mm274: Overdue: decriminalize marijuana use

February 3, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

As expounded upon in this space several months (and 100 posts!) ago (here and here), MUDGE has no patience whatsoever with the U.S.’s other failed war.

And whether you care to believe it or not, this long-held position comes not as a result of this child of the 60s’ own recreational habits. We’ll cop to other vices, but not recreational pharmaceutical use, ever.

Unaltered reality is quite exciting enough for yr (justifiably) humble svt, thank you very much.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm272: What the devil time is it anyway?

February 1, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

[MUDGE is not especially a popular music fan in the conventional definition, but there are things that stick. Brass and woodwinds stick. And, after all, Chicago is home.]

In more and more parts of the world, time, specifically time zones, have become a political football.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm266: Follow-ups and other voices heard

January 26, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Responding to some internal and, interestingly, external disquiet regarding this space’s latest experiment with themes available here at the incomparable WordPress.com, we have, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, changed again.

Our latest choice is less visually jarring, at the cost of some blandness. Our critics might tell us that bland is beautiful, compared to the mess we left behind, and we apparently agreed. Responsiveness to the audience – what a concept!

Let us know whether you think we’re in a better place.

And, lest you, as does yr (justifiably) humble svt, miss our logo, as the new theme doesn’t allow header customization, here’s a fix.

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Okay, let’s move on, shall we?

It’s a big planet, and there are a multiplicity of viewpoints and a waterfall of information pouring into this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© every nanosecond.

So, we’re taking a breath, and taking an alternate look at a couple of topics covered earlier.

You guessed it: another episode of SASB: Short Attention Span Blogging!©

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Culling the planet’s herd

A couple of days ago, we explored some of the implications of the FDA’s approval to introduce cloned meat and dairy products into the marketplace. The concern is that as producers go for the easy, repetitive score, i.e., clone what works and eliminate the rest, the planet will permanently lose something important: species diversity.

This week’s NYTimes Magazine explores the issue from a different direction (and continent!), selective breeding rather than cloning (two sides of the same coin, actually).

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A Dying Breed

By ANDREW RICE | Published: January 27, 2008

GERSHOM MUGIRA COMES from a long line of cattle-keepers. His people, the Bahima, are thought to have migrated into the hilly grasslands of western Uganda more than a thousand years ago, alongside a hardy breed of longhorns known as the Ankole. For centuries, man and beast subsisted there in a tight symbiotic embrace. Mugira’s nomadic ancestors wandered in search of fresh pasture for their cattle, which in turn provided them with milk. It is only within the last few generations that most Bahima have accepted the concept of private property. Mugira’s family lives on a 500-acre ranch, and one sunny day in November, the wiry 26-year-old showed me around, explaining, with some sadness but more pragmatism, why the Ankole breed that sustained his forebears for so many generations is now being driven to extinction….

In recent decades, global trade, sophisticated marketing, artificial insemination and the demands of agricultural economics have transformed the Holstein into the world’s predominant dairy breed. Indigenous animals like East Africa’s sinewy Ankole, the product of centuries of selection for traits adapted to harsh conditions, are struggling to compete with foreign imports bred for maximal production. This worries some scientists. The world’s food supply is increasingly dependent on a small and narrowing list of highly engineered breeds: the Holstein, the Large White pig and the Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens. There’s a risk that future diseases could ravage these homogeneous animal populations. Poor countries, which possess much of the world’s vanishing biodiversity, may also be discarding breeds that possess undiscovered genetic advantages. But farmers like Mugira say they can’t afford to wait for science. And so, on the African savanna, a competition for survival is underway….

The Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recently reported that at least 20 percent of the world’s estimated 7,600 livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Experts are warning of a potential “meltdown” in global genetic diversity. Yet the plight of the Ankole illustrates the difficulty of balancing the conflicting goals of animal conservation and human prosperity. An estimated 70 percent of the world’s rural poor, some 630 million people, derive a substantial percentage of their income from livestock. Increase the productivity of these animals, development specialists say, and you improve dire living standards. The World Bank recently published a report saying it was time to place farming “afresh at the center of the development agenda.” Highly productive livestock breeds, the World Bank asserts, are playing an important role in alleviating poverty.

As controlled interbreeding takes place, Africa’s indigenous cattle are gradually converting into distinctly highly productive Holsteins.

One additional advantage of the imported genetic stock: Ankole cattle require huge swaths of grassland; Holsteins can be penned. Writer Andrew Rice quotes some experts who say that “ethnic” warfare in Rwanda and Darfur as “really a fight over grass.”

