Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lighting up the November darkness


If it weren't for holiday lights, evenings this time of year would be nothing but a gloomy, monochromatic study in grays and blacks. The lights soften the blow considerably. Santa and his entourage are part of Madison's 18th annual Holiday Fantasy in Lights, which are turned on from Nov. 15 to Jan. 1 at Olin-Turville Park. The State Capitol dome is illuminated all year round. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Twenty-one red states with Republican Senate seats up for grabs in the 2008 Senate race. Bring it on!


It's a measure of how incredible this year's Democratic Senate win really was, as well as an index of Karl Rove's total ineptitude and the Republicans' general haplessness, that the GOP lost control of the Senate this year. After all, the Democrats were defending 18 seats, compared to only 15 for the Republicans. If ever a party had a safe margin, it was the Republicans this year.

As the map posted at Ezra Klein suggests, things will be different in 2008. The Democrats will have a huge advantage, defending a mere 12 seats to the Republicans' 21. The post also has links to a longer analysis by Kos. The imbalance in the seats up for election held by the two parties may help make the 2008 election one of those historic watershed Democratic elections -- a presidential candidate with coattails can help create a Senate landslide, and strong Senate candidates can help boost the national ticket.

Friday, November 24, 2006

November twilight


Walk at twlight in Madison's Owen Park makes a perfect end to another unseasonably warm day.

Barnyard refugees?


Two pairs of snowy white geese with what seemed to be their gawky adolescent offspring greeted us in Madison's Vilas Park this afternoon. We thought they might be snow geese who had migrated in with the large flock of Canadian geese in the park, but a quick look in the bird book when we got home established they were domestic geese (snow geese have black primaries, and their beak is not as orange). Which we sort of suspected, since they were not at all shy, approached us quite boldly and seemed to be demanding to be fed.

They're not migratory, of course, but maybe they heard on the avian grapevine about what was happening to the turkeys and were taking refuge in a safe place during the holidays.

16,000 single mothers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and many are still there


If you wonder what that means for them and their kids, check out today's Washington Post.
When they called her name, she could not move. Sgt. Leana Nishimura intended to walk up proudly, shake the dignitaries' hands and accept their honors for her service in Iraq-- a special coin, a lapel pin, a glass-encased U.S. flag.

But her son clung to her leg. He cried and held tight, she recalled. And so Nishimura stayed where she was, and the ceremony last summer went on without her. T.J. was 9, her oldest child, and although eight months had passed since she had returned from the war zone, he was still upset by anything that reminded him of her deployment.

He remembered the long separation. The faraway move to live with his grandmother. The months that went by without his mother's kisses or hugs, without her scrutiny of homework, her teasing humor, her familiar bedtime songs.

Nishimura was a single mother -- with no spouse to take over, to preserve her children's routines, to keep up the family apartment.

Of her three children, T.J. seemed to worry most. He sent letter after letter to the war zone, where she was a communications specialist, part of the Maryland National Guard.

"He went from having one parent to having no parents, basically," Nishimura said, reflecting, "People have said, 'Thank you so much for your sacrifice.' But it's the children who have had more of a sacrifice."
There's much more. It's time to bring them home. Along with everyone else.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving


From Madison, Wisconsin. Best Thanksgiving weather I can remember -- 58 degrees at 2:28 p.m. The holiday light display at Olin Park is turned on tonight. (Correction: The lights were turned on Nov. 15.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

According to Sy Hersh, Bush already has all the legal authority he needs to stage an attack against Iran

"It's deja vu all over again," he told Kathleen Dunn on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning, explaining that the 2002 act of Congress that authorized the preemptive strike against Iraq was not limited to Iraq. Whether it's politically acceptable is another matter, but the fact remains that if the stubborn Bush remains convinced he needs to act militarily to keep Iran from getting the bomb, there's little anyone can do to stop him. And possible action by a Democratic Congress to stop such a move is what Cheney talked about using "shorteners" to get around in Hersh's New Yorker story the other day. You can stream Hersh's discussion of Cheney, Iran, the neocons and his article here. Or, if you contribute to WPR and become a member, you can download an MP3 here.

Deer are fearless this time of year


The deer wasn't frozen in the headlights -- it just soared across the road right in front of me, one great flying leap that would have taken it right through the windshield if I had been a few feet closer. I obviously didn't have time to grab my camera, but the picture fixed in my memory looks something like this Photoshop recreation. Just putting it together gave me the shakes again.

My 35-mile commute covers about 25 miles of highway, and this time of year is the worst. It's mating season for the deer, they're moving around a lot in search of action, and they have other things on their mind than looking both ways. It's the time of year when they also seem to have developed the ability to fly.

