Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

28 February, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Meets Clarence Kailin

Christopher Hitchens has an article up at Vanity Fair called "Don't Mess With Wisconsin" in which he looks at our fair state in light of the ongoing protests over Governor Walker's attempts at union busting and assuming more executive authority.

In it he talks about meeting Madison organizer and activist Clarence Kailin.

On one occasion I remember getting into conversation with a fit and wiry old man in a plaid shirt, who had bought one of my books and stayed around to make a few dialectical points. It emerged that he had been a volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. I was immediately embarrassed at having taken his money, and asked the staff to void out his credit card payment and charge it to me. In a Madison bookstore it didn’t take any time to explain why a fighter for Republican Spain didn’t have to buy his own book—or, subsequently, his own drinks. In fact, I think the shop ended up paying for the whole treat out of its own emaciated budget.

Ah yes, the plaid. I think he wore a plaid shirt every time I saw him whether it was a public event with John Nichols gushing over him or at family gatherings.
|| Palmer, 4:01 PM || link || (0) comments |

27 February, 2011

As I Went Walking I Saw a Sign There

Last week I asked a state worker if he had plans to join the protests. His reply was, "I would if I thought it would do any good." A different state employee was asked by a another co-worker to join the protests for a short time during their lunch hour. "I told him no. Some of us have lives. Besides, the bill is going to pass anyway."

Since they wouldn't help their own cause, this non-union worker went to the protests yesterday.

The bus filled up quickly after I got aboard which meant that we got packed in like sardines and I was unable to continue reading my Doctor Who book. With the bus completely full, a guy spoke up and asked, "Does anyone know what democracy looks like?" This got a big laugh and people started chanting the now-familiar refrain "This is what democracy looks like!"

Madison Metro's ridership numbers will look really good for February. Plus I have to say that the drivers of the buses I've taken the past couple weeks or so have been cheerier than normal. They've not been surly by any means but some just are normally a bit stoic. When I've said "Good morning" or "Good evening" in the past, some drivers just kind of nod and get on with things. These days they're all returning my greeting and smiling.

I got downtown and met up with The Dulcinea, the kids, and The D's mom. Miles, the youngest, was all frumpy. He wanted something to drink besides water. A trek down State Street proved futile as all the coffee houses had lines out the door. He settled for a smoothie. On the way back we discovered that the popcorn store on the 100 block of State had hot chocolate and that there wasn't a huge line. So let that be a lesson to everyone.

My camera got left at home, unfortunately, so no photos for you. However, thousands of others brought theirs so there are snaps all over the Internet along with video. Earlier in the week I'd been thinking about making a Doctor Who related sign but never did. I was going to put Walker's face on Davros along with a picture of the Sixth Doctor and a slogan like "Gallifreyans against Walker". Luckily someone else had a really cool sign featuring our governor's face on Davros along with the Fourth Doctor. I complimented the guy heartily. Another sign that I found funny had "Keep Librarians Sexy" on one side with "What Would Joe Strummer Do?" on the other. Oh, and I can't forget the sign with a picture of Admiral Ackbar that said something like "Don't negotiate with Walker. It's a trap." Lastly I'll note that I also saw signs in Spanish for the first time.

I was also pleased to see more signs this time that blamed Wall Street for the financial mess. It's too bad there weren't protests like this when Obama gave all these Wall Street executives Get Out of Jail Free cards. Their firms got all of that money and virtually no one who caused the crisis was jailed. Back in 2009 when I read about China executing a couple people over a scandal involving tainted powdered milk, I ran into a very interesting piece which is lost to me in which someone argued that financial titans who lose billions of dollars and royally screw over millions of people ought to be treated more harshly than they are now. The argument was that we should view the villains of, say, Enron, in the same way as we do murderers. Why is the act of murder given its own most heinous category full of the harshest punishments whereas defrauding thousands of people of their money and throwing them into the poor house something that demands short jail sentences in minimum security prisons? It's a utilitarian argument, I suppose. If a drug dealer shoots and kills someone, we are all revolted and rightly so. We want that person to get their comeuppance. People generally want to see that person prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and given the harshest sentence whether it be life in jail or, depending on the state, the death penalty.

Yet when the CEO of a massive corporation or Wall Street execs cheat, lie, and fumble their way to losing billions of dollars and send thousands or millions of people much further down the food chain into all kinds of distress, it's not considered a particularly heinous crime. As the author of the piece argued, these titans of finance arguably cause more grief and inflict more damage to society than that hypothetical murderer. So why don't we treat them more harshly? Perhaps a better question is why don't we generally think that they ought to be treated more harshly?

I'm not saying that we ought to make the people who knowingly sold credit derivative mortgage swap junk bonds should be dancing at the end of a rope on national TV, though I suspect that would provide some disincentive, but being put in stocks and having tomatoes thrown at you for a bit followed by a long stint in a prison where soap on a rope is mandatory might have a similar effect.

Back at the protest I caught the rallying cries of Bradley Whitford, Gabrielle Carteris, and Robert Newman. They all gave passionate speeches, especially Whitford who reiterated a call-and-response of "this will not stand". Carteris spoke of how her union supported her after an accident and was unable to work. I also caught UW-La Crosse physics professor Eric Bar. For a guy pondering quarks all day, he didn't come across as being very nerdy.

While I was standing and listening, there was a conversation going on to my left. A guy who was, if memory serves, a pipe fitter, was chatting. He had a beard and was wearing what appeared to be a Carhartt coat. He looked nothing like your average Commie pinko. He said something like "This is the best time to be alive. You've got to find something to be passionate about and I'm passionate about this." I also saw a lot of old duffs - gentlemen of retirement age who you can easily imagine hanging out at a café in small town drinking coffee and playing Sheepshead. They were there calling bullshit on Walker along with teachers, firemen, cops, all the wonderful SEIU folks in purple, the "union thugs" handing out free candy, and everyone else.

