Monday, February 28, 2005

Do Not or Do Doughnut?

Do not or do doughnut, that is the question. Aside from two pieces of mustard bread and half a bag a chips late last night, we have not had any solid food since Sunday brunch, so it seems appropriate to eat something lacking nutritional value to get this travel day going. There is a bakery around the corner from the hotel so I purchase enough sugar coated pastry to jump start the metabolism. We quickly finish off a pot of room service coffee and contemplate the need to clean up, pack up and get going.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Birthday Girl Sunshine

It’s just another beautiful day in Austin and the sunshine illuminates the freshly washed city in celebration of Lola’s birthday. A gift of perfect weather is so thoughtful and sincerely appreciated. There is no rush to do anything and we leisurely get ready for the day before taking a taxi over to east Austin looking for Sunday Brunch. The driver goes through the neighborhoods of small houses east of the interstate and pulls into the parking lot of a closed and empty building. Plan A comes to a quick and total halt.

Plan B is nearby and we are dropped off at the front door of Hoover’s Cooking on Manor Road. The restaurant is mostly full and we get a table in a side room that we share with two large groups of black teens dressed in their Sunday go to church best. This place was recommended for authentic local food and we order barbeque chicken and sausage with sides of macaroni and cheese, fried okra and green beans. The beans taste exactly like my mother used to make and the meal is perfectly good home cooking.

When we finish we step outside, look around and decide to just start walking. Heading west we cross under the interstate and find ourselves on the University of Texas campus. The direction we are headed keeps sloping downhill as we pass stadiums and resident halls and bus stops and oil wells. Lola takes a homemade poster offering a reward for the return of a Salsa Dancing Squirrel off a street light. We want the picture to make sure we have the right critter before making any attempt to capture the varmint. Past the capital grounds and federal buildings we just keep walking in sunshine until we are back.

Taking only a few moments to refresh we grab a cab to go hear Dale Watson play the Chicken Shit Sunday show at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon in north Austin. Ginny’s turns out to be a small white building standing alone on a small city lot. The front door and the back door are open to let in the air and Gene Kurtz, the bass player, is hanging around waiting for Dale to show up. In the meantime people are eating the free hotdogs set out on a table by the front door. At one table a group is playing dominos to pass the time.

Around five o’clock Dale rides up on an Indian motorcycle which he parks by the back door with the other cycles. People are beginning to spill outside, sipping on beers and waiting for the chicken. Lola and I inherit two seats at the bar and we take turns holding the space for each other. The music starts and the joint is packed and the lady tending bar is keeping real busy selling beers and set ups. Every now and then the band breaks and people line up for numbers corresponding to the grid floor of the wire mesh chicken cage. There is always a crowd around that cage waiting for that chicken to answer nature’s call.

The tip hat gets passed around and people chat intently with each other as if the band playing is nothing out of the ordinary. A camera crew from the cable channel A&E shows up and that is outside of the norm. Dale warns the crowd that attendance is consent but think twice if you should not been seen with the person on your arm. Ginny sits on a stool behind the bar and looks over a scene that is the epitomy of all that is good and authentic about real country music and honky-tonk culture that nurtured the sound. Heading home I’m thinking this is as Texas as Texas gets.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Rainy Saturday in Austin

It’s a wet raining morning and Lola insists we venture outside for a Tex-Mex breakfast at Las Manitas on Congress Avenue. We hoist umbrellas and sally forth against the onslaught of the environment. Sloshing through the constant drizzle we end up at a crowded little hole in the wall restaurant and move into a freshly vacated booth. It’s all eggs and beans, salsa and juice and we snarf it down until every last crumb has vanished.

With bellies loaded for the day we wander slowly back to the hotel, stopping in shops to seek refuge from the rain. Stores full of trinkets and junk and stores filled with objects of art like toy cars made from Pepsi cans. Socialist realist ceramic Chairman Mao figurines are on sale while supplies last. We drink coffee in the lobby of the Frost Bank building so we can check it off the sites visited list. All the time the rain keeps falling with no end in sight.

In the middle of the afternoon we grab a cab to the Continental Club for the afternoon matinee show. Redd Valkaert has a band playing and Billy Dee is onstage playing bass guitar. Billy used to tour with Dale Watson and I will forever remember the night Billy played the pillar of strength while Dale got blitz drunk on stage at the Club Tavern. The music twangs in the old small room and the waitress passes the hat around gathering offerings from the congregation. The people are giving freely in appreciation of the rapture.

At dark we managed to grab the last two seats at the end of La Traviata’s bar. Lola orders cold roasted beets and sweet red peppers and bresaola for an appetizer. The dried beef reminds her of the Wisconsin farmhouse dried beef Aunt Eileen made in winter from the fall slaughter. An orange labeled bottle of Seghesio Barbera proves fine as all the Seghesio vintages have been. After pasta with wild mushrooms Lola gets the staff talking about their excellent establishment and their recommendations for tomorrow.

Walking back under the cover of our two umbrellas the cold night rain has the buildings dark and the streets glistening. We spend a couple hours at The Vibe while a jam band plays under the covered deck in open air in the back lot. The place ranks in the top two for worst restrooms in the district, however, the air is chilled and the beer is chilled and the band is playing slow harmonic twisted riffs to a backbeat of natural percussion. We make a few more stops on the way back home because the journey truly is part of the reward.

Friday, February 25, 2005


Lola insists that I get out of bed since it’s after 11 AM. The sun is slightly brighter through the cloud cover today and it’s time to eat. She takes us to an old building beside a deep gully that drains into the nearby Colorado River. The Iron Works was once a blacksmith shop in the frontier days of horse shoes and wrought iron fences. Workers on early lunch break keep the staff busy but the food is nothing special. No work calls us back today so when we finish the meal we just start walking down Chavez Street with no particular goal in mind. Upon reaching the Congress Avenue Bridge I coax Lola into walking across. To get to the other side is a legitimate, valid and time honored answer to the question why.

South of the river is a neighborhood retail area known simply as South Congress. In slow incremental stages, with frequent pauses to debate the wisdom of going forward, we eventually walk all the way to that six block cluster of small commercial buildings. Buying coffee at Jo’s we sit outside watching pedestrians dart through gaps in the arterial traffic flowing in and out of downtown. We glance around in stores of brightly painted imported Mexican objects and Lola points out the Continental Club for future reference.

