Saturday, October 21, 2006

Constitution protects the right of peaceful assembly, but Madison charges five bucks


Craig Schreiner - State Journal

The constitutional question has been talked to death, so I'll just look at the question of how many people will pay to attend the Halloween celebration, or as it has been helpfully "rebranded," Freakfest, on State Street next Saturday. Total attendance might be as high as 80,000, and the hope was to sell at least 40,000 tickets, which would raise about one-third of the money required for police protection. But State Street is hardly sold out. With a week to go, just over 5,000 tickets have been sold. After all, would you buy a ticket that came with this rather draconian disclaimer on the back?
Disclaimer / Warning: The Halloween event on State Street is not sponsored by the City of Madison or any other entity. No permit has been issued for this event. An admission fee is charged solely for the purpose of paying for some of the public safety costs generated by the spontaneous occurrence of this event. The City of Madison cannot and does not guarantee your safety at this event. You enter the event area at your own risk and are responsible for your own actions and safety.
In a week we'll see how city officials' technocratic dream of bringing order to the chaos of Halloween with gates and fences really works, or whether fencing off nearly a mile of city street, creating a security perimeter almost two miles long, counting both sides of the street, makes any sense. Or does it just create a challenge for revelers who, for whatever reason, are not fond of ticket lines? Will defending the perimeter become an end in and of itself? How will that affect the night's activities?

I still think we would have been better off if more people had been paying attention to what former mayor Paul Soglin has been saying in his blog, including his most recent post, in which he recalls some points William H. Whyte made about "the social life of the street."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Looks as if they know their demographics


The first Trader Joe's in Madison -- in fact, the first in Wisconsin -- was getting ready to open this morning as I drove by on the way to work. Will Monroe Street ever be quite the same?

Marge Piercy at the Wisconsin Book Festival


Last night, in her Wisconsin Book Festival appearance at Madison's Orpheum Theater, Marge Piercy turned a business tool better known for mind-numbingly boring bullet points into a memorable visual tour of New York in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. It accompanied her reading from her new novel "Sex Wars." Her PowerPoint slide show showed us Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull along with images of the city's night life and the wretchedness of the lower East Side, transporting us back to an era much like our own, when corruption was rampant and society was divided along lines of class, gender, sexual and religious morality. As she explained in an interview with David Medaris of Isthmus:
It's less boring than lecturing and since there are many photos, cartoons, portraits and other artifacts available from that period -- the immediate post Civil War era -- those images can make real what I'm talking about and what the novel focused on. Instead of just describing the abandoned children of the time, I can show you photos of them. I don't have to say that Victoria Woodhull was beautiful -- I just show you images of her. I don't have to say that the Woman's Rights movement was caricatured in the daily papers -- I can show you cartoons.
She has more information about "Sex Wars" on her website, along with some of the visuals from her PowerPoint presentation.
I was attracted to the era after the Civil War because I found it had so many of the same divisions and conflicts as our own time. The role of women in the public sphere and in the family, the degree to which free sexual expression was valuable, permissible, tolerated or condemned, whether Church and State should continue to be separated or whether Christianity should be the official religion, as opposed to all the other religions found in the States – these are all deep divisions in our own time as they were then.

As a woman active in the Second Wave of feminism, I was curious about the important figures in the First Wave. The standard figure is Susan B. Anthony, spinster, plain woman with her hair pulled back in a tight no-nonsense bun. Did she really represent the women active at that time? In the Second Wave, we had a huge variety of women from the puritanical to the libertarian, and I suspected that as also true of the First Wave. Every generation tends to think they invented sex, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. I wanted to know if the Victorian period in American politics was really as staid as we imagine. And of course it wasn’t – not even slightly.
Piercy also read some poems, including the antiwar poem "Buyer Beware," which reads, in part:
Shopping is our favorite entertainment.
We go to the mall to wander and eyeball
stuff. More stuff. We’re stuffed with stuff.
But at least you can wear that orange
cashmere sweater. You can gobble that pizza.
What do you get when you buy a war?

