Hey, classical music is only human (5×8 – 8/7/12)

A musical assault on muggers, good morning Mars, reunited brothers in North Dakota, science and the traffic light


Metro Transit and Minneapolis officials are trying to figure out how to solve the problem of a crime-ridden Lake Street light-rail station. The Star Tribune reports authorities will install 24 high-definition cameras at the station to replace the eight standard cameras that are there now. From now on, anyone monitoring the station will be able to feel almost as if they’re at the mugging themselves.

But it’s not like they haven’t tried everything. This line in the newspaper’s story reveals the depth of their efforts:

Police have increased patrols and even added classical music in an effort to deter troublemakers.

A cockroach can survive a nuclear blast, the theory goes, but nothing can survive classical music. Other transit systems — Portland, Atlanta, Toronto, for example — have tried the tactic and in some cases, crime has dropped, although, according to The New York Times, one cop threatened to “shoot the speakers,” which rather defeats the point.

Besides, the kids aren’t that stupid. In West Palm Beach, the thugs just broke the speakers.

In Portland, there was a 42-percent reduction in the number of calls to the cops at transit stations, although it’s unclear whether that translates to a 42-percent reduction in crime, or a 42-percent reduction in the number of people who could stand the music long enough to report it.

Whatever. This, Anne Midgette wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, is elitism. And it’s pretty clear why using classical music on Lake Street hasn’t worked…

There’s nothing new about this use of music, nor is it limited to classical music. What we’re actually talking about is Muzak. Muzak sets out to improve the image of public spaces and, even more to the point, tap into music’s subliminal powers by inducing specific moods in its listeners, moods that will supposedly put them in the properly receptive frame of mind to consume whatever it is the space in question is selling.

By putting classical music in public spaces, stores and local authorities are effectively marketing those spaces and trying to induce people to behave more like model citizens. But in this context, the line between ”classical music” and ”Muzak” often becomes sketchy. If one thinks that Muzak is the default source for many of the places using classical music in this way, people’s aversion to it can be seen in a different light.

Recorded music in a public space has become a commodity, not an art. That people experience it as repellent may say little about their actual interaction with the music. When you’re passing through a space such as a bus terminal, music, however pleasing or noxious, tends to blend into the background. When you’re sitting still in the same space, the sound demands your attention – particularly when it’s a sound as dramatic as the Schubert trio.

If the cameras don’t work, Metro Transit officials may have to get desperate and install turnstiles to keep non-paying crooks and muggers out of the Lake Street station. That, the newspaper says, isn’t anything officials have talked about, although it notes Portland — the city that helped start this classical music approach — is considering doing so, an indication that Portland has learned what Minneapolis has learned: classical music is no match for a mugger, either.


The Jet Propulsion Lab makes great videos.

The first color photograph is in. Good morning, Mars.


It all could make science cool again.


Kenneth Corcoran and Edward Muir were born in Chicago to a woman who died after giving birth to her fifth child in five years. Their father dropped them off at a Catholic orphanage and — at age 4 and 6 — they were split up. That was 80 years ago. In North Dakota, Kenneth’s daughter started searching for her uncle to reunite the brothers but she was getting nowhere in her computer search.

That’s when she turned it over to her son, the Fargo Forum reports…

“He said, ‘Mom, you need a break. Just go away and let me play with this.’ And within 15 minutes, he’s yelling ‘Mom, get in here, I think I found Edward.’ And he did!” she said.

The brothers have now been reunited.


We can put a rover on Mars but we can’t seem to get traffic signals to not gum things up.

Related: How automakers use the Brooklyn Bridge to test automatic assistance sensors on cars. (Wired.com)



A day after a gunman kills people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a mosque burns to the ground in Joplin, Missouri. Officials contort themselves to avoid describing it as a hate crime.

A few days earlier, the imam had invited people of different faiths to a Ramadan meal.

Related: Twin Cities Sikh community opens its temple doors

Bonus I: Another reason why Olympics coverage should show fewer U.S. athletes and medal winners and more of the people who finish last.


Bonus II: Olympics fans show their patriotism and respect for the flag by showing their ignorance about the flag.

Bonus III: How do you pronounce Sikh? Not the way you think.


The FBI says it’s investigating whether the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin is an act of domestic terrorism, but says it has yet to determine a motive. Today’s Question: How do you define terrorism?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Voter misidentification.

Second hour: Moderate and conservative Republicans deeply divided in Kansas.

Third hour: Building a better science teacher.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): From “Debate Minnesota:” The 8th district DFL congressional candidates debate, recorded Tuesday night in Brainerd. Candidates are Jeff Anderson, Tarryl Clark and Rick Nolan.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – Emerging cyber threats and the future of cyber-security.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – There’s a population of one million in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and that’s just the college students. Wuhan is bigger than New York City, and is attracting big western investment. But it’s not nearly as well known as Shanghai or Beijing. The NPR Cities Project takes a look at the urbanization of inland China.

  • Pat Fair

    Thanks. Bob. I always enjoy starting my day with Jon Stewart.

    “I really feel like I could get you people to march on another county right now.”

  • Disco

    Just a wild idea out of nowhere:

    Bring home a few troops from Afghanistan. Train them to be police officers. Station them at Lake Street 24/7.

    Problem solved. And completely politically impossible.