At the end of the district we enter a small house remodeled as a gallery where a talkative young woman goes on in detail about what they have done and what they have for sale. Her husband emerges from a back room and we discuss all the advantages of abandoning cabinet doors and painting the walls red. We have browsed through the art shops and antique stores, plus the boot shop selling every color that can be dyed into leather and Lola decides this is the place to buy something for herself. Politely declining to sign a guestbook we dash across traffic with our loot to catch the free bus ride back downtown.

As early evening settles in we walk to a section of downtown where old warehouses have been salvaged and transformed into restaurants. Friday night dinner crowds fill the streets and we feel fortunate to get quick seating at a small table in the front room of the Malaga Wine and Tapas Bar. I love brick walls all time worn and weathered and Lola loves being able to sample a variety of flavors, so the place suits us both. Small roasted red peppers stuffed with goat cheese in olive oil with capers are among the seven Tapas tonight. We conclude with Flan and Port to maintain the Iberian consistency of the meal.

After dinner Lola walks us around the corner to Antone’s where Marcia Ball is playing a nine o’clock benefit. We already have tickets to see her at Luther’s in two weeks and I really want to explore something new. We walk around the block once and Lola agrees to head back to Sixth Street. I hear a blues band playing at the 311 Club so we settle into a back table to listen. The band is generically blues in the best sense. A bit raw and unpolished but when the guitar’s blend together just right, the sound is healing to the mind. Later on in the night a packed house at B. D. Riley’s Pub gets buzzed by the tighter more electric blues of the Eric Tessmer Band. Walking home I’m real happy.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Vacation begins precisely 4 PM as Lola and I settle into our 12th floor room at the Omni in downtown Austin, Texas. All the stuff during the earlier part of the day, driving to the airport as the radio plays "Stand by your Man", pulling your damn belt off so the damn metal detector stops screaming then killing time with solitaire in the air, all that stuff is travel. Vacation begins the moment we start making the decisions about what to do next.

Casino el Camino is a dark bar on Sixth Street with black walls and Mayan decorations like the back patio mural of a priest, a corpse and a heart. Sixth Street is about night life and there is still daylight through the front wall windows just below the ceiling. Lola plays the jukebox and I punch in "Invitation to the Blues" by Tom Waits which causes one of the twelve people in the place to grumble about unlistenable music. The bartender pours himself four shots as the front windows slowly become darker and recommends we see the bats. The bats love the Austin nights.

A few blocks back towards Congress Avenue the Rasta boys and beggars are intermingling with normal folks just waiting for the bus stop. Through the bright windows of Buffalo Billiards I notice the Wisconsin - Michigan State game on a monster screen and the Badgers are getting trounced. Lola chit-chats the locals and I concede defeat to a father and son dressed in green and cheering for State. It's an early evening after work crowd, standing in small groups around gaming tables, drinking beers, smacking balls, sliding pucks and paying with plastic. About this time I start looking around for any gold coins on the ground.

Lola insists that we have drinks at the Driskill Hotel which is all opulence and indulgence with bronze statues and light fixtures fashioned like handguns. Champagne and Brandy as the piano player plays to the room. Our young server says he wants a career in "health promotion" and I promptly question how bartending looks on a resume for that field. The discussion drifts into an analysis of prohibition and I caution him never to discount government overreaction to a legitimate problem. After all, this is the very place where Landslide Lyndon waited for the mystery votes that doomed poor Coke Stevenson.

It's a cool night, the kind that's good for walking and the Capital of Texas is literally up the block. Lola and I amble towards the dome until we hear singing. In a small room, an old black lady is playing keyboards while she sings in distinctive voice. "Austin's Own Legend" according to the table card. The audience is a guy wearing really bad drag, one K. D. Lange body double with entourage, assorted troubled youth and an 80 year old birthday girl. The Thompson machine gun on display means this is two bars in a row with firearms as decoration. On the way out after she finished, we tell Margaret Wright her singing stopped us and drew us in, which is true.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Danger in Kelo

Many blogs are discussing a U.S. Supreme Court case described in this Analysis of Kelo vs. the City of New London. The essence of the dispute is the government’s power of eminent domain vs. the protections against seizure granted individuals by the 5th Amendment. The city government of New London Connecticut wants to take land from holdout homeowners so that Pfizer Corporation can complete building a privately designed research park. The city believes the jobs and tax revenue that should result from this private enterprise justifies taking existing ownership rights away from the remaining citizens.

The troubling aspect of this case is that normally when private land is taken under the power of eminent domain, the ownership of the land transfers to the public as represented by the government. Applied fairly this seizure power provides things like public roads and city parks. In this instance, which is not unique, eminent domain is being used to transfer the ownership rights from one private party to another private party, with the hope that the new private owners will make the land available for public use.

At the heart of the dispute is what the “public use” phrase in the 5th Amendment means. Privately owned and open to the public, for example retail shops and restaurants, is a classic business model that can be considered public use of land. This is very different from publicly owned and used by the public such as a community swimming pool. It is meaningless to use the term “public use” without direct reference to the property being used.

In this case the city government believes the greater good of the community will be served by seizing private homes for the benefit of a private organization. If the amount of revenue a government can receive from a property is the determining factor in exercising the right of eminent domain, then the whole concept of private property is mute. If the government can legitimately transfer ownership rights between private parties based on the highest bidder, then there is no meaningful right of private ownership, only a right to fair compensation as determined by the government.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Alderman Austin King: Oil Addict

I don’t think that the average homeowner in Madison understands how extreme left the Madison City Council has become. It knocked me on my head when I came across the following story featuring Madison Alderman Austin King founding Oil Addicts Anonymous. It turns out that the Four Lakes Green Party already holds three of the 20 city Alderman Seats and they are included as part of the Progressive Dane Party which holds another three seats for a total of six positions on the City Council. It would be less problematic except for the fact that the remaining City Council chairs are all held by the Dane County Democratic Party. It’s time to stop what has happened in Madison.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Social Security: The Solution

Social Security the problem: When the time comes you can no longer consistently depend on the strength of you body to provide you income, then you need to depend on your mind, or your ownerships, or you will have nothing outside of friendships to offer anyone to help keep you alive.

