Friday, February 01, 2008

TGIF Presidential Countdown: Just 354 days until we finally close this HTML tag

The Internet Renders Its Verdict on Dubya in HTML
I photographed this presidential html tag graffiti in Madison recently, on the pedestrian overpass crossing Campus Drive.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama looked great in the CNN debate last night. One of them is bound to close the tag next January. She or he will will make history by being sworn in at noon on January 20, 2009, George W. Bush will leave office, and our long national nightmare will be over, or at least the country will be able to start waking up. Only 354 days and counting.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bush stumbles into the elephant in the room, but it seems nobody wants to provoke the elephant

Do you remember the fall of 2001? Not 9/11, which predated the autumn, but the actual late fall? Our postal service was paralyzed. The direct mail industry looked as if it would never recover. The most level-headed person I know put on rubber gloves and took a hand-addressed envelope with no return address out in the backyard to open it. (It turned out to be a birthday card.) People were seeing white powder everywhere.

When Bush said in the State of the Union that there had not been another attack on our soil since 9/11, you would think that the watchdogs in the press would have jumped on the contradiction -- but that would have meant talking about the elephant in the room with which Bush collided, and media are reluctant to disturb the elephant by talking behind its back. It was left to to Yglesias to note the oddness of the moment.
"There has not been another attack on our soil since 9/11" -- anthrax! Anthrax! Oh well. For some reason that whole episode has been officially erased from the historical record or something.
Atrios picked up on that.
Not everyone agrees, but I think more than 9/11 the anthrax freaked the country out. 9/11 was horrible, but the anthrax made it seem like we'd reached a new era where some horrible creepy shit was going to happen every day.
He's right. The anthrax, wherever it came from and there were those making the case that it came straight from Saddam, was exactly what it took to push the country into war. None of the other WMD stuff -- or the desire on the part of some to just go kick some ass -- would have sufficed. Nor would the smoking mushroom clouds -- if anthrax hadn't fueled the hysteria, the nuclear threat would have collapsed of its own phony weight. We won't ever really know how we got into this disastrous war till we find out who was behind the anthrax.

Not likely. To begin with, there's the sanity angle. People who get into this issue tend to start making lists of microbiologists who died of suspicious causes. Pretty soon the Times starts to run articles about people whose paranoia leads them to infer causal relationships from random clusters of events. And soon the investigators' friends start to shun them as whacko nutjobs.

And, of course, there's the self-preservation angle. The media were already targeted once. Why would they want to provoke the elephant? If startled, he might just kick up some more white powder, and then where would we be?

Did you hear the one about Madison's dailies merging into one big liberal superpaper?

Just ask ABC News senior national correspondent and blogger Jake Tapper. He'll even give you the name of the merged superentity.

In post titled "Obama in 2001: Rumsfeld in the Mainstream," Tapper writes about then-Illinois state senator Obama's praise in early 2001 for Bush's defense secretary nominee, Donald Rumsfield. (Illinoisians stick together?) It's an an interesting post about how much we don't know about Obama's earlier political life, but what really caught my eye was this quote, which Tapper uses to make the point that not everyone was so enthusiastic about Rumsfeld at the time, even though his appointment sailed through the Senate with no opposition.
But some liberal voices opposed him from the get-go.

"Rumsfeld is a throwback to Reagan- era approaches to defense policy and spending," editorialized The Capital Times & Wisconsin State Journal. "'Donald Rumsfeld is a dyed-in-the-wool hawk,' says John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World. The record confirms that assessment. Rumsfeld's unquestioning support of the Star Wars national missile defense plan; his support for flawed weapon systems such as the B-1 bomber, the Trident nuclear missile and the MX missile; and his history of opposition to the SALT II nuclear arms treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and other attempts to reduce the risk of nuclear war mark him as a primitive Cold Warrior.

Concluded the liberal newspaper, "Rumsfeld belongs in the history books, not in the Cabinet."
Either the Obama unity virus is catching and more contagious than I thought, or Tapper knows something we don't, merging the competing dailies together into one liberal superpaper, The Capital Times & Wisconsin State Journal. What happened, I suspect, is that Tapper was doing his research online and got lost in the maze of Madison.com and couldn't find his way out without getting confused about what the print version of this entity was called. He probably thought the relationship between the two dailies was the same as over in Milwaukee, where the Journal and the Sentinel did merge long ago.

That's one awesome newspaper name, though -- The Capital Times & Wisconsin State Journal. Conjures up images of John Nichols trying his hand at big, splashy front page service journalism features for Ellen Foley. Now that would be something.

As for Obama, you can't help wondering what other youthful enthusiams he has up his sleeve.

Keeping time in the snow, along Lake Monona near the Monona Terrace

Keeping Time in the Snow
Public art is often the art that people love to hate, and finding new ways to mock it seems to inspire many Americans to new heights of creativity. One work that has certainly inspired its share of abuse, some of which I quoted in this post last summer, is "Timekeeper," the 1983 installation by American sculptor Robert Curtis.

Partly it's the location: Sandwiched into a narrow strip of land (Law Park) between Lake Monona and a busy thoroughfare, for most people the sculpture is something they observe in passing, when it's easy to mock -- "What the heck was that?" -- since it's hard to tell what it's about in a quick drive-by. It needs to be experienced by walking in and around it.