While I saw a few folks from a Canadian union who came down in support, I didn't see a single Walker supporter. This was genuinely surprising. I've since read that there were some but not very many. From the looks of things, there were more people out yesterday than last Saturday. And this was in sub-freezing temperatures with a steady snowfall.

Ironically, the start of the protests coincided with my listening to lectures on Adam Smith by Charles Anderson that I blogged about previously. The protests and the debates going on now really throw into sharp relief the ideas that Anderson is talking about along with the ones from the previous few lectures relating to Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the rise of Liberalism, a.k.a. - classical Liberalism. Not too much longer and I'll be on the lectures about Marx.
|| Palmer, 10:23 AM || link || (0) comments |

26 February, 2011

Something In the Air

Grocery shopping this morning brought back memories of a conversation I had back in the 1990s. I was chatting with a woman at a coffee shop who was a Baby Boomer and she was fondly recalling the late 1960s/early 1970s here in Madison. She was complaining that people weren't politically motivated at the close of the 20th century. Back when she was in college, politics was in the air. Everyone was talking about the Vietnam War, Dick Nixon, etc. all the time and everywhere. She missed those days.

I was grocery shopping this morning and there were a couple fire fighters doing the same for their station. One of them was an older gentleman while the other was younger, probably in his late 20s/early 30s. Needing some ham for jambalaya I headed to the meat aisle and saw the older guy in conversation with a senior couple. He was talking about how Governor Walker's bill would screw over the teachers and he said that a family member of his stood to lose his or her job. The couple patiently listened.

Passing by the younger fellow who was waiting for his co-worker to finish chatting, I asked him if a lot of people like me stop and chat him up about the protests. He said that people do. He wasn't going to make it today because he was on duty but those in his squad (are fire fighters organized into squads?) would be there.

If that woman I talked to in the 90s is still around, then I'm sure she's happy because the issues of the day are seemingly on everyone's lips now.

On another note, I hear on pretty good authority that the union workers at the Kohler factory in Sheboygan are supportive of the protests here. I won't repeat the exact words I was told, but let's hope the National Guard doesn't get involved.
|| Palmer, 10:02 AM || link || (0) comments |

25 February, 2011

Hey Mr. Obama, Where Are Those Comfy Shoes?

|| Palmer, 2:44 PM || link || (0) comments |

23 February, 2011

Matt Taibbi on Democracy Now! - "Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?"

UPDATE: The full interview is here.
|| Palmer, 2:55 PM || link || (0) comments |

An Illuminating Visit at the Chazen

If you need a break from protesting, head down to the other side of State Street and go into the Chazen. You only have four days left to check out Hidden Treasures: Illuminated Manuscripts from Midwestern Collections. Being a fan of all things medieval I was really happy to see some manuscripts on display here.

I went to the exhibition last weekend Valerie Weilmuenster was on-hand to demonstrate some of the techniques of the medieval illuminator.

No, she's not asleep but rather showing us her gesso preparation technique as part of a larger demo on gilding or applying gold to the page. In this case, it is gold leaf.

She has a sheet of paper with the text on it and the marginalia in outline around it. To apply gold leaf you need gesso which is like a primer. It bonds to the paper and the gold adheres to it. Back in the Middle Ages gesso was made of stuff like chalk and fish glue. Ms. Weilmuenster was using a new-fangled variety made of acrylic. In the photo above she is gently blowing on the gesso in order to make it tacky just as the monks did in the days of yore.

Now she has placed the gold leaf onto the page and is using a burnishing(?) tool to press it firmly onto the gesso. With that done, she pulls the leaf backing away and uses a brush to clear excess leaf.

Ms. Weilmuenster also showed how you can put down two or three layers of gold leaf to give your work some contours.

Another method of gilding involves shell gold which is finely ground gold mixed with gum arabic. The name comes from the practice of illuminators who stored the stuff in shells. You know, like mollusks. It is reconstituted with water and then painted onto parchment like this.

The exhibit itself was really neat. Not only was the artwork fantastic…

…but it was simply wonderful to look at books that were hundreds of years old and think about monks creating them and distant ancestors reading them. A few of the folios had marginalia that featured strawberries and I stood there thinking about how a tasty, juicy strawberry and warmer weather would be so nice right about then.

Another highlight was the Franciscan antiphonary which is actually from the UW-Madison's collection. The thing was huge. Not quite as big as this one but still very large. The texture of the vellum looked like a football. There were large measures drawn on it along with squares and other shapes representing the musical notes. (Antiphonaries were books of chants used during liturgical ceremonies.) Being a music fan I guess I just am drawn to all things musical so this book really caught my eye.

And since I saw gilding demos, I have to admit that I didn't know that so many manuscripts had the stuff on them. Not every folio had gold on it but a lot did. At over six feet tall, I had to bend over or twist around to see the light reflect off of it but it was there. It really added to the beauty of the pages and I can imagine it enhanced the tactile sensation of turning the pages or using a finger to follow text. While I'd imagine lovely contoured gilding wouldn't be a big deal for a John Grisham novel, I can imagine it adding that little something extra to a psalter that you're paying an arm and a leg for.


When I was done marveling over the manuscripts I took some time to check out the rest of what the Chazen has on offer. Much to my shame, I have to admit that it was the first time I'd wandered around the whole place in many, many years. One gallery had European art from 1300-1600 and it complemented the manuscripts nicely.

While I enjoy medieval art in a general way, I can only take so many paintings of magi, sheep, etc. adoring the newborn Christ. It seems that every artist was obligated to make pictures of Mary and the baby Jesus surrounded by onlookers and angels. I'm not sure if this is because it was just the hoopiest subject at the time or whether painters were constantly commissioned to paint them. Regardless, they get old for me eventually.

One interesting thing was to look at all these paintings by artists from Western Europe and then check out Deësis with the Twelve Feasts of the Church, a Byzantine Greek work. Unlike the works from Western Europe, this icon has no figures with blond hair and the people of the Middle East have brown skin instead of alabaster.

