Saturday, August 04, 2007

What Goes Around Comes Around, or, the Making of an Homage to Ingmar Bergman

Once in awhile, it seems appropriate to pull back the curtain a bit. Because the homage to Ingmar Bergman (bottom) that I recently posted here and uploaded to Flickr, The Trees Dance their Homage to Ingmar Bergman, is so distant from its origins (top), I thought I might fill in some of the steps.

Last December we took one of our regular trips to the Milwaukee Art Museum. After spending some time in the gorgeous Santiago Calatrava wing, I went outside to try my hand, as photographers will, at photographing one of the most photographed buildings in the United States. It's an endless challenge. It was late in the afternoon on a dark, gloomy, snowless December day -- Bergman weather, I was thinking. Winter light. The first thing that caught my eye as I walked around the building in the brisk December lake breeze, was the prow of the building jutting out toward Lake Michigan and the nearby line of barren, wintry trees.

Something about the scene definitely reminded me of Ingmar Bergman. Partly it was the light. Partly it was the stark tree silhouettes, isolated against the gloomy sky. They reminded me of trees in Bergman's "Winter Light," not so much a specific scene as a feeling. And as I looked at the trees and framed them in the LCD screen, I was also reminded of "The Seventh Seal," and its famous closing scene of the people silhouetted against the sky in their dance of death. As they tossed and swayed in the wind, the trees reminded me of those figures.

The top image is one of the photos I took that day. I don't think it really worked all that well. Was it about the trees? Or was it about the building? Hard to tell. I forgot about it. But the image of the trees continued to return to me from time to time, especially in the days after Bergman died. I started to think I had actually taken a photo like the bottom one, but when I went back to check -- no such thing. I realized if I wanted that image I would have to make it myself. Which is what I did, and if you're interested in the process, click on the visual and it will take to the Flickr page with the images and my (somewhat long-winded) explanation.

Technical matters aside, the whole experience seems to illustrate something about the underground life of images, how they haunt our dreams and imagination, and how they sometimes come back, morphing into a completely different image, with no visible, external clue to its origins.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ann Althouse's terrorism meltdown on Wisconsin Public Radio, beating up on the liberals (again)

Don't miss "The cheese stands alone: Ann Althouse proven wrong in attack on wimpy, terrorist-coddling me," by Isthmus news editor Bill Lueders. It's his account of his run-in with the Madison blogging diva on a recent Wisconsin Public Radio "The Week in Review" show, hosted by Joy Cardin. The show has a point-counterpoint format and paired the liberal Lueders with Ann Althouse, presumably representing the conservative side, though as she's at frequent pains to point out, she's not really conservative. Or so she says.

I only caught part of it on the air originally, and Lueders account -- along with his follow-up -- is priceless. What set Althouse off was the recent "cheese with wires sticking out of it" airport security alert that got a lot of press coverage until it proved to be a false alarm, a development that, of course, got virtually no coverage.
"It sounds funny but it isn't funny at all," announced Althouse. "It looks like it was a dry run for a bomb on planes. There were four instances and one was in Milwaukee... . In fact, the block of cheese was the same consistency as a kind of explosive substance that could be used. And so it looks like they used the cheese with some kind of wires and devices around it to see if they could get it through security, and then if they could get that through security, they'd know they could get a bomb through."

[The entire Friday, July 27 show at 8 a.m. can be downloaded here, with the exchange starting at the 45:00 minute mark.]

Cardin gave some more information, then asked me if I thought the issue might be "yet another scare tactic." I didn't take the bait. Here is my reply:

"It's hard to say whether it's a legitimate threat. It could be, or it could be something that is being misinterpereted, either deliberately or accidently. We don't know for sure."

This really set Althouse off. Her face in the studio where we sat was a mask of pure shock. She sputtered her reply:

"I have to say. You're saying that. People are saying that..."
Althouse was just getting warmed up. As Lueders kept holding out for some sort of sane, wait-and-see skepticism about another of those media scares that usually have proven to be more smoke than fire, her rhetoric became more and more unhinged..