The solution to this problem starts with turning the existing system upside down. Take the current social security tax collection system and keep it in tact. The most cost effective way to change the system involves keeping the entire infrastructure in place and then reprogramming the output. All social security taxes on the persons first $30,000 goes into an ownership account, accessible at some future date for that individual.

A person’s first obligation to society is to take care of their individual self. An obligation to society means the individual owes a financial debt to society that is paid to the government of that society. A person’s second obligation to society is to take care of others. Subsequently the tax from the income over $30,000 goes into a protected fund to pay benefits to current Social Security recipients.

When the current social security stop tax income level is reached, the individual has paid off the social debt to pay for others. The first principal of society needs to be that a citizen must be able to satisfy any debts. In other words, society can not burden an individual with a permanent debt to the government. This provision is essential to a truly free society governed by citizens elected to and authorized to administer temporary power. Social Security taxation must have both fixed annual and fixed lifetime limits.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Why Traffic is Wonderful

Matt Kenseth’s motor blew up very early in the race and Jeff Gordon went on the win the Daytona 500 this afternoon. The 2005 NASCAR Championship Season is underway and if you don’t “get it”, this is the best way I can explain the attraction. Traffic re-affirms my belief in the basic intelligence of people. In American society the majority of adults operate complex heavy machines in motion, while in close proximity to multiple other individuals doing the same thing. Traffic is common, almost always present at some level and remarkably safe for a largely self-regulating dynamic system.

It turns out that human perception and motor skills are by and large pretty good and that individual self interest does a remarkably good job of allowing people to pursue diverse and divergent goals on their own time schedule. Traffic works without centralized control or planning of the actual daily activities of people and it works regardless of the formal educational level of the participants. Aside from basic operating and regulatory instruction, almost all adult humans have the biologic intelligence to drive safely.

There are problems that occur with traffic but the reason only fatal crashes make the news is that these are exceptions in a system that functions extremely efficiently. The frustration most of us occasionally encounter with other drivers only makes the point that we expect traffic to work without problems. Humans are so instinctually good at driving that the best individuals can do it at for long periods of time at nearly 200 mph, and still have time to calculate how to beat another driver to a given point.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Wow That's True Moment

Browsing around the web this morning I had a “wow that’s true” moment when I came across a link to a brilliant Michael Crichton Speech. Crichton sounds a general warning about the way science is being misused and fraudulently represented to advance political agendas. I have been looking for this type of calm reasoning because for some time now I have been concerned the scientific method I learned has been totally left out of the rhetoric passing as scientific debate.

The scientific method is what makes some knowledge “scientific”. That is the essential fact missing from so much of the current discussion. The term scientist is an informal title used for individuals working in disciplines built upon scientific knowledge, but everything scientists do is not science. When a physician talks about the stock market, the commentary does not make the stock market a medical procedure. When a pastor talks about health insurance that does not make the policy language religious text.

The defining property of scientific knowledge is universally reproducible and observable results. The power of scientific knowledge arises from this complete dependability of results. If you start with one set of conditions and take one set of actions, then you will always get the same conclusion. Science is a small part of the entire wealth of human knowledge, and incorporating some science as a aspect of a larger scholarly effort does not make the entirety of the product and conclusions of that effort scientific.

There is a distinction between math and science and the difference seems to be overlooked in discussions between scientific professionals, and even more so in the public presentations of the scientific community to the general public. Science is limited to the observable properties of the real world. Science describes a portion of how the existing world works, but it does not predict the whole of the future. On the other hand, mathematics is an internally consistent logical language that can be used to describe the existing world, but can also be used to describe imaginary and impossible events as well as events which have never happened. Houdini knew fortune tellers weren’t scientists.

Friday, February 18, 2005

WORT Blues and Texas Honky Tonk

Friday night in front of a three day weekend and all I really want to do is fall asleep. Lola had on WORT for Blues Cruise but has switched over to Jimmy Dale Gilmore CD's. She has already pledged to our very own community radio station, this time to get on the guest list for Marcia Ball. The mercury is diving towards single digits and it's a good evening to rest up since there are only six more days until Austin. I hope it reaches 60 degrees in Texas. 60 degrees and sunshine right up until darkness, and then stage lighting and flashing neon. It's all good when the flashing lights are in front you and not the other way around.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Wow Fades but Truth Lingers

Watching the History Channel do a snippet of a program on the development of medical imaging, it strikes me once more how much human understanding of the dynamic structure of the physical world has improved the past several centuries. This is not an original thought and not an uncommon thought. I suspect the moment of "wow that's true" wonderment is a universal human experience. The emotional "wow" component fades over time but the "that's true" belief lingers. Over time the accumulation of these moments produce the structure of our thinking and form the basis of our ability to determine the initial property of any statement as true or false.

True or false: I own the clothes I'm wearing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Jigsaw Puzzle Without a Picture

Some days the reality that there is an ongoing global war against the Islam of Human Sacrifices, and ongoing struggle for the intellectual direction of this country is just depressing. I was taught not to worry about events and actions outside my personal control, but rather to focus on the immediate problems. Still there are so many words to be strung together in so many ways and there is no picture on the puzzle box for guidance.

Dane County Democratic Party Endorsements came out in the middle of January for this year. Steve Holtzman has retired from the city council and Noel Radomski is running unopposed for that Alderman seat. The Konkel-Cieslewicz Administration team handpicked Radomski who is already working on two city committees. By April he will become a predictable vote for the Mayor on the council and so it is already time to start monitoring his activity as he ascends into his new role in the government.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Taliban Country: The Movie

On the UW campus tonight, Madison’s Chapter of Amnesty International is showing a short film by Carmela Baranowska. In his review of Taliban Country Isthmus film critic Kent Williams is shocked by the abuses of the American military. The film maker bravely interviewed Afghan residents and elicits the following testimony:
“Some men claim to have been stripped, photographed, even submitted to having fingers inserted in their anuses.”
The left is now appalled by the abuse equivalent of a physical examination with x-rays. Blood, Bruises, Burns, Broken Bones, Bullet Holes: No, No, No, No, No. Prostate exam by a soldier: Torture Crisis in the American Military.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Unborn Bacteria Status

I am an unconcieved bacteria in the TTLB Ecosystem. I do however have Lola, bubbles, homemade lasgana and chocolates. Evolution requires time but there is lots of time. Some experts theorize more than 6000 years worth of tick tocks.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Social Security: The Socialist Theory

Flipping on the Weather Channel the first thing this morning I could see the wall of green moving with irresistible force towards Madison. The local forecast reads: chance of rain 90%. It looks more like chance of rain 100% but fortune tellers always like to give themselves an out. The problem with trying to predict the future is that it is impossible to be completely accurate. The best that can be done is to understand what has occurred in the past, measure what can be measured, apply principals as you believe them, and then guess.

