30 January 2014

Snow MG! It's This Week in Water: Local Edition

Greetings from Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse Atlanta.

Our region has been the laughing stock of the country for the past couple days. Images of traffic jams to end all traffic jams (outside of China) have been all over the media. We have seen stories of thousands of school children stranded in their schools and on their school buses. We've heard reports of folks whose commutes home from work on Tuesday afternoon lasted until Wednesday evening. We watched as thousands of people simply abandoned their cars on the side of the interstate highways and found their way to a supermarket or pharmacy for the night. There was even the incident of the woman who gave birth while stuck in traffic.

There are a number of identifiable reasons this disaster came about. Number One: There is, unfortunately, some truth to the stereotype that Southerners don't know how to drive in the snow. Unlike our Northern and Western brethren, we don't rotate our automobile tires out when cold weather rolls around. No one here owns snow tires or chains. That's because we don't get that much snow. Many winters we get no snow whatsoever here in Atlanta. This doesn't stop drivers here from tailgating or going too fast around icy corners or curtailing their driving in this sort of weather. And there are a lot of drivers here. (See Number Three below)

Number Two: Snow here tends to be different from snow elsewhere. I've driven on snow out west and up north, and it can be done. Here, when snow falls, the roads are so warm that it melts almost as soon as it hits. That plus an undiminished flow of traffic causes the otherwise drivable snow to turn to mush and water which pools on low-lying areas of the roadways and bridges. Then, when happens what happened this week, that is the temperature drops precipitously after an afternoon snow (from 30º F to 11º F in the space of a couple hours), the watery slush on the roads turns to vast sheets of hard, black ice. No one can drive on black ice without chains. [Plus see Number One above] And even then it's treacherous.

Number Three: There is no unified political organization to this region. Atlanta, the city itself, has a population of less than a half million. The greater Atlanta Metro region has a population closer to six million. This encompasses some 16 counties, each with its own political system and subsystems. Millions of people commute into the city on a daily basis, some traveling as much as an hour or an hour-and-a-half each way. Almost all of this takes place on the three interstate highways, I-20, I-75, and I-85, that converge on downtown, and the Perimeter, aka I-285, a 67-mile highway loop that encircles the city. Traffic and transit in the region is, to say the least, a patchwork. There is no unified transit authority. The subway system, MARTA, does not extend far outside the city limits. In effect, there is no mass transit for the folks in these outlying suburban and exurban communities. So, all it takes is one transfer truck to jackknife on a patch of black ice to shut down one of these major arteries. And there were, by some reports, close to 1,000 accidents on the major thoroughfares on Tuesday afternoon. The entire region was shut down. Gridlocked. Frozen, if you will, for close to 24 hours.

Number Four: Because threats of snow here often fail to pan out, school officials in the various school districts here (and there are dozens) for the most part failed to call off schools before the storm hit. Snow began falling around noon, came down fairly hard, got packed down on the roads, melted, then froze before the various political organizations could get their acts into gear and release the school kids, government workers, and other commuters. The roads got busy all at once, and this was at exactly the same time they started icing over.

Number Five: Because we get so little snow here on an annual basis, our municipalities cannot justify budgeting for snow/ice removal equipment. There is practically no salt or sand for this purpose. And the few snow plows there are are woefully inadequate to clear the tens of thousands of miles of streets and highways throughout the region—even if our politicians could effectually marshall and deploy them.

Bottom line: It was a mell of a hess, as we tend to say down here. So much for 'This Week in Water: Local Edition."

Temperatures rose to a more seasonal 50º today, but there are still patches of black ice in shady spots near bodies of water. I saw one car that had skidded into a stop sign this afternoon. And Sunday it's supposed to get into the 60's.

28 January 2014

"For he on honey-dew hath fed,/ And drunk the milk of Paradise."

The answer to yesterday's quiz?

