The Fight Against Noise

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In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia launched a “noiseless nights” campaign aided by sensitive noise-measuring devices stationed throughout the city. New York passed dozens of laws over the next several decades to muzzle the worst offenders, and cities throughout the world followed suit. By the 1970s, governments were treating noise as environmental pollution to be regulated like any industrial byproduct.

Planes were forced to fly higher and slower around populated areas, while factories were required to mitigate the noise they produced. In New York, the Department of Environmental Protection – aided by a van filled with sound-measuring devices and the words “noise makes you nervous & nasty” on the side – went after noisemakers as part of “Operation Soundtrap.”

After Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted new noise codes in 2007 to ensure “well-deserved peace and quiet,” the city installed hypersensitive listening devices to monitor the soundscape and citizens were encouraged to call 311 to report violations.

Why Are We Always Searching For “A Quiet Place?”,  Matthew Jordan / Smithsonian

I was astounded to learn about historical efforts in NYC to reduce noise since the early 1900s, because from where I sit in my apartment on Broadway, I sure as hell can’t hear any impact from those efforts of yore.

Are those “hypersensitive listening devices” still monitoring the soundscape? Are they being enforced? Because there’s an SUV blasting crappy music so loud the bass shakes my floor passing by every 5 minutes.

There’s a lot of things I’ve adjusted to about living in NYC. But noise is one quality of life issue that never ceases to raise my blood pressure. If there’s one thing that will end up driving me out of the city, it will be that.

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It’s been 10 years, NYC

Maker:S,Date:2017-1-24,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

10 years ago today, my woman and I ventured forth from San Diego to move to NYC, with all our worldly goods crammed in a Budget truck—including my parrot wedged in between us in the cab, screaming his bloody green head off.

As we set out on that auspicious day, I inscribed on this here blog the following sentences:

I’ve spent most of my life coasting along with the way the wind takes me, and settling down into stagnancy when nothing moves, and now, after many tentative forays and excursions, I’m stepping out on my own, with absolutely nothing in sight but what I make mine. I foresee that for a time things will be pretty difficult in certain terms, such as still living under someone else’s roof, and it’s going to take time to find a new job, and it’s going to take time to get used to a completely new world, etc. But all that just seems exciting to me, because at least it’s a challenge to work that much harder to find my place, as opposed to simply waiting for things to come my way.

Things were indeed pretty difficult at first. But it has been exciting. And I’ve worked hard to find my place here, in this dense city that breaks you down to give you the opportunity to build yourself back up.

Countless hours on subways, buses, and pavement across Queens and the Bronx. Lifting boxes, stocking shelves, writing lessons, grading papers, coordinating IEPs.

And here I am now, married to the same rock-solid woman I set out on this intrepid journey with, with a beautiful son, and a career that I love.

Here’s to the future, and to struggle, and to never settling down into stagnancy.

Our everyday contingent on obscure factors

…we’ve invited technical standards bodies, national- and supranational-level regulators, and shadowy hackers into the innermost precincts of our lives. As a result, our ability to perform the everyday competently is now contingent on the widest range of obscure factors—things we’d simply never needed to worry about before, from the properties of the electromagnetic spectrum and our moment-to-moment ability to connect to the network to the stability of the software we’re using and the current state of corporate alignments.

A Sociology of the Smartphone on Longreads

The OG Manhattanites

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“General view, looking southwest to Manhattan from Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan” by Abbott, Berenice (1898-1991) is licensed under CC0 1.0

“As he stood on the waterfront on May 11, 1647, watching a skiff approach from four newly arrived ships at anchor the strain and darkness had to show in his eyes and face his breath must have fairly stunk with it. It was a cerulean spring day, and, like characters at the end of an act of a play, all the residents of the community were gathered alongside him, headliners and minor players alike: Joris Rapalje and Catalina Trico, along with their children and grandchildren: Anthony “The Turk” van Salee and his wife Griet Reyniers-both respectable now, but still cantankerous-and their four daughters: Anna van Angola, a widowed African woman who had just received a patent for a farm on Manhattan, as well as Antony Congo, Jan Negro, and other black residents, slaves and free assorted Danes, Bavarians, and Italians, and a handful of area Indians: Cornelis Swits, son of the murdered Claes Swits; the English refugee leaders Lady Deborah Moody and the Rev. Francis Doughty: Everardus Bogardus, the beer-swilling minister who had assisted the colonists’ effort against Kieft by excoriating him from the pulpit: the activists Kuyter and Melyn: the company henchman, Cornelis van Tienhoven, who had slaughtered and tortured Indians while in Kieft’s service and was hoping to be kept on in the new administration. And there, too, on the cobbled quayside stood Adriaen van der Donck and his English wife Mary-it is from Van der Donck that we have one of the extant descriptions of this scene. The mood was festive. Shouts went up: celebratory cannon blasts were fired. The day of deliverance had come.

