Blaming the media turns vicious: May 2017

If there’s one fact in a tempestuous and confusing political scene that the vast majority of Americans agree about, it’s this:

You can’t trust the media.

According to Gallup, about 3/4ths of Americans disrespect the media. Among Republicans only 14 percent trust the media. Folks, it’s not daring and rebellious to blame the media for being irritating. It’s a daily occurrence.

Hell, it’s boring. It’s near idiotic.

Over the top? Not so much. Especially since the blaming has escalated. Reporters have gone from being verbally attacked as “among the most dishonest people on earth” to being attacked legally and physically. Funny how that happens.

A little over a week ago, a reporter in West Virginia was arrested for trying to talk to an agency director in a hallway. His crime? Asking a question. Pulitzer Prize-winner Deborah Blum reports in Undark:

On that morning in early May, Heyman, a 54-year-old journalist with the Public News Service, was running down a hallway in the West Virginia State Capitol building, waving his cell-phone recorder at Thomas E. Price, the newly installed Secretary of Health and Human Services. He was trying to get an answer on whether changes to health care law proposed by Congressional Republicans would allow health insurance companies to consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition. Such a designation could allow insurers to deny coverage to victims of abuse — principally women — or to charge them higher premiums.

Audio of Heyman’s encounter with Price went viral. “I heard that domestic violence is going to be a potential pre-existing condition,” Heyman called out upon encountering the secretary in a public corridor. “Do you think that’s right or not?” The recording is notable for many things: for the rapid thud of footsteps, for Price’s stony silence, and for Heyman’s increasingly out-of-breath and ultimately unfulfilled requests for an answer. It is also notable for concluding with the reporter’s arrest on a charge of “willful disruption of state government processes.”

But that was West Virginia, right? Couldn’t happen here.

Five days ago, in Washington, D.C. a reporter from Roll Call was pinned against the wall by two Federal Communications Commission employees and then throw out of the building. His crime?

He tried to ask a question.

From the NYTimes:

Fire days ago, a reporter said he was pinned against a wall by two security officials in a public hallway at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington on Thursday after he tried to ask a question of a commissioner.

The reporter, John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, said the officials’ behavior did not end there. They then waited for him outside a restroom, one of them followed him to the lobby and, under the implied threat of force, ejected him from the building, Mr. Donnelly said on Friday.

And today, a Republican candidate running for Congress in Montana’s sole district, physically attacks and “body slams” a reporter to the ground for, what? Yes, asking a question:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

The attack was witnessed by a FOX News television team, which added this jaw-dropping detail.

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave.

Jacobs went to the hospital for x-rays. After a couple of hours, the police charged the candidate with assault.

When do we start calling attacks on the press attacks on our democracy?

Maybe it starts with the Billings Gazette. Tonight they pulled their endorsement of Gianforte and added:

Although we’re greatly troubled by this action against a member of the media who was just doing his job, to make this an issue of media intrusion or even a passionate defense of the role of a free press during an election would be to miss the point.

If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn’t accept it from a man who is running to become Montana’s lone Congressional representative.

We will not stand by that kind of violence, period.

[edit]

We’d point out that all the other questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters, including one case where he joked about ganging up on a reporter, must now be seen through a much more sinister lens. What he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.

Last month, it turns out, Gianforte made an appearance at a high school. A man in the crowd made an allusion to strangling a reporter in the crowd. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported what happened:

According to the Ravalli Republic, at a campaign event in Hamilton in April, a man in the audience asked Gianforte “how can we rein in the news media?” The man then looked at the Republic reporter and “raised his hands as if he would like to wring his neck,” the newspaper reported. In response, Gianforte said: “It seems like there is more of us than there is of him. I don’t have a simple solution for you. I will say that doing town hall meetings and getting out and visiting with people is very important.”

Yes, in other words, it was “a joke.” About killing a reporter. Ha ha ha.

Blame the media: what a hoot!

 

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Sierra Nevadas to change this century: UCLA researcher

The snowpack this year in the Sierra Nevada soared to 170% of normal: just two years ago at the annual measuring date at the end of March (attended by Governor Brown) it stood at 5%.

