Category for subjects for further research

“Biology we haven’t discovered yet”

Ever stumble across something — even something you’ve not thought much about — and then suddenly see it everywhere around you?

This strange stumbling-into-obsession has caught me in the last couple of weeks with the concept of consciousness. What the hell? What is it? When do we have it? When do we have too much of it, or not enough? All questions I’ve assiduously avoided for god knows how many years.

It all began with a podcast: Sam Harris interviewing genius primatologist/neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky. The Biology of Good and Evil. The conversation can’t be summarized in a sentence or two — it’s too rich — but the quote of the nearly two-hour interview was Sapolsky declaring:

I believe free will is what we call biology we haven’t discovered yet.

If true, of course, this means that we are all fundamentally unconscious. At least in the sense that we do not realize or cannot see how powerfully we are being driven by biology. Driven perhaps even against our own beliefs, or what we think we believe.

How about that? Makes a fellow feel small, and foolish. And maybe that’s why I’ve noticed a few things as of late.

From Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground [part one, chapter nine]:

Suffering — why this is the sole cause of consciousness. 

And from poet W.S. Di Piero‘s lovely little Table Talk essay in the latest Threepenny Review:

In Hardy’s “The Self-Unseeing,” he visits the remains of his childhood home and recalls where the door was, how the floor felt, how his mother sat “staring into the fire” while her fiddler husband “bowed it higher and higher.” The last two bittersweet lines, “Everything glowed with a gleam/Yet we were looking away” remind him that they couldn’t possibly have been aware of the harmonious moment while living it. We’re always late for consciousness, the neuroscientists say.

Does it follow then that happiness requires a kind of un-consciousness? A life inside our biology?

What would Fyodor say?

dostoevskyday

There’s more, but I haven’t found it yet…

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Trail signs along the PCT: Section Q

Just have to say that the trail signs in Section Q — the Marble Mountains — in the far north of California were the best (that is, most Zen) that I have seen along the length of California. They deserve remembering in their own right, so here goes:

Marble MoCame untain Wilderness sign IMG_2590

Next day I after about 5 or so miles I came to what turned out to be a superb water source, the sort of place I should have camped near, but oh well. Lovely place for a second breakfast.

Water sign IMG_2620

It’s a gorgeous area, which the signs hint in their own quiet way. If you look very closely you can see a grasshopper crouched in a nick in the sign above tghe “I.”

Sky High Lakes IMG_2728

This isn’t exactly a sign but it’s emblematic as hell of the area.

log waterfall IMG_2754

Wasn’t all beautiful: substantial burns to walk through at times, and the sky was smoky, from fires burning to the north and west.

PCT burn sign

This sign, at the base of the gorgeous trail along Grider Creek; well, if you look closely you will see it has some occult aspects. On the top post is written “State of Jefferson” with its rebel XX symbol, but below the post is written State of Mind. Pretty cool.

Cliff creek sign

Entering the tiny town of Seiad Valley, one sees these “No Monument” signs everywhere…though this one simplified the question impressively.

No Monument sign IMG_2918

Even the official signs in this area (Section R now) are most interesting than most.

Snag signs IMG_2929

I love the way signs in this section live past their legibility.

Zen sign IMG_2998

Or are taken into the landscape via trees:

Echo Lake IMG_3021

But this was my all-time fave:

PCT in tree IMG_3050

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The genius of a place: Vaclav Cilek

Mesmerized to have stumbled upon a Czech geologist/climatologist/essayist/philosopher of place, via the great Robert MacFarlane, quoted here.

Vaclav Cilek sees the spirit of landscapes, or rather, sees the possibility of seeing the spirit, the true nature, the inner workings of landscapes (an idea with which he’s comfortable, having spent years cataloguing caves in and around Prague). One can’t summarize in a line or two the depth of his thought, one can only quote a bit, to which one wishes to return, as we return to poetry.

The Rule of Slow Approaching
The thought that you can arrive by a car, stay for a while and understand is in most places merely an illusion. Some places are shy, other places behave like a director in chief – they accept you, but you will need to wait. I know of one place (I am sure there are many, but I didn’t have enough time for them), where it is necessary to approach for three days. We never arrive to unknown sacred spaces directly, it is much better to walk slowly, to hesitate, to circle the place first and only then to approach. An unknown place is not only one that we do not know, but also one which doesn’t know us. Some places demand a great respect, but sometimes respect is in the way, and we achieve more with a smile.

