The Urban Soundscape (and why we should care about poor people’s shit)

Bernie Krause’s New York Times Op-ed “The Sound of a Damaged Habitat” gave me chills it was so good a (short!) read. Somehow, Krause gets away with describing the sounds of birds and bugs as an “orchestra,” and it doesn’t come off as cheesy. Damn! As a writer I am impressed.

What freaked me the fuck out, however, was how important sound – noise, din, the daily racket, whatever you want to call it-  is, to things that are living.

Rereading that sentence makes me want to go “duh:” it should be a no-brainer that animals don’t like loud noises and we can tell a lot about a habitat by the sounds we hear in it. As Krause pointed out, however, “too little research has been done in the field of biophonics” so running around saying “duh” to the research that has been done wouldn’t be encouraging to any scientist, I suppose.     Read the rest of this entry »


Positive thinking on Japan’s March 2011 crises

Tsunami wall at Tsu-shi, Japan

Tsunami wall at Tsu-shi, Japan (Image via Wikipedia)

I seem to have only posted negative things about the situation in Japan, so this post is an attempt to be positive. This post is really a list for myself.

The first, most obvious positive is: the Fukushima nuclear plant has not exploded.

Second:

The US Military support in Japan has been extensive, and unlike most foreign aid that is now arriving, the US military aid has been in Japan since the beginning.   This article offers a comprehensive list of all US military missions conducted, or to be conducted.   Rather than “running the show like they usually do in a disaster zone, U.S. troops are taking cues from the Japanese on how to assist in recovery efforts in the heart of the tsunami-ravaged coastline“.  This aid has not gone unnoticed by the Japanese people: In a e-mail I saw, forwarded to my mate from his father’s business account days after the Sendai earthquake:

“Lastly, I as a Japanese really appreciate the help from your government. American troops and some war ships now arrived close to my home town. They are working hard to help the people over there. They knew there is the risk of exposure to radiation, but they came. I can’t express how much I appreciate that.”

Admiral Robert Willard has stated he is willing to send troops “into the danger zone” to assist the Japanese Defense force, however he is “cautiously optimistic” that the Japanese can handle cooling the plant themselves. Reuters states the US Military will not “be called into the most affected areas around the plant.

This positive is a direct outcome of WWII, as the US wouldn’t be stationed in Japan if it wasn’t for the Treaty of Francisco.  Normally I advocate the shuttering  of military bases overseas, but in this one instance, I have to make an exception.  Though – we shouldn’t keep our bases open around the world just so we can help if there is a natural disaster – I am not advocating that.

Third:

The Japanese people have remained calm. The sense of community at the Japanese refugee centers is heartwarming:   children and women cook and clean,  and men go into town to wait in lines for food and water.

“As far as I can tell, people around Tokyo are very calm and haven’t heard any strange rumors. Avoiding panic is the benefit for all, and people seem to understand that.”

And it’s that message that is apparently getting lost in translation as the outside media cover the events in Japan, particularly the nuclear situation.

“CNN seems to be reporting ‘people leaving from Tokyo’ and Tokyo becoming a ‘ghost town,’ but it seems that it’s a bit overemphasized,” he wrote.

via Melony Plenda’s “Student reports from Japan: People remain calm

Here is a picture of a younger man helping an older man carry supplies. The New Yorker even mentioned the lack of looting and government exploitation. I would like to think that if something like this happened in the United States, Americans would refrain from looting and rioting, but past natural disasters show otherwise.

Internet comments have stated the calmness of the Japanese is a direct result of their community spirit and culture, sentiments echoed in The New Yorker article linked above.

Fourth:

Japan has the most technologically advanced earthquake detection and broadcast system in the world. This system undoubtedly saved lives.

The video above includes a frantic news producer yelling directions.

Fifth:

Japanese skyscrapers were built to withstand earthquakes and no engineered buildings have collapsed.

This list will be updated should I find out/read about other positives regarding the Japanese 2011 earthquake-tsunami-nuclear crisis.


Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami reveal American Stupidity, Insensitivity

Avenge Pearl Harbor. Our bullets will do it, c...

Image by The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

EDIT: The internet is telling me all these anti-Japanese sentiments began with  a Family Guy staff writer’s joke tweet. He deleted the tweet and apologized, though other Americans might actually mean it as evident by their Facebook vitriol?

The last 48 hours for Japan have been rough: two earthquakes, a tsunami, and fears of nuclear meltdown.

A logical, possible explanation? A solar flare.

