Archive for 2010 August

The “Kochtopus” and climate change

The political blogosphere has been buzzing about a huge story in The New Yorker by Jane Meyer on "the Kochtopus."

To put it in short, just as Hillary famous said, there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy, funded by $100 million from the ultra-right-wing Koch brothers, who run a fossil fuels empire. The amount of money they have poured into climate change denial and environmental deregulation is especially shocking….as much as thirty million to a non-profit called the Mercatus Center. Meyer goes on:

The Wall Street Journal has called the Mercatus Center “the
most important think tank you’ve never heard of,” and noted that
fourteen of the twenty-three regulations that President George W. Bush
placed on a “hit list” had been suggested first by Mercatus scholars.
Fink told the paper that the Kochs have “other means of fighting [their]
battles,” and that the Mercatus Center does not actively promote the
company’s private interests. But Thomas McGarity, a law professor at the
University of Texas, who specializes in environmental issues, told me
that “Koch has been constantly in trouble with the E.P.A., and Mercatus
has constantly hammered on the agency.” An environmental lawyer who has
clashed with the Mercatus Center called it “a means of laundering
economic aims.” The lawyer explained the strategy: “You take corporate
money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank,” which “hires people
with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming
studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of
their funders.”

In 1997, for instance, the E.P.A. moved to reduce
surface ozone, a form of pollution caused, in part, by emissions from
oil refineries. Susan Dudley, an economist who became a top official at
the Mercatus Center, criticized the proposed rule. The E.P.A., she
argued, had not taken into account that smog-free skies would result in
more cases of skin cancer. She projected that if pollution were
controlled it would cause up to eleven thousand additional cases of skin
cancer each year.

In 1999, the District of Columbia Circuit
Court took up Dudley’s smog argument. Evaluating the E.P.A. rule, the
court found that the E.P.A. had “explicitly disregarded” the “possible
health benefits of ozone.” In another part of the opinion, the court
ruled, 2-1, that the E.P.A. had overstepped its authority in calibrating
standards for ozone emissions. As the Constitutional Accountability
Center, a think tank, revealed, the judges in the majority had
previously attended legal junkets, on a Montana ranch, that were
arranged by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the
Environment—a group funded by Koch family foundations. The judges have
claimed that the ruling was unaffected by their attendance.

Once again, no matter how I try, I can't be cynical enough for the 21st century, it seems.

And neither can our president, perhaps. The subtitle for the piece is "the billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama." This Sunday Frank Rich took up that theme in the TImes, adding a lot of shocking details, and concluding:

When wolves of [Rupert] Murdoch’s ingenuity and the Kochs’ stealth have been at
the door of our democracy in the past, Democrats have fought back
fiercely. Franklin Roosevelt’s triumphant 1936 re-election campaign
pummeled the Liberty League as a Republican ally eager to “squeeze the
worker dry in his old age and cast him like an orange rind into the
refuse pail.” When John Kennedy’s patriotism was assailed by Birchers
calling for impeachment, he gave a major speech denouncing their “crusades of suspicion.”

And Obama? So far, sadly, this question answers itself.

Take a look at JFK's speech, and you'll see Rich has a point:

In the most critical periods of our nation's history, there have
always been those fringes of our society who have sought to escape their
own responsibility by finding a simple solution, an appealing slogan,
or a convenient scapegoat.

Financial crises could be explained by the presence of too many immigrants…And under the strains and frustrations imposed by constant tension and
harassment, the discordant voices of extremism are heard once again in
the land. Men who are unwilling to face up to the danger from without
are convinced that the real danger comes from within. They look
suspiciously at their neighbors and their leaders. They call for a 'man
on horseback' because they do not trust the people. They find treason in
our finest churches, in our highest court, and even in the treatment of
our water. They equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the
welfare state with socialism, and socialism with communism.

Sound familiar?

President Obama, your move.

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Peak cinema: Are the movies fading out?

Lately I've been asking friends and acquaintances a simple question: What are you really looking forward to seeing in the movie theater?

Last year the answer I heard, again and again, was: Avatar. And this summer the answer was equally predictable: Inception

Each of these movies, though flawed in details and heavy-handed in execution at times, was undeniably a big, original, memorable experience. And both became huge hits.

But lately my friends and acquaintances are drawing a blank. I detect much greater excitement around the long-form television series such as Mad Men and The Big C.

And deservedly so. From President Obama (who sent a congratulatory letter to Mathew Weiner, of Mad Men fame, after the third season) to the critics, it's pretty much agreed that the long-form series has taken the dramatic crown away from the movies. (As David Denby of The New Yorker said this week: "But Hollywood, obsessed with gratifying a young audience, no longer has much use for drama—at least, not in big-budget movies.")

For spectacle, movies still can't be beat (outside of Las Vegas, maybe) but drama?

Forget about it. When it comes to drama –aka story — movies look more and more like zombies.

Walking, but dead. Not knowing it.