Like the poem quoted in the title (continued above) from S.T. Coleridge's Kubla Khan, the three works in question are about opium/heroin experiences, also known as the milk of the poppy. Berlioz was a noted opium user, as were many Romantics of the era—de Quincey, e.g.

The Symphonie Fantastique famously "tells the story of 'an artist gifted with a lively imagination' who has 'poisoned himself with opium' in the 'depths of despair' because of 'hopeless love.'" The Velvet Underground song is, of course, heroin porn, an underground classic that shocked the world in its day. And the La's la-la-la pop song is controversially said to be about the experience of heroin "racing through my brain," "pulsin' through my vein"—rushing again and again and nothing else heal can "heal my pain."

Thanks for playing.

27 January 2014

"And close your eyes with holy dread..."

Went to the symphony this weekend. Heard the Berlioz below. Had a thought/association: What do these three musics have in common? [And 'Romanticism', though a good and fairly accurate response, is too general and vague.]

There are no prizes other than the pride in your own knowledge base you will feel at having correctly divined the answer. And isn't that enough?

26 January 2014

Not So Fast My Fat Friend

A quick follow-up to my previous post. Here's Coca-Cola's site where it explains how it pretty much commandeered the Santa Claus image and attempted to link it indelibly to its corporate brand.

Coke Holiday Ads Through The Years

And here's Snopes who says not so fast: "at best what Coca-Cola popularized was an image they borrowed, not one they created." Yes, but the crafting of that image, its ubiquity, and the indelible association of it in the popular mind with the brand's product cannot be denied. They are playing a long game. Their next move, by the way, is polar bears. You've seen the ads. They're associating themselves with concern about global warming. Watch for it.

25 January 2014

Santa Claus Sells Out

Over the holidays there was some controversy emanating from those provocative googahs over at Fox Snooze about Santa Claus being white. Well, frankly, they weren't wrong—given, that is, their limited universe of knowledge.

Wisdomie brought his S.O. home from Hawaii and wanted to show her some of the tourist sites here in the ATL. We took her to the GA Aquarium (which is the tits, btw. Wisdoc and I scubaed there for our 24th Anniversary a couple years back—with whale sharks, hammerheads, manta rays, goliath groupers, etc.) and the Coca-Cola Museum. The latter is, if nothing else, a tribute to what was/is the greatest marketing campaign in the history of the world—corporate, that is (let's exclude, say, Catholicism). If you are a 'Mad Man' and want to see how a corporate branding campaign made a logo into the world's No. 1 most recognizable brand (including the Olympics), it's worth a tour.

[Of course, if you are an anti-corporatist, Occupationist throwback, you might want to take a pass. Unless, that is, you want to keep your enemies closer kinda' thing.]

Back to the point: One of the very real triumphs of Coke's long-game marketing campaign has, indeed, been the corporation's crafting of the Santa Claus image. There is an exhibition in the museum about the evolution of what we now instantly recognize as Santa Claus over the decades by the marketing geniuses at Coke. Do you think it is merely coincidental that the predominant cultural image of Santa Claus is robed in precisely the same color and shades as the Coca-Cola logo? If you do, then you are frankly naive and should check out how they did it at the museum.

There is another exhibit in the museum showing how Coke's marketing folks incorporated several images from the American artist Norman Rockwell into their ad campaigns. Wisdomie said as we walked through, "What a sell out!" I replied, "No, Rockwell wasn't just 'a' sell out, he was the original sell out. His selling out to Coke was the template for the phenomena—at least in corporate America. He set the standard, and Coke bought him whole."

Unfortunately, I don't know if that's entirely true. What about Toulouse-Lautrec? Or, to take another category: what about Michaelangelo (or any religious or patronized art)?

Anybody have any ideas about any other major or prominent (let's say American) artists who "sold out" their let's call it "artistic integrity" for corporate marketing purposes?

