Archive for 2015 November

The inevitability of warming: a matter of degrees

In Tales of a Warming Planet in today’s review section of the Sunday NYTimes, Curt Stager makes some central points about climate change well-known and accepted by climate scientists, but still new to most people:

Let me cite just three, in byte-sized form:

1) Roughly one-eighth of the carbon in your flesh, hair and bones recently emerged from smokestacks and tailpipes. We are not only a source of air pollution — we are air pollution.

2)This best-case [climate change] scenario is troubling, but Earth history shows us that the alternative is unacceptable. If we burn all remaining coal, oil and gas reserves within the next century or two, we could introduce a more extreme, longer-lasting hothouse much like one that occurred about 56 million years ago: the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM

3)  A switch from finite fossil energy to cleaner, renewable energy sources is inevitable: We are only deciding how and when to do it.

One can look at the apocalypse and despair, or one can look at the risks and lead, as Jerry Brown has been doing in California, discussed in a nice piece by UCLA prof Jon Christiansen called:

The California Way: Sunny, with a chance of apocalypse

But in either case, it’s going to get warmer on this planet. The only question is a matter of degrees.



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Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving (aka “Compassion”)

Last Thanksgiving, the NYTimes published an unusually good op-ed on an unusually fraught subject: how to survive Thanksgiving with difficult relatives. Written by Henry Alford, it began something like this:

Like you, I have often wondered, “How might a hostage negotiator help the average American family get through Thanksgiving?”

I’ve had this thought not because of my own brood — we Alfords are a wholly agreeable lot, whose emotional vicissitudes take the form of a lot of muffled, Protestant sobbing — but rather because so many reports I receive of others’ holiday gatherings sound like football scrimmages subtitled by David Mamet. Surely these are matters for professionals who’ve received months of intensive training in crisis intervention?

“Just shut up and listen,” said Frederick J. Lanceley, the F.B.I.’s former senior negotiator and former principal director of its negotiation course, when asked how to get two parties who are at odds with each other to cooperate at the holiday dinner table. “People want to be heard. They want the attention.”

Mr. Lanceley said that during his 26 years with the F.B.I., his active listening skills caused perpetrators in various cases to confess, to ask if they could write him from jail or to even offer him a job. Mr. Lanceley advocated the following course of action: “Repeating what the other person says, we call that paraphrasing. ‘So what you’re telling me is that the F.B.I. screwed you over by doing this and that,’ and then you repeat back to him what he said. Also, emotional labeling: ‘You sound like you were hurt by that.’ ‘You sound like it must have been really annoying.’ Little verbal encouragements: ‘Unh-huh,’ ‘Mm-hmm.’ A nod of the head to let them know you’re there.”

Great column, highly recommended (despite a dull title): Crisis Negotiators Give Thanksgiving Tips


I was so impressed I wrote in, mentioning a poem (and song) on my mind at the time, and to my startlement, the paper went on to publish the letter at the head of a column of responses.

Kit Stolz

Upper Ojai CA 23 November 2014

Fascinating — some of the ideas (such as addressing first “presenting” and then “underlying” emotions) reminds me very much of a theory of communication to surmount conflicts known as “Non-Violent Communication.”

Also reminds me of a poem by Miller Williams, recently recast into song by his daughter Lucinda, which begins: “Have compassion for everyone you meet/even if they don’t want it/what seems like conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign/no ears have heard, no eyes have seen…”

So, on this day of sharing, let me share my admiration for that great poem again. Here’s Lucinda’s version:


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Be grateful, but stay away from the Permagrin

In the NYTimes, the estimable Arthur Brooks — the rare research-oriented conservative writer — makes a case for expressing gratitude this season, even if we do not feel it.

This Thanksgiving, don’t express gratitude only when you feel it. Give thanks especially when you don’t feel it. Rebel against the emotional “authenticity” that holds you back from your bliss. As for me, I am taking my own advice and updating my gratitude list. It includes my family, faith, friends and work. But also the dappled complexion of my bread-packed bird. And it includes you, for reading this column.