Some  cesspoolian Americans, however, viewed these natural phenomena as the work of a spiritual deity. These Americans believe the universe was angry at Japan for Pearl Harbor, and decided to wait more than 50 years to dish out karmic justice.  Except these Americans  didn’t say it like that.  More like:   “Fuck Japan! Remember Pearl Harbor? Karma’s a bitch!” Yeah.

When I think of all the Americans that never learned of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings,  my forehead wrinkles with worry. No Child Left Behind is doing a worse job than we imagined!

If I had to pick a country, between the United States and Japan, that would get karmic retribution for actions in World War II, I’d pick the United States (body count, occupation).   If I were to follow the Facebooking-karmic-justice-Americans logic, where  nature takes it upon herself to punish man for the things he does to his fellow man, I’d have to assume that Katrina, the tornadoes tearing up the midwest,  the BP Oil Spill (why not?) and every other natural catastrophe to hit the states EVER,  is retribution for things America did in prior wars. Or am I being silly here, because America don’t have to worry about karmic retribution? I don’t know the rules to this karma-blame-game… maybe America is exempt.

But what about New Zealand? Following the logic stated above, one could argue the Christchurch earthquake happened because of the Anglo-Maori wars centuries ago.   And the flooding in Australia? Oh, the universe is always punishing that country – they’re a country of criminals, you see?

But really, why Pearl Harbor?

My hypothesis:  the film  “Pearl Harbor” played recently (ahem, on repeat for a week) on some cable channel, making the battle of Pearl Harbor  fresh in commonplace American  minds.  These Americans heard the world “Japan” on the news, and were like, “I just watched a movie with Ben Affleck, and that tsunami country bombed us in the movie!   Serves them right, durrr, derr.”

(I don’t know if “Pearl Harbor” aired recently, but this makes me think my idea has merit…)

CLOSING EDIT: That joke flew over my head and now I feel silly. Perhaps all those Facebook people were really imitating Alec Sulkin. Reddit does not know this yet, nor does Viceland.com, linked above. (3:30pm CST)


Hedgehogs: the pet you can't pet

Hedgehog being held

Image via Wikipedia

Has the British African pygmy hedgehog craze hit Chicago?

Breeders of these tiny, prickly critters are reporting their hedgehogs are the hot new thing for rich British women, who are replacing the Chihuahuas and pugs that once had pride of place in their handbags. Domesticated hedgehogs (which cost $400 a pop) are winning the hearts of U.K. buyers — including, reportedly, the wives of several top soccer players — as they require less care and attention than a dog, and are more portable and cheaper to feed.

via Forget Fido: Pygmy Hedgehogs are New Hot Pet

My roommate has a hedgehog for a pet. Former roommates used to talk about how much they wanted a hedgehog named Sonic as a pet. A friend of mine recently purchased a hedgehog over Craigslist (and had it die on her less than a month later). So why are they so popular? Steve Maciontek, the General Manager at Animal Kingdom, explained in an e-mail:

Animal Kingdom has offered African Pygmy Hedgehogs as pets long before their current popularity became evident.  These shy, quiet pets are great pets for households that cannot have dogs, cats, birds or other small animals.  They are virtually odor-free and rarely have health issues.  Animal Kingdom has seen a growing interest in these pets, particulary with college students, and couples who both work.  We estimate that our sales have doubled during the past year.

If you’re interested in owning one of these little critters yourself,  here’s a comprehensive guide to caring for your hedgehog  including cage arrangement (the poem on top of the page is well worth the click), and here’s a good link on how to litter train your hedgehog. Also, be careful where you get your hedgehog from!

Accidental punctures to themselves from their quills, obesity, and upper respiratory illnesses are the main concerns of hedgehog owners. We caution many of our customers to be very careful where they purchase their pet from.  Many dealers, including internet sellers, have no idea how to pick one of these pets up let alone care for it.  Ask questions.

adds Maciontek

I personally don’t understand the appeal. Yes, they are cute, but you can’t really cuddle them. My roommate naps on the couch with the hedgehog on her belly. The most entertaining thing the hedgehog does is swim and float around on its back in the bath tub.

[youtubevid id="zXjPQYgT25Q"]


Nature the Ambivalent

I realized I need to stop personifying Nature; the Chicago Police Department can be benevolent or malevolent, but Nature will always do her own thing.

We started the day off by driving to Mammoth Lakes in search of the Devils Postpile, but the roads leading to the monument were not plowed. The gate was still open, but I was not up for a day-long hike in the snow. All around town, Mammoth Lakes businesses were preparing for the opening of the ski lifts.  This is the earliest the ski resort has opened since 1994.  At least all that snow was working for someone.

Don't be fooled by the prettiness!

Don't be fooled by the prettiness!

Having abandoned that particular detour, we decided to visit Wild Willie’s hot springs.   After a few wrong turns, we happened upon Hot Creek, a “river” that runs through Long Valley Caldera.  Only in this part of the country can you take a wrong turn en route to a geological wonder only to run into another geological wonder.  This 10 x 18 mile depression was formed over 760,000 years ago during a volcanic explosion that knocked 50 cubic miles of molten rock from beneath the earth’s surface into the air.  Today, the caldera is far from stable, with geysers erupting, the earth moving, and the water temperature reaching a scalding temperature unpredictably.  When you’re hanging out in the Travertine Springs, it’s easy to think that these “hot tubs” were made just for humans, but at Hot Creek it’s these same inviting small pools that will kill you. Warning signs are posted every where you look, and include pleasant tidbits like: “fourteen people have died or been seriously burned while countless others have been injured since 1968 and  arsenic levels in the water may rise to dangerous levels suddenly”.  Basically, no swimming.  We did see some steaming rocks though, and I got a short driving lesson on the way back to the highway (don’t ask me to go over 25 miles per hour.  I can’t do it!).

Once we found it, Wild Willy’s Hot Springs was thankfully tamer than Hot Creek, and was located off a long, rough dirt road.  Wild Willie’s has just one pool, and the bottom of the pool is  harder and rockier than the clay bottom of Travertine Springs. Wild Willy’s was also warmer, at least on the day we went.  The water that flows into Wild Willy’s

en route to Wild Willy's

en route to Wild Willy's

travels down a small waterfall and the sound is louder and more soothing than Travertine’s. The spring is located in the middle of a meadow so cow dung was everywhere, but the hot spring has a pathway that  resembles a narrow boardwalk. The pool itself has  hard edges with indents for bottles and cans. All these little details  convinced me again of nature’s benevolence, and the dangers at Long Valley Caldera were forgotten. The  pool I was bathing in was made just for that very purpose, right?  It seemed so until I spotted what I like to call a proverbial hot spring shark: clumps of mucous-y  algae, moss and other green stuff floating in Willie’s water.  It looked like God hocked a loogey directly into the hot spring. Any sort of movement knocks the goo off the wall, and after some getting in and out to take photos, pee, and get some drinks, there were  giant slimy green and brown “jellyfish”  just waiting to latch onto our arms and legs when we came to a rest. When one such “jellyfish” grew larger than a pizza, it was time for me to leave.

On the drive back to June Lake, we checked up on that deer carcass, and it’s amazing what California ravens can do  in 24 hours. The entire torso was picked clean, while the head and legs were still intact (I was going to post a photo but it’s pretty gnarly).  The deer still had her eyes in her sockets. The smell wasn’t too bad unless you stood 10 feet downwind. I was clever enough to pick some sage and hold it to my nose. Sage grows abundantly out here and makes about a quarter of the scrub in the lowlands, and by lowlands I mean about 7,000 feet. The sage worked so well in masking the scent that I had to wonder… no, it was just a happy coincidence.


Another public project the lost Olympic bid screwed over?

The most recent update on the Bloomingdale Trail, a project much like New York City’s High Line:

“I would expect to see at least a part of this open within 4 years,” said Andrew Vesselinovitch, the Chicago Parks Program director for the Trust for Public Land. “But I think that is even a little optimistic.”

via The dream of the Bloomingdale Trail still far from reality .

The Medill article goes on to mention:

Officials originally aimed for 2016 as a completion date, so that the trail would be up and running during the Olympic games. But with Chicago losing the bid, that aim is no longer necessary.

Much of the article mulls over how long this project is taking, but with funds being cut left and right (for more important things like youth and after school programs), grumbling about the lack of development over this trail is almost insensitive.  Yes, it’s true, this would be a nice addition to Chicago and would help in our attempts at dethroning New York City as King City.  I just hope they don’t make the Bloomingdale Trail as modern looking and soulless as New York City’s High Line. So far, it looks good. The Friends of Bloomingdale Trail website say they plan on building community murals and you would be able to bike on the Bloomingdale Trail, something you cannot do on the High Line.


