Saturday, April 14, 2007

Shorter White House statement on the amorous World Bank president: "Heckuva job, Wolfie!"

Paul Wolfowitz may have lost the confidence of the World Bank staff he oversees (if he can be said to ever have had it, which is doubtful), but they're still supporting him where it counts.
" He has apologized, and there is a process in place," Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said after a meeting with his counterparts from the world's richest nations yesterday. "I don't intend to comment on that here. I do not want that to be read as a lessening of U.S. support for Paul Wolfowitz."

Wolfowitz joined the bank in 2005 after working at the Pentagon, where as deputy defense secretary he was a principal architect of the Iraq war. This made him a controversial figure at the bank, where he fostered resentment among its member nations and 7,000 Washington employees. A number of the bank's leading donor nations, including Britain, expressed public concern about aspects of his leadership long before the current uproar over his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, which began when details of her pay package were publicly revealed last month.

As bank staffers and development activist groups continued to call for Wolfowitz's resignation, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that he has President Bush's "full confidence" and that "we expect him to remain as World Bank president."
Right. Love is a beautiful thing. Why shouldn't a guy be allowed to install his girlfriend at the State Department and direct that she be paid more than the Secretary of State?

Friday, April 13, 2007

The long ride to work, the long ride home


Evening Commute Madison Guy photo on Flickr

I had to work a bit late last night, so the ride took me home through the Wisconsin countryside at twilight. Sometimes the commute is a hassle. Sometimes it's tedious. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, it can seem life-threatening. But sometimes it's just beautiful. A bit lonely, perhaps, but lovely. Last night it didn't exactly look like this, but it felt like this.

I'm not alone, of course. We're a nation of commuters, and Nick Paumgarten, in "There and Back Again: The Soul of the Commuter" in this week's New Yorker, takes a long look at commuting in America, including a Cisco engineer who holds the tcurrent title for the longest commute in America -- seven hours round trip.
Seven hours is extraordinary, but four hours, increasingly, is not. Roughly one out of every six American workers commutes more than forty-five minutes, each way. People travel between counties the way they used to travel between neighborhoods. The number of commuters who travel ninety minutes or more each way—known to the Census Bureau as “extreme commuters”—has reached 3.5 million, almost double the number in 1990. They’re the fastest-growing category, the vanguard in a land of stagnant wages, low interest rates, and ever-radiating sprawl. They’re the talk-radio listeners, billboard glimpsers, gas guzzlers, and swing voters, and they don’t—can’t—watch the evening news. Some take on long commutes by choice, and some out of necessity, although the difference between one and the other can be hard to discern. A commute is a distillation of a life’s main ingredients, a product of fundamental values and choices. And time is the vital currency: how much of it you spend—and how you spend it—reveals a great deal about how much you think it is worth.
Paumgarten writes about the emotional, social and personal costs of commuting.
When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar. In short, you are not spending time with other people. The two hours or more of leisure time granted by the introduction, in the early twentieth century, of the eight-hour workday are now passed in solitude. You have cup holders for company.

“I was shocked to find how robust a predictor of social isolation commuting is,” Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist, told me. (Putnam wrote the best-seller “Bowling Alone,” about the disintegration of American civic life.) “There’s a simple rule of thumb: Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections. Commuting is connected to social isolation, which causes unhappiness.”

[...]

Three years ago, two economists at the University of Zurich, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, released a study called “Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox.” They found that, if your trip is an hour each way, you’d have to make forty per cent more in salary to be as “satisfied” with life as a noncommuter is. (Their data come from Germany, where you’d think speedy Autobahns and punctual trains would bring a little Freude to the proceedings, and their methodology is elaborate and thorough, if impenetrable to the layman, relying on equations like U=α+ß₁D+ß₂D²+γX+δ₁w+δ₂w²+δ₃log y.) The commuting paradox reflects the notion that many people, who are supposedly rational (according to classical economic theory, at least), commute even though it makes them miserable. They are not, in the final accounting, adequately compensated.

“People with long journeys to and from work are systematically worse off and report significantly lower subjective well-being,” Stutzer told me. According to the economic concept of equilibrium, people will move or change jobs to make up for imbalances in compensation. Commute time should be offset by higher pay or lower living costs, or a better standard of living. It is this last category that people apparently have trouble measuring. They tend to overvalue the material fruits of their commute—money, house, prestige—and to undervalue what they’re giving up: sleep, exercise, fun.
I'm not complaining. At a little over 45 minutes each way, my commute is much shorter than many. It's often a peaceful time to organize my thoughts. OK, it's sometimes a peaceful time to organize my thoughts. Sometimes, like last night, it's hauntingly beautiful.