Social Security will be destroyed under the guise of fixing it reads a prophetic declaration, and since the authors are Northwestern University History Professors I believe they have studied the past and reviewed the current numbers. The interesting parts are the principals that underlie their prophecy. On a side note, I am amused that the root word “profess” has multiple meanings, including both speaking with knowledge and speaking insincerely. I have always trusted professors to be knowledgeable.

Their treatise begins with a clear concise statement of the historical problem. “Social Security was established in 1935 above all to prevent the elderly from falling into dire poverty.” Poverty and old age is now and will always be an issue each generation of society must address. The debate going forward should not stray far from this fact. The world is very different from 1935 and it is disingenuous to take the position that the solution from two generations ago should not be evaluated for both efficiency and effectiveness. If you are looking to the past for knowledge, the past began an instant ago.

The professors next state a refreshingly strait forward explanation of the 1935 solution. “The underlying principles of Social Security are a kind of social contract that is both intergenerational and intragenerational. That is, those who are working pay the benefits of those who have retired; and those who have never done paid work (widowed homemakers and dependent children, for instance) receive benefits from those who have worked or still do.” I hope the Howard Dean democrats embrace this as their true belief.

If the democrats are honest about and proud of their values, they will make the same case against fundamental social security change as the professors. “More important, allowing the establishment of personal accounts with Social Security premiums would violate the intergenerational and intragenerational social contract on which Social Security was founded. This social contract stands for mutual support, while personal accounts represent a completely different idea: self-interest.” This sounds like the old socialist idea that the rights of society take precedence over the rights of the individual.

The advocates of progressive government in their hearts do not trust individual citizens to take responsibility for their own lives. In their belief system, a collection of individuals acting out of self interest to improve their individual prosperity in life does not have the cumulative effect of building a better society. America is over 100 years past the time when private wealth could be accumulated by the forced exploitation of others and since then individual self interest has lifted most Americans out of total abject poverty.

The hallmark characteristic of poverty is the absence of assets. The wealthy are rich because they own things and the poor are impoverished because they don’t. The existing social security system is based upon taking money earned by the young in exchange for a promise of future help if they get old. The program has worked to keep the problem of old age poverty in check, but it has done nothing to help the young build real assets. People escape poverty when they create and keep money and objects of real value from their labor. The current design blunts the effects of elderly poverty but does nothing to help younger individuals build enough wealth to ultimately avoid the poorhouse. We can do better.

It is proper that there is an ongoing debate about how a free society deals with both treatment and prevention of destitute old age. Policy wonk nuances such as means testing, asset allocation percentages and government guaranteed benefit levels will eventually be determined. The battle for the hearts of minds of the American public will be won when we elect a government that expects, enables, trains and trusts the majority of adults to be responsible for their own lives, and uses assistance only for those who truly need it.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Automonist Theory

Mother Nature dropped an April afternoon right smack into the middle of February and so every single person in town left their homes and went outside. Weekend traffic around the west side malls is often heavy but today was like the last shopping day before Christmas. Lola points out that today is the last shopping Saturday before Valentines Day, but since Valentines Day is a fictional holiday I still believe it was just the sunshine.

Almost all the cars are wearing a layer of salt left over from the battle against the road ice monsters earlier this week. Now and then you pass a vehicle all clean, bright and shiny from the car wash. Even in Madison, Wisconsin many people love their cars and the ability to drive where and when it best suites their needs. The American economy grew strong with the building of the railroads, and subsequently exploded with the advent of affordable cars and extensive public roads. The current prosperity in American society is directly the result of dependable personal transportation and competitive private business.

Of course Madison is also home to an enclave of troubled souls who have convinced themselves that traffic is a bad thing and therefore it is reasonable to pursue policies that attempt to pressure citizens out of their cars. This week even the Governor went so far as to propose taking state transportation funds and using them for projects favored by his special interest contributors. These progressive government types just don’t understand that “the car is not merely a convenience but one of history’ greatest forces for good, an invention that liberated the poor from slums and workers from company towns, challenged communism, powered the civil rights movement and freed women to work outside the home”.[1] Of course this reality does not help those politicians whose desire for government money and power is the basis for their lifetime careers in public service.

[1] John Tierney, New York Times Washington Bureau. NYT Magazine September 26, 2004

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Freedom to Say No Without Benefit

There was a letter for me in the mail today. “Thanks for insuring your home with American Family. The enclosed Wisconsin amendatory endorsement, which excludes property coverage for fungi, wet or dry rot or bacteria, will be applied to your policy on your next renewal date… Your premium will not be affected.” Wait a minute. I think this really means less benefit for the same amount of dollars. Am I supposed to be happy with this change in our agreement?

The letter goes on to explain: “If the endorsement is not acceptable to you, Wisconsin state law allows you to cancel your policy”. In other words, I can say “no” to the change but I forfeit claim to the any of the benefits. That is the beauty of freedom which is best defined as the ability of the individual to say “no” without punishment. It is important to understand that not receiving what you don’t pay for is not punishment. Using force to take my money, possessions, time or mobility is punishment, and in America no private business can do that to an individual. The right of punishment people is reserved for the government and if I decide to I am completely free to say no to my insurance company.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Problem of Human Sacrifice

North Korea announced they have nuclear weapons, once again focusing the thoughts of the world on the consequences of releasing overwhelming amounts of energy. The first law of thermodynamics: matter and energy can not be destroyed but can be changed into one another. The second law of thermodynamics: concentrations of energy disperse when released from confinement. Life is the intricate structural containment and slow dispersion of energy, and living constructions exist intact only briefly and only within a narrow range ambient free energy.