The diversity the planet is losing is dire:

Many tropical breeds may possess unique adaptive traits. The problem is, we don’t know what is being lost. Earlier this year, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization released its first-ever global assessment of biodiversity in livestock. While data on many breeds are scant, the report found that over the last six years, an average of one breed a month has gone extinct. “The threat is imminent,” says Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental group. “Just getting milk and meat into people’s mouths is not the answer.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

A Dying Breed – New York Times

A lengthy, but most worthwhile read. The law of unintended consequences is one that will never be repealed.

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Ultimately, it’s ALL recycled, isn’t it?

The water crisis in the Southeast and Western U.S. was approached a couple of weeks ago here.

Wired magazine has an intriguing update.

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waterpurification

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

By Dave Bullock | 01.25.08 | 8:00 PM

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, California — As Southern California faces a worsening water crisis, Orange County has implemented a $480 million microfiltration system so advanced it can turn waste water into drinking water.

Fewer words than intriguing pix in this story.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

Facilities like this one are going to have to become the norm if people insist on living in the desert.

Not as cheap as piping it in from the Great Lakes, Orange County, but that’s not on the table anyway.

All the water on the planet has been here since the catalytic cataclysm that created it in the first place. We’ve been drinking recycled water forever.

Thanks to this Fountain Valley facility and others soon to follow elsewhere, engineers have simply shortened the recycling time.

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Democracy, it’s a virus

… and it could be catching on in China.

Several months ago, monks in Burma led massive demonstrations noted here, against the government which were ultimately suppressed, as usual, by the oppressive regime.

In Shanghai, people have been massing to demonstrate against expansion of a maglev high-speed rail line. The Washington Post has the story.

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Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt

By Maureen Fan | Washington Post Foreign Service | Saturday, January 26, 2008

SHANGHAI — Bundled against the cold, the businessman made his way down the steps. Coming toward him in blue mittens was a middle-aged woman.

“Do you know that we’re going to take a stroll this weekend?” she whispered, using the latest euphemism for the unofficial protests that have unnerved authorities in Shanghai over the past month.

He nodded.

Behind her, protest banners streamed from the windows of high-rise apartment blocks, signs of middle-class discontent over a planned extension of the city’s magnetic levitation, or maglev, train through residential neighborhoods.

They live in China’s most Western mainland city, and they’ve learned the advanced Western concept of NIMBY (Not in my back yard). And they’ve taken to the streets.

And Shanghai’s government has been forced to pay attention.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt – washingtonpost.com

The single most relentless enemy of authoritarian governments is the middle class. Even George III’s Venezuelan nemesis, Hugo Chavez, failed in his attempt to modify the constitution.

Citizens who have attained middle class status by dint of hard work, and loosened societal constraints, can embrace artifacts of civilization available to those living above the subsistence level.

Such as education.

Satellite television (Ronald Reagan and CNN both helped end the Cold War, to MUDGE’s generation’s eternal surprise).

The Internet and its blogs and bulletin boards (those portions that the Chinese government can’t censor).

Cellular telephones with text messaging.

Don’t think there’s much of a middle class in Burma as yet. So that 2007 effort was doomed. Like Chicago Cubs fans everywhere, one can only say, “wait until next year!”

Short Attention Span Blogging

… is only short for the reader, not, for heaven’s sake, the blogger! But kudos to faithful reader for getting this far!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm217: Potpourri — Romney, alternative energy, Stockhausen

December 9, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

When MUDGE can’t decide which of several topics he’s most interested in discussing with faithful reader, he doesn’t decide at all (leaving that to The Decider, I suppose); rather, he enters SASB mode:

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We’ve quoted Steve Chapman previously here at Left-Handed Complement (here and here, for example). He’s on the editorial board of our home town paper, the Chicago Tribune, and writes for Reason magazine.

Pretty conservative guy in a very conservative environment. But, left-handed as I am, I find myself agreeing with Chapman surprisingly often.

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Romney flunks a religious test

Steve Chapman | December 9, 2007

Mitt Romney is worried about religious intolerance. He fears religious and nonreligious people will unite to punish him because of his Mormon faith. He thinks it would be much more in keeping with America’s noblest traditions if Mormons and other believers joined together to punish people of no faith.

On Thursday, Romney showed up at the George H.W. Bush Library in College Station, Texas, to announce that even if it costs him the White House, his Mormonism is non-negotiable. That came as a relief to those who suspected he would defuse the issue by undergoing a Methodist baptism.