That's what happened last year when I was approaching the outskirts of a small town on the way home. The speed limit drops, and it's a speed trap closely monitored by the police. I had been listening to music and suddenly realized I had passed the 45 mph sign. I hit the brake a little harder than usual, because just around the upcoming curve there often is a cop with radar. Just that instant, this huge creature flew across the road in front of me, filling my field of vision. Just as suddenly it was gone, bounding off into the darkness between two houses on my right. Just another suburban deer. And if I had not slowed down that instant, it would have crashed through the windshield and into my face.

Tips on how to avoid car-deer collisions abound in the media, but accidents keep happening.
Law enforcement officials offer a lot of tips on surviving a car-deer collision. One is so contrary to natural reaction, it takes a cool head to remember it.

When it appears you are going to hit a deer, your natural reaction is to swerve to try to avoid it. That's not a good idea, law officers say. Go ahead and hit the deer. More serious accidents often occur when a driver swerves, then over-corrects and loses control of the vehicle.

That's one reason to be thinking deer as you are driving. Keeping that risk in mind will help you deal with the problem more rationally should it occur.

Better yet, the advice from law enforcement will reduce your chance of hitting a deer at all. A lot of it is common sense.

Deer travel in groups, so when you see one, remember that there probably are others nearby.

Be especially alert at dawn and dusk. Not only is visibility lower then, those are the peak movement times for deer.

Slow down near woods, parks, golf courses, streams and deer-crossing signs. The signs are posted where deer-vehicle collisions have repeatedly occurred.
I've never struck a deer, although I know many people who have, and I hope I never do. Two additional tips that seem to work for me:
1. Use your horn. For some reason, deer seem to react differently to a horn than they do to car lights. They tend to flee in the opposite direction, rather than racing across the road.

2. Slow down when you can't use your high beams. When oncoming traffic is already semi-blinding you and you turn down your high beams, there's no way you can see as far ahead as you need to avoid a collision at 65 mph. Slow down until your night vision and high beams are restored.
Madison's Capital Times had a story the other day about someone who sells a device that makes your horn even more effective by automatically pulsating it seven times a second. Click here for information. The article also contains some sobering statistics.
Dane County leads the state in reported deer-vehicle crashes with 838 accidents in 2005, according to Department of Transportation statistics. Reported crashes generally involve at least $1,000 worth of vehicular damage.

With an estimated state herd size of 1.5 million to 1.7 million deer this year, there's ample opportunity to encounter deer on the roadways, especially during the fall mating season.

Motorists struck and killed almost 39,500 deer in Wisconsin between July 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006, more than double the figure for the previous year, according to Department of Natural Resources figures.
You can't be too careful. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tank of gas: too much.
Prescription refill: too much.
Iraq war: WAY too much.
Dick Cheney on bending the rules: priceless.

According to Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, a month before the election Dick Cheney was speculating about what would happen if the Democrats won control of Congress. Would that keep the administration from moving ahead with a military option with Iran? Nah...
A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting “shorteners” on the wire—that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put “shorteners” on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.
What do we have to do, drive a wooden stake through his heart?

Hanging around Iraq, one more Friedman at a time, until the only solution seems to be attacking Iran?

Employing the unit of time (6 months) he calls a "Friedman" after NY columnist Thomas Friedman, Atrios has a very lucid and concise analysis of what's wrong with liberal Democratic proposals on Iraq like that of Sen. Barack Obama, who is calling for a "gradual and substantial" reduction of U.S. forces starting in 4-6 months.
The thing is that "bring them home now" doesn't really mean now. It doesn't mean that thousands of troops start boarding transport planes for the trip home. It just means that the focus shifts from staying to leaving, and the latter slowly begins to happen. Every time someone punts that action for yet another Friedman, it helps to ensure that the end of the war will always be a Friedman away.
Of course, if we keep piling up Friedman's in Iraq, we'll eventually reach the point where attacking Iran seems to be the only solution for getting out of Iraq. As Seymour Hersh reports in this week's New Yorker:
The Democratic victories this month led to a surge of calls for the Administration to begin direct talks with Iran, in part to get its help in settling the conflict in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke ranks with President Bush after the election and declared that Iran should be offered “a clear strategic choice” that could include a “new partnership” with the West. But many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. “It’s a classic case of ‘failure forward,’” a Pentagon consultant said. “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.”

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran “does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq,” and by the President, who said, in August, that “Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold” in Iraq. The government consultant told me, “More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq.”

The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, “the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq.” (Sadr, who commands a Shiite militia, has religious ties to Iran.)

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neoconservative, argued that the Administration had little choice. “Make no mistake: President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office,” he wrote. The President would be bitterly criticized for a preĆ«mptive attack on Iran, Muravchik said, and so neoconservatives “need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.”
Oh, God -- does it never end? This is exactly the sort of gradual and highly focused buildup to war that the Democrats were never able to stop when it came to Iraq. Hope they're more effective in regard to Iran, but I'm not holding my breath. First they have to stop adding Friedmans.

