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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Quake: author of the sublime

I've had a month or so to think over the earthquake and tsunami in Japan 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. When natural disasters occur; events of sudden off-the-scale destruction. They set off in those happening not to be in their immediate path, a chain of associations. I had no thoughts of Voltaire (or Rousseau) and their writings on the Lisbon Earthquake as I did after the 2006 Indonesian tsunami. Which was a devastation of life of such unimaginable scale that it begged for the narcolepsy of divine explanation or release of reasons order. Their mocking of the prevailing attitudes of nature as signifier seemed covered. I didn't think of the special depravations of disaster in a land of poverty, and the unfulfilled history of promise, as I did after the Haitian earthquake.

I thought of a town called Rabaul on the island of New Britain Rabaul - Wikipedia. The closest thing to a city for a thousand miles, well known in its own way. In 1994 a volcano, co-located with the city, erupted and took out most of the urban area and the airport. In the end Papua New Guinea in its assessment of the damage choose not to rebuild Rabaul, there was too little left and the volcano was still there, but to build a new provincial capital entirely 20 kilometers away. This was the sense of evacuation and finality suggested by the troubles at the Fukushima dai-ichi power plant Understanding Japan's nuclear crisis .

I thought also of David Lindsay's proto science fiction novel Voyage to Arcturus. The novel's protagonist Maskull travels through several parts of a distant world. One is a land of savage nature. A place of constant earthquakes; of mountains that thrust upward a thousand feet in an instant crushing those who live on them, or that crumble away with no warning hurling them into oblivion. Lindsay's novel is a bewildering series of metaphoric set pieces on the ways man lives on this world and how that shapes people's outlook and conception of God and nature. These thoughts recalled a particularly Japanese notion of mans relation to nature. One called mono no aware. A term that refers to feelings evoked by the impermanence of nature, a sensitivity to the sadness of things. A sensitivity to beauty acknowledging the passing nature or transience of things Mono no aware - Wikipedia. Historically Japanese literary critics have stressed Mono no Aware as central concept for Japanese literature. Along with related concepts such as Musubi: the mysterious power of all nature and growth). This set of disasters was of such a degree of mortality and hardship. And Japan today a culture of such industry and immediacy, that aesthetic ruminations seem have no place. A newer and more mundane way forward to be fashioned. In the end there will be no avoiding it a culture must define itself and it must find a place to seat nature in its shaping and the ethical dualism of events.

The Sendai earthquake exemplified a dichotomy; of man's best against nature's worst. The permanence and prosperity of a society are intertwined with its general knowledge base. With building codes, with standards in the material world. The difference is stark. Without them you are forever starting over again. Always rebuilding what just was, what has fallen down. Its not necessarily the particular codes, although it was particular codes that kept the skyscrapers of Tokyo standing. Bending swaying, but standing on their teflon foundations against the violent earth. It is the idea of codes and standards; the testing, research and investment into solutions. In the comprehension of the advantage of adhering to codes when it would seem often simpler and cheaper to ignore them as an unnecessary added cost. When with a wink and a nod petty fortunes could be pried out of forsaking them. This is the story read in the buildings of Tokyo. The danger proved, the means available. Extra and enormously expensive layers of earthquake resistant measures added to the built environment. It is the same story read in verso of Port au Prince where a city of soft concrete shattered and crumbled onto itself. Even of Christ Church New Zealand where much had been built to ordinary standards, but not to the increased vigor of an earthquake zone. Of course there is no building code that can protect from volcanos or tidal waves, or of being in the direct path of certain sizes of hurricane, tornado, or even floods. Against these there is only standards of best practice, rules about building on coasts, mountain-sides, and flood plains. Data and probabilities. There is a built-in fragility of density that makes these environments break more catastrophically and makes them more resistant to repair

In nuclear power there is a tremendous density of destructive energy. Something that if damaged or not run wisely can become an unnatural disaster. Compensating for the difficulty of comprehending radiations special way of harm, consider a giant and poorly maintained dam that broke and loosed a great destructive flood. Despite the great and never-ending push for nuclear power from its advocates, it remains a energy source with problems as great as any that push tons of diffused carbon into the air Nuclear as Usual: Why Fukushima Will Change Less Than You Think - Jesse Jenkins, Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger - Technology - The Atlantic. It wasn't that Yucca mountain solutions weren't envisioned, the ingenuity of engineers in the U.S. provided the scenario of a stable mine a mile beneath an ancient mountain. A place which was the nearest there was to a place that was no-ones back yard. The problem with that was transportation, in order for nuclear remnants to get there it had to travel from the nuclear plants scattered across the US roads and highways that passed through everyone's back yard. that seemed dangerous so they didn't allow it. This only led to in-situ non-solutions: Dry cask storage on a concrete pallet next to the reactor. This is how they do it at Pilgrim station in Manamet Massachusetts a plant they were building a mile down the road from the elementary school I attended f We Built a Safer Nuclear Reactor, How Would We Know? - Zeynep Tufekci - Technology - The Atlantic. At Fukashima a critical problem was compounded by the design practice of having spent rods in a cooling tank built directly on top of the reactor it solved some handling problem, but also assured that one problem would always be two Fukushima I nuclear accidents - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Without Yucca Mountain they have no solution, but to to ignore problem. So they do.

While ostensively holding bona fides as a British leftist this article by Frank Furedi Japanese people need our solidarity, not a blame game | Frank Furedi | spiked at times comes quite close to being the sort of apologist exercise for irresponsible greed that passes for classical liberalism these days. Furedi does reference the Lisbon earthquake and the divergence of opinion it produced among leading enlightenment thinkers, perhaps overstating and declarifying it. The Lisbon Moment was a breaking away from the notion that all natural phenomenon, natural disasters occurred to reinforce the notion that we are all sinners in the hands of an angry god. The crystalizing view held that there was no moral agency to disasters, but that these were forces following immutable physical laws, predictable when understood. Being rational required attending only to engineering matters and excepting human or corporate agency. Its unproductive and outside of that ever after the fact. Even when lack of due diligence, criminal negligence was of a nature so that one event has become a different more costly and deadly event through countless sins of omission. The conclusion it takes effort to evade is that it is not just failed states that fail their people, but that with advanced societies, you get a share of advanced exploitation. A segment of any nations elite will trend toward kleptocracy. Bouyed by ideologies that divide people into Atlases and their supposed burden, players and spectators. Implying that we are served well enough by the spectacle.

A few days after the Earthquake Joel Achenbach wrote an article in the Washington Post using the term Black Swan disasters Japan's black swan: Scientists ponder the unparalleled dangers of unlikely disasters - The Washington Post:. These are disasters that overwhelm planning and preparation. Disasters that are outliers on the curve of statistical likelihood, and so are not adequately contained by risk assessment that directs resource outlay towards more reasonably probable events. Black Swan events are those that overwhelm imagination and overwhelm our ability to mediate their effect and affect recovery.

Another way of looking at this is to invoke the sublime, to return to the frisson of enlightenment and romantic ways of apprehending things. With natural disasters of this magnitude we encounter the sublime. One particular meaning of sublime is that which can destroy us, rather that which cannot help but destroy us. Something so surpassing our abilities and means of controlling our environment, nature, something that over tops our sense of mortal scale that it cannot be truly understood by us and can only invoke a sense of awe. There are levels of the sublime. Beauty, a sense reflecting reflecting its role as an analytic of aesthetics. It moves through weaker feelings of the sublime, to a notion of the sublime represented by turbulent nature, through to the full feeling of the sublime overpowering turbulent nature. Nature as immanent mortal dissolution. Furedi's piece was strongest when holding out reason against unproductive awe of terrible nature, weaker when that shades into a dismissal of human agency as equally unproductive and inconsequential.