Like John F. Kennedy, who said in 1960 that the presidency should not be “tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group,” Romney said there should be no religious test for this office. “A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith,” he said.

Chapman continues by illustrating Romney’s misreading of U.S. history and the intent of the authors of this country and its Constitution.

He ignores evidence that the framers thought otherwise. The Constitution they so painstakingly drafted contains not a single mention of the Almighty—unlike the Articles of Confederation, which it replaced. A 1796 treaty, ratified by the Senate and signed by that very same John Adams, stipulated that the U.S. government “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Romney flunks a religious test — chicagotribune.com

Now, as much as MUDGE is likely to cast a vote next November for a Democrat, one imagines that Steve Chapman will not.

However, Mitt Romney apparently will not get his vote:

In the end, though, Romney accomplished what he set out to do in this speech. Henceforth, no one can possibly justify voting against him because he’s a Mormon. Not when he’s provided so many other good reasons.

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nytimes

Efforts to Harvest Ocean’s Energy Open New Debate Front

By WILLIAM YARDLEY | Published: December 8, 2007

NEWPORT, Ore. — Chris Martinson and his fellow fishermen catch crab and shrimp in the same big swell that one day could generate an important part of the Northwest’s energy supply. Wave farms, harvested with high-tech buoys that are being tested here on the Oregon coast, would strain clean, renewable power from the surging sea.

They might make a mess of navigational charts, too.

“I don’t want it in my fishing grounds,” said Mr. Martinson, 40, who docks his 74-foot boat, Libra, here at Yaquina Bay, about 90 miles southwest of Portland. “I don’t want to be worried about driving around someone else’s million-dollar buoy.”

A hot-button topic, alternative energy sources have appeared in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© several times (wind power here, hydro power here).

The concept of using living natural processes (rather than fossilized ones) is intriguing. But, as seen in the wind power story we discussed, even the free wind isn’t free of costs, monetary and environmental. And the same goes for ocean waves.

“Everyone wants that silver bullet,” said Fran Recht of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. “The question is, Is this as benign as everyone wants to say it is?”

Accompanying the NYTimes story was this intriguing graphic:

powerfromthesea

So, will a forest of anchored buoys interfere with fish and migratory marine mammals? How can it not?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Efforts to Harvest Ocean’s Energy Open New Debate Front – New York Times

Turns out that the concept of NIMBY (not in my back yard) is alive and well several miles offshore Oregon in the Pacific Ocean!

People, everything has a cost. At first splash, power generating buoys seems more benign than most traditional or alternative energy sources.

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Say “Karlheinz Stockhausen” to most people, and, depending on your conversation partner’s degree of social etiquette, you’d be met by responses spanning the scale from quizzical stares to a smack in the jaw.

Yr (Justifiably) Humble Svt’s interest in serious music has been documented in the space several times (among them: here, here, here and most hilariously, here).

Yes, Karlheinz Stockhausen was a musician, a composer actually, and there was a time in MUDGE‘s young life when I was quite smitten with his ground-breaking compositions.

He died this week.

nytimes

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer, Dies at 79

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By PAUL GRIFFITHS |  Published: December 8, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen, an original and influential German composer who began his career as an inventor of new musical systems and ended it making operas to express his spiritual vision of the cosmos, died on Wednesday at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg, Germany. He was 79.

Stockhausen was a pioneer of electronic music, at a time before Robert Moog made it simple to generate the complex sounds that have, thanks to Moog, become a ubiquitous feature of popular sonic culture. When Stockhausen began to chart a new course in European serious music in the early 50s, electronic music was pieced together, tone by tone, channel by channel, an agonizing arduous process.

At one time, I had recordings of his music from that era, but I hadn’t encountered them for sometime before my vinyl collection was ceded to my musical MUDGElet No. 3.

The classical music radio station in my town (and how many people can say that phrase these days?) never ever played Stockhausen’s music. Of course, they are hard-pressed to play music written after 1950, except that of John Adams, the Gian Carlo Menotti of this generation (i.e., feet anchored more in the 19th century than the 20th or 21st). So it’s been quite some time since I visited Stockhausen’s music.

The obituary in the NYTimes tells us that his later life took a most Wagnerian turn.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer, Dies at 79 – New York Times

Anyone interested in the topic of serious electronic music can follow this link to the article in Wikipedia.

