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How Society Pays When Women's Work Is Unpaid

Claire Cain Miller in the NYT:

In countries around the world, the ways in which men and women spend their time are unbalanced. Men spend more time working for money. Women do the bulk of the unpaid work — cooking, cleaning and child care.

This unpaid work is essential for households and societies to function. But it is also valued less than paid work, and when it is women’s responsibility, it prevents them from doing other things.

“This is one of those root inequalities that exist all over in society and we just don’t talk about it very much,” Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation, said in an interview. She said she was inspired by her own observations when traveling to other countries as well as by time-use data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “If we don’t bring it forward, we basically won’t unlock the potential of women.”

We’re starting to explore ways to quantify (objectively) the time spent gathering fuel in rural India. There are some opportunities to put a wage potential to the time savings, too. India has a National Rural Employment Guarantee that provides a daily wage for up to 100 days per year.

Interesting to see this issue in the NYT, but a lot of the details of the difficult work of women was left out — fuel gathering, water collection, cooking, laundry, animal husbandry, fieldwork, dealing with husbands and mother-in-laws. Note: these are mentioned in Bill and Melinda’s blog post.

The Return of London's Fog

London’s fogs may be about to make a comeback. Christine Corton, in the NYT:

In January, researchers at King’s College London announced that pollution levels on Oxford Street, in central London, had exceeded limits set for the entire year in just the first four days of 2015. Similarly alarming numbers have been recorded for other streets in the city — and yet the mayor, Boris Johnson, has delayed implementation of stricter air-quality measures until 2020.

What’s happening in London is being played out in cities worldwide, as efforts to curtail the onslaught of air pollution are stymied by short-term vested interests, with potentially disastrous results.

I just experienced a particular, particulate version of this hell first-hand in Delhi. For the last few days of my trip, a dense, thick haze - clearly not an innocuous fog - permeated the city and surrounding environs. On one trip back to our flat, all of my fellow taxi passengers complained of burning eyes and sore throats.

The closest PM monitor during that drive back — actually quite far from us — read over 250 µg/m3. That’s around 10x higher than a ‘bad’ day in the US. Moreover, we guessed that the levels we were experiencing were closer to 350 µg/m3. As a point of reference, the maximum mean hourly PM2.5 concentration in London since 2008 was approximately 30 µg/m3.

Corton points to a behavioral component to the historic London Fog episodes — a parallel I find particularly interesting:

There was a cultural component, too. The British were wedded to their open fires. Closed stoves, popular throughout much of Europe, especially in Germany, were shunned by Londoners. During World War I, Britons were exhorted, in the words of the famous song, to “keep the home fires burning.” Politicians were simply not willing to risk unpopularity by forcing Londoners to stop using coal and go over to gas or electric heating instead. In Britain today, in an echo of these earlier concerns, the government is cutting subsidies for onshore wind and solar farms, anxious not to offend voters in rural areas where such facilities would be built.

It took a disaster to force London to change direction. In 1952, a “great killer fog” lasted five days and killed an estimated 4,000 people. In a Britain trying to turn a corner after the death and destruction of the Blitz, this was unacceptable. A Clean Air Act was passed in 1956, forcing Londoners to burn smokeless fuel or switch to gas or electricity, power sources that had become much cheaper as these industries expanded.

Let’s hope that policy levers and momentum — not a disaster — can help transition away from solid fuels in India and beyond.

Boston Globe: Why food allergy fakers need to stop

Neil Swidey, in the Boston Globe:

I know you want your dietary preferences to be taken seriously, and you think invoking the A-word is a harmless little white lie. But you have no idea how much trouble you’re causing and how much you’re helping to erode hard-won progress for people with genuine allergies and disorders.

In a stunningly short slice of history, we’ve gone from food allergies being met with ignorance or indifference in the restaurant world to their domination of the discussion between server and diner, starting with the greeting and continuing all the way to dessert. The seriousness with which most chefs now take allergies has opened up the restaurant experience to a whole group of people who previously couldn’t risk dining out. That progress should be celebrated.

But it shouldn’t be taken for granted. And we’ve come to a tipping point, thanks to the explosion of faddists and bandwagon-jumpers and attention-seekers who wrap their food dislikes in the packaging of allergy and disease. After witnessing enough diners who make a big fuss about how their bodies can’t tolerate gluten and then proceed to order a beer or dig into their date’s brownie dessert, fatigued chefs and managers are beginning to adopt a less accommodating approach. But the people who may ultimately pay the price for this pushback won’t be the “free-from” fabulists. They’ll be those with serious conditions.

Amen. Beth has celiac disease; we’re lucky to live in the Bay Area, where we can go out to eat from time-to-time and be relatively safe. That said, in the past year, the number of times we’ve had to explain the allergy as “real” as opposed to a preference has ballooned.

