Archive for 2013 January

What Obama has in common w/JFK…and Kurt Cobain

In a recent interview with Franklin Foer of The New Republic, Barack Obama said he liked to shoot:

FF: Have you ever fired a gun? 

BO: Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.

FF: The whole family?

BO: Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there.

In this Obama is much like past presidents, including John F. Kennedy Jr., who in this picture, taken at Camp David before his inauguration, went skeet shooting with Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams. JFK, Gore Vidal, and Tenn Williams

Or, in the words of Kurt CobainLoad up on guns and bring your friends

[pic via BeschlossDC

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Researcher clicks w/reporter: true stories become movies

For decades the Los Angeles Times has had a Column One feature on the front page, at the top left of the front page, usually, in the A1 position. It's a story-telling opportunity for good reporters. Yesterday Chris Lee hit the ball out of the park with his profile of the unusual reader/Hollywood producer Stuart Klawans.  

It's good to see, because with the newspaper's struggles as of late in two separate bankruptcy court, the big hits have been few and far between. But no matter!

Here is the subject of the profile, Stuart Klawans, the reader/producer: 

Nearly every day, for upward of 10-hour stretches, the independent film producer speed-reads police blogs, articles from RSS feeds and niche-interest journals in dogged pursuit of an elusive prize: a story on which to base his next movie.

His biggest hit to date is "Argo." Before the film landed seven Oscar nominations (including one for best picture) and twoGolden Globes (including best drama picture), before it generated more than $180 million in worldwide grosses, "Argo" existed as a declassified story in the quarterly CIAjournal Studies in Intelligence, which Klawans happens to have been perusing one day in 1998.

"It's like going on the beach with a metal detector," the self-described news junkie says of his process. "Like Kanye West looks through records to sample on his songs, I'm looking for stories to turn into films."

Klawans, 44, has established himself as Hollywood's least likely movie macher by heeding the advice of his mentor, the old-school producer David Brown ("Jaws," "A Few Good Men"): "Read everything you can get your hands on."

A truly inspiring story about,an incredibly hard worker at work in the world of fact and story.  


Even more impressively, Klawans worked with a local reporter, Joshuah Bearman, who shared his taste for unusual stories. Bearman got good assignments, based on Klawans' tips, and went on to research, interview, and very successfully narrativize the stories Klawans found. He made the movie Klawans imagined vivid in prose, enticing the involvement of big Hollywood players such as George Clooney and Ben Affleck. 

Astonishing, and brilliantly timed, as Argo with its latest SAG wins contends for Best Picture

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The real split in global warming politics: Young vs old

A great Washington Wire column in the Wall Street Journal quantifies the true political split on the queston of global warming. It's not Republican vs. Democrat. It's old versus young. In the words of pollster Dante Chinni:

While politicians and the media tend to focus on the
Democratic/Republican divide on the issue, the real split is evidenced
in other ways – the urban/rural divide, the education divide and,
crucially, the age divide. And when you add all those differences
together and look at it through geography, you see glaring differences
in how various places understand the issue.

It's necessary to read the whole column (and look at the charts) to understand Chinni's point in any depth. But here's a start: 

The two biggest supporters of man-made climate change are the
Immigration Nation (light blue on the map below) and Campus and Career
(green) counties. Those places don’t share a lot of commonalities. There
are big differences in income and education levels. But they have one
common trait – they are younger than other places.

In both of those county types roughly 50% of the population is under
34 years of age – it’s actually slightly more than 50% in Immigration
Nation. In most of the county types that figure is 45% or less. And both
Campus and Careers and Immigration Nation counties have fewer people
over 65, about 11%. Nationally that figure is 13%. 

What does that mean? It indicates that while there are a variety of
factors that go into people’s attitudes on global warming, age is
profoundly important. In reporting in Campus communities in particular,
Politics Counts has found environmentalism is held out as one issue
where most all students agree. Liberal and conservative. Democrat and

If those young people hold on to those beliefs as they age, it has
big implications for the global-warming debate in the coming years. As
pollsters like to say, the numbers above represent a “snapshot in time.”
While the divide in the chart above is stark, it may not always be.

In other words, Chinni hints, if the GOP doesn't change its position to reflect the viewpoint of young people, they stand to lose a generation on this issue.

Fascinating to yours truly that no demographic group is more concerned about global warming than immigrants. Could this reflect experience learned south of the border?
Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton researched this a couple of years ago, and believed the answer was yes.

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Wilco live in Hollywood a year ago: January 2012

It's the next best thing to a free concert. Amazing that they give it away. 


Photo by Becky Davis

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Gov. Brown on climate change in CA: This is different

From Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State speech, on climate change:  


When we think about California’s future, no long term liability presents as great a danger to our wellbeing as the buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

According to the latest report from the World Bank, carbon dioxide emissions are the highest in 15 million years. At today’s emissions rate, the planet could warm by more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, an event unknown in human experience. California is extremely vulnerable because of our Mediterranean climate, long coastline and reliance on snowpack for so much of our water supply. 

Tipping points can be reached before we even know we have passed them. This is a different kind of challenge than we ever faced. It requires acting now even though the worst consequences are perhaps decades in the future. 