So that’s today’s potpourri. We all remain hopeful that MUDGE‘s standard attention span returns real soon now.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm207: Shorter attention span blogging

November 28, 2007

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MUDGE’S Musings

One of those days today, where nothing and everything is intriguing. All of these appeared this week in the NYTimes.

nytimes

Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department

By PATRICIA COHEN

PSYCHOANALYSIS and its ideas about the unconscious mind have spread to every nook and cranny of the culture from Salinger to “South Park,” from Fellini to foreign policy. Yet if you want to learn about psychoanalysis at the nation’s top universities, one of the last places to look may be the psychology department.

A new report by the American Psychoanalytic Association has found that while psychoanalysis — or what purports to be psychoanalysis — is alive and well in literature, film, history and just about every other subject in the humanities, psychology departments and textbooks treat it as “desiccated and dead,” a historical artifact instead of “an ongoing movement and a living, evolving process.”

The study, which is to appear in the June 2008 issue of The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, is the latest evidence of the field’s existential crisis. For decades now, critics engaged in the Freud Wars have pummeled the good doctor’s theories for being sexist, fraudulent, unscientific, or just plain wrong. In their eyes, psychoanalysis belongs with discarded practices like leeching.

But to beleaguered psychoanalysts who have lost ground to other forms of therapy that promise quicker results through cheaper and easier methods, the report underscores pressing questions about the relevance of their field and whether it will survive as a practice.

Are there stranger institutions than today’s U.S. colleges and universities?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department – New York Times

And yet. One sentence does stick with one…

“Some of the most important things in human life are just not measurable,” he said, like happiness or genuine religious feeling.

I’ll think about that one for a while (or at least until something distracts me!).

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And now for something completely different…

MUDGE has a love-hate relationship with his cable company. I suspect that many people share this feeling (and perhaps it’s not measurable).

Cable TV is terrific, if spendy. Cable internet is breathtakingly quick, especially if one is capable of remembering the dim dark dial-up days.

But, cable is a monopoly in most markets, only now facing serious competition. In television, the satellite people compete well, assuming you can place the dish effectively. But they’ve never offered a serious internet connection solution. Cable internet is a serious internet connection solution.

POTS, as embodied in the modern successors (Verizon and the new AT&T) to the Justice Department eviscerated AT&T — Ma Bell to we rickety old folks — can offer reasonably quick internet access (if you are located close enough to the central station, or some sucker has granted POTS an easement for a repeater station), but quick only if you compare it to the dial-up it probably replaces. Much slower than cable.

In MUDGE‘s market, the local copper wire phone company has offered bundles that include phone service, DSL internet and satellite television. In response, the cable guys are now offering reasonably inexpensive phone service via cable. In response to that, the phone guys are desperately burying fibre optic lines to reach out to the “last mile,” thereby offering a true high bandwidth choice for internet access, as well as competition for cable-delivered television. An awesome expenditure, and thus far fibre has been limited to a few scattered upscale neighborhoods (i.e., nowhere near casa MUDGE).

Recently, the cable guys have come under increasing scrutiny by the FCC, which believes that cable has abused its monopoly position.

Cable Industry Wins Compromise on F.C.C. Plans

By STEPHEN LABATON

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 — In the face of a lobbying blitzkrieg by the cable television industry, the Federal Communications Commission drastically scaled back Tuesday evening a proposal by the agency’s chairman to more tightly regulate the industry.

The compromise was a significant, though not total, victory for the cable industry, whose executives and lobbyists had worked to erode support on the commission for the agenda of the chairman, Kevin J. Martin. Among other things, the commission agreed to postpone for months the decision Mr. Martin had hoped would be made on Tuesday, over whether the cable television industry had grown so dominant that the agency’s regulatory authority over it should be expanded.

But Mr. Martin and some consumer groups insisted that the decisions by the commission could nonetheless help to make programming more diverse and ultimately reduce cable costs.

One of the new rules adopted on Tuesday, for instance, would make it significantly less expensive for independent programmers to lease channels.

The reasonably outspoken FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin, turned out not to have the votes he counted on to carry the day, and thus allowed the discussion to devolve into a dispute over whose market size numbers were more accurate.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Cable Industry Wins Compromise on F.C.C. Plans – New York Times

So, cable didn’t take the regulatory hit they were fighting off, and most of the U.S. will be unable to see the Packers-Cowboys game on NFL Network this Thursday, as an unregulated cable industry has decided that NFLnet is too expensive for anything but their premium packages.

Sigh.

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L-HC discussed the trend away from paper maps in a post some time ago. Navigation systems based on GPS populate more and more upscale cars. Stand alone personal navigation aids from Garmin and Tom-Tom are advertised heavily during this gifty time of year.