Josh Marshall: Obama on the Hoofbeats of History

Marshall, writing at the Editor’s Blog at TPM, eloquently describes the last month in American life, placing President Obama at its center:

It was a momentous week. I had wanted to write something about it at the time. But I couldn’t quite form my views on it. It seemed more like something to take in than to talk about. In one short string of events so much of the President’s legacy which had been up for grabs, contingent and uncertain, was suddenly confirmed and driven home in ways that allowed little doubt. Not all of these wins were Obama’s of course. He did not even support marriage equality in 2008 let alone run on it. The Court’s decision and the sea change in public opinion which made it possible and perhaps inevitable were the products of decades of activism stretching back into years when no one had ever even heard the President’s name. But we’re talking here not about a single person or political leader but of the aspirations of those who elected him. And judged through this prism, the rush of events in late June come together as a unified picture.

Reminds me of a part of Marc Maron’s interview with President Obama on WTF, when the President spoke of the slow march of change. It also harkens back to the use of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change is Gonna Come”, right?

A fever dream of liberal change, punching through into reality through the tireless work of an administration. An incredible — and uniquely American — month, with incredible progress punctuated by tragedy.

Susanna Hertrich's Risk Perception Art

Susanna Hertrich:

A reflection on common fears in societies where anxieties have become a lifestyle choice (2010 - ongoing).

Regarding the piece above:

Public dread and actual deaths caused by most common sources of energy. Based on a longterm study by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

via @darbyjack

India is building millions of toilets, but that's the easy part

Rama Lakshmi, in the Washington Post, on the push for many, many more toilets throughout India:

Modi has made toilet-building and sanitation a rallying cry since October. He has enlisted large companies to help. In the past year, his government has built more than 5.8 million toilets — up from 4.9 million the previous year. But reports show that many of them are unused or that they are being used to store grain, clothes or to tether goats, thwarting Modi’s sanitation revolution.

“Even as we accelerate toilet construction now, much more needs to be done to persuade people to use them,” said Chaudhary Birender Singh, India’s minister for rural development, sanitation and drinking water. “For long, we assumed that if the toilets are built, people will automatically use it. But we have to diligently monitor the use over a period of time and reward them with cash incentives to the village councils at every stage. Only then will it become a daily habit.”

This all sounds really familiar.

Ye Olde Smog Meringue

image from coclimate.com

Nicola Twilley, writing at ediblegeography.com:

After running around New York City in order to source our precursor ingredients (a huge thanks to Kent Kirshenbaum, chemistry professor at NYU and co-founder of the Experimental Cuising Collective), we spent Thursday afternoon and evening in the kitchens of Baz Bagel (excellent bagels, amazing ramp cream cheese, and truly lovely people) assembling the cart, mixing different chemical precursors, and then “baking” them under UV light to form a London peasouper, a 1950s Los Angeles photochemical smog, and a present-day air-quality event in Atlanta.

We chose these three places and times to showcase three of the classic “types” that atmospheric scientists use to characterize smogs: 1950s London was a sulfur- and particulate-heavy fog, whereas 1950s Los Angeles was a photochemical smog created by the reactions between sunlight, NOx, and partially combusted hydrocarbons. Present-day Beijing often experiences London-style atmospheric conditions, whereas Mexico City’s smog is in the Angeleno style.

Meanwhile, at its worst, Atlanta’s atmosphere is similar in composition to that of Los Angeles, but with the addition of biogenic emissions. An estimated ten percent of emissions in Atlanta are from a class of chemicals known as terpenes, from organic sources such as pine trees and decaying green matter. We had also hoped to create a Central Valley smog as well, but time got the better of us.

Each city’s different precursor emissions and weather conditions produce a different kind of smog, with distinct chemical characteristics—and a unique flavour.

A Very Murray Christmas

From Variety:

Netflix has picked up “A Very Murray Christmas” — an homage to classic variety shows starring Bill Murray as himself — set to debut on the streaming service Internet TV network this December.

The special is being written by Sofia Coppola, Bill Murray and Mitch Glazer and directed by Sofia Coppola. In “A Very Murray Christmas,” the comedian worries no one will show up to his TV show due to a massive snowstorm in New York City. Through luck and perseverance, guests arrive at Gotham’s Carlyle hotel to help him — dancing and singing in holiday spirit.

On Writing Well Author William Zinsser dies

William Zinsser passed away today at 92. He described the process of writing On Writing Well in detail — and described its legacy:

On Writing Well sold its millionth copy in 2000. (Sales are now approaching 1.5 million.) It was a figure I could hardly believe or even imagine; I’ve never thought of myself as a “best-selling” author, and I’m still surprised to hear that someone knows my name and my books. The numbers that mean the most to me are the hundreds of readers who have written or called just to say how much they like the book and how much it helped them. Surprisingly often they use the phrase “You changed my life.” I don’t take that to mean that they found Buddhist enlightenment or quit smoking. What they mainly mean is that I cleaned out the sludge in their thinking that had paralyzed them from doing writing of any kind—a phobia not unlike the fear of cleaning out the closets or the basement. (The hard part of writing isn’t the writing; it’s the thinking.) Now, they tell me, I’m at their side whenever they write, exhorting them to cut every word or phrase or sentence or paragraph that isn’t doing necessary work. That, finally, is the life-changing message of On Writing Well: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity.