Death. You get death retail and whole
sale. You get death by the planeload.
You get young death, old death, baby
death. You get part death – limbs blown
off, heads racked with shrapel, spines
torn apart and brains toasted. You are

delivered hatred by the decadeload. You
purchase rape and pillage, you purchase
torture and graft, bribery and looting.
Your great grandchildren will pay off the debt.
Are you happy with your purchase of this war?
I’m so sorry. This is not returnable.
We enjoyed escaping the crowd downstairs and watching her performance from the mostly deserted balcony. It was a great angle for seeing the pages of her presentation escape from her hands, one after the other, and flutter down like autumn leaves. She concluded to animated applause, standing in the center of sheets of paper carpeting the stage around her like leaves on a forest floor.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What about those nuclear bunker busters that Seymour Hersh wrote about earlier this year?

Last April, Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker about contingency plans to use nuclear bunker busters against Iran. In a post at Antiwar.com and cross-posted at AfterDowningStreet.org, Jorge Hirsch, a Professor of Physics at the University of California at San Diego, says the nuclear option is still on. He maintains that not only is the Bush administration planning to attack Iran, but that the use of one or more tactical nukes is an integral part of the plan.
The U.S. is closer than it has been since Nagasaki to using nuclear weapons again. This year, for the first time in its history, the American Physical Society, representing 40,000 members of the profession that created nuclear weapons, issued a statement of deep concern on this matter: "The American Physical Society is deeply concerned about the possible use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and for preemptive counter-proliferation purposes."
According to writer Hirsch, the willingness to use nukes is key to Donald Rumsfeld's "transformation" of the military into a downsized force that can continue to project American power around the globe at a time when the public is sick and tired of American military casualties in conventional fighting. In pursuit of this objective, The Bush administration has made sweeping changes in the nuclear policy of the United States during the past five years, without consulting Congress or the American people -- changes that would make it easier to adopt a nuclear posture in a conflict.
The new nuclear doctrine is the software, the new STRATCOM is the hardware, and Rumsfeld is the driver for the "downsizing" program that is about to be launched. Brace yourself.

There have been many voices across the political spectrum calling for Rumsfeld's resignation for the botched Iraq war yet he "retains the full confidence" of Bush. Why? Because Rumsfeld cannot be fired until he demolishes the "nuclear taboo," by detonating a small tactical nuclear weapon against an enemy. The U.S. military is reluctant to even consider the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, because it would provoke "an outcry over what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Nagasaki." Only after a small tactical nuclear weapons strike against Natanz or another Iranian facility will this barrier fall, and Rumsfeld's transformation will be a fait accompli.

Why is "downsizing" the military so important to the PNAC crowd? Because the American public has no stomach for a draft nor large losses of American military personnel. If it becomes possible to wage war "on the cheap," without the loss of American life, and in the process we can lower the price of oil and spread "liberty" across the world, opposition will be muted. Public opinion on the Iraq war was not turned by the enormous number of Iraqi lives lost (of which there isn't even an effort to keep a count); it is only affected by the number of American lives lost.
There's lots more. Read it and weep. And then spread the word.

Listening to pictures on the radio


Susan Sontag in Petra, Jordan, 1994. Photograph © Annie Leibovitz

The NPR talk show On Point originates in Boston in the morning, but in Madison we get it in the evening. Working a bit late yesterday, I was able to listen all the way home to photographer Annie Leibovitz talking with host Tom Ashbrook about her new book, A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005. As I rolled along through the darkness, I was literally listening to pictures, visualizing many of the photos as they talked about them, images that have helped define the last fifteen years. One caller said, "You have a nice voice, I can see why people trust you," and I could see what she meant. You can catch streaming audio of the show here (Windows) and here (Real).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today is the anniversary of Congress passing the new bankruptcy law

And John Edwards marks the day with this post at Think Progress.
Middle and low-income families are under attack from predatory lenders who offer deceptive terms, charge unfair fees, and trap the unwary or the unlucky. According to Fannie Mae, about half of the subprime borrowers could qualify for regular interest rates, but didn’t get them. That means there are hundreds of thousands of people paying much more than they should for their home loans.