There are people who will not accept the apparent paradox that some religious extremists and some non-religious extremists are part of the same single danger. The paradoxical appearance exists if all you consider is evidence of direct connections and combined actions. The danger is the common core belief that there is desirable personal gain to be achieved by the murder of other humans, and access to the technologies and materials for killing. The entire course of history is filled with common criminals who use lethality for worldly gain, and civilization has emerged as the will of the peace desiring majority unites to keep criminal violence in check.

The danger in our present time is heightened by the re-emergence of the ancient belief that divine power rewards human sacrifice. For roughly 500 years since the decline of the Maya, earth has been free of large populations that believe spiritual favors may be obtained through the killing of humans. Islamic extremists who are taught to believe, Allah grants rewards in an after life paradise for killing people, are undeniably practicing human sacrifice. The idea that God rewards killing is a vastly different belief than God forgives killing.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Freedom To Say No Without Punishment

Two inches of snow fell overnight and lasted intact on the ground the entire day. This is Wisconsin and it was absolutely absurd to think spring last week. All day long we would glance at each other in passing and comment that after all it is still February. After all, I would add, we are all grown adults and we are free to live anywhere we want. Freedom, the word, is being used in all types of discussions these days and like many words it has complex and varied meanings. The meaning I like most is this: the ability to say no without punishment. We are free to go live in San Diego or Gulf Port if we don’t love snow.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

If You Can Read and Write Why Don't You?

If you can read and write why don’t you? I’ve been bouncing off that question for years and it’s a question I came up with to ask myself. I get home and Lola is already there having come home early to lie on the couch and feel sick. I ascertain that there is no nausea involved, just a total lack of energy to do anything other than lie down. The Illini are playing basketball at Michigan tonight and life would be fine just watching athletic youngsters play each other while relaxing with a glass of Merlot.

The trouble with reading is that after a while it gets to be just like watching television, or waves on the lake or flames in the fire. Something to do to fill time while thinking. The problem with surfing around the internet is that there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of in the variety of ways words are combined these days. In many instances assemblages of words don’t even stand alone as discrete constructions, as now days they can be linked together in clumps of opinions and chains of thought. True or False: Blog links are topologically like atoms in large molecules and bulges in fractal patterns.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Progressive: Individualism or Government

One problem with being the center of the universe is that there are an infinite number of directions leading elsewhere so deciding where to go next can be difficult. In other words the problem of free will is options. As a child it would occasionally occur to me that the shortest distance to where I wanted to go was through the crop fields and so that was the option I choose. That brings up the other point about options which is that if you have enough time, all options are equally good. It’s that time thing that makes certain choices better than others.

From the beginning of the American Revolution there has been a progressive view of the individual which believes the average human has enough intelligence to make good choices and live a good life as long as the dangers and pitfalls of living were well known. The trouble with average is like the trouble with normal, and that being there is a lot of abnormal and below average mixed into whole, and they take up time and screw up options. That plus the fact that danger has a way of morphing into new and unexpected surprises has from the beginning of our society pressured progressive individualism back toward progressive government.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Kites on Slush

Lola and I wander down to campus to take a look at the annual Kites on Ice event. It is a gray overcast day with light winds but there were a dozen or so big kites that managed to get up into the air over Lake Mendota. With this February thaw in progress, however, it was more like Kites on Slush. We size up the scene for about half an hour then wander up State Street doing casual browsing in the stores and watching our fellow citizens. Lola buys chocolates and we eat a few over coffee before coming back home to watch the Super Bowl.

There is a lot of talk going on in Wisconsin about how we citizens should regulate our voting. I would argue that regulation of voting is the most important responsibility of State Government. It is a responsibility more important than providing protection, more important than providing education, more important than building roads or interfering with normal commerce. How we vote goes to the core of what makes us Americans.

I actually believe Justice Stephen Breyer makes the case eloquently: “… the whole theory of our country is that power originates in the people and whatever power government has is delegated by those people; while in many foreign countries, even if they end up at the same place, it has been liberty that has initially been granted by a central power, whether it started out as a king or even a democratic government. … At bottom, there is reflected a very strong American belief that all power has to flow from the people and we have to maintain a check. That's a good thing.”[1] How we vote goes to the core of what makes us Americans because this is the method by which a collection of individual citizens freely transfers power to a government.

There is a push within the Wisconsin Legislature to require that people provide a photo ID to establish proof of identity before being allowed to vote. This strikes me as resonable, desirable and a needed improvement even if it is not a perfect fix for all the problems in our election system. I once worked for a surgeon whose favorite saying was: “perfection is the enemy of good”. If all you take are good steps you may never get to perfection but you will keep moving towards the goal. The goal for Wisconsin needs to be making voting accurate first, then easy second. There is no fairness or justice unless there is first an accurate reflection of the public will.

[1] Transcript of Discussion Between U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer – American University Washington College of Law, Jan. 13, 2005

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A Flock of February Robins

A flock of robins settle into the backyard in the middle of the afternoon. A hard count of eight and probably more dispersed and tossing up the leaf litter exposed by the snow melt. The first week of February and daytime temperatures wander into the upper forties. The unusual warmth has all the birds out looking for food. Slate colored juncos flit around among the robins while flickers and hairy woodpeckers search for bugs. Even the cardinals are in the brush rather than the feeders. Warmth always appears to stimulate the variety and abundance life.

Channel3000, the local CBS affiliate website, lists the record high for this date and place back in 1946, about two generations ago right after the end of the world war against industrial fascism. Mathematically, chaos theory demonstrates that complex systems such as the weather are unpredictable without total knowledge of the starting points, but there are limits or boundaries to the range of possibilities. A warm winter day is not unprecedented and not inconsistent with the observable past.

This afternoon warmth will fade away fast as the sunlight fades into night. The great foundation law of physics, the second law of thermodynamics, guarantees the fact. Nineteenth Century science developed and fine tuned the scientific method which first and foremost requires that theory explain the reality of observation and measurement. Unconfined in open systems, heat always disperses. A poured cup of coffee will always cool off, the ice in the whiskey will always melt, and the heat from fire will be gone in the morning if the fuel burns out.

Party in the Park

Saturday, April 26, 2003

It is a warm day with cloudless skies. Splotches of pastel colors have emerged encircling the branches, filling the new leaves with chartreuse and flower buds with lavenders, plums and whites. A pair of pink-billed field sparrows walks down the back hill and working in tandem they zigzag down the slope and onto the flat before flying back to the bushes. Flycatchers take positions in the branches and scan for spots in flitting motion.

