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Author Archives: WFHB Archivist

Books Unbound – “Exploring with Robert McAlmon, Part Three”

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Robert McAlmon was a ubiquitous presence among the “Lost Generation” of American expatriate writers during the 1920s and ’30s in Paris. Bisexual, he entered into a marriage of appearances with the heiress and lesbian writer Bryher. With her father’s great wealth, he started a press that published the early work of many of the most famous Modernists—and paid bar tabs and hotel bills for his friends Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. By the end of the 1930s, he was sinking into obscurity, bitterness, and alcoholism.

Books Unbound’s three-part program on this lesser-known Modernist concludes with poems and prose pieces from McAlmon’s 1921 collection Explorations, with a third short story from his fiction collection A Hasty Bunch (1922) to complement “A Vacation’s Job” and “A Boy’s Discovery” in parts one and two.

The first segment features McAlmon’s complete cycle of poems about what was then still the novel sensation of flying in an aircraft: “Aero-Rhythms” (Joan Hawkins), “Perspicuity” (Cynthia Wolfe), “Etherism” (Hawkins), “Aero-Metre” (Erin Livingston), “Consummation” (Tony Brewer), “Volplanetor” (Wolfe), and “Aero-Laughter” (Frank Buczolich).

The short-short story “Light Woven into Wavespray,” read by Phil Kasper, infuses gorgeous descriptions of seaside leisure with McAlmon’s pervasive ennui and contempt, and intimations of his sexuality. The central panel of the episode is “Mood Decisions,” a prose sequence (read by Brewer and Livingston) rife with biting humor, sharp images, and snark.

The episode closes with more poetry. Now almost a century old, the prescient “White Males” (Hawkins) treats its titular subject as a violent species facing extinction. Also included are “Today’s Music” (Wolfe), “Words” (Buczolich), and “A Modern’s Half Day” (Hawkins)

Special music for the episode comes from two classical composers who were active at the time of McAlmon’s literary career. The poems on flight are accompanied by excerpts from Igor Stravinsky’s symphonic poem “The Song of the Nightingale” (1917), conducted by Pierre Boulez and performed by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. McAlmon writes about Stravinsky in the prose piece “Thought Ghosts on Music” in Explorations:

“Strawinsky — a snigger chortled between Mozart and Schumann — ‘laughing up his sleeve at us, and not letting us in on the joke with titles as does Strauss,’ men behind me declared. The innovation jarred senses that ten conscientious years of musical training had grooved. An innovation that might cause them to retrain their senses. I could hear Strawinsky tittering up his sleeve, and hear the titter giggling along his ribs, making them to rattle — and that is another theme for modern music. I enjoyed Strawinsky. He might mean anything because he meant nothing.”

Additional music comes from Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, written during the time A Hasty Bunch and Explorations were published. The sonata is performed by Carlos Benito de la Gala and Alberto Gorrochategui Blanco on their album Kodaly and Ravel (KalilaDimna, 2011). Wind sound effect for the flight sequence was created by Mark DiAngelo via SoundBible.com.

Sarah Torbeck hosts, with announcer Jack Hanek. This episode was produced, written, and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck and Jack Hanek.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Women in Media: Facing Inequality

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Do those things that terrify you. Say yes to your audience. Be a good person. That was all advice that a panel of media professionals gave to aspiring journalists late last month. The discussion occurred on the last day of class in J200, the Indiana University School of Journalism’s introductory course on writing and reporting. The four panelists were all women, and a segment of the talk focused on gender inequality in the line of duty. Photojournalist Caitlin O’Hara, former WFHB News Director Alycin Bektesh, IU Office of the Provost communications director Jennifer Piurek, and veteran Bloomington newspaper editor Andrea Murray offer candid examples of sexism. Course instructor Chad Carrothers moderates the discussion in this WFHB community report.

Daily Local News – May 18, 2015

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County officials say they are confident that a recent sediment spill into Richland Creek has been remediated; The rural Southern Indiana town of French Lick, population 1,800, is expecting 40,000 plus visitors this week for the Senior PGA Championship; U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana has publicly speculated there could be a connection between the HIV outbreak plaguing Scott County and the area’s high food insecurity rate; Construction workers around Indiana are preparing for the repeal of the Common Construction Wage Law this July.

FEATURE
Do those things that terrify you. Say yes to your audience. Be a good person. That was all advice that a panel of media professionals gave to aspiring journalists late last month. The discussion occurred on the last day of class in J200, the Indiana University School of Journalism’s introductory course on writing and reporting. The four panelists were all women, and a segment of the talk focused on gender inequality in the line of duty. Photojournalist Caitlin O’Hara, former WFHB News Director Alycin Bektesh, IU Office of the Provost communications director Jennifer Piurek, and veteran Bloomington newspaper editor Andrea Murray offer candid examples of sexism. Course instructor Chad Carrothers moderates the discussion in this WFHB community report.

