Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pack of winter-crazed Madisonians seek redress, wielding their snowblowers

Part of Pat Schneider's story in today's TCT about the toll this winter is taking on city streets workers almost read like the script of an old vampire movie, except that the pursuing mob wasn't made up of backward villagers but 21st century Madison urbanites, and they were wielding snowblowers instead of rakes and pitchforks.
Take Carrie Riddle. Not only has Riddle, a city of Madison snowplow driver, worked every overtime shift offered since December, she was accosted by a pack of angry homeowners near East High School. Wielding snowblowers, they were determined to keep her from leaving the dreaded plow debris -- chunks of snow, boulders of ice -- at the end of their driveways.

"There were six of them" who were blowing snow on the truck, Riddle recalled Friday before starting on her shift behind the wheel from the east side city garage on Sycamore Avenue. "I swear if the doors weren't locked they would have pulled me out."
One more example of the how tempers are fraying and snapping under the steady accumulation of the ever-deepening, record-setting snow.

The article also offered a useful tip from another city snowplow driver: If drivers have worn icy ruts in the center of your street, don't drive in the slippery ruts. There's sand in the snow on both sides. Drive in the snow, and you'll not only get better traction, but you'll help spread the sand around.

The City of Madison's Near West Side is one of those damn hunting-free zones

The City of Madison's Near West Side Is a Hunting-Free Zone
Soon, law-abiding sportsmen won't be able to hunt anywhere, and when that happens, we will lose the proud heritage that made America great. Madison is a gun-lover's hell -- and this is just one more restriction of gun owner's rights by those anti-gun West Side liberals. They hate hunting and want to pry the last gun from the last cold dead hand of the the last law-abiding gun owner. It really sucks. Haven't they heard of the 2nd Amendment? (Photographed on upper Gregory Street, Madison, WI.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hillary Clinton: It could have been so different

It's starting to seem inevitable that in less than two weeks, Clinton will be decisively knocked out of the running by a vastly superior ground organization in Texas. She's not the first front-runner to blow a lead, but few have ever blown as big a lead, as spectacularly. Political scientists will be studying this one as a classic case study in hubris and mismanagement for years to come. And one thing they'll be documenting will be the monstrous incompetence -- and expense -- of her rich, talentless consultants, especially the poisonous Mark Penn.

As I posted recently, with friends like this, who needs enemies? I'm not sure which upset me more during the campaign -- his greed or his incompetence. If there any evidence that he has a good take on the issues, the voters, media, public relations, coalition building, or any of the other things that go into a winning campaign, I certainly never saw it. But he is expensive. I guess this is the route a candidate takes whose support is broad but not deep, who doesn't have the feet on the ground, and who is determined to go it alone. She keeps substituting money for sense, until both are in short supply.

I knew Penn and his ilk were expensive, but I had no idea of the staggering total until I saw the numbers in The Carpetbagger Report this morning. There is no other way to describe this than as an obscenity that makes a mockery of everything I thought she stood for.
About $15 million — or more than half of the New York senator’s January spending — went to a cadre of high-priced consultants. Though much of the cash went through the campaign media buyer for ad time, the considerable payments to outside consultants mark an increase in a pattern that has irked campaign insiders. From the beginning of the race through the end of last month, Clinton paid the consultants $33 million — nearly one-third of the $105 million spent by the campaign.
Think of it -- $33 million! Even a fraction of that would have enabled her to camapign more actively during February, that is, if she had actually had a strategy. Sure, she could still stage a miracle comeback -- but the vanishingly small odds of that happening are now about the same as the theoretical possibility that all the air molecules in a room would spontaneously migrate to one side of the room. And the way things have been going, she'd be stuck in the side with no air.

It didn't have to happen this way. She could have come to terms more honestly with the war, and campaigned more on what was right, rather than expedient and consultant-tested. She could have read the mood of the country better and run a more populist campaign. She could have reached out to kids before Obama ever had a chance to wrap them up. They're now excited about a historic first. Instead of telling them to grow up, she could have made them excited about another possible historic first. She could have made more savvy use of the internet -- especially if she had reached out to Kerry and gained access to his incredible database. She could have reached out to the "real president," Al Gore, the favorite of a large part of the party in the early going, and campaigned on reclaiming a White House that was stolen from him -- and us. But she decided to go it alone. And most of all, she gambled that the war would be dead as an issue in 2008, and she lost. We all lost.

TGIF Countdown: Fortunately, in 333 days George Bush will no longer "focus on foreign policy"

"In Final Year, Bush to Focus on Foreign Policy" declared the headline in yesterday's Washington Post. What a frightening thought. Think of all the damage he has done abroad for more than seven years without even focusing. Think what he can accomplish once he starts to focus . . .

