Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wishing you a happy and peaceful new year!

Wishing You a Happy and a Peaceful New Year
With the emphasis on peace.

Sun sets on a troubled decade most of us would do over (and better) if we could

Sun Sets on a Troubled Decade We'd Do Over (and Better) If We Could
Paul Krugman:
Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn’t begin until 2001. Do we really care?)

But from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.
Krugman goes on to chronicle how bad the decade was economically for the average American: basically zero job creation; zero economic gains for the typical family; zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early; and zero gains for the stock market, even without taking inflation into account.

And he doesn't even mention other traumas that never seemed to end: The disputed 2000 election; the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center; the Iraq war; and now (again) the Afghanistan war; right on up to the would-be Northwest pants bomber.

It can only get better, right?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I pointed my big, fat superwide lens at the federal courthouse and nobody hassled me!

I Pointed My Big Superwide Lens at the Federal Courthouse Yesterday
Although the Sigma 10-20mm zoom on my Nikon D90 is a pretty impressive piece of glass, nobody came out and hassled me. Amazing! In the past I've been hassled.
"What are you doing?" asks the security guard. He looks like he could be a retired cop -- trim but a bit heavyset, with thinning gray hair and glasses. He looks very suspicious, and he's not smiling.

"I'm taking a picture," I reply. "I really like this building. It's fun to photograph."

"Taking a picture? Then why are you so close? You can't even get the whole building in the picture from here. People usually shoot from back there on the sidewalk.

"Why do you have to be so close?" he asks again, fixing me with a skeptical look. "This is a federal building, and we have to be careful."

"I have a wide angle lens, so I have to get close" I say. "Here. Take a look through the viewfinder. It's really cool."

"No, I can't see through that with my glasses. Do you have any ID?"
Other Madison photographers have also been hassled, even getting into extended correspondence with officialdom about it. But yesterday afternoon, nothing. Nada. There were guards right inside the door, but they never came out. Maybe it was too cold. Or it was the spirit of the holidays. More likely, the bright neon entrance of the Kenton Peters Kastenmeier Federal Courthouse -- which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year -- is such an obvious tourist photo subject they usually don't bother.

But stay away from the alley out back, or the parking lot.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

She's lovely -- and she's coming back soon

Coming Back in February
In case you missed Jay Rath's Isthmus story about the reappearance of Lady Liberty on Lake Mendota during the Christmas rush, you can check it out at the link.
"The face that launched a thousand postcards" is now owned by the Hoofers outing clubs, part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate. A volunteer committee is at work, planning for its appearance Feb. 7 through 15, during Hoofers' Winter Carnival.

"We're hoping for an easier time this year," says Paul Davidsaver, Hoofers council president. "There was a lot of restoration that needed to be done last year. We ended up getting it in pieces in the UW's Stock Pavilion."
The picture Isthmus used as an illustration was the photo I took last year, during the statue's first appearance on Lake Mendota of the new millenium.
I first saw the bicyclist as a tiny speck in the middle of Lake Mendota's frozen wasteland. Gradually he came closer. He looked as if he had ridden his mountain bike all the way across the lake. When he got to the Statue of Liberty, he got off his bike and stared -- like a weary traveler discovering that the mirage on the horizon is actually real, or at least something physically resembling reality. Only in Madison.
It's great to know that the condition of Madison's Statue of Liberty has been stabilized and that it will continue to reappear in the winter.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"The system works" -- I guess that means the Transportation Security Administration doesn't

Who doesn't wonder when they take a plane whether all that TSA folderol actually accomplishes anything other than to build the world's largest collection of confiscated pocket geegaws with sharp edges? I like to think that TSA is more than the do-nothing federal job creation caricature critics make it out to be, but like a lot of folks, I wonder now and then. The sorry saga of the would-be Christmas Day skybomber on that Detroit flight certainly gives critics of TSA lots of ammunition.

But the real confidence-shaker was the way Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano limped on a single leg from one Sunday morning talk show to another with her other foot planted firmly in her mouth, two full days after the event. It was amazing she could talk at all with her mouth so full. She told CNN the incident demonstrates "the system works." She said the same thing on This Week when I was was watching. I couldn't believe she said what I thought she said and had to turn to the internet to confirm it.

If you take what she said literally, she seems to be advocating an extreme privatization approach to homeland security in the air -- that is, making it the responsibility of individual brave, quick-thinking and resourceful passengers. I doubt that's what she meant. But since it's impossible to figure out what she really did mean, can't President Obama at least reassign her to some distant Homeland Security outpost where she would have no operational responsibility whatsoever and wouldn't have to talk to the press? Someplace like Antarctica?

And while he's at it, he might show some real concern and urgency about ending the track record of hapless security bungling that seems to be taking place on his Administration's watch lately. They shouldn't have gate crashers at the White House, and they shouldn't be letting a person they were warned about board a U.S. plane with pentaerythritol trinitrate taped to his leg.

Update: Now she says the system didn't work after all. Which is it? We haven't seen such an example of complacent cluelessness in public for some time. "Heckuva job, Brownie."

Looking back at the snows of December and the University Avenue Holiday Lights

Looking Back at December's Snows and the University Avenue Lights
Hope you had a great holiday and, if you live in the Madison area, had a chance to drive by the University Avenue Holiday Lights a few times. Here's one last look back, seen through the snow accumulation of this December. The winter will be that much darker when the lights are turned off in the new year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Many Madison drivers turn to faith-based driving in Wednesday's pre-Christmas snowstorm

Drivers Turn to Faith-based Driving in  Pre-Christmas Snowstorm
I took this at a very slow shutter speed as I was stopped at a light near the Capitol Square Wednesday afternoon. In the photo the Capitol seems to be surrounded by a flock of flying electric birds. They reminded me of the old expression "flying on a wing and a prayer" -- probably because it described the way a lot of people were driving. They seemed to think they were flying, and some apparently turned to divine guidance as a kind of super-GPS to get them through intersections.

You could see why. They were getting off work and had a zillion things to do to get ready for Christmas. Suddenly they were confronted by snow and sleet and slippery conditions, tangled traffic, and dire threats from the weather peeps that they better get everything done now because it's only going to get worse, with snow turning to freezing rain and possible ice storms and power outages. So much to do and so little time!

Some people just cracked under the strain. Their minds just shut down and gave up on the idea of driving for the prevailing conditions. Instead, they drove fast and didn't think about stopping. A red light? Just close your eyes and cruise right through.

