Archive for 2013 May

Mad Men of climate change denial: Steve Brodner

The right has its ways and means, but the left — as usually seems to be the case — has the artists, including Steve Brodner. No else depicts the banality of climate change deniers (er, "skeptics") with quite the same verve (and this is just the sketch — for the color/adman version, see this):


For a story in The American Prospect (upcoming, apparently). Brodner also recommends a recent This American Life show on the topic. 

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Experts: Smartphones and sugarsaltfat are changing us

It's a little shocking to see experts turn aganst modern society, but it happens: 

Regarding smartphones, a NYTimes op-ed — Your Phone vs. Your Heart — argued that smartphones can alter our lives on a genetic level, for cryin' out loud. 

The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.

Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

That's the good news. But the writer hints at the bad news: that we are being manipulated by corporations exploiting our desire to connect. Blunter is an op-ed in the Washington Post about how food giants such as Kellog's and Oscar Mayer manipulated our pleasure centes for their profits — ruthlessly. 

In one of the most egregious examples of company misbehavior, Moss
describes a 2008 Kellogg’s commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats in which a
voice-over claimed, “A clinical study showed kids who had a filling
breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by
nearly 20 percent.” In fact, half the children who ate the cereal showed
no improvement in attentiveness. But by the time the Federal Trade
Commission got around to barring Kellogg’s from making this claim, the
commercial had already run for six months.









Full of what, is the question. 

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The Control of Nature: Rachel Carson

Fascinating little known fact: Rachel Carson's last great book was called "Silent Spring," but the title she first chose for it was "The Control of Nature." She believed that humanity was making a huge mistake when it came to the world around us, applying chemicals recklessly to the natural world and to our foods, and, sick with cancer, she didn't hold back. 

Along with the possibiilty of the extinction of manking by nuclear war, the central problem of our age has therefore become the contamination of man's total environment with such substances of incredible potential for harm — substances that accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals and even penetrate the germ cells to shatter or alter the very material of heridity upon which the shape of the future depends.

Carson was thinking of DDT, but she could easily have been describing the endocrine disruptors of today, many of which we consume in our food, and which are believed (by researchers such as Bruce Blumberg) to have a generational effect. Our consumption of substances such as BPA, for instance, could mean permanent alternation of the genetic code of our grandchildren. Think of it! 

[from a compelling new biography, On a Farther Shore, by William Souder]

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Shepherd’s Pie: Two variations for the trail

HungryhikerThe all-time best cookbook for backpackers, sez me, is a long out of print paperback called The Hungry Hiker's Book of Good Cooking, by Gretchen McHugh. Though it dates from l982, it's really from the l970's, complete with vaguely "Joy of Sex" illustrations, on brown paper. But my copy is dog-eared, written up, torn — these recipes cannot be beat.

Here's one of Grechen's best, w/a variation for our times, for Shepherd's Pie:

First,make her basic ground beef, which takes one lb lean ground beef; two cloves garlic, 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, some bouillon. Cook the beef w/garlic and onions until its browned. Pour or skim off the fat. Add 2 tablespoons flour, salt to taste, and a small amount of fresh rosemary. When it's cooked, dehydrate, which can be managed by spreading it out on a baking sheet and leaving it in an oven set at low, for about six hours, with the door ajar. Leave a little moisture.

On the trail cover with water, bring to a boil, simmer fora few minutes. Don't rush. In a second pot, boil water and make instant potatoes. Put the potatoes atop the shepherd's pie, then add grated parmesan on top. No one will be hungry after, guaranteed.

All this to reveal that yes, I'm back on the PCT, on a stretch from the desert (Anza-Borrego) to the mountains (the San Jacinto, high over Palm Springs) and back to the desert. 100 miles.

Must add my variation. For a friend who after all too many antibiotics can't handle onion, garlic, or other strong flavors, began by cooking three sweet peppers in a light oil until softened. Brown the beef, add a couple of tablespoons tomato paste, then some Italian herbs — parsley, basil, thyme. Then as before. 

Came out better than Heather's! Flavorful, delicate, charming. Live and learn. 

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Climate change in court: Tom Toles

The inimitable Toles puts a monstrous storm in the dock. 

Any particular storm come to mind? 

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Back on the PCT: 100 miles, 100 miles, 100 miles…

With Chris Nottoli, getting back on the PCT for a bit. From the desert to the mountains, high above Palm Springs, and then down, down, down to I-10. Should be a little adventure. Hope to skip the snakes. 