MUDGE‘s newest cellphone, the LG EN-V discussed here before, has a GPS receiver built in, as do most modern cells, and has available a subscription navigation service (for $10 per month) that will provide turn by turn spoken instructions. Very cool, if slightly expensive, until, one supposes, you really need it.

Can Google, that information octopus, be far behind? Certainly not!

Google Doesn’t Know Where You Are (But It Has a Good Guess)

By Saul Hansell

UPDATE: See comment from Google at the end.

Users of Blackberries and many other smartphones can now push a button and the Google mapping service will figure out more or less sort of where they are.

Last month, I wrote a post called “One Reason We Need a Google Phone: Free GPS.” I was complaining that cellphone carriers, mainly Verizon, are disabling the GPS navigation systems built into phones so they can charge $10 a month for the service. I posited that a Google phone wouldn’t have such a nasty gotcha. (Actually, in Google’s very open model for its Android operating system, carriers and phone makers are free to put as many gotchas as they want into phones.)

Of course, what everyone leaps to be concerned about is privacy — Google, Big Brother, Homeland Security, etc. has yet another way of pinpointing one’s location.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Google Doesn’t Know Where You Are (But It Has a Good Guess) – Bits – Technology – New York Times Blog

Face it folks, what is GPS in the phones for, if not to let a public agency locate you. It’s called Wireless Enhanced 911.

I guess the concern is that one might well be locatable even if one hasn’t declared an emergency.

We’re heading there folks. London has what, 2,000,000 video cameras blanketing the streets, and big cities in the U.S. are following suit as fast as they can afford to. Indeed, in MUDGE‘s not so big city, he passes such a camera, apparently monitored by the police, almost daily. Often, I wave.

The expectation of privacy is slipping away, and while I’m certain my buds at ACLU are concerned, I just can’t too exercised.

There are 300,000,000 of us after all. The best data miners on the planet will get indigestion trying to mine that.

So I guess I can go back to worrying about the demise of Freudian psychoanalysis.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm206: It’s 10:30pm — Do you know where your tap water has been?

November 27, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

While most of the world frets about the $100/barrel cost of petroleum, another resource shortage has been looming at the outskirts of our attention.

Water.

Our SUVs will grind to a halt without the former.

Life will grind to a halt without the latter.

In many parts of the world the growing shortage [note to self: as a writer, can you live with the contradiction in terms?] of water for agriculture and drinking purposes is already a critical issue. Governments can print money, but the planet’s supply of water is apparently finite, especially the fresh variety.

Which leads us, as in many instances, to California. You’ll remember California, the home of huge redwood forests, spectacular ocean vistas, and once arid deserts now populated by tens of millions of people.

Water is imported into this residential desert from as far away as Colorado, and as the population, and agricultural activity that supports it grows, the potable supply in many cities is insufficient.

Which leads us to today’s story, courtesy as so many are, of the NYTimes.

November 27, 2007

From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.

But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water — after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.

On that Friday, the Orange County Water District will turn on what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.

The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the wary, is getting a close look in several cities.

It’s a clever system, actually, not directly sending the output of the reclamation project to the taps.

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[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking – New York Times

Water. We’ve covered it here before. It’s a universal theme.

Anyone remember the amazing Polanski/Nicholson/Huston/Dunaway film “Chinatown“? Its plot driver was the 1930s surreptitious provision of irrigation water for the orange groves of the San Fernando valley, now the northern bedroom suburbs of Los Angeles.

In the past, MUDGE was always grateful for living quite near one of the Great Lakes, a seemingly reliable and endless resource.

That was then. Now, between wrestling with states and cities in the dry West that would love to get hold of some of that lovely stuff, and fending off the likes of Nestlé, largest marketer of bottled water in the world, whose facility in Michigan has begun to deplete bottomless Lake Michigan, our Great Lakes-adjacent location is not looking so comfortable.

So, technology might provide an answer, as it might for so many of civilization’s issues.

One solution that out of desperation has been tried in many parts of the world is desalinization, the conversion of salt water (¾ of the planet’s surface, or so we’re told) to fresh. After all, California (the state in question) has many hundreds of miles of oceanfront. However, desalinization turns out to be frightfully expensive, both in dollar terms, as well as, I was interested to learn, in environmental terms as well.

Impacts of desalination include brine build-up, increased greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of prized coastal areas and reduced emphasis on conservation of rivers and wetlands. Many of the areas of most intensive desalination activity also have a history of damaging natural water resources, particularly groundwater.