[This being brought to mind after seeing Inside Llewyn Davis last night re: 1960's NYC folk scene and the momentous arrival of Dylan thereupon (selling out being a prominent feature and thus theme thereof). Oh, and thereafter reading Ben Marcus's reply ["Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It: A Correction"] to Jonathan Franzen's diss of Wm. Gaddis, "Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-to-Read Books." It can be "pleasurable," says Marcus, "to get what we knew we wanted – that is, after all, why we wait in line to sit on Santa's lap." Indeed.]

So, here's a cool song from ATL locals, the Black Lips, currently running in a T-Mobile ad. Love the song, and want the local lads to do well. But still...

And then, of course, there's:

22 January 2014

Ars Brevis

I pulled down a book the other day. Well, 'pulled down' is not entirely accurate. I picked up a book off the floor the other day. It wasn't just lying around randomly on the floor, though. It was in a row of books lined up relatively neatly in front of one of my bookshelves.

See, I worked my way partially through college and a large part of graduate school shelving books in the libraries at the respective schools I attended, so, out of habit more than anything else, my books are by and large and for the most part organized in my own sort of system: novels in one place, alphabetical by author; short stories on another shelf, by author; poetry, likewise; philosophy, etcetera; psych, religion, …well, you get the idea.

The book I picked up was a book of short stories and it was on the floor with some other collections of short stories, as I said alpha by author, in front of a shelf full of mostly novels (read novels, that is, unreads are on other shelves in other parts of the room). My shelved short story section is in a glassed-in bookcase down in the family room and is, at present and has been for some time, too full for additions, so I have several places like tables and out-of-the-way sections of the floor where I keep my otherwise reasonably well-organized collections until such time as I can either obtain more shelving (i.e., room for shelves) or, heaven forfend, get rid of some other books from other shelves to make room for them.

I was in the mood to read some short stories I hadn't read in some time, or, better yet, some I'd neglected to read. Best yet, some really short ones. And I had seen something that day, or the day before, about Lydia Davis winning a prize recently—the Man Booker International, if memory serves—and I knew she wrote mostly really short pieces. So I went directly to the line-up on the floor where I was something like 95 to 97% certain I would find one or two of my two or three collections of her works. And viola!

Funny story. On the back was this bar code. That in itself is not funny, I realize that, but bear with me. The bar code itself looked rather ancient: it was sort of clunky and the lines were larger and thicker than you see them nowadays. I hadn't seen one quite like it in some time and it drew my attention. Not least because it had a bright yellow strip across the top. Turns out I'd bought the book at BORDERS. For $13.00. That's what was printed on the bar code sticker on the back of the book.

The title page informs it is, was, a First Edition (paperback) published in 2007. I'm going to assume that's when I bought it. Of course, the funny part is BORDERS, the store, the company, the entity, no longer exists. It used to be a nationwide chain of big brick-and-mortar retail bookstores. It later developed an on-line presence, but never quite made it business-wise and went out of business quite some time ago.

So here's this book with an antique-seeming bar code sticker on the back indicating it was purchased from a now-defunct book-as-commodity retailer sitting in a pile—well, not really a pile, but you know what I'm saying—on my floor. Unread. Having survived the downfall of this massive corporate giant. Funny, huh?

Turning the book over there are two things on the front cover that instantly jump out at you. One is a round, silver and black sticker that says 'NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST'. The other is a rather life-like picture, if you can call it that, or image of a common housefly.

The cover itself is barely legible. It is a sort of cream color. And the lettering on the cover has a very similar coloring, though it is of a somewhat shinier texture so that when the light hits it just right you can read 'LYDIA DAVIS/ VARIETIES OF DISTURBANCE/ STORIES' in block letters. But in most lights you can't really read the words on the cover as they blend into the background. The fly, however, or rather the illustration of the fly which is crawling on the lower serif of the 'I' in Davis's last name has an almost three-dimensional aspect including translucent-looking wings and fuzzy shadow. On first glance, it looks like a real fly and something within almost makes you want to swat at it. Cool stuff.