Now, if I could just find a way to blog while I'm driving.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Condos after Dark: Monroe Street Plans


Construction hasn't started on this proposed Monroe Street project, but eventually some dark windows on the penthouse floor wouldn't be surprising -- the $800K asking price seems pricey for a 4th-floor view of Wingra Park and its small namesake lake. For that kind of money, you could get more elevation and bigger lakes downtown.

Meanwhile, the windows of the Tudor-style apartments that have long occupied the space next to Wingra Park were blazing brightly the other night. Here's a link to the Capital Times story in the photo that tells about the proposal sailing through the Planning Commission with no real opposition, only a warning from one commission member.
The lone concern was raised by commission member Kelly Thompson-Frater who said the razing of the three apartment buildings could eventually "bleed into the neighborhood" and pressure other older structures, including the Arboretum Arms apartments just to the west.

"As a group, those apartments (to be torn down) are historic in nature," she said.
In addition to history, there are issues of scale and livability. Wingra Park is a jewel, an unassuming, quiet little green space that gracefully balances the needs of a diverse range of visitors from the neighborhood and beyond. Its intimate urban ecology could easily be disrupted by the scale of this development and others of similar size likely to follow in its wake. And it's not as if we have a major condo shortage right now. But the Planning Commission seems to think we need more.

What were they saying about Imus before the latest outrage and everyone piled on?

When someone screws up as publicly as Don Imus did recently with his remarks about the Rutgers basketball players, the self-righteous outcry can seem like a national rush to judgment without really getting the facts. Is Imus being unfairly scapegoated for the racism and sexism of an entire nation?

This story about Imus' track record in Media Matters was written about a month ago, before the current controversy started, so it's a sort of baseline by which to gauge today's reactions. Are people being unfair to Imus? Hardly.
On Imus, McGuirk said that "bitch" Clinton will "have cornrows and gold teeth"

On the March 6 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, executive producer Bernard McGuirk said that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) was "trying to sound black in front of a black audience" when she gave a speech on March 4 in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march. McGuirk added that Clinton "will have cornrows and gold teeth before this fight with [Sen. Barack] Obama [D-IL] is over." Earlier in the program, in reference to Clinton's speech, McGuirk had said, "Bitch is gonna be wearing cornrows." McGuirk also said that Clinton will be "giving Crips signs during speeches." The Crips are a Los Angeles-based street gang.
The story goes on to detail a long track record of racist on-air comments. The Rutgers outburst was hardly the first -- more like the end of a story that has dragged on far too long. Imus repeatedly promised to stop making racist remarks about black athletes and failed to do so. How many second chances does someone need? Or get? No wonder national advertisers started bailing out in droves. It's time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Long Slow Death of the Daffodil


Today's spring snow wasn't quite the blizzard they were predicting, but it was enough to finish off the daffodil. First there was the frostbite, which was bad enough. But the snow blanket resulted in a terminal case of hypothermia.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cold last night


Here in Madison, Wisconsin.

Condos after Dark: City Centre Verona


Of course, the windows of the City Centre Verona Condominiums are dark -- the development isn't finished yet. (Although the Landgraf Construction website still says it will be completed by autumn, 2006. What's that all about? In any case, you can see daytime photos here of the construction process, from the groundbreaking phase to the Tyvek phase.)

"New condominium homes on the Military Ridge Bike Trail in the center of downtown Verona, Wisconsin," is how the City Center Verona sales website positions the units -- "available late summer 2007!" The development is a small part of the Epic building boom in Verona, which used to be known as a Madison bedroom community, but which has been trying to reinvent itself as a high tech haven after luring rapidly growing Epic Systems away from Madison. They seem to be appealing to a varied mix of potential buyers: The site plan boasts of proximity to the Verona Senior Center, which is next door. There's also a link to the Verona Public Schools website. And for the software nerd bikers there's a link on the homepage to a slideshow slide show illustrating what it would be like to commute to work at Epic on the Military Ridge Bike Trail, wending your way along the sunny Wisconsin countryside and through several little bridge tunnels. It's confusing, though -- hard to tell where you are. If you're trying to impress computer geeks with a slide show of their bicycle commute, geotagging the photos would almost seem to go without saying.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Folk, selt-taught, outsider art in Milwaukee


We made an Easter afternoon outing to the Milwaukee Art Museum, including a visit to their Folk, Self-taught, Outsider Art Collection. Bolstered by the acquisition of the renowned Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art in 1989, the collection is one of the nation's best. The strength of MAM's holdings in folk and outsider art is probably why Milwaukee will be the sole Midwestern stop this fall for the American Folk Art Museum's huge Martin Ramirez show, reviewed here by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.

