Archive for 2014 June

Sometimes a picture (of a dancer) is enough

When I was growing up in Mill Valley, California, our local record shop — the late great Village Music — had a prominent bin of miscellaneous and often odd (but spectacular-looking) LPs entitled simply: "Sometimes a cover is enough."

And such is the case today. The story on this remarkable young "jookin" dancer who goes by the name of Lil Buck, is excellent, as we expect from the NYTimes…but….


Sometimes a picture (of a dancer) is enough.

Full Story »

Climate change a factor in the new war in Iraq: Expert

From another striking climate change story from Eric Holthaus, complete with superb photos:

"Could there be a connection between climate change and the emerging conflict in Iraq?

The short answer is a qualified yes, according to Frank Femia of the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based policy institute advised by senior retired military and national security leaders. He explained in a phone interview: 

It's far too early, considering this is happening in real time, to figure out what is motivating [the rebel militia] ISIS and its members. Certainly, the natural resource stresses in the region make things worse. Terrorist organizations can try to control those resources and gain significant influence and power. You can't say climate change is causing ISIS to do what it's doing, but it [climate change] certainly has a role to play in the region."


The agent driving this environmental conflict is drought, and apparently the ISIS group has seized a crucial dam at Mosul. Read the whole thing, as they say, and hear of a comparison between Iraq and the Central Valley in California. 

Full Story »

Little known fracking fact: it’s costing us in ice cream

Here's a story from an interesting blog on the Utica Shale, a story on five facts about fracking that you may not know — and a chart. Veteran environmental reporter Bob Downing of the Akron Journal maintains this blog,and said that it gives 10-15k hits a week — impressive. 

For those of us on the Left Coast, think these two may be the most relevant of these facts about fracking from this particular story:

"It makes your ice cream more expensive.

One component of the small percentage of fracking fluid that is not sand or water is guar gum. This natural product of the seeds of the guar plant is also used to improve the texture of ice cream. A chart of guar gum prices since 2000 looks like this:


Ice cream and other foods that utilize the product have seen significant increases in cost. For those of us with a sweet tooth, this alone may be reason enough to be wary of any more rapid expansion of fracking.

The biggest environmental threat could be from the amount of water used, not chemical contamination.

If the benign nature of guar gum and the small percentage of chemicals used in fracking fluid has you believing that the environmental concerns have been massively exaggerated, think again. Fracking just one well uses somewhere in the region of 3 to 8 million gallons of water. Using 2011 data, this article by Jesse Jenkins calculates that to mean that the amount of freshwater consumed by all the shale wells in the U.S. was about 0.3 percent of total U.S. freshwater consumption. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a world where water scarcity is becoming more of an issue it has to be considered as fracking use spreads."

Okay then! Wouldn't it be interesting to know exactly how much more ice cream costs? There's a story we haven't seen. A little gimmicky, but would be interesting to know. 

On the slightly more important water question, talked to a professor at Carneige Mellon briefly about water, and she said that frack jobs can use brackish water — but 3-8 million gallons per job? Is that true in California? Holy cow.  

[From those wild-haired radicals at]

Full Story »

Ojai Farmer to Ojaians: We fixed our leaks — your turn

From Kimberly Rivers' thoughtful story in the Ojai Valley News on the panel discussion this past weekend in Ojai on drought/water issues:

At the Ojai Valley Inn last weekend, agriculture was a central topic. “It’s impossible to talk about water in California without turning a whole lot of attention to agriculture,” said Timm Herdt, moderator for the event and a reporter based in Sacramento covering state government and politics. He spoke about how even the wettest places in California have received about half of the normal rainfall, and in dryer areas, like Ventura County, the amounts are even lower. 

That’s taken a toll on farmers like Emily Ayala, a fourth-generation Ojai citrus farmer descended from the Friend and Thacher families. She concurred with Herdt’s assertions.

“I estimate that agriculture in Ojai uses about 50 percent of the water, from all sources. We use more groundwater in the East End than we do municipal water sources. From Lake Casitas, in an average year, we use 20 to 40 percent of Casitas water that is sold,” said Ayala. “And that number varies drastically depending on how much water comes from up there” — meaning rain.

“We hope that we get half our water from the sky. The last three years we haven’t gotten that,” Ayala went on, “so we’re relying heavily on the groundwater and Lake Casitas.” 

She pointed out that other than Lake Casitas, “We don’t have other water storage facilities in Ojai. It would be nice to have another lake, say, in the East End. But that’s not going to happen.”

