Happy: May 2005 Archives

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin The Canary oil on canvas 19.75" x 17"

I'd love them even if they didn't sing, but they do, and now we're learning how much they want to, and why they want to.

Because of the beautiful garden which is enclosed by our two relatively-low-rise Manhattan apartment buildings lying along the great eastern flyway, we can easily imagine that we live inside an aviary. I recognize the sounds of sparrows, blue jays and mourning doves, and I'm proud and delighted to know the distinct call of the male cardinal who shares the courtyard with a mate who is almost as red as he is, and sometimes he comes to visit our own small garden annex one story up, but I have no idea who is producing the other delightful sounds which come from our wonderful arboretum/sanctuary.

The other afternoon, just after a guest had remarked upon the quiet of our apartment (at least the north side), I found myself resting on a bed near an open window trying to determine what I could detect of the machine sounds of the great city which surrounds our walls.    . . . nothing. Instead I found myself enchanted by what seemed to be an avian composition more exotic than usual, composed mostly of percussive clicks acccompanied by a gentle whistle (think Martin Denny's "exotica"). When it's the real thing, and you don't need mosquito netting, it's sheer ecstasy.

This morning while reading the papers I came across one of those odd news/feature reports which manage to overshadow everything else I may have read that day, the sort of find which makes reading hard copy news still worth its demands in time and forearm disturbance.

New York Newsday's staff writer Jamie Taylan (undoubtedly another bird lover, but then who isn't?) reports that birds raised in isolation can learn a complex tune not part of their heritage but will switch to their mating song once spring arrives, even if they've never heard it before.

Scientists at Rockefeller University in Manhattan found that young male canaries raised in the lab had no trouble learning a computer-generated song that had no resemblance to the song their father would normally teach them.

But one morning, the scientists arrived at the lab to discover that the birds, on the brink of adulthood, were chirping the song they were destined to sing - even though they had never heard it before. The research appears today in the journal Science.

. . .

Somehow, [former post-doctoral student at Rockefeller Timothy J.] Gardner said, they do their own editing, splicing and rearranging of the computer-generated song so that they are singing the song, speaking the language understood by songbirds.

. . .

Gardner and his colleagues, including Rockefeller neuroscientist Fernando Nottebohm, say that the mature birds in the experiment sing their species-specific song, yet every once in a while the old riff from their youth can be heard.

. . .

Nottebohm said that the ability of the songbirds to sing two distinct types of song "is reminiscent of people speaking two languages and being able to use both. Not a small feat for birds."

But, sitting next to a tiny animated parakeet by a window at the edge of a garden filled with his chattering distant relatives, at least the news about two languages doesn't surprise me at all.

[image from Web Gallery of Art]

no armor and no hairshirt

The Washington Post reported three weeks ago (in an article syndicated in excerpts today in New York Newsday) that DaimlerChrysler has finally decided to let us dumb Yankees have a chance to buy the company's brilliant design concept for the twenty-first century, the Smart two-seater, called the fourtwo.

For the last few years they had been planning to introduce a much larger SUV version [huh?] of the tiny car which endeared itself to [smart] Europeans from the moment it hit the road in 1998. Now it looks like Americans' affection for the SUV has begun to cool, at least partly because we are rapidly closing the gap between the cost of gasoline here and in Europe, and 50 to 70 mpg is beginning to look very attractive. Several months back the company cancelled its ill-conceived steroid-Smart project.

DaimlerChrylser was about to make a big mistake, Warren Brown argues in his piece:

The United States is a part of the world. In terms of consumption of the world's resources, especially fossil fuels, it is one of the greediest parts. We often have a hard time here distinguishing between water and gasoline, which is why we waste both.

At the moment, the United States is also the world's single largest automotive market, which means that it's the most lucrative. Big money seems to dance well with big cars and trucks, and we have developed an entire ritual, replete with mythological beliefs, to keep the rhythm going.

Big is better, ba-boom, ba-bang. Big is safer, ca-choom, ca-chang! Ain't nobody if you drivin' small; but you're ruling the world if you ridin' tall!

Given that nonsense, it was understandable that the people at DaimlerChrysler initially were suckered into the idea of bringing the first Smart to the United States as the Smart ForMore SUV. Americans understand SUVs, DaimlerChrysler reasoned. They don't understand micro-cars.

But a Smart SUV had no originality and couldn't possibly have stirred the imagination as the original concept has. Also it couldn't have competed on a cost basis with the crowded existing market of down-sized imitators of up-sized armored-personnel-carrier wannabees, and the burden on pricing imposed by shipping costs and an increasingly-unfavorable exchange rate would have sealed its fate even before it could show whatever stuff it might have.
It matters not that the City Coupe and its other two-seat iterations have not earned a penny since their introduction in 1998. What matters is that they have stirred consumer imagination, and that they are selling, albeit not yet at a profit. With a few fixes -- a slightly larger wheelbase, better automatic and/or manual transmissions and a tad more cargo room -- they could become as much of a hit as the now-famed Mini Cooper, or even bigger.

That is what DaimlerChrysler now plans to do with the Smart two-seater in the U.S. market. It is going to make the car a bit larger but do nothing to destroy its urban funkiness. It will meet all existing U.S. safety and tailpipe emissions rules, of course; and, yes, adhering to those tougher standards will mean an increase in price.

But the Smart City Coupe and its mini-two-seater siblings now have something going for them that they did not have before -- an American reality check on spending at the gas pump. Growing world oil demand and consumption mean we can say goodbye to the days of dirt-cheap gasoline here.

If that's not enough to attract our attention, it also comes as a convertible. Take that, Toyota! The Prius highbrid won't even offer a sunroof as an option, because Toyota says it would compromise its streamlined gasoline efficiency. But we shouldn't be required to wear hairshirts just because we want to be a little more green.

[image originally from the Brazilian site, carsale]

untitled (Rote Fahnen) 2005

In the spirit of May Day, the spirit of the Left and, yes, the spirit of the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la.

This page is an archive of entries in the Happy category from May 2005.

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