The University of Wisconsin student radio station, WSUM, is sponsoring an afternoon of live music in James Madison Park on Lake Mendota. Buddha's Belly is scheduled to play on the east stage at half past noon, however, we don’t arrive at the park until just before Sweet Potato Project from Minneapolis starts setting up for their three thirty show. James Madison Park is on the north side of the isthmus between Madison’s two large lakes, and thus forms the south edge of the largest lake. A few boats float in the distance.

Lola and I pack in beach towels and bottled water and stake claim to a patch of grass between the beach and the sand volleyball court where we have clear view of the stage. In the past, we both lived on the isthmus and are comfortable with the mix of college kids and want to be sixties hippies comprising the crowd. Free music and glorious weather have enticed hundreds of young adults out from bed and living rooms. Cloth of every color is being worn and the constant motion is like the tumbling inside of a kaleidoscope.

The park is named after President James Madison, elected in 1808 at a time when the American government he helped create was thirty-two years old. It was a time when the generation born just after the revolution was coming into fully responsible adulthood. The European powers of Britain and France were acting with disregard towards the fledgling secessionist colony, to the point where commercial shipments were stolen and American individuals imprisoned. Madison listened to the debate between the war hawks in his party and the Federalists in opposition, then decided to pursue the war of 1812 which resulted in the burning of the White House in Washington D.C. by the British.

“Federalists championed commercial and diplomatic harmony with Britain, domestic stability and order, and strong national government under powerful executive and judicial branches.[1]” These core values obligated the Federalists to oppose the war. American military forces were for the most part vastly inferior to Britain’s, however, Andrew Jackson managed an important victory at New Orleans. The increasingly large and growing population outside of the New England area considered the war necessary and successful. The Federalist’s, based in the northeast, never recovered from this national judgment on their opposition to the war and soon dissolved as an effective political party.

Sweet Potato Project is playing and some people are watching the activity on the stage. Some people are watching their friends, and being young, many are watching strangers. From the top of the pavilion over looking the stage, I observe Lola as she guards our place. I wonder if anyone is watching the sky and who else understands that they could be sunning and relaxing or dancing and playing, while effectively under the microscope.

A Rastafarian white boy sells me a newsprint publication out of Milwaukee named either Rastamon Times or eXpressions Journal. For a small fee, individuals are encouraged to publish their poems or pictures or prose for the rest of the readership, and for the archival historical value of a project to record common thought. The publisher explicitly states that authors retain U.S. copyrights to their work. Two of twenty-eight pages are devoted to singer Peter Tosh who was murdered September 11, 1987 in his Jamaican island home.

I own Tosh’s music on digital compact disc. I own Tosh’s music on analog vinyl albums. “Peter Tosh was born into this world without a father, or mother with the responsibility or the time to raise young Peter.[2]” In the worst kind of third world slum, he found his voice. In those slums he met Robert Nesta Marley and Neville O'Reilly Livingston, and the three founded the Wailin’ Wailers, and gained international recognition. In time his path in life went on without them as his music increasingly focused on justice and oppression. Of his many lyrics there is this one: “I don’t want peace. I want equal rights and justice”. He was known as the stepping razor and there is no real doubt the authorities killed him.

On the west stage, Wookiefoot is singing a mixture of righteous and satirical songs to the last of the day’s crowd, occasionally exhorting everyone to observe and enjoy the April sunset as it drifted down across the water and behind the hills on the far shore. Lola and I try to recall the last time either of us was in outside air at the end of the daylight. Earlier I enjoyed a Wisconsin Bratwurst and Lola ate Thai curry, but now, however, it seemed time to find something additional to eat. We had parked without permission in her dentist’s office lot, but she had left a note consisting of just her name. She is his second longest patient and that should allow for some consideration for the transgression.

Driving the short distance towards the capital, we first go into the Old Monastery, only to find it filled with a combination of prom night couples and wedding party entourages. I am dressed for an afternoon in the park with the hippies and the contrast with formal attire is dramatic. We settle on Tutto Pasta Cucina Italiana on King Street. Sitting at a table in the bar next to the hostess stand, we dine on appetizers of shrimp and cheese with a shared dessert of raspberry chocolate layer cake with frosting. Lola orders one glass of Involtini and one glass of Barbera for wine. We have the Barbera for the second round.

Talking in rough draft language, I attempt to explain why I believe the ambiance is slightly pretentious. We had watched a home remodeling program on cable and I try to explain the difference between purchasing a look, as opposed to developing a look over time from the assembled artifacts of your own life. We both understand that a lot of people are afraid of making independent decisions, and that the reason there are leaders and followers is that following is a true freedom from having to make difficult choices.

I slip a small advertising flyer for a Groovulous Glove show at the Annex onto the hostess stand as we leave. I’m betting that the bus boys would simply toss it away according to their training, and conclude there is a slightly better chance the hostess will give it a puzzled look and hold onto it, at least until she made sure it wasn’t something her boss had left for her. Next door at the Majestic a parked ambulance is all lights but no action.


Friday, February 04, 2005


Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The metal detector keeps going off and the gentleman with the magic wand keeps getting more and more perplexed. Every time it passes under my armpits the beeping begins and being a good federal employee, he cannot pass me until the noise stops. The airport is busy with people arriving for morning flights, and I am becoming a snag in the smooth flow of passenger processing. After a few minutes it dawns on me that the hinges in my sunglasses are the cause, and removing them silences the alarm. Walking towards the departure gate, I'm impressed the sensitivity setting detected such tiny distant objects. Security is good thing, so long as unreasonable paranoia is kept out of the whole process.

The puddle jump from Madison to Minneapolis goes without a hitch and Lola and I arrive with ample time for breakfast of bacon and eggs, before flight time to Calgary. We have been staying close to home for a while, but now the time seems right to be somewhere far away from friends, from family, from the patterns of our domestic life. Lola researched performance dates for Ian Tyson, and concluded The Calgary Folk Music Festival would be the easiest location for us to reach. Neither of us has ever been in that area of the west, so this option holds a combined appeal. Besides, it is important to be able to leave the country, if only to Canada, where people speak English and the money makes sense.

Arriving in Calgary, we claim our bags and wait in line at the customs counter. When our turn comes a uniformed young lady asks why we are coming to Canada, and we tell her we are here for the festival. The answer is obviously too vague because she continues asking questions. We clarify that we are audience and not performers and when she asks what our plans are, I say there may be dancing. The correct answer is shopping, I learn later, since they want Americans to come buy things. Catching a cab to downtown, we chat with our Indian driver about the low rolling treeless hills resembling the landscape outside of Denver. One more of many cities on the dry high plain before the mountains.

Lola books us into Hotel International, and from the thirty-first floor we have a view of the Bow River, flowing down through the city from the Canadian Rockies. The building isn't suicide proofed like many of the name chain hotels, and a balcony lets us stand outside and look down upon China Town, Eau Claire Market and Prince's Island Park. Popping open small splits of champagne from the mini-bar, we toast our successful arrival. As we stand there, two young men washing windows drop down on rope hung scaffolding from the neighboring Amoco Center building. Amused by the unlikely meeting point and thirty floors high outside our boxes we laugh about work and vacation.

The rest of the afternoon and evening we explore on foot, shopping for coffee and wine at the Eau Claire market then cosmetics at the Hudson Bay Company. On 8th Avenue, we have a tap of local beer at The Bear & Kilt Free House, in an old sandstone foundation basement, and our bartender jots down two places for us to investigate later. We eat dinner at Hy's, established 1955, where I select regionally appropriate aged Albertan beef, while Lola chooses a small rack of lamb. The restaurant d├ęcor is windowless with dark paneling and thick carpets, so emerging just before ten at night we are amazed by the persistent daylight, and the realization strikes us that we are both very far north of normal.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

In the morning, after breakfast in the market, we walk to Prince's Island Park to gain familiarity with the festival grounds. The sky is wispy with high clouds barely muting the summer light, and from footbridges over the Bow River you gaze directly into swift clear turquoise blue waters. A small group of people are settled beside a fence near the wide open entrance gate, where purple shirted volunteers are fully engaged in the details necessary to have everything operational by 5:30 that afternoon. Lola purchased advanced tickets, but at this early hour the pick up window is nowhere near ready. Downtown is filled with traffic noise, and with people engaged in routine workday tasks.

Shortly before one in the afternoon we go to the hotel lobby to catch a Calgary city tour. A bus pulls up and we find ourselves the only two people on board with the driver. He stops at other hotels searching for anyone else, but it is apparent that on a sixty-seat bus, the three of us are the cargo of the day. Recalling Chitzen Itsa, we find nothing odd about a private guide, but our driver struggles to find a comfortable ratio between "party of three conversation" and "over on the right side presentation". One city of sandstone, built on the railroad with cattle money. One city built oil boom fast from steel and glass.

Autumn 1875, concerned about uncontrolled whisky sales to Native Americans, a band of horse soldiers ride out to establish a fort at the confluence of the Elbow and Bow Rivers. It served as a starting point from which to impose law, with a garrison willing to use force to limit the harmful actions of freedom. Facing north within the reconstructed log walls, the vista is exactly as viewed a century ago. Looking west from the same spot the skyline is filled with the tall buildings of a city of eight hundred thousand. An uncivilized west vanished within a generation, and the cute aspects became mythologized in circuses.

A fatal traffic accident on Sarcee Boulevard sends our large vehicle searching through new construction on the residential edge of town, looking for a back door approach to the Olympic grounds. Atop a ridge, four yellow excavators work with choreographed precision, digging in roadbed and sewer lines and everyone agrees, Calgary knows construction. At the top of the ninety-meter ski jump, we look out upon the spread of homes over the hills, and the abrupt transition to scrub land when the subdivisions cease. Late afternoon we watch as teenage Canadians practice luge starts in hopes of Olympic Winter fame. Over and over, in frayed clothing they slide down indoor channels of ice.

The festival begins as the evening begins, and a moment occurs near the end of the day:

The sun is setting late on a far north evening and the trailing winds of a summer day flow brisk enough for cottonwood leaves to dance in the current. Back lit with the sunshine, they swirl in dark distorted circles, pivoting around their anchoring stems. River trees on a high plain river island, near the swift flow of melted ice from high altitude snow packs. On the other side, the glass towers of Calgary rise abruptly from the foothills and sparkle with inner brightness. Elvis Costello sings "Alison", and the sound blends perfectly in the evening air. Closing my eyes my fingers dance in space and all my thought is focused on the waiver in the words, and keyboard chords fading ever away.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Lola has us awake early, and lightly packed for the day, we take out on foot to find where our rental car has been reserved. In the weeks before the trip, Lola has taken great care to make sure we have the documentation to demonstrate full legal right to drive in Canada, but the clerk is only interested in the validity of her credit card. The car is aimed toward the street and after adjusting the seat and mirrors I accelerate slowing into the traffic. Just over one hour later we are in the mountains, climbing the main road to Lake Louise.

The Canadian Rockies, like all mountains, are remnants of collisions on the global time scale. The natural state of rest deformed, broken and left to endure a constant pull back down towards a level, where like waves on the ocean, the span between peak and trough measures a few meters. Our morning drive is under a low ceiling of soggy clouds, but in the heights, the noon sun shadows the fine details of crevices and cracks. Above the tree line, white patches are reminders that summer warmth is a brief interlude within the cold. On a side road back down we stop like awestruck tourists to be near two ear tagged elk.

Banff is filled with traffic so we park to walk the commercial streets to find something truly unique to the time and place. In the third jewelry store, Lola finds an ammolite pendant authentically representative of the area. A few shells of Cretaceous cephalopods that lived abundantly in the waters of the Bearpaw Sea once covering Alberta were fossilized into variegated gemstones. Exploring outward we find only resort complexes and enclaves of mountain housing development. Perhaps if we had invested more time we would have found the paths where the pavement turns to gravel, then to dirt ruts, then to rock.

Back in Calgary for the night, we check out the activity on 17th Avenue SW but its all hangouts for Fraternity boys on summer vacation. Well-managed, well-stocked and clean enterprises with loud sound systems, patio seating and young clients looking for romance rather than adventure. Standing in an alley nibbling on a two for one slice deal of awful pizza we decide to look for something less contrived, something more dramatic.