I saw this happen so many times that it seemed to be a pattern. Solipsistic drivers flying down the road fatalistically. The idea seemed to be what will be, will be -- but until then they would just keep on moving along. Fast. They had things to do. They seemed to be navigating by sheer faith, using prayer as a GPS substitute.

But I didn't see any accidents. Who knows? Maybe faith-based driving works, although I have my doubts.

Hope you navigated safely through our nasty weather this week and Happy Holidays!

Santa loses his hat to the weather

Santa Loses His Hat to the Weather
Everybody came out looking a bit bedraggled in the weather that moved in Wednesday afternoon -- including these four-footed Madisonians in Midvale Heights, much given to seasonal attire.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What will happen if some version of the Senate's healthcare reform bill doesn't pass now?

The bill that was passed in a 1:00 a.m. vote in the Senate Monday is so awful, so compromised, so filled with handouts to healthcare lobbyists, so downright corrupt that it's driving a lot of liberals out of their skulls with frustration. Many feel that no bill would be better than this mess. Mocking the "'Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good' crowd," Arianna Huffington is part of the chorus of voices calling for this bad bill to be defeated so we can start over.
There are many reasons for hoping the current Senate bill doesn't become law. But the biggest reason of all is the desperate need for a DC pattern interrupt. The desperate need to draw a line in the sand against the continued domination of our democracy -- and the continued undermining of the public interest -- by special interests.
Just how is this "DC pattern interrupt" going to happen? What's going to make the special interests go away? Nothing -- as the "draw a line in the sand" metaphor unconsciously suggests; after all, the tide always washes away the line in the sand.

In an earlier era, there were lefties who rejected liberal reforms because they were calling for a revolution that would never come in this country. The "line in the sand" is the same sort of thing.

Liberal calls for defeating this bill seem to reflect a misunderstanding of how reform happens in the United States. What if LBJ had bailed on Medicare in 1965 because the special interests made it impossible to cover the whole population? Would that have been a good thing?

Bismarck created universal healthcare in Germany more than 125 years ago, in 1883. Almost immediately, American reformers started pushing for our own version. In 1916 the reformers seemed to be on the verge of success. Then the special interests started pushing back. They've been pushing back ever since.

And if the current bill is defeated under savage attack from both the right and the left, what will be remembered are not the liberal talking points but the attacks from the right. The historical narrative that will become the conventional wisdom will be that there was a populist uprising of Americans who did not want the government to come between them and their doctors. That Americans refused to let government dictate their treatment. That the people rose up against government death panels. Etc. There will be a (totally phony but effective nevertheless) consensus that "the people have spoken." No Congress will dare to touch the issue for a decade or more.

If we want to stake everything on first taking on the special interests and taking them out of the process entirely, why hasn't this approach succeeded in more than a century? Unfortunately, this really is the best we can do for now. Pass the bill. Then take on the special interests.

Celebrating the rebirth of the light in the darkness of the Winter Solstice

Celebrating the Rebirth of the Light in the Darkness of the SolsticeLight, the warmth of flame and candlelight, darkness, ice, snow, the setting of the sun and the return of the sun are all things we associate with the Winter Solstice in our part of the country. That's why we've been celebrating the Solstice in recent years with candles in improvised ice lanterns.

Celebrating the Rebirth of the Light in the Darkness of the SolsticeThis year T and M outdid themselves and made these molded ice sculptures to serve as lanterns. T made the flower shape above. I think of it as a sunflower. M made the orange ice lanterns that glowed so beautifully against the snow. We drove to our destination with the lanterns in the trunk so they wouldn't melt.

Celebrating the Rebirth of the Light in the Darkness of the SolsticeMy role was documentarian and pathfinder, finding a way through the snow and ice toward a location of T and M's choice. I was able to demonstrate to them where not to step on the ice right along the shore, as my left foot broke through thin ice into icy water. Nothing dangerous, just cold and wet.

We moved on to this little tree and T hung the ice candle flower, and the two of them lit the little lanterns and set them on the snow. We watched the candles flicker in the December darkness, with night coming on. They were still there, glowing in the night, as we walked back to the car. We hoped someone would come by along the path, maybe walking their dog, and see the mysterious lanterns in the dark, maybe even walking over and being surprised to find they were made of ice. Eventually, the candles will go out, the lanterns will melt, and it will be as if they had never existed, except as Solstice memories. Happy Solstice!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Madison artist Djam Vivie carries on the traditional African wood carving craft of his native Ghana

Djam Vivie, Madison Musician, Woodcarver and Drum Maker
If you missed this article in Isthmus during the holiday rush you can read Joe Tarr's story online here: "From the Ashes."

Djam Vivie, Madison Musician, Woodcarver and Drum MakerIt's the story of a remarkable Madison artist, who, among his other accomplishments, is using the power of his art to help heal a wound of Madison's past.
With his sculptures and carvings, Djam Vivie likes to imagine he's giving something a new life.

A native of Ghana, Vivie started carving wood when he was 14, learning the craft from both of his grandfathers. In his east-side home, he carves drums, masks and furniture, all in the style of his native country.

"When I see a tree that is dead," Vivie says, "I try to give him a second chance and turn him into a work of art."

With his latest project, a series of four African-themed chairs, Vivie is trying to give a second life to a piece of art that was destroyed by arsonists 23 years ago on Madison's south side.
Vivie is also trying to help pass on the tradition of carving that he learned as a boy in Ghana, watching his grandfathers practice the craft.
He worries that the craft from his homeland is being lost. On recent trips back to Ghana, he laments that most of the carvers are doing inferior work. "Mostly the craftsmen in Ghana are producing mass quantities because of tourism."

With some other carvers, he hopes to begin teaching a class next year. "This is a traditional craft," he says. "It'll get lost if people don't learn it."

Vivie was leading some classes on drumming at the South Madison Library when he saw a picture of The Tree of Life. Vivie recognized the carving style as southern African. He offered to make, not a replica of the piece, but a tribute of sorts, for the library.

"All art is a piece of work, so I appreciate all art," he says. "I don't see why art should be offensive."
I photographed Vivie for the Isthmus article and really enjoyed meeting him, seeing him at work, and photographing some of his creations. I've posted some additional photos from the shoot in this Flickr set.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Heark! The sheep are risen!