This extreme variability of the California climate will become routine this century argues researcher Daniel Swain of UCLA.

Here’s my story on his appearance tomorrow in Ojai, at the Krotona Institute.

“If you zoom in on the models and take into account the highly varying topography and the diminishing snow cover, you find that the Sierra Nevadas are actually going to warm much more than we [scientists] thought this century,” he said. “Temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees at some locations in the mountains.”

The March study, by Neil Berg and Alex Hall at UCLA, warns that droughts could all but eliminate the snowpack in the mountains on which California depends for water storage. The authors conclude, “Going forward, it is likely to become more difficult to store and manage municipal, agricultural and ecological water needs within a warmer climate, especially during periods of extreme drought.”

This could challenge the State Water Project, which depends on the slow melting of the Sierra snowpack to keep farmers in water through the long summers. Swain thinks that people are begining to understand the need to adapt to climate change, but he still thinks that even scientists have been slow to recognize how quickly the state is moving toward a polarization of the climate.

“It really is the extremes that matter now in California,” he said. “We already have seen patterns of extreme wetness and extreme dryness in recent years despite the fact we haven’t seen a significant change in the long-term annual mean [for rain and snow]. I argue that when it comes to precipitation in California, it’s not that the average doesn’t matter, it’s that the extremes matter much more.”

Swain has become famous for his remarkable California Weather Blog . Here’s a recent image he posted, of “wave number six” making its way around the world, altering weather patterns as it goes. Reading his blog offers a way for civilians to find their way into an understanding of meteorology and climate science.

wavenumbersix

 

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Prez enraged by fake news of global cooling

The most amazing detail in a story today on Politico a story today on Politico is not that a piece of news sent President Trump into a rage. That seems — if reports of him shouting at CNN can be trusted — to happens on a daily basis. No, the shocking/appalling news is that 45 exploded in rage at when an aide slipped him a fake news story about how global cooling was feared by scientists back in the 1970’s.

This myth has been thoroughly disproved. John Fleck, an excellent reporter, and two highly reputable scientists published a paper on this myth almost ten years ago for the American Meteorological Society. They wrote:

An enduring popular myth suggests that in the 1970s the climate science community was predicting “global cooling” and an “imminent” ice age, an observation frequently used by those who would undermine what climate scientists say today about the prospect of global warming. A review of the literature suggests that, on the contrary, greenhouse warming even then dominated scientists’ thinking as being one of the most important forces shaping Earth’s climate on human time scales.

Yet a national security aide named K.T. McFarland, a former candidate who lost to Hillary Clinton, and subsequently worked for FOX News, somehow put a fake Time magazine cover on this myth that sent him into a rage against the media. Politico reports:

Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.

Brings to mind a scary quote from “1984” recently posted by a NYTimes critic:

“When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science.”

To see the fake news cover that sent this duped individual over the edge, click here. One can only imagine the comedy routine that must have been Ivanka talking her dad out of this insanity.

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The forgotten radicalism of Jack London

In the West Coast’s leading literary journal, Threepenny Review, Howard Tharsing explores the forgotten radicalism of Jack London. Like Tharsing, London knew the relentless humiliation of poverty all too personally and all too well.

Tharsing writes:

Having myself been homeless for most of 2012, I was struck by the recognition that life for the poorest among us, the unhoused, is today very much what it was a hundred years ago when Jack London wrote about his own experience of poverty. Like me, London knew the general torpor into which poverty drives you because, having no money, you can find simply nothing to do; the hostility which the comfortable direct at you, and the ease with which they pass judgment; and the small humiliations, such as the exhausting hours spent waiting in line for a bed in a shelter only to be turned away when you finally reach the front of the line because the place is suddenly full.