In the darkness we go looking for the King Eddie and find exactly an old corner building, next to the Salvation Army, across the street from the railroad tracks, playing the blues, live. The one bar has local beer on tap and five bottles of hard liquor on the rail which Richard pours out in measured small shots. Ray in the cage says the cops drive by enough, and Sal in the chair says not to worry. In the backroom, an old stage built for strippers waits for Monday nights. Ray in the cage says when a city grows fast it tosses off some people. Nelson doesn't talk much, but he points out how people drift off in the darkness. Lola and I take our turn on the dance floor since we had promised immigration.

In the middle of the night, in the middle of a strange city, in another country, I'm driving and I don't know where I am. Pulling in a parking lot I ask Lola to look for the Calgary Tower and I drive whatever direction takes me back towards that landmark. Lola spots our hotel and we weave up the spiral circles of the parking ramp. Back in the room I take the camera, double strap it around my neck, and lean out over the balcony to picture the lights so far below. Then two shots of the horizon night lights with three visible stars over head forming a triangle.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Stage Six is the last high arched forest green canvass covered platform placed throughout the festival grounds. As the furthest placement from the large main stage building, stage six is positioned with it's back towards the temporary orange plastic snow fencing which keeps the public foot traffic on a walking path across the park. Today and tomorrow the morning and mid-afternoon intervals between main stage performances will be filled with hundreds of musicians having their turn on a side stage for anyone who cares to show up in person and listen. For some, their moment is 10:30 a.m.

Packing in bottled water, Lola picks a shaded patch of grass on a rise overlooking that back stage. She holds that spot as I explore the perimeter of the grounds. Three very different acts share the stage for an hour taking turns performing. A local Calgary guy plays guitar and sings his own lyrics, followed by Friends of Dean Martinez, an instrumental group from Tucson, Arizona. From Mexico, Son de Madera plays Son Jarocho music, a style evolved over 400 years after the Spanish introduced string instruments to the area. In full formal dress, a young woman dances on a box, adding the traditional zapateado footwork rhythms to the vocals. Ah, culture.

As noon arrives we move to the beer garden and make our way to the far back corner were there is an excellent view of the stage three. A 79-year-old Mississippi blues singer going by the stage name T-Model Ford plays for an hour, and upon recommendations we drink a local brew called Grasshopper Ale. There are plenty of tables so we sit and talk tales with strangers, telling people we came just to see Ian Tyson play tomorrow. Some white boy from Nova Scotia calls himself Buck 65 and does a hip-hop act without his turntables which failed to show up at showtime.

As the day passes we end up at the last table in the far corner talking with a group of locals. Some are roadies for the event and some are just friends and local musicians. They find it slightly incredulous that we came all the way to their fair and when one blurts out, "American tourists", I laugh out loud saying there is something sad if the last, best experience of your life, was the 1988 Olympics. They find it more impressive that we found the King Eddie. From our spot along the back fence, I watch the light reflecting off the background buildings change steadily over time, and make a mental note to capture that image tomorrow, if the image appears again.

The main stage shows begin at 5:30 and we are in the wrong place to see anything, but music fills the air like a soundtrack to the night. Al Stewart is the third artist up, and songs I first heard twenty-seven years ago on the radio are being played live and in person. Melanie from Longview insists I go to the front edge where I can actually see Kathleen Edwards, a twenty-three year old from Ottawa. The crowd constantly shifts during the course of the day as people position themselves to best see whom they came to see. Ani DiFranco is the headliner to close the night so Lola and I move to the front side of the beer garden. More experienced now we find a much better vantage point than from where we heard Ricky Skaggs play bluegrass two nights ago.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Lola wakes me up to tell me she is leaving for the fair grounds to listen to the morning performers. She tells me there is a note listing places and times where she may be found, but regardless of how the day develops, she will absolutely, positively be at The Ship and Anchor stage at 2:30. Giving me a kiss goodbye, she leaves me with coffee and several hours of unscheduled time in the bright daylight of a beautiful warm dry day. Knowing there is one task I want to do a tad of urgency underlies my leisurely pace of waking to life.

I need to photograph the King Eddie and while I don't know the address I remember the location in detail. The problem is that I'm out of film and almost out of Canadian currency. The problem gets bigger when it turns out the building with the cash machine that accepts my card is locked closed on Sunday and none of the other cash will kick out any money. Aware time is passing away I spend my last dollars for overpriced film and start walking towards the railroad tracks.

On the edge of downtown the mix of roads and buildings becomes generically urban. An arterial street dives under the tracks and emerging on the other side I walk past low utility structures. Over gravel-paved parking and up to the fence near the rails I square up for a shot when the feature blue aligns between the tanker cars parked and waiting for the next job. In the clear light of day all the fine details are crisp and in focus. Task completed it's time to shower away the sweat and dust in preparation for the coming day.

Lola has claimed a portion of a picnic table near where Ian Tyson, Al Stewart, Niamh Parson and Amos Garrett share a stage. Ian and Al get talking with each other, swapping stories that make it clear to each other that while they have never previously met they are both old men who have achieved a lifetime of earning a living by singing and playing. Ian and two guitarists play an acoustic rendition of "Summer Wages", and Lola tears up a bit because we traveled this far to be exactly at this place, exactly for this moment.

In the hours before the final shows, we relax and converse with the various people in attendance. Lola gets into animated discussions on cosmetics with two young women while their mother and I talk about the larger concerns facing all of us in this changing world. We move close to the front when Sarah Harmer prepares to take the main stage. The program compares her voice to Joni Mitchell but her performance reminds both of us of Nancy Griffith. At last Ian Tyson's band takes center stage under show colored lighting. The final band on the final night.

In the middle the set, Ian pauses to talk about why he wrote the song, "La Primera". He explains he could not stop thinking about how the Spanish introduced horses to the Americas late in the fifteenth century. In reality it was a difficult undertaking with fateful consequences, as horses provided their owners with a speed and mobility advantage in the conquest of the continent. As a working rancher he envisioned, he understood the visceral hardships in the actual task of bringing large animals on a long ocean journey in small overloaded wooden boats. With eyes closed he sings the refrain: "I am a drinker of the wind, I am the one who never tires. I love my freedom more than all these things"[1].

[1] Ian Tyson, copyright 1998, Slick Fork Music SOCAN