Heark! The Sheep Are Risen!
And have cast off their snowy blankets. I don't know if they melted their way out from under the snow, or whether somebody shoveled them out. Tokay Boulevard, Madison.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is a deeply flawed healthcare bill better than no bill at all? Yes. Pass it. Please.

Now that the Democrats seem to have their 60 votes lined up to pass the Senate bill, the question is, should they pass it -- or has it been so compromised that no bill is better than the one under consideration? Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is among the liberals who say no, start over. Taibbi argued against passage on Bill Moyers Journal on PBS last night.
Taibbi argues that the bill "doesn't address the two biggest problems with the health care crisis... and additionally is a big give-away to the insurance companies." He says there will be better chances for reform in the future, "I think it's much better for the Democrats to lose on this issue and then have to regroup maybe eight years later, six years later, and try again and do a better job the next time then to have it go through."
I like Taibbi, but to this I've got to say, "Are you totally out of your mind?" We don't have "maybe eight years, six years." Millions people are suffering right now, and need what even a compromised bill offers. Everyone would benefit from the ban on pre-existing conditions. Etc.

Besides, if Obama loses this one, I think there's a good chance that Sarah Palin will become the first successful third party candidate for president in 2012, winning a three-way race pitting her against a weakened president with a reputation for ineffectuality and a clueless Republican.

I'm with Krugman on this. Pass the bill.
Whereas flawed social insurance programs have tended to get better over time, the story of health reform suggests that rejecting an imperfect deal in the hope of eventually getting something better is a recipe for getting nothing at all. Not to put too fine a point on it, America would be in much better shape today if Democrats had cut a deal on health care with Richard Nixon, or if Bill Clinton had cut deal with moderate Republicans back when they still existed.
This isn't the time to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Pass the bill.

LED lights give the Capitol tree a cooler vibe

Wisconsin State Capitol Holiday Tree
Although it's a big tree, the holiday tree in the State Capitol is dwarfed by the soaring rotunda. It used to be a Christmas tree, of course, but those days are long past. Now it's a holiday tree.

Wisconsin State Capitol Holiday TreeThat's not the only difference. It also looks different, and it's because of the LED lights. Although I agree with the objective, the ubiquitous energy-savers emit a cool wavelength that just doesn't have the warmth of the older incandescent lights, at least to my eye (the camera's eye, too). Those little curlicues of glowing filament that produced incandescent light, were our last link with the glowing candles of an earlier era. We just have to move on, I guess. Since the tree stands in a formal space to begin with, the tree with its LEDs would seem almost too austere, verging on sterile, save for one thing -- the marvelous decorations made by schoolchildren from all over the state. There are stars, Santas, snowflakes, snowmen and all manner of mysterious objects that are impossible to classify. What matters is the innocent exuberance of children making things for Christmas the holidays. The lights might be cooler, but the kids' handiwork is as warm as ever.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Madison's water meets legal standards, but that doesn't mean everything in it is healthy

According to That Tap Water Is Legal but May Be Unhealthy in Thursday's NYT, many communities meet legal standards for water quality while their water contains levels of contaminants that exceed accepted federal health standards. Madison is one of them.

How can a community's water be both legal and unhealthy? Easy. As the Times explains:
The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal.

Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times.
The article is based on studies compliled by the Environmental Working Group and has links to a database in which readers can find test results for their own city.

The Times' compilation of the data for the Madison Water Utility identifies 5 contaminants found to be below legal limits, but above health guidelines. Another 30 contaminants were found to be within health guidelines and legal limits. And finally, another 97 contaminants were tested for but not found at all in Madison water. Another link lets you check EPA health violations, and Madison has never had one. What does it all mean? The Times uses a more conservative analysis of the data than the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and on their chart Madison seems to come off pretty well.

There's also a link to The EWG analysis for Madison, which seems to have a more sensitive threshold than the Times. For example, it red flags the unsafe managanese concentrations found in some areas of the city several years ago, a problem that since been cleaned up.

What the EWG data does include is a comparison with national averages. By that standard, we might not want to be too quick to congratulate ourselves on our water quality. For example, we have exceeded health guidelines for 14 chemicals vs. a national average of 4. And a total of 35 pollutants were found vs. a national average of 8.

When I was a kid, we were told in school that Madison water was extraordinarily pure because it has been seeping down from northern Wisconsin for millions of years underneath the protective covering of limestone bedrock. Or something like that. But I suppose in the modern world nothing stays pure forever. Water filters and bottled water look better and better all the time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Madison's Barnes & Noble opens up their wifi network because of their Nook E-reader

Barnes & Noble Opens Up Their Wifi Network Because of the Nook
The Nook is the new E-reader (and Kindle competitor) from Barnes & Noble. I'm not quite ready for an E-reader yet, though I stopped for a demo (the pages seem to turn a bit more slowly than on Amazon's Kindle, but I like the design of the Nook a lot more). But I love the impact of the Nook on Barnes & Noble. Because one of its unique features is that you can read books on the Nook for up to an hour in the store without buying them (just like browsing dead tree books), Barnes & Noble enabled public wifi throughout the store (previously their Starbucks cafe followed the usual Starbucks paid access model). So I was able to blog and Flickr while waiting to get tires put on at Sears. Woo-hoo! (The post onscreen is an upcoming post on water quality in Madison.)

Unfinished boutique hotel and monument to irrational exuberance at Regent and Monroe

Unfinished Monument to Irrational Exuberance at Monroe and Regent
I always wondered if the business plan for this planned boutique hotel was written on the back of a napkin by irrationally exuberant alumni in a Camp Randall skybox who wanted to party on after a Badger football game but faced the unwelcome prospect of bucking postgame traffic. The business plan must pretty much have been a restatement of what was on their minds at the moment: Wouldn't it be great if we had a place we could go right across the street? Never mind that it's on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in Madison. That traffic access and parking are huge problems. That a hotel at this location would be sold out for seven home football weekends a year and have no real purpose any other time. Don't let negative thinking get in the way. Push on.