Non-elite marathon performance

Some fun stuff from Runrepeat.com:

The purpose of this study was to compare recreational runners. Therefore elite runners were omitted hence including them would bias the results dramatically.

In this analysis, we looked at the following marathons from 2009 to 2014: Chicago, Marine, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Athens, Amsterdam, Budapest, Warszawa and Madrid. This gave us a total of 72 marathon races.

Iceland’s got the world’s fastest non-elite marathon runners. Men clock in at ~3:52, Women at 4:18. Pretty impressive. In comparison, men in the US finish at around 4:19, while women finish at ~4:42. Developed and rapidly developing countries seem to see the largest increase in marathon runnings between 2009-2014.

Steven Levy: "The Invention of the Perfect Cup of Coffee"

Photo by Jason Henry

A short and fun interview between Steven Levy and Alan Adler, inventor of the Aerobie and the Aeropress.

Levy:

So I recently ventured to the small suite towards the back of a tiny industrial complex near 101 in Palo Alto, the home of the Aerobie company and its unsung master maker, Alan Adler. At 75, he is still at it, the canonical independent inventor, digging in file drawers for blueprints, shuffling to a storage space to locate an early version of his long-flying disk, lining up AeroPress prototypes like the iconic illustration of Darwin’s vision of the evolution of man. Across the room is his granddaughter, who does his PR. If the Maker Movement needs someone to put on its postage stamp, Adler would be perfect.

Levy & Adler:

You didn’t go to college?

No, but but I taught college. I taught at Stanford for many years. I taught a course in sensors and also mentored mechanical engineering students and I still lecture there.

I certainly had the ability [as a student] but I didn’t always have the discipline to do all the work. I recall one incident in plane geometry class where I submitted a very unusual proof and the teacher asked me to do the proof on the blackboard for the rest of the class, which I did. And she looked sort of stunned. I realized afterward that she thought that my father must have done that proof, which he couldn’t do actually. My grades were about average. I was eager to get out and earn a living and be on my own.

Kowloon Walled City, the Evening Star Building, Chris Ware, and Mattias Adolfsson

There's been a (lucky) stream of artwork flying around the internet. From Spoon and Tamago, this incredible cross section of life in Kowloon's Walled City: That reminded me of Mattias Adolfsson, whose illustrations are full of detail and whimsy: And then, today, Kottke linked to yet another illustrated cross section of a building -- this time Washington DC's Evening Star: He and others have pointed out that this looks comfortable amongst the works of Chris Ware, albeit a bit before his time. I highly recommend clicking on the above images to embiggen.

BBC's Your life on earth

Put in a few facts about yourself — birthdate, gender and heights — and get an assortment of facts about how the world has changed since your arrival.

Some of mine:

  • Population has increased by ~2.8 billion; life expectancy is 8 years longer than when I was born
  • BBC projects Oil and Coal will run out by the time I’m 80. They estimate gas supplies will continue beyond my life, but not my children’s.

If you were born 4 years ago:

  • Population has increased ~327 million — 10 million more than the US!
  • While you’re on average (in the US) 3.3 ft tall, a coastal redwood would have grown ~5ft.

Kind of fun. I’d be interested to know a bit more about their data projections. They do offer a little bit of information, at least, about where the data came from.

via kottke

Introducing HAPIT

I’ve lead recent efforts to create a web-based tool to estimate the impacts of household air pollution interventions (like stoves, gas dissemination, etc) using methods based on what’s known about household air pollution and its contribution to the Global Burden of Disease. The project began as an Excel-based spreadsheet before moving to the web leveraging Shiny, R, and a fair amount of javascript. From the site:

HAPIT estimates and compares health benefits attributable to stove and/or fuel programs that reduce exposure to household air pollution (HAP) resulting from solid fuel use in traditional stoves in developing countries. HAPIT allows users to customize two scenarios based on locally gathered information relevant to their intervention, which is the recommended approach. This will normally require preliminary field work at the dissemination site to demonstrate pollution exposures before and after the intervention in a representative sample of households. If no local information is available, however, HAPIT contains conservative default values for four broad classes of household energy interventions based on the available literature — liquid fuels, chimney stoves, rocket stoves, and advanced combustion stoves. As each country’s health and HAP situation is different, HAPIT currently contains the background data necessary to conduct the analysis in 55 countries — those with more than 50% of households using solid fuels for cooking and China, which has a lower percentage of households using solid fuels for cooking, but a high number in absolute terms. See the drop down list on the left and the Info tab for more details.

