Georgia’s war on trees — conservation ain’t conservative anymore!

Republican street view

…Essentially thumbing its nose at residents who might like to make the air cleaner, combat global warming, or just have a prettier state, the Georgia legislature enacted a law in 2011 that banned trees within 500 feet of a billboard. In Georgia, home to 16,000 billboards, that could could be just about anywhere. The law, upheld this May by the Georgia Supreme Court, actually allows billboard companies to clear-cut offending trees, including those on public property, that might blot out a “Have you been injured in an accident?” or “Vote Republican” message. Billboard companies can also prevent new trees from being planted that might obstruct motorists’ views of their ads.

Although tree activists in the state had opposed the law, it has remained under the radar until recently, when sustainable development groups in Atlanta discovered that the law could eviscerate local plans, long underway, to make the city more pedestrian friendly.

Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the country and isn’t especially well known for its walkability ratings or scenic boulevards. But a few years ago, Livable Buckhead, an Atlanta neighborhood sustainable development group, spearheaded new zoning regulations that would change all of that. The group spent the last couple of years developing landscaping plans and streetscaping measures to go along with some new development that includes biking and walking trails, conservation, and greenspace with lots of pretty, leafy trees.

Now…those plans and the zoning regulations that went with them are in jeopardy thanks to the billboard lobby, which, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, spent about $200,000 persuading Georgia lawmakers to give it power over city streetscapes. The billboard companies will have veto power of those local projects, and trees that have already been planted may have to be cut down to placate the billboard owners and all of those crazy Georgians who want to make sure no driver misses their signs comparing Obama to Hitler, fall foliage be damned.

Local and statewide protests arise – not that they get much consideration from what passes for conservative politics, nowadays, in neo-confederate state legislatures. Most of the dillweeds who indulge themselves with Republican ideology consider the generation of corporate cash to be the highest priority on Earth. Even exceeding the suppression of women’s rights and stopping folks other than old white men from voting.

I can see the situation arising where trees which pass muster among billboard worshipers being silly enough to grow towards the sun like something green in an Earthlike state – and being chopped down a few years later by the Leaf Patrol added as a division of the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation to keep an eye on arboreal insurrection.

Test pic – again

Yes, I changed cameras, again.

Good old Amazon’s exchange/return policy comes to the rescue.

I was less and less happy with the Canon I bought a couple of weeks ago. One of the oldest truisms in photography still holds, e.g., the quality of the lens is most important. So, as pissed off as I am at Panasonic about their battery protocols, I still want a camera in my pocket that takes the best quality for the price.

I returned the Canon and bought a Panasonic ZS8. $70 lower price. 16X zoom. It fits fine in my pocket. And as far as I’m concerned, the image quality with the Leica lens is lightyears ahead of the Canon.

BTW – I wasn’t trying for depth of field. That was taken at a 500th/second.

Can you hear me now, God?

According to USA Today, church steeples across the United States are disappearing.

The steeple at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Wadsworth, Ohio is rotting away, having weathered the elements since 1842. But the $30,000 repair bill is a stretch for a congregation that numbers a mere 58. And aside from hefty maintenance costs which rise as steeples age, it seems that the steeple has “outlived its usefulness as a signpost.”

“People hunting for a church don’t scan the horizon, they search the Internet,” writes the paper’s Cathy Lynn Grossman. “Google reports searches for ‘churches’ soar before Easter each year.”

However…technology may also be what saves the ones which remain.

Grossman explains that Providence Baptist Church in McLean, Va., “managed to get a whole new aluminum steeple and $25,000 annually for its maintenance budget” by turning it into a cell tower…

As it happens, the “steeple-as-cell-tower” is quite a bit more common than one might think:

Of course, there are societal shifts that are hastening the death of the steeple, as well. Architect Gary Landhauser, who has designed nearly 30 churches, says, “”We have done a lot of church designs, but we haven’t done a steeple design in 15 years.”

In fact, many people today don’t even want their church to look like a church. These folks, Landhauser says, prefer their houses of worship to look “more like a mall.”

That probably suits the essential function of today’s established religions: fundraising to keep the church in business, a gathering place for people whose only sense of community remains the church they attended as a child.

The mall as church probably feels more like useful to today’s young churchgoers. That – and a place to meet others with needs more primal than catechistic.

How the city hurts your brain

The city has always been an engine of intellectual life, from the 18th-century coffeehouses of London, where citizens gathered to discuss chemistry and radical politics, to the Left Bank bars of modern Paris, where Pablo Picasso held forth on modern art. Without the metropolis, we might not have had the great art of Shakespeare or James Joyce; even Einstein was inspired by commuter trains.

And yet, city life isn’t easy. The same London cafes that stimulated Ben Franklin also helped spread cholera; Picasso eventually bought an estate in quiet Provence. While the modern city might be a haven for playwrights, poets, and physicists, it’s also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place.

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so…

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we’re crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it’s become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.

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