So, my thinking went (and goes), what is the meaning of that fly on the cover? Why is it there? I say the fly because, unlike the NBA sticker—which itself will pull off and in fact has a slight rip at about 11:30 of the clock where it looks like I probably at one time thought about pulling it off and even attempted but abandoned same—the fly is integral to the cover design.

Well, I thought, flies are often symbols of ephemerality. They, if I remember correctly, only live for a day or two, then die. And Lydia Davis writes really short stories. That doesn't mean to imply her stories are short-lived or ephemeral works of art. It's the shortness thing I'm attempting to highlight and equate. Here for example is one of her short stories in its entirety:
"Representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging."
That's it. I read that and I'm like WTF? What does that even mean? The title of the story is: "Idea for a Short Documentary Film." But still, pretty damn short.

I'm not sure quite how that qualifies as a "story", [especially given my serial posts here at WoW re: Ur-story—for which click "Serial Posts" at right]. But, at least according to a couple of pretty serious prize-giving organizations, to wit: the NBA and Booker, it certainly qualifies as something. So, there it is. Short, short stories = Fly image on cover.

But then I realized you know what? her book of ephemera (certainly my copy of it) has outlived a massive U.S. corporate entity which sought to commoditize it and monopolize the entire U.S. and potentially worldwide bookselling markets unread, for the most part, in a stack (not really, it was more of a line as I said) on my bedroom floor before I could even get a chance to shelve it properly (this latter having more to do with issues relating to my own hoarding and procrastinatory tendencies and lack of shelf space than anything else, but that's hardly relevant here). So, yeah, the fly on the cover took on another, albeit private, meaning to me the neglectful owner of the book (or at least a copy of the book). A meaning that has more than a trace of irony, no? The fly became the emblem of the book itself, or even BOOK ITSELF. Emblematic rather than symbolic. But wait. It was the Borders corporation that was ephemeral and the book which endured. Davis's book (or at least my copy of Davis's book) outlasted it. So shouldn't the fly, in my own little private symbology, instead be emblematic of the commoditization and corporatism of late capitalist America? My head was spinning from the contradictory realizations.

But then—sorry, I know that's the second straight paragraph I've started with that little narratival throat-clearing tick, but this thing is rapidly winding down so you'll just have to deal with it—I thought once more about the title of the collection: "Varieties of Disturbance". And I realized that, of course, yeah, the simplest explanation was probably the best: houseflies are annoyances. Disturbing little things buzzing around our heads, landing on us and itching, that sort of thing. So, that's probably all it meant, the fly, that is: this is a collection of stories about a variety of things that disturbs or annoys Lydia Davis—like, say, tearing into various forms of corporate packaging and making ironic, post-modern films about having the creators of same being forced to deal with their own annoyance-producing items. Not that whole meta- thing about the fly representing the stories themselves (or books or even artworks, for that matter) that have as their aim to somehow existentially disturb us. That would probably be reading too much into it.

I mean, after all, we're not supposed to judge books by their covers. Am I right? And I was comforted by that thought.

19 January 2014

This Week in Water

The major domestic water news this week centered on the Elk River upstream of the city of Charleston in the U.S. state of West Virginia and the chemical company Freedom Industries, Inc., P.O. Box 713, Charleston, WV 25323 - Phone (304) 720-8065 - FAX (304) 343-0028. On January 9, 2014, up to 7500 U.S. gallons (28,000 litres) of crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a chemical used in cleaning coal, was released into the Elk River, a tributary of the Kanawha River, which itself flows into the Ohio River. Nine counties containing some 300,000 people (approx. one-quarter of the population of the state) were instructed not to use their public utility's water system, except for toilet flushing, because the chemical had penetrated the area's uptake systems. The chemical spill, it is widely believed, originated from one of 14 storage tanks in Freedom Industries's facility. Neither the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection nor the federal EPA had inspected the facility and its tanks since 1991. The 'do not use' advisory was lifted 5 days after the spill. The effects of the chemical, MCHM, on human health and aquatic systems is not well known. On January 17, as the bolus of potentially harmful chemical made its way downstream to larger population centers such as Cincinnati and Louisville, Freedom Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Generally speaking, state regulation of the coal industry and its subsidiary industries in West Virginia is next to non-existant. Such spills occur there with some frequency, though the Elk River spill is the most high-profile.

