Archive for 2013 April

Alice Waters comes to Ojai for Food for Thought

Alice Waters, famous for Chez Panisse, the restaurant, and for her many cookbooks, brought her own wise self to a celebration of the tenth year of Food for Thought, friends Dave White and Jim Churchill's effort to bring gardens, fresh food, and more to the schoolchildren of Ojai. Wonderful produce (produced in the schoolyards) along with inexpensive and great picnic food, some heartfelt words, music, kids, festivity. And a lovely picture of Jim, Dave, and Alice, courtesy of photographer and nice guy Rich Reid:


Visited with Alice briefly to rave about her great cookbook The Art of Simple Food, from which I have learned so much. (It's also a fav of Michael Pollan's.) She said a new edition will be out this fall. 

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George Jones and the Replacements: two drama queens

This week George Jones, by consensus one of the greatest of country singers, passed away. Have to admire his ability to tell a story (as in the wonderfully rich Southern California, a duet with Tammy Wynette) but also his ability to make a story:

…make no mistake, he could be menacing, a word that came to be
associated with Jones for much of his life. To sugarcoat his worst
impulses is to ignore the truth: When Jones was drunk, coked up or
otherwise out of his mind, he turned bad. In "I Lived to Tell It All,"
Jones' astonishingly honest 1996 autobiography, he tells of being drunk
on his tour bus and shooting five bullets from a .38 near a teetotaling
manager who wouldn't join him in finishing a bottle of vodka.

Jones once drove a lawn mower to a liquor store after his wife hid
his car keys, and then sang about it in a ditty called "Honky Tonk
Song": "I saw those blue lights flashing over my left shoulder / He
walked right up and said 'Get off that riding mower.'" Jones was one of a
kind — in both the best and worst use of the term.

The same could be said of Paul Westerberg and the Replacements. Westerberg was just as witty, and just as wild, if not more so. From Aquarium Drunkard

Paul-westerberg"Toward the end of their touring behind Pleased to Meet Me, the
Replacements gigged in Portland, Oregon with the Young Fresh Fellows
opening. And in the history of notorious Replacements shows, this one
ranks high. Though it’s difficult to nail down the exact story behind
the fabled night, the following anecdotes show up repeatedly: the ‘Mats
pelting the Young Fresh Fellows with various objects during their set;
the band breaking into a room (the show was held at the now-defunct Pine
Street Theatre) purloining costumes (of which they then wore ontstage);
the band being far too drunk to play effectively; clothes being taken
off and thrown into the audience — and the audience, in some cases,
returning the favor. This last part is my personal favorite as
apparently Tommy Stinson remembered, after throwing his clothes into the
crowd, that he had left ten dollars in his pocket. After raging at the
crowd to throw his pants back, he instead rifled through the clothes
thrown on stage, located twenty dollars in a pocket, and danced around
the stage in victory. Another account just reported that they stumbled
through a set of less than 45 minutes, played a cover of Bryan Adams’
“Summer of ’69″ and then split. Either way, a typical ‘Mats show."

Is it possible that the desire to tell a story is part of a desire to be dramatic? To be a diva, an acter-out, a drama queen? And that genre is less important than that desire to live in drama? 

Regardless, you have to love the Replacements for writing a song about the city they dissed — and at the end apologizing for their antics. "Portland, I'm sorry." To apologize to an entire city! Reckless charm. 

Like the lyrics:

Shared a cigarette for breakfast

Shared an airplane ride for lunch

Sitting in between a ghost

And a walking bowl of punch

Can you play a little hunch?

Predicting a delay on landing

Well I predict we'll have a drink

Lost my money on the first hand

Got burned on a big fat king

And your ears are gonna ring

And your eyes just wanna close

Nothing changing I suppose

A fav Mats' song…check it out.

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On “weather whiplash” in Midwest: Jeff Masters

Climate change skeptics often scoff at the idea that climate change could lead to extremes of both drought and flooding. It is counter-intuitive, but all too real a phenomenon.

Dr. Jeff Masters gives it a name — "weather whiplash" — and explains how it happens: 

I'm often asked about the
seemingly contradictory predictions from climate models that the world
will see both worse floods and worse droughts due to global warming.
Well, we have seen a classic example in the Midwest U.S. over the past
two years of just how this kind of weather whiplash is possible. A
warmer atmosphere is capable of bringing heavier downpours, since warmer
air can hold more water vapor. We saw an example of this on Thursday
morning, when an upper air balloon sounding over Lincoln, Illinois
revealed near-record amounts of moisture for this time of year. The
precipitable water–how much rain could fall if one condensed all the
water vapor in a column above the ground into rain–was 1.62", just
barely short of the Illinois April record for precipitable water of
1.64" set on April 20, 2000 (upper air records go back to 1948.)
Thursday's powerful low pressure system was able to lift that copious
moisture, cool it, and condense it into record rains. So how can you
have worse droughts with more moisture in the air? Well, you still need a
low pressure system to come along and wring that moisture out of the
air to get rain. When natural fluctuations in jet stream patterns take
storms away from a region, creating a drought, the extra water vapor in
the air won't do you any good. There will be no mechanism to lift the
moisture, condense it, and generate drought-busting rains. The drought
that ensues will be more intense, since temperatures will be hotter and
the soil will dry out more.