HAPIT also estimates program cost-effectiveness in US dollars per averted DALY (disability-adjusted life year) based on the World Health Organization’s CHOICE methodology (see Info tab for more detail). It takes a financial accounting approach in that it 1) does not take into account the household costs such as fuel and health expenses or time spent cooking or acquiring fuel and 2) assumes that programs are covering the cost of fuel-based interventions (such as annual LPG costs per household). For custom scenarios, users can adjust the per-household maintenance or fuel cost based on the characteristics of their programs. All program costs should be entered in current US dollars.

There are a number of nice features of HAPIT, but one I’m particularly fond of is the customized, session-based pdf generated by clicking “Download Report.” HAPIT’s a work in progress and will continue to evolve in the coming months.

NYT: "Emissions From India Will Increase"

India’s new Minister of Environment and Forests, in the New York Times:

The minister, Prakash Javadekar, said in an interview that his government’s first priority was to alleviate poverty and improve the nation’s economy, which he said would necessarily involve an increase in emissions through new coal-powered electricity and transportation. He placed responsibility for what scientists call a coming climate crisis on the United States, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas polluter, and dismissed the idea that India would make cuts to carbon emissions.

“What cuts?” Mr. Javadekar said. “That’s for more developed countries. The moral principle of historic responsibility cannot be washed away.” Mr. Javadekar was referring to an argument frequently made by developing economies — that developed economies, chiefly the United States, which spent the last century building their economies while pumping warming emissions into the atmosphere — bear the greatest responsibility for cutting pollution.

Not great news. Vox has interesting coverage of this story, as well; the bottom of their story has a great collection of links.

Water, Salt, and Sugar

Nice, brief origin story of Oral Rehydration Salts and their deployment in Bangladesh. In particular, I enjoyed the parts describing the challenges of translating the science into practice in the field. Many of the lessons are relevant to our work in household energy and health.

  1. Use competent, well-trained field workers — and figure out clever ways to incentivize good, thorough work.

So how did BRAC tackle this daunting challenge? A three-month field trial in 1979 tested whether mothers recalled BRAC field workers’ instructions on how to prepare O.R.S. This was no easy task considering that poor, illiterate households did not have measuring spoons or cups.

BRAC’s verbal guidelines included the dangerous symptoms of diarrhea, when to administer O.R.S. and how to make it with a three-finger pinch of salt, a handful of sugar and a half liter of water. In another critical step, monitors returned to villages days or weeks after the initial instruction to quiz the mothers. Health workers were paid according to how many questions their subjects answered correctly, thus incentivizing quality instruction and not just the number of lessons. The trial found that verbally trained illiterate and semi-literate rural mothers could make properly formulated O.R.S. that passed laboratory tests.

  1. Ensure that field workers believe in and, when appropriate, use the items and practices they are promoting.

[Mr. Fazle Abed, BRAC’s founder and chairperson] identified other early hurdles that slowed the adoption of O.R.S. by mothers. After inquiring about slow adoption in some villages, he found that only a fraction of health workers believed in O.R.S. themselves; they didn’t even use it to treat their own diarrhea. To dispel doubts among trainers, BRAC brought them from the field to research labs in Dhaka to scientifically show how O.R.S. worked. Health workers were then advised to convince distrustful villagers by sipping O.R.S. during household training sessions.

  1. Don’t ignore the men, who have disproportionate sway over household decisions in many parts of the world.

After this breakthrough, adoption of ORS increased but then plateaued. Again, Mr. Abed tried to find the root of the problem. He enlisted anthropology students in Dhaka to interview people about why they weren’t using O.R.S. They found that men were alienated from the discussions between female health workers and mothers and so withheld support for O.R.S. In villages, “we had to take men into confidences so we told them exactly how O.R.S. worked,” Mr. Abed recalled. When men were included in discussions, adoption of O.R.S. increased significantly.

Obviously not a perfect analogy. ORS is curative — a response to ill-health — and requires a change in treatment behavior. Arguably the need for ORS decreases in a world with adequate access to clean water and sanitation — but absent that panacea, removing barriers to affordable, easy treatment is essential. The shift we seek to encourage, towards clean cooking, is meatier — it requires big changes to routine behavior. The lessons above still hold, though. We need field workers who believe in the interventions (and, conversely, interventions worthy of their belief), we need to compensate them well, and we need buy-in from whole communities.

Paul Ford: "How to be Polite"

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.

There is one other aspect of my politeness that I am reluctant to mention. But I will. I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy. For all of my irony I really do want to know about the process of hanging jewelry from celebrities. What does the jewelry feel like in your hand? What do the celebrities feel like in your hand? Which one is more smooth?

This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not. I’ve found that people will fear your enthusiasm and warmth, and wait to hear the price. Which is fair. We’ve all been drawn into someone’s love only to find out that we couldn’t afford it. A little distance buys everyone time.

Kirk R. Smith in Science: In Praise of Power

Professor Kirk R. Smith in an editorial in Science:

Along with advanced biomass combustion, biogas, liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas, and other clean fuels, electric cooking needs to be directly incorporated into modernization plans for the world’s poorest people.

