Saturday, July 07, 2007

When most people are home sound asleep the Great Pumpkin rules the night at Mallatt's Pharmacy

Mallatt's Pharmacy
(Click on photo and "All Sizes" in Flickr to enlarge the picture and get a better view of what's going on with Uncle Sam and his metamorphosis.)

A Madison, Wisconsin landmark that has been doing business at this Monroe Street location since 1942, Mallatt's Pharmacy (or is it Mallatt?) seems to have a cavalier attitude toward apostrophes, judging from their signs. But they're all business when it comes to theatrical makeup and costumes. Their biggest day of the year is Halloween, which accounts for the pumpkin, which is up all year and gets surrounded with other seasonal decorations -- in this case, for the recent Fourth of July.

Mallatt's is the place to go in Madison for all your costume needs. How did a pharmacy find itself in this unique position? The Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association's neighborhood tour on the Web explains.
It used to be popular for pharmacies to carry a make-up franchise. Mallatt's specialized in Max Factor. In 1973, employee Kathy Joyce expanded the franchise with make-up for local theatrical productions and Halloween. After she began to decorate the windows, word spread quickly about what was to become, with the addition of costume rental, the big seasonal focus of the store.
For more information about Mallatt's, which has branched out into online sales as well, check out their website. Also, you might want to go back and take a closer look at that pumpkin in the bright light of day.

Condos after Dark: 100 Wisconsin Avenue Update

100 Wisconsin Avenue is one of Madison's most successful luxury condos, and this view has a lot to do with it: If the Capitol reflects like this off the windows of your condo, chances are you've got a pretty good view of the Capitol yourself. I blogged earlier about this luxury condo on the Capitol Square. This is a new photo that's just been added to the original post. You can read it here.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Art clashes with the authorities under the Spooner Street bridge. Authorities make the art disappear.

Is graffiti art or is it vandalism? In New York and other big cities, it's a trendy form of street art, there are art galleries devoted to graffiti, and graffiti artists have become millionaires. As far as I know, there are no Madison taggers who have become rich from their art. Much of the public despises them as vandals who should be punished. Like most long-standing controversies, both sides have a point. The real question is, where do you draw the line? The city drew the line -- or rather, removed the lines -- under the Spooner Street bridge over the Southwest Bike Path Thursday morning.

We were biking along the path when we saw what looked from a distance like an emergency vehicle under the bridge. Was there a problem? As we drew closer, we saw what the problem was. I was sorry to see the figures painted over. They added a humanizing touch and a much needed light touch of whimsy to a sterile concrete bridge that totally overwhelms the casual, organic environment of the bike path. They weren't there long, and I'll miss them.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fifth Fourth of July for the U.S. in Iraq

A typical Fourth of July: Lots of flags waving in stately slow motion on television this morning. On AOL the headline reads "Music Stars Rock the Flag," and it's illustrated by a picture of Kid Rock wearing a flag poncho and Jessica Simpson on the cover of GQ wearing a flag bikini top.

But these days, when I think of the flag, I think about cemeteries, like the one where I spotted this memorial flag that had been blown down by the wind. And I think about impeachment.

It's the fifth Fourth of July that our troops have been in Iraq. For more than four years, they've been holding bravely to a tragically misguided course that began with the Neocons' lies and their belief they could remake the Middle East in the image of their own arrogant dreams. And what do we have to show for it?