A review so hostile it makes me want to read Thomas Pynchon's new novel, "Against the Day"

To the extent that my reading is influenced by reviews rather than random, serendipitous encounters with library stacks or bookstore shelves, it's usually the books that get positive reviews I'll seek out. But not always. Sometimes it works the other way around. Sometimes a review will be so hostile it will pique my interest -- apparently on the "where there's smoke, there's fire" principle.

That's the case with Michiko Kakutani's review of Pynchon's "Against the Day" in today's NYT.
Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, “Against the Day,” reads like the sort of imitation of a Thomas Pynchon novel that a dogged but ungainly fan of this author’s might have written on quaaludes. It is a humongous, bloated jigsaw puzzle of a story, pretentious without being provocative, elliptical without being illuminating, complicated without being rewardingly complex.
She had me for a moment, there. I figured, "Well, it has been 33 years since "Gravity's Rainbow," and the dude is 69. Maybe his imaginative powers are starting to dwindle -- and, after all, some authors do end up by parodying themselves.
Whereas Mr. Pynchon’s last novel, the stunning “Mason & Dixon,” demonstrated a new psychological depth, depicting its two heroes as full-fledged human beings, not merely as pawns in the author’s philosophical chess game, the people in “Against the Day” are little more than stick figure cartoons.
But as she keeps piling on, I began to wonder.
The problem is these characters are drawn in such a desultory manner that they might as well be plastic chess pieces, moved hither and yon by the author’s impervious, godlike hand. Sad to say, we really don’t give a damn what happens to them or their kith and kin. Especially when we are treated to pages and pages of them blathering on about things like “the four states associated with one of the four ‘dimensions’ of Minkowskian space-time” or their desire to “reach inside light and find its heart, touch its soul.”

Like “V.” and “Gravity’s Rainbow,” this novel aspires to give us a sort of alternative history of the modern world, to probe the multiple layers of reality people can inhabit. And while its narrative is centered on events leading up to World War I, it reverberates with echoes of the world today. Terrorism (in the form of anarchist bombings) is perceived as a pervasive threat, and surveillance — whether by private detectives or unseen eyes in the sky — has become a constant of day to day life.
Let's see: She mocks "Against the Day" in terms that could also have been applied to "V." and "Gravity's Rainbow," if one were so inclined. She loved "Mason & Dixon," which she gave a rave when it first came out. "Mason & Dixon" is the most conventional of Pynchon's books, apparently her favorite, and the only one of his other books she reviewed -- but one I never really did get into, although I loved "V.," "Gravity's Rainbow," and "The Crying of Lot 49."

That's when I realize -- I'll probably like this book. I think I'll put it on my list for Santa.

New Yorker offers exponential expansion of Chris Ware's imagination

Illustrations by comic artist and graphic novelist Chris Ware tell a story that spans 60 years and links across four different covers of The New Yorker's Thanksgiving issue, the images getting successively smaller, in what seems to be a characteristic signature of Ware's style but is also part of a larger exponential expansion. This narrative is loosely linked by detail and allusion to a longer strip by Ware that appears on the magazine's website, along with reproductions of the four covers (right). All can be enlarged, scrolled through and printed. Ware subdivides his drawings into ever finer grids, with the subdivisions being an exponential expansion of the powers of two (2 to the 0th, 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th). As Ware explains on the MP3 interview (click to listen, or right-click to download) that's also provided at the site, the larger strip is subdivided into a grid of 256 boxes. It's the first comic, he says, that he has designed explicitly for the web, and he explains that the navigation that readers are forced to do with the scrollbars on their browsers is meant to mimic the erratic and sometimes seemingly random associations of memory.

One part of the intertwined narratives is a meditation on the slaughter of birds this time of year by Ware, a vegetarian. But the broader melancholy stream of memories surrounding the absurd, random death of a soldier in World Ware II provides a powerful commentary on the war still raging today, a reference that's all the more powerful for being understated and implicit.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

How Tennessee Williams saved John Waters' life


"I've had a wonderful and terrible life and I wouldn't cry for myself," Tennessee Williams wrote, "would you?"New York Times / Corbis Bettmann

Today's NYT Book Review contains a powerful salute to Tennessee Williams by filmmaker John Waters -- adapted from Waters' introduction to a new edition of Williams' Memoirs published by New Directions.
Tennessee Williams saved my life. As a 12-year-old boy in suburban Baltimore, I would look up his name in the card catalog at the library and it would read “see Librarian.” I wanted these “see Librarian” books — and I wanted them now — but in the late 1950s (and sadly even today), there was no way a warped adolescent like myself could get his hands on one. But I soon figured out that the “see Librarian” books were on a special shelf behind the counter.