Nature the Benevolent

Despite forecasts saying the  snow storm would last for two days, the skies were sunny today and the snow that kept us indoors melted as quickly as my disappointment (and I thought Chicago’s weather was unpredictable!). Despite not being able to access the park, my boyfriend and I explored the eastern outskirts of Yosemite. Our destination? The Travertine Hot Springs,  just outside the town of Bridgeport, California.

shotgun shells

shotgun shells just hanging out

We started the day by buying an ace bandage for my knee, which came in handy when we had to ditch our rental car at the shooting range halfway up the hot springs. If we had a truck we could have made it past the ditches and large potholes in the road, but our little Kia couldn’t handle such terrain. One of the most genuine gentlemen I’ve  ever met (a BLM ranger) suggested we take a short cut through the shooting range.  The gun-toting modern cowboys were nice enough to pause in their target practice and watch me gimp through their field of view. I’ve never been to a shooting range, but from what I’ve seen in movies it’s not usually a free-for-all with people bringing their own targets and leaving their bullet casings on the ground. Then again, when are movies accurate? The juxtaposition between the well kept hot springs and no littering signs versus the piles and piles of used ammunition nearby was not entirely lost on me.

Upon reaching the Travertine Hot Springs, my boyfriend and I promptly got lost looking for the group of four pools. There is one small pool right at the entrance, but we were looking for the secluded set. By climbing up some rocks, we were able to spot our springs and catch some folks in the state of re-dress. Not wanting to be mistaken as pervs, we made our presence known and the folks were nice enough to redirect us to the proper path.

Travertine Hot Springs

Travertine Hot Springs via my camera phone

Clothing is optional in the springs, but we kept our underwear on. The bottom of the pools are muddy in a clay sort of way, and smell heavily of sulfur.  Each pool has its own water supply and distinct temperature,  and investigating the source of the water atop the rock structures is fairly easy, even for wobbly me. We hung out in the springs for a good half hour or so, undisturbed, alternating pools when we got too hot.  Taking in the view took a while, as did the fact that this was all free, all public land. I own these springs, President Obama owns these spring, as does Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and every American citizen! Even the echo of gun shots nearby couldn’t bring me out of my relaxed state. Everything was peaceful and right with the world.  The temperature of the hottest pool is said to be above boiling, so we did get a bit light-headed, prompting us to leave (or maybe it was the sulfur?). Nevertheless, the warmth stayed with us  and we went sans hoodie and jacket on the hike down to the car. The hotel concierge explained that the hot springs are popular at night; she herself has only gone after dark, and sees shooting stars every time.

Ironically, I saw more animals yesterday than I did at Yosemite. It was almost as if nature had heard my digital complaints. Off the side of the highway, we witnessed a freshly dead deer being shredded by six or so ravens. These ravens were surprisingly aggressive. When my boyfriend tried to take a picture of the carnage, they rose up around him in a circle, squawking manically and a scene from Hitchcock’s Birds flashed through my head. While walking to the hot springs, we startled a large jack rabbit and shortly thereafter discovered a newly car-crushed black and white snake. No bear or mountain lion, but I’ll take what I can get.

Thanks for honoring my wishes, Mother Nature.


Nature the Malevolent

Stick Figures v Mountain Lion

Image by ingridtaylar via Flickr

As a girl who grew up in New York City, visiting Yosemite for vacation is a surreal but pleasant dream: to traverse a land where the wilderness rules is the exact opposite of the environment I grew up in. The city I currently reside in doesn’t think twice about manhandling nature, even going so far as to  reverse the flow of a river and dying it green on St. Patrick’s Day. Chicago doesn’t shut down because of a couple feet of the white stuff. When it snows out here, 9,000 feet above sea level, chains must be put on tires and people lock themselves inside.  Driving up the winding and narrow mountain passes lacking guard rails is scary enough,  so when it snows Yosemite closes its roads.  Humans are so vulnerable out here, and lack any choice but to surrender to the whims of the wilderness. It’s not just the weather – the animals give humans a run for their money as well.

Before each nature walk, a sign warns you that you are entering the wild and that this is bear country.  The sign goes on to explain that if you leave food in your car, a bear will damage your car to get to your food. Bear-proof storage containers are strategically placed next to the warning signs and their use is mandated.

Lower Cathedral Lake

Needless to say, I was stoked. To see a bear in its natural habitat? To catch a glimpse of a bobcat, or mountain lion? I was so ecstatic about meeting some wildlife that odd shapes in the woods, or any flickering movement had me freeze and stare. It was all wishful thinking.  I saw a plethora of chipmunks (who seemed to have a little game of running out in front of moving cars) and a couple  western gray squirrels. The western gray squirrel has larger ears and a less bushy tail than the squirrels I am used to, and while it was nice to see, the squirrel’s presence meant no bobcat or mountain lion prowled nearby.  I realized that the animals I was looking for could smell me a long way off, and since this was the kingdom of the wild, these animals have figured out where the trails are and probably stay well away from them (going off the trail path is prohibited, as the park stresses you leave as little impact on nature as possible). Hence my surprise at finding some mountain lion scat in the middle of my hike up to Dog Lake. There I was, visibly excited (once again) over some cat poop.  If only I had climbed faster, I could have seen a large defecating feline!