Another reason it doesn't get more respect is that Robert Curtis (born in 1948) is not a Nationally Known Famous Artist. In fact, as I found when I researched my earlier post, he's damn near unknown, at least on the internets. Consequently, there's no Robert Curtis industry of gallery owners, critics, professors and other authorities to explain why his art is important, why it will dazzle you with its beauty and improve your soul. Or to make you feel like a loutish philistine if you don't know and appreciate the art of Robert Curtis. And so it languishes -- art to be seen, and forgotten, at 45 miles per hour.

However, I've loved this installation ever since it went up. Maybe it's just my contrarian sympathy for the artistic underdog, but I think it's more than that. This is how I put it last summer.
Among other things, I really groove on Timekeeper's playful allusions to such Neolithic "timekeepers" as the monument at Stonehenge -- the observatory of its time that marked the crucial passing of the seasons. To me, the upright rod is suggestive of a sundial. The circular concrete arc suggests the circular shape of other prehistoric monuments (also emphasized by the stone in the center) and recalls the movement of planets around the Zodiac with the passing of the seasons. And above all, Timekeeper is playful. Under its own bright blue bit of stylized, sculpted sky, it seems to invite the viewer to participate in some mysterious, whimsical ritual. Plus, you can sit on it.
This year is the installation's 25th anniversary. I hope it prompts people to take a new look, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hard times for Fox's version of "fair and balanced" -- couldn't happen to a nicer network

Eric Boehlert has some fun with Faux News in Media Matters. They're not having a great year, and it couldn't happen to a nicer network. Their problem?
Bottom line is that Fox News is in for a very rough 2008. And the umbrella reason for that is quite simple: Eight years ago the all-news cable channel went all-in on the presidency of George Bush and became a broadcast partner with the White House. Proof of that was on display Sunday night, January 27, during Fox News' prime-time, "Fighting to the Finish," an "historic documentary" on the final year of Bush's presidency. Filmed in HD and featuring "unprecedented access," according to the Fox News press release, the show was pure propaganda. (I must have missed Fox News' "Fighting to the Finish" special back in 2000, chronicling the conclusion of President Bill Clinton's second term and his "extraordinarily consequential tenure.")

The point is that Fox News years ago made an obvious decision to appeal almost exclusively to Republican viewers. The good news then for Fox News was that it succeeded. The bad news now for Fox News is that it succeeded.
The thing is, Bush can return to the ranch in Crawford and cut brush when his terms is over. Where's Faux News going to go? Back to the sewer?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

From balmy to arctic -- winter plays another of its practical jokes on the Madison area

The day in pictures (click on photos to enlarge in Flickr):

Tuesday, 9:00 a.m.
A warm, drizzly morning. Lake Wingra was melting and reflective as I drove through Vilas Park on the way to work.

Tuesday, 3:52 p.m.
In early afternoon the cold front cut through our area like a cold knife. The rain turned to sleet, falling on icy pavement, and then to blowing snow. A lot of people, including me, left work early to get a jump on the weather. With rotten visibility and a road that was bit slippery but not too bad, I took refuge behind a slow moving snow plow and followed it much of the way home. I figured it would clear out any problems in front of me.

Tuesday, 4:31 p.m.
Back in Madison, traffic moved slowly, the streets filled with slow moving rush hour traffic -- slow enough for me to grab my camera when I saw the dog walker up ahead on Wingra Drive, roll down the side window and snap a shot. These shots out the side don't usually work, but this one did. The woods in the background -- "lovely, dark and deep" -- are part of the UW Arboretum.

The catharsis of hurling putrid rotten tomatoes at the puppeteer and his puppet

Puppet and Puppeteer
Did you notice how, during Bush's last State of the Union address, Cheney didn't even have to look at his puppet to operate the controls? He had his arm behind the puppet's back, but that was all it took. By looking away like any good ventriloquist, he preserved the illusion that his puppet was speaking for himself.

For a while, I amused myself documenting the relationship with my camera while watching Bush's typically mind-numbing speech, but you can only do that so long before being overcome by the usual combination of anger and insane boredom. You need something to vent the rage. Something you can throw.

That's where the putrid rotten tomatoes came in. T had prepared them in advance, knowing how worked up I get. Sometimes you just have to throw something at the TV. These babies were made to be thrown. T had tightly balled up some old socks and wrapped them in red tissue paper with the labels shown. They had a good heft to them, similar to the real thing. Throwing them at the TV was deeply gratifying.

I was going to write down the words and phrases that triggered my throws (a few actually hit the puppet and his silent puppeteer right between the eyes) but I couldn't keep up. A reference to the last seven years being filled with stirring moments in the history of liberty was one. The fear-baiting grim reminder of evil men who despise liberty was another. But the air was soon filled with flying fake tomatoes, and there was no way I was going to stop throwing and start writing.

I finished the State of the Union feeling a lot less dispirited than how I usually feel after a Bush speech. Not a bad workout, and an incredible release -- just as good as real tomatoes, but a lot less messy. I can't recommend ritual fake tomato throwing too highly. Start saving your old socks now.

This may be his last State of the Union, but he's bound to give us more occasions to throw things before he's finished.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

They forgot to tell Frank Lloyd Wright there would be penguins

They Forgot to Tell Frank Lloyd Wright There Would Be Penguins
The Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center was adapted from designs by Frank Lloyd Wright. The plywood penguins are by Madison artist Timothy Browning, a former member of the Pail and Shovel Party who helped bring the Statue of Liberty to Lake Mendota. The penguins are one of the projects sponsored by the Madison Arts Commission's BLINK Temporary Public Art Program Winter Projects 2007-2008.