[…]

Yes, Tennessee Williams was my childhood friend. I yearned for a bad influence and boy, was Tennessee one in the best sense of the word: joyous, alarming, sexually confusing and dangerously funny. I didn’t quite “get” “Desire and the Black Masseur” when I read it in “One Arm,” but I hoped I would one day. The thing I did know after finishing this book was that I didn’t have to listen to the lies the teachers told us about society’s rules. I didn’t have to worry about fitting in with a crowd I didn’t want to hang out with in the first place. No, there was another world that Tennessee Williams knew about, a universe filled with special people who didn’t want to be a part of this dreary conformist life that I was told I had to join.

[…}

“I may be queer but I ain’t this,” I remember thinking. Still reading everything Tennessee Williams wrote, I knew he would understand my dilemma. Tennessee never seemed “gayly-correct” even then, and sexual ambiguity and confusion were always made appealing and exciting in his work. “My type doesn’t know who I am,” he stated, according to legend, and even if the sex lives of his characters weren’t always healthy, they certainly seemed hearty. Tennessee Williams didn’t fit into his own minority, so I had the confidence not to either. Gay was not enough.

It was a good start, however. “I was late coming out, and when I did it was with one hell of a bang,” Tennessee writes in “Memoirs” in 1972, the same year my film “Pink Flamingos” had its world premiere in Baltimore. While I was just getting my first national notoriety, Tennessee was struggling to finish the final version of “The Two-Character Play” and horrifying theater purists by appearing on stage in his new play “Small Craft Warnings,” and then answering questions from the Off Broadway audience afterward to keep the show running. I never once thought this was unbecoming behavior on my hero’s part and tried to follow his example by introducing my star Divine at midnight screenings of our filth epic. “I never had any choice but to be a writer,” Tennessee remembered at the time, and he remained my patron saint. I followed his career like a hawk.
Check out the entire essay. It's not only an eloquent tribute from one gay icon to another, but it's a moving evocation of how books and art can literally be life-saving to misfits everywhere.

Being a neocon means never having to say you're sorry

You just point your finger at the other guy. In the case of Kenneth Adelman, who famously remarked before the war that Iraq would be a "cakewalk," the other guy is Donald Rumsfeld, the old friend who appointed him to the Defense Policy Board. Jeffrey Goldberg listens in at the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" as Adelman dishes.
“I suggested that we were losing the war,” Adelman said. “What was astonishing to me was the number of Iraqi professional people who were leaving the country. People were voting with their feet, and I said that it looked like we needed a Plan B. I said, ‘What’s the alternative? Because what we’re doing now is just losing.’ ”

Adelman said that Rumsfeld didn’t take to the message well. “He was in deep denial—deep, deep denial. And then he did a strange thing. He did fifteen or twenty minutes of posing questions to himself, and then answering them. He made the statement that we can only lose the war in America, that we can’t lose it in Iraq. And I tried to interrupt this interrogatory soliloquy to say, ‘Yes, we are actually losing the war in Iraq.’ He got upset and cut me off. He said, ‘Excuse me,’ and went right on with it.”

[...]

“I had the floor then, and I started by saying what a positive influence he had been in my life, that I love him like a brother. He nodded, kind of sadly. And then I said, ‘I’m negative about two things: the deflection of responsibility, and the quality of decisions.’ He said he took responsibility all the time. Then I talked about two decisions: the way he handled the looting, and Abu Ghraib. He told me that he didn’t remember saying, ‘Stuff happens.’ He was really in denial that this was his fault.” Adelman said that it struck him then that “maybe he really thinks that things are going well in Iraq.”
Not that the former Defense Secretary doesn't deserve it, but with friends like this portraying him as totally delusional, who needs enemies?

History.com gets it less then right

This is what fell out of my overstuffed Sunday New York Times, the cover of a promotional supplement for History.com's "Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower." For a moment I tried to parse the headline. Was I missing something? Was the word "then" meant to be a reference to the past? No, they had simply used then when they meant than. It was just plain wrong. But History.com is not alone, as a quick Google wildcard search established:
A Correct GIS Image is Worth More Then a Thousand Numbers.

Since a picture is worth more then a thousand words, I've attached a time-lapse animated gif.

One good idea is worth more then a billion dollars.

Time Value of Money: A dollar today is worth more then a dollar tomorrow.

My two and half cent opinion (pennies are now worth more then a penny!)

A good medic is worth more then a dozen men; a bad one is just a liability.

Learning how the camera works will be worth more then a $300 lens.

The personal words, not for publication are worth more then a canned speech.
Search Google on "worth more then a *" and you'll find more than 10,000 other examples. (Taking out the "a" will produce ten times that many.) It makes for a fascinating stroll down the highways and byways of American (il)literacy.