Thursday, August 23, 2007

I bought this bowl from the artist, Ed Eberly,
years ago at a sale of pieces with imperfections
that disqualifed them for gallery sale. He had the sale
for friends who couldn't otherwise afford his work.
It's been a treasured part of my daily life ever since.
I love it. Thanks, Ed. [BK photo]Posted by Picasa
Quiet, Please!

Update: I posted versions of this on the European Tribune and Daily Kos. Very interesting comments about noisiness internationally.

Of all the forms of damaging pollution, the one that gets the least attention is noise. People don't listen, they don't want to hear about it. It just seems like an inconvenience, like complaining. It's not like having your nerves frayed and your hearing fried is worth crying about.

Well, YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! Thousands of people around the world are dying prematurely from heart disease triggered by long-term exposure to excessive noise, according to research by the World Health Organisation. Based on WHO figures, the British newspaper the
Guardian estimates that of some 100,000 annual deaths from heart disease in the UK, more than 3,000 are from chronic noise exposure.

"Until now, noise has been the Cinderella form of pollution and people haven't been aware that it has an impact on their health," said Deepak Prasher, professor of audiology at University College London. The Guardian writes:

Research published in recent years has shown that noise can increase the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenalin in the body, even during sleep. The longer these hormones stay in circulation around the bloodstream, the more likely they are to cause life-threatening physiological problems. High stress levels can lead to heart failure, strokes, high blood pressure and immune problems. "All this is happening imperceptibly," said Prof Prasher. "Even when you think you are used to the noise, these physiological changes are still happening."

The basic problem with noise--and one reason it causes stress--is that when it's noisy you can't hear anything. We depend on hearing a great deal more than we're normally conscious of. I suspect that noise suggests to what we call our subconscious that we're in danger, that we're under attack. It turns out, we are.

Our very noisy society also interferes with our ability to think--to essentially talk to ourselves for a continuous concentrated period. A lot of people like that, of course; it's how they make their money, by preventing people from thinking, and pushing their other buttons.

"Totalitarianism," Norman Mailer once wrote, and then thought so highly of it that he said it on television, "is the interruption of mood." Noise is one of the major weapons of totalitarians (Hitler, Big Brother, Dolores Umbridge) and of torturers. Now it's more than shattered mood and thoughts. It's a heart atta
Breaking Laws, Breaking Ice

A federal judge has ruled that the Bush administration illegally withheld global warming research, and ordered the administration to publish a summary of climate research for public comment by March 1, and send the completed report containing the scientific assessment of global warming and its effects to Congress by May 31.

As things are shaping up, that may be too late to affect the campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president, but there are other phenomena that may yet get the Climate Crisis higher on the political agenda. Like...the weather.

Hurricane Dean was just the first hurricane of the year, but it was the third most intense to ever make landfall, the strongest in the Atlantic since 2005, and the ninth strongest known in history. (There's already an excellent Wikipedia entry on it.) As predicted, it struck a relatively unpopulated area in Mexico as a Category 5, weakened and returned to shore as a Category 2. Though it didn't strike a highly populated region head-on, it caused at least $4 billion in damages and killed more than 20. Its second landfall is expected to spawn some 20 inches of rain, likely to cause flooding and mudslides.

Flooding caused by excessive rain has recently been the problem in the upper Midwestern U.S., especially in Ohio where hundreds have been driven from their homes.

Meanwhile, the melt of Arctic ice is so severe that new islands are appearing, and so unexpectedly immense that it suggests that the UN global heating predictions were too conservative. A British official told an European gathering of scientists and policymakers that the effort to confront the Climate Crisis will be at least as extensive and complex as the Cold War. But with the Arctic warming and access to its fossil fuels easing, the U.S. and Russia are both exploring the area with the intent of claiming territory. It may be the Cold War all over again. Only hotter.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Young warrior-poet by Emily Young.
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School Daze

In the thick heat of August, thoughts don't automatically return to a new school year, particularly college. Some colleges, like my alma mater, don't begin until the third week of September, but many are starting today, including the one across the street (just about), Humboldt State University.

So here are a few college facts from a New Yorker essay last spring (probably part of a commencement address in progress) by one of the best writers writing, Louis Menand. There are some 4,000 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. A far greater percentage of the population goes to college now than when I did (about half) , and a lower percentage graduates (also about half.) Harvard used to accept about 30% of its applicants; today it accepts 9%.

About a million and a half students graduated last spring. 22% of them majored in business, far more than any other field. Some 4% majored in English, as I did. Menand writes: "There are more bachelor degrees awarded every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies, than in all foreign languages and literatures combined."

So college and its apparent purpose for many students is very different now, although my contact with students is generally in the arts, so I know they still exist! College is far more of an employment prerequisite, and so surly students must go into debt for this credential. There was a certain scam quality to the enterprise in the past as well, but today it's a dim student who doesn't sense that possibility. Some college teachers and administrators may also suspect it, though they must wonder who is really getting the financial benefit.

I just heard a Virginia Tech professor on TV mentioning that far more students now are "on medication," meaning for psychological problems. This is a new item that transcends the dubious and the gloomy into the territory of danger. Teachers are not trained to handle aggressively disturbed students (in fact, in a generally unappreciated irony, most college teachers haven't actually trained to teach.) The movement (it's hard to say how big it is, since TV news picks up on the novel and strange whenever possible) for students to tote guns, is hardly a practical alternative, unless more routine bloodshed is the goal.

The idea that colleges have shifted to cynical credential mills and one dimensional job training facilities with poor security screening is pretty disheartening. All the more heroic then are the students who pursue real education and the teachers who help them. Such students are a minority but we always were. But today they must be even more focused on their ideals.

Menand had another message for American students as well, as good in August as it was in May. In facing the great questions of the day and of all time, in learning the many approaches and points of view, and in experiencing the great diversity that is another newer feature of the U.S. campus, they may learn humility. "We want to give graduates confidence to face the world, but we also want to protect the world a little from their confidence," he wrote.

It's the statement that reflects a nation no longer changed only by 9-11 but by the arrogance of the war in Iraq. But it's universal enough for a university in any time.

As for my own college daze, there's not a week that I don't connect to something that began or that I learned there. Right now on my desk is a book--the actual, physical book--that I bought for a literature class some 40 years ago. I went to a liberal arts college, which according to Menand is a classification no longer used. I may not have done all that well at business, but I'm proud to be in the four percent.
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Surging Storm

Update Monday 6pmPST--Hurricane Dean is now a category 5 storm, with winds gusting up to 190 mph.

Hurricane Dean only brushed Jamaica, though much of the island experienced force 2 winds and electricity was out, leaving a billion dollars worth of damage. Today it is gathering strength over very warm water and seems headed to becoming a category 5 storm again. Initial landfall is expected in a relatively sparsely populated area of Mexico north of Belize, but a second pass could take it into more populated areas.

Meanwhile the U.S. mainland is mainly hot. Storm remnants caused flooding in various places over the weekend, and 6 people dead in Oklahoma.