Be sure to read the whole thing, including the follow-up about the attack on Lueders in the comments at the Althouse blog, as well as the eventual debunking of the alert. It turned out to have been triggered by an ice pack carried by a woman who said, "I'm not a terrorist. I'm a 66-year-old woman with a bad back."

Will that revelation have any impact on Althouse's thinking? I doubt it. She needs these little scares to keep convincing her that she is right in supporting Bush and that all her liberal friends are flighty, irresponsible wimps.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

It's tobacco harvest time in Wisconsin, even though many people don't even know it grows here

Wisconsin Tobacco Harvest
I saw this on the way to work this morning -- a scene that was more common when I was a kid. Back then Wisconsin tobacco was grown as cigar binder leaf, and the crop was sustained by Depression era-price supports. Earlier, Edgerton in nearby Rock County called itself "The Tobacco Capital of the World." Many of the beautiful brick tobacco warehouses remain today.
By the turn of the century, Edgerton was referred to as "The Tobacco Capital of the World," with tobacco barons coming to the area to buy and sell the commodity. Only a few of the original 52 tobacco warehouses, made of locally produced brick, still stand, but several of those which remain are being used for the storage of tobacco and for other local businesses. To this day, the Edgerton community celebrates annually Tobacco Heritage Days.
The The Edgerton Heritage Days website (someone must have told them that having "Tobacco" in the name was not good PR in this day and age) has additional information about the history of this local crop. Until recently it was a history of decline.

The Wisconsin leaf was made obsolete for cigars by a new cigar-making process. The little bit that was still grown went into snuff and chewing tobacco products instead. Price supports declined, and public awareness of tobacco health risks didn't help. Who needed the hassle? The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently reported on the extent of the decline:
Overall tobacco production in Wisconsin has plummeted to the point where it's barely measurable in the $5.6 billion a year state agricultural industry.

Sixty years ago, the labor-intensive crop covered nearly 30,000 acres in the state. Today, that has shrunk to about 1,000 acres and is confined to a few small regions, including Dane, Rock and Vernon counties.
That may be changing. The Journal-Sentinel reports that Philip Morris is signing contracts for burley tobacco for cigarettes with Wisconsin farmers. Today there are 200 acres in burley. Two years ago there were none. It turns out that Wisconsin grown burley has (somewhat) lower levels of carcinogens than the southern variety. It has to do with our long, relatively cool growing days as compared to southern states. Who knew?

The trees dance their homage to Ingmar Bergman.

The Trees Dance their Homage to Ingmar Bergman
I miss him too.

UPDATE: So does Mike Wilmington.
Throughout his life and unrivaled career, he was dismissed by some critics as arty, pretentious and too apolitical. But those judgments say far more about his critics than about his work. The young Bergman loved film noir (especially the thrillers of Raoul Walsh and Michael Curtiz), and he once called western movie master John Ford the greatest living director. He was no snob, and he could be scathing when he detected snobbery in others.

He was my favorite filmmaker -- and only partly because my maternal grandparents were Swedish, and I loved the rhythm of his actors, his speeches. Through the years, I met some of those actors, including Liv, Max and Bibi, but never Bergman himself. That dark, smiling, brilliant presence, locked away on Faro, eluded me.

But in a way, I've always known him, ever since the first time I saw Wild Strawberries as a college freshman and fell in love with Bibi as Sara. Since then, I've loved his films and his people with the special intensity of a youthful crush that grows and deepens throughout a lifetime -- and that never dies. He never will, and his movies never will.
Wilmington, who began his career as a film critic with Isthmus here in Madison, before moving on to the LA Times, and then the Chicago Tribune, has returned to the pages of Isthmus with a weekly video rundown. His graceful and touching tribute to Bergman includes an annotated list of available DVD releases.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One of these days David Petraeus will look more closely at the light at the end of the tunnel...

