The Artist’s Touch

The White House Christmas card came in the mail the other day, this year featuring a jaunty Bo-Bama playing in the snow on the South Lawn.

The image was painted by Iowa artist Larassa Kabel, who contributed the oil portrait for the card.

Yesterday the mail brought a collection of Bo-Notes, notecards featuring Bo-Bama in various poses in and around the White House. The Obamas are stuck on Bo, from the looks of things.

What was interesting, though, was that one of the Bo-Notes was a photograph that looked very much like the White House Christmas Card. I checked it out, and sure enough, the illustration on the card was based on the photograph.

A comparison of the two is a great example of the artist’s touch.

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We woke up to a winter wonderland this morning. It won’t last, but it is beautiful.

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The Joys of Upgrading

I upgraded my computer monitor this week and all hell broke loose, of course.

At first glance, it was a simple idea. I wanted to increase the size of the text on my e-mail, so it made sense (to me, anyway) to increase the size of my monitor from 21 inches to 24 inches. Staples had a good deal on a Dell 24 inch monitor, the monitor had excellent reviews, and I thought I was in like Flinn.

In like Flinn until I installed the new monitor, that is.

The installation was a snap – I unplugged the old monitor, plugged in the new monitor, and it came right up and ran perfectly in second. That wasn’t unexpected, since my computer is a reasonably powerful Dell with a fast processor and tons on RAM, two years old.

What wasn’t expected, of course, was the difference between 1600×900 resolution and 1920×1080 resolution, and the ways in which all my applications would use the screen. I spent the better part of the next day going through the system, application by application, adjusting settings to achieve my intended goal, which was to have everything run about the same way, except bigger so that I could work with it early in the morning, when I’m on the computer, drinking my first cup of coffee, still bleary-eyed.

The toughest application to deal with was the browser, and I learned a lot more than I wanted to know about browser settings along the way.

I had been using Firefox as my primary browser for years and years, but discovered that Firefox did not have a setting that simply increases the zoom from 100% to 110% or 125%, which is what I needed. So I fiddled and fiddled with various websites until I was about to go mad, then decided to take a look at the other browsers I had installed, Chrome and Internet Explorer 9. In the end, Internet Explorer 9 was the browser that best achieved the result I wanted, so I cut over to it, pruning and reorganizing all my bookmarks (now, “Favorites”) while I was at it.

Along the way, I took a look at migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 8 to get two features in Windows 8 Pro, which Microsoft is making available to Windows 7 users for $69 (DVD) or $39 (download). I’m something of a security freak (too many years in IT to be otherwise) and Windows 8 Pro supports SecureBoot and Bitlocker. In the end, I decided against upgrading for a simple reason. My computer is just old enough so that it doesn’t, in the words of MicroSoftSpeak, sport “… firmware that supports UEFI v2.3.1 Errata B and has the Microsoft Windows Certification Authority in the UEFI signature database …” I know because I checked the upgrade compatibility.

In a way, I’m relieved. Michael’s notebook died last month, and he upgraded. His new notebook came with Windows 8, which is based on the Windows 7 platform, but uses a completely different user interface. I’ve had the occasion to work with his computer to work around an upgrade incompatibility, and the new interface drove me insane. Michael claims that when you get used to it, it is actually better, but that sounds like something my doctor says when he can’t fix something, so I can wait.

I will upgrade to Internet Explorer 10, though, when the Release Candidate of Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7 goes final late this year or early next year. Internet Explorer 10 has good HTML 5 compatibility and has gotten superb reviews. The version for Windows 7 will continue the “desktop” interface, so I won’t have to learn anything, or at least I won’t have to learn anything much. I work in a browser all the time, and I want what works for me.

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The Ridge

My older brother, Steve, died last year about this time.

He and I owned 24 acres of land together, located just east of my property. It is beautiful land, with a high plateau dropping down about forty feet.

I love that ridge, and I used it as the “back camp” when I lived in Chicago and came up in the summers to camp out.

Someday a developer will buy put in condominiums, but not in my lifetime.

I closed the purchase on his half of the land this morning so it is safe for few years, anyway.

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Mitt, Eat the Turkey

After a gracious and graceful concession speech on the night of the election, Governor Romney is, in recent days, morphing himself into John McCain, a bitter, angry old man who simply cannot let it go and move on.