The flag-wavers can put down their flags, but the burden of Iraq is not as easily set aside. The emotional cost will continue to be paid not only by the soldiers, but their families as well, often in ways that are not immediately visible and that may continue to exact a hidden toll for years to come. I am reminded of A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War, Sue Griffin's haunting meditation on war and its continuing emotional toll.
Now I can see clearly that my mother's alcoholism and the small suicides of omission practiced by my father are part of the history of the Second World War and the Cold War that followed. That terrible stunning violence and then the silencing pall which proceeded from it did not stop at the doorsteps of our homes. Everyone became less visible, less. (Page 305)
A Chorus of Stones was published in 1992, and Sue Griffin was working on it during the buildup to the first Gulf War. The last chapter is made up of notes about the themes she was writing about -- the emotional costs of violence, repression and forgetting, without which war is not possible. Interwoven with these notes are passages from a journal she was keeping at the time. And now, as I reread the book I first read in the nineties, I am struck by a passage (also on page 305) from her journal, written in November of 1990, that I passed over the first time.
One day public opinion polls announce that the only reason Americans would suport a war would be to prevent Iraq from having nuclear weapons. And the next day Bush announces this as the principal reason for going to war.
There it is -- the lesson learned in 1990 that stuck in Dick Cheney's reptile mind, a little detail nobody mentions these days: The nuclear threat works. It worked last time, it will work again. Let's generate some evidence.

Griffin's passage forms a connecting link reaching back to the first President Bush and the first Gulf War, a link that leads directly to the web of lies spun by Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby and all the rest, the web which ultimately led to Libby's perjury conviction and the younger Bush's obstruction of justice by commuting Libby's sentence while leaving his conviction intact, meaning he cannot be forced to testify while his appeal drags on through the last days of the Bush administration.

My representative in the House is Tammy Baldwin, and she is one of the 23 Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee whose vote is needed to start the impeachment process. Today, I'll let her enjoy her Fourth of July and reflect on what the holiday stands for. Tomorrow, I'm calling her office.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Image meets reality at Henry Vilas Zoo

The sign shows an image of the proud King of Beasts. The real lion looks old and tired and a bit sad, although happy just to catch a bit of sun in his small fenced-in area. Does he really need to be there?

I know the large zoos with lots of acreage play an important role in species preservation -- and they have room to let the animals roam a bit. But I hope that smaller zoos like Madison's eventually are able to relinquish the role of exhibiting big cats and other large wild animals. The facilities of the Henry Vilas Zoo have improved impressively over the years, and the zoo's dedicated staff does the best they can. But little kids would be just as happy if the cats were replaced by farm animals and an expanded petting zoo. The rest of us, or at least many of us, could breathe a sigh of relief.

Bringing back exotic living trophies from the far corners of the world for display in zoos began on a large scale during the colonial era. Once upon a time, before films and television existed, the practice could be defended as educational. Today, a National Geographic special is far more educational than a trip to the zoo. Let's start thinking outside the box in regard to the role of smaller zoos. And, in the case of the free-ranging larger species who need room to live their lives, it wouldn't hurt to get rid of the confining box altogether.

Monday, July 02, 2007

“I respect the jury’s verdict,” George Bush said, speaking oxymoronically. . .

. . . as he announced his soon-to-be-notorious Monday Night Massacre of justice, commuting Scooter Libby's sentence and turning off the White House phone lines. Clearly it's part of a two-step pardon process, implemented just hours after a Republican appeals court majority ruled that Libby must do his time pending appeal. Step 1 is designed to keep Scooter happy and not in a mood to flip as he awaits Step 2, the actual pardon on Bush's way out of office. This is nothing less than an obstruction of justice. Sounds more like a high crime than a misdemeanor to me, but it's definitely one or the other, and it's definitely time to get moving on impeachment. If this doesn't light a fire, we truly have become a nation of sheep.

Tragic fishing accident in Lake Geneva

Ouch! A placid enough scene, until you look more closely. Something dangerous seems to be lurking in the waters of Geneva Lake. A musky? A northern? It must have been quick and painless, though. The little ornamental fisherboy seems oblivious to the loss of his feet. (And his companion seems to be tempting fate.) Click on photo to enlarge in Flickr.

We missed the cicadas but enjoyed the Geneva Lake "talk, walk and gawk" Shore Path

The Midwestern emergence of the 17-year cicadas didn't reach as far north as Madison, so Sunday afternoon we set out for Lake Geneva, about 90 minutes to the southeast, near the Illinois border, chasing rumors that there were still some stragglers to be found there. Last chance for 17 years to see one of nature's marvels, so off we went.