London’s youth sounds almost movie worthy:

In 1896, when Jack London was twenty, the San Francisco Chronicle had referred to him as “the boy socialist of Oakland.” His fame grew out of his power as a public speaker. Week after week he stood on a soap box in the little park in front of City Hall arguing that the unbridled capitalism of his day condemned a great many of his fellow citizens to lives of degradation and misery while enriching a small number outrageously. Dozens of speakers held forth in the park every week, but Jack London always drew the biggest crowds and held their attention better than any other speaker. And in 1897, when Oakland passed a law forbidding public meetings on public streets, London challenged the law by getting himself arrested for climbing on that soap box and speaking. Oakland authorities were surprised that instead of paying the fine or consenting to spend a few days in jail, London demanded a jury trial. Acting as his own lawyer, London argued that the law violated the constitution’s guarantees of the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and he won.

As anyone who has ever read London’s great The Road will recall, he was fearless and relentlessly active  — recently his photographs from London, focusing in part on the poor he wrote about in “The People of the Abyss,” were exhibited.

Below is a photo he took in 1902, of Spitalfields Garden in London, of homeless women sleeping.

homelesswomenphotoJackLondon

 

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David Foster Wallace thinks about nature

In his classic (and often hilarious) essay for Harpers on the Illinois State Fair from l993, Ticket to the Fair, David Foster Wallace ruminated on many questions, including how people see nature in the MidWest.

He wrote:

Rural Midwesterners live surrounded by unpopulated land, marooned in a space whose emptiness starts to become both physical and spiritual. It’s not just people you get lonely for. You’re alienated from the very space around you, in a way, because out here the land’s less an environment than a commodity. The land’s basically a factory. You live in the same factory you work in. You spend an enormous amount of time with the land, but you’re still alienated from it in some way. It’s probably hard to feel any sort of Romantic spiritual connection to nature when you somehow have to make your living from it. 

To concentrate this thought: because rural Midwesterners can’t escape nature, they can’t romanticize it either. By contrast — he theorizes later in the piece — Easterners can see going to nature as getting away from it all because they don’t have much of it in their life.

A theory: Megalopolitan East-Coasters; summer vacations are literally getaways, flights-from — from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the neural wear of too many stimuli. Thus ecstatic escapes to mountains, glassy lakes, cabins, hikes in silent woods. Getting Away From It All. Most East-Coasters see more than enough stimulating people and sights M-F, thank you; they stand in enough lines, buy enough stuff, elbow through crowds, see enough spectacles. Neon skylines. Convertibles with 110-watt sound systems. Grotesques on public transport. Spectacles at every urban corner practically grabbing you by the lapels, commanding confines and stimuli — silence, rustic vistas that hold still, a turning inward: Away. 

Here’s an example of an “Away” in Wallace terms: Half Dome last week from over its back (Eastern) shoulder, or officially, the “subdomes.

And as a Westerner it’s true for me too — I believe in “Away.”

HalfDomefromthesubdomes

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Want success as a writer? Get rejected.

So argues Kim Liao, persuasively,  in Lit Hub. She said she managed 43 rejections last year — a personal best.

Last year, I got rejected 43 times by literary magazines, residencies, and fellowships—my best record since I started shooting for getting 100 rejections per year. It’s harder than it sounds, but also more gratifying.

In late 2011, a writer friend was sharing her experiences of having months of uninterrupted writing time at her residencies at the Millay Colony, Ragdale, and Yaddo. I was staggered by her impressive rates of acceptance. You probably have one of those friends, too—you know the one I’m talking about, that friend who is a beautiful writer, but who also seems to win everything? I could barely believe that she had the balls to apply to—let alone, get accepted to—several residencies, a prestigious fellowship, and publications in journals I had actually heard of.

I asked her what her secret was, and she said something that would change my professional life as a writer: “Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”

This small piece of advice struck a deep chord in my fragile creative ego. My vulnerable ego only wants to be loved and accepted, to have my words ring out from a loudspeaker in Times Square while a neon ticker scrolls the text across a skyscraper, but it’s a big old coward. My ego resists mustering up the courage to submit writing to literary magazines, pitch articles, and apply for grants, residencies, and fellowships. Yet these painful processes are necessary evils if we are ever to climb out of our safe but hermetic cocoons of isolation and share our writing with the world.

