Tag Archives: government

Noise: Adapting to a Pollution

A jumbo jet rumbles across the Seattle sky.  A garbage truck screeches to a halt outside.  And a neighbor slips on ear muffs, ignites a gassed up leaf blower and sends any unprotected eardrums into a fleeing panic.

In some instances, noise vibrations can cause the ear to bleed.  Exposure to loud rock music through blasting earbuds or concert hall speakers can lead to permanent hearing loss. Unmuffled motorcycles revving down residential streets can spike tempers and heart rates. Consistent screeches, pops and clack-clack-clacks from nearby construction projects can pump a person tight with stress.

Noise pollution is an unwanted or harmful sound from man-made things like automobiles, airplanes and industrial workplaces, expanding to sirens and horns, boats, trains, and lawn care machines.  Finding acoustic reprieve can be difficult.

Annoyance from noise is not just the reaction of an overly-sensitive person, but a symptom of an unhealthy environment.  In urban areas, daily immersion in waves of unwanted sound diminishes health, sleep and lifestyle quality.  The effects of noise on the human body range from hearing loss to heart disease and spikes in heart rate and blood pressure, to instigating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) which can lead to sleeping disorders, stress and hypertension.

“People in noisy environments experience a subjective habituation to noise, but their cardiovascular system does not habituate…”, claims a February 2014 article published in Environmental Health Perspectives.  So, while we think we are getting used to the ever present urban sounds, the rationalization may just be in our minds and not translated to our organs and health needs.

When the blood begins to bubble, can we turn off the noise, control it in some way or leave the polluted space?  And if escape is not an option?  Maybe we’ll just adapt.

In urban habitats, animals have developed strategies to adapt to increasing noise pollution.  Research studies released in the past few years indicate that birds, for example, sing louder and at a higher pitch to separate their song from the low frequency traffic hum.  Besides loud-talkers yelling at cell phones and pedestrian voices raised to clear the thick haze of downtown traffic, human city dwellers have adapted in additional ways to compete with escalated sound levels.

Noise canceling headphones have become a popular fashion.  White noise generators mask the cacophony outside and provide a constant sound of wind, rain, or ocean waves for focusing, relaxing or sleeping.  Apps assist urbanites in the search for quiet spaces in cities.  Installing sound-dampening fiberglass insulation, double or triple pane windows and thick carpeting throughout a house increases acoustic comfort.  Even biologically, the human brain filters unwanted noise to focus on a desired sound.  In this process of auditory cognition, more immediate sounds take priority and others fade unnoticed, or are masked until consciously heard.

Over 40 years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the impact of noise levels and in response, established a national policy under the Noise Control Act of 1972 to “…promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”  The EPA no longer directly monitors and manages noise pollution.  Since the early 1980‘s, individual states and cities have shouldered the responsibility.

State and local laws have adapted to address the swell of excessive noise.  In Washington State, the Department of Ecology asserts that “Any loud noise that occurs between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. could be considered noise pollution…The zoning of your location also determines if a noise is considered “pollution”.”   Noise Abatement Coordinators in the city of Seattle hear questions regarding the Noise Code that addresses sound levels for commercial and construction projects, while Police Officers enforce the Municipal Code sections that cover noise disturbances ranging from barking dogs and human voices to motors and music.

The state has attempted to control the effects of a chronic noise sprawl, but in at least one instance, the sound waves would not be stopped.  In 2010, contractor crews for the Washington State Department of Transportation finished installing 700 noise-absorbing ceiling panels above the express lanes on Interstate 5’s Ship Canal Bridge.  The project started in reaction to the escalated traffic noise vibrating from the interstate throughout the Seattle neighborhoods below.  After monitoring the project results for a couple of years, officials determined that the finished construction did not significantly impact the noise levels from the stretch of road.  In part, the adaptations could not control all of the noise diffractions and reflections.

Daily exposure to the chronic jumble of noise is part of the Seattle city scene.  Bus routes have been cut due to budget issues potentially creating more traffic on the roads, and drones (unmanned aircraft) are said to be loud and on the horizon for package deliveries and potentially for law enforcement use.  While quieter hybrid and electric cars are commonly seen on the roads, legislation in the United States requires them to emit warning sounds for the safety of pedestrians.  Maybe urban noise pollution has reached a threshold where less noisy things are too ‘quiet’ and have become a potential threat.

