Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bowls and more bowls

We're running out of room for all the bowls, but we got a couple more today after the Farmers' Market at Empty Bowls Madison, along with some delicious soup.
Supporters of local food are invited to sip soup and munch bread this weekend to promote the cause of bringing fresh vegetables to poor families.

The seventh annual Empty Bowls Madison event Saturday features handcrafted bowls that donors choose and keep after eating their soup, which this year will include curry vegetable, black bean and tomato bisque.

"What we're about is teaching people to cook with fresh food, nutritious food," said Jessica Lischka, assistant coordinator of the Madison Area Community-Supported Agriculture Coalition, which sponsors the soup-serving.
Anita Clark's WSJ describes how the annual event was saved this year after Lakeside pottery closed, thanks to Cambridge Wood-Fired Pottery, which provided materials and the use of their kiln, and Victor Rojas, 21, an immigrant from Mexico, who threw 80o bowls in about a week and a half.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Better yet, why not leave the horsies at home?

Oh, those wild and crazy and whimsical folks at the Madison Police Department: They're headlining their guide to Saturday night's Halloween Fenced-In Area on State Street "Please Don't Pet the Horsies."

Better yet would be to not bring the horsies and leave them in their stable. The police horses have never seemed very comfortable at the Halloween festivities, and the setting seems even less horse-friendly this year, what with all the gates penning the crowds in or out, as the case may be. Kristian Knutson at the Isthmus Daily Page notes there were problems with revelers and horses last year.
One problem in 2005 was the behavior of mostly intoxicated revelers towards police horses. Hanson stresses that partiers should keep their hands off the animals. "If a person wants to talk to the mounted officer, that's great," he says, "but what we saw was slapping and hitting of the horses, and that's completely inappropriate." Violators can be charged with "abuse to a police animal," Hanson says.
If I were a horse, I wouldn't want to be there.

Click on the graphic to enlarge to semi-readable size, or download a PDF of the flyer here, along with other materials at the city's official Halloween website.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

October surprise as Halloween nightmare?

It's the time of year to spook ourselves with scary thoughts, so here's a possible nightmare scenario... I posted earlier about the concentration of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf. Apparently they will be conducting naval exercises on Halloween.
There is a massive concentration of US naval power in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Two US naval strike groups are deployed: USS Enterprise, and USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. The naval strike groups have been assigned to fighting the "global war on terrorism."

War Games

Concurrent with this concentration of US Naval power, the US is also involved in military exercises in the Persian Gulf, which consists in "interdicting ships in the Gulf carrying weapons of mass destruction and missiles"

The exercise is taking place as the United States and other major powers are considering sanctions including possible interdiction of ships on North Korea, following a reported nuclear test, and on Iran, which has defied a U.N. Security Council mandate to stop enriching uranium.

The exercise, set for Oct. 31, is the 25th to be organized under the U.S.-led 66-member Proliferation Security Initiative and the first to be based in the Gulf near Bahrain, across from Iran, the officials said.

A senior U.S. official insisted the exercise is not aimed specifically at Iran, although it reinforces a U.S. strategy aimed at strengthening America’s ties with states in the Gulf, where Tehran and Washington are competing for influence."
There's more. What if a jumpy Iran views it as a provocation and fires on our forces while a trick-or-treating America is too distracted to follow the details very closely? Or what if the Bush administration simply claims that a jumpy Iran viewed it as a provocation and fired on our forces? (As the Gulf of Tonkin incident demonstrates, we've done it before.)

Might make for interesting timing, a week before the election. A calm and statesmanlike President Bush could rise to the occasion and counsel moderation, as an angry America demands retaliation. He could make a show of bending over backwards to avoid another war, even under extreme provocation, and the public would express its support the only way it could -- at the polls. Then, control of Congress safely in hand, he hits Iran with the attack he's been planning all along a few days later. (Also like Vietnam -- after the Gulf of Tonkin, Johnson was the moderate counseling caution who was reelected in a landslide because Goldwater seemed so reckless -- and then rapidly escalated the conflict after the election.)

Like I said -- a Halloween nightmare. It couldn't possibly happen. Could it? Well, October is not over yet -- and like they say, with the election fast appoaching, it's not over until the Fat Man sings.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Still eating kites after all these months

So, you thought kite-eating trees only snacked in the spring? Think again. (Wingra Park, Madison.) Click for larger picture

A different kind of art history

New York Times / ©2006 Galerie Beckel-Odille-Boicos

At a casual glance, these works might almost seem to trace the history of modern art from 19h century realism through increasing degrees of abstraction in the 20th century. But instead, they are all self-portraits by one artist -- and all but the drawing at upper left, done in 1967, when the artist was 34, were done in his early to late sixties, when he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

The vast human tragedy of Alzheimer's disease inevitably raises the question of what remains when we lose our minds, and in the case of artists and writers, what relationship does it have to the sources of their creativity?

The illustrations are from a NYT story about William Utermohlen, an American artist in London who learned in 1995 that he had Alzheimer’s disease. The piece doesn't offer any conclusive answers but offers some tantalizing hints -- as well as a fascinating slide show of the changes in his work over time. If you read the story in print, be sure to check out the online version -- there are more illustrations, and they're in color.
“From that moment on, he began to try to understand it by painting himself,” said his wife, Patricia Utermohlen, a professor of art history.


The paintings starkly reveal the artist’s descent into dementia, as his world began to tilt, perspectives flattened and details melted away. His wife and his doctors said he seemed aware at times that technical flaws had crept into his work, but he could not figure out how to correct them.


Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies artistic creativity in people with brain diseases, said some patients could still produce powerful work.

“Alzheimer’s affects the right parietal lobe in particular, which is important for visualizing something internally and then putting it onto a canvas,” Dr. Miller said. “The art becomes more abstract, the images are blurrier and vague, more surrealistic. Sometimes there’s use of beautiful, subtle color.”
About the time Utermohlen found out he was suffering from Alzheimer's, British novelist Iris Murdoch was completing her last novel while battling the onset of dementia. A couple months ago John Updike wrote a fascinating New Yorker essay with the title "Late Works" about the creative output of older writers and artists. One of the writers he touched on was Murdoch, whose last book, "Jackson's Dilemma," was published in 1995.
The novel was well enough received by critics: the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle Review called it “the kind of poetical feast that Shakespeare provided in The Tempest. . . . She has never written more lucidly or more lyrically”; Harold Bloom in the Times Book Review said it demonstrated “Murdoch’s particular mastery.” I read “Jackson’s Dilemma” fearing that the author—who didn’t remember writing the book by the time she received finished copies from the publisher—had embarrassed herself, but the novel is not a steep falling off. It has wispy, stylized, and casually irrational elements, but so do her major works.
We end in Jackson’s head: “Is it all a dream, yes, perhaps a dream. . . . Death, its closeness. . . . Was I in prison once? I cannot remember. At the end of what is necessary, I have come to a place where there is no road.” Perhaps presumptuously, we imagine ourselves admitted to the mind of the author, as she feels her grip on the real world loosening. But her creative artistry lasted up to the verge of what Hawthorne called “a drawing away of veils, a lifting of heavy, magnificent curtains.”
Updike's essay also considers the late works of writers like Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Melville, James, and Shaw. Unlike Murdoch, they did not suffer from brain disease. But by including Murdoch, Updike seems to be suggesting that artists with Alzheimer's, as long as they can still work, may have more in common with their healthier contemporaries than we usually realize. In both cases, older artists have important insights to share regarding time and memory and the approaching twilight. We ignore them at our peril.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Deja vu all over again?

U.S. Embassy, Saigon, 4/30/75. The Age / Corbis/Bettmann

The Bush administration was probably right about one thing -- if you're conducting an unpopular war with no clear, achievable end in sight (in other words, no exit strategy), you'd best not apologize, explain or express the least bit of hesitation about your mission. In short, hold firmly to the intention to "stay the course," and ignore, criticize or mock alternative views. The least bit of equivocation, the slightest crack in the facade, and the whole flimsy structure can start to teeter like a house of cards -- or a helicopter balanced precariously on an embassy roof.