Even simpler, of course, 43 rejections mean probably submitting a piece of her work to some journal or other every single week of the year. Impressive! Need to get back to submitting pitches and work on Fridays. Who cares about the irony of the process: get cracking.

rejections

 

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For Atlas Obscura: Why Scientists Are Worried about a Landslide No One Saw or Heard

Here’s the lead (er, lede) I pitched to Atlas Obscura, which (to my delight) they ran unchanged, giving me a welcome chance to write an interesting story I learned about at the AGU Fall Meeting from Kevin Krajick of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:

If a steep mountainside in a remote national park gives way and drops 200 million tons of rock into deep glacial water, will anyone hear?

In the case of the massive landslide that fell into Taan Fjord, Alaska, the answer was no—and yes.

No one heard the mountainside fall into the fjord on a rainy night on October 17, 2015. No one saw an almost unimaginably huge and powerful wave crest at 600 feet and sweep down the inlet. The tsunami obliterated forests on both sides of the inlet, and its rush to the sea dragged an iceberg over a marine spit and out into coastal Icy Bay. The enormous wave, an estimated 60 feet high in the middle of the inlet, traveled eight miles to open water and made it all the way to about five miles north of Icy Bay Lodge.

Thousands of miles away, at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory north of New York City, a pair of geologists noticed an unusual squiggle on a seismograph. The team of Göran Ekström and Colin Stark has in recent years pioneered a new method of detecting unusual seismic events that don’t send out the fast-moving compressional waves characteristic of earthquakes. Instead they look for subtler surface waves, or undulations, that radiate much more slowly through the surface of the earth. These are the kinds of waves sent out by collapsing volcanoes, calving ice sheets, and massive landslides.

“There are not that many landslide detections by us in a given year, maybe just half a dozen,” says Ekström. “We now know that when we detect something, it is often spectacular. We had just detected another landslide in the Yukon a week earlier, and had it confirmed, so I was quite excited when I saw another detection in the Saint Elias range, especially since it was not detected by anyone else, and because it was so large.”

Story looks great (sez me). Thanks to the photographer Bjorn Olson and the scientists at Ground Truth Trekking for the photos and for taking time out from vacations in exotic places with little connectivity for taking the time to talk to me, such as the wonderfully articulate expedition leader Bretwood “Hig” Higham.

Here’s the rest of the story, with a favorite photo, of the Taan Fjord and Mt Saint Elias. Please read!

taan fjord

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What is the musical analog of poetry? (Moonlight)

Composer Nicholas Brittel talks to Song Exploder about how he discovered the theme to Moonlight:

On what drew him to Moonlight:
When I first read [the script], I was just overwhelmed by this feeling of beauty and poetry, that was really the starting point for my personal experience with the film. There was just this incredible sense of beauty and of sensitivity and tenderness and intimacy in the screenplay. What was amazing to me when I first saw the early cuts of the film after it was shot was how well Barry had preserved that feeling of poetry in the movie.

My first emotional reaction to the film was that sense of poetry. I actually was saying to myself, What is the musical analog of poetry? Among the first things I sent to Barry was a piece of music I wrote that I called “Piano and Violin Poem,” because I was sort of trying to channel this idea — that actually [turned into] Little’s theme.

When it comes to the Academy Awards tomorrow night, La La Land will probably win for best score (and most other categories) but Moonlight’s score is in fact musical poetry — deserves rememberi

As the composer manipulates the sound itself, algorithmically dropping the pitch and in other ways reworking Little’s theme, refracting it so it’s almost but not quite unrecognizeable, we hear memory itself grinding gears, struggling to process the emotions it stirs up.

The only flaw in the score, sez me, is that the official version doesn’t include “Hello Stranger,” the classic R&B song with which the story concluduesa. So I”m including it here.

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Drought over for Ojai? Not yet, but…

Much of Ventura County has now (this water year, beginning in October) reached 100% of annual rainfall. Cheri Carlson writes in the VC Star

This is the first winter since 2011 for the area to get above-average rainfall.

Much of the Ventura County has had 120 to 180 percent of normal rainfall so far this year, ranging from 10 to 21 inches.

Four cities  – Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard and Port Hueneme – already have recorded as much rain as they normally would get in a year.