The cicada hunt proved to be a washout (literally, since the only cicada we saw was a dead one that had washed out of the lake onto a breakwater). But we did see lots of the holes in the ground where they had emerged, leading to concentrations said to be as high as 1.5 million per acre in some places. And the futile quest prompted an internet search for answers. We found some on this PBS News Hour segment with Ray Suarez.

Why do they do it? What's with the swarming thing? It seems that most creatures -- dogs, squirrels, birds -- find cicadas a tasty treat, and the little "flying shrimp" have no natural defenses. So they apparently evolved a "predator satiation" strategy -- swarming in such incredible numbers that the predators can't eat them all, and enough survive to reproduce and perpetuate their species.

How do they do it? How do they keep track of time? Burrowing underground for 17 years, the cicada grubs have no access to such natural time cues as night and day and the changing of the seasons. Scientists say they live in the roots of trees and their bodies seem to keep track of the seasonal flux in nutrients and/or plant hormones and use that as their clock. After 17 of these cycles, they're primed to emerge from the ground and seek a mate when the ground temperature reaches 65 degrees in late May.

What was a disappointment in one respect was a discovery in another -- the Geneva Lake Shore Path. The entire lake, officially named Geneva Lake to distinguish it from Lake Geneva the town, but often called Lake Geneva nevertheless, is circled by a 21-mile public access path that cuts right through the yards of elegant, century old mansions along the lake.
Wealthy Chicago industrialists and their families first began to come here just after the Civil War. Usually, the wives and children would head north for the summer when the city's heat began to get oppressive; on weekends the businessmen would take the train up from Chicago to join them. Families with such recognizable names as Wrigley (chewing gum), Schwinn (bikes), and Maytag (washing machines) all had estates on the lake, and in some cases still do. Many of the extensive plots, however, were sold and broken up plots during and after the Great Depression. Most of the estates that remain are generally on private roads; the best way to see them is either from a boat cruise or on a public footpath that surrounds all 21 mi of the lake.

Although a lot has changed in Lake Geneva since the Gilded Age, when it earned the name "Newport West" for its many wealthy summer people, the town's main draw remains the same -- the lake itself. Technically called Geneva Lake to distinguish itself from the city that surrounds its northeast corner, this spring-fed body of water is the second deepest in Wisconsin -- 144 feet at its deepest point. Boating, water-skiing, parasailing, sailing, swimming, and fishing all continue to bring people to the lake. [...]

Geneva Lake Shore Path. One of the most popular tourist attractions in this area is a 20.6-mi path that winds around the lake. You can see mansions from the path, which is accessible through any public park on the lake. A map, called "Walk, Talk & Gawk" gives directions and points of interest. Shorter walks are also mapped out, including an easy 2-mi route. Maps are available free at the Lake Geneva Convention & Visitors Bureau at 201 Wrigley Drive, across from the pier. Lake Geneva, WI, USA. PHONE: 800/345-1020. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily.
Homeowners cope with the easement that gives the public access to their land with varying degrees of grace. In some places the path is as welcoming as it is above, paved with flagstones, bricks or gravel. In some places there's a concrete sidewalk. On the other hand, a place like Stone Manor (officially Younglands), the Italianate palace built in 1900-1901 by Otto Young, who made his money in Chicago real estate following the fire, and which was recently renovated and subdivided into condos, only has a dirt path along the lake. In some sections the path is bumpy, steep, or scattered with roots or small stumps that can trip up the unwary. One enterprising homeowner simply put sod over the path on his property, figuring people's reluctance to walk on other people's grass would keep people off (it almost kept us off, until we noticed that other walkers were undeterred, figuring that public access means public access.) It's a great walk, and you can go as far as you want to walk. We did about five miles.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The rhythms of nature, without booms

It's not even July yet, but the fireworks have already begun, complete with F-16s. June 30 seems a little early for all that, so we passed on Rhythm & Booms and headed to Olbrich Botanical Gardens instead. Fewer people, cars, traffic, and less noise. More vegetation, birds, bunnies, pollinators buzzing among the flowers. More serenity -- 16 acres of it.