Saturday, June 07, 2008

Madison weather -- nothing but lightning bolts all week long, seven straight days

Storm Clouds Blanket the Madison Isthmus
The clouds and the light were so dramatic yesterday I had to drive over to Brittingham Bay and capture the moment. I've been shooting a lot of skies the last few days. It's because of the weird weather we've been having. The threat of rain and thunderstorms has been almost constant, punctuated only by sudden outbursts of sunshine -- sometimes the whole sky clearing temporarily, other times only a few rays of sunlight slanting under the clouds, like the glancing light turning the trees on the Madison isthmus such a bright, almost neon green.

Nothing But Lightning Bolts All Week LongCheck out those weather icons lined up at the bottom of the screenshot (click to enlarge) from yesterday's local weather report. I don't think I've ever seen seven lightning bolts in a row. Last winter's record snowfall seems to be turning into its summertime equivalent.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Iraqis not wild about keeping Forever War going forever. What's wrong with those people?

According to The Independent, the Bush Administration is trying to quickly wrap up a binding agreement to keep 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors pretty much forever, but the idea is encountering resistance both from the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people. No kidding.
A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

[...]

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."
Ungrateful wretches. Don't they know who their friends are?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Maybe this should be "Walk Up" instead

Perhaps This Needs to Be Rewritten
For all those people running on fumes because of high gas prices whose tanks ran dry a couple miles back.
Though national statistics on out-of-gas motorists don't exist, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that drivers unwilling or unable to fill 'er up are gambling by keeping their tanks extremely low on fuel.

In the Philadelphia area, where the average price for a gallon of regular broke $4 on Friday, calls from out-of-gas AAA members doubled between May 2007 and May 2008, from 81 to 161, the auto club reported.

"The number one reason is they can't stretch their money out from week to week," said Gary Siley, a AAA mobile technician.

"Some of them are embarrassed. ... They say, 'I was trying to make it till Friday,' and they couldn't do it," said Siley, who has assisted numerous out-of-gas motorists.
High gas prices = increased cardiovascular fitness?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Burning food in a world of food riots and skyrocketing grain prices

Golden Hour
Here in the Corn Belt, times are good for farmers. But the world is absent-minded. Every once in a while, it forgets to feed many of its people -- at least at a price they can afford. Usually this is a systemic crisis in which pockets of plenty coexist with pockets of deprivation. The system breaks down, and food doesn't get to the people who need it at a price they can pay. This happened in the Great Depression, when crops were burned in an effort to curb surpluses that were depressing prices -- at the very time that there were people going hungry.

This was long seen as a regrettable failure of a broken system. It was fixed through a combination of ag subsidies and surplus programs. Since the Great Depression, we have not needed to resort to burning crops. Until now. But it's less dramatic today. It happens every time people gas up with biofuels, especially the widespread gasoline/ethanol mixture. Mountains of corn are being burned in the engines of the nation's cars -- while elsewhere people are overburdened by high food prices or forced to do without.

Ethanol production is not the only cause of the world's food crisis. But it adds to the strains of an already overburdened system. Fields are converted to corm production, creating shortages that drive up other grain prices, and with today's high oil prices, ethanol producers can easily bid up the price of corn. The result is a snapshot of a system in crisis. Leo Lewis wrote about this recently in the Times Online.
When it comes to the food crisis, it is not difficult to cast biofuels as the villain of the piece: biofuels are new, the food crisis is new and the two seem connected intimately.

Even villains can serve a purpose. In this case, biofuels have been a barium meal for the globalised economy, exposing the astonishing fragility of food and energy supply so that the correct treatment can be applied.

By giving food a starring role in the energy debate, biofuels have revealed the lengths to which we will go to drive our cars cheaply. If food riots are the grim outcome of that new role, biofuels have rung an important alarm over the sustainability of the internal combustion engine.
Looking back at the old, faded Depression-era photographs of crops being burned, we can't help but wonder, what was wrong with those people? Today's automotive crop combustion is less dramatic, but something is still wrong with the picture.

Truly historic moment

Historic Moment
Barack Obama's claiming the nomination last night was a truly historic moment, but I had a question: Now that Mommy and Daddy have stopped fighting, is it safe to come out again? Will things return to normal now in the Democratic Party, the progressive blogosphere and the mainstream media? Will there be an end to the nonstop misogyny directed at Clinton and the endless arguments that Obama is not "electable," with its scarcely veiled racist overtones? I'm optimistic about the Democrats and the blogosphere. There seems to be a real hunger to come together and unite against the Republicans. (I'd still like to see that Obama-Clinton dream ticket. What else can you do when two candidates end up splitting the delegates nearly equally?)

About the media, I'm not so sure. It was weird. On MSNBC Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw and Keith Olbermann all seemed to visibly relax for the first time in ages now that it seemed certain the presidential race would be a good old boys' club again, without that pesky woman nipping at their heels. It wasn't so much what they said -- precious little of which was about the first woman to make a real run at the presidency -- as their manner and the fact that there wasn't a single woman sharing the screen with them. And what they didn't say: Two people made history in this campaign, but in their wrap-up they really only talked about one of them.

No sooner had Barack apparently secured the nomination, but they started to cut him down to size as well. Russert said something about how Obama will now have to demonstrate to the whole nation that he's capable of being commander in chief. And then Brian Williams began an emotional recital of John McCain's heroism in North Vietnam, being shot down, imprisoned, wondering if he should have lived his life differently. Huh? I got the feeling they thought Obama was fine when he was running against Clinton, but now that he was running against their hero, a real man's man -- well, maybe he was just the new John Kerry.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Lake Wingra, Madison's smallest, most meditative lake

People and Water
Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent- minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries - stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever. -- Herman Melville
If meditation and water are wedded for ever, in Madison the marriage bond is probably tightest on Lake Wingra, the smallest, most natural of the three lakes in the city. It's peaceful because recreational use of power boats is restricted, and because so much of this small, urban lake is surrounded by public land -- wetlands (UW Arboretum) or parks (Vilas Park, and its much smaller cousin just to the west, Wingra Park, where the photo was taken). It's a spring-fed lake, and, yes, there is magic in it. (Mark your calendar: June 14th is the annual Lake Wingra clean-up and teach-in at Wingra Park, followed by the Jazz in the Park neighborhood festival.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Entropy weighs heavily on Frank Lloyd Wright's A. D. German Warehouse in Richland Center

Crumbling
Back when Highway 14 used to run directly through Richland Center it went right past the A. D. German Warehouse. You could look out the car window and see this landmark, Frank Lloyd Wright's only building in his hometown.

Entropy Weighs Heavily on FLW's A. D. German WarehouseNow that there's a bypass, you have to make a short side trip into town to see the structure, which we did Saturday while driving to the Mississippi River. The building was closed, the light was a bit harsh, and there wasn't much time for photos -- just enough time to shoot an overview and a few details of this building that seems to be losing the battle against time. (Additional photos in this set on Flickr.)