CREDITS
Anchors: Maria McKinley, Doug Storm
Today’s headlines were written by Jordan Guskey, Kara Tullman and Jerrod Dill.
Along with David Murphy for CATSweek, a partnership with Community Access Television Services.
Our feature was produced by Chad Carrothers
Activate! is produced by Jennifer Whitaker, along with the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network
Our engineer is Chris Martin
Our theme music is provided by the Impossible Shapes.
Executive producer is Joe Crawford

Firehouse Sessions – Jesse Lacy & Hilary Scott

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Jesse Lacy returns to the WFHB studio, this time he is joined by Hilary Scott, winner of the Folk/Americana Album Of The Year from The National Traditional Country Music Association.

SONGS
1. Pack of Dogs
2. Calls from Springfield
3. Like I Did

Brown County Day – Kade Puckett

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Kade Puckett joins us as part of our Spring Fund Drive special Brown County Day, performing live from the Pine Room Tavern in Nashville, IN!

Brown County Day – CPR

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CPR joins us as part of our Spring Fund Drive special Brown County Day, performing live from the Pine Room Tavern in Nashville, IN!

Brown County Day – Bartlett Foster Dutton

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Bartlett Foster Dutton joins us as part of our Spring Fund Drive special Brown County Day, performing live from the Pine Room Tavern in Nashville, IN!

Decades-Old Document Lists Bloomington Properties Suspected of PCB Contamination

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For decades, a group of chemical compounds called PCBs have caused massive problems in Bloomington. Although there has been relatively little public discussion about the contaminants in the past decade, a citizen group called Healthy Monroe County has recently reignited the issue. That has caused some in the community to call for more information about the current status of PCB contamination in the city. WFHB contributor Emily Beck brings us this report.

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Following requests from the public, several weeks ago the Bloomington Utilities Department released a list of properties in the city that may be contaminated with PCBs. The list includes residences that may have received polluted sludge given away as fertilizer decades ago by the Winston-Thomas Waste Water Treatment Plant.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a synthetic chemical harmful to humans. The Westinghouse Electric Company opened a Bloomington plant in 1957 and used PCBs as insulating fluid in capacitors and transformers. The chemical was banned in the United States in 1979, but not before spreading across Bloomington and the world.

Recently, controversy has surrounded the city’s list of properties. Members of the citizen group Healthy Monroe County, headed by John Smith, have been vying for government documents concerning PCBs. One of those documents is this list.

“As far as I know, people could be living in houses without knowing they’re contaminated,” Smith said. “There was one Herald-Times article published some time ago that addressed this list. It had a phone number to (Utilities Department Deputy Director) John Langley and said anyone that thinks they may have been contaminated on their property can give them a call and see if their address is listed. But one news article is really lacking for such a concern. I think the list should really be published.”

That Herald Times article was published in 2008, and gave an overview of the results from testing. The city provided Smith with a copy of the residence list several weeks ago. Smith has since provided a copy to WFHB.

The utilities department was hesitant about releasing the list, according to Langley. Langley has worked for the city for decades and he tested some properties for PCBs back in 1989 and 1990.  He says the list isn’t conclusive and it may not be completely accurate. The origins of the list go back to the mid-1970s, when city officials first realized PCB-contaminated sludge had been distributed to residents. At that time, Langley says the city decided to hold a press conference.

“And they said if you bring us a sample, we’ll test it,” Langley said. “The process was not controlled from a scientific standpoint whatsoever. So you could bring it in in a coffee can or a paper bag or whatever you wanted to. They sampled it and reported it later on a spreadsheet.”

Questions of accuracy

The list includes 126 properties throughout the city, lots of them in residential neighborhoods. But Langley says simply because a property is on the list, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is — or ever was — PCB contamination there.

Langley says most of the potentially contaminated sites have never been tested, often because the city couldn’t get permission to enter the property. He gives lots of reasons for that. Maybe an incomplete address was on file, or the original property owner moved and didn’t give a forwarding address, or the property owner was dead or unknown.

According to a testing report, “Although CBU has files on about 126 properties alleged to have received sludge, some of the files are very incomplete and not enough information exists to even contact the property owner.”

The utilities department began what is called a Uniform Testing Program in 1989. That included sending letters to 102 of the owners whose properties were on the list. They couldn’t get contact information for all 126.

72 out of the 102 letters were received. The rest were returned unopened, according to Langley. Just more than half of the property owners on this list were ever successfully contacted about the alleged contamination of their land.

The letters contained a questionnaire asking how much sludge property owners used on their yards. It also asked them to give the city permission to test their soil for the chemical, according to Langley.

39 property owners said no to testing. The letter made it clear that the results would be public record. Owners may have feared repercussions, including reduced property values or liability issues — and the city was concerned too.

“So it became obvious to us rather early, that information as to whether or not you’ve got PCBs, you can be on this list and we’ve got no proof of anything,” Langley said. “So do we really want to make public a list of maybe maybe nots? And if we do that, do we damage people who are either trying to sell real estate or buy real estate?”

In total, 29 of the 126 sites were tested for PCBs. The city tested 26 as part of the Uniform Testing Program. John Langley tested two before the program began, and one property owner opted to have tests done independently.

