Archive for 2013 February

Little on the dry side in California?

NOAA says it's not likely to change:

Drought map

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Seth humiliates Charlize in front of a billion people

The World's Most Famous Man throws it down, bringing the scorn to the 2012 Academy Awards and Seth McFarlane:

in the thick of the “We Saw Your Boobs” song, which must have lasted five minutes all by itself, this line jumped out at me: “Jodie Foster in ‘The Accused’”. And I thought to myself “wait, isn’t her nudity in that movie part of a *rape scene*?” It threw a really sour note into what was supposed to be light-hearted. 

But the in-depth thing I want to talk about is the “reaction shots” to the song, pre-taped by game actresses who were playing along. The substance of these reaction shots highlights just what’s so awful about McFarlane singing this song: mortification from most of the actresses and a little fist-pump of triumph from Jennifer Lawrence when he says we haven’t seen hers.

The song, the reaction shots and Seth McFarlane’s general attitude are all based on a commonplace and awful trope: that sex is a contest, and that men win and women lose when sex or nudity happens. It’s an archaic, prudish, creepy concept that derives from twisted notions about female purity and women-as-property.

McFarlane thinks if he has seen a woman’s breasts, he has won and she has lost, and he is now entitled to gloat about it. Women whose breasts Seth McFarlane has seen are meant to feel humiliated and degraded by that fact, even though it’s expected of actresses to show their breasts to get work. Meet the expectations placed on you by your industry, talented actresses? Too bad you’ve now injured your own dignity such that Seth McFarlane can mock you about it in front of a billion people. Even if your character is naked *because she’s being raped* (see point 2 above), it still amounts to a victory for Seth McFarlane to have seen your breasts.

If you watch the poor quality clip (in all senses of the word) you will see McFarlane make a mocking reference to seeing Charlize Theron's breasts, and see her hide from the camera in shame — or disgust. 

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Huge NextEra windfarm opens for business: Eagle dies

Can't resist a good picture of a threaened eagle:


Turns out that in late January at a huge wind farm near Mojave operated by a company called NextEra, just a month after operations began, an eagle was found dead.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife wasn't too happy about the project from the start, but Kern County approved it anyway. 

In August 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote: “The first full year of fatality monitoring [for the Pine Tree wind project] resulted in an estimated 1,595 fatalities per year, which — per megawatt (11.8 fatalities/megawatt) — is among the highest fatality rates being recorded in the nation . . . It’s reasonable to estimate that the proposed [North Sky River] project would have avian fatality rates equal to or greater than those observed at the adjacent Pine Tree wind facility.”When completed, North Sky River will have the capacity of 297 megawatts, one-tenth the output of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California.

Chris Clarke and Rewire report:

The North Sky River project, on 12,781 acres of private lands northwest of the town of Mojave, will top out at 297 megawatts of power when completed: roughly the same output as a mid-sized gas-fired plant, when the wind is blowing at the right speed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has calculated that the neighboring Pine Tree wind facility, a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power project, caused 11.8 bird fatalities per megawatt in the first year of monitoring; if North Sky River turns out to be of comparable hazard, that's about 3,500 birds per year counting on NextEra's good-faith hazard mitigation. Here's hoping their risk reduction works.

To be honest, I can't pretend to know if thousands of bird deaths are justified by the need for green energy, but in my experience this is an enthralling conflict – despite its brutality.

A drama, despite its lack of humans.

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David Perlman, the science reporter who just won’t quit

A few years back the science writer Chris Moody suggested we need to see scientists less as nerds and more as rock stars.

Yes, and by the same token, great science reporters too. 

In that vein, here's a lovely look at David Perlman, who has been reporting on science for the San Francisco Chronicle for longer than I have been alive. 