Another aspect of the Sendai earthquake was the concurrence of destruction, in a nod to popular culture call it the 2012 effect. We had a triple catastrophe: co-geospatial but separately mediated. Japan came through the 9.1 earthquake fairly well, but this was followed by the tidal wave. A Tidal Wave is special destroyer. Water is a peculiar if ubiquitous substance, it expands to 1,600 times its area as steam, but its a dense and inelastic liquid. Water moving slowly will inundate, water moving fast will bulldoze and rip away anything that can move. In many ways the nuclear power plant was a separate disaster all together. It had its own timeline of slow failure and now recoveryJapan may have lost race to save nuclear reactor | World news | Its own societal and economic disturbances as it plays out. It will require its own unique set of techniques and experts to remediate [this MetaFilter thread has been out nearly a month and is open Japan's Nuclear Crisis Keeps Going | MetaFilter.]

On the heels of the devastating earthquake in Haiti only a year previous. One in Sichuan China two years before that, Kashmir Pakistan in 2005 (with massively destructive floods following last year, and the great Indonesian earthquake and tsunami of 2004. All this going back only just over half a decade. Discounting for the moment hurricanes and typhoons, volcanos and famines. It seems reasonable to inquire into the rate of large scale disasters, ones that require international relief efforts and outlay. It isn't that these phenomenon are occurring more frequently, more so that we increasing are unable not to be where they are occurring. Cyclonic storms make landfall to some continent several times a season. Or reach down and touch the red clay lands in storm season every spring. Earthquakes measuring 6-7 on open-ended Richter scale, as new and more intensive measurement makes clear, occur somewhere on nearly a monthly basis. The mechanics of techtonics is becoming clearer even if predicting events still eludes us Japan Quake Location A Surprise - Science News . If we grow and build into every corner and acre of indifferent nature. What is the rate of injury we can handle, the cost we can bear? What happens when international search and rescue teams are already deployed to one part of the global when the need arises elsewhere. Are we in the presence of the full feeling of the Sublime yet?

11:41:00 PM    ;;

Monday, March 14, 2011
WFMU 26.2

WFMU's annual two week marathon has just completed They raised around $1.1 million towards a goal of $1.2 million. They have a tagline to explain themselves: WFMU where Incongruous Segues are a basic human right. This was their greatest fundraising achievement and at the same time, they admit, less than their closest dance with an announced goal (and operating budgets needs). WFMU, if you are not familiar with them are an ex-college radio station in Jersey city NJ that incorporated themselves into a nonprofit when Upsalla college decommissioned in the mid nineties. In addition to explanations and internet streams offered by their main web site they also maintain the web log WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

It's required to ramp up the energy levels during this period and traditional to pair up the djs into tag teams, often creating unique and weird energy in the process. Highlights of the two weeks certainly included musicians Ted Leo and Carl Newman coming by Tom Scharpling's show both weeks and Kurt Vile being there the second week.

Pledge to the WFMU Marathon! The dark secret of the WFMU Marathon of is, of course that they will accept your money at any point of the year.

I missed DJ Ken Goldsmith (Kenny G), and his post avant-garde presence at the marathon this year. He teaches at U. Penn. The Ubu Web web stream that WFMU hosts is his main contribution at present (see also twitter: @ubuweb). Last summer he did a show which consisted of playing dead air for an hour, I thought I was listening to it until I discovered I had at some point accidentally turned iTunes off. Later at home I tried bringing the show up on WFMU's extensive archive of all their shows going back more than a decade. But since I use No-Script on my browser which sometimes interferes with their flash-based archive player I realized there may be no way of ever knowing for sure whether I listened to it or not. It will remain epistemologically uncertain

Being the same age as some of WFMU's more senior dj's I can recall the slow decline of "Album-oriented" FM radio through the seventies until by the end of the decade you had to admit that the top-40 am radio of 10 years previous had been more fun to listen to. Still I arrived at college in the early eighties (after four years in the Navy) and presented myself at the college radio station at U. Maryland with the expressed purpose of getting a show that I might play the Clash (who got me through that last year in the Navy), Minor Threat, the Flesheaters, and Gun Club for three hours a week, every week. Agreeing by barter to add Tav Falco, Motor Boys Motor, and the Rev. Gary Davis to that mix I got on. I have been making the argument for free-form music radio to anyone who will listen ever since.

