Friday, September 17, 2010

Free showing and discussion of Copyright Criminals at Madison Public Library Saturday

Who owns a sound, anyhow? And in a broader sense, where do you draw the line between legitimate artistic borrowing and intellectual property theft?

Questions like this that began with sampling in the hip-hop music world are now being asked in all media, as digital technology makes copying as easy as pushing a button. Madison's own Clyde Stubblefield has been at the vortex of this trend. The former James Brown drummer is the world's most sampled musician.

If you're downtown for the Farmers' Market this Saturday, you might want to drop in on this free screening that kicks off a new documentary series at the Madison Public Library. It's also an opportunity to see the world's most sampled musician in person, Madison's own Clyde Stubblefield.
Community Cinema features a sneak peek of nine documentaries set to broadcast on the award-winning PBS series Independent Lens.

To launch the 2010-2011 series, on Saturday, September 18 at 1 p.m., Madison Public Library will present Copyright Criminals, a film that examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law and money. In a special appearance, Clyde Stubblefield and DJ Vinnie Toma will join us to lead the panel discussion and answer questions about the film.

The film showcases many of hip-hop music’s founding figures like Public Enemy, De La Soul and Digital Underground, as well as emerging artists such as audiovisual remixers Eclectic Method. It also provides first-person interviews with artists who have been sampled, such as Clyde Stubblefield — James Brown's drummer and the world's most sampled musician — and commentary by another highly sampled musician, funk legend George Clinton.
The U.S. Constitution empowered Congress "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." You'll have a chance Saturday to see what all this means more than 200 years later, when most of the rights are owned by giant corporate entities the Founding Fathers never imagined -- and when the phrase "limited times" has been stretched out of all recognition.

Why the Edgewater keeps reminding me of this sad, dark and unfinished building

White Elephant on a Gray Day
You know the one I mean -- that "stadium hotel" across from Camp Randall at Regent and Monroe Street. It looked especially sad, dark and unfinished as I drove by in the general gloom of Thursday afternoon -- a white elephant on a rainy day. It's the building with the financing that fell down and couldn't get back up again. Snowdrifts piled up in the unused entryway last winter, and the building still sits unfinished, though I've read the developer was trying to bring in an investor to jump start the project, which has been built but remains unfinished inside.

I drive by it often, and whenever I do, I can't help thinking about the Edgewater redevelopment project and TIF district downtown. And when I follow the debate about the Edgewater, I think of this thing -- "Hotel Red," according to the signs taped to the windows promising jobs and opportunities. Maybe. I'll believe it when I see some signs of life.

The Edgewater is downtown. This is on the near west side, at 1501 Monroe Street. The Edgewater is a proposed renovation with some new construction. This is all-new. The Edgewater overlooks Madison's grandest lake. This overlooks a football stadium and a busy intersection. Why are they so intertwined in my mind?

Probably because both projects were pushed through the approval project on a bandwagon of wildly optimistic projections that rolled over widespread neighborhood opposition. In the case of Hotel Red, the optimism faded and the neighborhood was left with nothing but an eyesore that has stood empty for more than a year now. The Edgewater TIF project is bigger and more complex, and there's a lot more at stake for downtown development in general and the Mansion Hill historic neighborhood in particular.

Sure, maybe the Edgewater proponents are right in their plans and projections and promises. But I can't help wondering every time I drive by this ghost building.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Madison's primary was a laid-back affair, but Channel 3 tried to interject some controversy

A Perfect Day to Saunter to the Polls in Madison
It was a perfect day to saunter, rather than hurry, to the polls. Here in Madison, people could take their time, enjoy the beautiful weather, go for walk or do some shopping, run some errands maybe -- no hurry, and no worry about lines. Since all the real excitement was in the Republican gubernatorial primary, voters in heavily Democratic Madison took it easy, and polling proceeded sedately in the Capital City.

On the Republican side, Scott Walker won a remarkably easy victory over Mark Neumann in that race for the gubernatorial nomination. For the most part, state residents seemed happy just to have the nonstop TV spots ease off briefly before picking up again for the November election.