FRANCISCO — David Perlman had two deadlines on his mind as he elbowed
his way through the Exploratorium, cane in one hand, notebook in the

As the San Francisco Chronicle's veteran science writer,
Perlman has been covering the granddaddy of hands-on science museums
since it was just a glimmer of an idea in the fertile mind of physicist
Frank Oppenheimer, the "uncle of the atom bomb."

after 43 years in the elegant but drafty Palace of Fine Arts, the
museum was getting ready to close before moving to new digs on the
Embarcadero, and it was Perlman's job to chronicle the last day in its
original home.

So the first deadline was his own — 6 p.m. to make
the next day's paper with a front-page story. The second belonged to the
woman tagging along behind him.

She's "doing a story about the
oldest living reporter — me," Perlman told the amused museum staff. "She
has to be done before I die."

Science and journalism have come a long way since Perlman picked up a fountain pen and began to write.

For more of the Los Angeles Times story by Maria L. La Ganga, go here. Here's Perlman:


Overheard him pitching a story to his editors from the AGU last December. They weren't any more welcoming to his version than my editors were welcoming to me. Life in the big city. 

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Climate change: it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity

At least when it comes to working outdoors. An interesting study published this month in Nature looks at how rising levels of heat and humidity will impact work in military and civilian sites, and draws a broad conclusion: 

  By   2100   under active mitigation (Fig. 1c), the high stress of present-day India
(green Fig. 1b) expands over much of Eurasia and the greater
Caribbean region (green in Fig. 1c). Under the highest scenario
considered, by 2100 (Fig. 1d) much of the tropics and mid-latitudes
experience months of extreme heat stress, such that heat stress in
Washington DC becomes higher than present-day New Orleans,
New Orleans exceeds present-day Bahrain, and Bahrain reaches a
WBGT of 31.5 ◦C.

WGBT stands for Wet Bulb Global Temperature, a measure developed in the l950's by the Marine Corps to avoid heat stress injuries. Anything above 88 degrees F or 31 degrees C is considered hazardous, which means much less capacity for work out of doors for police, construction work, athletes, etc.  

Under two difference emissions scenarios, the study finds that labor loss due to heat stress doubles by 2050. Looking further into the future, later the ability to work out of doors falls dramatically, by 75% in warm months in places like Washington, D.C. 

Won't have as big an effect on white collar labor, due to air conditioning. A new social justice issue. 

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The suburban form of crack — the potato chip

From a typically first-rate NYTimes magazine story by Pulitzer winner Michael Moss: 

In 2011, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that shed new light on America’s weight gain. The subjects — 120,877 women and men — were all professionals in the health field, and were likely to be more conscious about nutrition, so the findings might well understate the overall trend. Using data back to 1986, the researchers monitored everything the participants ate, as well as their physical activity and smoking. They found that every four years, the participants exercised less, watched TV more and gained an average of 3.35 pounds. The researchers parsed the data by the caloric content of the foods being eaten, and found the top contributors to weight gain included red meat and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and potatoes, including mashed and French fries. But the largest weight-inducing food was the potato chip. The coating of salt, the fat content that rewards the brain with instant feelings of pleasure, the sugar that exists not as an additive but in the starch of the potato itself — all of this combines to make it the perfect addictive food. “The starch is readily absorbed,” Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, told me. “More quickly even than a similar amount of sugar. The starch, in turn, causes the glucose levels in the blood to spike” — which can result in a craving for more.

Which is why I call the potato chip the crack of suburbia. And I say that as an addict. 

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Now that the three point shot is golden, what about four?

Sam Farmer usually writes about football for the Los Angeles Times, but on All-Star Sunday he had a marvelous look at the three-point shot in the NBA, with the graphic to tell the story:

The three-pointer, first used by the NBA on a trial basis in the 1979-80 season, has morphed from a lightly used gadget to a cornerstone of the game. In that first season, teams averaged fewer than one three-point basket per game. Thursday night, for example, the Clippers made 16 three-pointers in a romp over the Lakers.

