Saturday, November 14, 2009

November: The wind blows and the sun dies


Some November moodiness for all the Scorpios with birthdays this dark and gloomy month when it starts to seem that the sun will never return.

The audio is Art of Noise's "Opus 4." The lyrics are drawn from the 1844 poem, "No!," by Thomas Hood. They stripped away some of the 19th century ornateness. Here's what they kept:
No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -
November!
The "no bees" gets me every time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A simple, commonsense word for a commonsense Afghanistan policy

A Simple, Commonsense Word for a Commonsense Afghanistan Policy
President Obama's ambassador to Afghanistan seems to think so, too.
In a leaked cable to Washington sent last week, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl W Eikenberry, argued that it would be a mistake to send reinforcements until the government of Hamid Karzai demonstrates that it will act against corruption and mismanagement. Mr Eikenberry knows what he is talking about because he has long experience of Afghanistan. A recently retired three-star general, he was responsible for training the Afghan security forces from 2002 to 2003 and was top US commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.
Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent, explains why the word "corruption" is a major understatement when it comes to the Afghan government, and why the U.S. and Britain should not continue to support that government militarily.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Maybe the New York Times will never die but just slowly fade away into "media partnerships"


I was skimming the business section of the NYT yesterday to see what the banksters and other malefactors of great wealth were up to, when I came across this piece analyzing the wages of American workers. It said they were out of balance. In what way? Turns out that American wages are out of balance with the rest of the world because they are way too high.
The big trade deficit is another sign of excessive pay for Americans. One explanation for the attractive prices of imported goods is that American workers are paid too much relative to their foreign peers.

Global wage convergence is great for the poor but tough on the overpaid. It's possible to run the numbers to show that American manufacturing workers should take average real wage cuts of as much as 20 percent to get into global balance.
Say what?

It wasn't the analysis that startled me. It was standard blame-the-victim, race-to-the-bottom, free-market rhetoric about how American workers (not Wall Street financiers, mind you, but workers) need to learn to live on the same ample wages as their counterparts in China and other parts of the developing world.

No, what startled me wasn't what I read, but where I read it. This isn't the way the New York Times usually talks about working people, at least not openly, on its news pages (granted, in the business section, the boundaries between news, analysis and opinion are somewhat fuzzy). That's when I took another look at what I was reading. I had assumed "breakingviews.com," punny title and all, was just another of their new business sections. Yes and no. It's a relatively new department that started this year, but it's not produced by the NYT.

Breakingviews.com is a London-based subscription-based financial analysis service that's now a media partner of the NYT and certain other major news organizations around the globe. The NYT runs free content from breakingviews.com in the business section under its own heading, and is also starting to syndicate the content to other news organizations through the New York Times News Service.

These kinds of content partnership are springing up throughout American journalism, replacing some of the editorial staff news organizations are shedding as they strive to cope with their various financial disasters. In trade publishing, where content partnerships have been going on longer and are even more widespread, the resulting content has often been mediocre and/or has a hidden agenda. In addition, brands get eroded, as readers become confused about who's actually providing the news they read.

The downside to content partnership is you get what you pay for, and if you're determined to pay less, you'll generally get less. So do your readers. Eventually they may get tired of it, find you irrelevant and simply walk away. It's not as if there aren't a lot of new media competing for their attention with their own distinctive voices.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why not put a community garden on the roof of that new downtown public library?


Urban roof gardens are catching on in other cities, but nobody seems to have done it with a library yet. Now that the City Council has approved the new downtown library, we have a rare opportunity to become the first city in the world with a community garden on the roof of its public library, according to Downtown Madison Community Gardens. The group supported the budget amendment that also passed last night, directing city staff to study the possibility. But I should let them speak for themselves: Check out the video I shot before the Council meeting last night of supporters Alex Richter, left, and Sue Rosa, right, discussing the measure.

Also at the meeting was one of the group's organizers, Jane Anne Morris. She was recently quoted in an Eat. Drink. Better. post about the proposal and urban rooftop gardens in general.
The push for more community garden space in downtown Madison started last spring after organizers started talking to residents at the weekly farmers market. After some discussion of space, someone suggested looking to the rooftops as a place for gardens to go.

“Once you think of rooftop gardens, your eyes look up and you see the city differently,” Jane Anne Morris, one of the group organizers, said.

From there, it was only a few suggestions to get to the idea of a public garden on the roof of the library.
Makes sense to me.

If this was a trial balloon, I hope we can all help shoot it down

Trial Balloon? (I Sure Hope So)
This jumped out at me from the screen last night. I sure hope that it's just a trial balloon, and that Barack Obama hasn't actually made up his mind to morph into LBJ, who also was the peace candidate, once (against Barry Goldwater), before he escalated the Vietnam war and needlessly destroyed not only his presidency but all too many lives.

It could happen again in Afghanistan, "the graveyard of empires." Adding 40,000 troops now just makes it that much harder to pull them out, and all the more likely we'll be adding a lot more. Presidents need to stop thinking that having a large, powerful military at their disposal means they should routinely use it to try to achieve political and diplomatic objectives around the world. Our track record in that regard hasn't been all that great lately. Let the White House know you'd like to try something different.

I used to be skeptical about these crosswalk flags, but I'm starting to change my mind


You find these wild and wacky red crosswalk flags in several places around Madison. These were placed at some crosswalks on Monroe Street by the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association to help pedestrians navigate the 35-mph-plus traffic stream and get across in one piece. I used to be a skeptic, but am less so since street work forced me to park on the other side of Monroe Street and make frequent crossings.

I used to think the flags might confuse some motorists (slow down and proceed with caution? slam on the brakes?) and might make some pedestrians recklessly overconfident, enocuraging them to dart out in front of cars with a sense of false security. And what if one car stops and other cars speed around it in another lane? It seemed like a real recipe for accidents.

But there don't seem to have been many mishaps. Meanwhile, I've had a chance to test Monroe Street traffic myself, with and without the flags. Flagless, with only my exposed flesh between myself and the onrushing cars, it's definitely a challenge. Few people ever slow down, and I'm on my own. The law may say cars have to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, but many drivers seem to disagree with the law and some express their disagreement by simply speeding up. But walk out with one of those goofy flags and traffic almost magically comes to a halt (you can actually hear the traffic sounds quieting down on the video clip).

People apparently are conditioned to respond to red. Many drivers, on the other hand, just seem to "see red" when they see pedestrians. Or they just don't see them at all.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Viewing the stunning new Lake Wingra Dam on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in November


The construction that has been going on the last few months in Vilas Park at the Lake Wingra outlet to Wingra Creek is finished, and the resulting new Lake Wingra Dam is a real beauty. In the place of the former dumpy little structure built a century ago, the new dam arcs around in a graceful concrete semicircle. As you can see in the little video clip, the dam creates a natural amphitheater that seems to amplify the sound of rushing water for observers on the sleekly geometric observation deck and fishing platform. The concrete lip of the dam has been rounded to make it easier for spawning muskies to leap over, and it should be quite a sight -- with a much better angle of view for observers -- next spring. The City Engineering website has more information about the dam, its history, planning and design.

Gorgeous New Lake Wingra Dam on a Gorgeous November DayThese runners were looking it over Sunday afternoon. The weekend was a great time to view the new structure. The construction fences are finally gone. And as the runners' gear attests, the high temperature both Saturday and Sunday was 71°F. The weather was absolutely surreal. As T said, it was like stolen time. Everywhere you went this weekend, people flashed each other mischievous, conspiratorial smiles. We all knew we were getting away with something we weren't really entitled to.