Hollywood itself, the biz, is sending the same message. Veteran Hollywood reporter Patrick Goldstein, of the Los Angeles Times, this week quoted a "top agent":

"You'd have to say that this summer we probably hit bottom, certainly
creatively, with so many studios relying on so much pre-sold branded
product," said one top agent. "It's really hard, because so much money
has left the business, there are fewer distributors than ever before and
many of the ones that are left have cash problems, so it's just
agonizingly difficult to get a movie up and running right now."

The New York Times today profiles the legendarily profligate Joel Silver, who with his fellow mega-producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Scott Rudin, and Brian Grazer, is being pressured to cut back by the studio…or get cut lose. 

As a movie producer friend told me a year or so ago, about his struggles to get movies made:

"Stars don't work. Concepts don't work. Nobody knows what works anymore."

Maybe not in the theater.

But on the big screen (at home) everyone knows what works…


Hell, we know these characters by name. What movie people can we say that about?

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La Niña will bring heat, wind to SoCal: Forest Service

According to the seasonal outlook from the US Forest Service, the developing La Niña will bring warm temps and an increased possibility of Santa Ana winds to SoCal in the next two months:

So far this summer, the lingering affects of the El Niño have kept much of the state under a cool, onshore flow regime as low pressure remained over the Pacific Northwest. This pattern will likely give way to more of an amplified pattern this fall with high pressure developing over the Southwest. This would lead to above normal temperatures for the September into early October timeframe. It is during that period when large fire potential may be highest for the season. Later this fall, cooler than normal weather may occur November into early December.

Here's their graphic version. (La Niña, which influences the course of the Pacific jetstream, tends to bring heat, wind, and dryness to SoCal, but cooler, wetter conditions to NorCal, above I-80.)

The Forest Service predicts four or five big fires in SoCal this fall. [h/p: OC Science]

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Plan Z: preparing for the mega-catastrophe

This week our nation's most influential newspaper ran a thoughtful, tough-minded op-ed on what to do about climate change that broke a lot of new ground…and seems to been overlooked.

I haven't linked previously, because I'm still mulling its ideas. But the time has come to recommend it to my readers. It's called Disaster at the Top of the World, because it begins with a lengthy look at the melting of the Arctic, but it really should be named after the solution it proposes: Plan Z.

It presumes that we as a society will not act to prevent climate change, which by now is becoming  inescapable. And it argues that those societies which nonetheless are prepared to respond to disaster, will be better able to survive the "climate shock" we will see more of in the 21st century:

Policy makers need to accept that societies won’t make drastic changes
to address climate change until such a crisis hits. But that doesn’t
mean there’s nothing for them to do in the meantime. When a crisis does
occur, the societies with response plans on the shelf will be far better
off than those that are blindsided. The task for national and regional
leaders, then, is to develop a set of contingency plans for possible
climate shocks — what we might call, collectively, Plan Z.

How do we prepare for what we have not faced before? Not a philosophical question any longer. 

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Against flying: Joel Achenbach

Another edition in my wildly popular series.

Not really! It's just that Wa-Po columnist Joel Achenbach is so funny, when he rants against a rantable subject, he must be linked. Here goes:

Air Schlep

To save the company a couple hundred bucks I eschewed the slightly
expensive Southwest flight to Houston and instead bought a ticket on a
cheapo airline called Air Schlep or something to that effect. I believe
the airline's motto is Feel The Discount.

They want you to have a visceral awareness of how much money you're saving. They're thinking about a new ad campaign:

Air Schlep: So Unpleasant that Crashing Doesn't Seem So Bad, Relatively Speaking.

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The darkness of our time

Last year at the Ojai Foundation, Joanna Macy in a talk explored an idea that at a glance seems so simple — obvi, if you will — but which has nonetheless refused to leave my mind.

The darkness of our time squeezes us into an awareness of our love for the world. 


It's tempting to draw conclusions, and perhaps point fingers, but to sit with that; well, that's plenty…

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Obvi: a new word for the 21st century

That's according to Gary Shteyngart, author of the brilliant/disturbing Super Sad True Love Story…and according, today, to Doonesbury, ever on the cutting edge of American culture:


Obvi: a word whose form embodies its meaning.

It's so obvious, you don't need the whole word.

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A global warming skeptic walks outside…

…and meets reality. Courtesy of Lee Judge, of the Kansas City Star


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Newspapers catch up to climate science

Or at least, The New York Times does

Is Weather Chaos Linked to Global Warming? Probably.

"The summer’s heat waves baked the eastern United States, parts of Africa and eastern Asia, and above all Russia, which lost millions of acres of wheatand thousands of lives in a drought worse than any other in the historical record.

Seemingly disconnected, these far-flung disasters are reviving the question of whether global warming is causing more weather extremes.

The collective answer of the scientific community can be boiled down to a single word: probably."

Exciting stuff! For those of us who want to see climate science taken seriously…on the front page, no less. Where the Times goes, other publications tend to follow…

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USS Climate Change Denial hits a rough patch

From the inimitable Mr. Toles….


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