Again California is leading the way. We are reducing emissions as required by AB 32 and we will meet our goal of getting carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. 

Key to our efforts is reducing electricity consumption through efficiency standards for buildings and appliances. Over the last three decades, these pioneering efforts have saved Californians $65 billion dollars. And we are not through yet. 

We are also meeting our renewable energy goals: more than 20% renewable energy this year. By 2020, we will get at least a third of our electricity from the sun and the wind and other renewable sources—and probably more.

Meanwhile the California Air Resources Board reports that the state's emissions of greenhouse gases from industry and electricity generation continues to fall:

California's industrial emissions of greenhouse gases dropped for the third straight year in 2011, according to figures released this month by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The decline adds to a so-far unbroken trend since CARB started tracking the emissions in 2008.

The figures include emissions from power plants, oil and gas production and refining, cement manufacture and a few other industrial processes. They do not include CO2 emissions from motorized transportation or from sources such as households and commercial businesses, which altogether account for about half the state's emissions.

According to CARB, the state's reported industrial greenhouse gas emissions totaled 111,044,931 metric tons of CO2 or its equivalent — down from 117,624,594 tons in 2010. The reduction, 6.58 million tons of CO2, is equivalent to taking 1.37 million cars off the road. Furthermore, 2011's emissions represent a drop in annual emissions of more than 22 million tons from 2008's levels. That's about a third of what humans worldwide emit each day.

This doesn't include car emissions, but it's still impressive, given the rise in emissions worldwide. 

Bill Whalen, a GOP speechwriter for Pete Wilson, called the speech "quirky." Uh-huh. Shrugging off the threat of the scorching of a state of 37 million as a matter of no matter.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at the short-sightedness: Pete Wilson's embrace of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino proposition 187 was similarly myopic, and the beginning of the end for the GOP in CA. 

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Who needs sleep? Insomnia cookies available now!

From Pacific Standard comes the news that insomnia cookies — aka, a wonder drug called Modafinil, is available that will make sleep all but unnecessary. An hour or two a night will be plenty, it is said. No problems. 

The past week has seen a flurry ofattention around the latest purported wonder drug, Modafinil, which claims to make sleeping basically optional, with no ill effects. Just pop one, and two hours of sleep is plenty—with no headaches, “sleep debt,” hangover feeling, withdrawal, post-dopamine crash (as with that other common sleep-avoidance drug, speed) and little addiction risk.

On the other hand, a simple googling for side effects brings the fact that it's first compared to amphetamine, and this cheerful list. 

InsomniacookieSIDE EFFECTS:
 The most common side effects of modafinil are headache,upper respiratory tract infectionnausea, nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. Modafinil also may cause serious skin reactions, multiple organ hypersensitivity reactionshigh blood pressurefainting, psychosis, thoughts of suicide, and abnormal heart beats.

Reference: FDA Prescribing Information

Color me skeptical, more along the lines of Chloie Aridjis, from the on-line journal of Granta, who has had insomnia in her earliest memories, and wonders  in Berlin if she ever will really sleep well. 

Whenever I seek assurance that my insomnia is not something that arrived with adulthood or even with adolescence, but rather much earlier in life, I return to a poem my father once dedicated to me: ‘El insomnio empieza en la cuna’ (‘Insomnia Begins in the Cradle’). My sleepless nights began long before I knew the ailment had a name. My parents would look into my darkened room and see me standing in my crib, gripping the bars and peering over the rim, waiting for something or someone to come and save me from the desolation. Decades later, I experience that same old resistance to laying the day down to rest.


Insomnia: Who in their right mind would want more of that? 

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Global warming can be confusing: “Sudden stratospheric warming” brings chill to East Coast

From Andrew Freedman at Climate Central:

"An unusual event playing out high in the atmosphere above the Arctic Circle is setting the stage for what could be weeks upon weeks of frigid cold across wide swaths of the U.S., having already helped to bring cold and snowy weather to parts of Europe.

Forecast high temperatures on Monday, Jan. 21, from the GFS computer model.
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: Weatherbell

This phenomenon, known as a “sudden stratospheric warming event,” started on Jan. 6, but is something that is just beginning to have an effect on weather patterns across North America and Europe. 

While the physics behind sudden stratospheric warming events are complicated, their implications are not: such events are often harbingers of colder weather in North America and Eurasia. The ongoing event favors colder and possibly stormier weather for as long as four to eight weeks after the event, meaning that after a mild start to the winter, the rest of this month and February could bring the coldest weather of the winter season to parts of the U.S., along with a heightened chance of snow.

Sudden stratospheric warming events take place in about half of all Northern Hemisphere winters, and they have been occurring with increasing frequency during the past decade, possibly related to the loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. Arctic sea ice declined to its smallest extent on record in September 2012."

Note the caveat: Judah Cohen and other researchers have demonstrated skill in predicting winters by predicting the polar vortex, as discussed here a month ago, but have not definitively linked global warming to colder winters. And researchers are just beginning to think about this and the West Coast. 