Madison's Channel 3 seemed to be trying to add some much-needed excitement to the reporting on their website when they stirred the pot with this highly (un)scientific online poll: Should Scott Walker Have Won? In early returns (12:04 a.m.), 89 percent of respondents said the voters had made a mistake. Of course, that's based on a sample of a small number of nightowls -- nine, to be exact. Having a button that can be pushed for results while the poll is underway is just one more example of how silly online polls are. Say goodbye to standard polling technique and concepts like statistical significance and sampling error -- and welcome to the wonderful world of pseudostatistical entertainment. I love the neat percentages that slice and dice the nine respondents with such seeming (and totally illusory) precision.

Still, one might argue that no harm was done. It's just a bit of harmless entertainment, and no one takes these things seriously. True enough. But I wonder about the poll question in the first place. "Should Scott Walker have won?" -- what does that even mean? Under our system of government, isn't there only one legitimate answer to that question, the one provided by the voters as they cast their ballots? Isn't that what democracy is all about?

In a close election and/or one marred by allegations of fraud (2000, anyone?), it might make sense to ask whether the election outcome was fair. But then what you're suggesting is that the will of the voters was thwarted, by a miscount of the ballots and/or fraud. But there was no such allegation whatsoever, so what did Channel 3's question even mean?

It would have made more sense to ask which candidate people expected to vote for in November. That would have been no more statistically valid, but it would certainly have been more relevant.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Thinker

The Thinker
Or, perhaps, Field Botanist Examining a Specimen. Great Blue Heron, Tiedeman's Pond, Middleton, on an old log that he's made his own by scattering the ducks and geese.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Moment of Grace

A Moment of Grace
As a photographer, you live for moments like this, when everything falls in place as if by magic and an image comes together not through your conscious will or intention, but as if by something completely outside you, using you and your camera to express itself. You can try to be prepared, but that's about it, and sometimes it happens.

This Great Egret was flying by Stricker's Pond, within the city limits of Madison or Middleton, depending on where you are standing (or flying). There was a birder sitting by the pond with binoculars and I asked him if he had seen it. He had, and confirmed that it was a migrating Great Egret, passing through. They summer at Horicon Marsh, about an hour northeast of Madison, but now they are starting to head south for the winter. An amazing moment.

Monarch exiles poacher from the royal estate

Monarch Exiles Poacher from the Royal Estate
One beat of the Monarch's royal wings, and the intruder was outta there. Besides, there were other flowers to feed on.

Photographed at Stricker's Pond on the far west side of Madison, on the border between the city of Madison and the city of Middleton. Stricker's Pond and the nearby Tiedeman's Pond are a very successful restoration and water management project jointly run by both cities.
Because Stricker's Pond and nearby Tiedeman's Pond (in the City of Middleton) do not have natural outlets, the water only had one place to go ... up. Water depth at Stricker's Pond was 6-8 feet and the pond looked like pea soup because of excessive algae growth. Emergent plants vanished and 200-year-old oak trees succumbed to high water levels. The loss of these plants and trees meant we lost the food and cover needed by resident wildlife.

City Of Madison and City of Middleton staff worked together, creating a plan of action to deal with these issues. Staff encouraged input from the public. The plan created includes construction of a drainage outlet. This will allow staff to control water levels in both ponds. Stricker's Pond is 10 feet higher than Tiedeman's Pond, so an outlet pipe was installed between the ponds allowing control of the water flow out of Stricker's Pond. At Tiedeman's Pond a large pump was installed. This pump lifts the water into a force main which conveys it under Gammon Rd. and Park St. and from there into a gravity-drained storm water system. The water then drains into Lake Mendota.

Now we have some measure of control over the water levels. Both municipalities are working to restore native plant and animal communities in and around the ponds. We may not be able to restore these natural systems to pristine conditions, but through active stewardship we can improve them immensely, to the benefit of both people and wildlife.
They've done a great job. I remember driving by Tiedeman's Pond in the seventies and eighties. What was visible from Gammon Road looked like a sick, stagnant marsh filled with green algae soup and other muck. Now it's a sparkling habitat for water birds and hikers. And Monarchs.