Friday, October 24, 2014

The Krog Street Tunnel

Every major city has its own tiny little nubbins of local flavor, the kind of things the locals love and the non-locals have very possibly, even probably, never heard of. Madison has things like Owen Conservation Park or Lake Wingra, Milwaukee has the Milwaukee Public Market or the Gertie the Duck statue. In Atlanta, one of those things is the Krog Street Tunnel, linking the neighborhoods of Cabbagetown and Inman Park on Atlanta's east side. The tunnel is completely, continually, constantly painted and repainted with the work of local graffiti artists. There's a tumblr based on this, The Daily Krog. Because that's how often the painting is happening.

But as I type this, there isn't much art there at all. Not because the city cracked down or anything. The artists did it themselves. You see, there's a masquerade ball, the Krog Masquerade. It was scheduled for Saturday, in the tunnel. They had to get a permit first, though, and the artists- and locals aligned with them- argued that the art they put up is supposed to be publicly enjoyed, as opposed to being a backdrop for a private event that makes money for someone else and doesn't give them a cut for their work. (And closes off the bike routes allowing access to the tunnel in the meantime.)

So on Wednesday, after it became clear the masquerade ball would get its permit anyway despite all the complaints, dozens of artists and activists showed up at the tunnel and painted the entire thing grey. The organizers seem unconcerned- they argue that as a portion of the proceeds are going to the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts, their conscience is clear (never mind that the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts are not the actual artists, which is kind of the point of the protest), and that they can just pay some other artists to repaint the tunnel by Saturday night. And indeed, some people are already repainting, though right now it doesn't look much different from any other graffiti-laden surface because there's so much surface to cover.

In the case of art, ultimately, the artist is king. Unless they have been paid for the work and relinquish their rights to that work in the process, it is, at the end of the day, their work, to release into the world- and yes, take out of the world as well- as they see fit. Whatever ground rules the artists set for themselves, so long as they're legal, are the ones that ought to be respected. The understood agreement among Krog Street Tunnel artists is that you can come and paint whatever you want, it is intended to be publicly and freely available at all times, and that at any time someone else can and will come and paint over what you did with art of their own.

Sure. It is technically city property, and the city can do with it what they will. But if the organizers had really understood what the point was behind their intended backdrop, they'd maybe have picked a different backdrop, maybe near the tunnel but not actually in it. But this is what they did, and what is likely to be a shadow of the tunnel's true nature is what they get.

Or maybe they do get the true nature of the tunnel. People have seen canvases that are only one solid color and wondered if it's art. But if that one solid color is meant as a statement of protest, as this grey is, if that color has emotion and purpose behind it, of course it's art. And if the masquerade ball can't see that, even as it's being explained to them... they're not very good patrons of the arts, are they?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Little Tip For Taylor Swift Fans

Hi, fellow Swifties. yes, I am going to be buying 1989 this coming Monday like the rest of you (save for those of you who already preordered). I am excited for that as well. But I have one little piece of advice, since some of you are kind of upset right now over this.

When buying music on iTunes- and this applies to those of you who are fans of other artists too, so listen up- it may pay off to run a quick check, maybe at the running time of the track, perhaps, or playing the preview sample, to make sure the track you're buying isn't, oh, say, 8 seconds of white noise that Taylor released by accident. The fact that enough of you bought it to send it to #1 on the Canadian iTunes charts (at $1.29 Canadian a pop), says... something. I'm not really sure what.

Time and the Atlantic have had quite a bit of fun trying to find out, though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


It's rather taken for granted that the NFL isn't merely regarded as something that people want to watch, in spite of all its myriad problems and issues (and with Michael Sam having been cut from the Cowboys' practice squad today, go ahead and add that). It is regarded, rather, as something people have to watch. They have no choice but to watch or else they'll miss out, and not be part of the one conversation everyone will be having the next day, and you don't want that, do you? So you better watch.

No matter what.

And I see that in my life. I've stopped watching college football, but as Wisconsin is heavily, heavily behind the Badgers, people just start talking about the game to me at work even after having told them several times that I don't watch anymore. They still, even after having that explicitly explained to them, just assume that I've seen the Badger game anyway. Because what Wisconsinite isn't watching the Badgers? That's just silly. The Packers are no different, and as I not only root for the Packers but have bought a share of stock (for my dad), I CAN be expected to have seen the game. Or listened to it on the radio, at least, because there is one at work and it always gets tuned to Packer and Badger games (and the Brewers, when possible).