One of the most dramatic pieces of folk art we saw on this trip, however, were these remains of a 1930 Model A Roadster that someone has planted in their front yard on Humboldt Street, along with some big Cadillac pieces and part of an old VW Beetle. OnMilwaukee explains how they got there.
Some folks stick whirling plastic flowers or gnome statues in their yards, but David Jones' and Tony Balistreri's taste in lawn ornaments veers from the path of convention.

The couple, which owns a home in Riverwest, 2659 N. Humboldt Blvd., has three cars "planted" in its front yard: a 1959 Cadillac, a 1930 Model A Roadster and a '69 Volkswagen Beatle.

Balistreri, owner of Downtown Autobody on Holton Street, originally planned to restore the Caddy in honor of his deceased father who loved Cadillacs. However, he quickly realized that the interior was beyond repair even though the auto's exterior was in great shape.

So he did what anyone in that situation would do: He sawed the car in half and planted both pieces in his yard.

Balistreri and Jones hooked up the head and taillights, which still glow every evening, and tried to get their dryer exhaust to waft through the tailpipe and create the illusion of smoke.

"That was a disaster," laughs Jones. "We ended up blowing one of our dryers."

But the fun had only just begun.

A few years later, Balistreri found the Model A inside a badly burned barn in rural Wisconsin. Parts of the car were melted, but Balistreri bought it anyway and sunk it into the yard.
The story goes on to explain the cars have become a Milwaukee landmark, and stories about the installation have appeared aall over the U.S. and as far away as Australia. Today they're a curiosity. Tomorrow, they'll be art.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Late bloomer: Harry Bernstein's literary spring brightens the autumn of his life


Is ninety-five the new sixty-five? An inspiration to would-be late bloomers everywhere: The Motoko Rich NYT story about Harry Bernstein, the 96-year-old author of the highly regarded memoir, The Invisible Wall.
“If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book,” Mr. Bernstein said. “It just could not have been done even when I was 10 years younger. I wasn’t ready.” And he suggested that he might not be an anomaly: “God knows what other potentials lurk in other people, if we could only keep them alive well into their 90s.”
As Rich writes, Harry Bernstein -- who had moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 12 -- began publishing in literary magazines as a young man. By the time he was 24, he had published a short story in a magazine alongside works by William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein. But despite occasional publication (a novel was published and disappeared without notice in 1981), he never succeeded in building a literary career. His working life was spent first as a studio script reader and then later as editor of a trade magazine for builders. Nearly five years agao, after his beloved wife of 67 years, Ruby, died of leukemia, he was shattered by loneliness and took refuge in his memories of his youth. And then he began writing about what he remembered.

The result was a powerful, novelistic memoirthat was unusual not only for the age of the writer, but for th efact that it was accepted on its own merits by a publisher who received the unagented submission over the transom. William Grimes gave The Invisible Wall a highly favorable review in the NYT recently.
Harry Bernstein grew up in a small world. In the Lancashire mill town of his childhood, during the teens and twenties of the last century, the poor Jews clustered along a single dead-end street, and even that was only half theirs. Christians lived on one side, Jews on the other, separated by a few feet that might as well have been hundreds of miles. “The Invisible Wall,” Mr. Bernstein’s heart-wrenching memoir, describes two cultures cohabiting uneasily, prey to misunderstandings that distort lives on both sides. It is a world of pain and prejudice, evoked in spare, restrained prose that brilliantly illuminates a time, a place and a family struggling valiantly to beat impossible odds.

[...]

In this, his first book, the 96-year-old Mr. Bernstein tells his story, so remote in time, almost as though it were a fable, occasionally addressing the reader directly. (“I have told you before,” he begins one sentence, characteristically.) The setting, beautifully rendered, recalls early D. H. Lawrence, with mill hands trudging off to work early in the morning, their iron-shod clogs raising sparks on the cobblestones. In Mr. Bernstein’s hands, the small events of family life and the daily dramas on the street take on a shimmering, timeless quality.
Oh, and Harry Bernstein? He's hard at work on his IBM Selectric on the sequel, The Dream. He was on page 386 the other day.