David Petraeus Finds a Light at the End of the Tunnel ...
... and realize it's an onrushing freight train surging toward him from behind. Hasn't happened yet, but it's only a matter of time. Meanwhile, he basks in being Dubya's new best buddy and boss. Frank Rich:
"It was The Washington Post that first quantified Gen. Petraeus' remarkable ascension," Rich writes. "President Bush, who mentioned his new Iraq commander's name only six times as the surge rolled out in January, has cited him more than 150 times in public utterances since, including 53 in May alone."

Rich adds, "And so another constitutional principle can be added to the long list of those junked by this administration: the quaint notion that our uniformed officers are supposed to report to civilian leadership. In a de facto military coup, the commander in chief is now reporting to the commander in Iraq. We must 'wait to see what David has to say,' Bush says."
By the time the train runs over Petraeus, he wil have served his purpose. Bush will have successfully passed on the forever war to a Democratic president. Unless. We. Stop. Him.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Portrait of the future president as a young woman?


The Sunday NYT's article about Hillary Clinton's youthful letters to a high school friend who was attending Princeton while she attended Wellesley offer a revealing look at the formative years of the woman who seems likely to become the next president of the United states. In one sense, the existence of the letters is yesterday's news -- Gail Sheey drew on them for her 1999 book, Hillary's Choice. What's new is the letters being so prominently showcased.

The letters provide a revealing look at an earnest young woman during the time she is casting off the Republicanism that she grew up with and casting her lot with the Democrats, first as a volunteer for the Eugene McCarthy campaign. The letters show the self-conscious wrestling of a young person who sometimes feels she likes the idea of helping others more than she actually likes other people. She wonders whether one can be a compassionate misanthrope.
By the summer of 1967, Ms. Rodham — writing from her parents’ vacation home in Lake Winola, Pa. — begins referring to Republicans as “they” rather than “we.”

“That’s no Freudian slip,” she adds. A few months later, she would be volunteering on Senator Eugene McCarthy’s antiwar presidential campaign in New Hampshire. By the time she delivered her commencement address at Wellesley in 1969, she was citing her generation’s “indispensable task of criticizing and constructive protest.”

But in many ways her letters are more revealing about her search for her own sense of self.

“Can you be a misanthrope and still love or enjoy some individuals?” Ms. Rodham wrote in an April 1967 letter. “How about a compassionate misanthrope?”
The illustrations the NYT used with the online version of the story did not have the intensity and poignancy of the closing line of this letter in the print edition, so I took a picture (for easy reference after she's elected). "Me (the world's saddest word)" -- the phrase shows Hillary first wrestling with the deeply personal question that confronts every public servant -- and which is only amplified in elective politics. Are you running to serve others, or simply to pursue your own ego gratification?

It takes virtually unlimited presumption and enormous ego to run for president in this huge, contentious, and highly competitive country. How do you justify the necessary ego, when it often seems to violate the very ideals that drove you into public service in the first place? Needless to say, these contradictions are all the more difficult when the candidate is a woman. It's fascinating to see how long ago Hillary Clinton started wrestling with these issues.

Lake Mendota and the State Capitol from the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path

Lake Mendota and the Wisconsin State Capitol from the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path
The view along here hasn't changed much since 1915, except that the downtown skyline has filled out a bit. Meanwhile, a whole generation of willow trees that were planted along the lake years after the picture was taken have grown old, been designated hazard trees, and been taken down.
Replace some deteriorating willow trees that have been identified as "hazard trees" and could pose a threat to path users during windy days. [...]

Brown says the difficult decision to replace trees — for both safety and path re-grading purposes — was made to ensure long-term protection of path users, and the environmentally and technologically sensitive areas nearby. Most of the trees that will be replaced were planted by the university in the 1980s and are already showing signs of decline.

The path was called University Drive in this 1915 photo from vfm4's 1915, Madison, Wisconsin Set. It was renamed as a memorial to Howard Temin after the untimely 1994 death the University of Wisconsin's molecular geneticist and Nobel Laureate (Medicine, 1975) who had not even been born when the older photo was taken. Howard Temin shared the Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of reverse transcriptase. A strong opponent of cigarette smoking, he died of lung cancer at the age of 59, although he had never smoked.