Wednesday, May 13, 2009

City beautiful (====o=n=t=h=e=r=o=a=d====)

"The cities will be part of the country; I shall live 30 miles from my office in one direction, under a pine tree; my secretary will live 30 miles away from it too, in the other direction, under another pine tree.  We shall both have our own car.  We shall use up tires, wear out road surfaces and gears, consume oil and gasoline.  All of which will necessitate a great deal of work. . . .  Enough for all."  (Le Corbusier, The Radiant City).

Think about where our first-person narrator must go in a week: He lives 30 miles from his work under a pine tree.  That means that each day he must commute 60 miles.  In addition to commuting, since he lives in a degenerate, car-centric society, he must drive everywhere else.  Perhaps he lives in the middle of a large area zoned strictly for residential use (and which contains an abundance of pine trees), and the nearest grocery store is 5 miles away (the road is flanked by pine trees).  Once a week he must go to the grocery store, so he drives ten more miles (on a road flanked by pine trees).  Perhaps, one day his secretary hosts a dinner and after work he drives to his/her house, and then back to his, adding 30 miles.  He must go to a convenience store (next to a forest of pine trees) three miles away for essentials such as toothpaste and deodorant, so he drives six more miles.  He buys clothes from the mall (in which are miniature pine trees) that is six miles away, thus warranting twelve miles of driving. Added all together, he drives 378 miles in the week.

Imagine his car gets 30 miles-per-gallon.

He burns 12.6 gallons of gas in a week.

Imagine 1,000,000 live in the same miserable metro area in which he lives, and each of them burns 12.6 gallons a week.  

That's 12.6 million gallons of gas burned in a week, 655.2 million gallons burned in a year, six billion five-hundred fifty-two million burned in a decade. 

All in one city.  And that doesn't take population growth into account.  

Jane Jacobs, in her excellent book entitled The Life and Death of Great American Cities, presents a theory of urban vitality and success.  I will summarize it by describing a fictitious yet realistic neighborhood in Greenwich Village, New York City:  On a small block in Greenwich Village, NYC, there are two small grocery shops, two bars/clubs, three restaurants, a café, an art gallery, a travel agency, a real-estate office, a small clothing shop, and on top of everything, apartments.  The residents of the apartments provide a steady stream of business for the grocery stores during the day.  Customers traveling to the real-estate office during business hours may stop at the café and gallery.  During lunch hour, workers flock to the restaurants.  At night the clubs and bars attract hordes of people.  Additionally a steady stream of pedestrians in transit between one location and another choose to walk down the block each day (for the blocks are easy to navigate and all streets connect to other streets).  The result is a continuous and diverse stream of people traveling down the block.  The people who travel down the street either live on it, are there for the specific purpose of using one of the businesses (making that business a primary attraction of people to the neighborhood), or are in transit to somewhere else.  Clients of the real estate agency, passing by the grocery stores as they walk to the office, decide to pick up food.  Tourists coming to the restaurants, passing the art gallery, decide to take a look inside.  Trendy people going to the clubs, passing the clothing store, choose to enter it.  The primary attractions being situated in an area rich in diverse commerce creates an entirely new demographic of secondary consumers to promote the businesses in the neighborhood.  As a result of all the pedestrian traffic, the businesses on the street flourish.  Small businesses owners can, by simply having a street-front window, attract multitudes of consumers.  Thus the spread of unique goods and ideas is fostered.
Approximately 30 miles north-west of Philadelphia sits a miserable toll Brother-Town (Toll-Brothers being responsible for the development of parasitic housing developments in rural areas, thus turning them into sprawling suburbia - Toll-house would be a more descriptive name but for the fact that the houses do not posses toll-housey charm).  In this town, respite from the noise of fast-moving automobiles diffusing over the empty landscape from large highways and feeder roads is nonexistent.  The detached roaring wine of automobiles as they pass by on a highway or high-speed road is a harsh, lonely sound.  There is the pitch-less approach of the car, then the sharp, descending ZZZHNK as the car passes by, and then a pitch-less fade out. To travel, people isolate themselves inside padded boxes and take to the lifeless highways.  To the solitary pedestrian walking through coal-covered woods, only the indefatigable drone issued from the immense highways that is the epitome of emptiness can be heard.

            The people are disconnected.  They isolate themselves from their vacant surroundings.  The landscape is littered with parking lots, defunct factories, lengthy expressways, woods with much surface area, and spacey developments.  The open space is so wide and so empty that the people seek comfort within the confines their cars and within the sight-blocking aisles of immense suburban supermarkets. 