And perhaps most exciting of all, Cilek although well aware of the changes to come in climate, does not appear to be a catastrophist.

My message is simple: the gods of the earth are awakening, the time of change is here, I say to myself with joy and apprehension.

memoryscape3

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In Ojai, global warming + summer = heat. But how much?

A week ago New York magazine published a blockbuster climate change story. Here’s the annotated/footnoted version. Highly recommended, because the writer — David Wallace-Wells — finds a way to bring home the urgency, using current science. It’s very simple, really. Instead of focusing on what will happen next year, or next decade, or by 2040, he looks at what will happen over the course of this century.

Here’s the cover, to bring the message home:

TheDoomedEarthcatalogue2

To put it simply, even if we as a species succeed in holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius this century, that still means a 4C warming by 2100, which means substantial portions of the planet will become uninhabitable.

From the story:

Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat. The original paper is by James Hansen, though for this and much of my account of extreme heat events I relied on Joseph Romm’s Climate Change.; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, This is from the World Bank’s very helpful 2012 report Turn Down the Heat, on life in a world four degrees warmer. and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe.The warning appears on page 15 of the Fifth Assessment’s Synthesis Report. As some readers have pointed out, these effects will come about gradually, beginning with the rare unusually hot day; those unusually hot days will gradually become more frequent in number. As with all of the climate effects in this article, it’s important to remember that heat stress is not a binary matter: It’s not that there are two options, lethal heat waves and normal, comfortable temperatures, but that global warming will gradually bring about more and more heat stress. The same is true, of course, for effects on agriculture, economics, conflict, and other areas. As Richard Alley told me, “We’ve warmed the world one degree. The general impression is that each degree is more costly, more damaging, than the previous one. The first degree — most estimates are that the first degree was almost free. But we can see a dotted line into Syria. The second degree will cost more than the first degree. You might say it costs the square of the warming.” Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015.“Even if such aspirations are realized, large increases in the frequency of deadly heat should be expected, with more than 350 million more megacity inhabitants afflicted by midcentury,” this paper warns. At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer.Also from Turn Down the Heat. At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today.The report can be found here. As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know,heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.”This is from page 138, though it refers to the same NOAA study mentioned above. The high-end IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still.

Several scientists pushed back against the article’s conclusions (and, I suspect, against the graphics and headline, which transmitted a message of doom and extinction). I’ll mention a couple of worthy voices in this debate, but move on to the local issue, which is of greater importance to residents to Ojai.

Ojai is already a warm place in our long Mediterranean summers: what if it gets hotter? Could Ojai be one of those places that will within our children’s become inhabitable?

This graph from NOAA shows that June temps have been soaring as of late. Probably this is due to the drought: without the evaporation and transpiration of water from the ground, temperatures warm more quickly than would otherwise be the case. But still…

CAdivisionsixmaxtempsinJune

 

The question of how much Ojai could warm this century has not really been asked, to my knowedge. Can we stand to consider this possibility? Anyone interested in the answer to that question? What if it’s knowable?

This week NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) held its monthly climate call for media. Climatologist Jake Crouch mentioned in his presentation that “typically when we have really warm years in the lower 48 we see a drought pattern.”

So I (Kit Stolz) asked the natural follow-up: Is there some unusual factor, ocean warming or something not necessarily seen in the usual datasets, that could explain this unusual warming?

Crouch said, in effect, no. “As to the temperature outlook, we saw some natural ridging building across the southwest, bringing hotter temperatures and some human health impacts to the region. We think it’s more of a weather phenomenon than any other factor.”

So there you have it. Until some new research comes in, anyhow.

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Sierra Nevadas to change this century: UCLA researcher

The snowpack this year in the Sierra Nevada soared to 170% of normal: just two years ago at the annual measuring date at the end of March (attended by Governor Brown) it stood at 5%.

This extreme variability of the California climate will become routine this century argues researcher Daniel Swain of UCLA.

Here’s my story on his appearance tomorrow in Ojai, at the Krotona Institute.

“If you zoom in on the models and take into account the highly varying topography and the diminishing snow cover, you find that the Sierra Nevadas are actually going to warm much more than we [scientists] thought this century,” he said. “Temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees at some locations in the mountains.”

