Looking Towards 2014 With Adam Gopnik

This is perhaps the best article I have yet read about the New Year.  In part……

Lodged somewhere in our collective memory of that catastrophe is an image, a metaphor of hubris, from just a year or so before: a great four-funnelled ocean liner, the biggest and most luxurious ever built, whose passengers, rich and poor, crowd on board, the whole watched over by a bearded man named Edward John Smith, with the chief designer, Thomas Andrews, along for the maiden voyage, too. Then the ship sets off from Southampton, sure of itself, unsinkable, until it comes to the ice fields of the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland—and speeds right on through them to its anchorage, here in New York. Because this ship isn’t the Titanic but its nearly identical twin sister, the Olympic, made at the same time, by the same people, to do the same job in the same way. (A single memorable image exists of the two ships in dock together.) The Olympic not only successfully completed its maiden voyage but became known as Old Reliable, serving as a troop carrier in the First World War, and sailing on for twenty years more. (A third, late-released liner in the same class, the Britannic, hit a mine in the Aegean, in 1916, while serving as a hospital ship, and sank, a true casualty of war.)

The story of the two ships is one to keep in mind as we peer ahead into the new year. It reminds us that our imagination of disaster is dangerously more fertile than our imagination of the ordinary. You have certainly heard of the Titanic; you have probably never heard of the Olympic. We have a fatal attraction to fatality. We don’t have one movie called “Titanic,” starring Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, about a tragic love and a doomed adventure, and another called “Olympic,” a musical comedy starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, about a happy voyage over. We have only one movie, and remember only one sad tale. If our history leads us to the First World War, then we imagine that we were always bound on that collision course, and we cannot imagine that, with a bit of luck and another set of contingencies, we might have been on the Olympic, not the Titanic. We search for parallels of disaster, and miss parallels of hope. False positives are the great curse of diagnostics, in historical parallels and prostate screenings alike.

Weather Report From Madison Isthmus 1/3/14 At 5:00 P.M.

About two hours ago the winds picked up speed as the temperatures slowly creep higher.  Sitting inside I can hear the wind in the trees, and that alone makes me feel the desire to grab for another sweater.  As I write this post it is 11 degrees at the Madison airport, and 13 degrees at our home on the isthmus.

There are now ‘dune drifts’ that angle east-west on the deeply frozen ice of Lake Monona that resulted from the winds that have sifted the light snow from recent days.  Harsh gusts have created white sheets of the flakes that rush in off the lake and quickly pass by the window on their way further inland.


Meanwhile there are drifts forming along the sidewalks that bank out from snow piles.  A couple of them are probably a foot deep as of this writing.  Walkers that need to be out have hoods pulled high and tight as they brace themselves against the gale while drawing their gloved hands over their nose and mouth to try and stay warm.

Though temperatures are expected to rise and even feel ‘balmy’ Saturday as we get into the mid-20s (where did I put my Bermuda shorts?) the mercury is predicted to plummet come Sunday with Monday’s high to reach only –14 degrees with wind chills at –50 to –60 degrees.

This is after all what a real Wisconsin winter looks and feels like.  We have had too many of the milder versions and this old-fashioned reminder of what Mother Nature is all about at this time of year helps keep our perspective about who has the real power.

As I finish this post the sunset is making for a spectacular sight and in spite of the color only makes it feel even colder outside, if that is possible.


Fox Pictured Sitting On Windowsill Of Wisconsin State Capitol

Awesome phot0 from Mike Veldran and story from Jason Joyce in the Capital Times

As one who loves Mother Nature I find this most wonderful.  I trust that even though these beautiful creatures are best suited for the wild rural environment we can find ways to adapt to them in they city.  When James and I lived on the West Side of Madison abutting a natural watershed we often saw lots of wildlife (including foxes) and found it most pleasant.  I trust we all can find the same with these animals that visited the Capitol.


Foxes are common, if infrequent, visitors to backyards throughout the Madison area and unlike coyotes, are generally well received. That might have to do with perceptions of the fox as cunning, but playful. According to Astrid Wallner of the Swiss Federal Institute of Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, the animal has been portrayed differently throughout history.

“In pre-Christian times, the fox was seen as a symbol of gods, like for example, as a symbol of the god of vegetation or as a symbol of forest- and mountain-spirits,” Wallner writes. “This changed in Christian times, from where on the fox was seen as a demonic creature. The fox is a very famous figure in fables and usually is described as greedy, dishonest and tricky. At the same time of all the helpful animals in fairy tales the fox is said to be the most helpful one. Most fables tell about how the fox tricks other animals to get food, but no legends or fairy tales have been found telling about the fox attacking humans.”

In Native American lore, northern tribes tend to view the fox as a wise and noble messenger, whereas plains tribes see it as a trickster.

All Wisconsin State Schools May Close Down Monday As Extreme And Dangerous Cold Strikes

I can not recall this ever having happened before.

Gov. Scott Walker is considering ordering all state schools to be closed Monday because of a forecast of dangerously cold weather, his spokesperson said Friday.

“Our top priority in this situation is the safety of Wisconsin’s school children, and while this has most commonly been an issue for individual districts to decide, Governor Walker will consider this option and continue to closely monitor the situation with the appropriate state agencies,” said Tom Evenson, Walker’s press secretary.