What’s especially outrageous is how predatory lenders go after African-American and other minority communities. If you are an upper-income African-American family, you are twice as likely to get a subprime loan as a lower-income white family. It’s incredible — even though you are doing better, you get a worse loan if you are African-American.

We didn’t see the full impact of these abuses during the housing boom, but now — with home prices sliding down and interest rates moving up — we are seeing the first signs of a big problem. Tens of thousands of families have gotten into unfair deals and are now in over their heads. Mortgage foreclosures are up 53 percent from last year, and they are expected to keep rising.
At least Edwards is talking about it. The lending industry is such a huge contributor to political campaigns that even Edwards is not talking in this post about actually repealing this odious law. But we have to start somewhere, and he outlines some useful lending reforms.

Charting the political dance of party affiliation from a generational perspective


Bill Marsh/The New York Times Note: Click on chart to enlarge.

Most people pretty much stick with the political affiliation they developed in early adulthood. On average, that's the way people mostly continue to vote. That's what makes this chart so interesting. It plots the political party affiliations of Amerticans by age, overlaid on a chart of who was president when they were twenty years old. The graph accompanied this NYT article on party affiliation, and how it changes.
In May 1980, the pollster Richard Wirthlin huddled with his presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, to plot a course through what looked like a daunting landscape for their party. Just over half the country told pollsters that they were Democrats or leaned that way, compared with just 30 percent that said they were Republicans — a gap that had held steady more or less since the New Deal.

The rest is political history. By winning over millions of white working-class Democrats, Mr. Reagan cut that gap in half and ushered in 26 years of Republican dominance at the voting booth.

Now, on the eve of the midterm elections, surveys show mounting impatience with both the war in Iraq and Republican rule. Some political analysts — including Mr. Wirthlin — say they see a chance for a potential Democratic comeback, an opportunity for another historic realignment of the political parties.
How old were you when you made up your mind where you stood politically? Who was president? Were your views inspired by him, or did they develop in opposition to him? It's not clear the graph has any predictive power, but studying it is a lot like looking at American history for the last 70 years through a panoramic rearview mirror. It also provides endless fuel for speculation. For example: What on earth is George W. Bush doing to the kids? Will the Republicans ever recover?

Trader Joe's opening in Monroe Commons Friday


As you can see, they're still putting the finishing touches on Madison's Monroe Commons, but the first Trader Joe's in Wisconsin will open for business there Friday morning. What will happen to the Regent Market Coop a few blocks away? What will happen to local liquor stores when consumers flock to the legendary Trader Joe's selection of inexpensive wines? Where will people park on Monroe Street? What about traffic on the already congested street? Stay tuned.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I dreamed I was up all night arguing with Hillary, trying to get her to stop being so calculating and just do the right thing

It's not as if Hillary regularly haunts my dreams, or anything. It must have been because, just before going to bed, I read Steve Gilliard's post in Firedoglake about Hillary trimming her anti-torture position in a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board.
Hillary Clinton told the New York Daily News editorial board that "she approved of torture in limited circumstances." Of course she's wrong, but why would she say such a thing?

Because like many people, she is misinformed about torture. The example she used, like many people, is the ticking time bomb. Of course, that makes no sense. We can write this off to triangulation, but it's deeper than that.

[...]

I know Hillary was trying to sound resolute, but sounded weak instead. Torture isn't a tactical debate, it is a moral one. Now, I honestly don't think Hillary has ever sat in a room with a grizzled SF or Delta operator and asked him, away from the cameras and the press people, if beating the shit out of someone works. And over coffee or a drink, they would tell her no. Not only that it didn't work, but it was wrong, morally unacceptable.

The reason Hillary can believe in the ticking bomb excuse for torture is that she has never thought it through. Because like many people, she sees the kind of person who would plant a bomb as a coward, and they are not. Misguided, even evil, sure, but cowardly? No. If we could have tortured Mohammed Atta, does anyone think he would have talked in a timely manner? A man prepared to die for a cause is prepared to suffer the same cause.

I don't think Hillary Clinton is amoral. She thinks torture may save innocent life.