An article in the August 2013 issue of Men’s Health Magazine stated that out of 100 U.S. cities, with number 1 (Durham, North Carolina), as the quietest and 100 (Houston, Texas) as the loudest, Seattle ranked number 26.  But since Seattle’s population grew by 2.8 percent (almost 18,000 residents) in 2013, becoming the nation’s 21st biggest city, should a noise swell be expected?  And what adaptations will be made?

There are always earplugs.  Until they aren’t enough.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

Rippled Resonance

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

I read a recent article on the United Press International website regarding a Princeton/Northwestern study that concluded that the US structure is that of an oligarchy rather than a democracy, with the US government representing not the interests of the majority of citizens, but those of the rich and powerful.  The comments regarding the article were interesting – from the most academic (defining oligarchy/plutocracy and highlighting the symptoms that have been present from America’s birth and documented in this analytical study), to the more casual opinion, of “duh.”

A blog response from The New Yorker questioned the validity and methods of the study.  Among the 75 comments for that post, there were still some hang-ups on definitions, regarding a republic versus a democracy.

A BBC news article suggested potential responses to this study, which primarily included resignation to the fate of not living in an equal world.  Sounds about right for a media outlet that depends on structure to survive – maintain readers who somewhat believe the content of what is displayed and supply the preferred controlled solution of ‘no action, just kick back and maybe discuss, but ultimately just accept.’

MSNBC.com released an article as well. Just in case the reader did not have a direction for processing the information in the article, the media outlet provided a means of directing any blank thought or irrational emotion by providing a poll with just one question (which, I guess is supposed to be the most important), “Do you think the wealthy have too much political power?”  The pollster had three options when responding. There was a “Yes…” a “No….” and a “It isn’t perfect but the system is still sound.”   Really?  That’s it?  Where’s the choice for “I am not privy to enough unbiased information to answer”, or “I have no idea how things really work in  government, except for what I have seen on TV or ‘made for TV’ news” or “I don’t care, where’s my iPhone” or even the answering-a-question-with-a-question choice of “Do ‘the wealthy’ actually have the power, or are they simply responding to their role in a controlled structure, handing their ‘power’ off to engrained fears about security, money and social judgement?”

Are the conclusions on how the US government makes decisions now valid since academic institutions have deemed them to be true?  Should society or an individual have to wait for recognized studies conducted by intellectuals or academic institutions to verify what may have been already thought or felt?

And how does a ‘validated’ label change alter our attitudes about living within this system? Do we care much?  Is there even an action to take? Do we drop out of school, quit our jobs, stop going to the grocery store, pay attention to the companies we support with our consumer purchases, ride bikes, pay attention to what’s in our food?  I suppose no matter what the label, if someone is comfortable, there would be little motivation to change the day to day routine.  Unless, maybe there was a movement that gathered steam, delivered ideas as guidance and solutions, and provided a leader who could communicate all of it effectively – oh, like an election campaign, I suppose.  But, even then, is that still waiting for an “authority” to validate ideas, thoughts, feelings that were already known?

Is it a method of thinking for people to look for a leader (or ‘authority’) who believes (or says they believe) the same, then give energy, time and power over to them, as an investment perhaps?  On a personal level, do we think we need a leader or group to validate our opinions or beliefs and to give us the security to make a choice or decision? Maybe we do as a society; maybe the process is too much responsibility otherwise; maybe this has been learned.

From another perspective, what if people simply did their own thing? Without violence, without gathering, without groups, without anything except personal choice and power.

Perhaps there is no actual vision for the “right” path or way to go, but maybe there is the feeling that the current path is not quite right. What if no other authority was needed to verify or validate and an individual simply ‘left’ the current path and strictness of the structure? Not for a spotlight, not for recognition, not for vengeance, not for saving fellow humans.  What if the leader for you was you?  So the challenge for finding a leader would ultimately be finding yourself.

Would this create change?  Would it even matter?  A friend reminded me of the ripple effect concept.  The power of role model and example. What if someone simply stopped participating in the expected flow of life – stopped buying groceries and planted a garden – stopped eating at fast food restaurants and ate only locally sourced – stopped identifying themselves as a consumer, or even for that matter stopped identifying the system as a democracy.  What happened to the practical?  Identifying something for what it really is, based on how it functions and impacts…. then going from there. Can you live physically in a system that you have detached from ideologically, or have detached from the symbolic meanings?  Is it even possible?  Is there space outside the structure?  Without a overarching authority, how far would the ripples go?