The March study, by Neil Berg and Alex Hall at UCLA, warns that droughts could all but eliminate the snowpack in the mountains on which California depends for water storage. The authors conclude, “Going forward, it is likely to become more difficult to store and manage municipal, agricultural and ecological water needs within a warmer climate, especially during periods of extreme drought.”

This could challenge the State Water Project, which depends on the slow melting of the Sierra snowpack to keep farmers in water through the long summers. Swain thinks that people are begining to understand the need to adapt to climate change, but he still thinks that even scientists have been slow to recognize how quickly the state is moving toward a polarization of the climate.

“It really is the extremes that matter now in California,” he said. “We already have seen patterns of extreme wetness and extreme dryness in recent years despite the fact we haven’t seen a significant change in the long-term annual mean [for rain and snow]. I argue that when it comes to precipitation in California, it’s not that the average doesn’t matter, it’s that the extremes matter much more.”

Swain has become famous for his remarkable California Weather Blog . Here’s a recent image he posted, of “wave number six” making its way around the world, altering weather patterns as it goes. Reading his blog offers a way for civilians to find their way into an understanding of meteorology and climate science.

wavenumbersix

 

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Want success as a writer? Get rejected.

So argues Kim Liao, persuasively,  in Lit Hub. She said she managed 43 rejections last year — a personal best.

Last year, I got rejected 43 times by literary magazines, residencies, and fellowships—my best record since I started shooting for getting 100 rejections per year. It’s harder than it sounds, but also more gratifying.

In late 2011, a writer friend was sharing her experiences of having months of uninterrupted writing time at her residencies at the Millay Colony, Ragdale, and Yaddo. I was staggered by her impressive rates of acceptance. You probably have one of those friends, too—you know the one I’m talking about, that friend who is a beautiful writer, but who also seems to win everything? I could barely believe that she had the balls to apply to—let alone, get accepted to—several residencies, a prestigious fellowship, and publications in journals I had actually heard of.

I asked her what her secret was, and she said something that would change my professional life as a writer: “Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”

This small piece of advice struck a deep chord in my fragile creative ego. My vulnerable ego only wants to be loved and accepted, to have my words ring out from a loudspeaker in Times Square while a neon ticker scrolls the text across a skyscraper, but it’s a big old coward. My ego resists mustering up the courage to submit writing to literary magazines, pitch articles, and apply for grants, residencies, and fellowships. Yet these painful processes are necessary evils if we are ever to climb out of our safe but hermetic cocoons of isolation and share our writing with the world.

Even simpler, of course, 43 rejections mean probably submitting a piece of her work to some journal or other every single week of the year. Impressive! Need to get back to submitting pitches and work on Fridays. Who cares about the irony of the process: get cracking.

rejections

 

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Ventura County opposes backyard bee-keeping: Ojai fights back

Sorry I’ve been quiet: too many deadlines. Good news is that I have a number of stories to post, big and small, and so let me catch up please.

Here’s a story about a surprising fact. Ventura County, which annually grosses two billion dollars in agricultural revenue, discourages backyard bee-keeping.

Even though nationally bees and other pollinators are in decline. By over 20% nationally, according to a study cited by the National Wildlife Federation. From a story in the Ojai Valley News. We begin midstream:

The policy of the Agricultural Commissioner of Ventura County currently prevents beekeeping except in areas designated for agriculture or open space, according to Interim Ojai City Manager Steve McClary. “The property size and ownership qualifications prevents beekeeping on most residential properties,” McClary wrote in the item prepared for the Council discussion.c

The proposed ordinance will allow beekeeping on residential properties within city limits provided owners register their hive with the Agricultural Commissioner, have lots of at least 5,000 square feet, keep a source of water at all times for the hive, and maintain adequate space in the hive for the bee population to grow safely.

Mayor Paul Blatz asked if encouraging homeowners to keep bees in their backyards might mean more bees and possible problems for residents. [Glenn] Perry, [president of the Ojai Valley Bee Club] replied that actually a number of gardeners and farmers in Ojai, notably Steve Sprinkel of The Farmer and The Cook, had noticed that the bees in the area were in decline.

“I see a decrease in the number of bees around here that’s a little shocking in just the five years I’ve been here,” Perry said. “We’re not talking about an increase, but we are talking about making sure they don’t decline further.”

Councilman Randy Haney wondered if homeowners wishing to keep bees who live near schools could inform administrators about any plans to add hives to their backyards. Perry said his group would be willing to consider the idea.