But a funny thing happened this season. My hours at work this year shifted to the least hospitable possible for a football fan. I start at 11 AM, before the noontime kickoff of the early games, and get out at 8 PM, around the second quarter of any night games. Furthermore, my off days are Tuesday and Wednesday, the two days of the week when there is no football anywhere. No high school, no college, no pro. It is now going into Week 9, and I have not seen a single day game this season. I have not seen any game this season played out start-to-finish. I have not, because work says so. You'd think I'd be going crazy right now. I'm missing out on all the football, after all.

That doesn't seem to be happening so far, though. I haven't been making any real sort of outsized effort to take in football this season. Not highlights, not even really the game portions I am able to see (unless the Packers happen to be involved). I am very nearly at a cold-turkey state. And I'm okay with that. I am fine with largely skipping a season and, in the meantime, taking the time to reassess where, precisely, football stands with me. With the actual games, and the perpetual hype attached to them, out of the picture, I can see the scandals, the misplaced priorities, the inherent violence of the sport, and ask myself, really ask myself, how much I want to still associate myself with it all. How much the games, as games, really truly mean to me when I take a step back from them.

And I'm increasingly asking myself if the answer is the one Roger Goodell would want to hear.

The Super Bowl is still going to be watched. That's a family thing that I can recall us having gathered around for since Super Bowl XXIX (49ers over Chargers), and 20 years later I don't see that changing. But if it turns out in the long run that I really don't need that much football in my life anymore, I'm seeing that that's okay. Missing out need not drive you nuts. There are other sports out there, and there's other aspects of life out there.

And then I need to figure out if the fact that my relationship with soccer, which will remain unchanged and undying either way, makes my relationship with football look hypocritical. Because soccer's problems make football's problems look like the kiddie pool.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why You No Eat Food

Apparently I'm now making my post titles based on creepypasta or something.

I mentioned in the actually-regularly-scheduled post last night, the one about cleaning up India, that, well, India needs cleaning up. Because there's a bunch of garbage laying around.

One thing I suppose I ought to add to that chat about garbage is where, precisely, the garbage comes from in the first place. There's an environmental think tank in Washington called the World Resources Institute; having never heard of them, I took a quick check of them to make sure I wasn't getting into anything overly partisan or agenda-pushing (beyond the obvious, being an environmental think tank and all), and they appear to check out. Plus they're affiliated with the UN, so that helps. So here goes.

As WRI's Brian Lipinski blogged this past Thursday, the exact makeup of garbage depends on what part of the world you live in. They focused in on food waste; food that could have been eaten but for whatever reason was not. They also zeroed in on the year 2009 for their analysis. This PDF file provides all the gory details, but the takeaway Lipinski provided was this: the less developed the region, the earlier in the process from production to consumption that the loss is likely to occur.

If you are in sub-Saharan Africa, things are likely to go wrong in the production stage (39% of region waste) or handling and storage (37% of region waste). South and southeast Asia is almost the same way (32% in production, 37% in handling/storage). Production here means food lost in the actual act of farming it- crops that got torn up during harvesting, crops thrown away for not being good enough to send to market, that kind of thing. Handling and storage includes livestock that gets slaughtered wrong or isn't deemed healthy enough to slaughter for food, grain that goes bad in the silos, etc.

A comparatively small amount of loss happens in processing and packaging, with no region jumping out to an overly big 'lead' there (though a combined North America/Oceania region leads at 9%). This would be any food that gets damaged or lost in the process of stuffing it into a container for you to buy. Livestock trimmings that don't ultimately make it under the shrink wrap, anything the canning/bottling/boxing machines mangle or don't manage to get into a can/bottle/box.

Latin America (17%) and North Africa/West and Central Asia (18%) are the worst at the next step, distribution and market. This covers food that gets to the store, but never gets into a shopping cart. Expired food, stuff the customers knock off the shelf and break, anything the store rejects for not being salable.

And then you find industrialized Asia (46%), Europe (52%), and North America/Oceania (61%) with their big issue being the final step, consumption. That covers all the food that makes it into your house, but not into your belly.

If you'll look at Table 3 on Page 10 of the PDF file, you'll see various suggestions to reduce waste at each of the five stages.

"Reduce portion sizes" leaps out in the consumption section.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Calm Down About Ebola, Please

(Did I never hit send on this? Huh. Well, fixing that now.)

