Archive for September, 2006

Theater of the Absurd

Posted: September 19, 2006 in Culture, Tacky

After I detrained at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago this morning on my way to work, I stumbled unbeknownst across the staging area for what I later learned was — what else? — a media stunt. Via word of mouth, I was able to gather that one of the famous Flying Wallendas was going to attempt crossing the Chicago River on a high wire. As if that weren’t strange enough, add in the tidbits that he was making the attempt on a bicycle and that he is paralyzed below the waist. All else that was needed was balancing three men on his shoulders and juggling flaming swords during the crossing.

Anyway, as the local news reports, the event went off successfully at 9 A.M. with 64-year-old Mario Wallenda crossing the river both directions despite some wind and sway. I didn’t witness it as I was already at work. Apparently, only a few people knew about it. No one seemed surprised when I mentioned it, though a few were curious. I guess we’re trained to expect or believe just about anything these days.

The really strong impression made on me, though, was a trio of bagpipers on hand to accompany (?) the event. I walked past over an hour before the stunt, and the pipers were rehearsing on the street. I mainly associate the mournful sound of the Highland bagpipe with funeral services for fallen firefighters and police, less with parades and other more positive celebrations. There aren’t really many things that bring a tear to my eye, just as no one seemed surprised that a paralyzed guy might be crossing the river on a bicycle on a wire. We’re all so jaded. (Torture? Genocide? Apocalypse? Just another day ….) The bagpipes didn’t cause an emotional meltdown for me, but I might have sniffed once or twice.

Great … Another Thing to Worry About

Posted: September 13, 2006 in Culture

As if we don’t have enough dangers lurking around every corner, from faulty drugs to emergent disease vectors to crime to environmental toxins to bits of falling buildings — oh, and let’s not forget terrorism — how lousy would be be to be struck down by stray voltage emanating from city infrastructure? The Chicago Reader reports on one fellow’s ordeal when he took his dog out for a walk and the dog stepped on a sidewalk with live current. The dog made a complete recovery, but other animals have been killed and some people hospitalized.

Similar reports come from Boston and New York, where at least one woman was killed when she stepped on an electrified metal plate near a bakery. Whereas those cities have responded with legistation mandating that utility companies conduct routine inspections to locate and fix instances of stray voltage, Chicago seems to have dragged its feet, waiting, perhaps, until something really ugly occurs.

There are lots of miserable ways to go, many of which are absolutely random and unable to be protected against unless you want to live as a hermit. Am I now going to ensure that all my shoes have soles of nonconductive material? The idea will definitely cross my mind with the next shoe purchase I make.

The Grinning Face of Propaganda

Posted: September 12, 2006 in Politics, Television

Judging from the activity of the mainstream media, the 5-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is so much more significant than the 4-year anniversary). I’ve seen a few blog entries that rehash the details, go on record against terrorism, or ask the “where were you?” question. That’s well-trodden ground, and frankly, no worthwhile result obtains (beyond the trite “never forget” idea — as if we could).

The one piece that makes a great deal of sense to me and has a worthwhile reminder of where we ought to be after five years is this one by Keith Olbermann. Among his insightful remarks is that now five years later, we still have a 16-acre hole in lower Manhattan. No memorial, no building project. So if we all came together in support of victims, civil servants, and Pres. Bush, well, we haven’t yet been able to similarly put aside our differences and get something done on the site of ground zero.

Olbermann also makes a rather spooky reference to a Twilight Zone episode where conquering aliens remark that once they set us against each other, the aliens themselves don’t really need to do much to wipe us out as our own paranoia and mob response are pretty potent weapons. Leading that charge, by Obermann’s assessment, is the Bush administration, for which he has nothing but contempt, apparently.