The problem is someone needs to tell her that she is dead wrong. Torture appeals to sadists, it doesn't work in real life. Hell, it doesn't really work on 24.
Steve is giving Hillary a bit more credit for being sincere in her belief that torture can work in certain exceptional cases and should be employed judiciously, with safeguards. I'm not so sure. She's a very bright woman. It seems more likely to me that she knows damn well that it doesn't work and that it is completely immoral, but feels she has to appear tough on terrorists. It's what so many of us find so frustrating about her.

Steve said someone needs to tell her that she is dead wrong. It seems I undertook the task in my sleep. It was an exercise in utter futility.
Moi:. You're an intelligent woman, Senator Clinton. Surely you know that torture doesn't work.

Hillary: Don't be naive. Would you really sit back and let that ticking bomb go off without doing anything?

Moi: But it's morally wrong. It violates everything we stand for.

Hillary: Oh, it's so easy to take a moral stand with other people's lives, isn't it? The government has the responsibility to protect all the people.

Moi: Why do you talk down to us? We're not morons, you know. The electorate is smarter than you're giving them credit for.

Hillary If you'd stop taking cheap shots at me and focus on the issue, maybe we could have an intelligent discussion.

Moi For God's sake, Hillary. Can't you stop triangulating just this one time and just do the right thing?

Hillary And exactly how many elections have you won, Mr. Madison Guy? And what's with the pen name you hide behind? At least I use my own name when I take a stand.
It was hopeless. It went on and on like this, all night long. I kept coming up with new arguments, only to have her shoot them down. I never got anywhere. No wonder I was tired this morning.

Lawyers!

CRASH Madison plan State Street sousveillance for Halloween bash

Over the weekend The Isthmus Daily Page has had a couple of terrific posts by Kristian Knutsen outlining Phil Ejercito's sousveillance plans for the State Street Halloween bash. What's sousveillance?
Sousveillance is a mouthful. It's Friday afternoon, and downtown Madison resident Phil Ejercito is talking about CRASH Madison, the text messaging service that he is in the midst of organizing for Halloween on State Street. When it's up and running, Ejercito plans on broadcasting text messages about everything a Halloween reveler on State Street would want to know: weather conditions, crowd size, stage times, and dangerous conditions created by both partiers and police, everything provided by people in the midst of it all. This, he says, is an exercise in sousveillance.

The word is clearly a play on surveillance, but sporting the French prefix for sub- or under- (as in sous chef). It's like a personal Panopticon, Ejercito explains. That ten-dollar word originally described a form of prison designed by the 19th Century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, but has recently been popularized as a term for ubiquitous and inescapable surveillance. Ejercito suggests consulting the Wikipedia page for sousveillance, where the word is described as "watchful vigilance from underneath" by Steve Mann, the Canadian academic and cyborg enthusiast who coined it.
Check out the links. This is fascinating stuff.

Knutsen asks Ejercito about his criticisms of how the city is handling the planning for Halloween on State Street.
First off, the city needs to either lose the fencing and fees, or own up to the fact that they're throwing a festival and provide the necessary accoutrements to make it a successful one. I'm still fascinated at how the city can keep a straight face while telling people that they're buying tickets ahead of time for a "spontaneous occurrence." I'm similarly fascinated with how the city is telling people the fees are going to cover the public safety costs, while the HAC shills are telling people the money's going towards bands and entertainment.

Second, when the drunk guy asks his drunk pals at 2 a.m., "Hey, what should we do now?," the Halloween organizers need to see to it that there's a better response than "Let's go to State Street and watch the riot!" Providing compelling entertainment off of State Street that lasts into the wee hours of the morning would be the preferred way to send people home with bloodshot eyes and throbbing headaches. (I should mention here, too, that I think it's a shame the university isn't a better neighbor and doing more to help out with this kind of thing.)

Third, the city and law enforcement need to be clear and transparent about how, when, and why they'll be clearing off State Street. Despite repeated direct questions to the city and law enforcement, we're going into Halloween 2006 very much under the same conditions as the year before, that is, with nebulous warnings about unlawful assemblies and clearly defined conditions for failure. They cannot continue to act with unbridled discretion and expect anything other than what we've seen before, and I hope that CRASH can maintain pressure on the city to be transparent and unambiguous about how the night will end.