So, it looks like there are a ton of people scared about ebola. And let's be clear, ebola is an awful, terrible thing to actually get. And if you are in Africa, it is a very real threat, as you surely do not need me to tell you from here in North America.

But if you ARE in North America, or Europe, or anywhere developed, the threat of getting ebola is far, far less than some of you are afraid of. The healthcare systems, whatever their cost, are just plain better than Africa's. Far better. Only a few people in the US have actually been infected, with one death at this point. A tragic loss that death is, but only one. The thing is, ebola kills very quickly, and because it kills quickly, it doesn't get very much time to infect new victims. And it takes more than your average flu or cold to actually infect someone, though the two infect at roughly the same rate: the seasonal flu sufferer infects about 1.2-1.5 new people on average; an ebola sufferer infects 1.5-2 people on average. (Chicken pox does 3-17 people.)

National Geographic has a handy FAQ for you. Read it, and then calm down, okay? This is pretty much confined to the hospital system, and only a few specific hospitals, and the people most likely to get infected are the doctors putting their butts on the front lines to treat this. You just walking around will be fine. Relax.

Someone Please Clean India

If you've ever visited India- I haven't- you will know that the country is home to some of the more visually and culturally spectacular places you can witness on this planet. You will also see things that are not quite so spectacular: breathtaking levels of poverty, a caste system that officially is being softened but in practice is only sporadically ignored and remains deeply ingrained, horrific human-rights abuses (particularly towards women), and the most visually obvious, jaw-dropping piles of filth. Garbage strewn about, walls urinated on.

Now let's be clear here. Generating the waste isn't the issue; in fact, waste-generation is very much a problem concentrated in developed nations, cities in particular. India is nowhere near the top in that respect (though they are climbing the rankings). The problem is throwing that trash away so that it can be dealt with. Having ways to deal with it once collected. This is where India fails miserably and they know it. And if they didn't know it, they found out when Bangalore garbage workers went on strike in 2012.

Noah M. Sachs of the Atlantic took a look around in June to provide a fuller assessment of the situation. It's worth a read.

There have been periodic attempts to clean up the place, but obviously, as of yet, none have really worked. Current prime minister Narenda Modi is setting off on another one, the $10 billion Clean India campaign, and at least at first, all castes look to be on board. The higher castes, who have the money, want to be able to look at a prettier country. The lower castes, who don't have the money, have more pragmatic concerns: garbage breeds disease, and if an epidemic of something breaks out, it's going to be the ones who can't afford health care that are going to die first.

When a problem is as major and pandemic as this one is, you tend to see some very oddball fixes pop up, because clearly the so-called 'normal' methods aren't working, and people are willing to try just about anything if it works. Which is why ceramic tiles of religious images have been placed on various city walls around the country. The theory goes, if your god is staring right at you, maybe that will get you to think twice before you pee on the wall he's on.

And out-of-box thinking may be necessary, because a lot of the problem is that the basic infrastructure isn't in place to take care of the garbage, and even if it was, many Indian citizens just plain don't give a hoot about garbage after it gets out of their house, which is typically kept clean. It will go on the street, in front of the neighbors, and they will consider it as no longer their problem. In order to spruce up the country, India must first spruce up people's attitudes. If everyone is on board, like they claim they are, then it can be more about simple infrastructure.

Are they?

Friday, October 17, 2014

I Am Not Singing That Tom Lehrer Song

I just picked up the latest Bathroom Reader. The main one. It's titled Canoramic this year. And in one of the factoids at the bottom- they call them running feet- it said that if you soak a bone in hydrochloric acid overnight, by morning you'll be able to tie it into a knot.

Of course I went about searching for a video, but, alas, I've yet to track one down. But all is not lost. In the process, what I DID manage to find is a YouTube channel called Periodic Videos, run by the University of Nottingham. They, as you might expect, play around with the periodic table a lot... including the bit from them I got linked to that led me to them. In lieu of bone, here is a cheeseburger.

The thing I'd really like to link you to, though, is the playlist they have set up which provides a profile of every individual element in the table. I wouldn't suggest trying to bingewatch the whole set; they're not the most exciting folks on the planet to watch and trying to get too far in might cause you to glaze over a bit and start letting info go in one ear and out the other. Short bursts might be best, no more than you feel you can handle at a time. Or just handpick the elements you aren't familiar with.