I also went to the fourth floor and saw the horny goats statue. Honestly, it didn't impress me. It's art, I don't have a problem with it, but it just didn't do anything for me. I found John De Andrea's Untitled Bronze #1 much more to my liking.

I am looking forward to the new wing opening this October. Perhaps some of those Japanese woodblock prints they have in storage will be put on display. And maybe another venue for some artsy fartsy films too.
|| Palmer, 2:32 PM || link || (0) comments |

My Kielbasa Pusher Is (Temporarily) Out of Business

Nooooooooooooooooooo! Andy's Deli in Chicago suffered a fire a couple weeks ago.

The best kielbasa within a 200+ mile radius - now where will I go? Actually, they make the stuff at their wholesale location farther south so theoretically their kielbasa is still to be had. But where? Might have to mail order the stuff.


Now that I think about it, I've heard that the Russian grocery store here on the west side now carries some of Andy's sausages. I shall have to head over there. Also, Andy's is where I buy the Polish version of Playboy for a single friend. Looks like he's out of luck for a bit.

Thankfully they're going to rebuild and open again. My mother, who lives down the street a bit from Andy's, says that the remodeling is ongoing.

Reminds of me a certain Onion article from several years ago...
|| Palmer, 10:19 AM || link || (0) comments |

Google Not Kind to Scott Walker

Via Wonkette.
|| Palmer, 9:32 AM || link || (0) comments |

R.I.P. A Splendid Fellow

Nicholas Courtney, who will always be The Brigadier from Doctor Who to me, died yesterday. It is especially sad since I went out to Borders' closing sale on Monday and picked up Battlefield, the 7th Doctor story that saw the return of Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

I was hoping to meet Courtney at a Doctor Who con but, alas, it's not to be. He was a splendid fellow.
|| Palmer, 9:26 AM || link || (0) comments |

21 February, 2011

It Doesn't Matter What You Wear, As Long As You Are There

(I saw this on my way to the bus stop.)

I went downtown Saturday to do a little marching and take some snaps. I've also been reading a lot about what's happening here so let me throw in some commentary amongst the pictures.

(Students turn off of Park Street onto Library Mall head for the Capitol.)

Thanks to Bill Lueders for his commentary on the WSJ's editorial positions on the protests. I was going to write something about Chris Rickert's columns but I was beaten to the punch. But, having been a contractor for many years that has bounced between the state and the private sector, I can offer this: it is difficult to generalize about state employees.

Rickert says:

Similarly, the pay for unionized state workers ranges from about $23,000 to into the six figures. Again, nothing special, but not exactly McDonald's either.

OK, so how many people are earning six figures? How many are earning less than $30,000? Simply giving a range isn't particularly helpful. Does anyone know the mean salary of unionized state workers? I've only seen the mean for all state employees. Even Rickert's own paper is saying that state workers earn less in total compensation than their counterparts in the private sector. That is, something like 60% of Wisconsin state employees have at least a bachelor's degree and that, out in the private sector, the college-educated earn more than do state workers.

(The Union Cab fleet parades down State Street in support of the protest.)

My own experience has primarily been with IT workers and, overall, it seems to me that state workers get paid less than their counterparts in the private world. Anecdotally, take an experienced network admin I know. Salary.com says that the average pay for this person's job here in Madison is $71,392 but, as a state employee, their salary is in the lower 25% of the pay range. Again, this is mere anecdote and I can't vouch for the accuracy of Salary.com's data, but it jibes with my experience.

Rickert is right that state employees aren't earning what McDonald's workers are but I find it sad that fast food wages seem to be his sole criterion for determining fairness for workers. When he expresses sympathy for home health-care providers, I am with him and them. But as the pay scale moves up, Rickert joins the ranks of some Walker supporters in ignoring the fact that every state worker, well, works.

I was arguing with a blogger who felt that public sector unions ought to be abolished and he compared government employees to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt in that they felt entitled. “Everyone must work for me!” he mocked. Never once did he concede that government employees generally and the state employees out marching specifically were being compensated for their labor. His characterization was simply of people who sat back in luxury collecting a paycheck from the proles in the private sector. Sadly, Rickert is taking a similar approach in characterizing state employees who make a middle class salary by merely that and ignoring the fact that they earn money for their labor.

My first assignment at a state agency was eye-opening. I recall helping a social worker with a problem she was having with Microsoft Word. Since I'd never met this person before, I started some small talk and found out the at the document she was working on related to some guy beating the shit out of his stepkid. Over the years I've met those who keep criminals and the criminally insane locked up behind bars instead of roaming the streets; people that manage the deer herds and keep state parks, snowmobile trails, etc. in good shape for citizens to enjoy. And on and on.

Most people in Wisconsin have heard stories about government waste and/or about a state employee who got away with this or that. I'm sure a lot of these stories are true and I don't doubt for a second that our state can run leaner with less waste. But to demonize state employees who earn a middle-class wage as a bunch of leeches and to ignore the fact that they too work for a living is absolutely ridiculous.

The unions have conceded Walker's proposals regarding state employees contributing or contributing more to pensions and health care. Let's run with that. The unions should not be busted. They're willing to make concessions so the Republicans should meet in the middle and move forward to address the budget problem that is Medicaid. That this is not happening should not be surprising. Walker's motto is “Wisconsin is Open for Business” and not something about lifting the whole state up. I don't think our governor has said much, if anything, that is particularly inclusive. His focus sure seems to be about pleasing the WMC. So, come on Gov. Walker - a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

A trio of closing thoughts:

I saw some pro-Walker folks but there didn't seem to be many. At two o'clock I saw a school bus full of them leaving the Square and several others walked by me looking for their chartered bus.

Even if the bill goes passes, don't give up. It's a long row to hoe.