For those worried about CO2 emissions from power plants, consider that modest efficiency measures that reduce 3% of electric power consumption in rich countries (which are also largely supplied by coal) would “free” enough electricity to supply half of all biomass households with induction stoves. New supplies of electricity would produce far less than a 1% increase in global CO2 emissions.* It is not the cooking of the poor that threatens the climate.

Switching from solid to clean forms of energy can bring more health benefits than nearly any other modernization, including clean water and sanitation.† It is too early to tell whether induction cooking can be successfully promoted in biomass-using rural areas, but not too early to predict that electric cooking appliances will be attractive to people as electricity becomes more reliable. Although in one sense the most mundane of energy issues, given that billions do not use modern fuels in their households and suffer great impacts on health, welfare, and the local environment as a result, finding solutions for providing electricity has important implications for global health and sustainable development.

Citizen Science: Long Island Weather Observer

NY Times story about Richard Hendrickson:

Twice a day, every day, he has recorded the temperature, precipitation and wind from the same area of Bridgehampton. He has been at it through 14 presidencies, 13 New York governorships and 14 mayoralties in that city 96 miles away. The Weather Service says he has taken more than 150,000 individual readings.

His is the longest continuous streak in the history of the Weather Service, which has 8,700 such volunteers nationwide, including 55 in the New York area. The agency says he is the first to serve for more than eight decades. And to answer the obvious question, yes, he has been known to take the occasional vacation. In his 20s, he went to New Zealand — “as far away as you can get,” he said. His mother filled in at the weather station.

Mr. Hendrickson’s daily diary, kept since Jan. 1, 1931, records weather data and family matters. The Weather Service recognized Mr. Hendrickson last month with an award named for him. He said he did not realize until after a ceremony in Upton that he was getting the Richard G. Hendrickson Award, and he sounded embarrassed that the meteorologists had made such a fuss. He did not mention that notables like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington had kept weather records or that Thomas Jefferson had done so from 1776 to 1816 — less than half as long as he has.

Incredible. He started when he was 17. He’s 101 now. 101.

Hard to imagine today, when we expect these things to occur on their own, without intervention. I like this better. Routine thoughtfulness.

The Archdruid Report & Climate Clarity

John Michael Greer, communicating articulately about perturbations to complex systems (read: climate) at The Archdruid Report:

The next time you fill a bathtub, once you’ve turned off the tap, wait until the water is still. Slip your hand into the water, slowly and gently, so that you make as little disturbance in the water as possible. Then move your hand through the water about as fast as a snail moves, and watch and feel how the water adapts to the movement, flowing gently around your hand. .

Once you’ve gotten a clear sense of that, gradually increase the speed with which your hand is moving. After you pass a certain threshold of speed, the movements of the water will take the form of visible waves—a bow wave in front of your hand, a wake behind it in which water rises and falls rhythmically, and wave patterns extending out to the edges of the tub. The faster you move your hand, the larger the waves become, and the more visible the interference patterns as they collide with one another.

Keep on increasing the speed of your hand. You’ll pass a second threshold, and the rhythm of the waves will disintegrate into turbulence: the water will churn, splash, and spray around your hand, and chaotic surges of water will lurch up and down the sides of the tub. If you keep it up, you can get a fair fraction of the bathwater on your bathroom floor, but this isn’t required for the experiment! Once you’ve got a good sense of the difference between the turbulence above the second threshold and the oscillations below it, take your hand out of the water, and watch what happens: the turbulence subsides into wave patterns, the waves shrink, and finally—after some minutes—you have still water again.

This same sequence of responses can be traced in every complex system, governing its response to every kind of disturbance in its surroundings…

… Once things begin to oscillate, veering outside usual conditions in both directions, that’s a sign that the limits to resilience are coming into sight, with the possibility of chaotic variability in the planetary climate as a whole waiting not far beyond that. We can fine-tune the warning signals a good deal by remembering that every system is made up of subsystems, and those of sub-subsystems, and as a general rule of thumb, the smaller the system, the more readily it moves from local adjustment to oscillation to turbulence in response to rising levels of disturbance.

Haida's Story: A folktale from Haruki Murakami's new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Read an excerpt from Murakami’s new story. Slate’s also got an interactive site that presumably offers some insights into the novel. Looking forward to it.

Midorikawa hesitantly began playing “‘Round Midnight.” At first he played each chord carefully, cautiously, like a person sticking his toes into a stream, testing the swiftness of the water and searching for a foothold. After playing the main theme, he started a long improvisation. As time went by, his fingers became more agile, more generous, in their movements, like fish swimming in clear water. The left hand inspired the right, the right hand spurred on the left. Haida’s father didn’t know much about jazz, but he did happen to be familiar with this Thelonious Monk composition, and Midorikawa’s performance went straight to the heart of the piece. His playing was so soulful it made Haida forget about the piano’s erratic tuning. As he listened to the music in this junior-high music room deep in the mountains, as the sole audience for the performance, Haida felt all that was unclean inside him washed away. The straightforward beauty of the music overlapped with the fresh, oxygen-rich air and the cool, clear water of the stream, all of them acting in concert. Midorikawa, too, was lost in his playing, as if all the minutiae of reality had disappeared. Haida had never seen someone so thoroughly absorbed in what he was doing. He couldn’t take his eyes off Midorikawa’s ten fingers, which moved like independent, living creatures.

Gates Notes: Two Videos That Illuminate Energy Poverty

Bill Gates, at his blog:

Many developing countries are turning to coal and other low-cost fossil fuels to generate the electricity they need for powering homes, industry, and agriculture. Some people in rich countries are telling them to cut back on fossil fuels. I understand the concern: After all, human beings are causing our climate to change, and our use of fossil fuels is a huge reason.

But even as we push to get serious about confronting climate change, we should not try to solve the problem on the backs of the poor. For one thing, poor countries represent a small part of the carbon-emissions problem. And they desperately need cheap sources of energy now to fuel the economic growth that lifts families out of poverty. They can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them wait for the technology to get cheaper.

Gates links to two videos from political scientist Bjorn Lomborg. They’re interesting and decent encapsulations of issues we grapple with regularly. We know what works, and indeed most of us in the developed world use either gas or electricity — or both — to cook everyday. Offering solutions that only partially protect health seems morally dubious, a point Lomborg and Gates make. Lomborg’s videos are embedded below. Grist for the mill.

I dare you to watch this entire video.

via kottke

Paulson on Climate Change and the Price of Inaction

Henry M. Paulson, writing in the NYT:

In a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities, public funding to pay for adaptations and disaster relief will add significantly to our fiscal deficit and threaten our long-term economic security. So it is perverse that those who want limited government and rail against bailouts would put the economy at risk by ignoring climate change.

This is short-termism. There is a tendency, particularly in government and politics, to avoid focusing on difficult problems until they balloon into crisis. We would be fools to wait for that to happen to our climate.

When you run a company, you want to hand it off in better shape than you found it. In the same way, just as we shouldn’t leave our children or grandchildren with mountains of national debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, we shouldn’t leave them with the economic and environmental costs of climate change. Republicans must not shrink from this issue. Risk management is a conservative principle, as is preserving our natural environment for future generations. We are, after all, the party of Teddy Roosevelt.

Science Friday | Beer Science: Crafting the Perfect Pint

Oregon has 171 breweries operating out of 70 different cities, and Portland boasts more breweries per capita than any other city in the country. Two Oregon brew experts—Leon Fyfe, a microbiologist with the Craft Brew Alliance, and Ben Tilley, owner of Agrarian Ales—pour over the science of craft brewing, discussing how yeast, hops, malt, and water come together to create the perfect pint.

Audio’s not live yet… but looking forward to it.

"Yesterday" by Haruki Murakami in the New Yorker

A short story from Murakami in the New Yorker:

Erika stared at the candle flame flickering in the breeze from the A.C. “I often have the same dream,” she said. “Aki-kun and I are on a ship. A long journey on a large ship. We’re together in a small cabin, it’s late at night, and through the porthole we can see the full moon. But that moon is made of pure, transparent ice. And the bottom half of it is sunk in the sea. ‘That looks like the moon,’ Aki-kun tells me, ‘but it’s really made of ice and is only about eight inches thick. So when the sun comes out in the morning it all melts. You should get a good look at it now, while you have the chance.’ I’ve had this dream so many times. It’s a beautiful dream. Always the same moon. Always eight inches thick. I’m leaning against Aki-kun, it’s just the two of us, the waves lapping gently outside. But every time I wake up I feel unbearably sad.”

Erika Kuritani was silent for a time. Then she spoke again. “I think how wonderful it would be if Aki-kun and I could continue on that voyage forever. Every night we’d snuggle close and gaze out the porthole at that moon made of ice. Come morning the moon would melt away, and at night it would reappear. But maybe that’s not the case. Maybe one night the moon wouldn’t be there. It scares me to think that. I get so frightened it’s like I can actually feel my body shrinking.”

The Petroleum Product That Can Save Millions Of Lives Each Year

Professor Kirk R. Smith, writing at Forbes:

The fracking furor over shale gas is the latest in a series of environmental debates that have bedeviled the oil and gas industry in spite of what might be considered an enviable record compared to related industries, coal for example. From off shore spills to the Keystone Pipeline, the industry probably feels a bit set upon at times. Similarly, its products are often the focus of environmental concern and consequent strict regulation, for example diesel air pollution. Finally, it often bears the brunt of concerns about carbon dioxide emissions leading to climate change risks.

