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The beauty of nature fading away: Haruki Murakami

In the best speech I have read since the last Vaclav Havel speech I read, Haruki Murakami reflects on the tsunami that hit Japan a year ago and  "mujo" — the fading of beauty.

If we think about nature, for example, we cherish the cherry blossoms of spring, the fireflies of summer and the red leaves of autumn. For us, it is natural to observe them passionately, collectively and as a tradition.  It can be difficult to find a hotel room near the best known sites of cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves in their respective seasons, as such places are invariably milling with visitors.

Why is this so?

The answer may be found in the fact that cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves all lose their beauty within a very short space of time. We travel from afar to witness this glorious moment. And we are somehow relieved to confirm that they are not merely beautiful, but are already beginning to fall to the ground, to lose their small lights or their vivid beauty. We find peace of mind in the fact that the peak of beauty has been reached and is already starting to fade.


The speech is called As An Unrealistic Dreamer.

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From first idea to immortality in The New Yorker

The cartoon editor of The New Yorker, Bob Mankoff, now offers a blog that looks at the history of this institution of wit.

Featured this week is Michael Maslin, who first began submitting to the magazine at age sixteen. Seven years later, he had his first success. They took a cartoon he submitted and gave the idea in it to somebody else.  

In the hands of Whitney Darrow, Jr. it became this: 


The charm is undeniable, and it's also to be found in Maslin's story of his first cartoon, which led to another 700 or so.  

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How dry will it be in California in 2012?

According to NOAA, La Niña is beginning to fade away in the Pacific, but it's probably too late to expect much precip this year.

La Niña-like impacts are expected to persist into the upcoming season.

For those of us who like rain, snow, and water, this is not great news. So far this year has been pretty dry, although not an all-time low by any means. Here's a plot for snow in the Northern Sierra, courtesy of the state's Department of Water Resources.

CA Northern Sierra Precip
So it's going to be a dry year. But as water expert On the Public Record points out, it could have been a lot worse — were it not for a bizarrely wet December last year, we could have been in the fifth year of a drought.

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Rush Limbaugh is a grotesque monster: Tom Toles

Tom Toles rarely draws El Rushbo, but when he does, Limbaugh always ends up looking like Jabba the Hut. 

For Toles, it's uncharacteristically unfunny. A little grotesque, disturbing.  

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Heard any frogs in your backyard lately?

A UC Berkeley researcher quoted in the U.S. News and World Report warns that the frogs in your backyard — if any — may be on their way out. 

If you happen to see a frog hopping around in your back yard, take a good look— it might not be around for much longer. Ecologists are increasingly warning that due to habitat destruction, widespread infectious disease and climate change, amphibians are facing "extinction in real time."

As many as 40 percent of amphibious species, which include frogs, salamanders and newts, could be facing "imminent extinction," according to David Wake, a researcher at the University of California Berkeley.

"It's happening around the world … we're seeing it on our watch," he says. "People talk more about birds or mammals because they are charismatic, they're in the public eye. I'm concerned about rhinos and tigers, too, but in the meantime, we're losing the things that are in our backyard."

Not sure this is true for Ventura County, SoCal: Will find out this week. Could be a story! Here's a picture of one of two species of frog in this area which are "listed" as a threatened or endangered species, the CA red-legged frog, courtesy of environmental consultant David Magney.


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Limbaugh a threat to GOP, warns conservative — in 2009

Almost exactly three years ago, David Frum — for decades a proud Reaganaut who, among his other efforts for the conservative cause, wrote speeches for George W. Bush — broke from right-wing orthodoxy and denounced Rush Limbaugh as a danger to the party. 

Every day, Rush Limbaugh reassures millions of core Republican voters that no change is needed: if people don't appreciate what we are saying, then say it louder. Isn't that what happened in 1994? Certainly this is a good approach for Rush himself. He claims 20 million listeners per week, and that suffices to make him a very wealthy man. And if another 100 million people cannot stand him, what does he care? What can they do to him other than … not listen? It's not as if they can vote against him.

But they can vote against Republican candidates for Congress. They can vote against Republican nominees for president. And if we allow ourselves to be overidentified with somebody who earns his fortune by giving offense, they will vote against us.

In 2009, these words were a warning. Today the GOP is fleeing from Limbaugh's "abuse," though (as George Will pointed out this morning) candidates still sound afraid of him.

In Frum's memorable outburst, he also insisted that the GOP needed to face climactic reality. 

We need an environmental message. You don't have to accept Al Gore's predictions of imminent gloom to accept that it cannot be healthy to pump gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We are rightly mistrustful of liberal environmentalist disrespect for property rights. But property owners also care about property values, about conservation, and as a party of property owners we should be taking those values more seriously.

The GOP now knows what Frum means, and is taking steps to innoculate candidates and the party from Limbaugh's bullying sleze, but to date has expressed no interest in the health of the planet. 

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Could global warming give us late, light flu seasons?

In Ventura, the Star's first-rate health and society reporter Tom Kisken documents the lightest flu season in decades. Seriously, for some reason, it's been 29 years since the flu season took until February to get started. Usually it happens by Christmas. That's according to the official Centers for Disease Control.

Why so late?

In California and Ventura County, officials also declared influenza a late bloomer that began to emerge in late January and early February. Activity remains mostly light.

Ask why and they say the same things as the feds: No way to know.

Over at The New York Times, Charles Pierce has an idea

Scientists are still studying the complex relationship between flu and climate, and other factors, like an absence of new strains or immunity from past vaccinations, may have contributed to this season's low numbers. But there is reason to believe that the weather is an important factor. For one thing, studies have extablished that the flu virus thrives in low humidity, and therefore low temperature — there's a reason, after all, that the flu usually hits us in January, not July. Cold weather also dries out the nasal passages, making it easier to get the coughts and sneezes that transmit the flu. And it keeps us cooped up inside, passing illnesses around. 

Ironically, the same La Niña pattern that may have suppressed flu transmission this year in the U.S. among humans could in the Pacific among birds lead to the creation of new and potentially dangerous viruses, according to a study presented in December at the AGU.

"We know that pandemics arise from dramatic changes in the influenza genome. Our hypothesis is that La Niña sets the stage for these changes by reshuffling the mixing patterns of migratory birds, which are a major reservoir for influenza," says Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, Mailman School assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences and co-author of the study.

The climate giveth, and the climate taketh away. 

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Bill Clinton: Does Mitt Romney have father issues?

Bill Clinton reacts to Romney's now-infamous 2008 call to Let Deroit Go Bankrupt

"Every time I hear Mr. Romney talk about this, I think his daddy must be turning over in his grave."

Romney has already indicated that he disrespects his father's politics. Could his scorn for the American auto industry also be rooted in a psychological conflict with his late, great father George Romney? . 

Let the armchair analysis begin…

[From NBC News, via Political Wire.] 

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