Unfinished Monument to Irrational Exuberance at Monroe and RegentActually, the reality was more mundane. It was just a developer who had some land he wanted to develop. Originally he wanted to put up condos, but the neighborhood shot that down. He switched to a hotel proposal, but it was deemed too big. He downsized it -- thus the boutique hotel. He came up with the idea on his own, without the help of alumni in skyboxes, as far as we know. He wore down the opposition, got permission to demolish the old building that housed the Copper Grid, and began construction in November, 2008. He hoped to complete it in time for the fall football season, but missed that deadline. Still, the building was nearing completion when construction halted in mid-October. Recently Kraemer Brothers, the contractor, filed a $3.7 million claim against Sieger LLC, the Madison-based developer, and there's no indication when the matter will be resolved. Meanwhile, the UW Fieldhouse and Camp Randall Stadium are reflected in the windows of the unfinished building, and snowdrifts pile up in the unused entryway.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Does the conservative belief in individual responsibility end when it starts snowing?

Apparently so. That's my takeaway from listening to the Vicki McKenna show (WIBA-AM, 1310) when I was in the car this afternoon (something I rarely do as a Wisconsin Public Radio listener, but the radio was still tuned to the station that carried the everyPackers game). McKenna is Madison's best-known on-air conservative ranter, Madison's own female Rush Limbaugh, whose mission in life seems to be to blame Madison liberals and public officials for everything bad she can think of. For days now she's been having a field day with the city and county snowplowing after the recent blizzard.

Sure, the city made some mistakes. They could have done a better job. Mayor Dave said so and apologized -- but, jeez folks, this is ridiculous. We had a 14" blizzard and then the temperature fell down around zero, always a nasty combination. Everybody just had to suck it up and deal with it. This is Wisconsin, after all.

But here was McKenna complaining about her drive on County M: "I was white-knuckling it all the way, even with 4-wheel drive." Oh, the poor thing. Public officials and their inadequate snowplowing was endangering her life. Whatever happened to the conservative belief in individual responsibility? How about slowing down if there's too much snow and ice? How about taking responsibility to maintain control of your vehicle yourself? Instead, McKenna and her callers were complaining that government wasn't doing enough to help them.

But now the secret is out. Conservatives believe in individual responsibility -- but only until it starts snowing. Then they want the government to bail them out.

What I was doing a year ago -- standing in an icy rain, looking down a frozen State Street

Madison One Year Ago Today, Looking down State Street
Today it's snowing gently. We're just supposed to get a few inches. One year ago today, a freezing rain was falling in Madison, coming down almost horizontally in a fierce, gusty wind. I took this photograph standing outside the Capitol, looking down State Street, protecting my camera with a little umbrella that threatened to disintegrate in the icy gale. (At least I had an umbrella. I can't imagine what the bicyclist felt like.) Now the photo is in the December issue of Madison Magazine, above editor Brennan Nardi's column.

A sign, its soon-to-be-famous painter and his mom

The Sign, the Painter and His Mom
Photographers naturally seem attracted by photos of billboards and other signs. I made a screenshot of this 1954 photo because I like it so much. It shows a Coca-Cola sign in Minnesota, as well as the sign painter and his mom. The painter was James Rosenquist, who started out as a commercial sign painter and went on to bring the sensibility of sign painting to Pop Art. He's probably best known for the painting, "F-111," a huge multi-part work made in 1964-65. Rosenquist has written an autobiography called "Painting Below Zero" (which includes this photo). The book is reviewed in this week's New York Times Book Review.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Tokay Boulevard sheep are sleeping under a blanket of snow

The Tokay Boulevard Sheep Are Sleeping Under a Blanket of Snow
The Christmas display on Tokay Bloulevard on Madison's west side is one of those that people make a point of driving by every year, even if they have to go out of their way. The shepherd is keeping a watchful eye on his flock, but they're sleeping under their glowing blankets.

This year they got buried by the blizzard and will remain under their coverlets until their electric warmth melts some of the snow. Here's what they look like in a more normal year, when they are on top of the snow instead of under it. (I never can pass the scene without thinking of the Philip K. Dick title that became the movie, "Blade Runner" -- "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?")

What's a little snow for the UW Marching Band?

Band Practice
Not much stops the University of Wisconsin Marching Band. Certainly not snow and frigid temperature (the director jokes that he doesn't believe in wind chill). I was on campus late Friday afternoon and was looking for a way to get out rhough the clogged rush hour traffic when I passed the band on the practice field near Lot 60, where I parked illegally for a few minutes to take some pictures. As I approached they were debriefing after a number that was more energetic than coordinated. Of course it was energetic. The only way to keep warm was to move vigorously.

"We'll do it one more time from the top, and then we'll be hanging it up for the day," the director said. "It's about 8° (F). They say you can't really blow when it's colder than 18° (F). So you're doing great. The wind chill? I don't believe in wind chill."

Friday, December 11, 2009

President Obama's Oslo speech in 45 words

I was going to write a long post titled "Achieving peace through just war: Orwell meets Aquinas in Obama's Oslo speech," but since the speech was so weightless and is already in the process of being forgotten, it hardly seems worth the effort. I'll leave the commentary to one of the fans of the speech, Sarah Palin, who summed it up in 45 words if I'm counting right.
"I liked what he said," Palin told USA Today newspaper, even adding that she had mentioned similar themes about "the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times" in her recent book "Going Rogue: An American Life."

"Of course war is the last thing any American I believe wants to have to engage in, but it's necessary. We have to stop these terrorists over there," she added.
And that's why in Palinland we have to send 100,000 NATO troops, mostly our own, in pursuit of an estimated 100 of those Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, which comes to about $1 billion for each individual terrorist. In Obamaland as well. Isn't it nice that they agree?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cars with those spiffy snow hats: As dangerous as they are cute

Cars with Snow Hats: As Dangerous As They Are Cute
In weather like this, by the time you've got your windshield and windows brushed off (or shoveled out), you're probably exhausted, or freezing, or both. You figure you'll get the roof later. That's why lots of cars were driving around Madison today still sporting these spiffy white hats. They're cute as hell.

They're also dangerous. The problems is that, while the snow on top gets crustier and harder as time goes by, the foundation tends to give way at unpredictable moments as the car warms up. At first the snow pack seems held to the roof by countless icy, sticky fingers. Then suddenly, with no warning, the bottom layer melts from the warmth of the car and the whole thing can go flying. It might fly backwards when accelerating from a stop sign. No problem, except maybe to annoy the people in the car behind you if it all falls on the hood of their car. The real problem happens the other way around -- when you're in traffic and have to hit your brakes. The whole thing can slide down and cover your windshield, with the crusty snow on top holding it together as a single sheet that just sits there and blocks your vision until you can get out and clear the windshield.