She also talked about the San Antonio Creek Groundwater Recharge Intake, constructed so that in a heavy rainstorm, water will be put back into the basin. That project had already existed for decades, but had fallen into disrepair. It was recently rebuilt by the Watersheds Coalition of Ventura County.

“It only stores about 300 acre-feet,” Ayala said. “It isn’t a huge amount of water, but any amount of water we can store I think is useful.” 

Regarding conservation in the valley, she noted, “We all should be conserving, and certainly the only good point of drought is that it’s brought farmers together all across the western U.S., really. But it’s really gotten Ojai’s farmers talking to one another, figuring out how we can share the depleting groundwater basin.”

She spoke about the effect of a drought on citrus trees, explaining that eventually, a tree not getting enough water will start to drop fruit as a survival mechanism. “We are fixing all leaks,” Ayala said of the local farmers, “and I hope homeowners are doing the same.”

It's an excellent point. According to the EPA, an average household's leaks waste 10,000 gallons a year, adding up to over a trillion gallons nationwide. 

Full Story »

Chautauqua (incl. me) on KVTA talking water/drought

Don't get a chance to post an hour-long interview with me (in a sidekick/expert but chatty role) very often if ever, so excuse me for taking this opportunity to put myself on the record. The interview from three weeks ago can be accessed here — most of the information remains all too relevant: 

Listen to KVTA's Lyn Fairly interview Tom Krause and Kit Stolz about the Ojai Chautauqua this Sunday. 

From Lynn Fairley's Saturday morning show on our local talk radio station, KVTA. Thank you Lynn!

Here's a picture from the event (which I wasn't able to moderate, being away at a fracking fellowship in Pittsburgh, learning about the Marcellus shale). 


And here's a nice appreciation for the thoughtful, generous Tom Krause, who leads the Chautauqua as well as a great books discussion at Thomas Aquinas College, from Timm Herdt, who replaced me in my absence as moderator, and by all accounts did a great job.

From the Ventura County Star A Thirst for Civil Discourse:

On Sunday afternoon in Ojai, about 200 people paid $20 apiece to fill a room to listen to a two-hour panel discussion on “the future of water.” The expert panelists had different backgrounds and different points of view, but it was not a debate. There was no drama.

And when it was over, the host pronounced it a success. Here’s why: “I think all of us are leaving with more questions than we had when we came,” said Tom Krause.

Krause, 69, is the driving force behind a new organization called the Ojai Chautauqua. Named for a 19th century institution founded at a campsite on the shores of upstate New York’s Lake Chautauqua, the group seeks nothing more than to promote open, civil discourse about complex public issues.

Krause acknowledges that the idea seems to run counter to popular culture trends — the trends that have framed debate as entertainment and segmented news into outlets that each filter information to validate a particular point of view.

“People do want answers and action. At the same time, they are really tired of hearing people yelling at each other and being rude and snide,” Krause told me. “One of the problems is that people come to conclusions too quickly. It’s easy to say, ‘I get it.’ But things are not simple. They’re complex.”

The group’s first event, held earlier this year, focused on genetically modified organisms, and their role and desirability in the production of food. The subject is highly controversial, particularly in a community such as Ojai where the organic food movement is strong. That Chautauqua, Krause acknowledges, got a little out of hand.

“It attracted a highly polarized audience, and a lot of people from the left thought we were not balanced,” he said. “We had three panelists — one in favor, one opposed and one neutral. The left didn’t like it because the neutral person was not anti-GMO.”

Krause said he met with those critics afterward. “I explained that we are not about political action, that we’re not trying to influence anyone’s political point of view. By the end of an hour, we were working together.”

Krause’s background has naturally led him toward an endeavor such as this. A licensed clinical psychologist, he established a practice in Ojai in the 1970s. Over time, he began to gravitate toward business management consulting. In 1986, he founded a consulting company called Behavioral Science Technology, which grew into an international firm with 200 employees that took on 2,300 consulting projects in 60 countries.

A few years ago, he sold his company to a German firm — freeing him to pursue his passion for intellectual inquiry. Krause, a member of the board of governors at Thomas Aquinas College, co-founded an organization called the Agora Foundation in 2004, which sponsors small-group seminars at the college to discuss great books. The works have ranged from “Moby Dick” to Emily Dickinson to Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, to the Book of Psalms.

Krause believes it is possible to apply the same level of intellectual inquiry to public policy.

“When you get involved with what’s going on in the world, you’re struck by how little reasonable discourse there is,” he told me. “It gets really hard to know anything, and there are subjects that are knowable.”

With full disclosure, let me say that I accepted the Ojai Chautauqua’s invitation to moderate Sunday’s discussion, which was held at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. The nonprofit group, associated with the Libbey Bowl Foundation, includes several other active and thoughtful organizers, including Cathryn Krause, Tom and Esther Wachtell, Barbara Bowman and Tony Thacher.

The hope, Krause said, is to host events about four times a year. He says he was pleased with the response to the water discussion, noting that it validated the group’s belief that there is an audience willing to actually pay admission to learn about public policy issues.

“They loved it. They felt like they got their money’s worth,” he said. “And we had local people; we didn’t have national experts.”

Krause believes the model would work in many places, and says there is nothing unique about Ojai, a community he describes as not exceptionally open-minded.

“I think there is a class of people who are fairly well educated and who are thoughtful. That’s the group we can appeal to.”

[Timm Herdt writes from Sacramento for The Star. His political blog “95 percent accurate” is at]

Full Story »

Doodles does the PCT

In Backpacker this month can be found a funny and warm set of sketches on the similiarity between PCT hikers and toddlers by a young artist named Katie Lei. (Her trailname? Doodles.) 

For the life of me I cannot find any trace of this work on the magazine's website, but here's what's available from her on the web…with a link to the book available at LuLuDoodlesdoesthePCT

Gotta love it. Drawing of the windmills in Mojave makes charming these huge industrial machines — a feat, for better or worse.   

Full Story »

“Silliness” of Schubert vs. “haunted” Janacek: Jeremy Denk

Last week the Ojai Music Festival began with a sublime performance of classical piano music, using a contrasting variety of compositional styles the likes of which this reporter has never heard orseen, brilliantly introduced and played by Jeremy Denk, a blogger.  

Actually Denk has no time to blog these days, between his awards, his preformance schedule, his teaching schedule, and writing essays for The New York Review of Books (on Ives) and The New Yorker, (on piano lessons). 

His introduction to his opening program of Schubert and Janacek was perhaps the most charming and witty such pre-performance talk yours truly has ever heard. Denk self-deprecatingly claimed that he was serving as a a sort of "warm-up band" to the second half of the show, a swinging version of Mahler by Uri Caine, by playing a "fragmentary" introduction. 

"I'm trying to create a sort of iPod shuffle of Eastern European anxieties," Denk said, to laughter in the crowd. He contrasted the "incredible haunted thinkings-over of folk tunes and bits of tunes and childhood memories" of the Czech composer Janacek against some frolicsome dances by Schubert, saying he  "thought these are like visiting the same anxieties, the same pieces, the same problems eighty years earlier. The first two pieces are like, in some weird way, the same piece," he said, added that the two opening and contrasting pieces began with the same few notes. 

He described this as "inward, intimate" music, and said at the end he put one of the "silliest things that Schubert ever wrote" against one of Janacek's "most profound and tragic utterances." 

The stream is a little herk-jerk to start, but the playing is spectacular:  

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Full Story »

From near extinction to recovery in 10 years: Island Fox

Had the opportunity to write a newspaper story about an adorable species, the Island Fox of the Channel Islands, that biologists say has gone from near-extinction at the end of the 20th century to a full biological recovery in the ten years since it was put on the endangered species list.

Loved writing the story, which can be found here (and I'll post it below, in case of paywall). Still, lots of interesting details can't be shoehorned into a newspaper story.

Here are a few of those interesting details. 

Fascinated to meet a fellow named Dave Garcelon of the Institute for Wilderness Studies. He said he launched the institute, which at the time was basically his own self, but now has about two dozen staffers, when he was an undergrad at Humbolt State in the late l970's. He explained: 

I wanted to do a Bald Eagle re-introduction program on Catalina, but I didn't have a lot of people behind me who believed it would be successful. New York had started a Bald Eagle recovery program in l976, but the birds hadn't bred yet, so no one knew if that was going to work, and I was just a kid. No one listened. I was trying to latch on to the university or some program but no one believed it would actually work, so I said, the heck with it, I'll start my own program, and I'll get my own grants. [edit]

I started working on releases of rehabiliated birds and looking into the history of Bald eagles and I found out [the Channel Islands] used to be a stronghold for the eagles. I just thought: That would be a really cool thing to do. 

Also had a chance to interview Tim Coonan of the National Park Service, who led the meeting of the working group devoted to the Channel Fox. He had some great details about the fox to relate, including the fact that the foxes have shown signs of adaptation/domestication as they have recovered and become habituated to seeing people 

At the Santa Cruz campground there's a family of foxes that is quite adept at using the resources available, and they have probably passed that information on to their young. We do not see that on other islands or even on other parts of Santa Cruz. They're very smart, adaptable animals, and they were probably kept as semi-pets by the Chumash Indians,. We know the Chumash took them to the southern islands from the northern islands. They never ate Island Foxes, there's no evidence of Island Fox bones in their middens, and yet they were important to the Chumash, they show up in their ceremonial burial sites. So I think they've always been easily tamed. They're an island species, they have no natural predators, so they have no fear of humans at all. And so where they have a lot of human contact, you will get individual animals that will change their behavior. [edit]

There can be as many as 15-20 per square kilometer. Their home ranges are very small, anywhere from half a kilometer up to two kilometers. Males and females defend territories together throughout the year. They mate for life, but there's a lot of fooling around at territory boundaries. 

Coonan also took a wonderful photo of an Island Fox, which parks spokesperson Yvonne Menard encouraged me to share with one and all.  


Here's the newspaper story, as mentioned for the VC Star.

Ten years after the island fox nearly went extinct, the conservation group that first petitioned to get it listed as endangered said it will ask the Interior Department to recognize the small animal’s strong recovery.

“Right now what we are planning to propose is that on two of the islands, San Miguel and Santa Cruz, the subspecies of the island fox no longer be on the endangered species list at all, and on Santa Rosa Island and Santa Catalina Island, the island fox be downlisted, from endangered to threatened,” said Dave Garcelon, president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies.

Garcelon spoke Tuesday at the 16th annual meeting of the island fox Conservation Group in Ventura. At the meeting, wildlife biologists working for different land-owning groups on the islands, including the Navy, Nature Conservancy and National Park Service, reported that the six subspecies of the island fox — only found on the Channel Islands — has rebounded from near-extinction after a 95 percent decline in the 1990s.

On Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the islands readily accessible to the public, biologist Christie Boser estimated the island now supports a growing population of “around 1,100” of the curious little animals, which are popular with visitors and campers.

On San Miguel, the population is estimated at 575, on Santa Rosa Island, about 900, and on Catalina, about 1,800.

In the 1990s, for reasons that wildlife biologists did not understand at first, the island foxes began disappearing from the Channel Islands. On Catalina Island they were devastated by a canine disease that was traced, after an animal autopsy, to a form of distemper carried by raccoons from the mainland.

On Santa Cruz and other islands off the Ventura coast, the use of radio collars revealed to biologists that Golden eagles were preying on the foxes.

An extensive recovery effort was launched in 1999, beginning with a captive breeding program for the handful of the remaining San Miguel island fox subspecies. At the same time, a team of biologists worked to trap and remove the Golden Eagles, thirteen of which were released into the wild on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, in Northern California.

On Santa Cruz Island, an estimated 6,000 feral pigs were eradicated in 2005-06, so Bald Eagles, which feed mostly on fish, could be re-established on the islands. Today, about 40 Bald eagles — which repel Golden eagles — inhabit the islands, according to spokesperson Yvonne Menard.

Opening the meeting, Russell Galipeau, superintendent of the Channel Islands National Park, praised the wildlife experts for their work over the past quarter century.

“What you have shown is that the Endangered Species Act can work,” Galipeau said. “Keep in mind that there are adverse events associated with the Endangered Species Act, but there is also hope in this great story.”

Robert McMorran, of the Ventura office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, warned the working group that his agency would not be able to act on the petition to “delist” this year. He read from a memo issued from the regional office to agency employees telling them that due to funding restrictions and lawsuits filed under the Endangered Species Act, “our primary and perhaps only focus will be on meeting court orders.”

“I would hate to think that all of our work didn’t get this species off the endangered species list,” said Tim Coonan, who leads the recovery effort for the National Park Service. “Because it deserves to. It’s been one of the quickest recoveries of a species ever. So when you hear of the possibility of no delisting because Fish and Wildlife can only act on court orders, it’s kind of demoralizing.

“On the other hand, thanks to the monitoring and the hard work of a lot of people, we know that these guys have recovered, and that’s a separate and parallel reality.”

© 2014 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. 

Read more: 



Full Story »

Obama mocks GOP climate change deniers

Weird. Read closely, it almost sounds as if the House Speaker, a Republican, is admitting that climate change is happening, and we need to deal with it, but we can’t use pollution control regulations.

What's the best way to combat a ridiculous but damaging idea?

Ridicule. And even though — as Gail Collins pointed out in what is surely the most amusingly brilliant political column of the year to date — we as a culture have kind of lost interest in Barack Obama as an individual, he's still the president. 