I’m no fan of the Republican Party that has emerged in the post-Reagan era. The 2012 Republican Party platform was abysmal. That’s the only word for it. The party has moved radically away from its roots, and now espouses an anger and short-sightedness — typified by intellectual giants like Rush Limbaugh — that stands in stark contradiction of historic conservatism. The modern Republican Party is anti-government, anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-conservatism, anti-gay, anti-woman — well, anti-everything. It no longer stands for anything. Governor Jindal of Louisiana got it right: “Stop being the stupid party.

I leave the question of how to stop being the stupid party and return to sanity to Republicans. The party is in confusion right now, but it has enough intelligent politicians to eventually right itself.

As we approach Thanksgiving next week, I think that Republicans should be thankful that the national ticket lost this election cycle.

If the Romney-Ryan ticket had been elected, the party would have been led for the next eight years by an man without political principle, a man who demonstrated his unwillingness to call stupid stupid, and the party’s slide into irrelevancy would have been cemented, if not accelerated. With the loss, the Republican Party can rethink and regroup, and perhaps return to conservative principles.

Governor Romney has reason to be thankful, too.

Given his demonstrated inability to stand to the “party of stupid” elements in his party, Governor Romney, had he been elected, would have been a cipher for Grover Norquist and the other extremists, condemned to live out Norquist’s Rule: “We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it.” Romney would have ended up like the Edward VIII, living a hollow life amidst the trappings of wealth and power, to no purpose.

So I’ll pass along some advice for Governor Romney.

Take time with your family. Be quiet for a while. Stop the angry, bitter comments until you’ve had time to reflect. When the time comes, write your book and hit the $100,000 a pop lecture circuit. Let better, stronger men and women battle out the future of the Republican Party. You are adding nothing to the discussion at this point.

All you are doing right now is convincing the American people that we dodged a bullet, and have our own reasons to be thankful, whatever we may think of President Obama’s policies.

As I heard years ago: “The point of Thanksgiving dinner is to eat the turkey. You don’t have to be the turkey.

Mitt, eat the turkey. Don’t …

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1860 Redux

I think that the secessionist petitions are a load, but I checked out the White House site where the petitions are being signed the other day.

I couldn’t help but notice that among the top contenders for secession were Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Interesting pattern, huh? 1860 redux. What the hell is with those states, anyway?

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Michael and I got connected to Reedsburg Utility’s fiber optic network today.

Our internet connection speed jumped from 130 kbps upload and 784 kbps download to 5 mbps upload and 10 mbps download. In other words, 40x faster upload and 12x faster download. The difference is remarkable. Websites actually load now, and even the slowest of the slow (think Barnes and Noble) snap right in. It is just astounding.

I know that high speed broadband is the norm in urban and suburban areas, but it isn’t in rural areas. In most of rural America, folks have to deal with dial up, slow DSL (the distances are too great for faster DSL) or satellite connectivity. We’ve got connectivity, but the speeds aren’t comparable.

I called Frontier customer service after I was satisfied that the FIOS connection was stable, and cancelled DSL. The representative, a youngish-sounding man from Washington, asked me why I was cancelling, and when I told him that we now had fiber optic, he blurted out “That’s great!”.

I don’t suppose that was what he was supposed to say, but he understood high speed broadband, and we talked a bit about the importance of high speed broadband to economic development in rural areas while he was waiting on Frontier’s systems to process the cancellation order. Fiber optic opens the door to better education, business communication and many other things that are critical to economic growth and sustainability.

Frontier Communications has been a leader in deploying DSL to rural areas, and that’s great, too. But DSL, particularly the slower-speed DSL that is economically feasible in rural areas, isn’t up to the job. Fiber optic is. 4thGen satellite (10 mbps down, 1 mbps up) is, too, although I suppose that 4thGen satellite is subject to the weather interruptions Michael and I experience with satellite TV.

Fiber optic is a good example of government/private partnership.

Our area is getting fiber optic as part of the federal government’s infrastructure stimulus program. Reedsburg Utility, a smallish but heads-up utility company serving northwestern Sauk County, applied for and got stimulus money for the project, which covers most of the northern third of our county. I’ve been keeping an eye on the work all over as I drive around, and there’s been a lot of work.

The project has been funded, for the most part, by federal stimulus money. And that is how it has to be. Given the high cost of laying fiber optic (roughly $10 per foot in normal areas, up to $100 per foot in tougher areas like the rock shelves that abound in our area of the county), there is no way that this project could have been privately financed in a sensible way.

Without the stimulus money, our area would have remained a backwater, yet another part of “have not” rural America, condemned to stagnation. With the stimulus money, we now have the infrastructure we need for economic development in the age of connectivity.