Desalination: Option Or Distraction For A Thirsty World?

Okay, so I understand it’s a closed system, this Spaceship Earth we all inhabit. Over the course of eons, water cycles through salt and fresh, and the Groundwater Replenishment System called out above is an attempt to provide some of that cyclic advantage, cosmetically at least.

We’ve long taken fresh potable water for granted in the Western world. Our desert west and its growing crisis is only a harbinger.

Like so many of our bedrock expectations, a planet heading for 9billion humans will seismically shift those watery assumptions.

Cheers!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm185: Time for a classical music post

November 5, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ll do this a bit differently today. Slate.com has an interesting dialog going on jazz and classical music, and what people listen to.

So, go read it (perhaps even taking in some of the Fray) and come back for MUDGE‘s take.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Alex Ross and Ben Ratliff discuss jazz, classical and pop – Slate.com

I grew up in a house where classical music was heard everywhere, on the radio, on records, on the piano in the living room. We were taken to concerts in the rarified atmosphere of a cathedral of the arts.

So I listen to classical music most of the time. Not all of the time: Constant reader will recall the frequent references to Pandora.

In the home my children grew up with, the radio that I controlled always had classical music playing, but, of course, there was more than one radio in the house by this generation, television was much more pervasive, and the piano in the living room (the same one, appropriated rather embarrassingly one remembers ruefully) was largely silent. Piano lessons were attempted, and dropped. Live concerts were usually way beyond the budget.

So those children listen (so far as I can determine; they’ve long since established households of their own) mainly to pop. Indeed, MUDGElet No. 3 is a musician of growing accomplishment, in the modern pop vernacular of drum machines and Pro-Tools.

And so the slice of the cultural pie populated by classical music grows smaller with each generation.

But.

As alluded to in the Slate dialog, there’s more going on here than generational taste.

And as mentioned in at least one of the comments, perhaps our definition of classical music has been allowed to become too narrow.

It is MUDGE‘s contention that for a very large number of years of the 20th Century, composers of classical music stopped writing for their historic audience. And this has to do, one could theorize, with the changed musical food chain.

As someone commented more or less accurately, for many hundreds of years composers had patrons: first, the Catholic church and later, well into the 19th Century, secular sources of funding: royalty and the wealthy.

Times changed, and composers had to find new safe havens, and found them: academia. So composers wrote to suit these new patrons, their fellow academics. And the broad audience was left out.

Schoenberg could be angry at his concert audiences (as noted in the Slate dialog), but his later works, and the works of those he mentored and influenced, seem to have been academic exercises and barely tried, and hardly succeeded, to connect to that audience.

So, no wonder the audience is apparently dwindling. Much as one might love listening to the “Three B’s”, and Mozart and Schumann and Mahler, and Handel and Berlioz, it’s old music, written for the clerics and the princes and the audiences of a time long past.

The most listenable of the composers of the 20th Century: Stravinsky (some), Prokofiev, Shoshtakovich (hmm, Russians); Copland and Gershwin and Bernstein; wrote in the idiom of an earlier time, and thus stretched the audience instead of confronting it. But still, by now, old.

Who is writing serious orchestral music for today’s listener?

A few have been successful. John Adams (who I confess I haven’t much appreciated); Philip Glass (who I do).

But Glass’s example leads to the second point I was about to make: many of his most successful and approachable works are music written for film.

Film producers and directors might almost be considered the successors of the churchly and princely patrons of music of an older age. And yes, at least one of the comments to the Slate story touches on this.

Early filmmakers even drafted European serious composers to add gravitas to their popular art, Korngold being for me the most potent example.

Hitchcock’s suspense would have been much less so without Bernard Herrmann’s scores.

Jerry Goldsmith; John Williams; the master, Ennio Morricone; Philip Glass himself; and recent upstarts like Hans Zimmer, James Horner and Danny Elfman: all wrote or are writing music that was commissioned to meet a specific storytelling purpose, but many of their scores provide wonderful entertainment listened to on disc without the film, and I’m certain entertains surprisingly well in the concert hall, if anyone is so bold as to program it.

Thus, the point. People in the millions are listening to classical music (i.e., music written using a most traditional tool — the symphony orchestra — to help tell a story) daily, only in the form of scores for films, in movie theatres and home theatres and on iPods and laptops.

So classical music hasn’t died, isn’t dead or dying.

It’s just made the journey to the 21st Century in order to reconnect with its audience, if not the academic establishment that held it captive for so many barren years.

And that makes classical music bigger than ever.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE