Naomi Klein on Climate Change

Well-written and well thought piece on some of the challenges surrounding climate change from Naomi Klein in The Nation:

Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognizing that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for a home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.”

That’s good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand.

British Pathé's films on smog and air pollution

From Variety:

British Pathé, the U.K. newsreel archive company, has uploaded its entire 100-year collection of 85,000 historic films in high resolution to YouTube.

The collection, which spans 1896 to 1976, comprises some 3,500 hours of historical footage of major events, notable figures, fashion, travel, sports and culture. It includes extensive film from both World War I and World War II.

Naturally, I looked for some videos about smog, air pollution, and the environment. The Archive doesn’t disappoint. There are pieces called “The Smog Menace”, “Smog Detector”, and a documentary called “Guilty Chimneys” (part 1 + 2, part 3).

There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in the archive beyond smog and air pollution. Pretty cool.

Shakespeare's Beehive

Hard to say if this is real or not, but booksellers claim to have found a dictionary used and annotated by Shakespeare. They’ve digitized it and made it available on the internet (requires registration).

In simplest terms it goes as follows: with Baret’s Alvearie we are faced with a book that has not once been reprinted since 1580. A most obscure book. A humble copy. An extensive network of annotations that, through obscurity and a lack of attention, comes to light only now, never previously studied or speculated upon. These are the basic stepping-stones to providing plausibility to the dream that such a monumental discovery is possible. The rest is in the evidence.

A Klubeck here, a Klubeck there

Continuing the trend of Wes Anderson related posts, I noticed the following in Fantastic Mr. Fox:

and we know about this in The Grand Budapest Hotel:

What (or who) the hell is a Klubeck? Screen Forever tells us that Rich Klubeck is a Partner at United Talent Agency… and that one of his clients is Wes Anderson:

Rich Klubeck is a Partner in the Motion Picture Group at United Talent Agency in Los Angeles where he has worked since 2003. Rich’s clients include Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Anderson, Angelina Jolie, Ewan McGregor, Uma Thurman, Mike White, Scott Z. Burns, Drake Doremus, Lynn Shelton, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Paolo Sorrentino, Nicole Holofcener, Craig Gillespie, David Mackenzie, Miranda July, David Michod, Mike Mills, Dror Moreh, Sam Gold, Sergio Sanchez, Ziad Doueiri, and Fatih Akin. He also represents leading video developer and publisher Electronic Arts.

Behind the Scenes: The Grand Budapest Hotel Miniatures

A collection of shots of the miniatures from the film as they were being created. The details are pretty incredible.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Beth and I went and saw Wes Anderson’s newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, at our customary and preferred pre-noon showtime. In attendance were a healthy set of other 30 somethings and a substantial number of significantly older clientele. I love Anderson’s films without reserve. This one did not disappoint; in fact, it has stuck with me in peculiar ways.

The film is typically quirky, beautiful, and flagrantly not of this reality: set in a made-up eastern European country, it takes place slightly before a large conflict that draws from both the first and second world wars. The external, wide shots of the hotel and many of the sets are clearly models — though exquisitely detailed ones. The story floats through history, moving us back in time somewhat quickly. At the beginning, a young woman visits a statue of a dead author, paying tribute as the snow falls around her in a somewhat drab courtyard. She holds a book - The Grand Budapest Hotel - by ‘The Author.’ We see a picture of him on the back cover, than cut to him behind a desk, alive and recounting how he came to the story of the hotel and its owner (and seemingly breaking the fourth wall as he describes storytelling). These scenes are all shot in a typical, modern aspect ratio. We cut to the past, where Jude Law plays a younger version of The Author. The aspect ratio changes and Law becomes the narrator. We learn a little about the hotel, a quieted place of fading glory, ornamentation discarded for brute utilitarianism; and of its proprietor, Zero Mustafa. Zero recounts how he came to the hotel as a lobby boy, and we shift further back in time. F. Murray Abraham, who plays the older Zero, takes over as narrator. Zero, now played by Tony Revolori, is a refugee from an unnamed somewhere. The casting is smart — in no human world does Revolori grow into Abraham, but both convey otherness and outsider. We meet his flirtatious, bisexual, at times well-mannered and at times flagrantly vulgur mentor M. Gustave, portrayed with brilliant aplomb by Ralph Fiennes. The aspect ratio changes again — this time dramatically, to one slightly taller than wide. A striking, uncommon effect. The combination of shifting aspect ratios and narrators helps the viewer organize the periods of the film, but also confuses. A neat way of depicting the manic and wily sands of memory, transposing and mixing up bits and pieces of recalled experience.