Fortunately, the headline was misleading. The story beneath the head is about his travel schedule and about how he plans to spend more time abroad, in carefully selected locales where people actually turn out and show the kind of respect that's increasingly hard to find at home.
For a president in his final year in office and saddled with low poll numbers, heading overseas offers affirmation not always available at home. It has been years since President Bush drew crowds in the United States comparable to those he saw in Dar es Salaam, and it's hard to find U.S. highways named after him outside Crawford, Tex. Dancing women at home rarely wear his face on their skirts or blouses.
Good plan. He's wise to do his traveling now, while he still has the full majesty of the American presidency to back him up. At noon on Jan. 20, 2008, he will become a private citizen. As such, he might encounter foreigners who are sort of touchy about little things like war crimes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A bit of comic relief for tonight's Clinton-Obama debate, courtesy of the irrepressible Joe Lieberman

Iraq is bound to come up in tonight's debate. On the principle of "I have to laugh, because it hurts too much too cry," here's a bit of comic relief from the On-Again-Off-Again Democrat Joe Lieberman (they need his Senate vote when they can get it, he needs his committee assignments) -- Bush fanboy, McCain buddy, endorser and wannabe advisor and all around armchair warrior.
Lieberman likes expressions of American power. A few years ago, I was in a movie theatre in Washington when I noticed Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, a few seats down. The film was "Behind Enemy Lines," in which Owen Wilson plays a U.S. pilot shot down in Bosnia. Whenever the American military scored an onscreen hit, Lieberman pumped his fist and said, "Yeah!" and "All right!"
From From Jeffrey Goldberg's New Yorker profile of Joe Lieberman, quoted by Glenn Greenwald in his wonderful post about the neocon theorists of perpetual war against what they call Islamofascism, those stay-at-home cheerleaders of a neverending war against evil who brought us Iraq, won't consider cutting their losses and dream of more wars against people who hate freedom.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

T-o-n-i-g-h-t's T-o-t-a-l E-c-l-i-p-s-e

T-o-n-i-g-h-t's  T-o-t-a-l  E-c-l-i-p-s-e

Peter Patau Photo

The stuttering is from my frozen fingers. it's about 5 below now, about an hour after I took the photo. Fumbling around in the dark with bare fingers on tripod, exposed metal and camera controls just about did me in. It was sort of silly anyhow. I only had an 80-200 zoom, not long enough to do a really detailed closeup of the Moon. Rather than do something half-assed at the long end of the range, I zoomed back to 80mm and went for an impressionistic image of the moon in the trees with stars, cranking up the ISO to add a bit of pointillistic noise for atmosphere. I'm not sure it works, but for me it's a visual reminder of a really beautiful moment. After partially defrosting my fingers, T and I went back out in the icy darkness, no longer messing around with hardware, but just looking up at the cold, clear panorama of a magical winter sky with our own eyes.

Talking to a different kind of exit pollster after casting my vote in the Wisconsin primary

Iraq War Vet and a Different Kind of Exit Pollster
I found the voting experience last night deeply moving, all joking about cows in polling places aside. There were more than twenty kids sitting at tables filling out their same day registration forms. This happens sometimes in presidential elections, but I've never seen it in a primary. Everything they've said about Barack Obama bringing new voters into the process certainly seems to be true here in Wisconsin, where he pulled 17,000 people at Madison's Kohl Center just a few days ago, and where he went on to win by a landslide last night. Clearly, this was no ordinary ho-hum primary.

The sense that something unusual was afoot was reinforced when I was interviewed by my first exit pollster. But I found that Abbie Pickett, who braved a cold Wisconsin night armed only with her notebook and a pen, was not your usual exit pollster. She did not work for CNN or any of the news organizations. Instead, she was researching how people get their news for a paper in her research methods course at Edgewood College.

She asked about my media preferences for news, which include print and broadcast journalism but lean heavily toward the Internet and the blogosphere. She said so many people had told her the same thing, she was thinking about writing her paper about whether the Internet was replacing print newspapers.

She concluded by asking about how I had voted and I said that, although most guys in Madison did not seem to be voting for Hillary Clinton, this Madison Guy did -- although I probably would have voted for Edwards had he still been in the race, to try to give the platform a bit of a leftward nudge. I said the Democrats were lucky to have had three excellent candidates this year, and I was excited about voting for Obama in the fall.

That concluded the survey but we talked a bit more, sharing our mixed feelings about Hillary. I said I felt she had earned my support overall, but that I was troubled about her early stands on the war. Abbie and I shared our disappointment about her Iraq votes, but agreed that it was clear she had felt that as a woman trying to become commander in chief she felt she had to vote the way she did and not look back.

That's when Abbie told me she was an Iraq vet. Her Wisconsin National Guard unit was called up and she did a tour of duty there. She said she just couldn't believe the kind of media coverage the war was getting when she returned. She was so outraged that she decided to return to school to find out more about media and what can be done to improve the situation. I told her I was impressed by her dedication, and thanked her for her service. And she recommended iava.org, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America website, as a place to find out more about the veterans of these wars and their issues.

I was moved by this young woman who had returned from a hellhole I can only try to imagine, standing there in the cold night outside Madison's Dudgeon School, looking for answers. I was also moved by the kids inside the polling place. The war has not gone away as an issue. The country is sick of it, and our young people are reminding us we have to deal with it. The winds of change finally are sweeping across the country, and it seems fitting that it's increasingly likely the next Democratic presidential candidate will be the man who opposed that obscenity from the start.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Are brightly painted cows required by law to be displayed at Wisconsin polling places?

Is Every Polling Place in America's Dairyland Required to Prominently Display Bovine Statuary?
No, that's a mocking canard, probably started by our neighbors to the south, who have always been envious of our status as America's Dairyland. Wisconsin has no such requirement. It's strictly voluntary. (This is one of the painted cow sculptures from Cow Parade 2006.) Dudgeon School, Madison, Wisconsin on the night of the 2008 Wisconsin primary election.

Seeing Hillary Clinton at the Monona Terrace on the eve of the Wisconsin primary

Hillary Clinton Speaking in Madison on the Eve of the Wisconsin Primary

Peter Patau Photos

We were among the several thousand people who showed up on a cold winter night at the Monona Terrace Convention Center to hear Hillary speak emotionally about her passionate commitment to health care reform, economic and social justice and ending the Iraq war. She's not ceding Wisconsin to Barack Obama in today's primary without a fight. A lot is at stake today for her -- the Wisconsin primary is her last real chance to regain some of the momentum heading into the big primary showdowns in Texas, Ohio, and then Pennsylvanis.

The front of the hall is so stage-managed for the media at these events, with all the signs and the audience members selected to represent just the right demographics for the TV cameras. I prefer to see who has wandered into the back of the hall. These are among the 3,000 people who braved a very cold Madison night to make the trip to the Monona Terrace.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Spending Sunday in a floating, frozen world, getting ready for a blizzard that never came

The Floating World
Winter has been dealing us some double whammies recently, sending winter rains our way and then following up with an icy arctic blizzard that piles snow high on top of a frozen, icy substrate as hard as rock. Supposedly we were facing a similar scenario on Sunday, but the heavy snow never quite materialized. The rain did, however. Madison became a floating world Sunday morning, and streets were flooded all over town as ice and snow blocked storm sewers. So digging out the storm sewers was one Sunday project. Finding and getting to the sand to put on our walk after the expected freeze was another challenge.

After that, we pretty much stayed indoors and watched the floating world gradually freeze over. Eventually some of the precipitation turned to freezing rain, then a bit of sleet, and for awhile in the afternoon and early evening, snow. But the snow accumulation was far short of the 12" they had forecast, mainly because so much fell as rain. It was beautiful as it froze, but it will be hell on the roads during the Monday morning commute.

Monday Update: This winter is so weird that almost every weather event sets another damn record. Not only did our 3.5 inches of snow add to our record total accumulation of snow, now adding up to 83.7 inches, well above the old record of 76.1 inches, but we also set a rain record yesterday.
According to the National Weather Service, Madison received 1.36 inches of rain on Sunday, breaking the old record for the date of 0.47 inches set in 1975.
With all that frozen water under the drifting snow this morning, the roads were slick, with lots of slideoffs. One false move, and you find yourself embedded in a snowbank. Definitely a slow down and keep both hands on the wheel sort of commute. -- unless you're lucky enough to have President's Day off.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Don't walk away from me!" Sound and fury signifying nothing?

"Don't Walk Away from Me!"

Peter Patau Photo

I was about to leave my secret parking space on East Lakeside after yesterday's Polar Plunge at Madison's Olin-Turville Park when a cacaphony of sirens and flashing lights came speeding toward me.

Instantly the reflexes from a wayward youth during which I dabbled as a freelance photographic ambulance chaser awakened from their long slumber. I grabbed the D40x from the front seat of the car and raced toward the scene about a block away. As I ran toward the intersection of John Nolen Drive and Lakeside, I fumbled with the camera and manually dialed back the exposure comp 2/3 of a stop to avoid blowing out the highlights too badly in the contrasty midafternoon sunlight. I ran up to the flashing lights, firing away with the wide angle, figuring I could crop in tighter later if need be.

I encountered a mystery: three squad cars with flashing lights, an ambulance and a fire engine, all surrounding a taxi and another car with no visible damage, at least from my angle. I had no idea of what the fire engine was for. Nothing was burning. The only thing that seemed odd was that both cars were pointing the wrong way into the off-ramp from John Nolen Drive (that triangular sign is the back of a yield sign). Had one car possibly cut the other off during a turn? Had they swerved into these positions? I have absolutely no idea.

All I know is that, as I shot this photo, the police officer in the center of the picture confronted the cab driver who towered over him. With an irritated edge in his voice, he shouted these words at the driver:
"Hey -- I'm the one running this Investigation. Don't walk away from me! I need to talk to you."
Sound and fury signifying nothing? Who knows? I left about the time the fire engine left, and the various parties were still standing there discussing whatever had happened. It looked as if they might continue wrangling or some time.

(Note: To see all the detail in the photo, click on it to enlarge in Flickr.)