Then, slowly, like gray rain, the silence fell upon them. From a distance they would have seen first the hardness and smallness of the eyes, like sharp pebbles set in the broad plate of the face. Then the flash of the sun on his breastplate must have caught their attention, and the sword at his waist: the efficient, meticulous, militaristic parcel of him. Finally they would have watched him unpacking himself from the boat, and noted at once, as people do such irregularities, that curious movement of his, an unnatural stiffness, and no accompanying grimace or flinch, as if in defiance of pain itself. And all eyes then naturally moving down, and seeing it, the leg that wasn’t there.”

Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World

To Make It Here

To make it here means to push the soul

to the side, be buried alive,

willingly enslaved to something future.

 

We’ve made it, you and I,

we’re so fortunate to be able to put away

our lives somewhere to never be used

except in the case of a dream

or a nightmare.

 

This fear we have is of

each other, our own skin

surrounding us, not quite there

where we need it to be,

away and safe, secured against

ourselves.

Growing Awareness of History

Public school door knob

I recently did a research writing unit with my students, in which they explored the history of their school building and neighborhood through an interview with our school janitor, on-line web searching, and a trip to the public library across the street. Our janitor, who has been in the building for over 20 years, told us that our school was 126 years old (I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but I have no reason to doubt him). We learned that our building used to be connected with the firehouse next door. The firehouse part of the building was a church, while the school part used to be a psychiatric hospital for children. Also, we learned that our cafeteria used to house a pool!

We weren’t able to find much on-line. I hadn’t realized how complex and difficult finding out the history of any given building in NYC was. So I then expanded the scope of our research to our neighborhood.

The library across the street has also been around for a hundred years, one of the original Carnegie libraries. The librarian showed us historical pictures of East Tremont, and we discussed pictures of the old police precinct headquarters, which looked like a mansion, and pictures of Italian immigrants dressed in hats and formal attire, all lined up to get into the library. Pictures of farmland and fences. A Texaco gas station with gas for 11 cents a gallon. At first, the students said they didn’t see much of anything in the pictures. Then as we began discussing it, the history opened up before them in all of the little details, the old cars along the side of the road, the cobblestones in the streets, the pigtails the girls wore, the way their dresses were cut.

Richman (Echo) Park

It opened up history for me as well.

I’ve begun paying more attention to the sights around me as I walk from the subway station at Grand Concourse down the hill. The glaciated rocks at Richman Park. The Tremont Baptist Church perched on the winding hill above the chaotic traffic circle of Webster Ave and East Tremont. The stone masonry at the base of some buildings that seems to denote historical longevity. It has made me begin to appreciate the Bronx in a new context. I don’t just see urban decay anymore (though my growing awareness of the impact of the Cross Bronx Expressway has set a context for that as well). I see a community of newer immigrants, striving to make their way, just as generations of immigrants before them have done. I’ve begun to become aware of a rich, underlying framework of history all around me, requiring only attention to become aware of. This growing awareness of the cultural beauty of this community somewhat assuages some of the gap left in my heart after living for years in the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe,

Tremont Baptist Church

California. When I used to bike the 9 miles in and out of work in my last year there, I remember always reminding myself to try to absorb the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains, ringed in pine. I knew that someday I might not live in such pristine beauty and wanted to try to savor it while it was there, and hold it in my mind, however fleetingly. That has turned out to be prescient, and those images come back to me still.

Similarly, I know I may not always live or work in a place with such a rich and dynamic history, and it is my task now to savor it, to take it in and build my awareness of it.