And lastly, The Dulcinea's mother was down at the protests and got a piece of Ian's macaroni & cheese pizza. After biting into it she said, "It's disgusting!" Further proof, as if any was needed, that I have been right all along.

|| Palmer, 11:07 AM || link || (2) comments |

20 February, 2011

Books In Peril

When I heard the news that Borders was heading into bankruptcy and closing 200 stores, including the one on University Avenue here in Madison, I was ambivalent. Part of me was happy to see a chain store go away but another part of me was sad to see a book store close. Any book store. Plus I hate to see the staff lose their jobs.

But the die has been cast and I can only hope that the 40 or so people facing immanent unemployment find new jobs and that locally-owned bookstores attract some new business.

While Borders suffers its fate, I am disheartened to read that the Wisconsin Book Festival is also facing the prospect of going the way of the dodo.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council, which organizes the festival, has been sending e-mails around that say that "The Book Fest's future is at risk". (I cannot find a webpage with this info and only have a printout of one such e-mail.) A bit shy of 50% of the Festival's budget comes from the federal government. Obama's proposed budget slashes funding for the National Endowment for the Humanites and I wouldn't be surprised if the bill passed by the House yesterday morning cut its budget even further, if it didn't legislate it out of existence altogether.

And so the e-mail pleads with Festival supporters to contact their federal legislators urging them to support the humanities and restore federal funding.

It would be a great shame if this, the Festival's 10th incarnation, were to be its last.
|| Palmer, 6:37 AM || link || (0) comments |

19 February, 2011

Hitler Reacts to the 14 Wisconsin Dems on the Run

|| Palmer, 7:46 AM || link || (0) comments |

Aegrescit Medendo?

While the protests this week have been awe-inspiring, I've also heard a lot about recalling Walker as soon as the law allows.

While I'm not against this in principle, I have to say that leaving Rebecca Kleefisch in charge is not an attractive proposition. From what I've been told, she doesn't seem like executive material. If Walker were given the boot, we could look forward to her mobilizing the National Guard to close down abortion clinics and gay bars. Prayer would be mandatory throughout the state and Julaine Appling would ascend to be her consigliere.

So be careful what you wish for.
|| Palmer, 6:27 AM || link || (0) comments |

16 February, 2011

Support the Literacy Network

Please help support the Literacy Network here in Madison. The Dulcinea has setup a fundraising site with the very modest goal of $100.

Donate and I will shower you with all the live Genesis bootlegs you want as well as my undying appreciation which is, as we all know, priceless.

|| Palmer, 2:25 PM || link || (2) comments |

15 February, 2011



In my periodic quest to acquaint myself with the great works of Western literature, I recently read Seamus Heaney's contemporary translation of Beowulf. I'd read John Gardner's Grendel, a retelling of the story from the monster's point of view, seen a movie version, and read about it and so it was a pleasure to finally delve into the original tale.

It's an epic poem written sometime in the latter part of the first millennium. Like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the author made use of alliteration as opposed to the rhyming that we're used to. Well, that I am used to, anyway. The events of the story take place a few hundred years prior to it being written and concerns the titular character, a Geat, who comes to the aide of Hrothgar and his fellow Danes.

The plot is fairly simple. A monster, Grendel, has been running roughshod over the Danes and making a mess of King Hrothgar's fancy mead hall. The Danes' tale of woe spread far and wide including to Geatland where Beowulf takes it upon himself to help out his neighbors to the south. He and his men arrive and gain an audience with Hrothgar. He tells him that theyve come from across the sea to take care of his problem. Beowulf and his men stake out the mead hall and take on Grendel when he appears for his nightly bout of chaos and destruction. Our hero slays Grendel and there is much rejoicing. But it's not over yet.

Grendel's mother seeks revenge for the death of her son but she too falls before the warrior from Geatland. Beowulf is rewarded handsomely and returns to his homeland. He becomes king and rules for 50 years when a dragon begins laying waste to the land and people. Beowulf once again takes up arms against a beastie and although he slays the dragon, he dies in the end. His people mourn his loss but immortalize him by interring him in a barrow.

Yes, this is a story that John Milius would appreciate. You've got a hero who embodies masculine ideals going around kicking ass and taking names. Not only is he going to kill the monster, he's going to do it bare-handed. And he has no time for emotions because action is what is needed. At one point he says, "It is always better/to avenge dear ones and to indulge in mourning." But there's more to the story than tough guy stoicism. The book's introduction is divided roughly into three parts. The first gives the background of the poem. For example, when it was written and how it has been passed down as a great work of literature The third consists of notes on the translation. These are simple and straightforward enough. But the second part was written for lit majors and was a bit beyond this unsophisticated lay reader. The key sentence is "It is impossible to attain a full understanding and estimate of Beowulf without recourse to this immense body of commentary and eludidation." Ain't that the truth.

I read Beowulf with the understanding of it having been intended as a piece of fantastical fiction and one that reflected the mores and ideals of its time.

It's not a pretty world that is described here. There is plenty of war and bloodshed. Feuds and alliances abound. Men are revered for their bravery and their honor means everything. Indeed, these concepts seem to be central to the identity of the characters. However, what's particularly interesting is how the very masculine and very violent virtues of the time are elaborated upon.

Beowulf's words and deeds prove his worth as a warrior and a man but there are long passages telling of heroic exploits of the past and of alliances and feuds. For instance, Hrothgar explains how he came to the aid of Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow, to end a feud. Hence the Geats and Danes have an alliance, a bond. But there are also a couple poems sung by a court minstrel that are of interest. One detrails the exploits of Sigemund who defeated a dragon. This not only recalls Beowulf's victory over Grendel but also prefaces his later confrontation with the dragon that's terrorizing the Geats. A second and much longer poem recalls the fighting between the Danes and the Frisians and bears much less directly on the main characters of the story. It's a depressing song and there are no overt parallels to the tale of Beowulf. From the bit about it in the introduction, I took this lengthy passage to be a reflection of the mindset of the audience of the time. It seems to reiterate the position that Fate generally placed people in: having to settle feuds and having to wage war. There is no romance here. Instead existence is red in tooth and claw. The poem just seems to be a bit of reflection on life during those times.