I once saw this happen near Park and University, when a driver braked for student jaywalkers and the snow cap came down on the windshield like a shade. They were blind until they could stop the car (in traffic) and get out and push the snow aside. Nobody was hurt, but it was a close call.

It can take forever to brush a foot of snow off the roof. Forget the brush. Just push the snow off with a shovel -- a few passes will do it. You might be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The real snow began after dark

The Real Snow Began After Dark
That's when it really started to come down hard. The 7.1 inches of snow that fell before midnight yesterday in Madison set a new record for Dec. 8th, breaking the previous record of 7 inches set in 1977. We got roughly another 7 inches or so by this afternoon, for a total of 14 inches, give or take a bit depending on where you live. Power lines were down in some areas, knocked down by tree branches overloaded with snow. There were the usual injuries as people started digging out from the deep, heavy, wet snow, which overtaxed many snow blowers.
Steve Van Dinter, spokesman for St. Marys Hospital, said the emergency room has had seven amputations already today from snowblower accidents. “It’s all guys,” he said. “Fingertips are gone or even worse.”. . . Mae Knowles, a spokeswoman for Meriter Hospital, said the emergency room also had received at least three people today with "severe lacerations" to their hands from trying to clear obstructions from snow blowers.
Pretty nasty autumn weather, since it's not actually winter yet. The good news is that as the new El Nino settles in, we're likely to have less snow than usual after New Year's.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The really big storms start out slow and easy

The Really Big Storms Start Slow and Easy
It didn't snow much in Madison this afternoon, a few flakes here and there, scarcely more than flurries, an inch at most. But you could tell from the light that something was on its way.
THE sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.

-- John Greenleaf Whittier
And then the real blizzard hit.

Winter storm warning? Bring it on, says the steelhead down at Wingra Boats

Winter Storm Warning? Bring It On Says Steelhead at Wingra Boats
They're saying there's going to be a lot of snow headed our way this afternoon, evening and much of tomorrow -- and there's an official winter storm warning. We can expect as much as a foot or more of snow, high winds, falling temperatures and blizzard conditions. This guy doesn't look too worried. Of course, he doesn't have to drive.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Using a kayak as an icebreaker on Lake Wingra


Ever wonder what a kayak sounds like breaking through a thin film of fresh ice, like an icebreaker riding up over the arctic ice sheet? Or what paddles sound like chopping through the crystalline surface? This is what they sounded -- and looked -- like Sunday morning on Lake Wingra in Madison.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Autumn's remains freeze over ahead of the big snowstorms

Autumn's Remains Freeze Over Ahead of the Big Snowstorm
These oak leaves were entombed in ice near the shore of Lake Wingra Sunday morning like prehistoric relics preserved in amber. Now you see them, now you won't -- the snow storms predicted for early this week will lay down a white blanket that's not likely to be lifted until spring.

The hardworking crew keeps the runway clear so the big planes can take off

The Crew Keeps the Runway Clear So the Big Planes Can Take Off
Most of Lake Wingra had a thin icy skin this morning, which didn't seem to particularly please the Canada Geese that winter over hereabouts rather than migrating. They're bigger than the migrators, and also seem smarter. Although they can take off and land on ice, they would prefer not to -- especially when it's new and could break under them. (It's understandable -- how would you like to run along the ice in your bare feet while beating your wings?) They seemed to have figured out that if they paddle along single file through the icy film on the lake, they could break the ice and clear a channel of open water to serve as a runway for takeoffs and landing, of which there were many.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Lake Wingra on cold December day: This must be what it looks like when hell freezes over

Lake Wingra:  I Think This Is What It Looks Like When Hell freezes Over
It was very cold today, with a fierce windchill. Although it was sunny for part of the day, the white snow everywhere just reflected all the solar energy right back where it came from and it didn't warm up much. (Global warming remedy -- just cover the entire earth with talcum powder?)

I drove through Vilas Park with my camera. Mostly the usual hackneyed first snow scenes. Lake Wingra was still open, the shoreline fringed with ice and peppered with snow. The wind was whipping the waves up into a choppy froth. One result was this white foam, piled up by the wind along the shore next to the Lake Wingra Dam. It didn't act like any lake foam I had ever seen. It had solidified into these cells of frozen white glop, forming a regular, strangely organic pattern, the ridges hardened like baked meringue and edged with ice.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The inalienable American right to be stupid about health insurance

Jill Lepore's brief history of health insurance reform in the New Yorker is enough to make you think that the right to be stupid about health insurance is as deeply American as reverence for mom, the flag and apple pie. It sure goes back just about as long.

More than 90 years ago, in the wake of other progressive reforms like workers comp, universal health insurance was rapidly gaining momentum.
"At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without compulsory health insurance,” the Yale economist Irving Fisher said in a speech in December. December of 1916, that is. More than nine decades ago, Fisher thought that universal health coverage was just around the corner. “Within another six months, it will be a burning question,” he predicted.
Well, not exactly. Although the idea had widespread support -- including the American Medical Association -- it ran into a snag. In his speech, Fisher made this observation:
“Germany showed the way in 1883,” Fisher told his audience. “Her wonderful industrial progress since that time, her comparative freedom from poverty . . . and the physical preparedness of her soldiery, are presumably due, in considerable measure, to health insurance.”
He was referring to the year that Otto von Bismarck introduced his health insurance bill in Germany -- the same Bismarck who unified Germany and laid the groundwork for the capitalism on steroids that made turn-of-the century Germany an industrial and military juggernaut. And that was the snag.
The United States declared war with Germany in April, 1917. Health care was dead. Critics said that it was “made in Germany” and likely to result in the “Prussianization of America.” In California, where the legislature had passed a constitutional amendment providing for universal health insurance, it was put on the ballot for ratification: a federation of insurance companies took out an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle warning that it “would spell social ruin to the United States.” Every voter in the state received in the mail a pamphlet with a picture of the Kaiser and the words “Born in Germany. Do you want it in California?”
And there you have it. The inalienable right to be stupid -- since health insurance worked for our enemy, we shouldn't have anything to do with it. Cut off your nose to spite your face, whatever.

In today's NYT Paul Krugman writes about the current healthcare struggle Reform or Else. Given the nonstop history of stupidity for most of the last century, the odds are it will prevail again -- unless we make our voices heard.