            To travel is to drive.  For when the nearest strip mall is four miles out on the highway, to drive is a necessity.  Driving takes away the casual interaction between pedestrians in a sidewalk, the intrigue of multicultural shops, the variety, the diversity.  It is not even efficient for the traveler, for miles could be meters.  The human drives from an immaculate house down an immaculate road to an immaculate highway that leads to an immaculately generic strip mall with immaculately generic shops that sell immaculately generic products produced by immaculately generic corporations, sincerely immaculately generic and insincere corporations. 

            Culture gets smothered by tires moving at 70 miles per hour and doesn’t even have the chance to fester before it has been rolled down and become part of the highway.

            The houses look like they have been cut out of white dough with a generic cookie cutter and slammed down onto empty lots far removed from anywhere useful.  The developments are endless.  One ends and after a brief forest another begins.  They are ugly, similar, and inhospitable. 

            American culture is based on interaction, in assimilation, in acceptance, in democracy.  These suburbs illustrate isolation and separation.  They are cultural vacuums.  They are created and run by lifeless droning corporations.  

Suburbia is taking over, slowly but surely.  The Washington metro area is expected to increase 80 percent in land area by 2030.  Los Angeles grew 45 percent in population and 300 percent in land area between 1970 and 1990.  Decentralization must not keep decaying our cities.  Bokonovsky groups of identical houses in homogenous developments miles from where people need to be will make for a nightmarish Brave New World.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From the throes of an insomnia-induced depression

The wet grass was dazzling and with each heavily propelled footfall micro-orgasms shot up through my feet.  Patternless stomping and spinning and chaotic awkward movements grounded themselves four times a measure in perfect unison with the energetic tango coming from the bright light above from a certain direction that changed with every beat.  There was an abundance of energy from which such vitality could be drawn.  

Suddenly a humungous bout of claustrophobia seized me as the black sky raced down to enclose my body and became an electricity-conducting blanket.  Small sparks sprinkled across the spectrum of my vision as I came out of a semi-lucid REM state (REM being the dream stage of sleep which is neither restorative, nor deep).  I sighed my war cry and turned over to receive more nonsatisfaction...

The war is between me and me (or my concrete conscience and the abstract streaming thought player that never stops).  When I want to be consciously aware of my surroundings, the battlefield is empty, both side's troops distracted by their respective distractions. But infallibly, once the entertainment finishes, both sides take the battlefield again.

The entertainment seems to start at around 8 in the morning and end around 11 at night.  

My insomnia is a psychological parasite. But only I can control it, which makes everything worse, because it's impossible to control something that is only tamed after one reaches beyond the limits of control.

My bed is antimatter for all the good it has ever done me.  

Bed(o) + Me (p)Aspirations (ts) + Plans (ts)
(o = object, p = person, ts = thought solution)

The plans and aspirations that immediately start after I contact my bed become abstract and turn into plays, at which point lucidity begins to fail.  The plays, however, don't stop; they take over and in a dreamy state not near sleep but not quite awake results.  Two to three hours later the plays abruptly end, throwing me into complete lucid wakefulness which may yield to light REM sleep for an hour or two, but never more.  

The tiredness is intense and oppressive.  It veils my life like the smoke of a heavy forest fire does to the vision of a clueless hiker.  It discombobulates my focus.  It eats at me when I stand and manifests itself in every limp muscle during longdistance walks. 

Once I danced an improvisational tango on wet grass with bare feet and flailing limbs and boisterous laughter.  The memory is beautiful.  The memory is the energy.   

Friday, December 19, 2008

Such Strident Sounds

"Now everyone, I want you to sing 'ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ' on this note, followed by a hard, harsh 'SSSSSSSSS'."

180 tongues that were all slightly too close to each other for comfort but were still spread evenly throughout the large choir room tilted upwards towards the top front of the respective mouths that housed them, leaving a small slits of space through which gusted 180 streams of air.

All the ones with perfect pitch exchanged the compulsory look of disgust implicit with every note the choir sang.  I caught three faces disgusted by duty and effectively trounced their disgust with my far greater disgust, and felt embarrassed to be a human being.  

The letter S, by far the most common letter used in the English language, denotes an alveolar fricative.  Its sounds is an odious, hair-straitening hiss.  The alveolar fricative is the most common consonant in every single language in the world except certain Aboriginal Australian languages.  

The S sound has an uncanny ability to bring out all of my contemptuous feelings; it is a conceited, omniscient letter.  Every person has a uniquely distinct S.  My first judgement of a person's character will come from the way he or she annunciates the S.

There is a hierarchy of categorization for s-types.

At the top comes the major distinction:

Dry and Fluid.

Dry and fluid do not describe the physical attributes of the S; rather they describe the tone.  

Fluid S's are like well oiled hinges.  They are clear and sharp.  People with fluid S's tend to air on the side of being egotistical, or are simply sloppy in speech.  Fluid S's can hiss like the sound a faucet makes when a little water is coming out. 

Within the broad category of fluid S's are more specific classifications.

Dominant Fluid S's: Most often belonging to people with sloppy annunciation, these S's govern ones speech like King Jung-Il governs North Korea.  All I can hear when talking to a person with a Fluid Dominant S is "S".  It is a loud S and is not forced; it simply encroaches.  

Forced Fluid S's: These S's are forcibly inserted.  They are usually loud and obnoxious and indicate loud and obnoxious people.

Recessive/Controlled Fluid S: This S signifies restraint and control.  It is slick but not overly oily.  It is audible but not overpowering.  It is the best S-type possible to have.

Saliva-Enhanced Fluid S's: Very unattractive.  

Dry S's: Dry S's do not flow like fluid S's.  They are choppier and more metallic.  

Forced Dry S's: A horrible, horrible S-type, this never fails to make me shiver.  It is a forcibly inserted, loud S.  It is metallic and hissy.  It hisses like pressurized air escaping from a small opening.  

Saliva-Enhanced Dry S: These S's usually insinuate a discharge of more spit than their Fluid counterpoints.  

Recessive Dry S: This is the only S that does not immediately stick out to me.  It is not a good S, but neither is it a bad S.  It does not flow, but does not take over one's speech and gently fills the space between its surrounding sounds.

Controlled Dry S: Controlled dry S's do not exist naturally in nature; they are brittle yet the speaker forces them to be as close to fluid as he or she possibly can.  A person with a controlled dry S invariably has a large ego and expects an unwarranted amount of attention.  

A few more varieties are the SH s (or the McCain S) where the S becomes a hybrid letter, slightly in between S and SH (these people tend to be overly anal); additionally there is also the radio S, where a person's normal S sounds like it is coming through a low-quality radio speaker.  The 'TH' S is essentially an excessively dry S.

S is the ultimate letter of gossip.  In quiet speech it carries the farthest.  It tantalizingly hints at secrets you will never know.  It is intimidating.  A well-placed S slaps you in the face as hard as a fast-moving palm.  It is seductive.  It's mysterious powers can send guttural, shivering warmth and create a blind pull. 

It has so much power.
Sso much power.
Ssso much power.
Sssso much power. 

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Limbs sticking out at ridiculous tangents from widely overgrown bushes encroach upon a view so familiar that it coats my eyes like burn-in on a plasma screen.  The street, covered by allergy inducing grains that blend into the angled rays of sunlight, curves off to the right and slopes downwards.  A bird blasts out a D flat.  The even, white sound of automobiles cruising down Schraalenburgh Road in the distance is therapeutic, and only disturbed by the angry neighbors uttering grievances to each other in some Asian language.  I think it's Korean.

A few moments pass.

Then I notice that the chirping is no longer coming from neighbors, but from birds chasing each other in the driveway.  My eyes stray to the basketball hoop, unused for almost four years.  It looks out of place, unwanted, like the hideous cell tower on Terrace Street. 

An annoying humming sound, a D, comes from within the unruly bush from an indefatigable insect.  

A red toolbox sits at my feet.  It has been in the same place, on the same porch, for the past eleven years.  Inside are worm corpses, all that remains of my first pets.

The weather monitor pole rests on the ground, having fallen over nine months back in a thunderstorm.  

It will remain in its current position for nine more months.
And nine more after that.
And nine more after that.
Until the green paint wears off and the wood rots and the plastic contaminates the plants and another storm breaks it in half again.

A vase of dead sticks glints at me through the window.  I once helped peel some of the sticks.  I once thought they were beautiful.

I am four fifths finished serving my time at this nostalgic, comfortable, unchanging prison. But it is more of a graveyard than a prison.  I am the last surviving convict. 

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Conspiracy (It's manipulating most of us sublimely and all of us dissonantly)

Four hours and sleep didn't even need to be evasive; it was being completely shut out by something.  The something was demonstrating itself in the form of a throbbing pain going from my ears to the back of my head, making my skull clatter and shake, and then creating shivers all the way down my spinal chord.  It was making bile rise from my stomach and produce a bitter, acid-like taste in the back of mouth.  It was making my toes curl and my fingers twitch.

But I couldn't figure out what it was.

I was not under any excruciating mental nor physical discomfort, and my bladder was not the cause of the distress.  

For a half an hour I rejected every option that I could brainstorm.  I then tried to improvise a symphony in my head so that perhaps the barrier between sleep and me would be weakened,  if not punctured.  The key, I decided, would be B flat major.  

I started with a B flat in my head, and all of a sudden I felt like a knife had cut off one of my testicles, and I realized the cause of my problem.  I burst upright and listened to the two fans humming together.

They were B flat.  
The fan above me was slightly flat.
The fan diagonally to the left was slightly sharp.

"Oh, the joy of having perfect pitch," I thought as I stood up, ready to bash both fans with the nearest stick-shaped object.  But a thought-provoking idea maybe me sit back down.

The reason for this was obvious.  It was intentionally done by the manufacturer of the fan (duh) so as to irk the unsuspecting customer to the point of their mental stability being challenged.  Then the evil corporations could lure the unwary customer in by posting propaganda, thus giving the corporations the power over the masses.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A (more) useful application of Mathematics.

The bridge between mathematics and humanities is more like two thin ropes with planks of wood suspended over a fiery pit of molten lava than the George Washington Bridge.  The Land of the Humanities is brimming full with wandering, philosophical explorers in whose language the word "answer" is vulgar. On the other hand, the Land of Mathematics houses a meticulously arranged society in which each citizen has an indefatigable routine, is designated a specific area to live in, and has a specific and limited job; in the language of the Mathematicans, the word "ambiguous" is vulgar (and its utterance is punishable by law.)  
So it is apparent that the two worlds are quite separate.
But I've found a way to connect them.
While studying the graphs of some basic, algebraic functions, I realized that they accurately illustrate different types of people.
Linear Functions: 


First are the linearists.  The graph of a linear function is simply a line; thus, the types of people it represents tend to be extremely organized (mentally and physically), have a wondrous amount of common sense, and are very level-headed.  However, they're also boring, uncreative, and don't take risks.  They strive for strict order; any disturbance in the linear qualities of their life are unwanted.
Quadratic Functions:

Next are the Quadraticists.  Quadratic functions are cup-shaped and either open up or open down, forming beautiful parabolas.  These
 people tend to be very graceful; when they set their mind on doing something they can stick to their goals.  However, they also understand when enough is enough and can return to the starting point as gracefully as they travelled from it. Quadraticists are less stable than Linearists.  They go through periods of highs and lows, but always rebound.  Their phases are long and intense, but always end.
Polynomial Functions:

Polynominacs are spontaneous and creative.  They have intense, short obsessions.  They have many different moods and have sharply curvy but still graceful personalities.
Exponential Functions:
Exponential Growtheners:  These people are usually very hardworking and lucky.  They are the people start out with a good idea and turn it into a worldwide phenomenon.  
Exponential Decayeners:  These people manage to waste away being in a favorable position.
Rational Functions:
These people will give all that they have for their (usually not so innovative) ideas.  Their sheer willingness to carry out what their dreams makes them bendy, not brittle.  They will go to extremes to see that their ideas become a success.  However, as close as they get, there will always be an asymptote right on the axis that would provide them with success.  As soon as they give up with one thing, they move right on to the next one.
Sin functions:

Siners are the most unstable type of people.  They tend to be extremely disorganized, go from high to low to high to low to high to low, and never manage to carry out anything they attempt to do.

I would have to say that I am a polynominac.  I have intense obsessions that tend not to be permanent.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A little common sense, and let simple economics dictate the rest.

As a high school student, I find it pretty hard not to notice the large, standardized tests encroaching more and more upon our lives.  High school is saturated with examinations.  Because of 'No Child Left Behind,' my school implemented midterms and finals for the first time this year.  The only thing these dreadful abominations accomplish is wasting an entirely usable month of the year.  The tests are a detriment to the success of our educational system; they sap up much of the time that could be spent learning new things or more thoroughly covering topics.  Furthermore, they encourage cramming.  According to Professor Thomas H. Mentos, author of The Human Mind, we quickly forget all the information that we cram; after 30 days, only 20 percent remains.  

I made a rough attempt at tallying up all the hours a student may spend during high school taking and studying for midterms and finals.  Assuming that five hours are spent studying for each test and that five midterms and five finals are taken, 50 hours are spent studying each year.  If each test is an hour and a half, that adds 15 hours.  Thus, 65 hours are spent on midterms and finals each year.  Multiply that number by four and you get 260.  

If one were to get a job at minimum wage in New Jersey (which is or will soon be 7.25 $ per hour) and work 260 hours, the result would be a wage (with 1/3 deducted because of taxes) of 3,380$.  A smart student would put the $3,380 in the bank and save it for retirement, because 3,380 dollars being in a savings account with 5 percent interest for fifty years would end up being $38,759.81. 

Hmmm.  I know what I'd rather be doing.