Looks a little like this, a few miles to the south….


Take about a week. Will leave some posts, to provoke some thoughts, I hope. 

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How do you find your stories? Nancy Rommelman

Nancy Rommelman is a fascinating writer and an equaintance: she has a lovely column on the freelance (don't say free-fall) life here. A quote:

How do you find your stories?

Transportation-200x304"I sometimes find story ideas in the Metro section of the newspaper, one-inch items with headlines like, “Man Nails Girlfriend’s Fish to Floor.” The short-shrift given to these stories will spark my wondering, what is this about? Usually the story doesn’t make complete sense; I want to look more deeply. I wrote about mushroom foragers in Alaska after reading one line about them in Bon Appetit. The reference started a little itch that I needed to scratch; the scratch bloomed to a topic, the topic to a pitch, the pitch to a story. Follow that itch."

I love that she writes both fiction and non. Gotta love those smarts. Here's a book of her stories from an interesting Portland-based press called Dymaxicon




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The fall of a mighty oak: The Guardian notices

Nothing against new style longform journalism, but let's give credit where credit is due to a tradional but awesome story from The Guardian on the greatest tree in Wales, and how it fell (but could possibly have been saved).

No one knew quite how old it was because it had lost its heartwood, but Michael Lear, a tree expert with the National Trust, visited Pontfadog in 1996 and wrote to Josie Williams: "Using Forestry Commission techniques, the youngest it can be is 1,181 years, the oldest 1,628 years. "I cannot find a record of an oak tree of any of the 500 species internationally which has a greater girth anywhere in the world."

Yet, for all its local renown, the Pontfadog oak was barely known outside the small Ceiriog valley and the community of ancient tree experts. It was mentioned by George Borrow on his journey across Wales in 1862 but, like most other ancient trees in Britain, it was never fenced off or protected, and no one was ever asked to pay to see it – although Huw Williams's grandmother used to put out a collection box for the local Cheshire home, sometimes raising £5 a year. "It was just our tree, part of the landscape. We were very proud of it," said one woman from the valley the next day. Last week, some of Britain's specialists on ancient trees gathered at Pontfadog for a post mortem.

"It was the national tree of Wales and one of the oldest oaks in Europe. I'm desperately trying to find people who can help in propagating from the tree by either grafting or micro-propagation in order to maintain its genotype. Kew Gardens have said they are interested," said Simpson.

In fact, the tree could have been saved for many more years. Last year a group from the Ancient Tree Forum visited Pontfadog and, seeing it was vulnerable to a big wind, put together a list of actions costing £5,700 that they thought might have protected it. Despite a petition of 6,000 signatures to the Welsh assembly, no money could be found.


Wonder if tree lovers in this country could call on a group such as the Ancient Tree Forum to save a great old tree, if they feared one was in trouble somewhere in this land.  

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Want to boycott Koch Bros. products? There’s an app…

Buycott-screenshot-304The 21st century has another technological moment. Yesterday a new application for mobile phones was released. It can reveal to a shopper with a smartphone what products profit the fossil fuel billionaires the Koch brothers. The app, called Buycott, is eighteen months in the making, and actually is designed to reveal the corporate structures behind products, so it's not necessarily anti-Koch brothers…or even liberal.

Clare O'Connor writes for Forbes:  

"Even more impressively, you can join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices that violate your principles rather than single companies. One of these campaigns, Demand GMO Labeling, will scan your box of cereal and tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that donated more than $150,000 to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food."

What can you say about this software but — that's cool. (Well, we could add that the Koch industries take in $98 billion a year, according to Forbes.) 

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Vorticity: Sandy turns on New York and New Jersey

Superstorm Sandy as seen in graphics based on the storm: Spooky beautiful.

[Fascinating post by Andrew Freedman with great videos from Mel Shapiro and team.]

In the vernacular, Shapiro remarked to an interviewer at the US funded research station NCAR:

Then, a few hours before landfall, Sandy began a sharp curve toward the west, moving toward the heart of the approaching midlatitude trough of low pressure. In Shapiro’s view, this marked an apparent warm seclusion trying to take place on top of the storm’s fast-decaying warm core.

I asked Shapiro how often he’s seen a storm like Sandy. He replied, “Never.”


Gives an idea: Shapiro's motion graphics are far more compelling (if a little cumbersome to load). Final image, which graphs Sandy's "vorticity," is perhaps the most compelling of all.

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