The Canada geese seemed to be talking about Madison's first snow of the season

Talking About the Weather
Canada geese in Vilas Park during Madison's first real snow of the season. At least they weren't driving. A couple inches of fluffy stuff started falling during the afternoon rush hour, causing numerous fender benders, slideoffs and rollovers and a few more serious accidents. There always seem to be people who need to relearn each year that the white stuff is slippery.

View Large On Black

Thursday, December 03, 2009

From Eisenhower's military industrial complex to our military industrial state


Michael Moore was on the Larry King show after Obama's Afghanistan speech Tuesday night. It was a curious King segment, because at one point King read back to Moore from Bob Herbert of the NYT starting his column on Afganistan last Monday by quoting President Eisenhower.
“I hate war,” said Dwight Eisenhower, “as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

He also said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those are cold and not clothed.”
In another speech, his 1961 Farewell Address, Eisenhower coined a phrase and issued a warning that's nearly fifty years old, for all the good it's done us.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Before Obama's speech, Moore published a similar warning about misplaced power, An Open Letter To President Obama On Afghanistan urging him to reconsider and not escalate. He faulted Obama for giving in to what he saw as military pressure.
It is not your job to do what the generals tell you to do. We are a civilian-run government. WE tell the Joint Chiefs what to do, not the other way around. That's the way General Washington insisted it must be. That's what President Truman told General MacArthur when MacArthur wanted to invade China. "You're fired!," said Truman, and that was that. And you should have fired Gen. McChrystal when he went to the press to preempt you, telling the press what YOU had to do. Let me be blunt: We love our kids in the armed services, but we f*#&in' hate these generals, from Westmoreland in Vietnam to, yes, even Colin Powell for lying to the UN with his made-up drawings of WMD (he has since sought redemption).
Two warnings, separated by nearly half a century. The difference seems to be that in 1961, when Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complex, it was seen as a future threat to the existing civilian control of the military that was thought to exist then. Today, we're way beyond that. The military industrial complex is so yesterday. Today we live in a military industrial state, and when Moore says "we are a civilian-run government," it almost sounds like wishful thinking.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

All your holiday needs in one place: Santa costumes, pink flamingos and drugs

All Your Holiday Needs: Santa Costumes, Pink Flamingos and Drugs
Mallatt Pharmacy & Costume, Madison.

Afghanistan: Barack Obama has a dream

The trouble is, it's a dream wrapped in wishful thinking inside a fantasy. So many things in his tepid speech at West Point don't add up that it's tempting to interpret it in political, rather than strategic, terms.

The Afghan surge only seems to make sense if it's seen as an attempt to buy some political cover while staging a disguised withdrawal that can be spun as a victory. But that's also a fantasy. There are too many powerful interests that benefit from the Forever War. The time to stand up to them was now, when Obama still has some public support -- not 18 months from now, when his popularity is likely to have suffered the same fate as most wartime presidents.

It's not the first time the U.S. has escalated a war in pursuit of illusory goals based on a profound lack of understanding of the local culture. The biggest fantasy of all is to see Afghanistan as a "country" in the sense that words like "central government" and "government security forces" have any sort of meaning we recognize. The corrupt Karzai government we installed in power and continue backing after his fraudulent "reelection" has virtually no power outside Kabul.

The Afghans are a fiercely independent people living in different ethnic regions with no tradition of strong central government. Loyalties are to clan and tribal leaders, not a central government, and we're not about to change that in 18 months. (Their last real central government was the one backed by the Soviets, which lasted only as long as it took for opposing tribal groups to get organized and overthrow it.)

Juan Cole's excellent, knowledgeable analysis in today's Salon is especially good on the different ethnic loyalties and the role they play, and how the situation in Afghanistan is completely different from the one in Iraq, which is why the surge in Iraq makes such a poor model for the one in Afghanistan.

As Cole point out, the Afghan government is dominated by Tajiks, while Afhanistan's largest tribal group are the Pashtun (also a minority, but one with a plurality of the population). The Pashtun definitely don't like being ruled by Tajiks, so backing the Karzai government puts us on the wrong side for much of the population.

Guess who else backed the Tajiks? Yes, Cole notes -- the Soviets.
The implication is that often, when we speak of Afghanistan National Army troops patrolling Pashtun villages alongside U.S. or other NATO forces, we may well be speaking of Tajik troops doing so. Many Pashtun clansmen are fiercely proud and independent, and would be humiliated by having Tajik soldiers lord it over them. (In Afghanistan, Pashtuns often unfairly depict Tajiks as soft, urban and effeminate.) The only thing worse than Tajik dominance would be what the Tajiks brought along with them -- Western Christian soldiers outfitted like astronauts. Ironically, the Tajik dominance of the old 1980s communist government of Afghanistan, and their alliance with Russian troops, were among the reasons that impelled the Pashtuns to mount a Muslim insurgency in the first place.
The Soviet government's insistence on using force to support the rule of a Tajik-dominated government eventually brought down the Soviet empire. Now we seem to be making the same mistake, in more ways than one.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

President Obama announces $30-billion expansion of war on cancer to West Point oncologists

Telling West Point Oncologists About $30-Billion Boost in War on Cancer to West Point Oncologists
We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country.
Surrounding himself with a military environment, patriotic symbols and medical metaphors, President Obama explained his Afghanistan treatment plan to the nation from West Point. Some in his audience were the very oncologists who will be charged with carrying out his anti-cancer regimen, which consists of targeting and knocking out al Qaeda and bad Taliban cancer cells, while distinguishing good Taliban cells, which may be turned into non-malignant cells with the right treatment. Or something like that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Madison snatches another sunny, snowless, above-freezing day from winter's calendar

November 30, 2009
November 30, 2009: An enterprising cyclist hauling his boat home for winter storage this afternoon. Probably about time. The racing shell had been stored on the rack in Wingra Park. This time last year they had already been ice fishing on Lake Wingra for a few days. It's been a warm November, but actually only our fourth-warmest.

Promises vs. reality: Whatever happened to those 5 million green collar jobs?

Greenhouse Effect
Although slowed by the recession, power plants and motor vehicles are still spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Global warming hasn't gone away, but the will to do something about it seems to be ebbing, given the more immediate concern about jobs.

