Saturday, December 23, 2006

A lone star holiday in Wisconsin

In an era of over-the-top Christmas decorations, too bright, too sparkly and too inflatable, there's something to be said for keeping it simple and taking a minimalist approach -- though that may be more in keeping with the spirit of Festivus, which is celebrated today. Happy Festivus!

Bush Iraq policy summarized by The Donald

Noted foreign policy expert looks in his crystal ball:
“When you’re a president who has destroyed the lives of probably a million people, our soldiers and Iraqis who are maimed and killed — you see children going into school in Baghdad with no arms and legs — I don’t think Bush’s kids should be having lots of fun in Argentina,” he says.


“No matter how long we stay in Iraq, no matter how many soldiers we send, the day we leave, the meanest, most vicious, most brilliant man in the country, a man who makes Saddam Hussein look like a baby, will take over and spit on the American flag,” he says. “Bush will go down as the worst and by far the dumbest president in history.”
Donald Trump, interviewed by Maureen Dowd.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Santa Bush and the Christmas Barn Rules

Sure, I broke the reindeer named Iraq. So I own it now. But, hey, no problem -- after all, how broke can a plywood reindeer really be? No matter what those lefty liberal defeatist media say -- a little Elmer's glue, a little duct tape, a little fresh paint, it'll be good as new. If not, whathehell, we'll just buy some more duct tape. You ask me, the damn thing should fly for at least a couple more years. And, hey, after that there'll be a new Santa anyhow. Let him (or her) handle the repair bills. Meanwhile, a Merry Christmas to all. Oh oh oh.

Shameless Christmas Cat Blogging

He's ready. Bring on the catnip filled stocking and new string toys! And since he's usually on my lap when I'm blogging, providing as much creative inspiration as a sleeping cat can (quite a bit, actually) -- I suppose he's justified in demanding a bit of exposure.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Solstice with ice lantern and umbrella

It was that kind of day, one of those December days when you wouldn't want to go out without an umbrella. Wet and rainy, with a steady drizzle all day long -- what happens when warm Gulf air pushing into the Midwest mixes with the leading edge of the giant winter storm that buried Denver. They've got enough white for many Christmases, here in Madison we've got zilch.

What was cool was that a melting Lake Wingra (so recently crisscrossed by iceboats flying across the ice) provided a nice supply of construction materials for our traditional Solstice ice lantern. Miniature ice floes floated obligingly close to the shore, and we scooped them up. T leaned them against each other to build an ice shrine with the sure instincts of a natural ice sculptor and lit the candles.

Since the sunset was not visible, we had to time it with our watches. 4:25 CST marked the start of the longest night of the year, after which the days grow longer again -- or is it the darkest night?

Not an insignificant point. They were talking about Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening [links to Library of Congress handwritten manuscript] on the radio as I drove home through the gloomy rain past dark, snowless wooded hills. According to the consensus on Jean Feraca's "Here on Earth" (archives) the last line in this famous quatrain made "Stopping by Woods" a Solstice poem.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
I had never thought of it that way. I think of Solstice poems as poems of rebirth and celebration, but Frost's poem is about other things, some of them very dark. It seemed to me that if Frost had meant "longest evening," he would have said that, and that he chose the words "darkest evening" for their symbolic resonance more than their euphony. And in a sampling of critical opinion, there are few mentions of the Solstice, none of them central to the interpretation. But I looked that up later.

As we stood watching the icebound candles flicker in the soggy darkness, I was still wondering if I was the only person on earth who had never thought of the Solstice in connection with this poem. (I so often miss the obvious.) So I asked T if she ever thought of it as a Solstice poem.

"No, why?" she asked.

I told her about the discussion on the radio. "You know, stopping on the darkest evening of the year."

"That's symbolic. He wrote darkest, not longest. That can stand for many things."

As we headed home I thought about the irony that, by bringing up the poem on the Solstice, I had in a way made it a Solstice poem, or at any rate, part of our Solstice. But ours had something Frost's poem lacked. As we approached our house, all the way across the dark expanse of the park we could still see the glow of our candles in their little ice cave along the lake. They could probably see them flickering from the other side.