In other spillage news, Fukushima continues to look like nothing other than a slow motion nuclear meltdown into the Pacific Ocean.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency in the state of California. Rain- and snow-fall levels are at near all-time lows and reservoir levels are dangerously low.

China's wetlands have shrunk by nearly 9% since 2003, aggravating an already stressed water scarcity situation.

Necessity being the mother, etc., etc., 60 M-100 Chlorine Generators are being used by WaterStep, a Kentucky-based aid organization, in the Philippines to help filter water for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. A single football-sized device can produce up to 10,000 gallons of potable water per day.

In case you missed it before, here's the site for Sweden's Orbital Systems's Shower Concept which cleans and recycles shower water. The company claims you can save over $1000 per year on your water bill, using only 1.5 gallons of water for a 10-minute shower.

07 January 2014

This Week in Water

Happy New Year, all! Lots to report, so let's get down to it:

What were the most compelling water stories of 2013? Well, you could click on my "This Week in Water" label below this post or over on the right side of the page and read through my posts and make your own judgment, or you could go over to H2Oscore.blog here and get their take. Their list of five is as follows: (1) the launch of the ObsSys Recycling Shower, (2) The world's first zero-emission desalination plant in Perth, AUS, (3) the discovery of water on Mars(!!), (4) the increase of fracking in the U.S. and its impact on clean water sources, and (5) the on-going, record-setting drought in California (Texas, too).

Here's a story that might make the 2014 list: Australian scientists have discovered the existence of vast freshwater reserves trapped beneath the ocean floor which could provide sufficient potable water for future generations. “The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” said the lead researcher. (Link to Nature article abstract.). The problem, obviously, is how to extract it without contaminating it with inflows of seawater.

Speaking of deep water, the dramatic temperature differences between water below 3000 feet and surface water can be harnessed to create a nearly unlimited supply of energy. Said one NOAA scientist: "The oceans are the biggest solar collector on Earth, and there's enough energy in them to supply a thousand times the world's needs. If you want to depend on nature, the oceans are the only energy source big enough to tap." [This is a great article over at Wired magazine. A highly recommended read.]

Modelling suggests water scarcity could be intensified by 40% worldwide as a result of climate change. This is in addition to the spread of scarcity resulting from population growth.

Here's an article examining the current state and possible future of our global water supply. One word: scarcity.

Water scarcity does not necessarily have to lead to strife. In fact, it could unite us in our common humanity. A new diplomatic agreement between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestine Authority could show the way.

These 10 U.S. cities face acute freshwater shortages and may deplete their aquifers: El Paso, San Jose, Miami, Lincoln, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Atlanta.

California snowpack levels are at potentially drastically low levels for this time of year. Though Colorado appears to be ahead of schedule.

The capture and recycling of rainwater, one of the purest sources of fresh water, can aid in a sustainable future.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart have developed microengines that actively degrade organic pollutants in water.

Scientists have discovered a cobalt oxide nanoparticle photocatalyst that can quickly split water into hydrogen and oxygen atoms using natural sunlight.

Inexpensive, locally sourced clay pot filtration systems are helping to provide reliable, sustainable, safe drinking water to thousands of rural, impoverished people.

Draff, the residue of barley husks used in brewing whisky, can act as a cleansing agent for removing arsenic from groundwater.

The beginning of the sand wars: Coastal communities in New England are squabbling over the scarce resource needed to rebuild eroding coastlines.

Here's a cool map of what the U.S. might look like if its states' boundaries had been drawn along its watershed lines instead of railroad corporation-inspired political lines.

United States of Aquifer-ica