On ABC's This Week Sunday morning there was a story on a new ABC Washington Post poll that showed eroding support for action on global warming.
On policy, 76 percent now favor unspecified government action on global warming, down from 86 percent in summer 2008. This now includes 55 percent who favor the United States taking steps even if countries such as China and India do less; that's down from 68 percent.
The discussion focused on how people seem to want to do something about global warming during good times, but put the idea on the back burner when they're more concerned about jobs. The talking heads focused on "either or" rather than a connection between the two -- that is, the idea of creating "green collar" jobs in industries that lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.

That seems odd, given that little more than a year ago, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were campaigning on which of them could more effectively create 5 million new green collar jobs. The goal was featured on Obama's website and helped create the aura of fresh new thinking and hope associated with his campaign.

What happened? At the very time we need jobs and we need to do something about global warming, hardly anyone is talking about addressing both concerns at the same time by funding new green jobs and technologies. One exception is that voice in the wilderness, Bob Herbert at the New York Times -- but nobody seems to be paying attention.

In two recent columns Herbert talked about his visit to Detroit. The first described the devastating urban blight and unemployment in the city that used to be the world leader of the auto industry. He talked to Detroit native Harley Shaiken, a professor at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.
“We’ve been living with the illusion that manufacturing — making things — is so 20th century,” said Mr. Shaiken, “and that we could succeed by concentrating, for example, on complex financial instruments while abandoning the industrial base that sustained so many American families.”
The second column was titled Signs of Hope and was about creating jobs in the new green technologies pioneered by Stan Ovshinsky, inventor of amorphous solar panels and other green technologies.
The point is that these (and many more) brilliant, innovative technologies are here. They are real, tangible. They exist. What’s needed now is the will to develop policies that will vastly expand these advances and radically reduce their costs. The United States should be leading the world in the creation of whole new energy technologies and industries, instead of allowing the forces of the old carbon-based industries — coal, oil, gasoline-powered vehicles — to stand obstinately in the way of real progress.

“Now,” Mr. Ovshinsky told me, “is when we have to build the new industries of the future.”
We've been hollowing out real jobs and replacing them with financial manipulation for years now. It's as if Americans decided to stop making things and skip ahead to making money directly, without any of that messy work that used to be involved. We see where that's gotten us. Maybe it's time to take another look at those 5 million green jobs.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

When healthcare is all in the luck of the draw and a losing hand can be fatal

Healthcare in America is all in the luck of the draw, and a losing hand can be fatal. Life and death decisions about medical treatment are made not by mythical government-run death panels, but by our patchwork health insurance system of coverage for some and none for others and the way it can end up denying the most basic human right of all to those without.
A Harvard study, to be published next month in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that almost 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year as a consequence of not having insurance.
That's from Nicholas Kristof's Op-Ed in today's NYT, Are We Going to Let John Die? The study he mentions doesn't include the unnecessary pain, fear and suffering of many thousands of other people. Kristof writes of a heartbreaking case in Oregon that involves not only excruciating 24/7 pain but may well result in one of those premature deaths due to lack of insurance coverage. His column begins this way:
If Joe Lieberman or other senators came across John Brodniak writhing in pain on the sidewalk, they presumably would jump to help him and rush him to a hospital.

Unfortunately, an emergency room won’t help — indeed, the closest E.R. has told him not to come back, he says. So, for those members of Congress who are wavering on health reform, listen to John’s story.
Read John's story at the link. It will break your heart, and you'd have to have a heart of stone not to wonder how this could happen in the richest country in the world. We like to think of ourselves as advanced, but we still practice human sacrifice. How can we sacrifice so many lives each year on the altar of some kind of free-market ideology?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The day before Thanksgiving was another day of umbrella weather, but then it snowed

Umbrella Weather
The last couple of days have given Madison the dreariest kind of November weather -- dark, gray and gloomy, with a cold, all-day drizzle. Snow would definitely be an improvement.

First SnowAnd, just like that, we got our first snow Wednesday night. It couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be snow or rain, or whether it wanted to stick around. In the end it decided to hang around a little longer, although it was expected to melt later today. But at least it was here long enough for us to spell out our very best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From "Yes You Can" to "Yes We Did" to "Yes, but What Did We Do?"

From "Yes You Can" to "Yes We Did" to "Yes, but What Did We Do?"
Did we elect President Obama to escalate the war in Afghanistan (in a speech at West Point, of all places) and follow in the footsteps of another Democratic president who was destroyed by escalating an unwinnable war? Did we elect President Obama to deal with the economy by putting foxes in charge of the chicken coop? Did we elect him to take a hands-off approach to healthcare reform so that lobbyists could write the legislation?

Yes we did, apparently. Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday. Looks like we're in for some interesting times afterwards.

The University Avenue Holiday Lights are back

The University Avenue Holiday Lights Are Back
The University Avenue Holiday Lights -- making the grayness of the season a little less gray and more colorful. They seem to have been part of the Madison holiday season forever, but it was 1995 when Madison dentist Dr. Jack Kammer started illuminating the wall of 228 arborvitae trees he had planted earlier along the University Avenue railroad right of way.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Segoe and University: Personally, I think a Tarzhay would be a big improvement

Personally, I Think a Tarzhay Would be an Improvement
This is the corner of Segoe and University at Hilldale that was excavated two years ago to make way for the bold new vision of developer Joseph Freed & Associates' new Hilldale: "Shop it. Live it. Love it." New condos were going to flank a big, new Whole Foods. Then the market softened, and the condos fell through, to be replaced by a proposed hotel and office building. Then those fell through. Then Whole Foods pulled out. The hole remained.

Now Target wants to build a store here, in their new urban configuration. Some object to bringing in a Big Box. Others are tired of looking at the Big Hole. I think the novelty has worn off the hole. Sure, it added a nice backdrop of seedy urban grunge to the glitzy Hilldale scene, but eventually that gets tiresome. A Tarzhay would be a nice change of pace -- especially for downtown and near west shoppers who want to buy a pair of socks at a reasonable price without commuting to the far western burbs.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22 compared -- 2008 vs 2009

Lake Wingra Freezes in Black and White
I took this picture of Lake Wingra exactly a year ago today. This year the lake doesn't seem close to freezing, and the weather today was more like that of a warm day in early April than one in late November, except the grass was a bit greener than it usually is that early in April.