Barack Obama is universally known, but these days, if you have a conversation at the dinner table about him, the real topic is going to be something like health care or the unemployment rate. We’re so aware of his enormous responsibilities, we’ve sort of lost interest in Obama as a person. He may try to be diverting with the odd comment about sports or his dog, but, really, it doesn’t work.

Well, he may not be all that interesting a person these days, but he's still able to get attention when he gives a speech, and when he mocks his political opponent almost to their face, he still makes the news — including FOX News.

Calling climate change deniers the radical fringe, he said: 

Now, part of what’s unique about climate change, though, is the nature of some of the opposition to action.  It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist.  When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long.  But nobody ignored the science.  I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.  (Laughter.)

And today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change.  They will tell you it is a hoax, or a fad.  One member of Congress actually says the world is cooling.  There was one member of Congress who mentioned a theory involving “dinosaur flatulence” — which I won’t get into.  (Laughter.)

Now, their view may be wrong — and a fairly serious threat to everybody’s future — but at least they have the brass to say what they actually think.  There are some who also duck the question.  They say — when they’re asked about climate change, they say, “Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.”  And I’ll translate that for you.  What that really means is, “I know that manmade climate change really is happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, so I’m not going to admit it.”  (Applause.)


Obama called John Boehner a liar to his face — almost. On May 30th, John Boehner, Republican, Speaker of the House, the president's most prominent political opponent, as widely quoted when he said:

“Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.” 

Having backpedaled away from the issue, as a scientist pointed out, while implying there was a debate in the science, Boehner then went on to claim that regulating power plants would ruin the economy, which must remain paramount over "changes to our environment." 

Weird. Read closely, it almost sounds as if Boehner is admitting that climate change is happening, and we need to deal with it, but of course we can't use pollution control regulations

Leaving the science and the fate of the planet aside, Is that really a good argument? 

Could the fact that 70 percent of people polled on this subject said global warming was a "very serious" problem, supported carbon dioxide regulation, and declared their willingess to pay higher bills to reduce emissions in an ABC/Washington Post poll be embarrassing the GOP into admitting its ignorance? 

Full Story »

Wilderness is where the hand of man has not set foot: Brower

For The Wilderness Act, this September marks the Big 5-0, its biggest birthday to date. 

This should be a celebratory moment, as the Wilderness Act has for many many years been considered the high water achievement of the environmental movement in America, the legislative flowering of the vision of great American nature thinkers such as Thoreau, Muir, and Leopold. 

But today, as Kenneth Brower has the temerity to point out in this month's Sierra, nature writers in activism and in academia mostly dismiss wilderness as a myth, a figment of the white man's imagination, "flawed" and "imperialistic."

Brower, affronted by this brand of "wilderness denial," promulgated by, as Dave Foreman describes its scoffers, "wilderness deconstructionists," puts in a word in person at a Marin County conference for what his father David Brower worked so hard to protect and enact into law when he ran the Sierra Club. 

Brower admits he spoke "with some heat." He points out that the phrase "Geography of Hope" that gave the conference its name was a phrase the writer Wallace Stegner used to describe, yes, wilderness:

The green fire in that year's theme, "Igniting the Green Fire: Finding Hope in Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic," had nothing to do with a land ethic, or sustainability, or restoration–as admirable as all of those causes are. The words are from Leopold's most famous quote of all, about a wolf he had just shot: "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes–something known only to her and to the mountain." That fierce green fire, that thing known only to the wolf and to the mountain, is wilderness. 

Brower stands up for the reality and worth of wilderness, and eloquently so, and points out that, contrary to the deconstructionists' claims, John Muir knew full well the native Americans who lived in the wild places he loved to explore, and remarked on their gentleness.  

Muir was actually acquainted with the Indians in question, was photographed in conversation with them, and in various accounts describes their "huts" on the floor of Hetch Hetchy. Muir knew full well, and firsthand, that Indians used the valley. He also knew and appreciated the vast difference between Native American and Euro-American impacts on the land. "How many centuries Indians have roamed these woods nobody knows, probably a great many," he wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra. "It seems strange that heavier marks have not been made. Indians walk softly and hurt the landscape hardly more than birds and squirrels." 

Brower defends Muir, and wilderness, and the Sierra Club. He alludes to actually visiting the wilds, and quotes a joke on the subject from his father David Brower, whose defined it as:

"Wilderness is where the hand of man has not set foot." 

As much as I agree with Kenneth Brower, and thank him for letting us in on his father's joke, I wonder if there's something specific about the Wilderness Act that makes it uncool today. 


From the bill: [Wilderness] "has outstanding opportunities for solitude."

Full Story »