Simultaneous to this growing awareness of history all around me, I have begun reading The Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass to my students. I had downloaded the book from Project Gutenberg, waiting the 2 months it took to receive print-outs from my school, and downloaded free questions and vocabulary for each chapter from The Core Knowledge Foundation. The language of the book may be well above the reading level of my fifth graders, but they comprehend the content deeply, in a way atypical to much of the content that I teach them. The oratory grasp of the power of words emanates from Douglass. There are two paragraphs in Chapter 2 in which his articulate voice rings through the ages, impassioned, as he reflects on the songs that slaves traveling through the woods would sing. These songs of the slave, Douglass wrote, “represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.” And suddenly, his outrage at the inhumanity of slavery lashes out from the page, lashes out from history. It’s a powerful moment.

There is never enough time to teach much of anything deeply in school. It’s hard to be consistent when schools are disorganized, schedules change on a moment’s notice, and there are constant interruptions from phones, loudspeakers, and children’s emotional outbursts. But reading this book is one thing I want to follow through on, because at some point, our children require us adults to make a decision on what is most important, and home in on that thing and stay true to it.

I have begun to feel the weight of history, and appreciate the power of a narrative in conveying the sense and awareness of that history. Our children, just like most of us adults, suffer from a disconnectedness from the wider context they live within. Though I may not be an inhabitant of their community, I can certainly make it my goal to become more aware of that community’s history and to help grow that awareness in my students.

Like much of the things I teach, I find that I learn the best material alongside of my students, discovering new ways of looking at the world and growing my own awareness.

Impressions of Philadelphia

Taken in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in April ...
Image via Wikipedia

Finally got back from our “vacation” in Philly. We stayed in Center City, which one would assume would be a bustling part of the city, but we were constantly taken aback by just how quiet it was. Where are all the people? Are they all on vacation? Why aren’t cars honking at each other? These were some of the questions we asked as we walked the streets.

My observations will naturally be generalized from only the few square miles that we saw there, so I have no idea if this rings true or not. Native Philadelphians, feel free to correct me if necessary. Here are my impressions of Philly:

  • After NYC, Philly feels much less dense
  • But even though it is more spread out, everything we wanted to see was in surprisingly short walking distance
  • It has a nice historical feel to it
  • Though it also has an accompanying air of decay
  • There seems to be an abundance of young, successful (-looking) single women, at least in the places we went out to
  • There’s no shortage of a diversity of quality dining options
  • Philly kind of reminded me of San Francisco, minus the hills and the hippies
  • Which may be because the subway system is very reminiscent of SF’s BART
  • There are some really down and out folks in Philly–the blight of drug abuse is readily evident
  • When we got back to NYC, I speculated that perhaps down-and-outers were just more apparent in Philly than here simply because in NYC they get lost in the crowd
  • If there’s Latinos in Philly, then they must be somewhere other than the City Center
  • The art museums are nice, and it’s cool the way they have a whole “museum row” kind of thing
  • God bless the Amish–those soft pretzels we ate at Reading (why is this pronounced “Redding”? What’s up with East Coast spellings and pronounciations, like Houston? Is this a Dutch thing?) Terminal Market were damn good!
  • We only ate one cheesesteak, and it sucked. I subsequently learned that the City Center is NOT the place to look for cheesesteaks. I’ll thus reserve my judgement on that matter until I actually taste an authentic one
  • Do all the white people drive cars everywhere? What’s wrong with taking public transportation? Maybe it was just the part of town we were in?
  • One complaint that soured our perspective at the end of our visit: you can’t buy just one dang token for the subway! You have to buy at least 2! What the hell?!
  • In NYC, in any given direction you’ll hit a Starbucks, a Rite-Aid, a Duane Reade, and a CVS, not necessarily in that order. We were pleasantly surprised to find that downtown Philly didn’t have the same obsession with franchises and pharmacies that New Yorkers seem to. The franchises were certainly a presence, but they didn’t completely dominate

Overall, I enjoyed Philly, and while it doesn’t exactly call out to me to live there, if I was forced to move there, I wouldn’t complain. It has a neat sense of history, a great selection of culinary offerings, and all the cultural benefits that make a city a city. I like the way the slight decrease in density equates with a slight decrease in aggression. Philly, I’ll be coming back to see what these cheesesteaks are really all about. And to have another couple of your soft pretzels.