The story goes off the rails from there — in fun and memorable ways. There’s a thug who removes some of another character’s fingers, a love story between a savant baker and Zero, a prison break, incredible sets and many, many familiar faces. To describe any of it in detail would be tantamount to pilfering little bits of delight. Like all Anderson films, there’s subtle humor, detail, and insane exposition.

So why’s it bugging me? I’m not sure. Anderson doesn’t address the obscenities of history directly, but lightly and from glancing angles. This pisses people off (not me), especially those who think Anderson’s films are superficial nods to aesthetes. There are palpable senses of loss and longing: for older Zero, an understandable one; an equivalent saudade for Gustave, who by wily strength of charm maintains his bizarre interpretation of old-world decorum and propriety at the Hotel. He lives by a code, as it were, and watches the world crumble around him.

The melancholy extends to the connection between Zero and Gustave, to the Hotel and the world it represented, and to a perceived brightness of a forgone time. It permeates throughout the film and ultimately gives way to an acknowledgement of passing. If Anderson’s worlds of whimsy are creations of joy, then the drab scenes set in the ‘present’ of the film (mid-80s) and in the recent past of Law’s Author seem to come from a muted woe daubed with signs of former glory.

That last bit sounds remarkably abysmal — it’s not, at all. I’m keen for a repeat viewing. The film’s a delight and the best I’ve seen in quite a while.

Daniel Stoupin's Slow Life

Astonishing.

“Slow” marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges are very mobile creatures, but their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen. These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives.

Beer in NYT: 1) Glaser on Modern Beer Art and 2) The Brothers behind Mikkeller and Evil Twin

The NYT has two interesting beer-related articles available online from the forthcoming (in print) NYT Magazine. The first is about the Bjergso brothers, two beer brewing mavens:

The number of phantom brewers is growing, and Mikkel, who got into the game in 2006, views this with a mixture of magnanimity and trendsetter’s pride. But he pays particularly close attention to one Brooklyn-based phantom brewery, because it is owned by his identical twin, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso. Jeppe started his brewery four years after Mikkeller began and, in an act of winking provocation, named the outfit Evil Twin. It is a smaller operation than Mikkeller, but similarly well regarded among connoisseurs. (Jeppe used to help Noma curate its beer selection.) The Bjergso brothers have opposite temperaments: Mikkel is reserved; Jeppe is an extrovert. And they are not on good terms, despite — or rather, because of — their shared infatuation with beer. They haven’t spoken to each other in more than a year.

Fun read, especially for beer aficionados.

A second, equally fun piece has Milton Glaser’s thoughts on some modern beer branding and labels.

“I have a theory that most of design, in general, is the creation of affection,” says Milton Glaser, the 84-year-old graphic-design legend, who created the I ♥ NY logo. When it comes to craft beer, Glaser, who also designed the Brooklyn Brewery identity, believes that it comes down to creating a label that looks quirkily amateurish — if not downright unprofessional. “The one thing you don’t want to look like is Budweiser,” Glaser says. “This creates a paradox: How do you deliberately create the illusion of not knowing what you’re doing when you actually do?” As he notes below, some companies do it better than others.

Cyndi Lauper and David Byrne Discuss Creating Hits, On and Off Broadway

Robert Caplin for The New York Times

Philip Galanes, interviewing Cyndi Lauper and David Byrne in Greenwich:

PG: Was there struggle at the beginning of the Talking Heads?

CL: (singing) “This ain’t no foolin’ around.”

DB: It was a slow step by step, like on a ladder, and doing tours in a station wagon.

CL: That sucks.

DB: But there was never a rejection or a sense that this is not connecting. It was always connecting to a certain group of people. That’s good. Now let’s see if we can get it to another level.

CL: I was told I sang like a rat, but I didn’t care because I felt so great when I sang. I didn’t give a damn what anyone else said.

DB: And our connection with the audience seemed real and heartfelt. They really did care about us. They weren’t going because they had been told by some advertising agency.

CL: They didn’t stand in the back yelling “Free Bird”?

DB: Yes, they did that, too. But I think about what Cyndi was saying, there were periods, later on, when I would think: Oh, I’m no longer flavor of the month. What happens now? I think I’m still writing good songs, maybe even better songs. I’m more in control of my voice, it’s not that strangled squeak anymore. And I was willing to accept that people might go, “You sing good now, but we liked it when you sang bad.”

What's old (very old) is new again: Edwin Edwards announces Congress Run

Unbelievable.

After seven years in Congress, 16 years as governor, eight years in the federal penitentiary and several weeks of coyly prodding the speculation of political reporters, Edwin Edwards, 86, announced on Monday that he would be running as a Democrat to represent Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District.

“Iacta alea est,” Mr. Edwards said, after describing how Julius Caesar came to the rescue of the unhappy citizens of Rome. “The die is cast. Today I cross the Rubicon.”

The announcement, delivered at a gathering of the Baton Rouge Press Club, did not come with Caesar’s element of surprise. When Mr. Edwards entered the conference room at the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino and Hotel, leading his 35-year-old wife, Trina, and pushing his 7-month-old son, Eli, in a stroller, a large crowd was waiting with camera phones at the ready.

The Age of 'Infopolitics'

Interesting piece by Colin Koopman on “Infopolitics” and society:

After the initial alarm that accompanies every leak and news report, many of us retreat to the status quo, quieting ourselves with the thought that these new surveillance strategies are not all that sinister, especially if, as we like to say, we have nothing to hide.

One reason for our complacency is that we lack the intellectual framework to grasp the new kinds of political injustices characteristic of today’s information society. Everyone understands what is wrong with a government’s depriving its citizens of freedom of assembly or liberty of conscience. Everyone (or most everyone) understands the injustice of government-sanctioned racial profiling or policies that produce economic inequality along color lines. But though nearly all of us have a vague sense that something is wrong with the new regimes of data surveillance, it is difficult for us to specify exactly what is happening and why it raises serious concern, let alone what we might do about it….

We need a concept of infopolitics precisely because we have become infopersons. What should we do about our Internet and phone patterns’ being fastidiously harvested and stored away in remote databanks where they await inspection by future algorithms developed at the National Security Agency, Facebook, credit reporting firms like Experian and other new institutions of information and control that will come into existence in future decades? What bits of the informational you will fall under scrutiny? The political you? The sexual you? What next-generation McCarthyisms await your informational self? And will those excesses of oversight be found in some Senate subcommittee against which we democratic citizens might hope to rise up in revolt — or will they lurk among algorithmic automatons that silently seal our fates in digital filing systems?

What the What: David Byrne covers Biz Markie's Just a Friend

Incredible.

thanks Weeeeeeeeej!

Behind Bars: The secret vocabulary of New York's finest drinking establishments.

This is a gem. The hidden language of bars. Completely beautiful nonsense. Intriguing little microclimates of language — some which seem to exist between bars, and some within.

BOOMERANGS

A specially prepared drink that is sealed (say, with plastic wrap or a rubber glove) and dispatched as a gift to a nearby bar. Of dubious legality, BOOMERANGS are a way of ‘having a drink’ with industry friends during work. BOOMERANGS are often shuttled from bar to bar by regulars, who are thereby identified as guests of quality.

NINJA

[I] One who sneaks out, leaving his friends to pay. [2] A cool and composed drinker.

WARREN BUFFET

Wealthy client, not spending.

Attack on California Power Plant

I don’t usually link to this kind of stuff. As it is related to energy and physical infrastructure — and is a different type of failure than we’re used to — I think it is worth some thought. The story was originally covered by the WSJ and Foreign Policy; both of those articles are behind paywalls.

The strike against the power plant sounds surgical. The WSJ outlined the timeline of events:

At 12:58 a.m., AT&T fiber-optic telecommunications cables were cut—in a way that made them hard to repair—in an underground vault near the substation, not far from U.S. Highway 101 just outside south San Jose. It would have taken more than one person to lift the metal vault cover, said people who visited the site.

Nine minutes later, some customers of Level 3 Communications, an Internet service provider, lost service. Cables in its vault near the Metcalf substation were also cut.

At 1:31 a.m., a surveillance camera pointed along a chain-link fence around the substation recorded a streak of light that investigators from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office think was a signal from a waved flashlight. It was followed by the muzzle flash of rifles and sparks from bullets hitting the fence.

