Saturday, September 04, 2010

Playing Buckyball by myself the day Wisconsin Badgers play Buckyball in Vegas

While the Wisconsin Badgers open their season today by playing Buckyball in Las Vegas, I'm playing Buckyball by myself at home -- courtesy of Google. They marked the 25th anniversary of the Buckyball -- the eponymous and now ubiquitous carbon molecule whose discovery led to the whole nanotechnology industry -- by incorporating one into their logo. It's an interactive animation that you control with your cursor. The faster you swipe across it, the faster it spins. You can also slow it down, make it change direction or make it stop entirely. Go Bucky(ball)!

Friday, September 03, 2010

The city's $312,000 McDonald's settlement: What if it had been a local small business?

City Agrees to Reimburse Struggling Burger Joint for Lost Business
A lot of people, including Emily Mills, wondered about the city's $312,000 eminent domain settlement with McDonald's on East Washington Ave. The case arose from access problems during construction of the bike and pedestrian bridge at this location, as well as McDonald's claim that the bridge obstructed the view of its Golden Arches from the road. The real eyebrow-raiser for Mills and others was the size of the award.
What I have a problem with are their tactics and the precedent they might set for other large corporations looking to fight city improvements.

I’m also curious -- if it had been a small, independent business filing the suit, would the city have settled for such a high payout?
Many people were curious. As it turns out, the McDonald's settlement can be compared with another settlement with a small, independent local business. Although the issues raised by the two cases are not identical, both involved eminent domain, and the local business also happened to be in the burger business -- the Dotty Dumpling's Dowry near the Square on N. Fairchild Street that was torn down to make way for the Overture Center.

Owner Jeff Stanley fought a long court battle to keep Dotty's open on Fairchild St. before being forced to take a $583,680 settlement, plus additional funds for relocation. That's in 2001 dollars -- more than twice what McDonald's got, adjusted for inflation.

However, Stanley not only lost his property and a thriving downtown business, but he also was forced to shut down and take on the risks of relocating. Although Dotty's appears to have done well in its Frances St. location, success in a new location was by no means a sure thing. In contrast, McDonald's still has its building, is doing business at the same location and is being reimbursed for a loss that is difficult to quantify. And how much was MacDonald's really harmed? It's not as if they'r located on the interstate, where people flying by at 75mph might easily miss them if construction obscured the entrance. But the East Wash McDonald's is basically a neighborhood restaurant supported by a national brand. People on the East Side didn't exactly forget where it was when the bridge went up.

Two burger joints, two settlements -- were they fair? Who got the best deal? What do you think?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Ansel Adams fiasco reminded me of the famous P.T. Barnum words that are not really his

I've has enjoyed watching the "lost Ansel Adams negatives" fiasco play itself out. A bunch of the things just happened to show up in a garage sale, and experts were quick to jump in and say they were real. More skeptical experts, including the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, disagreed and the Trust went to court to try to stop the sale of prints from the alleged Adams negatives.

When it comes to collecting expensive art objects, there's a sucker born every minute -- and usually an expert can be found to lead them on. It's ridiculous to think the meticulous Adams would have misplaced dozens of negatives. And even more ridiculous to assume that a print from an unknown Adams negative could be authentic in any way. So much of his signature style was created in the darkroom. If you don't have an original Adams print to guide the printing of a negative, there's no point -- the result isn't an Ansel Adams.

After I wrote this, I decided to check out the "sucker born every minute" quote, which I had always heard attributed to P. T. Barnum, a man well versed in the ways of suckers and the ways to exploit them. But according to, it wasn't Barnum who said it, but rather a competitor of his, David Hannum, who was exhibiting an archaeological fraud that newspapers dubbed the "Cardiff Giant" in Syracuse, NY in the late 1860s. Barnum made his own copy of the Cardiff Giant and then had the audacity to pass his copy off as genuine and accuse Hannum of exhibiting a fraud.
It is at this point that Hannum -- NOT BARNUM -- was quoted as saying "There's a sucker born every minute." Hannum, still under the impression that HIS giant was authentic, was referring to the thousands of "fools" that paid money to see Barnum's fake and not his authentic one.

Hannum brought a lawsuit against Barnum for calling his giant a fake. When it came to trial, Hull stepped forward and confessed that the Cardiff Giant was a hoax and the entire story. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling Hannum's giant a fake since it was a fake after all. Thereafter, Hannum's name was lost to history while Barnum was left with the misplaced stigma of being the one to say "There's a sucker born every minute."
Authenticity is a funny thing, in history as well as the arts. Sometimes it consists of distinctions as subtle as that between a "fake fake" and a "real fake."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Iraq combat is over and the war is history, but the Forever War will, of course, go on forever

Iraq Is History but the Forever War Will, Of Course, Go On Forever
"We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense."
Not sure what's going on here. Nothing really new in President Obama's Oval Office address tonight. This is as open-ended a commitment as Obama has made to the Forever War actually going on forever. (And just now we're going on offense?)

I can see making an Oval Office speech in an election year about bringing troops home from a long, unpopular war. But why would the President go on national television to reaffirm an open-ended commitment to an even longer war that has lost public support and for which which there are no clearly defined goals or exit strategy? Seems a strange way to try to win an election.

Barbara Loden talking with John and Yoko about Wanda, the first and only film she directed

This is a screenshot of the lovely Barbara Loden on the Mike Douglas show in 1972 with John Lennon and Yoko Ono -- in English with French subtitles. Stream the clip here. Loden is explaining how they became friends at the Cannes Film Festival, where Yoko was showing a film and Loden was showing her 1970 film, Wanda, the first and only feature film she directed, one of the first features in modern times directed by a woman. Loden saw John and Yoko standing alone but was hesitant to approach them. "I'm very shy," she is saying here. "We're shy too," replies Yoko. They overcame their shyness and went on to become friends who admired each other's work. John and Yoko were on the show to promote their friend's film.

Barbara Loden was an actress and protege of Elia Kazan, whose second wife she became in 1969. Earlier, in 1964, she had won a Tony under Kazan's direction for playing Maggie, the Marilyn Monroe figure in Arthur Miller's "After the Fall" at its Lincoln Center premiere.

Wanda was well received at Cannes and continued to have many fans in Europe, but has remained obscure in the U.S. The film has just been restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. I found this clip when searching for more information after reading the recent NYT story about the Wanda and its director, who based the film on a newspaper account of a housewife who went to prison after getting involved in a bank robbery. In addition, she also drew on elements of her own life.
When “Wanda,” a portrait of a passive, disconnected coal miner’s wife who attaches herself to a petty crook, came out, Ms. Loden described it as partly autobiographical.

“I used to be a lot like that,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1971, adding: “I had no identity of my own. I just became whatever I thought people wanted me to become.”
During her short acting career, Loden also did some writing. Kazan encouraged his wife to make Wanda after she wrote the script (although in later years he claimed to have written the first draft). As has happened with other powerful men who both mentor and overshadow their wives (e.g., Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe), Kazan's support seems to have been a two-edged sword. Kazan both empowered Loden and seemed to erode her self-confidence. Unlike O'Keefe in a similar situation, Loden was not only a wife but a mother, and could not stake out her own territory as easily as O'Keeffe did by regularly getting away to New Mexico. Loden never made another film before her life was cut short by cancer, although she was working on production planning for a film adapted from Kate Chopin's novella The Awakening at the time of her death.

The Douglas clip is nearly 40 years old, but raises relationship issues that are still difficult for couples to resolve. Barbara Loden, directed by a famous director she later married, played the famous wife of a famous playwright in the famous playwright's lightly fictionalized account of his marriage to an icon. She made one movie about a woman with no identity of her own and then made no more films. On the Douglas show she is talking with another famous creative couple who wrestled with the issues brought by disproportionate fame. It's fascinating -- and somewhat painful -- to watch Lennon attempting to be the uxorious self-effacing spouse. One moment he is fading into the woodwork as a supportive spouse and the next he is suddenly hijacking the conversation. It's an awkward dance, and even today, couples are still trying to perfect the moves.

Both Loden and Lennon would die before their time eight years after this show was taped, Loden of breast cancer and Lennon at Mark Chapman's hand. We lost not only a beloved musical artist but a talented filmmaker as well.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Just a Wisconsin family worried about our country"? -- Come on, give me a break.

What's with the lame "Johnson Family" TV spot, running in heavy rotation throughout Wisconsin? This is how the Republicans expect to knock Russ Feingold out of the U.S. Senate? What are they really trying to say? The transcript isn't much help.
ANNC: Introducing the Ron Johnson Family

Carey: (too bubbly) he’s a really super dad

Ben: (while texting) he’s a great role model….

Jenna: (eye rolling) he’s worked extremely hard all his life

Jane: (too smiley and working too hard) a wonderful husband for 33 years

Ron: ok…that’s enough.…

Ron: obviously I’m not a professional politician and they’re not professional actors, we’re just a Wisconsin family worried about our country.

I’m Ron Johnson and I approved this message because it’s time to get our nation’s house in order.
If the family's "nonprofessional" approach to acting is any indication of what Johnson's "nonprofessional" style of legislating would be like, watch out. And what's this about "a Wisconsin family worried about our country." They don't seem worried -- they just seem smug and all too cheerfully self-satisfied. Oh, that wacky Republican sense of humor!

UW-Madison: 17th-best damn university in the whole damn world

17th-Best Damn University University in the Whole Damn World
Ahead of all but two universities -- Cambridge and Oxford -- outside the U.S. Ahead of the likes of Johns Hopkins, Rockefeller University, Duke, UC-Davis -- and every other university in the Big Ten. That's according to an academic ranking by Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, which placed American universities in eight of the top ten places.
The rankings use 10 study areas and disciplines to make up the overall score.

UW-Madison ranked 11th in life/agricultural sciences; 13th in math; 17th in natural science; 20th in clinical medicine/pharmacy; 23rd in physics, engineering/technology, and social science; 31st in economics/business; 44th in chemistry; and tied in the 52nd to 75th spots for computer science.

The rankings rely heavily on research performance, including alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, highly cited researchers and papers published in Nature and Science.
It seems to be that 11th-place ranking in life and agricultural sciences that pulled the UW ahead of other highly-ranked Big Ten institutions like Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. The complete listing allows you to break down the results by region and nation. The top ten are pretty much the usual suspects, but after that you'll find all sorts of surprises.

"Another Saturday Night" at the Orton Park Festival Saturday night

Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at the 45th Orton Park Festival Saturday night. We had a great time, starting with a triumph of hope over probability when we found a parking space right across the street from the park.