It's worked so well that many of us, including long time Laker coach  Bill Betka, think the time has come for a four-point shot: 

Bertka has pitched his own idea. He thinks there should be a four-point shot just inside the halfcourt stripe, a heave that would give a team trailing by two baskets a flicker of hope at the end.

"You could put the line at 40 feet," Bertka said. "Can you imagine some of the scenarios with a four-point shot? Just look at the way the three-point shot has created a lot of excitement, opened the floor up, stretched the floor. That's the way I like to play the game."

[Kylie] Irving, [the rookie phenom shooter], approves of the idea: "People would be growing up trying to become four-point specialists."

These guys — such as Dirk Nowitzki — can make that shot. 


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How Obama can get it done for a safe climate: Brownstein

Ronald Brownstein, perhaps the foremost political print journalist of recent years, in Quartz explains how and why the President will make a move to protect the climate. 

Note that the story begins with a fact the left and environmentalists generally will not like.

Though President Barack Obama lavished attention on climate change in both his inaugural address and State of the Union speech, he still has little chance of getting Congress to pass a law limiting carbon emissions. But he could achieve the same goal using regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and he is now in a better position to withstand—and even welcome—the confrontation with the energy industry this would entail, thanks to both economic and political shifts.

The key economic change is the surge in domestic production of natural gas spurred by the growing use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That creates a cheaper alternative to coal-generated electricity and has eased fears that restrictions on carbon would send utility bills soaring. “The economic prerequisite for a major move against coal is low gas prices,” says Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. “So economically the table is set.”

This leads, the writer argues, to a new political wedge issue. The rise of fracking and cheaper energy from natural gas freed by fracking undercuts the coal industry, as simultaneously we see the rise of a new political alliance, of young women, Latinos, and gay men which diminishes the um, Appalachian vote.

An EPA move against coal-fired power would follow that pattern. One senior Obama adviser said the White House now believes that forcing the GOP to debate the issue will benefit Democrats politically by creating hurdles for the GOP with younger voters. “Republicans will eventually realize their position on climate for young people is the equivalent of their position on immigration for Latinos,” said the adviser.

Yes…and in many cases these young voters are Latino, who are as invested in a safe climate as any other group of voters, as we recently discussed here.  

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Billionaire vs. climate change: Thomas Steyer

Wonderful story from Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post on a Bay Area billionaire who has put his money — many millions of dollars — where his mouth is on climate change:

Steyer is taking on a []prominent public role. On Sunday, he spoke to a crowd that organizers estimated at 35,000, gathered on the Mall to call for a stronger national climate policy.“I’m
not the first person you’d expect to be here today. I’m not a college
professor and I don’t run an environmental organization,” he said. “For
the last 30 years I’ve been a professional investor and I’ve been
looking at billion-dollar investments for decades and I’m here to tell
you one thing: The Keystone pipeline is not a good investment.”

To string another couple of good quotes together:

03steyer0681359232812“I feel like the guy in the movie who goes into the diner and says,
‘There are zombies in the woods and they’re eating our children,’ ”
Steyer said.

And, in light of the fact that the climate is changing too quickly for policy-makers:

“If we can win every single battle and lose the war, then we’re doing
something wrong,” he said.

Love this guy! Embarrassed I haven't heard of him before. 

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The environmental regrets of James Fennimore Cooper

In the first of the famous Leatherstocking Tales, a novel called The Pioneers, in the introduction the author mentions a regret about the arrival of the white man to the Otsego region of upstate New York:

Though forests still crown the mountains of Otsego, the bear, the wolf, and the panther are nearly strangers to them. Even the innocent deer is rarely seen bounding beneath their arches; for the rifle and the activity of the settlers hare driven them to other haunts. To this change (which in some particulars is melancholy to one who knew the country in its infancy), it may be added that the Otsego is beginning to be a niggard of its treasures.

From 1823


I guess from the start some writers noticed what we did to this land. 

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