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014



According to a March 6th article/blog stream, during a recent interview, the Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief asked Wendy Davis, a candidate running for Governor of Texas, if she would be playing the “gender card” in the race. This sparked a Twitter conversation among men and women about playing their “gender cards” (from double standards and the pressure of gender roles to sexual violence and maintenance of the ‘white male’ status quo; I would add to those – the validity of knowledge base dependent on gender, affecting the receptivity of a woman’s perspective).

During the streaming interview, Davis took questions from the audience and spoke  about a myriad of items including finance, education and women’s reproductive rights.  At one point in the interview, Davis emphasized the importance of education in Texas and the responsibility she has as a public servant to assure the availability of the best education options.  That was the moment the Editor-in-Chief decided to ask if Davis would be playing the “gender card” broadly over her campaign, because of her portfolio.  I’m assuming by “portfolio” the Editor-in-Chief was not just referring to the issue of women’s reproductive rights, but also to finance issues, the responsibility of elected officials and education (which Davis was speaking about only moments before) .  Or has education become a gender-biased issue with the social stigma that only women can be advocates and champions for the cause?

The format of this journalist’s question is a reflection of media’s manipulation of viewers or readers.  Why even use the phrase “gender card?”  The exact meaning of this term is not clear, leaving it up to the interviewee and viewer to figure out what should be inferred – what specifically is being asked.  This is a passive aggressive interviewing technique, that bloats of bravado and tries to convince itself that it’s asking the tough questions.  Unless of course, this question is asked not for the actual answer (because the question is vague and airy), but instead to evoke some controversy, maybe some turmoil to see if the answering person can be ruffled.  The question about playing the “gender card” is asking something without really asking anything to create drama, skirt the important/clarifying questions, and to minimize the validity or significance of the issues discussed.  I wonder if this was a conscious choice by the Editor-in-Chief or if this is the standard methodology, so rampant in media today that no one is actually aware of its abnormality.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

the frustration loop

the government shutdown.  posturing seems to be the new term and the favorite pastime.  the political figures have their agendas, whether they verbalize them or not.   frustration surfaces in the mainstream as does the realization that a large part of our lives is so greatly impacted and controlled by the decisions of a few.

And this is where the loop begins.  Frustration felt from the lack of control.  We, the people, cannot fire the politicians for not doing their job. We do not have the authority.  We, the people, cannot demand immediate re-election of our representatives in order to voice our opinion.  We do not have the unified confidence or means.  So we wait and watch to see what the few decide.  And we stew in our boiling pot, searching for the answer, the resolution, not to the political debate necessarily, but ultimately how to relate to this lack of life control.  Nothing immediately comes to mind; so the frustration continues.  We bite our nails and shake our head, there has got to be something to do about this, to make things better.  We rack our brains amidst the waves of betrayal, unbelievability and anxiety; how to create change. Nothing again, except another bout of frustration.  And this is the loop.

I’ve had a few conversations with friends that have started out with “there has got to be another way to think about this.”  The ‘this’ has usually resolved itself into a full blown frustration loop, like frustrations with the government shutdown, or encounters with sexism, or crazy people expressing themselves with guns.  For myself, when I become stuck in a loop, I feel the energy bubbling over, with no productive direction for this building energy to be funneled; at least productive in the sense that the direction would alleviate the pressure from the cause of the frustration.   So, how to avoid the loop to begin with and put energy towards a more productive path?

I have noticed that my immediate response is usually to reach out and change or solve whatever is causing me the frustration.  I look outside of myself to effect change.  But when I encounter an issue, a concept, a culture, an event beyond my control, then the frustration loop begins.   What if the first step was something else altogether? Another method of thinking, or a different way to process information and come to solutions, resolutions or even just an understanding.  I wonder if our society is buried so deep in normal processes of thinking (stereotypes, belief in opposites, understanding through differences, one reality, blame, ‘one man to save the world’ storyline) and our culture perpetuates this current ‘how’ in thinking, that it would be extremely challenging to impact or be aware of how we develop our perspectives.

So, how do I think about the government shutdown without entering the loop?  I honestly don’t know.  But I feel like it is all about the first step.  Instead of reaching outward for the answer, maybe the first step is to reach in.