commenters are about the idea of nuclear weapons and their use. There's been a spirited debate about whether a single nuke could really "take out" a good sized city like New York, with the consensus being that it could not. I marvel at how so many people could forget what once was so obvious. I think of them as Dr. Strangelove's grandchildren.
And then I realize that most of the commenters were not even born yet when the U.S. successfully detonated the first hydrogen bomb in the Ivy Mike test on Halloween Day of 1952 -- Halloween afternoon in the U.S., Nov. 1 at the Pacific test site. That test, and others like it, haunted people's dreams like a nightmare for years afterward, but gradually a mass amnesia set in.
This was not the little mushroom cloud blossoming on the horizon in Jericho. This was the "Super," as Edward Teller called it. You could say Harry Truman kept the commitment he made in January of 1950.
It is part of my responsibility as Commander in Chief of the Armed forces to see to it that our country is able to defend itself against any possible aggressor. Accordingly, I have directed the AEC to continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or Super bomb.It was super, alright. The 10.4-megaton blast -- about 500 times the force of the Nagasaki bomb -- looked like the end of the world, vaporized the island of Elugelab and left a crater more than a mile wide. Even bigger bombs would be tested, before settling on today's more compact modern thermonuclear missile warheads. Each Trident II D-5 on a ballistic missile submarine carries up to 8 independently targetable warheads, each with a yield of up to half a megaton (if you're counting that would be about 30 Hiroshimas -- each).
Most of my commenters are not thinking of Ivy Mike or even the Trident, not by several orders of magnitude. They're thinking of the Hiroshima (15 kilotons) or Nagasaki (21 kilotons) size atomic weapons that might be employed by a terrorist or a rogue state if they get lucky. And, yes, much of New York would, technically speaking, survive, though it wouldn't be a picnic.
But what they're forgetting is a whole way of thinking about nuclear weapons that arose in the fifties and early sixties when the monsters were still stalking the earth out in the open and then gradually receded into the background of our national consciousness after the beastly things withdrew to their underground lairs. Partly it's an "out of sight, out of mind" thing. Underground testing drove the nuclear tests below ground and out of the news. The end of the Cold War, and the news that the U.S. and Russia had detargeted each other further added to the illusion of safety (as if the nukes couldn't be reprogrammed within seconds).
But I think the forgetfulness goes beyond this. There seems to be a deeply ingrained social dynamic that makes many of us determined to forget the hard-earned lessons of our grandparents' experience. Maybe it's due to Kondratieff Long Wave Cycles. More likely it's just human nature. The acquired knowledge of previous generations gets turned into clichés through constant repetition and endless repackaging. The young become bored, and move on.
That's what happened with the Great Depression. It was reduced to a series of worn-out images from Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and the movie version of "The Grapes of Wrath." Consequently, as a nation we forgot most of what we learned about the social safety nets that were created during the years of the New Deal -- paving the way for the excesses of Reagan and the Bushes.
It's the same with thinking about nuclear war. Hydrogen bombs have not been tested above ground in the lifetime of most people living today. Nor have atomic bombs been used in war. All we have is a lot of stories about how awful the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were and how dangerous the Cold War was. But Japan survived, didn't it? And the world didn't blow up, did it? Big whoop. We survived 9/11. We can certainly survive a nuke or two from a rogue nation or a terrorist state. I exaggerate, but not much.
Here's what has been forgotten: The thermonuclear arsenals of the major powers are very big and very nasty. The U.S. and Russia each have about 6,000 active warheads. Human life as we know it is not compatible with a significant proportion of them being detonated.
When the U.S. used nuclear weapons against Japan, we were the only nation that had the bomb. Today, the first bomb would most likely lead to another -- and another, in an uncontrollable pattern of escalation, through countless unpredictable scenarios. Sean comments on this in Cosmic Variance.
What are the chances, with all those weapons out there, that someone will use one, say in the next fifty years? Extremely high, I would guess. None has been used in the last fifty years, it’s true, but for most of that time we lived in a bipolar world with clearly defined lines of engagement and relatively symmetrical capabilities and liabilities. (The above list doesn’t even mention non-state groups, of course.) A more fragmented situation exponentially increases the number of events that could lead to a nuclear strike, including the possibility of accidents. And the number of nuclear-capable states shows little signs of decreasing in the near future.And that's why the question of a single small nuke exploding in New York is so absurd. It would be very unlikely to stop with one. There are more than enough nukes to go around. We used to know that. But Dr. Strangelove's grandchildren are getting forgetful.
Once any country strikes another using nuclear weapons, the presumption against further use will be considerably lowered. The consequences are hard to imagine, simply for being so terrifying.
The prehistoric cave paintings of Europe at sites like Lascaux are usually attributed to artistic motives, the desire to invoke magic for the hunt, or shamanistic religious practices. But in "The Nature of Paleolithic Art" author R. Dale Guthrie, who specialized in Pleistocene paleozoology before retiring as a professor of zoology at the University of Alaska, thinks otherwise. He thinks most of the paintings are the work of adolescent Paleolithic boys, graffiti taggers of their day.
Writing in the New York Review of Books, reviewer William H. McNeill thinks he makes some good points.
The most definite proof he offers comes from his measurement of hand images left in some, but not all, decorated caves, wherever someone sprayed a mouthful of ochre paint against an outspread hand held close against the wall (see illustration on page 22). Human hands change shape and proportion with age and differ between the sexes, so by careful measurement of nine different widths and lengths compared with the same hand measurements of adults and schoolchildren in Alaska, Guthrie found thatThese are just a few excerpts from McNeill's long, comprehensive review. He's not entirely persuaded, but thinks Guthrie offers an interesting corrective perspective. He concludes by noting, "His imaginative reconstruction of family patterns, demographics, and the psychological effects of being dependent on killing large-bodied mammals strikes me as plausible. And he convinced me that adolescent boys made most of the casual graffiti that adorn the cave walls. These are valuable correctives to older views. But his repudiation of magical and religious motivation for making the masterworks of cave art remains implausible."handprints of adolescents are the most numerous among the Paleolithic sample.... The second important observation is that the vast majority of these individuals were males. From the total sample of 201 Paleolithic hands, discriminate analysis classified at least 162 as male and the other 39 as either female or young male.Other observers also found that "virtually all...of the foot tracks in Paleolithic art caves are those of children."
The other evidence Guthrie offers is the subject matter of the graffiti that survive abundantly but have attracted scant attention since they lack significant artistic value. Crude, sometimes unfinished or corrected outlines of animal forms are numerous; so are images of male and especially of female sexual organs—exactly what adolescent boys would be most acutely interested in. Guthrie then devotes an entire chapter to explaining the effects of testosterone on human consciousness and behavior and imagining how small groups of boys, emancipated from their mothers' supervision, spent surplus energy and spare time in risky, scary caves, leaving behind innumerable scratch marks and painted images that expressed their adolescent hopes and fears.
Guthrie next takes up the importance of play and more especially of art-making for enhancing creativity and shaping a distinctive human ecological niche for "the artful ape." He explains:The evolutionary tack of more learning gained through a long childhood was a difficult route because it involved acquiring facility and wisdom through many mistakes—and mistakes can be costly. The partial evolutionary fix for this was to create a sort of virtual world, paralleling the adult world, a vital playground of make-believe.Cave art is the principal surviving part of that "virtual world," attesting how "play, art, and creativity are all linked to the process of our becoming large-mammal-hunting specialists." He sums up his entire argument in the chapter's final sentence: "Paleolithic art is the first clear spoor of advancing creativity in the human line..., not art for art's sake, but art for life's sake."
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Travis's Fenced-In Area
Travis: I think there's something I need to make clear about my fenced-in area. You see.. everybody in Gilbert County's got a damn fenced-in area that's cluttered with crap and brown weeds invading them like a cancer! Well, see, I'm better than that. I'm gonna make my fenced-in area an area that's neat and special, with a special purpose. And then all the nayayers will have to say, "Dammit! He really did something with his fenced-in area, and now I feel inspired to clean up my own fenced-in area!" And others will see my fenced-in area, and inspiration will go on and on and on, from person to person, just like that! [ reflective pause ] I want my fenced-in area to be an inspiration. And.. if y'all an't understand that.. then I was born in the wrong world.City of Madison's Fenced-In Area
Thanks to the generosity of Ad2 Madison, an organization of young advertising professionals, and the work of the Halloween Action Committee, a student organization from UW-Madison, the City will work to re-brand Halloween as a safe, positive, festive event.Update: Click here to see and/or download map of Fenced-In Area titled "Please Don't Pet the Horsies." .
State Street will be fenced off beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 28. Between the hours of 7:30 p.m. on October 28 and 1:30 a.m. on October 29, anyone wishing to enter the fenced area will need to show a ticket and have their hand stamped. Once your hand is stamped, you may exit the fenced area and then re-enter up until 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 29 by showing your hand stamp to the gate attendants. Access into the event will be available through nine gates located from the Capitol Square to Lake Street.
The Washington Post reports on the demise of handwriting.
When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.Josh Marshall muses about what we're losing.
And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.
Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it's important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.
Scholars who study original documents say the demise of handwriting will diminish the power and accuracy of future historical research. And others simply lament the loss of handwritten communication for its beauty, individualism and intimacy.
So does it matter? Do we really need to drill kids to learn cursive when it's a skill they just won't use very much except to sign their name?For what it's worth, I've always felt there was a major difference between the process of writing a draft in longhand and simply getting on with it using a computer keyboard. In the case of the former, unless you want to end up with what looks like a bird's nest of strikeouts and insertions, you need to have some idea of where you are going before you set out, simply because of the physical labor involved in making changes. The computer imposes no such limitation. It's easy to make it up as you go and alter what you are saying -- indeed, to discover what you really mean to say -- while you are writing. Structure and planning versus free-form spontaneity.
Possibly so. The article points to some research that suggests that cursive handwriting leads to cognitive advancement. Kids who learn cursive handwriting express themselves in more complex thoughts. Given the tie-ins between cognitive development and hands, I guess this isn't that surprising.
Here's a question. When you jot things down in your daily life or take notes, do you write in cursive? I found that as I got older, late adolescence through early adulthood I guess, my cursive writing slowly died away and was replaced by a sort of hybrid of printing with a little cursive thrown in.
I'm looking here in one of the tablets I take notes in during the day. And the way I write isn't really quite either. But it's closer to print than cursive. How about you? How do you write when you put pen to paper? And how old are you?
I suppose that's the reason for something else dropping out of the school curriculum along with handwriting -- outlining. The Golden Age of Handwriting was also the Golden Age of Outlining. Outlines were maps that might keep writers from getting lost in a sea of words. But they're not really needed now -- just reach overboard and pick up some passing flotsam and jetsam from the sea we call the Internet.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
From today's Bush press conference:
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Mr. President. Back on Iraq, a group of American and Iraqi health officials today released a report saying that 655,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraq war. That figure is 20 times the figure that you cited in December at 30,000. Do you care to amend or update your figure and do you consider this a credible report?Who, exactly, tolerates that level of violence, Mr. President? Tell it to Riverbend. If you can find her. She hasn't posted in Baghdad Burning since her haunting The Summer of Goodbyes post August 5.
BUSH: No, I don’t consider it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me and I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to…you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate. And it's now time for the Iraqi government to work hard to bring security in neighborhoods so people can feel–you know–at peace.
Chris Hedges is worried. The former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and author of the bestseller “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” thinks the Bush administration is preparing to attack Iran -- sooner rather than later.
The aircraft carrier Eisenhower, accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, guided-missile destroyer USS Mason and the fast-attack submarine USS Newport News, is, as I write, making its way to the Straits of Hormuz off Iran. The ships will be in place to strike Iran by the end of the month. It may be a bluff. It may be a feint. It may be a simple show of American power. But I doubt it.Is he being alarmist? Is the carrier group he describes part of a normal rotation? Or is it part of an actual plan to attack Iran? Hard to tell. But it's hardly reassuring to have a journalist with Chris Hedges' experience and track record choose this moment to write an article warning about "Bush’s Nuclear Apocalypse."
War with Iran—a war that would unleash an apocalyptic scenario in the Middle East—is probable by the end of the Bush administration. It could begin in as little as three weeks. This administration, claiming to be anointed by a Christian God to reshape the world, and especially the Middle East, defined three states at the start of its reign as “the Axis of Evil.” They were Iraq, now occupied; North Korea, which, because it has nuclear weapons, is untouchable; and Iran. Those who do not take this apocalyptic rhetoric seriously have ignored the twisted pathology of men like Elliott Abrams, who helped orchestrate the disastrous and illegal contra war in Nicaragua, and who now handles the Middle East for the National Security Council. He knew nothing about Central America. He knows nothing about the Middle East. He sees the world through the childish, binary lens of good and evil, us and them, the forces of darkness and the forces of light. And it is this strange, twilight mentality that now grips most of the civilian planners who are barreling us towards a crisis of epic proportions.
Karen Norberg #1
If fabric art can create elegant models of the shape of the universe, it should come as no surprise that it can do the same for the brain. This is one of the stunning creations at the online Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art (h/t "TNH's Particles" at Making Light).
It's fascinating how the mostly analog works of the fabric arts intertwine with the more digital representations of modern science and technology, going back at least as far as Ada, Countess of Lovelace, Byron's daughter who eloquently referred to weaving in writing her "Notes" about Charles Babbage's difference engine.
Who can foresee the consequences of such an invention? The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves. The engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.She's quoted in Women Weavers and Web Weavers, which draws additional parallels.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Cyndi writes in her blog about her first visit to Madison, in 1999:
I was staying at the Edge Water. It’s a famous old place and sometimes musicians would stay there to write.. The Edge Water is right on Lake Mendota. It was around four in the afternoon and the reflection of the sun off the water was so bright through the blinds, that I felt compelled to look out the window. It was an Indian summer day too and I had that sad feeling I get when summer gives herself up to winter again.. When the trees seem to turn into bright flames and then strip down bare.. And when I looked out and saw the ripples of light moving through the water, I just couldn’t help but write something. And I started to write Water’s Edge. It was just a little poem at first… Then I went downstairs as fast as I could before the day was gone. I needed to find Main Street or the main drag.There's more, about window shopping and performing at the Orpheum. (h/t Isthmus The DailyPage)
There's a great discussion at Making Light, in the comments to Teresa's post "MSWord: I love it less each year." My favorite is Lydia Nickerson's description of the way Microsoft upgrades its flagship word processor:
What seems genuinely peculiar, even for Microsoft, is taking interfaces that work easily for their users, and adding a half dozen extra steps making it more complicated and less explicable.I've got to get back to my mylar-wrapped basketball with handles to do some work, but you might want to bookmark this post for the next time you've got an MS Word formatting problem. There are more than 100 comments filled with knowledgeable fixes and workarounds for frustrating problems that pop up on complex jobs.
It's very odd. It's like taking a basketball and carefully wrapping it in saran wrap, then carefully gluing multiple layers of mylar to make it pretty, and then applying a handle to make it easier to, well, handle. Then, they hand it back to the ball players, and are utterly confused when the players ask "What the fuck is this thing, and how the hell are we supposed to play basketball with it? For god's sake didn't you notice that the handle makes it impossible to use it as even a half-assed basketball cause it bounces every which damn way?" You, as Microsoft, say, "But it's so much easier to move down the court, and look at how shiny it is. More people will come to your games."
Until the U.S. takes Eisenhower's warning about the military industrial complex seriously, we're screwed
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.It's not that we don't pay it lip service. Can you even count the number of times you've heard the phrase "military-industrial complex"? But it's lost all force through repetition, and as a nation we've never had the political will to really deal with the threat to peace, stability and freedom that Eisenhower was warning us about. It's been 45 years now, and the problem has only gotten worse. It accounts for much of what is worst in our politics -- including many of the most aggressive policies of the Bush administration and their supporters.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address, Jan. 17, 1961
A case in point is David Frum's Op-Ed in today's NYT. Frum, as you'll recall was credited for coining the term axis of evil as a speechwriter for President Bush, who used the phrase in his 2002 State of the Union address.
The North Korean nuclear test — if that indeed is what it was — signals the catastrophic collapse of a dozen years of American policy. Over that period, two of the world’s most dangerous regimes, Pakistan and North Korea, have developed nuclear weapons and the missiles to launch them. Iran, arguably the most dangerous of them all, will surely follow, unless some dramatic action is soon taken.Forget about the history -- and the Bush administration blunders -- that got us to this point. Frum goes on to suggest a "new approach" that ignores Pakistan altogether and consists of an aggressive 4-point plan aimed at both North Korea and Iran. (Take that, Axis of Evil!)
• Step up the development and deployment of existing missile defense systems. In other words, spend billions more on the destabilizing and probably perpetually unworkable Star Wars program that has already consumed untold billions.
• End humanitarian aid to North Korea and pressure South Korea to do the same. This is basically a clever ploy to force China to take on the entire burden of feeding the North Korean population and possibly having to deal with a major humanitarian and refugee crisis. Imaginative, isn't it?
• Invite Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to join NATO — and even invite Taiwan to send observers to NATO meetings. That should sell a few more weapons -- plus the Taiwan thing should drive the Chinese nuts. Again, he's really thinking out of the box, isn't he?
• Encourage Japan to renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and create its own nuclear deterrent. This is a real eye-opener. Clearly, Frum was saving the best for last. He goes on to explain the strategic thinking behind this masterstroke.
Not only would the nuclearization of Japan be a punishment of China and North Korea, but it would go far to meet our goal of dissuading Iran — it would show Tehran that the United States and its friends will aggressively seek to correct any attempt by rogue states to unsettle any regional nuclear balance. The analogue for Iran, of course, would be the threat of American aid to improve Israel’s capacity to hit targets with nuclear weapons."American aid to improve Israel’s capacity to hit targets with nuclear weapons" -- ??!!!?? You can't say he's not thinking boldly. I'm feeling safer already.
The current crisis was created by the Bush administration replacing the Clinton carrot-and-stick approach with one of unyielding threat and intimidation. Who knows? Frum, who's now at the American Enterprise Institute, is probably speaking for most of the neocons in the administration with today's Op-Ed. And unless calmer heads prevail, this approach could easily become the policy of this administration.
Don't get me wrong. It's not as if Democratic presidents and congressional leaders haven't also been strongly influenced by the military-industrial complex. But there's usually been at least some attempt to act responsibly and rein in the maniacs. The unique distinction of the Bush administration has been to give the military-industrial complex total carte blanche and completely militarize U.S. foreign policy in the process.
Sooner or later, this is bound to lead to disaster. In a world containing tens of thousands of individual nuclear weapons, eventually one or more is bound to fall into the wrong hands one day. Every time the U.S. adds to the chaos in the world instead of trying to resolve it, that day is brought one step closer.
Monday, October 09, 2006
It's not exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright had in mind. There were nearly six decades of wrangling between the time he first proposed a lakeside civic center -- not a convention center -- in downtown Madison and its completion in 1997. By then he had been dead for nearly 40 years. Taliesin architect Tony Puttnam updated Wright's designs and had to raise the roof to accomodate a modern exhibit hall, blocking more of the lake from street level than people thought it would. The Monona Terrace website has a nice timeline, and its "inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright" tagline is probably the most accurate way to describe the structure's relationship to the master. But even second-hand Wright is pretty damn good -- and sometimes it's downright magical.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Romeo and Juliet was what Frank Lloyd Wright called the windmill he built in 1896 on his relatives' farm near Spring Green, WI. It's on the grounds of Taliesin, which we toured this weekend thanks to an anniversary gift from our daughter.
A magnificent blend of art and science, poetry and engineering, the streamlined form of the 60-foot structure is composed of a diamond-shaped column (Romeo) facing into the wind and enfolded by the octagonal form of Juliet. Skeptics thought it would collapse in the wind, but Wright knew it was supported by the same forces that supported the surrounding oaks -- as well as skyscrapers and suspension bridges. Here's how he described it sixty years later in notes for an exhibit of his work in Chicago.
This windmill, towering above surrounding trees, is the combination of a working principle and artistic expression. Vertical metal straps are anchored in a deep stone foundation as the roots of a tree in the ground. The wooden superstructure, bolted to these rods, makes the whole structure as impregnable as a barrel. Romeo, the prow, faces in the direction of strong winds; while the observation tower, Juliet, clings safely alongside. This early engineering-architecture has long outlived the doubting valley residents who, after each storm, would come to their doors to see if the tower were still standing. It is -- after sixty years -- upright, slender and graceful as the day it was built.And that was fifty years ago.