Archive for 2014 July

On the PCT/Section D haiku

After months devoted to a wedding in my family, let me get back to the trail for a moment, and post a haiku from the trail, Section D, composed and photographed months ago, but somehow never posted:

On the PCT
Section D
Highway 2
crunching pine
needles at road's edge

1-IMG_5442

Okay, it's no big deal, but I couldn't overlook the irony of the trail by the highway. 

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The future vs. here and now: NYTimes + Carl Jung

Along with Bob Garfield of National Public Radio and the pretty hilarious Bobosphere, perhaps the most thoughtful media columnist around must be David Carr, who last week had a great column on the helplessness of print media in the face of the firehouse of information that is 24-hour television and the Internet. 

In a mode of rueful alarm, he wrote:

Nothing can compete with the shimmering immediacy of now, and not just when seismic events take place, but in our everyday lives. We are sponges and we live in a world where the fire hose is always on.

Meanwhile, as with a group of fellow men I work my way slowly through Carl Jung's classic memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, yours truly could not help but by struck by the similar warning he issued, back in 1961:

Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought about a daemonization of man and his world. 

For Jung, consciousness and rationalism, for all their virtues, had limits. The importance of dreams and myths lay in their ability to awaken us to our true selves, or deeper impulses — to literally "bring to light." He feared what could happen to us if we let the unconscious run free in the world of the now (And, as a survivor of the Nazi era, he spoke knowingly of "the phenomenon of dictators and all the misery they have wrought.")

He concluded, in his chapter on the afterlife:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.

But if this is true, what does the 24-hour news cycle and the dominance of the now presafe for our culture? Have we abandoned both past and future to live in the moment?

Carr concludes:

It struck me that part of the reason we always stay jacked in is that we want everyone — at the other end of the phone, on Facebook and Twitter, on the web, on email — to know that we are part of the now. If we look away, we worry we will disappear.

We are all on that train, the one that left print behind, the one where we are constantly in real time, where we know a little about everything and nothing about anything, really. 

When I manage to forget about print media for a minute, I get scared for us.  

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Why is Oxy spinning off new California oilco?

One question regarding this news from last week (reported in the LA Times):

A little more than a month after filing documents to spin off its California operations, Occidental Petroleum Corp. has named the leadership team for its proposed subsidiary.

The longtime Los Angeles company announced in February that it was moving its headquarters to Houston and would spin off its California operations and assets into a separate publicly traded company. In early June, the new subsidiary filed documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with the name California Resources Corp.

Occidental Petroleum appointed Todd A. Stevens president and chief executive of California Resources, the parent company announced Thursday. Stevens, who has served as vice president of corporate development at Occidental since August 2012, is a 19-year veteran of the company.

Why? Why why why? 

Expect to look into this soon. Note that it's common for big firms to spin off divisions considered to be a drag on the price of their stock, as Time Warner did not so long ago with its print division Time Inc

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Overrated movie of the year: Snowpiercer

Yours truly sees all sorts of movies with alleged environmental messages (even the recent Godzilla, for crying out loud) to see how pop culture understands the on-coming prospect of planetary disaster.

One of the best such movies in recent years was "The Host," from South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, which at least one other critic called "the best monster movie ever made." That 2007 movie had it all: a classic premise, brought to vivid (and anti-American life); a bizarre failure of a man who became a hero more or less in spite of himself; an endearing child battling a ghastly monster; an odd but captivating sense of humor; great action direction; a surly Communist to set events in motion — surely one of the best genre movies of the century to date. 

So yours truly eagerly awaited the director's next major outing, complete with a plethora of stars: young Chris Evans; Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and the two most memorable Korean characters from "The Host." And so did other critics, evidently, for as a group they have fallen all over themselves in praising it — jeez, the usually reliable Andrew O'Hehir of Salon has called it "the best action film of 2014, and probably the best film, period." 

Its numerical rating on Rotten Tomatoes comes in at an absurd 94%. Metacritic's algorithm puts it at 83% (Though the real people rating comes in lower — 75%).