One thing that confused me involves religion. Early on in the text the narrator says that the Danes appealed to their pagan gods to relieve them from Grendel's onslaught.

Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people.

The Almighty Judge of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,
Head of Heavens and High King of the World,
was unknown to them.

But later in the poem the Christian deity is mentioned as being familiar to the Danes after all. For example:

Beowulf was quickly brought to the chamber;
the winner of fights, the arch-warrior,
came first-footing in with his fellow troops
to where the king in his wisdom waited,
still wondering whether Almighty God
would ever turn the tide of his misfortunes.

The author was surely a Christian and the story of Beowulf was a look back at his pagan ancestors. So perhaps these latter references were inserted during a later transcription to make it a bit more amenable to Christianity.

Beowulf has this great sense of fatalism about it. Hrothgar tells Beowulf of his adventures as a young man. He too fought for glory. But Hrothgar is old now and he can only tell the hero to enjoy his youth because it is fleeting. And death awaits us all, whether you're a hero or a king or if you're a peasant. So you should at least die with your boots on.

It reminds me of St. Augustine. Beowulf represents the City of Man. Man is inherently bad and what happens down here is irrelevant. Hope for grace and pray that this life ends ASAP.

OK, so maybe my Augustinian comparison is a bit far-fetched. But reading Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight explains why parts of The Lord of the Rings are the way they are. The singing, the family trees, et al are surely derived from medieval literature.
|| Palmer, 3:01 PM || link || (0) comments |

Department of Corrections Filtering Web Content?

In addition to taking attendance, I have heard that the Department of Corrections is denying employees access to certain websites pertaining to Scott Walker and his budget bill.

The info I was given was very vague so take this as a rumor. I'm not sure what site or sites they'd block. The Wheeler Report? Madison.com?
|| Palmer, 11:00 AM || link || (0) comments |

14 February, 2011

Neuromancer by William Gibson

I remember a bit of the hoopla surrounding William Gibson's Neuromancer when it was first published back in 1984 but didn't read it at the time. It's weird to think that it is now a classic of the sci-fi genre. As with a lot of books, I'm late to the game – 26 years late – but I have finally read it.

The story concerns a guy named Case who was once a great hacker but was busted stealing from his boss who didn't take kindly to the act. In retribution, Case was given a dose of toxin which left him unable to interface his brain with cyberspace and thusly his days of hacking were over. We find him in Chiba City, Japan at his nadir. He has a taste for drugs and occupies his time running the stuff as he looks for a cure at one of city's many "black clinics" which are on the leading edge of man-computer interfacing.

Case is befriended by one Molly Millions who is in the employ of a man named Armitage. Molly is outfitted with various bits of cybernetics including blades that extend out from underneath her fingernails. The mysterious Armitage wants to hire Case for an equally opaque mission. He gets Case into a clinic and, using bleeding edge technology, his nervous system is repaired. However, sacs of toxins have been placed in his blood vessels as insurance so that Case does what is expected of him.

Reading the opening chapters in Chiba City showcasing a future city reminded me of Blade Runner. The neon, the mix of cultures, and the sharp divide of the haves and have nots all conspired to the bring the film to mind. Indeed, in an article Gibson notes how the movie was released as he was writing the book and that he became discouraged that someone had come up with some of the same ideas and had been able to put out their story first. However, Gibson eventually resolved to finish his tale.

Case and Molly become lovers and discover a mutual skepticism about Armitage. He was not particularly forthcoming about his designs for them and both of our protagonists begin poking around for Armitage's past. They discover that he is really Colonel Willis Corto who was part of a secret operation against the Soviet computer systems. He was the lone survivor of the mission and was dragged into a cover-up. Armitage is an identity and personality superimposed upon Corto by his puppet master, an AI called Wintermute. Wintermute is but half of a massive AI which seeks to unite with its other half, Neuromancer. However, the authorities at the Turing Registry try to keep AIs from getting too big and too smart, hence the entity being riven in twain.

The Wintermute/Neuromancer AI was constructed by the Tessier-Ashpool family who are very much into cloning and cryogenic suspension. Very reminiscent of Tyrell from Blade Runner.

It's all a very clever storyline but credit is due to Gibson for giving clues out piecemeal and for simply weaving a fun tale. Case and Molly steal the consciousness of The Dixie Flatliner, Case's hacker mentor, which, upon his death, was stored digitally and the team make their way to Zion, a Rastafarian colony in orbit around Earth. Case is constantly plugging himself into a computer to converse with The Dixie Flatliner, tap into Molly's experiences in real-time via simstim, and the Matrix, a.k.a. - cyberspace.

I suppose Gibson's world would have been more amazing back in 1984 than today. We have the Internet, virtual reality technology, and so on. Plus many of the concepts from the book have been used in other artifacts of popular culture such as The Matrix trilogy. Still, Gibson does a great job of writing that despite all this, his world still seems fresh and vivid. He describes things well without going overboard like, say, Stephen R. Donaldson does. Take this, for example:

Opening his eyes, he saw Molly, naked and just out of reach across an expanse of very new pink temperfoam. Overhead, sunlight filtered through the soot-stained grid of a skylight.

It's very descriptive yet still concise. There's enough detail to form vivid images in your imagination yet not every detail is laid out for the reader. Plus Gibson's writing just has a good flow. It never gets bogged down in explanations of hacking or cyberspace and the characters are often on the move, whether it be carrying out a mission or heading to a new destination, so there's usually something new afoot.

In Case Gibson has a likeable protagonist. He's in need of redemption and is being manipulated by forces he does not understand, at first. Molly is a badass who takes no shit but she becomes involved with Case and she too is a pawn in someone's game. I found myself rooting for them the whole time. The hacking, the wondrous technology, and the mysteries never got in the way of the characters. Add in intrigue, a mystery that unfolds at just the right pace, and some tense cloak & dagger scenes and you've got a great book.
|| Palmer, 7:07 PM || link || (0) comments |

Carmilla and Other Art in Chicago

Yesterday I took The Dulcinea to Chicago for her Valentine's Day gift: taking in WildClaw Theatre's latest production, Carmilla.

We took the L downtown and grabbed a bite to eat, namely, the manna that is Italian beef. It was from Gold Coast Dogs and it was OK. But OK Italian beef in Chicago means that it's better than the vast majority of beef here in Madison. With a little bit of time yet before the show, we went to the Chicago Cultural Center and poked around. First we saw a menagerie of portraits of Chicago mayors. My memory goes back to Jane Byrne. Next we took in some rather tiny photographs by Dan Zamudio which he took with a toy camera. They were photographs of Chicago. Some were streetscapes while others captured the ever-rarer neon signs of the city. There was also a selection of water towers which are also vanishing here in the 21st century.

The D was particularly entranced with Vivian Maier's street portraiture. The pictures were mostly of people in New York and Chicago in the 1950s and they were striking. Just very clear, crisp and honest moments captured on celluloid. Lastly there was an exhibit on Louis Sullivan, the architect. It explored his style with photos of his buildings blown up to cover whole walls, blueprints, and bits of buildings that had been torn down such as balusters.

On to the play!

Carmilla is based on the novella of the same name by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Published in 1872, it predates Bram Stoker's Dracula by 25 years and the playbill was quick to emphasize this. I've never read it so I cannot say how close to the source material the play stayed.

It begins with Laura who lives with her father, a widower, in Styria which is a province of Austria. She is a young woman who has, numerically speaking, just come of age. With her blond hair and fair skin, she is very beautiful but she dresses very conservatively. Laura is inexperienced and lonely, longing for friendship and desiring to escape arranged marriage. Her governesses provide some respite as they alternately comfort and gently poke fun at her with innuendo and tales of their exploits with men. Things look up when she hears of Bertha, the daughter of her father's friend General Spielsdorf. But Fate has other things in mind. A letter from the general informs her that Bertha had been killed. We in the audience know that it was by the hand or rather by the mouth of a mysterious figure hidden in a cloak who went right for the jugular.

One day Laura is out with her father and her caretakers when they witness a carriage accident. Three people escape – a woman along with her daughter and servant. She pleads with Laura's father to take care of her daughter. She has urgent business and wants to entrust her girl with him until she can return three months hence. The daughter is Carmilla and, at Laura's prodding, she is taken in for a bit of convalescing while her mother departs.

Carmilla is a striking figure. Her dark hair and ample bosom, which threatens to burst free from her dress at any moment, stand in stark contrast to Laura. But the pair hit it off right away. For her part, Laura is entranced by Carmilla's worldliness and that she is a free spirit not bound by convention. Carmilla speaks her mind even to the point of brashness. On the other hand, Carmilla views Laura as an innocent ripe for the taking.

At turns Carmilla acts like an older sister to Laura while at others her Sapphic desires bleed through. I can only imagine how well a lesbian vampire went over back in the 19th century. Here the contrasts between the two really stand out. Brittany Burch plays Laura and she does so really well. Burch is waifish with a soft, round face. She endows Laura with a rather high-pitched girlie voice and a posh accent. She is like a rich girl in a cocoon waiting to pop out as a woman.

Michaela Petro plays Carmilla. Her features are a bit more angular and her deeper voice is at once commanding and sultry. She plays against Laura very well. Carmilla is lusty and vivacious and she desires to help Laura move into womanhood by showing her the freedom to live outside of society's norms as well as the pleasures of the flesh in more ways that one. She not only puts her feminine wiles on display but also engages in vicious struggles against those who would kill her.

Carmilla's odd behavior and her unwillingness to talk about herself puzzles Laura and her family. In one instance she and Laura witness a gypsy funeral parade and Carmilla is beside herself with rage at the Christian hymn the mourners are singing. Yet she is also capable displaying great affection for Laura. Carmilla is a tragic figure torn between her genuine feelings for the girl and her grisly past which is swiftly catching up with her.

At center stage here are women. The male characters are patriarchal clichés for the most part. Laura's father is a rational man who seeks to adhere to tradition by marrying off his daughter. Dr. Hesselius is almost a buffoon for most of the play with his oddly formed proclamations of disbelief that provided a few laughs. The men are either upholding patriarchal norms or pursuing that other male pastime – killing. They're almost cardboard cutouts.

The two lead women, however, are much more sympathetic and are transformed by the end of the play. Carmilla's bloodlust runs up against her longing for another woman while Laura eventually renounces the constrictive societal norms that bind her. This focus on women is further emphasized by the fact there are only females vampires here. Bertha undergoes the change after being bitten and she has a run-in or two with Carmilla and we witness two women struggling with one another as opposed to men simply lording over women.

In addition to the, for want of a better term, feminist themes of the story, there is plenty of blood to be had here. I mean, it is a WildClaw productions after all. Fangs get a good workout and the fight scenes were really good with judicious use of slow motion acting and strobe lights. And I think I've developed a man-crush on Brian Amidei who plays General Spielsdorf and Baron Vordenburg. They weren't lead roles here but I just loved his scenery chewing towards the end of the play. His accent seemed a bit over the top as he screamed "She must die tonight!" and it was all just slightly on the hammy side and I just loved it. Honestly, I thought everyone did a great job here – those onstage and off. The sound design was great and I really appreciated the use of heartbeats. It may come across as cheesy or clichéd at first but their use was highly effective at drawing out tension.

Carmilla closes on the 20th so go see it if you have the chance. It's a fantastic mixture of feminism and horror and, although I'm not the most experienced theatregoer, I must say that it's the most erotic play I've ever seen.

|| Palmer, 2:42 PM || link || (0) comments |

Prognosticating the 2011 Wisconsin Film Festival

Last week Dane101 "leaked" the news that Acquainted with the Night: Excursions Through the World After Dark would be shown at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival. In order to not get in trouble with Jesse Russell, I say "leaked" because this is the exact word used by the festival director Meg Hamel. Anyway, it looks to be an interesting film.

Now that the Romanian Film Festival has been merged into the WI Film Fest, I am going to predict that Aurora will be screened at the festival. It's the latest work by Cristi Puiu who directed The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.
|| Palmer, 10:49 AM || link || (0) comments |

12 February, 2011

Talgo Moving from Milwaukee to Illinois?

A couple days ago the Chicago Tribune reported that the train manufacturer Talgo looks to be taking its jobs from Milwaukee and moving them across the border to Illinois. But it's not quite sure.

Under siege by New Jersey's attempts to lure businesses from Illinois and bruised by the Chicago Bears' loss to the Green Bay Packers, Gov. Pat Quinn went on the offensive and reeled in a maker of high-speed passenger trains that had set up shop in Wisconsin, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday.

"The governor (of Illinois) just was able to attract Talgo, which is a train manufacturing company from Wisconsin, to come to Illinois to manufacture train sets, which is quite a coup," LaHood said in Washington.

State officials said they are finalizing a deal with Spanish-owned Talgo Inc. Talgo officials could not be reached for comment.
|| Palmer, 5:29 AM || link || (0) comments |

11 February, 2011

Is This the Beginning of the Great Wisconsin Infrastructure Sell-Off?

Lucky guy. UW football Bret Bielema is getting a roughly 47% pay raise while most state workers are having their unions dismantled and being told that they can't get a raise beyond the consumer price index without a referendum.

The UW Board of Regents approved pay raises for Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst in a closed session, said UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, who was in the meeting.

According to information released earlier, Bielema's compensation package is set to increase from $1.7 million to $2.5 million. Chryst's compensation will increase from $305,000 to more than $400,000.

Bielema and Chryst join the ranks of law enforcement and fire fighters as state employees who are not being totally screwed over.

Beyond this, Walker's announcement concerns me because of a little detail that was tucked in at the very end of the WSJ's overview:

The bill also calls for selling off the state's heating plants, with the money raised helping to balancing the budget.

A) How would we citizens be affected by the heating plants being privatized?

B) Does Walker have designs on selling off any more public infrastructure? Why not sell state parks to loggers and our highways to Morgan Stanley, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and Allianz Capital Partners?
|| Palmer, 2:23 PM || link || (2) comments |

Walker Pisses on Back of Union Members and Tells Them It's Raining

Gov. Walker is going to send a letter out today saying how much he loves everyone before he busts their union.

In an email to be sent out to state workers later Friday morning, Walker thanked public workers for their service and sought their understanding for broad and controversial changes he is seeking to the state's collective bargaining law. The Republican governor says those changes are necessary to balanced a $137 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year ending June 30 and a $3.6 billion shortfall for the 2011-'13 budget.

But the measure would exempt law enforcement and firefighters - groups that in many cases supported Walker in the November election - from those bargaining changes.

You see, all unions are equal, some are just more equal than others.

So, if you're a state employee whose union is getting busted, should you feel some solidarity with the cops and fire fighters and be glad that their unions are safe? Or are you pissed off that they have left you to die?

And what do Republicans think of Walker's favoritism?
|| Palmer, 10:31 AM || link || (0) comments |

Theft Is a Minor Infraction?

The WSJ inveighs against the City of Madison's settlement with now- former Madison Police officer Denise Markham. Due to her contract penned by a union that Gov. Walker won't try to dismantle, Markham got 18 months of paid leave and even accrued sick time while she was not serving and protecting.

Aside from all the hoopla about the taxpayer money she "earned" while not working, I have to wonder what it is she really did that spurned the whole investigation into her conduct in the first place. According to the editorial and this article Markham, amongst other things, "conducted improper searches" and "improper seizures of private property".

Her attorney, apparently from the police union – the one upon which Gov. Walker has showered his grace, says that "she was singled out for minor infractions." No criminal wrongdoing was found on Markham's part, just simple policy infractions. Here's the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

So it would seem to me that the proper way to seize private property would be to get a warrant or to use some other end-around the Fourth Amendment that the Supreme Courts have given to law enforcement. But what the hell is "improper seizures of private property" if not theft? If an agent of the government who is endowed with the legal right to use violence improperly takes something from a private citizen, then has the officer not violated that citizen's Fourth Amendment rights? We're not talking about a jaywalking ordinance here, this is a right enshrined in our founding document. Yet when someone who can legally use coercion and violence on behalf of the state steals from a citizen it is just a policy infraction and not a criminal violation?

I'll bet a dollar to a doughnut that, if someone went to the homes of Markham and her lawyer and seized some of their property, they wouldn't be brushing it off as a minor incident.
|| Palmer, 10:14 AM || link || (0) comments |

07 February, 2011

Packers Win the Super Bowl

|| Palmer, 1:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

06 February, 2011

Where Is My Real Girlfriend?

The woman sitting here with me willingly and gleefully put on a football game and even knew who a linebacker was that made a play.

I think someone stole The Dulcinea and left me with a pod person or something.
|| Palmer, 5:43 PM || link || (1) comments |

05 February, 2011

This Too Shall Pass

Take it from me: avoid kidney stones at all costs.

After I finished shoveling on Wednesday I came inside and was doing dishes when I felt a nasty pain on my right side. Not surprisingly, I thought it related to the fact that I had just moved a ton of snow with a shovel so I popped a painkiller and a muscle relaxant and laid down in bed. But no position was comfortable. No matter what I did the pain would not cease. I knew then that this was no muscle sprain. Had I given myself a hernia?

The pain got so bad that all I could do was moan and groan and writhe around on my bed. It came in waves. For about 20 minutes I'd been in sheer agony with the dull but very intense pain eating at my right side and then it would go away for a short time. Eventually it got so bad that The Dulcinea drove me to the ER. On the way there we had to pull over because I felt nauseous.