A Quiet Moment on the Southwest Bike Path, November 22, 2009This is what it looked like during an unusually quiet moment on the Southwest Bike Path. Most of the day it looked more like the Beltline at rush hour, with bicyclists, roller-bladers, joggers and walkers all getting out to enjoy the extraordinary weather. The weatherman said the high was 58°F, but it seemed warmer -- and on the asphalt corridor warming itself in the sun, it probably was.

Start of Brett Favre late-season collapse? Not.

It's late in the third quarter, the Minnesota Vikings are leading the Seattle Seahawks, but the Vikings' starting QB has come out of the game. Is Brett Favre injured? Has his 40-year-old body finally succumbed to the rigors of a long NFL season? Is this the beginning of his predicted late-season fade, expected by lots of folks based on his poor performance in the final games of last season with the NY Jets (when he was playing injured and not making a big deal of it)?

Um, not exactly. Favre was healthy enough for a personal career-high 88% passing day (also a Viking single game record), completing 22 of 25 pass attempts for 213 yards, with no interceptions and four touchdowns -- the 22nd time he has done that, breaking Dan Marino's career record for most games with four TD passes. Oh, and a not-too-shabby QB rating of 141.7.

So why did he leave the game? The coaches wanted to rest him and give Tarvaris Jackson some playing time. Maybe everything has worked out for the best with the Packers trading away Favre. The Packers really do need a young quarterback who can take a physical beating, because he has to play without the protection of an offensive line. If Favre were still in Green Bay, he'd probably be in the hospital by now, instead of resting in the fourth quarter. His new team gives this NFL legend the perfect way to extend his playing career.

Friday, November 20, 2009

There's nothing like a library on a rainy night, and if there's an art exhibit inside, so much the better

There's Nothing Like a Library on a Rainy Night
Doesn't a cold, dark, rainy night make you just want to curl up with a good book? Or stop at the library on the way home to see what they have? That's what drew me to the Sequoya Branch of the Madison Public Library last night.

In addition to books, I found some local art that brought back memories. Since 1977, the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission has been producing an annual poster featuring art by a local or state artist. The posters have appeared in so many places around town over the years that to see one is often to be transported to a memory of when and where you first encountered it.

Now the Cultural Affairs Commission is showing a selection of posters from over the years at Sequoya through the end of the year. If you get a chance, drop in. It might be a trip down memory lane for you. And it's also a great chance to see selected work by local and regional artists in the form of posters -- each designed by Phil Hamilton, emeritus professor of art at the UW-Madison. For more information about the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission check out their website.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Weather only an octopus could love

Octopus Weather
It rained most of the day today and was generally dark and yucky. Nice weather for octopi, that's about it.

Doesn't mean a person can't sit in the car and play with the camera. This was outside Octopus Car Wash on South Park Street, Two exposures, two different lenses: One shot wide open with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 to focus on the raindrops on the windshield and throw the background out of focus and produce the blurred highlights. The octopus was photographed with a tele-zoom at 120mm.

I combined the two images in the camera with Nikon's Image Overlay processing. You can select any two RAW images stored on the card and the camera will blend them and show you a preview. Individual gain controls for each image let you control how the images blend.

Of course, you can do all this in Photoshop with even more control. But if you don't have a computer with you or you're just sitting in the car waiting for the rain to stop, fiddling around with Image Overlay isn't a bad way to kill some time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

They say they're building the world's tallest gingerbread man in the Hilldale atrium

They Say They're Building the World's Largest Gingerbread Man
And it towers 26 feet high right in front of Macy's. It's not just a decoration. It's in a good cause. The gingerbread man will be the centerpiece of the Gingerbread Casas for CASA event this Saturday afternoon, Nov. 21, to benefit CASA of Dane County. Madison-area companies are invited to participate in a gingerbread house or “casa” decorating competition. They were putting on the frosting tonight, buckets and buckets of it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Commies are coming, the Commies are coming, or worse, Dane County politicians!

Somebody's Got Me in Their Gunsights, but I Doubt It's the Politicians
This alarmist flyer, covered with what look like bullet holes (apparently whoever has me in their gunsights is a terrible shot) is one of several in the same vein that arrived in our mailbox recently. And Sunday we got a robocall along the same lines. Somebody is determined to convince us that Dane County politicians are going to strip us of our property rights and trash the market value of our home -- unless people like us stop them. At first I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. Had we become a Communist dictatorship overnight and I simply hadn't noticed? Didn't seem likely. The flyers referred me to www.danecountypropertyrights.com for more information, but that simply provided more of the same rhetoric.

Since the flyers mentioned meetings of the Dane County Lakes & Watersheds Commission, I went to the Dane County website to find out more. This press release from the Office of Lakes & Watersheds seemed to be what I was looking for.
Melissa Malott, Chair of the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission, announced that the Commission will hold two meetings later this month for citizens to learn about and provide input to the revised draft plan for Dane County Shoreland and Riparian Management. The Plan, which attempts to create a flexible yet effective set of recommendations to better protect Dane County’s surface waters from near-shore impacts, has been extensively revised based on earlier public input.
You'll find more background on the plan and the proposed draft at the Commission's website, including a link to a pdf Myths and Facts sheet. Here's where and when the meetings are scheduled to be held this Tuesday and Wednesday:
Tues., Nov 17 – Verona Senior Center, , 108 Paoli St, Verona, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 18 - Sun Prairie City Office Community Room, 300 East Main St, Sun Prairie, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
In the release, Malott urged area residents to take advantage of this opportunity to get the facts.
I encourage area residents to take advantage of this opportunity to learn the facts regarding the status and applicability of the Plan, its benefits and economic impact. It’s important that the input on the Plan we receive is not clouded by misinformation about its content and purpose.
Bingo! That's exactly what the mail and phone campaign seemed to be about -- "clouding the input by misinformation." In fact, disinformation might be a better term. The sponsors of the campaign seemed to be trying to pack the meeting with angry homeowners terrified of government interference with their property rights. In other words, teabagging the meetings. I'm surprised they didn't just mail out teabags and save the expense of printing the flyers.

Personally. I sort of like our Dane County lakes and rivers, and I like the idea of trying to to protect them from runoff and other development impacts. If I have to choose between the Lakes & Watershed Commission and the sponsors of the anti-shoreland zoning camapign (Madison Area Builders Association, REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin, Smart Growth Madison, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance), the latter are going to have to come up with a lot more than scare tactics to convince me.
Day's End