There are two related arguments that need to be made. One is that Freeform adds something essential -- a living spirit of discovery. The other is that the focus group marketing approach takes something away. It is formally reductionist. A society relying on that approach for any sizable part of its arts culture - even its 'common' culture is in the process of dying. The most unfortunate side of the glimpse college radio gave of a world of a broader music life is the sad reality of tautological radio actually out there. I call it that because music radio in the US is largely an enterprise of creating and reinforcing a narrow stream of recorded music that exists to suit the business needs for manageable mass sales products. Its not that more can't exist, it does, its just that it would be less tidy and less amenable to oligopolies. Broadcast radio is uniform and bland, satellite radio segmented and pigeon-holed. I knew by the time I left college radio that the key to attracting a strong audience was an opposite approach, known as eclectic and routinely dismissed by "those-who-knew-better". People are more inclined to positively receive freeform radio as long as some Djs are viewed as kindred spirits and that they in turn view their fellow djs as kindred spirits, and recomend them. So it is best if there really is something there for everyone in your programming and that it is done well.

Doug Schulkind who does the Give the Drummer Some shows, and curates one of WFMU's independent streams Give the Drummer Radio captures this omnivorous curious and accepting attitude to a high degree. And he illustrates how the personnel of a station like WFMU builds and joins their audience from the ground and individual up.

WFMU has been successful enough at what it does, that I see flashes of ambition from them at turns. Ambition that goes beyond being the college radio station that refused to die. (like that old Slickee Boys song, but different) Although this is the topic that station manager Ken Freedman led a panel on at SxSW How to Save College Radio. WFMU has maintained an expanding presence at SxSW for years. For a station on a nonprofits budget WFMU has also managed to dramatically increase mobile and multicasts, parallel programming streams, podcasts, and a complete archive of past shows. They've done this through a thorough embrace of the possibilities of Ev-Do and the Internet, and through "getting invited to places". In addition to that there is The Free Music Archive (FMA) which they put together with money from a grant. The source of the grant was a fund setup from the settlement of the last big radio payola scandal. Sweet and poetic justice. Equally significant for them in staking out their new significant internet presence is shrinking the target that royalty rights collection concerns have been placing on Internet radio. They've done this by decreasing the amount of major label material they play and creating alternative licensing arrangements with others. They've referred to taking the first floor of the building they own which they currently rent out and converting it into a performance space.

Syndicating shows is another thing WFMU has managed to do, with a few other stations picking up Benjamin Walker's "Too Much Information" show. Many people entertain the notion that they could do a good music radio show once a week. Its not true, its just easy to imagine. No one makes that mistake with interview and narrative shows. It's obvious from first consideration that a show of that type is an enormous amount of work, and is so the moment any degree of production or assembly enters into it. Particularly a lot of work for a volunteer effort It's worth noting that Benjamin Walker's show moved seamlessly into a void left by a show that Douglas Rushkoff had been doing for WFMU.

Every year at marathon time WFMU and its listeners hold their collective breath to see if the will is there to provide the ways and means for another year. The fundraising models available to public (non profit licensed) radio stations is actually fairly varied and relaxed ranging from sponsorships and underwriting which can include airing announcements which are nearly indistinguishable from commercials. At the far end of that side of the spectrum is for a station to be listener-supported alone as WFMU is. Within the extended community it currently finds itself and mission it has this makes sense for it for now. Other public radio stations rely heavily on networks to distribute the cost and task load of news and programming needs. It's not just NPR either (npr needs a new logo which could feature one of Sarah Palin's "targets" over their current logo, and maybe the tag line: "Duck and Cover"), many public radio stations belong to several content networks. Some of the most notable shows on the public station I listen to locally [WAMU] are from American Public Media and include Marketplace Report, This American Life, and Prairie Home Companion. There is additionally, Public Radio International which displays their brief in their name and is responsible for the majority of foreign produced content airing on these shores. And a handful of syndicated shows are offered from the progressive Pacifica network as well. WFMU sidesteps all of that currently drawing on its own resources of human capital, recognizing its unique origins and general lack of formal responsibilities. WFMU's greatest strength at the moment is that its listener base understands them and what they are trying to do. Their sustainability rests on this slender branch.

11:21:41 PM    ;;

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