The new normal in the coming decades
is going to be more and more extreme flood-drought-flood cycles like we
are seeing now in the Midwest, and this sort of weather whiplash is
going to be an increasingly severe pain in the neck for society. We'd
better prepare for it, by building a more flood-resistant infrastructure
and developing more drought-resistant grains,
for example. And if we continue to allow heat-trapping gases like
carbon dioxide continue to build up in the atmosphere at the current
near-record pace, no amount of adaptation can prevent increasingly more
violent cases of weather whiplash from being a serious threat to the
global economy and the well-being of billions of people.

It's hard to comprehend the scale of the threat, as is so often the case with climate change. Here's a NASA image, from the Precipitation Measurement Mission, to try to help:


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The global warming novel from l962: The Drowned World

In 1962, in his second novel, The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard told a story of steadily rising global temperatures, of ice caps melting and rising seas, of humidity and rains and lizards moving into skyscrapers. It's an extraordinary book, for its imagination and artistry and language, but also for its vison of global warming.

Might a reader want an example? Here's the first paragraph:

Soon it would be too hot. Looking out from the hotel balcony shortly after eight o'clock, Kerans watched the sun rise behind the dense groves of giant gymnosperms crowding over the roofs of the abandoned department stores four hundred yards away on the east side of the lagoon. even through the massive olive-green fronds the relentless power of the sun was plainly tangible. The blunt refracted rays drummed against his bare chest and shoulders, drawing out the first sweat, and he put on a pair of heavy sunglasses to protect his eyes. The solar disc was no longer a well-defined sphere, but a wide expanding ellipse that fanned out acros the eastern horizon like a colossal fire-ball, its reflection turning the dead leaded surface of the lagoon into a brilliant copper shield. By noon, less than four hours away, the water would seem to burn.

On SFSite, Victoria Strauss discusses the book insightfully:

The Drowned World posits (presciently, as it turns out) that the world has been overwhelmed by a catastrophic greenhouse effect. It differs from our own impending disaster in that it's natural rather than man-made. In Ballard's scenario, violent solar storms have depleted the outer layers of Earth's ionosphere; as these vanish, temperature and solar radiation begin to climb, melting the polar ice-caps. This enormous outflow of water carries with it tons of topsoil, damming up the oceans and entirely changing the contours of the continents, drowning some parts of the world and landlocking others. At the same time, the increased radiation produces freak mutations in Earth's flora and fauna, initiating a new biological era reminiscent of the Triassic period, in which reptiles and giant tropical plants were the dominant forms of life.

Strauss gives us a sense of how the book develops, which is more about a compelling idea than a plot. At one point, dreams overtake the narrative:

…some of the expedition members begun having strange dreams, of a primeval swamp dominated by a huge burning sun that pulses to the rhythm of their own heartbeat. 

These dreams, it turns out, aren't random occurences or signs of stress, but the first warming of a much deeper process. Human beings, responding to stimuli embedded in their genetic makeup billions of years earlier, are beginning to devolve. The dreams aren't dreams at all, but memories…

DrownedworldAnd the book offers much, much more.

The writing blends the surreal and the futuristic. The characters surprise us with their actions; for example, not wanting to leave the flooded city, though life there is unsustainable. The book flies by. But even if the book werenot brilliantly written, it almost wouldn't matter. Ballard's idea alone would be enough to carry us into the future, and to the end. 


On the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the book,Warner Brothers just optioned the rights for producer David Heyman, best known for his production of the Harry Potter series. 


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Newspaper reporter the bleepiest job in America

Allegedly. Lousy pay, poor benefits and retirement, if any, little security, high pressure, demanding hours. From the Poynter Institute, which tasks itself with developing and promoting the press and reporters, this news: 

Newspaper reporters can add to the list of sources telling them to flee journalism.

The group took 200 jobs and ranked them in order from most to least desirable, based on factors such as environment, income, outcome and stress. Add all that together and newspaper reporter rings in at a dismal 200 out of 200 – the worst job on CareerCast’s list, below lumberjack, janitor, garbage collector and bus driver.

“We look at a wide range of criteria, as analytical as we can be,” said Tony Lee, CareerCast’s publisher. “There are some subjective pieces but, frankly, it’s really driven by the data.”

The data come from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and trade associations.

Newspaper reporter ranks below bricklayer, security guard, artist, author, painter, dishwasher, and janitor. Hmmmm. 