That’s the conclusion of the column. Does that mean that inauthenticity is central to the conservative movement, if the President and thought leader of the American Enterprise Institute is calling for more of it?

Weird thought. Sorry. Anyhow.

Here’s another angle on a similar question. According to a wonderful story in Marketplace called Don’t Worry Be Happy or Else You’re Fired, the forced cheer one sees in retail sales has an emotional cost.

Cara O’Regan’s former job will probably sound pretty familiar to a lot of people. “We were encouraged to be positive and put a positive spin on things whenever possible,” she said.  O’Regan worked in retail sales. [edit] She faked a positive attitude to do her job. More accurately, faking it was her job. “You know, always with a smile on your face — a lot of clapping involved,” she said. “Clapping for the customers, clapping for our co-workers — any excuse to applaud anyone.”

There’s a term for this kind of faking it: emotional labor.

“Emotional labor,” according to Alicia Grandey, professor of industrial organizational psychology at Penn State University, “is a type of work where instead of physical labor where you’re using your muscles to perform the work, you’re using your emotions to perform the work.”

What’s the difference between these two states of inauthenticity? In one case the inauthenticity is bought and paid for, in the other it’s chosen.

Yet the first is said to make for bliss, and the second for disease.

Grandey has done research suggesting faking happiness all day long is emotionally taxing. Faking it, she argues, creates a sense of dissonance between internal and external states over long periods of time “and that’s been shown to create physical tension which can build up and create health issues, and over time result in job burnout.”

Brooks quotes neuroscience, which is a much weaker evidence than it might appear, while Grandey’s research looks at bodily questions through a social science lens.

Neither story uses the wonderful word I have often heard attached to “emotional labor” — the Permagrin (TM). Maybe it’s time for scientists to look at the question through that lens.


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Reporter brings science to politics of climate

Reporters can fall into ruts and become predictable and dull, like anyone else, so it’s worth noting when a veteran reporter tries a new trick. Such was the case this past week, as the Associated Press’s Seth Borenstein, a veteran reporter who continues to cover big daily stories, tried something original with the political candidates’ views on climate change.

Instead of going out and interviewing the candidates and grading them on accuracy himself, which would of course make him a judge of their views, he gathered statements from debates and speeches, stripped their names off the statements, and ran them by a panel of eight scientists.

The results were predictable, but still striking. Here it is in tabular form:


Note that Bernie Sanders was dinged for stating that the earth could become “uninhabitable” within the next two generations. Yes, it’s serious, but it’s not that hopeless.

The scientist’s opinions were often all too revealing. Donald Trump, for example, spouted this:

“It could be warming and it’s going to start to cool at some point,” Trump said in a September radio interview. “And you know in the 1920s people talked about global cooling. I don’t know if you know that or not. They thought the Earth was cooling. Now it’s global warming. Actually, we’ve had times where the weather wasn’t working out so they changed it to extreme weather and they have all different names, you know, so that it fits the bill.”

The scientists were not impressed with his meandering.

McCarthy, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called Trump’s comments “nonsense,” while Emmanuel Vincent, a climate scientist at the University of California, Merced, said, “the candidate does not appear to have any commitment to accuracy.”

Borenstein called this a “fact check,” which is true enough, and suggests that facts are important, and we should be paying attention. Rebecca Leber, writing for the New Republic, puts it much more bluntly:

For now, though, electing a Republican—any Republican—is as good as saying America welcomes a world of 4 degrees Celsius or more of warming.

Scary that it’s that important, but Leber makes a strong case for this election as an inflection point. Her story’s headline?

The planet’s worse nightmare: Republican White House

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The hazardous truth: Santa Clara Waste Water

My old friends at the Ventura County Reporter ran my latest obsession/story, which I’ve been working on for the last six months or so, off and on, and did a nice job with the lay-out, may I say. Here’s the crux of the matter:

What really happened when Santa Clara Waste Water (in Santa Paula area) blew up? Why is the entire management of the company facing trial on 71 felony charges?

For answers, see here:


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Scenes from an Explosion: the chemical fire totes

From a picture taken at Santa Clara Waste Water the day after the explosion, fire, and toxic plume:

SCWW totes fire quote

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Santa Clara Waste Water: 1 year after the explosion

Will publish a story on the Scenes from an Explosion story I have been recently slightly obsessed with soon, but for now:

SCWWfire quote card number three



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The John Muir Way — now in Scotland too

Mark Grossi, a California reporter of long standing, recently retired, and his paper republished some of his best work, notably this recounting of a stretch on the John Muir Trail, walked in memory of Gross’s late father.

Speaking of John Muir, recently a wonderful story in the Wall Street Journal described a new trail through Scotland in honor of this great immigrant American hero.

Here in his homeland, however, Mr. Muir remains surprisingly little-known. Until recently there was not much to mark his memory apart from this statue and the small, white, pebble-dashed house across the road, where he was born in 1838 and which today houses the John Muir’s Birthplace museum.

Last year, Scotland inaugurated the John Muir Way, a new walking route that traverses the country west-to-east for 134 miles between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. It was conceived both to resurrect Mr. Muir in the Scottish consciousness and, as environmentalist Keith Geddes, one of the Way’s architects, explained, to “help today’s young Scots develop a relationship with the countryside around them.”

The trail takes a few days, and has industrial and architectural parts as well as wild parts. But walking on past Loch Lomond, the first and most famous of Scottish national parks, Henry Wismayer finds a certain peace.

Throughout the afternoon we rarely saw another walker. And if we looked in the right direction at the right moment even here, 30 miles from Glasgow, we could glimpse the pre-human innocence Mr. Muir coveted, away from what he called the “tyranny of man.”

Perhaps, I thought, as we rolled down toward the Way’s end in coastal Helensburgh, the intrepid nature-lover, who described himself as “hopelessly and forever a mountaineer,” might have selected a trickier route through these hills.

But accessibility is what the Way is all about: coaxing people to dust off their boots, pack a bag and set out to explore the many colors of Scotland’s coastline and countryside. And that is no doubt a mission that Mr. Muir would have commended.

From the story, here’s a new statue of Muir stood up in his hometown, ancient Dunbar.


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Ben Carson’s shameful past — as a nerd!

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal joined the chorus of media outlets scrutinizing Ben Carson’s past (as detailed in his memoir). Like CNN and the Washington Post, they discovered it’s a lot less colorful than Carson and his co-writer claimed. The WSJ concludes:

One reason that Mr. Carson’s stories are difficult to check is that he navigated the turbulent times of his young adulthood without leaving much of a trace. He arrived as a scholarship student at Yale University in 1969 to a campus engulfed in protests but said he avoided them.

“A lot of those students who were doing the protesting were also students who were involved in a lot of things that I didn’t believe in,” he told the Journal. “Drugs, premarital sex, free love, alcohol. And it just wasn’t the crowd that I particularly wanted to get involved with.”

Mr. Carson was assigned to Davenport College, a four-story brick dormitory with a gothic facade where future Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke invited anti-war speakers. Yet, when other students discussed politics and their changing world over meals in the cafeteria, Mr. Carson rarely spoke up, according to interviews with more than 50 Davenport College dorm residents of that era.

“He made no impression on you at all, other than a cheerful smile and a ‘Hello,’” said Ron Taylor, one of seven black students in the Davenport class of 1973.

Those acquainted with Mr. Carson said he was a serious student, typically wearing a pocket protector and toting a reddish-brown briefcase.

“He would go to bed at like 9 p.m. and get up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. and put on a suit, a tie and a jacket and a button-down shirt and study in the early morning,” said Thomas Noonan, an actor and Mr. Carson’s roommate their sophomore year.

How curious that this is what Carson feels compelled to cover up, his “A” student tendencies.


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Another paper published my FORECAST: GODZILLA story, which includes an amusing history of the “meme” from the weather reporter’s friend at JPL/NASA, Bill Patzert.

Don’t usually repost my reporting, but I really like this story, and this paper used my headline.














They didn’t use the image that launched the concept, however (see below). Guess the monster lurking in the data may not be as visible to others as it is to me.

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