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The winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster: FDR

E.J. Dionne, the voice of liberalism on National Public Radio and in the Washington Post, in his admiring column on Barack Obama's second inaugural address, points out that — like FDR before him, not to mention Ronald Reagan — the re-elected President unapologetically laid out his agenda, and linked it to that of the Founding Fathers. 

But along the way Dionne quotes a fascinating passage from FDR's second inaugural address:

We of the Republic sensed the truth that democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable… We refused to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.

"The winds of chance, and the hurricanes of disaster" is a phrase that resonates especially seventy-six years later, after Sandy, and in light of stories such as the latest masterpiece from the New York Times on sea-level rise (a must read for anyone interested in the subject). 

Consider this: 

The question [of sea level rise] has taken on new urgency in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which caused coastal flooding that scientists say was almost certainly worsened by the modest rise of sea level over the past century. That kind of storm tide, the experts say, could become routine along American coastlines by late in this century if the ocean rises as fast as they expect.

In previous research, scientists have determined that when the earth warms by only a couple of degrees Fahrenheit, enough polar ice melts, over time, to raise the global sea level by about 25 to 30 feet. But in the coming century, the earth is expected to warm more than that, perhaps four or five degrees, because of human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Experts say the emissions that may make a huge increase of sea level inevitable are expected to occur in just the next few decades. They fear that because the world’s coasts are so densely settled, the rising oceans will lead to a humanitarian crisis lasting many hundreds of years.

Just to casually drop that in, a "humanitarian crisis lasting hundreds of years!" Jeez. Or consider this story, another from today, on a new study about melting in the Arctic:

FRISCO — German scientists say they’ve discovered another positive global warming feedback which could cause Arctic sea ice to melt faster than anticipated. During recent research expeditions in the Arctic they’re observed a large number of melt ponds on the surface, covering about half of the one-year ice.

“The ice cover of the Arctic Ocean has been undergoing fundamental change for some years. Thick, multi-year ice is virtually nowhere to be found any more,” said Marcel Nicolaus, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.

“Instead, more than 50 percent of the ice cover now consists of thin one-year ice on which the melt water is particularly widespread. The decisive aspect here is the smoother surface of this young ice, permitting the melt water to spread over large areas and form a network of many individual melt ponds,” Nicolaus said.

We can't know today if OBama's brave words will be matched by federal and perhaps international action(s); and, if they are, if those actions will be enough to save our coastal cities.

But his refusal to leave us to the winds of chance; well, funnily, I have yet to hear criticism of that effort. To, you know, save us.

I've heard plenty of criticism — for his confrontational tone, for wanting to expand government — but not of the desire to avert climate disaster. See this discussion on FOX News as evidence


[Pic of expanding meltponds in the Arctic from the scientists leading the study]

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Obama promises action on warming in 2nd Inaugural

In his second Inaugural Address this morning, President Obama promised action on climate change

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not
just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat
of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our
children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming
judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging
fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path
towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.
But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot
cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new
industries — we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our
economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and
waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will
preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend
meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

As veteran political observer Ronald Brownstein tweeted, this is a logical step:

After contraception, dreamers, gay marriage, immigration +guns, climate next logical step for a prez who won w/out non-col + rural whites

But as Philip Bump pointed out for Grist, it's also a step the President hasn't taken before. Shortly after the election, Obama's rhetoric on the issue was about "tough choices," not the necessity for action. 

Bump writes:

It is fair to find this [change] heartening. It is the strongest, broadest
argument for responsible stewardship of the planet: that we have an
obligation to the future.

In a Twitter discussion about this question, Andrew Revkin was heavily criticized by climatologist Michael Mann, among others, for not being blunter about calling a denier a denier. (Revkin thinks that's not helpful.) But, based on interviews, Revkin published a list of no-regrets actions the President could take now, including speeding the shift away from the burning of coal. 

Fair enough, but it appears that Obama is thinking much bigger, as a chorus of voices on the left, from John Dickerson at Slate (who calls on him to pulverize the GOP), Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, and Michael Tomasky at the NYRB all think he should. Tomasky suggests that the President is a transformational figure, as he promised he could in 2008. Maybe we just haven't noticed:

But it could be that this is what transformation often feels like. Perhaps this is what the New Deal felt like; after all, liberals were constantly frustrated with Roosevelt in precisely the same ways today’s liberals wish more from Obama. Shortly into his second term, Roosevelt riled the left by wholeheartedly embracing deficit reduction. Obama has only halfheartedly embraced it, which is progress.

Gun control, immigration, and climate change are the remaining big domestic items on the president’s agenda. The clock ticks.


Think the Prez knows what time it is. His favorite campaign line comes to mind:  Fired up. Ready to go.

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“That’s not a safe altitude”: Moonrise Kingdom

Do you ever change your mind about a work, or act, or a person? 



Last year I saw "Moonrise Kingdom" and hated it. Unbearably cute, I thought. But then I started to remember it with affection, how preposterously droll it was. (See above.)

Then I saw about a thousand reviewers love it, and even nominate it for Best Picture. And then I came across this jaw-dropping interactive version of the script, shoot, and movie. 

And now I have to admit, I liked "Moonrise Kingdom." 

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