20170207_ca_noneIn Ojai, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, we have are at about 150% of normal, at over 15 inches (including over 10 inches in January). Yet look at the US Drought Monitor and it shows much of the county still in extreme drought.

As Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford writes today in the NYTImes, this wild ride from extreme drought to extreme precipitation will not surprise climate scientists.

“The other bitter reality is that this extremely wet winter will not wash away the drought. Depending where one looks, California lost out on one to three full years of precipitation from 2012 to 2016. That is a lot of water to make up in one year, and as of last week almost half of California was still in a state of drought. The moisture deficits that have accumulated during the drought have not been seen in our lifetimes. They have caused thousands of California residents to go without running water, resulted in groundwater contamination and permanent loss of aquifer storage capacity, and have severely stressed tens of millions of trees. As a result, even after this wet year, rural communities, groundwater aquifers and forest ecosystems will still feel the effects of the drought.”

But if we’ve had 150% of normal, and we are between one and three years of water deficit, surely it’s plausible to think that a really good storm — one that might drop between 3 and 10 inches of rain over six days, putting us at over 200% of an average water year, in record-setting territory, as is forecast — might bring us nearly to normal? Such as this image (via UC San Diego)  showing water vapor smacking California repeatedly over the next week?

Sounds plausible. Let us pray for rain — with not too much flooding. Just enough extremity, but not too much.

iwv_USWC_loop

 

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The madness of Trump’s “alternative facts”

A tsunami of derision has attached itself to the President Trump’s best explainer/apologizer KellyAnne Conway’s assertion last week that the President’s press secretary was offering alternative facts to explain the President’s obviously wrong belief regarding the (small) size of the crowd at his inauguration. Even some of the best coaches in professional basketball, led by Steve Kerr of the Warriors, have joined in the mockery.

When asked about his [Houston Rockets] team struggling, going 3-5 over their last eight games, [Coach Mike]D’Antoni told reporters: “Actually we won all those games. I’m going with that alternative fact thing.”

The best column I’ve seen on the subject of the new administration’s um, assertion of untruths, comes from Dana Milbank, the most popular newspaper columnist in the country, who points out that President Trump is “barking mad.”

“It was almost raining,” the new president told CIA workers in Langley, recounting his inaugural address, “but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny. And then I walked off and it poured right after I left. It poured.”

Really sunny? I was there for the inaugural address, in the sixth row, about 40 feet from Trump, and I remembered the exact opposite: It began to rain when he started and tapered off toward the end. There wasn’t a single ray of sunshine, before, during or after the speech. Was my memory playing tricks on me?

No, of course not — the current President of the United States has so little regard for fact that he will without a second’s qualm lie about even the weather, even about the same weather experienced by thousands of his fellow Americans, and millions more watching on television. Many professionals are saying in public that he is in fact clinically mentally ill.

But this week along with the derision and the psychoanalysis I heard some words of wisdom (methinks) from a much-loved California public official, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, who told a packed crowd of hundreds of cientists, bureaucrats, and advocates at the California Climate Change Symposium that we must not be distracted from their work in the environment and on climate change by “alternative facts.”

I quote Hunter Thompson, who said in the Nixon years “when the going gets tough, the weird turn pro.” It’s tempting to want to do all things but if we’re going to be pros we’re going to have to focus. It means people need to work on one or two or three issues. Being scattershot is not the right response. I think people sort of get this: if I care about reproductive rights I get with Planned Parenthood. I join the ACLU to defend immigrants rights. But the question [I have for you] is, how do I plug in on climate change? What I want to do in closing is pass that challenge on to you. I think that there is a ready and willing public and it’s not enough for government agencies to say this is what we’re doing, even though I think we’re doing our best work in years.

I’ve gone this far without mentioning “alternative facts.’ There’s a nuance here. If you focus totally on alternative facts you’re allowing someone else to drive the debate and it’s on us to focus on the real facts…That means not going down ratholes and that we really focus in a way that is meaningful and not scattershot. I think we are to up to it and we are going to drive this debate. So don’t get deterred. We are going to be pros.

Yes, we are — and it starts with believing our eyes. Shouldn’t be impossible, as Orwell reminds us.

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