The streets were passable but by no means clear so it seemed like an eternity but we finally made it to the ER where I was interrogated for what was probably 3 minutes but, again, it seemed like forever. The pain was pretty severe but the receptionist kept asking question after question. I was about to keel over but she kept going. Am I employed? Is it full-time? Employer's name? Employer's address? This rather flummoxed me as she had my insurance card. I mean, couldn't the details wait until I was in a better way?

Luckily I was seen by a nurse straight away who checked my vitals and then shuffled off to an exam room where a doctor's assistant type fellow said that my symptoms were those of kidney stones. My dad had a kidney stone and I recalled him saying how incredibly painful it was. Great.

So I am lying on a gurney writhing in pain once more as a nurse sets up an IV. Do I want a topical anesthetic before the needle goes in? Nope. Just get it in and pump me full of drugs. Please! So the IV goes in and the saline solution or whatever it was followed. Where was my painkiller? Next came an anti-nausea drug. I thought they'd never give me anything for the pain. At last she starts injecting something that would stop me from squirming on the bed and holding fast to the rail. She gave me half a dose at first to see how that went. It didn’t do a thing so she gave me the whole nine yards. After a short while I still felt like my kidney was going to explode so she busted out the good stuff.

"I'm going to give you another painkiller," she announced.

I asked, "Is it an opiate?"

"Yes," was the reply.

Good. She explained that some people, upon getting the drug, feel like they're levitating. Must be good stuff! And it was. While I didn't feel as if I were floating above the gurney, the pain did go away and it was then off to get a CAT scan.

It didn't take long to get the results. It was a indeed a kidney stone. Two, in fact. My mind immediately thought about the kidney I had seen at the Bodies exhibition at Hilldale a couple months ago. There was a kidney on display that had been cut in half exposing stones. The poor person had like half a dozen of them and they ranged in size from tiny to a half-inch or more. I recoiled in horror.

As far as my own stones went, one was about 2mm and the other ½mm. The guy wasn't sure which was which on the printout of the scan. One had left my kidney already while the other was up at the top of it and would likely start its trek to my bladder soon. Lucky me. So I asked if they could do the ultrasound blast and bust those puppies to smithereens. Nope. They only do that for stones 5mm or larger. I was going to have to drink gallons of water and pass them.

Crap. I'd heard my father's tale of passing a stone and it is commonly said that pissing out a kidney stone is akin to giving birth on the pain scale. Hell, the nurse said as much for she had done both. Being jacked up on opiates at the time, the full impact of this foreboding news didn't register with my brain fully.

So I left there having had no ultrasound and no drugs to break up the stones. However, I was given prescriptions for an anti-nausea drug, Percocets, and something that would dilate my ureter or urethra or something like that to help the stones pass more easily. Curiously enough, the gentleman's explanation of the latter was prefaced with a caveat that there were no studies to prove that it actually worked but that it was standard operating procedure to prescribe it in cases like mine. (I think it's normally used to help men who have prostate problems urinate.)

I was also warned the at Percocets may very well cause constipation and so they have. I've been bombarding my guts with laxatives and stool softeners to no avail so there are times when I can't tell if the pain in my midsection is from a stone making its way to my bladder or a cramp from not being able to move my bowels.

I couldn't sleep Thursday night/Friday morning so I got up and paced the dining room as waves of pain came over me and I waited for a Percocet to kick in. Our cat was feeling frisky and wanted to play so she decided to attack my legs and feet. At least it was a distraction. Not having any paid time off, I went to work early on Thursday and Friday to make up the time I lost from not going to work on Wednesday owing to the blizzard. Those were some of the longest days of my life. I told some co-workers about my condition so that they knew what was happening if they should hear blood-curdling screams emanating from the men's room. Although no one had had them before a few people had relatives who had suffered from them. One guy told me that his father had kidney stones and recalled seeing him writhing in pain on the bathroom floor. It was the only time that he'd ever seen his father cry. Great. At least I got some sympathy.

So here I am three days later waiting for the excruciating pain and for it all to be over with. I have a funnel to pee in so I can capture the stone and have it analyzed. If passing one is as painful as childbirth, how can they expect me to hold a funnel? I don't get it. It really sucks going to the bathroom knowing that any second I could be suffering the pain of death. When I urinate a droplet inevitably forms on the filter creating a dark spot and each time I think that I've passed the stone although I know that it's just a droplet. Wishful thinking. However, on Wednesday I did spy a little flake on the filter. It was tiny and of a reddish brown hue. At the time I figured it was simply a bit of plastic or something from the packaging of the funnel and discarded it but, after some reflection, I am now hoping that it was the tiny stone and that I've only got one more to go. The funnel is off-white and this thing was brick red. It had to be the small stone, right?

I took my last Percocet a couple hours ago so I am expecting a return visit to the ER this morning. We've got it set so that the kid goes with grandpa as there's no point in A) upsetting him by having him watch me writhe in agony and B) having him sit around in the hospital waiting room. Poor kid. I know he'd rather be here shooting Nazis on the Wii.

One thing I've learned so far is that standing up and pacing is better than lying down or sitting. I have no idea why this should be.

Although it cannot come soon enough, this too shall pass.
|| Palmer, 7:23 AM || link || (4) comments |

Polish Band KlezmaFour Comes to Madison on 5 March

The Polish klezmer band KlezmaFour will be coming to Madison on 5 March at the High Noon Saloon. Yid Vicious will be opening and the show starts at 6:30.

Szymon Wozniczka is responsible for bringing the band here so many thanks to him for putting this all together as he did in getting the Janusz Prusinowski Trio and Kwadrophonik to come to Madison last fall. Speaking of Szymon, as he does periodically, he'll be playing Polish music on WORT's "On the Horizon" show next Sunday the 13th from 4-5PM. He posts playlists at his site MadPolKA and at Facebook.
|| Palmer, 5:52 AM || link || (0) comments |