On my first day in Yosemite, my boyfriend and I hiked the lower Cathedral Lakes trail, and it was by far one of the most beautiful natural formations I have ever seen. The sky was a bright blue, without a cloud in sight.  On the way down, we passed quite a few people carrying ski pole-looking things, and I scoffed at how ridiculous they looked. I would eat my words the next day when I realized what they were for. My right knee was done for when we got back to the hotel, the bone itself hurting whenever I bent it. Research on the internet revealed the cause of my pain: the constant impact of climbing downhill. How could I have avoided this? By having a damn hiking pole.

The second day saw us hiking small amounts due to my injured knee.  We had heard about the approaching storm and I wanted to get the most out of our visit.  No pain, no gain, right?  Our first stop: Soda Springs.  On the way there, a group of ten or more Clark’s Nutcrackers went wild for a good 5 minutes, calling back and forth over a river in the Tuolumne

mmmm, natural seltzer...

Meadows. The Soda Springs themselves were copper, yellow and red.  I’d never have thought of it myself, but a passing hiker let us know that drinking from the spring is a popular, if potentially dangerous right of passage.  Good enough for me!  The ice-cold water bubbling up from the bowl sized craters tasted a little like flat seltzer.  Afterward, we climbed Pothole Dome to get a panoramic view of the meadow and mountains.  We ended the day hiking up to Dog Lake, where I saw the mountain lion scat.

While it might seem disappointing to have a seven day vacation cut down by five days due to snow, the amount I did see in those 2 days was satisfying enough to hold me over until next time.  I can’t complain, and the raging storm outside is almost fortuitous since I cannot walk without limping.  Cabin fever is sure to set in, as the snow storm is steadily knocking out TV channels and cell phone reception is splotchy at best.  In fact, this post would have done earlier if it weren’t for a power outage.  Now the power’s back on and the internet is up. Your move, nature.

Photos and some audio to come…


Because "An Inconvenient Truth" wasn't enough-

Tomorrow night marks the one-night-only international screening of “The Age of Stupid”, a science fiction “docudrama” directed by  Franny Armstrong and starring Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite.

The film takes place in 2055, after the rise in Earth’s temperature  has wrought havoc on humanity and the planet. Postlethwaite plays a historian who lives alone taking care of archeological artifacts.  He spends his free time looking back at “archival” footage from 2008 of people living in climate hotspots.  As for the title, according to the film we’re the “Age of Stupid” because we did nothing to  stop climate change when we had the chance.  The film has a wry take on our current climate hang-ups: one clip features  British landowners protesting a wind farm because it ruins their scenic view.   The film aired in the UK on March 20th of this year, and walks that thin line between “preachy” and “prophetic” all the while trumping “An Inconvenient Truth”.

[vimeovid id="6261071"]

The film will have a Hollywood-style premiere  broadcast live from New York City, with Gillian Anderson, Moby, and Heather Graham set to appear.  MTV’s Gideon Yago will interview Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kofi Annan, environmental scientist James Hansen, and director Franny Armstrong.  Thom Yorke of Radiohead  has thrown in his endorsement, and will perform live after the movie.  “The Age of Stupid” is hoping to break the Guiness World Record for  largest simultaneous film screening.

If you haven’t already, go here to purchase tickets for the Chicago area screening, and here is The Age of Stupid official website.


Parking meter parks to please populace

The trouble-maker in me enjoyed  the reports of people disabling the parking meters, from stuffing them with pennies, super-gluing coins in the slots, spraypainting the display cases, removing the decals and even bashing them with cinder blocks.  One had to at least appreciate the creativity of the saboteurs. So while listening to Chicago Public Radio this morning, I was struck by this piece:

Tomorrow, there may be a few less parking spaces available for your vehicle. The participants in Parking Day are occupying metered street spots and turning them into mini-parks…more green space.

via Eight Forty-Eight – PARKing Day Takes Back Parking Spaces .

At a time when the citizens of Chicago are feeling disenfranchised by the new Parking Meter deal (Daley sold Chicago’s 36,000+ meters to Morgan Stanley, raising the price to park by as much as 400% ), it’s nice to see people exerting their right to the space in a positive way.  PARKing Day states it’s mission as being :

strictly a non-commercial project, intended to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play

via the official PARK(ing) DAY website

People’s feelings about parking in Chicago are overwhelmingly negative, so it’s promising to see the citizenry taking public space back for the public.  The temporary parks will, at the very least, make for some good conversation.  It’s not as if people are parking in those spaces anyway.

Check out the mini-park tomorrow at 3522 N Southport.


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