Probably the worst aspect Olbermann notes is that the 9/11 attacks have been used by political opportunists (again, the Bush administration figures strongly) in shameless propaganda campaigns to advance partisan agendas, notably, the war with Iraq and rolling back civil liberties. And it’s not over. ABC’s docudrama The Path to 9/11 has been roundly denounced as “[f]actually shaky, politically inflammatory and photographically a mess” by the Washington Post. I’m the wrong person to comment on this, as I didn’t watch any of the docudrama, nor did I watch either of the Hollywood movies treating the same subject. Like the JFK assassination, with so much disinformation, outright fiction, and conspiracy theory floating around, I rather doubt the truth behind either event is truly knowable with any confidence after they’ve been spun and massaged and coopted as party propaganda.

So although politics is not really my focus, I’ll offer a brief five-years-later assessment. It makes me infinitely sad that whatever lessons might have been learned in the aftermath of the attacks, including some serious self-assessment about the things we did to get us to the point of becoming a target, that opportunity has been mostly squandered in unthinking American jingoism and flailing retribution taken on the wrong parties.

The Dark Earth and Scotobiology

Posted: September 6, 2006 in Culture, Philosophy

These images of the Earth from above are pretty interesting:

I especially like the views of the Strait of Gibraltar and the Red Sea, which incidentally shows the Nile delta. The last few show the Earth in darkness, revealing man-made light. I presume the images are composites, as no view of the Earth looking away from the Sun would be in darkness except perhaps during an eclipse. In fact, I’m suspicious the whole Earth is superimposed on a generic star field just for effect.

The dark Earth, lit by man, folds nicely into another idea I stumbled across. A webpage at the National Park Service discusses its Night Skies program to preserve darkness. It avers that light pollution is the sign of an “inefficient society.”

“The emerging field of scotobiology (scoto = darkness, biology = life) is uncovering many examples of wildlife impacted by artificial light.” For instance, baby sea turtles, just after hatching, have been known to mistake a paved road with streetlights for moonlight reflected on the water, which they try to reach. Predictably, they get flattened by passing cars and trucks.

There is also this lament: “Two–thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard, and 99% of the population live in an area that scientists consider light polluted. The rate at which light pollution is increasing will leave almost no dark skies in the contiguous U.S. by 2025.”

I’m not usually interested in environmental issues, so I’ll save my usual diatribe. However, I suspect that this issue will be dismissed by policymakers as unimportant in comparison to lots of things (crime! terror! war! oil!). Still, it reveals that the human footprint still has many deleterious effects that are only now just being observed.

Update: A website called Dark Sky Finder shows the extent of light pollution. Especially east of the Mississippi River, there are whole states where everything is lit up, meaning there is no dark sky to be found for hundreds of miles.

Rush to Judgment

Posted: September 1, 2006 in Blogosphere, Tacky

We just can’t wait to pass judgment on the latest tidbit coughed up by the infosphere. The shortness of the news cycle has a lot to do with that. If news isn’t crisp and current, it is often considered unworthy of our attention, even if that news is only a month or two old. (Scientific studies, BTW, sometimes take years to complete and a few more months to report on. So when a study is published, it can’t really be considered stale only two months later.) I have a stack of newspapers I haven’t yet read dating back to May of this year. News contained there — total ephemera in my view — is already so out of date that it renders those pages practically worthless. What implication does that have for a 10-year-old newspaper, which without its immediate historical context is practically unreadable? Did all that newsgathering ever have any intrinsic value beyond its momentary ability to titilate?

Recent news in the case of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey is especially revealing: news outlets can’t help themselves from falling into the rush-to-judgment trap, even as they acknowledge it (see this article in the San Francisco Chronical). On my group blog, an embarrassing entry offers an apology (and calls for others to follow suit) to the subjects of an older rush to judgment by concluding immediately that the confession of a sad attention-seeker (recently determined to be a bogus confession) lets the previous suspects, tried in the court of public opinion, off the hook. Does the falsity of the confession place the originally adjudged suspects back in jeopardy? Is the apology invalidated?