The substation’s cameras weren’t aimed outside its perimeter, where the attackers were. They shooters appear to have aimed at the transformers’ oil-filled cooling systems. These began to bleed oil, but didn’t explode, as the transformers probably would have done if hit in other areas.

About six minutes after the shooting started, PG&E confirms, it got an alarm from motion sensors at the substation, possibly from bullets grazing the fence, which is shown on video.

Four minutes later, at 1:41 a.m., the sheriff’s department received a 911 call about gunfire, sent by an engineer at a nearby power plant that still had phone service.

Riddled with bullet holes, the transformers leaked 52,000 gallons of oil, then overheated. The first bank of them crashed at 1:45 a.m., at which time PG&E’s control center about 90 miles north received an equipment-failure alarm.

Five minutes later, another apparent flashlight signal, caught on film, marked the end of the attack. More than 100 shell casings of the sort ejected by AK-47s were later found at the site.

Urban Air Pollution in Delhi, India

I’ve got some fundamental issues with this recent article in the NYT, starting with its absurd title: Beijing’s Bad Air Would Be Step Up for Smoggy Delhi. The difference between levels in Beijing and Delhi are nigh indistinguishable shades of the same grey - we’re seeing similar and important trends playing out in large urban centers. We know the levels are health damaging and we know that the exposure-response relationships for a number of health impacts are not linear - a decrease from 400 to 300 ug/m3 doesn’t incur the same benefit in a population as the decrease from, say, 150 to 50 ug/m3. The latter decrease seems to have a far more profound and substantial positive impact on health. That, of course, is not to say we shouldn’t applaud any and all decreases in ambient air pollution — but instead to emphasize that we have a long way to go to fully protect public health.

No doubt, these issues need to become more prominent in Indian discourse, as the author acknowledges:

… [For] the first three weeks of this year, New Delhi’s average daily peak reading of fine particulate matter from Punjabi Bagh, a monitor whose readings are often below those of other city and independent monitors, was 473, more than twice as high as the average of 227 in Beijing. By the time pollution breached 500 in Beijing for the first time on the night of Jan. 15, Delhi had already had eight such days. Indeed, only once in three weeks did New Delhi’s daily peak value of fine particles fall below 300, a level more than 12 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

“It’s always puzzled me that the focus is always on China and not India,” said Dr. Angel Hsu, director of the environmental performance measurement program at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “China has realized that it can’t hide behind its usual opacity, whereas India gets no pressure to release better data. So there simply isn’t good public data on India like there is for China.”

Experts have long known that India’s air is among the worst in the world. A recent analysis by Yale researchers found that seven of the 10 countries with the worst air pollution exposures are in South Asia. And evidence is mounting that Indians pay a higher price for air pollution than almost anyone. A recent study showed that Indians have the world’s weakest lungs, with far less capacity than Chinese lungs. Researchers are beginning to suspect that India’s unusual mix of polluted air, poor sanitation and contaminated water may make the country among the most dangerous in the world for lungs.

But even this doesn’t tell the whole story. Rural India is fraught with air pollution concerns of a different type — that arising from solid fuel combustion for household cooking. This ‘household air pollution’ results in approximately 900,000 annual deaths in India - 10% of national mortality. It disproportionately affects the rural poor, who, for the most part, don’t have access to modern fuels for cooking, heating, or lighting. It’s estimated that approximately 700 million people - more than twice the US population - in India rely on solid fuel use for household energy needs.

I applaud the NYT for covering air pollution in Delhi and across India. That said, neither of the above articles consider air pollution out of urban centers - and neither address the fact that these types of pollution events were commonplace in now-developed countries (see Donora, PA; London Smog; Thanksgiving Day Smog, NYC, 1966 ) as they stumbled in search of progress.

Climate Change: If you see something, say something

Powerful opinion piece by Michael E. Mann in the NYT:

If scientists choose not to engage in the public debate, we leave a vacuum that will be filled by those whose agenda is one of short-term self-interest. There is a great cost to society if scientists fail to participate in the larger conversation — if we do not do all we can to ensure that the policy debate is informed by an honest assessment of the risks. In fact, it would be an abrogation of our responsibility to society if we remained quiet in the face of such a grave threat.