Seeing what happened to Atrios, I guess Letter from Here will stick with Alpha Blogger as long as it can

As I write, Atrios is a link to nowhere, and has been for nearly 24 hours. The day's essential read has gone dark and is being held hostage by the former Blogger Beta, now known as the New Blogger. (UPDATE: He's up here now for the time being -- h/t Avedon.) Is Googlesoft turning into the Baghdad Power & Light Company? Does it need a troop surge to fend off the insurgents? Think I'll pass on the new contractor and stick with Alpha Blogger until further notice.

UPDATE 2: Atrios was back at his regular URL at 1:13 EST.
And, for those who love to harsh on blogger, everyone has tech problems. Blogger's free, works most of the time, and though it fails spectacularly and stupidly on occasion, their gnomes usually come through and fix things.
I see his point, but still, will hold onto Alpha Blogger for awhile. Give the gnomes a little time off.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Great career advice

From Matt Yglesias, to David Petraeus, former commander of the 101 Airborne in Iraq, one of the few senior military figures to come out of that hellhole with his reputation not only intact but burnished to a fine glow. He's been suggested as a replacement for John Abizaid at CENTCOM or George Casey in Iraq. Don't do it, says Yglesias. You'd have to start spinning for the administration:
The last thing you want to do is become a spin artist on behalf of a lame duck administration fighting a failed war. That means staying as far away as possible from the chain running from the White House to the Pentagon to Tampa to Baghdad.
Especially, I'd think, if we go ahead with the troop surge to bring Baghdad under control, or any of the other panaceas being proposed.

The Unbearable Lightness of Listening to Bush

I'm getting ready for work -- running a bit late, all the big deadline projects are done, we're coasting till after the holidays now -- when the big "Special Report" graphic breaks into the Today show with its blaring, excited fanfare and I wonder, "Oh shit, what now?" But it's just a Bush "news" conference, and with it, the unbearable lightness of listening to the Deluded Decider stumble along and do the same old same old one more time.
My comments -- the first comment was done in this spirit: I believe that we're going to win. I believe that -- and, by the way, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have our troops there. That's what you've got to know. We're going to succeed. My comments yesterday reflected the fact that we're not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted, when I said it at the time, and that the conditions are tough in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad.
Yeah, right. So go ahead and tell us you're blowing off the Iraq Study Group. We already know that. I go back to finish shaving. From the other room I hear T voicing her thoughts:
I keep expecting the part where he declares himself our Immortal Emperor. But so far, so good...
Thank heaven for small favors. As I leave the house, he still has not assumed the dictatorial powers he clearly wishes he had. I get in the car and drive off, scanning the radio stations for the news conference. Can't find it. That figures. Must not be important.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Thursday we'll be celebrating the Solstice

As the sun goes down on the day of the Winter Solstice, in our household we celebrate by lighting candles at sunset to celebrate the return of the light. The exact nature of the ceremony depends on our extremely variable December weather, ranging from arctic wind chills some years to balmy thaws other years.

This was one of the best. Four years ago we went to one of our favorite locations, a little cove on Lake Mendota here in Madison. The weather was about in the middle of the spectrum. We'd seen better, and we'd seen worse. It was cold, the wind was whipping off the freezing but not yet frozen lake, and icy stalactites were hanging from the rocky outcroppings. We needed something more than our little plastic cups to shelter the candles, and as luck would have it, when we climbed down the hillside to our secluded retreat, we found that somebody had already prepared a sort of Solstice altar for us. It was as if Andy Goldsworthy had passed by and just happened to throw together a little stone cairn on the spur of the moment. Or maybe it was one of his followers like Marissa. The miniature neolithic construction felt primal and ritualistic, and it seemed as if we were marking the Solstice at our own private Stonehenge, built by someone who had passed by earlier.

How will we celebrate this Thursday? Judging from the weather forecast, it will probably be a ritual involving umbrellas.