But folks, let me tell you, even if you like the global warming analogy (in which a substance sprayed into the sky brings on a freeze fatal to nearly the entire planet, within six months), you won't like this movie. Even if you enjoy the brutal parable of the 99% living on a train, trying to win some decency in life from the 1% who runs the show. Even if you can stand the ghastly axe-battling, the hoary disco decadence, the bizarre schoolteacher ruling the kids — all the metaphors, in other words — it's still a crummy movie, with some of the most banal dialogue in memory, the most boring hero imaginable (Chris Evans, showing not a smidge of the wit of his previous outing as Captain America), and a completely unreal setting. 

Politically I have no real problems with the movie (except for the preposterous ending). But I don't think it's too much to ask for a veneer of plausibility, or, if that's not possible, at least a compensatory outrageousness or, um, fun? This is grim, bitter, harsh obvious stuff, in look and in plot. 

Think you can see its dullness in this publicity still:

Snowpiercer

Weird thing is that the critics praise the movie even as they damn so many of its individual elements. O'Herir says it has "a creaky start." David Edelstein, perhaps my fave overall critic today, says the action scenes "are choppy and gracelessly staged, and the actors are high on the hog." Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, another critic who usually keeps her wits about her, calls the movie 

a tonal mishmash that can never decide between thoughtful political metaphor, lightheartedness and pulverizing violence. Bong seems most at home with the latter, which he stages with tiresome, slow-motion fetishism, mixing costumes and weaponry in an effort to distract from the scenes’ sheer repetitiveness.

And yet her mostly laudatory review is headlined: "All aboard a cold train to nowhere!'

Inexplicable. Perhaps the legendarily overbearing producer Harvey Weinstein twisted arms, or spiked the critics' drinks, or something. 

Demand better environmental apocalypse movies! Avoid this dumb one. Please. 

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Neil Young versus Crosby Stills and Nash: the Doom tour

Here’s an example of a forgotten little classic from that l974 tour, with Stills playing a countryish piano cunterpart, from the last performance on the road in Wembley England.

Today Crosby Stills Nash & Young released a massive live compilation of recordings from their huge and infamous "Doom" tour of 1974 (yes, that's right, forty years ago). Thirty-plus songs, from thirty-plus performances, before crowds averaging 50,000, we are told. 

In the Wall Street Journal, in Rolling Stone, on Jimmy Fallon, in Drowned in Sound, and no doubt in an almost infinite number of venues we'll see the old would-be left coast beatles discussed and interviewed. Maybe we'll even hear some of the music. Despite the band's tendency to go over the top lyrically, the record — over which Graham Nash in particular labored for years — has won great reviews. 

Crosby has blamed the jerkiness of the band at the time on cocaine, and from watching film of their talks backstage more than one insider admits that they sound like pompous jerks, and in particular the candid Graham Nash admits with regret that he was a terrible drug addict at the time. 

Bassist Tim Drummond in an oral history today said that Bob Dylan happened to visit, and played songs from his "Blood on the Tracks" record to him and Stills in a hotel room. Drummond was in total awe. Stills sneered at it as "not good" to Dylan's face, which has to be about the crassest possible move, short of actually attacking Dylan with a stick or something. It's an interesting story

But note that in this flood of talk, Neil is not saying a word. Not one word. Not to Rolling Stone, not to the Wall Street Journal. He's made his feelings about the tour plain for years. During the tour he split from the hotel penthouses, the jets, the free food and drink, the drugs, the groupies, the rip-offs. 

Graham Nash to the WSJ:

During the tour, Neil's album "On the Beach" was released and he began traveling separately in a mobile home and then a bus. It was typical Neil. [Mr. Young wasn't available to comment for this article.] The timing of its release was probably part of the reason he did the tour. But Neil also was our conscience. One night after a show, we all went back to our hotel suite where we had the entire top floor. It was decadent. Every night there were huge plates of food set up, like cold lobster for dozens of people. Neil was disgusted by the excess. There were even pillows embroidered with Joni's tour logo as well as china and luggage. Hey, we didn't ask for all that. This soured Neil a bit and, in retrospect, he was right.

Plus, unlike many wince-worthy CSN&Y songs, most of Young's songwriting — which is at its best at his simplest — stands up to time's long gaze without apparent effort.

Here's an example of a forgotten classic from that l974 tour, with Neil on guitar and harmonica, Crosby and Nash harmonizing perfectly, and Stills playing an eloquent country-ish piano counterpart to Neil's plaint, from a last performance in Wembley England. 

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The grit of SoCal beach culture: Britt Ehringer

“..in this show I thought he found a true wildness, a connection between punk and surfing, that was raw, edgy, and beautiful, both in composition and material.”

