Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Crane Blogging: Sandhill on John Nolen checking out the ones on the Madison skyline

Sandhill Crane Ponders Manmade Cranes on Madison Skyline
Several years ago, we were bicycling on the John Nolen Drive bike path when we saw this Sandhill Crane by the side of the path, looking at the downtown skyline -- which included some very different cranes. It was back during the height of condo madness. I wondered if the Sandhill noted a family resemblance. More likely, it was probably thinking, "This real estate boom can't last." Smart crane.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What do you do for an encore after Al Roker goes to a Minuteman missile silo? Duck and Cover drills?

I couldn't believe my eyes. When I walked into the living room yesterday morning, Al Roker, the Today Show's ebullient weatherman, was visiting a Minuteman missile silo and command center in Montana -- addressing Armageddon with all of his customary gusto. "The most powerful weapons the world has ever seen!" he enthused. And his inquiring mind wanted to know how things worked. "These missiles have been sitting for a long time. How do we know they will work when we need them?" he asked. He was reassured that we had ample quality control procedures in place to ensure that Doomsday will come off as planned. (I tried to find a link to the video clip on the NBC site, but it doesn't seem to be there anymore -- maybe the Air Force found a security lapse somewhere in the picture, or just didn't want people studying the visuals for too long.)

It was flashback time for me. I haven't seen such cheerful optimism about The End of the World As We Know It since the old Duck and Cover days of Bert the Turtle. If you can breeze through a short update on nuclear devatation as part of a weather report, it can't really be all that serious, can it?

I couldn't help but wonder whose agenda was being served here. Stories like this don't just happen. Preparations have to be made. Several possibilities came to mind.
  • There must be some GE technology somewhere in those Minutemen. Maybe somebody in GE Public Relations woke up one morning and said, "We have to do more to promote our technology of mass destruction. Let's send Al Roker to a missile base."
  • Maybe the Air Force is seeking some good PR for upcoming budget battles. Maybe a Public information Officer woke up one morning and said, "Hey, let's invite Al Roker to a missile base."
  • Maybe we're planning to attack Iran and its nuclear sites, possibly with nuclear bunker busters. You don't use Minutemen missiles for that, but maybe the administration is trying to ramp up nuclear awareness a bit and at the same time desensitize the public to what's coming. Maybe Dick Cheney woke up one morning and said, "Hey, let's invite Al Roker to a missile base."
Call me a cynic, but I think the third is more likely. If they bring back Bert the Turtle, it's time to get scared. Really scared.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reinforcing gender stereotypes in Madison

These gendered Badgers are at Genin's Mobil-Hilldale on University Avenue. In the heart of Buckyland, Bucky is the one carrying the ball, while Becky is the one cheerleading. Sure, it's supposed to be cute and funny -- and if Bucky is equated with the University of Wisconsin football team, it's accurate enough. But is Bucky really a one-sport mascot? Doesn't Bucky represent all Wisconsin sports, and in a broader sense, the University as a whole? Seems like an odd message. How do these gender stereotypes fit in with the University of Wisconsin's stringent Bucky Badger licensing rules and regulations? Is there a compliance issue here?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Crows picking over the prairie burn on Madison's west side

Crows Picking Over the Prairie Burn on Madison's West Side
The crows had a ball at Owen Conservation Park on Madison's west side Sunday. Good fires make good prairies, and Owen Park is a good example. Pictures at the link show the profusion of grasses and flowers -- among them, coneflowers, goldenrod, and bluestem -- that will erupt from this scorched earth in scarcely more time than it takes for a phoenix to rise from the ashes. The contained burn is what keeps it going.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Why we've watched our last Kentucky Derby

I used to love to watch the Kentucky Derby on TV. There is nothing more beautiful than watching those magnificent thoroughbreds run their hearts out. I'll always treasure my memories of Secretariat's great races, his almost supernatural presence on the track. But first Barbaro in 2006, and now Eight Belles -- two great horses have died of injuries at the last three Derbies. And Eight Belles had to be killed right where she lay on the track, before people who bet on her to place or show had even cashed their winning bets.

There are kinds of beauty we have no right to enjoy, because the price is too great. We have watched our last Derby in our household. Modern thoroughbred racing -- with their over-bred, over-raced horses -- is nothing but socially sanctioned animal abuse. Sally Jenkins wrote about the moral crisis in thoroughbred racing in the Washington Post.
There is no turning away from this fact: Eight Belles killed herself finishing second. She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles for the pleasure of the crowd, the sheiks, oilmen, entrepreneurs, old money from the thousand-acre farms, the handicappers, men in bad sport coats with crumpled sheets full of betting hieroglyphics, the julep-swillers and the ladies in hats the size of boats, and the rest of the people who make up thoroughbred racing. There was no mistaking this fact, too, as she made her stretch run, and the apologists will use it to defend the sport in the coming days: She ran to please herself.

But thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it. Twice since 2006, magnificent animals have suffered catastrophic injuries on live television in Triple Crown races, and there is no explaining that away. Horses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them. Barbaro and Eight Belles merely are the most famous horses who have fatally injured themselves. On Friday, a colt named Chelokee, trained by Barbaro's trainer Michael Matz, dislocated an ankle during an undercard for the Kentucky Oaks and was given a 50 percent chance of survival.

According to several estimates, there are 1.5 career-ending breakdowns for every 1,000 racing starts in the United States. That's an average of two per day.
Enough is enough.