Most school district leaders said Friday that they would wait until Sunday night to decide whether to close school Monday, in advance of dangerously cold winds and double-digit negative temperatures predicted for early next week.

The forecast was so bone-chilling that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton was first to take the unusual step Friday of ordering all schools closed in his state Monday.

Provide Some Food For Outdoor Animals During Bitter Winter Weather


With the bitter cold that has gripped Wisconsin, and the worst is yet to come with wind chills predicted to drop to -60 degrees, I ask all my readers to help with keeping some of the wild animals fed and alive over the coming days.  I am sure we all have our personal stories about shoveling the walkways, or chipping through the ice.  Even though we have our rough moments during this winter season, let us not forget the little ones that stay out in the cold and need food at this time of year.  So whether it be a crust of bread to the squirrel in the backyard, or a carrot peeling for the local bunny, let us take the time to remember our furry and feathery friends that make our world complete.  I strongly suggest some bird seeds if you have feeders, and also getting some old bakery at reduced prices and toss it about in your yard.  These animals all need to find ways to eat and keep their strength up during this bitter winter season.  Give them something to eat today.

Be Leery When Reading NBC Report Concerning How Kim Jong Un’s Executed Uncle Was Eaten Alive By 120 Hungry Dogs


Knowing my interest in North Korea the very first item James told me about this morning as I woke up and came into the office was the NBC news report concerning ravenous dogs killing and eating Kim Jong Un’s uncle.    The thing that struck me was not that Kim was unable to do such a thing, but the level of detail that others were able to amass about the matter from outside the country.  With some more reading online I find there are more reasons to doubt the accuracy of this strange headline.  Here are some reasons this story might be tossed aside and not considered.

The Washington Post’s Max Fisher offers five reasons to have doubts about the story, starting with:

“The source. The story originated in a Hong Kong newspaper called Wen Wei Po, which oddly makes the claim without citing a source. With a couple of high-quality exceptions, Hong Kong media have a reputation for sensationalist and tabloidy stories that do not always turn out to be true. But, even by Hong Kong standards, Wen Wei Po is considered an unusually unreliable outlet.”

Wen Wei Po is still the only news outlet with the eaten-by-dogs account of the execution.

— Too Specific? Journalism’s biggest fabricators in recent years have had a common approach — they dazzled readers with supposedly telling details to sell their stories. But one has to ask: Why were there precisely 120 dogs? Why had they supposedly been starved for three days in preparation? Why were there exactly 300 witnesses? Why did the execution supposedly last for one hour?

— Too Wild? North Korea has claimed it’s the second-happiest country in the world. It has said the sky turned red when former leader Kim Jong Il died. Its archaeologists supposedly uncovered “the lair of a unicorn.” If a story’s too wild for even the North Korean propaganda machine to touch, you have to wonder about it.

John Edwards’ Theme A Winning One For Democrats

What was the at the heart of former senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards political message has come full circle.  While Edwards embarrassed himself, and sullied his name the theme he embraced has been picked up by others.  The message of economic inequality has launched New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and other  Democrats who understand that issue is one that matters as public policy and when fashioning a winning coalition at election time.  It must be painful for Edwards to watch others use the issue without giving him any credit for helping frame it years ago.

It was Edwards, during his 2004 presidential run, who returned the focus to inequality by flipping Clintonism on its head. In his 1992 campaign, Clinton had talked a lot about “rewarding work.” Democrats, he insisted, would help people who “played by the rules”—for instance, via an expanded earned income tax credit for the working poor—but they would stop coddling welfare recipients. In 2004, Edwards took that judgmental tone but redirected it. In his narrative, the people disrespecting work were not welfare mothers but trust funders, people who lived off their investments rather than the sweat of their brow.

What Is The Problem With Having Sport Coaches As Highest Paid Employee In Your State?

I mean besides being embarrassing?

This is one of those stories that puts our society’s priorities into perspective.  What most people really value, what the majority deem to be truly important can be gleaned from this data, and for the rest of us this is troubling.  Teachers and doctors, thinkers and innovators should top this list.  But instead the ones who lull the masses to laze away time on a sofa are the economic champions.

So what is wrong with the idea of paying coaches to be the highest paid employee in any state in the nation?

Coaches don’t generate revenue on their own; you could make the exact same case for the student-athletes who actually play the game and score the points and fracture their legs.

  • It can be tough to attribute this revenue directly to the performance of the head coach. In 2011-2012, Mack Brown was paid $5 million to lead a mediocre 8-5 Texas team to the Holiday Bowl. The team still generated $103.8 million in revenue, the most in college football. You don’t have to pay someone $5 million to make college football profitable in Texas.
  • This revenue rarely makes its way back to the general funds of these universities. Looking at data from 2011-2012, athletic departments at 99 major schools lost an average of $5 million once you take out revenue generated from “student fees” and “university subsidies.” If you take out “contributions and donations”—some of which might have gone to the universities had they not been lavished on the athletic departments—this drops to an average loss of $17 million, with just one school (Army) in the black. All this football/basketball revenue is sucked up by coach and AD salaries, by administrative and facility costs, and by the athletic department’s non-revenue generating sports; it’s not like it’s going to microscopes and Bunsen burners.