And now that events have forced even George Bush to abandon the "stay the course" rhetoric, the trickle of doubt does seem to be turning into a tidal wave of second guessing and recrimination -- especially in the media, which so long seemed lulled asleep by Bush's resolute words and whatever it was that they were drinking. The free ride seems to be just about over. Josh Marshall reflects on the unraveling at Talking Points Memo.
... the press is turning its hacking, slicing knives on the White House for the pitiful 'stay the course' debacle. The Times and the Post are holding a veritable northeast corridor schadenfreudethon.
The problem is that the Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld cabal -- apparently determined to reverse some of the lasting effects of the "Vietnam syndrome" -- seem well on the way to repeating one of that war's most awful mistakes, namely, the precipitous and unseemly way we withdrew. And for much the same reason. Right up to the end, very little planning was done for pulling the last American troops and support personnel out of Vietnam, guaranteeing that withdrawal, when it came, would be perceived as a hasty, disorganized retreat. After all, that's what it really means not to set a timeline for withdrawal. And we seem on the verge of making the same mistake now. Marshall appears to be alluding to this possibility, and how it might have been prevented.
There's a lesson here amid the cackling though, one which may be grimly echoed in our own departure if the country doesn't force the president's hand and prevent his ego from being the guiding force in our policy. Strategic retreats are often the choice of wise leaders, shrewd generals. Having the clarity of vision to see the difference between the possible and the desirable can often allow you to change course early and avoid a debacle later. Here you see the White House which has banged away at 'stay the course' and 'don't question the policy' for like two years now and suddenly at the crunch point they're bailing out. Or trying to bail out -- but now they really can't. The White House political czars look like nothing so much as those panicked embassy workers and refugees on the compound rooftop clamoring to get one of the last seats on those final helicopters out of Saigon. Same amount of planning, about as much dignity.

Like I wrote earlier today, the president has run this war like a confidence game. And as you would expect, that's led to a bubble. The support is tough but brittle. Any move off the absolutes, with us or against us, stay the course vs. cut and run, and the whole thing starts to crack. Once the White House comes out for pragmatism and flexibility, that leaves them perilously close to embracing reality itself. And that, of course, is like the kryptonite of Bush's superherodom. After that, the deluge.
Today's editorial in the NYT tries one more time to reshuffle the cards and come up with a tolerable hand at this late date -- "Trying to Contain the Iraq Disaster," they call it. But it's too little, too late, and in part, just plain goofy. "Stabilize Baghdad" is one recommendation.
There have never been enough troops, the result of Mr. Rumsfeld’s negligent decision to use Iraq as a proving ground for his pet military theories, rather than listen to his generals. And since the Army and Marines are already strained to the breaking point, the only hope of restoring even limited sanity to Baghdad would require the transfer of thousands of American troops to the capital from elsewhere in the country. That likely means moving personnel out of the Sunni-dominated west, and more mayhem in a place like Anbar.

But Iraqis need a clear demonstration that security and rebuilding is possible. So long as Baghdad is in chaos they will have no reason to believe in anything but sectarian militias and vigilante justice. Once Washington is making a credible effort to stabilize Baghdad, Iraqi politicians will have more of an incentive to show up for reconciliation talks. No one wants to be a rejectionist if it looks like the tide might be turning.
But this is exactly what we have been trying to do, creating the recent spike in U.S. casualties. Shifting more troops to Baghdad would simply further increase the U.S. casualties without solving the problem. The only way outside military force can "stabilize" Baghdad is to destroy it, as we did with Fallujah. Short of that, we shouldn't be wasting either U.S. or Iraqi lives.

"We had to destroy the village to save it" was hardly a winning strategy in Vietnam. Applying the same principle to one of the world's great cities, one that dates back to the dawn of civilization is madness. Nobody is seriously considering it, but short of that, half measures won't work. That's true of the NYT's proposals, and its also true of the "benchmarks" announced in Baghdad this morning.

It's time to face reality and start making plans for an orderly withdrawal. Otherwise, the inevitable pullout will be disorderly, and we'll just need a lot more helicopter landing pads in the Green Zone.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

October snow blogging

It was supposed to be a nice autumn hill walk, a Sunday afternoon in the Wisconsin countryside. This isn't right -- it's Oct. 22 and we got 2.3" of snow overnight (an Oct. 21 record) that mostly stayed on the ground today. Here's how it looked at Lodi Marsh at the start of our ramble along the Ice Age Trail up a 250-foot ridge. Great views from the prairie at the top called Dave's View -- across the marsh past Hawk Hill to the west, almost all the way to Sauk City; on the north, all the way across the Wisconsin River valley to the Baraboo Bluffs.

Lodi Marsh is about 25 miles north of Madison. The trailhead closest to the best views is at the parking lot on Riddle Road south of Lodi. Take State Highway 60 south from Lodi and just out of town turn left on Riddle Road. Continue on the road for two miles. Keep an eye out for avalanches.