Found object homage to Duchamp

Found on the UW-Madison campus a couple years ago. Question: If you're invoking the name of Marcel Duchamp, would it be proper to use the Photoshop clone stamp to get rid of the cigarette butts? I think not, but the sad, crumbling leaf in the sink had to go. It was pathetic and distracting. You'll never see it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Meteorology of winter in Wisconsin (Part 2)

Sure, in Wisconsin we often get some snow in December. Sometimes it's white knuckle time on the road. But, on average, we only get a white Christmas three out of every four years. This is not one of those years. (Part 1)

First they came for the terrorist suspects and threw away the key, and then they came for Donald Vance

Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

This is a Bible. These are some of the notes a prisoner at Camp Cropper, the United States military’s maximum-security detention site in Baghdad, wrote in his Bible. The thing is, the prisoner was a U.S. citizen and an army veteran named Donald Vance, who when he was working in Iraq as a contractor and became aware of corruption at the security firm he worked for started reporting on it to the FBI. And the worst thing of all is that he was swept up in the resulting raid and was detained for more than three months under harrowing conditions and denied access to counsel.
“Even Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had,” said Mr. Vance, who said he planned to sue the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. “While we were detained, we wrote a letter to the camp commandant stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves.”
This is ridiculous. Ridiculous that it happened, but even more ridiculous that this could happen to "one of the good guys" and there's no big national outcry. Kudos to the NYT for digging this story up and making their thorough account the main front page story today. In the progressive blogosphere, Think Progress, Atrios, Christy at Firedoglake and Echidne of the Snakes all covered it (and Echidne had to reach all the way back to Kafka to express both her outrage and the surreal nature of Vance's detention).

But there was no immediate wave of national revulsion and outrage. Granted, it's the last week before Christmas and people are wrapped up in their holiday preparations. But the man smuggled his notes out of detention in a Bible, for God's sake. Doesn't anything shock this country anymore?

We started by torturing and abusing suspected terrorists. Then our procedures and our constitutional protections grew more and more lax under the malignant leadership of the Bush administration. Pretty much anything goes these days. Where will it end?

I'm reminded of First They Came..., the famous poem that has appeared in many versions but is generally credited to Martin Niemöller, the German pastor and opponent of the Nazis who spent the war years in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps.
First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left
to speak up for me.
When will we wake up?

Gardening for peace

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Holiday magic at Olbrich Gardens

Faerie cottages by Tatiana Katara are on display at the Olbrich Holiday Express Holiday Flower and Model Train Show at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison. Find out more about Tatiana and her work here.

Of course I had to check out the book once I saw the yellow slip with the strange doodle sticking out of the book

Of Course I Had to Check Out the Book Once I Saw the Bright Yellow Slip Sticking Out of It
The guiding principle of my visits to the Madison Public Library is serendipity. Put me in front of the "New Fiction" or "New Nonfiction" shelves, and I'm like a magpie -- I go for the shiny new things that catch my eye and spirit them off to my nest. And there's no rhyme or reason as to what snags my attention. In this case, it was a bright yellow slip of paper poking out of a book in "New Nonfiction" -- J. Anthony Froude: The Last Undiscovered Great Victorian, by Julia Markus. Froude was one of those cold and rather forbidding Victorian figures mostly forgotten now.

The flimsy little slip with a doodle on the back was a checkout receipt from the library that a previous borrower must have used as a bookmark. Listed were two books on painting: Paul Cezanne and Composing Your Paintings. What sort of person was interested not only in an obscure Victorian writer, but Cezanne and how to compose a painting as well? It made me look at the anonymous doodler in a new light.

Maybe the doodler was an artist. Whoever made the drawing has a nice, fluid line. And judging from the person's reading, it might be more than a doodle -- it might be a snapshot of the creative process at work. Perhaps these scribbles were the first tentative iterations of a work of art just emerging from the depths of the artist's unconscious, a thumbnail sketch of something that might eventually be fleshed out as a full-fledged painting. Or not.

I drag home so many more books from the library than I ever have time to read. After spending part of the afternoon skimming Froude's life, will I read the whole thing? Probably not. I don't have time for a long trip back to the 19th century right now, although I enjoyed my brief visit. I'll probably settle for the parts I've read, plus the NYT review. Just another one of those passing, accidental encounters in the library. I'll probably return the book soon.

But I'm keeping the drawing. It may be small -- 1-1/2" x 2" -- but I like it. Finders keepers.