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"Never Use The Pool As A Toilet"

Thursday, June 18, 2009
From the New York Times:

"A swimming pool can offer relief from summer heat, but swimmers should know what they are jumping into. It could be a soup of nasty parasites.

Reports of gastrointestinal illness from use of public pools and water parks have risen sharply in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The leading culprit is a microscopic organism that lives in human feces."

[. . .]

"'People should not swim or allow their children to swim when they have diarrhea, Ms. Hlavsa said. 'The water you swim in is shared with everyone,' she said. “So what one swimmer does has consequences for all the swimmers."

[. . .]

"In addition to not swimming while ill with diarrhea, health experts say people should shower before swimming and never use the pool as a toilet. Parents should wash young children before they enter the pool and take them on frequent bathroom breaks. Children in diapers require vigilant attention."

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A Crack in the Corporatocracy?

Monday, June 15, 2009
According to Reuters's Phil Wahba, "[t]he wave of bankruptcies that has eliminated dozens of U.S. retail chains could force landlords to rethink their traditional aversion to having small, independent retailers as tenants."

I have to admit, the idea of smaller mom-and-pop retailers resuming a more prominent place in American consumer culture is tremendously appealing to me. I understand full well that many of our larger brand name stores have earned their ubiquity through genuine hard work, honest business practices, and the development of desirable products. I also appreciate the convenience large chains bring to our communities, so I am not rubbing my palms together, gleefully heralding the downfall of Corporate America. What I am celebrating is, essentially, the potential renaissance of the small businesses upon which our economic system is built.

With the convenience of enclosed, air-conditioned pedestrian malls came the precipitous decline of Main Street and, with the decline of Main Street, the loss death of many small retailers. As Matther Bordwin explains to Wahba in the Reuters piece, mall "landlords prefer to deal with national chains with proven track records and credit profiles, rather than take a chance on an unknown independent store, or wind up dealing with countless small tenants," so smaller retailers were rarely invited to the party. Thus, with customers skipping on-street parking and exchanging cracked sidewalks for tiled flooring, stores in smaller downtown locations lost business and, without access to the mall crowd, lost money and vanished.

The tragedy in the loss of small businesses, of course, lies in the loss of their potential for idiosyncrasy. Large chain stores such as Barnes & Noble or Borders, for instance, rarely vary their stock beyond a certain pre-determined range of titles. With the exception of a few local interest titles, you are just as likely to see the same books in Albuquerque as in Baltimore, Anchorage, Flint, Topeka, or Slidell, Louisiana. In other words, if Barnes and Noble just doesn't think a book will sell at a certain rate, it won't appear on their shelves, which is a problem when their shelves are the only ones a person can browse in a given region. Smaller stores often offer deeper niche catalogues in lieu of broad popular catalogues and owner-operators tend to be much more knowledgeable about their wares than your average box store retail employee. For this reason, small stores and large chains can coexist nicely, offering convenience on one hand and expertise on the other, as they often do in large cities. I look forward to a bookstore that carries Journey to the End of the Night and William Saroyan and I look forward to more hand-sewn clothing and I welcome custom skateboard shops and a DVD outlet with a great selection of 50s musicals -- not because I necessarily want Saroyan or a new frock or new Habitat deck or some MGM sing-along disk, but because I want the variety, the sprawling, hiccuping, gurgling bouillabaisse of choice to reinvigorate an economy that is both stagnant and stale.

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New York City to Gas Canada Geese

One of the more tragic side-effects of humanity's ascendency to the proverbial top of the food chain has been our increasingly pervasive tendency to regard nonhuman life in purely instrumental terms. I'm not saying that other (if not most) living things do not have the same predator/prey relationship with the world, but our species has become spectacularly adept at both vaunting our ability to compassionately relate to others and thoroughly ignoring our sense of empathy whenever it suits our needs, be they petty whims or grand drives.

For instance, I can recall the adults in my neighborhood cursing the various flora and fauna that happened to render their expensively manicured lawns and exquisitely arranged flower beds less than perfect. I found it difficult to understand why dandelions were such awful flowers when they were as beautiful to me as peonies. Nor did I ever understand why people would get so angry at a dewy-eyed doe for eating shrubbery. After all, the grasses and flowers were not native to the regions in which they were planted. They were, in a very real sense, invasive species. The native species -- the weeds and deer -- were only doing as they had always done; that is, try to live.

As I have grown a bit older, I am still taken aback whenever someone complains about the overpopulation of deer leading to more car accidents and such, as if human overpopulation and expansion was not equally to blame for the macadam roadways slicing through the woodlands the cervidae call home. Like the viruses we fear, human beings behave like biological imperialists, entering places we were not invited and resenting the native life for persevering and challenging our dominion.

I bring this up because there's a part of me that is saddened by the City of New York's plan to exterminate two thousand geese in an effort to lessen their potential threat to aircraft flying in and out of the city's two major international airports, as WCBS reports. Now, certainly, I understand and appreciate the desire to preemptively address conditions that can lead to circumstances like those that led to the near-disastrous end of Flight 1549, but the hunting of geese in "about 40 public parks" gives me pause. I can't help but feel the birds have more right to the skies than do humans.

There's no easy solution to this problem, of course. Neither people nor geese are not going to stop flying, so conflict is inevitable. I guess what troubles me most is the indifference such articles reveal. Rather than individual beings with existences as important to them as ours are to us, the Canada Geese are nuisances to be brushed away lest they damage our expensive machinery. And that's the thing: the article does not mention a single human casualty; it just lists the "more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a collision with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed." Of course, there's no mention of the nonhuman lives "destroyed."

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