Our small area of Wisconsin isn’t unique. Michael and I took a day trip a few weeks ago — a day off from campaigning for me — and did a hundred and a half mile loop to the north and west, looking at the fall colors. Amidst the red, yellow and orange of the foliage, bright orange tubes, the marker of fiber optic installation, were sticking up all over the place.

Rural broadband is an infrastructure development, like rural electrification in the 1930’s, that requires a public/private partnership for success.

The “kill government” types don’t get it. Not at all. But then, shit, most of them don’t believe in keeping up public roads, either.

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I spent the day getting ready for winter.

At the railroad, I started up the Bobcat, moved pallets of ties into winter storage locations, covered up the coal pile, took the snow bucket over to the coal area, where we stage snow removal, hooked the plow onto the Bobcat, checked it out, fueled it, and put it into the Locomotive Shop for the winter.

Bobcat at rest, I checked the snow blowers and located the snow shovels, moved cans of diesel fuel and gasoline to locations where I can get at them when the snow is a foot deep, and checked all the areas I plow to make sure everything was out of the way.

Along the way, I took time to talk with Gil, Jim, Keith and Steve, who were all preparing for winter, too, shutting down the outside water systems, putting the signal system to bed and making other preparations. Gary, who comes up from Chicago in early Spring and spends every day at the railroad until after Halloween, has gone home.

At home, I checked out and started the snow blower, checked out and started the generator, tarped the air conditioner and the straw bales, cleaned up the driveway and ten feet to either side for the snow blower, and otherwise got ready at home, too.

Winter is coming.

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Finally, Quiet

The 2012 election cycle is, at long last, over.

President Obama has been reelected, my Representative in Congress, Tammy Baldwin, is now my Senator-Elect, Mark Pocan, the architect of Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnership Act, will be my new Congressman, and Fred Clark, one of the most decent men I’ve ever met in politics, has been returned to a third term in Wisconsin’s Assembly, this time as the representative of the newly-redistricted 81st Assembly District.

I’m grateful that the election turned out as it did, but I’m mostly grateful that Wisconsin’s endless election cycle is now concluded and I can look forward, finally, to a measure of quiet.

I’m turning off MSNBC for the week, I’m not reading Politico, Real Clear Politics, or FiveThirtyEight for a few days, either. I’m going to go to the railroad and get ready for winter, clear brush, and be quiet myself.

I’ve been hard at it politically from October 2009, when I volunteered to manage Fred Clark’s 2010 bid to hold onto his Assembly seat in the face of Wisconsin’s Tea Party tsunami, until Tuesday night, when we wrapped up the DPW/OPA’s combined campaign GOTV push and drove home to watch the results.

In the area of rural Wisconsin where I live, we’ve had two general elections, two tough primary elections, and two recall elections in two years. That’s six hard elections in two years. We’ve gone from one election right into the next.

In that time, I’ve managed an Assembly campaign, sat on the steering committee of two Assembly campaigns and one State Senate campaign, advised five other Assembly campaigns, gathered recall signatures, analyzed voting patterns in five or six Assembly Districts, knocked door after door, drawn turfs, driven all over hell and begone putting up 4×8-foot yard signs for various campaigns, and handled a million other tasks, large and small. Everything else suffered, as this blog’s silence since July attests.

And finally, it is over.

I’ve been involved in politics since Gene McCarthy’s race in 1968, with breaks for war and schooling, volunteering in every election cycle for over forty years.

I’ve enjoyed it, but this year I’m making good on my 2008 promise to retire from election cycle politics and leave the work to younger people. I have to finish out my term as Co-Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s LGBT Caucus, but I’ve done the work I set out to do in the Caucus, and I’m turning over the Caucus to younger folks who are better suited to the emerging fight for equality than I am. I’ve done my bit, and I’m getting out before I become a doddering old fool, barely tolerated, telling colorful stories that nobody wants to hear.

As I told Fred a few weeks ago: “In 2014, call me when you want some money. Otherwise, forget my phone number.

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The Art Wall

Our local library, which functions as something of a community center, has an “art wall” that displays the works of local artists. I don’t pretend to be an artist, but Chris Draper, the librarian in charge of the art wall, asked me if I would lend some paintings for the July-October stint, so I did.

It has turned out to an interesting exercise. Chris, who used to teach art, has a real talent for arranging and lighting paintings to their their best advantage, and it shows. The wall she built is spectacular.

I got another fifteen seconds of fame, too.

I’m a little embarrassed by it all, but people are kind enough to stop me an tell me that they like what I do, and that’s a plus.

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