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.