“Our proposal is intended to be as reasonable and as responsible as possible,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Weirick pointed out that the National Federation of Wildlife just released a plan to support bees, calling for a “Million Pollinator Gardens” by the end of this year. The organization pointed to a national study that found a 23 percent decline in bee populations between 2008 and 2013.

Took kind of a fun picture of Weirick after the meeting, which the paper charmed me by running:

weirick_beekeeping

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Rockefeller charity calls Exxon “morally reprehensible,” disinvests

Today a fifty-year-old charity founded by the descendants of John Rockefeller, of Standard Oil wealth, disinvested their funds from Exxon Mobil and accused the company of misleading the public to enable the company to damage the climate. In a statement the Rockefeller Family Fund called the company morally reprehensible and said:

“Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded,” the Rockefeller family wrote.

Where did they get this idea? From what was probably the best environmental story/expose published last year, in which Inside Climate News blew the lid off Exxon’s climate distortions and destruction, fact by fact, document by document, drawn from company files donated to a university, combed through by a team of students from Columbia University. Plus interviews statements pictures follow-ups and more. It’s greatness in journalism.

This has led to multiple investigations, as detailed in an RT story:

In November of 2015, the state of New York launched an investigation into whether the largest US gas and oil company had misled the public and investors about the risks of climate change. A similar inquiry has been opened in California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

 

Exxon: The Road Not Taken. Read it. Please.

But here’s the twist. Before turning on Exxon, the $130 million Rockefeller Family Fund turns out to have been a funder of Inside Climate News, and apparently assisted in the investigation!

Or so Exxon alleges:

“It’s not surprising that they’re divesting,” the company told CNBC. “The Rockefeller Family Fund provided financial support to InsideClimate News and Columbia University Journalism School which produced inaccurate and deliberately misleading stories about ExxonMobil’s history of climate research.”

!!!

Story there — somewhere.

exxon-to-start-15-billion-lng-project-18055_1

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Wishing and Hoping (for El Niño in SoCal)

El Niño has been a no-show in Southern California this year, despite endless fall warnings of a Godzilla event (including those transmitted by yours truly).

So what happened?

Short version, according to a post put up on the Weather West blog by the wise young Daniel Swain of Stanford, is we don’t know — but we have suspicions.

…I’ll reiterate that it’s impossible to discern in real time–and especially within the confines of a blog post–exactly why California has been considerably drier than expectations during the present very strong El Niño event, and why West Coast ridging [high pressure build-up] has been so prominent during recent winters. One thing that is clear is that warming temperatures have already increased the likelihood and severity of drought in California–irrespective of changes in precipitation patterns.

Swain argues that the “subtropical ridging” is not a return of the dreaded Ridiculously Resilient Ridge that created the California drought of the past five years — at least not yet — and reminds us that the winter is not yet over, and suggests the pattern could shift soon:

…there are still tantalizing signs of a potential shift to much wetter conditions by the very end of the month. The GFS and ECMWF ensembles have both been suggesting that the anomalously deep Gulf of Alaska low which has been present so far this winter will shift subtly eastward over the coming 2 weeks, eventually displacing the West Coast ridge far enough to the east to allow the “storm parade” which has been present across the North Pacific for the entire winter to reach California.

That suggestion is shown in this model animation in the early days of March. (Watch the low move into California as the days in the marker at the top pass by.)

96cff75c-c72b-4bfd-b05f-fba85b9ffde6

To the Ventura County Star, local hero Bill Patzert, of JPL/NASA fame, argues that the El Niño this year might have been so big it pulled the subtropical jet stream into NorCal, but likewise suggests that could change:

Forecasts that El Niño would bring a conveyor belt of wet storms have yet to materialize in Southern California.

But experts say it’s not too late. There are still two months to go.

Climatologist Bill Patzert, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said he’s still counseling patience and optimism.

The El Niño didn’t start to peak until January and February. It might have been too big, pushing the subtropical jet stream farther north. As its intensity decreases, that could change.

There is precedent for that, Patzert said. In 1983, “the big show didn’t really happen until March and April.”

Meanwhile, El Niño storms have boosted the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about one-third of California’s water, including in east Ventura County.

True. But the rainfall numbers this year for Ventura County are little short of dismal:

rainfalltotals

 

 

 

 

 

Let us pray.

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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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