This is hardly a radical position. Our Department of Homeland Security has urged citizens to report anything dangerous they witness: “If you see something, say something.” We scientists are citizens, too, and, in climate change, we see a clear and present danger. The public is beginning to see the danger, too — Midwestern farmers struggling with drought, more damaging wildfires out West, and withering record summer heat across the country — while wondering about possible linkages between rapid Arctic warming and strange weather patterns, like the recent outbreak of Arctic air across much of the United States.

How will history judge us if we watch the threat unfold before our eyes, but fail to communicate the urgency of acting to avert potential disaster? How would I explain to the future children of my 8-year-old daughter that their grandfather saw the threat, but didn’t speak up in time?

Those are the stakes.

Suntory buys Jim Beam

The New Yorker, writing about the acquisition of Jim Beam by Suntory in two recent posts:

Walker Percy wrote that “bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust.” Distillers have been appealing to this feeling—something visceral and personal that transcends price points or mash bills—for years. It connects to the collective cultural consciousness: the myths of tax rebels sticking it to Alexander Hamilton; or outlaws at their stills, deep in the hollers of Kentucky; or Junior Johnson outrunning the law on the back roads of North Carolina, packing illegal hooch in the trunk. It is the stuff of cowboy saloons and city dive bars and a thousand country songs. This narrative, of course, is told in the codes of (largely white) masculinity—and aimed at and perpetuated by the kinds of drinkers, mostly men, I suspect, who hope that their poison of choice tells a story about them, and who are worried that it might not be the right one. Bourbon seems like a sturdy marker of a freedom-loving American identity, but that narrative is mostly a pleasant fiction. The truth of the tale lies in mergers and holding companies and transnational distribution rights. George Jones never sang about any of that. The real story of the modern whiskey industry is less romantic but no less American. The country’s “native spirit,” as bourbon is often called, is one of capitalization and consolidation.

Bill Murray's Ask Me Anything on Reddit

As with all things Bill Murray, this is a gem. My favorite question and answer is the top one in the thread (for now):

Q. If you could go back in time and have a conversation with one person, who would it be and why? (from anniedog03)

A. That’s a grand question, golly.

I kind of like scientists, in a funny way. Albert Einstein was a pretty cool guy. The thing about Einstein was that he was a theoretical physicist, so they were all theories. He was just a smart guy. I’m kind of interested in genetics though. I think I would have liked to have met Gregor Mendel.

Because he was a monk who just sort of figured this stuff out on his own. That’s a higher mind, that’s a mind that’s connected. They have a vision, and they just sort of see it because they are so connected intellectually and mechanically and spiritually, they can access a higher mind. Mendel was a guy so long ago that I don’t necessarily know very much about him, but I know that Einstein did his work in the mountains in Switzerland. I think the altitude had an effect on the way they spoke and thought.

But I would like to know about Mendel, because i remember going to the Philippines and thinking “this is like Mendel’s garden” because it had been invaded by so many different countries over the years, and you could see the children shared the genetic traits of all their invaders over the years, and it made for this beautiful varietal garden.

Awesome.

Council on Foreign Relations: Vaccine Preventable Disease Map

It’s been a long time, blog. Blame India and Nepal. Both of which are seemingly under-represented in the below map. The embed code’s not great — click on a region or pull the map around a bit to see their assessment. Or, better yet, view the map in your full browser window here.

For the past three years, the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations has been tracking relevant reports to produce an interactive map plotting global outbreaks of diseases that are easily prevented by inexpensive and effective vaccines. The diseases include measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, and rubella.

“These outbreaks illustrate a worrying trend and raise the sense of alarm regarding failures in and public resistance to vaccine efforts,” says CFR senior fellow for global health Laurie Garrett. “Small decreases in vaccine coverage are known to lead to dramatic increases in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” she explains.

Nelson Mandela Photoshoot for 21 Portraits

Nelson Mandela, the revered statesman who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of decades of apartheid, passed away on December 5, 2013. Few men in the history of mankind have had more impact on a nation and inspired the world like the former president.

Shortly before he retreated from public life in 2011, Mandela participated in photographer Adrian Steirn’s 21 Icons project — a photographic and short-film series profiling the men and women who shaped modern South Africa.

These are incredible. See the full set, check out 21 Icons South Africa , see another set by Steirn with Mandela, and read more at flickr.

And don’t miss this one.

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