A show at a new (or semi-new) Ojai gallery introduced me to an artist named Britt Ehringer, who appears to have something to say about Southern California's beach culture. In this show (if not all his others) I thought he found a true wildness, a connection between punk and surfing, that was raw, edgy, and beautiful, both in composition and material.

Brittehringer

"Southern California has a way of lulling people to sleep with the always sunny, euphoric beach mentality, but under the smoggy haze is a very different reality," Ehringer said (in a release). "There's a grit to Southern California that is a direct contrast to the almost transparent and light-hearted beach culture and the two contrasts make a very interesting artistic dichotomy."

Reminiscent of "surf noir," its "dark lord" Kem Nunn, and his classic Tapping the Source.   

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NASA’s $800 million question: Where is the CO2 going?

A week ago tonight, NASA put about a half a billion dollars on a chip fired into space. The mission for the OCO-2 satellite? To find out where the carbon dioxide we emit is coming from, exactly, and where it is going, exactly, and why the uptake varies so enormously from year to year.

It’s one of the biggest questions in climate science.

OSO-2Sullivan

A week ago tonight, NASA put about a half a billion dollars on a chip fired into space. The mission for the OCO-2 satellite? To find out where the carbon dioxide we emit is coming from, exactly, and where it is going, exactly, and why the uptake varies so enormously from year to year.

It's one of the biggest questions in climate science. 

After a $300 million (or so) launch of a carbon observing satellite failed in 2009, the Obama administration asked Congress for more funding (back in 2010, when such things were possible) and NASA tried again to launch at 2:56 a.m. Wednesday. This cost another $500 million or so, but the scientists have a big question to answer. 

Here's my story about it for the Santa Barbara Independent. Photograph above is a composite from Jeff Sullivan, who generously offers it to share, and explains his process. It's about a four-minute shot. 

Finally, for those interested in natural mysteries, here's the crucial science question. 

In the words of the mission's cience team leader Dave Crisp:

“We’ve been slowly but surely increasing the inputs of carbon dioxide over time into the atmosphere, but it turns out that only about half that carbon dioxide stays there. Half of the carbon dioxide is disappearing somewhere. About a quarter is dissolving into the ocean waters, we know that from our measurements, and the other quarter is going somewhere into the land biosphere. Somewhere – but we don’t know where. Have any of you seen a new rainforest springing into existence anywhere over the last forty years or so?”

Crisp pointed out that levels of the carbon dioxide are at their highest levels in the atmosphere in at least 800,000 years, when temperatures were much warmer around the planet, and sea levels considerably higher. Yet for some reason absorption rates have not been steady.

“Although our inputs of carbon dioxide have been growing slowly and steadily over time, the amount that stays in the atmosphere varies dramatically. Sometimes almost 100% of the carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere stays there, sometimes almost none. We don’t know why.”

Although the mission is intended to answer scientific questions, the precision and global sweep of the satellite could also encourage policy makers to strike international treaties to control the emissions of carbon dioxide because for the first time it may be possible to verify the exact amounts of carbon dioxide released on the surface. Crisp in a press briefing admitted being concerned by what might happen to levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if ocean temperatures continue to rise.

“We’re concerned that over time as it warms up, due to climate change, that the ocean will actually hold less carbon dioxide than it does today. If you take a bottle of soda out of the refrigerator, and leave it out on the table for a little while, all the carbon dioxide goes away and it becomes flat. We’re concerned that as the ocean warns up due to climate change, it will actually hold less carbon dioxide than it does today, and that might be a big change.” 

Could this be a bigger story? Seems so to me. Put it in the subjects for further research category. 

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Bigfoot existence disproven by DNA evidence?

A cow is not Bigfoot. Nor is a wolf, a bear, or a racoon — but all of these creatures were given to an pair of academics looking for the truth behind the Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti legend.

A cow is not Bigfoot. Nor is a wolf, a bear, or a racoon — but hair samples from all of these creatures were given to an pair of academics looking for the truth behind the Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti legend. 

Psychologist Rhettman Mullins and geneticist Brian Sykes put out a call for testable hair from a Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti, and from around the world were given all sorts of follicles — including one strand of fiberglass. 

According to a story in LiveScience, the hair came from over thirty other anmal species of every imaginable variety, even including a couple of extinct bears. 

What it didn't come from was any species even remotely human. 

Daily journalism is the first draft of history, they say; well, this looks to be a story crying out for another draft or two. So much cannot be said in 800 or so words.

Just the combination of the academic/scientific co-authors intrigues. 

First we meet a psychologist named Rhettman Mullis, a believer in the legend, and fascinated enough with it to be part of a site/community devoted to its study. He joined forces with a geneticist named Brian Sykes. Unusual.

To pick up this thread from the Livescience story: 

…Sykes, a geneticist at the University of Oxford in England, teamed up with Mullis and other researchers to solicit hair samples from supposed Bigfoot sightings around the world. If the sightings were real, the thinking went, then the DNA should not match that of any known animal.

The team received 57 samples, one of which was actually a piece of fiberglass, the researchers said. After winnowing down the samples to the most likely bets, the team did a genetic analysis on 36 of the samples.

Almost all came from known animals, including cows, horses, raccoons, humans, deer, coyotes, and even a Malaysian tapir. None of the samples, however, came from a completely new primate species, the researchers said.

So it's over for the Bigfoot legend, is that what they're saying?

Kaput. Finished. Through. 

No, not exactly — the clever investigation takes another twist.

…two hair samples, one from Bhutan and the other from Ladakh, India, closely matched the genetic sequence of an extinct Paleolithic polar bear. One came from an animal shot over 40 years ago by an experienced hunter, who claimed the bear acted more aggressively than do typical brown bears. The other came from an area that is reputed to be the nest of a "migyhur," the Bhutanese version of a Yeti.

It's possible that the two samples are from a previously unrecognized bear species or a hybrid of existing species, the researchers said. If the newly discovered bears are widespread, they may contribute to the legend of the Yeti, especially if the hunter's report of more aggressive behavior is representative of the species as a whole, the authors wrote in the paper.

The story goes on to quote Mullins saying that despite this finding, he still believes in something Yeti-ish in the Himalayas. He points out that there are three words in the language of the area for this creature, only one of which means bear. 

Okay — but what about the geneticist?

The story appears not to ask Sykes — for some reason.  

Hmmmm.

Sykes

Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes poses with a prepared DNA sample taken from hair from a Himalayan animal. DNA testing is taking a bite out of the Bigfoot legend. After scientists analyzed more than 30 hair samples reportedly left behind by Bigfoot and Yeti, they found all of them came from more mundane animals like bears, wolves, cows, and raccoons. In 2012, researchers at Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology issued an open call asking museums, scientists, and Bigfoot aficionados to share any samples they thought were from the mythical ape-like creatures. BBC4/AP/File

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Ojai “too conservative” w/water: California DWR

From a panel discussion I covered, here's a fascinating anecdote from Steve Wickstrum, who has managed Ojai's Casitas Municipal Water District for many years. Ojai actually is doing okay with water through the drought right now — unlike many communities in the state.

According to Wickstrum, Casitas water costs about $400 an acre-foot, which is less than water available through most other purveyors. He gave credit to the agricultural community for taking the initiative to build what became the Casitas reservoir in the late 1950s and early 1960s, saying that the community came together to build a system in preparation for a drought that could last as long as 20 years.

Wickstrum contrasted this foresight to that of California's State Water Project, mentioning that "a gentleman from the Department of Water Resources (DWR)" in the state visited him in the last major drought, in the late '80s and early ‘90s, suggesting that perhaps Ojai could be "less conservative" and more open to supporting development in nearby areas.

In contrast to Ojai, Wickstrum said, the state's water system works on "about a two-year horizon," dependent on snowpack in the Trinity Alps and the Sierra Nevada to feed huge reservoirs such as Shasta Lake and Oroville Reservoir.

"If the snowpack isn't there in the mountains — which is what we're into right now —- then DWR doesn't have water to deliver down south," Wickstrum said. "Right now the state is filling only 5 percent of allocations."

CAstatewatershortages

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That’s one cool looking rocket: launch of the OSO-2

Wish I could be there:

OCO-2 launch

Twas the night before launch… #OCO2 is ready for its 5:56am ET launch! Watch live: http://t.co/1mKUqiX0S4  — NASA (@NASA) July 2, 2014

Will do my best to cover, as I did once before  – even if it meaning staying up to all hours. 

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