In most cases, the tests didn’t find PCB levels that government officials considered dangerous.

At seven of the sites, no PCBs were detected. According to that Herald Times article, “…four sites had detectable concentrations between .1 and 1 parts per million; twelve sites ranged from 1.0-3.7 ppm and three sites ranged between 3.7 and 22 ppm.”

If PCB levels were above 10 parts per million, which is a level determined by an EPA policy, a second test was done.

“The preponderance of the data said, “less than a part per million,” Langley said. “Great news.”

More contaminated sites possible

But the majority of the residences on the list — 97 total — went untested. Their levels can’t be known for certain.

Other sites could exist as well.

Some citizens took old capacitors home to harvest for their valuable parts. Local attorney Mick Harrison, who has been working on the PCB issue for decades, says that could have caused even more contamination.

“There were several of what we call salvage sites where folks had taken some of the PCB capacitors and transformers off the dump sites,” Harrison said. “They actually transported this material to their homes and salvaged the copper and aluminum for resale in their backyards, dumping the PCBs in the process. We now have a number of properties contaminated that way that are not being cleaned up.”

Despite concerns from some Bloomington residents, Langley says city officials have reservations about how this list of 126 properties is used.  He says the data on file could have come from a bad sample. Homeowners who had nothing to do with the sludge, but who own property on this list, could be damaged.

Smith and members of Healthy Monroe County, however, want property owners to know if PCBs are present in their soil — that way they can deal with contaminated land and avoid becoming sick from exposure.

In a recent interview with WFHB, Harrison asked the city to consider entering a mediation process with residents affected by contamination.

“I would encourage listeners to contact their elected officials locally and see if the city would accept our, at the moment, informal invitation…to sit down with us in a formal mediation…and to talk through the problem and to see if we can come up with a path forward that we can all agree on,” he said.

So far the city has not made any public statements in response to the request of a mediation process. Langley said citizens concerned about the possibility of PCBs on their property should contact the city utilities department for testing.

 

Editor’s Note: For some of the reasons explained in this article, WFHB has chosen not to publish the list of potentially-contaminated properties online at this time. Copies are available from the City of Bloomington. WFHB will continue researching the status of PCBs in Bloomington in the coming months. 

Books Unbound – Exploring with Robert McAlmon, Part Two

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“Exploring with Robert McAlmon” is a three-episode series of fiction and poetry by one of the lesser-known Modernists. McAlmon has been called a leading “spokesman of the post-war nihilistic pessimism of the Lost Generation.” He was publisher and hard-drinking companion of many of the major Modernists writing in English, including James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, H.D., Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway.

Graduation day at Indiana University brings the conclusion of “A Vacation’s Job”, as a white male college student combats his intellectual ennui with a summer job supervising manual laborers. David’s “racial tourism” brings him into contact with the vital culture of African Americans in the 1920s, but his experiences are constrained by racist prejudices and sense of superiority. (Listeners are advised that the story contains offensive and derogatory racial and ethnic characterizations and language that reflect attitudes of the 1920s.) “A Vacation’s Job” is read by Phil Kasper.

The short “A Boy’s Discovery” deals with sexual identity and childhood vulnerability, and like “A Vacation’s Job, hints at autobiographical elements, such as the author’s own peripatetic upbringing and bisexuality. Shayne Laughter reads a wistful, comic but unsparing story about growing up in small-town America. Both stories come from McAlmon’s 1921 short-story collection A Hasty Bunch.

Sarah Torbeck hosts, with announcer Jack Hanek. This episode was produced, written, and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck and Jack Hanek.

Special music for the episode comes from the 1920s classics ““Take Me Away from the River” by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra; “Sidewalk Blues” by Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers; and Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, written about the time A Hasty Bunch was first published. and performed by Carlos Benito de la Gala and Alberto Gorrochategui Blanco on their album Kodaly and Ravel (KalilaDimna, 2011)

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Daily Local News – May 11, 2015

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The Bloomington City Council has begun a process to make Bloomington’s Courthouse Square a Local Historic District; Fewer than 7 percent of Bloomington’s registered voters showed up to the polls during the municipal primary election last week; The reptile rescue and education team, Scaly Tailz, is asking for donations to help them relocate.

FEATURE
For decades, a group of chemical compounds called PCBs have caused massive problems in Bloomington. Although there has been relatively little public discussion about the contaminants in the past decade, a citizen group called Healthy Monroe County has recently reignited the issue. That has caused some in the community to call for more information about the current status of PCB contamination in the city.

ACTIVATE!
Our weekly segment spotlighting people working for positive change in our community.

CREDITS
Anchors: Emily Beck, Doug Storm
Today’s headlines were written by Sierra Gardner
Along with David Murphy for CATSweek, a partnership with Community Access Television Services.
Our feature was produced by Emily Beck
Activate! is produced by Jennifer Whitaker, along with the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network
Our engineer is Chris Martin
Our theme music is provided by the Impossible Shapes.
Executive producer is Joe Crawford

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