While there are also lingering concerns about oversight of private security, protection of civil liberties, and application of a sensible drug policy, I firmly believe that the three issues above are the most pressing and potentially far-reaching, and that addressing them head-on holds the greatest promise for improving everybody's Halloween.
You can find out more about Ejercito's project at at crashmadison.com and at its corresponding Facebook group.

UPDATE: Good fences make good neighbors?

Monday Sunrise Blogging: 10/16/06


Global warming is real, even if we did have a bit of snow this week.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Shooting digital photographs through the eyepiece of my binoculars


I never tried this before because, frankly, I didn't think it would work. But we were taking a walk in Madison's Owen Conservation Park when I spotted a crow convention in a tree about 150 yards away. I could see them fine with the binoculars -- Eagle Optics Ranger, 8x32. But my point-and-shoot camera -- Minolta Dimage X, 2MP -- was hopeless, even with the crappy 6x digital zoom. That's when I decided to try combining camera and binoculars.

As you can see at the link, the Minolta has an internal lens and mirror construction behind a small shooting window in the upper left corner of the body. I simply held the Minolta's shooting window flush against the binocular eyepiece, with the extendable eyecup retracted. Without any way to support my poorly aligned apparati, it took awhile to get things lined up and even register an image in the LCD. As soon as I did, I pressed the shutter, and this is what I got -- with some black vignetting at the top and right mostly cropped out.

The image (click on the photo to enlarge) seemed to be about 40% larger than what I get with my digital zoom, and quite a bit sharper. Combined with the cropping, this shot seems roughly equivalent to what I might have gotten with a 500mm lens on a 35mm camera. You'll note that some of the birds are sharper than others. That's because my camera was not perfectly aligned with the binoculars, tilting the focal plane with respect to the subject.

I just took the one image, because I was there to get exercise, not to embark on quixotic photo quests. But as I walked along I thought about what might make things work better. Something to prop the binoculars up and hold them steady would be nice. A place to sit while ligning up the binoculars would be good. Finding a place to park the car and use the steering wheel as support seemed to fulfill both conditions. I decided to stop along Lake Mendota on the way home and try a few more shots.


Here's my first try -- the State Capitol poking through the trees across the lake (again, click on photo to enlarge). I was able to get the binocular's full field of view by pulling out the retractable, twist-out eyecup. This also gave me something to brace the camera against that was flat, allowing a better alignment. As a result, the image was a bit sharper across the entire field of view than the shot of the crows.


I used the same technique for this shot, but cropped the final photo out of the circular image. With the magnification and the extreme cropping, this is roughly equivalent to a full-frame 35mm shot made with an 800mm lens.

Note: Slight contrast enhancement and sharpening applied to all three photos in Photoshop, but otherwise all three pictures appear just as I shot them.

Things to try another time: Zoom the camera lens, both to the optical limit (3x) and the digital limit (6x total). Some night when the full moon is low enough in the sky to comfortably frame it in the windshield, point the whole damn thing at the moon and hope for the best.

Madison, WI: Exactly how many square miles surrounded by reality?


Madison is constantly being characterized as being "x square miles surrounded by reality" -- a description attributed to Lee Dreyfus, a former governor, but the attributions give many different figures. The question is, what is x? Here's a sampling of opinion.

10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Ronaldusmagnus, a commenter straining to be witty at Little Green Footballs:
Geography quiz for those UW students:
Q. Define Madison Wisconsin.
A. 10 square miles surrounded by reality.

12 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Commenter tbcpp on Slashdot:
I'm from Wisconsin, and this just confirms the saying we have in the state:"Madison: 12 square miles surrounded by reality"

15 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Actoneentertainment.net:
Henry regularly headlines the main stage at House Of Blues, has performed in numerous showcases and charity events, and has toured both the U.S. and Europe. Kevin Henry was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, once described as "15 square miles surrounded by reality". An ideal environment for the young artist, Henry took full advantage: singing and playing the piano by the age of 4, publishing his first song at 8, and performing regularly in civic theatre productions.