Economist Justin Wolfers points out a flaw in this ranking. He tweets: 

Simple observation: If newspaper reporter really were the worst occupation in America, it would be easy to find a…


Bogart would say he has a point. From the classic Deadline USA, l952.

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Distracting us from climate change: Toles

From Toles:


The royal birth, is my guess. 

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Climate change and VC: the good, the bad, and the odd

From my Earth Day cover story from the Ventura County Reporter:

California does not need fear hurricanes, but it does every few years face El Niño, an oceanic shift that drives unimaginably vast amounts of water across the Pacific and up against the coasts of North and South America, raising the sea level by as much as a foot. It is similar to the storm surge that comes ashore with a hurricane, according to Susi Moser, a climate researcher at Stanford.

“Twelve inches [of sea level rise] is well within the kind of projection we can expect from a good storm surge during an El Niño,” she said. “It’s not exactly comparable to Superstorm Sandy because, for the most part, California’s coast is fairly steep. But where it is flat, such as low-lying areas around Ventura Harbor and the Oxnard shores, we have to expect major flooding. It’s not the end of the world for California, but if you think about the landfill areas in San Francisco Bay, for example, and take out the entire inner ring of the bay and lose the airport, that’s a pain in the ass.”

Like a scientist who can speak bluntly. Learned a lot doing this story — interesting to see that projections from fourteen different climate models found that falls especially will be hotter, but Januaries will be as cold as ever. Hope you like the story.  


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Navy meteorologist convinced that global warming is real

Last weekend I wrote a story about a conference in UCSB on sea level change in the Ventura County Star. To quote Rear Admiral (ret) David Titley, a meterologist who once was a skeptic but now believes in climate change: 

“I’ve told the Navy and Congress that we should expect a global sea rise between now and the year 2100 of about 1 meter,” Titley told a hall full of students and others Friday who attended the conference, called “Risk and Uncertainty and the Communication of Sea Level Rise.”

“If I’m wrong, I’m probably wrong on the low end,” he said.

Titley is an easy guy to like, and has a good story: after all, he lost his home to Katrina. But he says that didn't influence his opinion on climate change: for more, here's his TEDx talk

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Brower: Wilderness a place to rescue yourself

"For [David] Brower [who led the Sierra Club] wilderness was the place "where man could be alone, where you could rescue your self from what Ortega calls the other — all the extraneities that pile on you too deep." 

From Nature's Altars, p216

PctsocalThis is my way of saying I'm going to hit the Pacific Crest Trail, for just a few days, just enough to get my feet dusty.

Have left a few posts for your entertainment…after all, here in SoCal, there are some unique aspects to the PCT. Here's a sign near Campo, where the trail starts, not far from the border. 

Actually good to see some signs of caring. What for some of us is a chance to question our reality — because quest is after all at the heart of question — is for others a chance at a new life. 

I can't help but sympathize with those will to roll those dice. 

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From the edge of climate change: Vice (mag) in Venice

A profile of Vice magazine (and its CEO Shane Smith) in The New Yorker concludes with this memorable scene. And yes, this was a report on climate change, from a believer in "environmentalism" — Smith.

We took a water taxi through the canals, past crumbling buildings and
water-stained walls, and arrived at San Marco just as the floodwaters
were rising. The area was swarming with tourists, and a narrow pathway
of raised wooden planks was threaded precariously through the square. As
the water rose, the tourists crossed the square on the planks,
shuffling in a long, two-person-wide line, like animals boarding Noah’s

“It’s fantastic,” Smith said, watching the tourists. He
began to talk about global warming. “Humans won’t do anything unless we
have a gun pointed to our heads. But I think this is it. I think we have
a gun pointed to our heads. It’s like, ’K, chaps, it’s time to fucking
fix it!”

Lombardi had bought Smith and his crew some plastic
waders from a souvenir stand. He and his cameraman put them on and
strode into the knee-deep water. Smith kept his hands in his pockets as
Fairman filmed. I waded a few feet behind. The water was filthy, and
occasionally a dead pigeon floated past. Someone was playing the piano
in a café at the edge of the square, and its tinkling sounds filled the
air. Smith began doing a little waltz in the water. He marvelled, “It’s
all eerily surreal.”

About halfway into the square, Smith stopped.
A few hundred yards away, he spotted the Bar Americano, which had a
foot of water inside but appeared to be open for business. Smith had an
idea. “You know what’ll make this a Vice story?” he called over his
shoulder. “We’re going to walk into a bar and have a drink!” The idea
had all the elements of a Vice feature—a collision of tragedy, hedonism,
and world-shaping events. Smith mused, with evident pleasure, “The
world is sinking, and we’re having a drink.”

He waded in the direction of the bar, and the cameraman followed. A tourist pointed and shouted, “CNN!”

Does make climate change sound kind of…fun. 
Milan and Venice 098
A pic from a traveler of Venice at high tide. Believe it or don't. 

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