20 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Wisconsin Technology Network:
Madison, contrary to those "20 square miles surrounded by reality" putdowns, also is a good place to earn a living. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive. High-tech business growth is well documented, and non-technology businesses (if there really is such a thing) have a myriad of choices to leverage technology in their operations, including wireless Internet access.

25 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Fodors.com:
It's a town dominated by two major institutions -- the state capitol, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The sometimes hazy and sometimes overly idealistic qualities of both organizations have no doubt been the main reason that some have described the city of 200,000 as twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality.

52 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Mark Singer in The New Yorker (this citation has additional historical value in that it's his notorious hit piece, written in the wake of 9/11, slamming Madison for the school board's unwillingness to throw out its commitment to civil liberties for the sake of the war on terror):
Twenty-three years ago, a moderate Republican governor named Lee Dreyfus referred to Madison as "fifty-two square miles surrounded by reality."

68 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
J. A. Bartlett at the Daily Aneurism:
Former Wisconsin governor Lee Dreyfus (the first candidate I ever voted for, elected in November 1978--and a Republican) once characterized Madison as "68 square miles surrounded by reality." People up here tend to embrace that distinction. They love to dream things that never were and say "why not?"--and then make those dreams into reality. Take the total ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, which went into effect on July 1. No matter how big or small the place, no matter how effectively segregated a the establishment's smoking area had been in the past, it doesn't matter. Smoking inside of restaurants and bars is verboten here, period. (Even, I kid you not, in cigar bars.) If you want to light it up, you gotta take it outside.

70 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Wikipedia (if they can’t figure it out, who can?):
Detractors refer to Madison as The People's Republic of Madison, the "Left Coast of Wisconsin," or as "70 square miles surrounded by reality" (although the number varies significantly depending on who is quoting it).

72 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Rep.Tammy Baldwin (D-WI):
I love to tell people I'm from Madison, Wisconsin. Even those who've never been here have heard great things about it. People affectionately joke that Madison is "72 square miles surrounded by reality," but I truly believe that this magical place is as real, and as good, as it gets.

76 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune:
Kevin Barrett, who teaches a course on Islam, thinks the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were "an inside job" masterminded by the Bush administration to justify U.S. aggression in the Middle East.

If you advocate this theory on the street corner or the Internet, you can count on being ignored. But if you propound it on a college campus, you will not lack for attention. When Barrett went on a radio show and said he had addressed the subject in class, he raised up a mass movement of Wisconsinites who thought he shouldn't be allowed to mop the floors at the state's flagship public university, much less contaminate the promising minds of its students.

The revelation confirmed the widespread view of Madison, and its famously liberal university, as "76 square miles surrounded by reality."

80 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Dane101.com staff listing:
Born and raised in 80 square miles surrounded by reality, Shane finds himself with a firmer grasp on reality than most people who grew up outside of the Reality Distortion Field known as Madison, Wisconsin.

As a last word (for the time being) it's hard to top Doug Moe, Capital Times columnist and their resident custodian of local lore, who has made several extensive studies of this matter. His most recent report was was dated July 29 of last year and titled "Now 76 square miles of unreality." The numerous citations it quotes are literally all over the map. He concludes with this thoughtful and downright philosophical passage:
Now on Thursday Lanier at Planning and Development was running his numbers and eventually came up with a figure: According to his department, Madison is 76.23 square miles.

That's opposed to the Engineering Department's 75.77 square miles.

Maybe, for simplicity's sake, we can settle on a round figure of 76 square miles.

Or maybe we will just have to live in a constant state of confusion, since the number is subject to change anyway, and to be confused in Madison is to be at one with the city's overall karma.

For instance, on Thursday, I was chatting with Lanier when he noted, "I've always wondered about John Nolen Drive."

He was referring to the much-traveled road into downtown that separates Monona Bay from the rest of the lake.

"What do you mean?"

Well, Lanier said, as far as he could tell it had never been annexed into the city of Madison.

"Is it in the town?"

"I'm not sure," he said. "Maybe it's in the lake."