The industry might keep in mind, however, that one of its products, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG — bottled gas containing propane and butane), is actually the most effective solution available for the largest environmental health risk in the world: cooking with solid fuels.

and

There is some opposition in the environmental community to promoting LPG, a fossil fuel, because of climate concerns. In reality, however, because of the poor combustion typical in biomass stoves, which produces black carbon, methane, and other climate-active pollutants, and the often non-renewable nature of the biomass supplies, which results in CO2 emissions, the net climate impact of a switch to LPG would be negligible. Even if only considering CO2, the incremental impact on global emissions of a switch to LPG would be no more than a percent of the emissions from the developed sector globally. It is not cooking by the poor that poses risk to the climate.

Nature: Deadly Dinners

A decent journalistic piece in Nature about household energy use and health. My favorite bit, from the one-two punch of Kirk Smith & Kalpana Balakrishnan:

After decades of battling to get people to use improved cooking-stoves, many researchers worry that such devices will never win over consumers and thus never achieve the desired health and climate gains. “My bottom line is that nothing works,” Smith says. “The only thing we know that’s ever worked is gas and electric.”

Balakrishnan makes a moral argument against improved cooking stoves, which still produce harmful amounts of pollutants compared with LPG or electric ones, powered by remote energy plants that comonly use fossil fuels. “Are you justified in saying that it’s OK to be just a little bit better?” she asks. “If it’s OK for 40% of the population to use fossil fuels, then why is not OK for the other 60% of the population? How can we have dual standards?”

Nature chimes in on clean cookstoves

Today, in Nature:

Even though high-profile programmes have distributed millions of stoves to households in south Asia, Africa and Latin America, it is hard to find signs that the stoves are being widely used. There is a vast gap between reported accomplishments and what researchers see when they step into people’s homes.

The crux of the problem is that simply supplying the stoves does not establish demand for them.

Amen.

Efforts could be redirected to providing people with the energy they most aspire to: not a stove designed by someone in the developed world to cook cleaner, but the actual stoves used in the developed world, which run on electricity or hydrocarbons such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

This is not an absurd goal. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that bringing electricity and clean-cooking facilities to every person on Earth by 2030 will cost US$49 billion a year. Although that is a considerable sum, the agency points to major commitments by Indonesia, Ghana and Nigeria to aggressively switch large portions of their population to cooking with LPG.

Where will all this new energy come from? It will require some additional consumption of fossil fuels, and that will increase the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the extra pollution would be minimal at the global scale: the IEA estimates that it would boost CO2 emissions by just 0.7% above its base scenario.

Yup.

Last Week Tonight's John Oliver on Climate Change, Scientific Consensus

Priceless. More, please.

Grand Budapest Hotel Visual Effects Reel

Pretty cool little reel. Lots of nice little touches. Shows a pretty deft touch at utilizing VFX to augment, not overwhelm, some great scenes. Unfortunately not embeddable. Watch it on Vimeo.

From @ihnatko

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.

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. View the map in your full browser window here; I had to yank the embedded code because it was causing all kinds of issues.

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.

Planet Money, T-Shirts... and Household Energy

Planet Money recently tracked the creation of a t-shirt — from the farms of Mississippi and the yarn factories of Indonesia to garment factories in Bangladesh and in Columbia. They wrapped up with a meta-political piece about how trade deals allowed the creation of the garment industry in Bangladesh and opened the doors of the US to imported garments. The entire series is fantastic — well reported, compelling, fun, and insightful.

Household energy and cooking got a mention in the piece on Bangladesh. The story follows two sisters — Minu and Shumi — who move from a village to a city to work in a garment factory. Minu and Shumi cook on a gas stove that they share with neighbors near their modest one room apartment. The story then follows them to their parents’ home in a village a few hours away.

Their mom cooks in the back room. The difference between her life and her daughters’ lives is very clear. No gas burners here — its a fire pit, made from mud. There are holes underneath to stick branches into and the room fills with smoke when she cooks. Minu and Shumi grew up cooking like this, with sticks instead of gas…

Shumi and Minu send money back to the village… And you can see how that’s changed things right here in the kitchen. The stove is the same as what they had growing up — but what’s inside the pot is different. It’s chicken… Factory money has paid for a new house for Shumi and Minu’s parents. The house they grew up in was made of bamboo — it leaked — this house is made of brick. It’s water-tight.

Telling - and a little surprising - that Planet Money used a gas stove as an indicator of modernity and as a way to draw contrasts between city and village life. The flow of money back to the village paid for household improvements and chicken and fish, still cooked on the traditional stove. It would be interesting to track the point at which the transition to a more efficient cooking technology occurred, if ever. What other needs are perceived as priorities over replacing the stove? How much of the issue is related to supply of liquid fuels and their costs? How much is related to the perception that wood and biomass are free? You can see a niche for clean cookstoves in there — meeting the requirements of using a ‘free’ fuel, but also using it more efficiently and more cleanly. The endless challenge will remain - finding a clean stove that people want to use - and use often.

see a whole load of stories here

A family tree... for bourbon

This is relatively old news in the world of the internet... but it's still a pretty awesome visualization. The story's full of interesting facts. For instance:

The distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana is known colloquially as LDI, but is now part of MGP, a food conglomerate that specializes in bioplastics, industrial proteins, and starches for use in salad dressings,energy bars, imitation cheese, and fruit fillings. One of the products made in the Indiana facility is a rye whiskey with a mash bill of 95 percent rye, 5 percent malt barley. Most rye whiskeys are no more than 70 percent rye. According to author Chuck Cowdery, this particular whiskey was developed by Seagram's as a flavoring agent for blended whiskeys like Seagram's 7. When Seagram's disintegrated due to mismanagement in the 1990s, the whiskey, then in the process of aging, was sold to other distilleries in the fire sale of assets, as one salvage company after the next tried to determine what to do with the distillery and its excess inventory. This is how one generic whiskey became known by more than a dozen names, including Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Willet, Smooth Ambler, and George Dickel Rye, among others. The companies that own each of these brands have purchased LDI rye whiskey and now bottle it under their own labels, adjusting the proof and length of aging in order to create their own differentiations.

What the what.

Venus, Mars, the Earth and Moon from Saturn

NASA and JPL continue to release some incredible images. Click the image to see a large version in a new window; click here to see huge ones over at NASA.

Humbling and magical.

On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.

With the sun’s powerful and potentially damaging rays eclipsed by Saturn itself, Cassini’s onboard cameras were able to take advantage of this unique viewing geometry. They acquired a panoramic mosaic of the Saturn system that allows scientists to see details in the rings and throughout the system as they are backlit by the sun. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn’s orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.

With both Cassini’s wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras aimed at Saturn, Cassini was able to capture 323 images in just over four hours. This final mosaic uses 141 of those wide-angle images. Images taken using the red, green and blue spectral filters of the wide-angle camera were combined and mosaicked together to create this natural-color view. A brightened version with contrast and color enhanced (Figure 1), a version with just the planets annotated (Figure 2), and an annotated version (Figure 3) are shown above.

This image spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across.

Beauty of Mathematics

Pretty awesome little video from a French video production and graphic design firm. Not entirely sure about the veracity of the math or the visualizations… but that’s perhaps missing the forest for the trees.

Best viewed fullscreen.

via Colossal

Michael Chabon's introduction to The Wes Anderson Collection

This beautiful tome arrived today. The New Yorker summarizes it best:

Were it only for the text of his introductory essays and extended interviews with Wes Anderson, Matt Zoller Seitz’s book “The Wes Anderson Collection,” which discusses all seven of Anderson’s feature films in copious detail, would be an indispensable resource, as well as a delight….

But the text isn’t all there is to it: the book is entirely in the Andersonian spirit—it’s a beautiful object, not a coffee-table book (except in size) but one that’s designed and thought out to its slightest detail, with its amazingly wide and deep offering of visual documentation. (Far be it from me to diminish the images and artifacts by calling them “illustrations.”) Still photographs from the set, frame enlargements, storyboards, influences (from “Peanuts” to Holbein to Welles), references (record covers, school insignias), and memorabilia (newspaper clippings, casting snapshots) are matched with informative and discursive captions that play like stage whispers, and all are brought together with taste, insight, and joyful celebration.

The introduction by Michael Chabon praises Anderson as much as it reflects on aging and growth:

The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”

There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.

Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.

Two difficulties with this latter scheme at once present themselves. First of all, we have only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. Second, no matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half—remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models “works of art.”

“The ache of cosmic nostalgia.” “The bittersweet harvest of observation and experience.”

Goddamn.

Read the whole thing.

Pitchfork's Keep the Things You Forgot: An Elliot Smith Oral History

Elliott Smith died ten years ago yesterday (Oct 21, 2003). I hadn’t listened to his music in quite a while, though played through a number of his tracks last night. They hold up — and pretty promptly sent me back a decade. Pitchfork has created a well-designed, well-written, thorough ‘oral history’ of his music.

What follows is not an oral history of his life, but of his music; specifically, his solo career. The lines between life and music are tangled, of course, in ways that aren’t neatly prizable, and darker stories eventually creep into the frame at the edges. But the arc traced here begins with the emergence of That Voice: the flowering of his talent, the development of the intimate, inscrutable folk-pop he would mine for the rest of his career. That discovery dovetails with the dissolution of his first band, the loud-rocking Heatmiser. In some ways the development of the former triggered the latter. The story told here begins at this hinge point, as Smith begins exploring the possibilities of his fiercely intimate four-track solo recordings that would pull him away from Heatmiser and, eventually, into the national spotlight.

For those who knew him personally, the task of speaking for Elliott Smith wavers between privilege and burden. Many of the 18 people who spoke to me—bandmates, producers, managers, friends—emerged hesitantly, stepping gingerly over their own profound misgivings, issuing grave caveats. They’d been burned before, they warned me. They swore they’d never speak again. The story of their self-imposed silence, and their individual choices to break it or hold it, runs in powerful counterpoint to Smith’s own story. Some of the singer’s closest associates have simply declined to go on record: Having been prodded multiple times, they have understandably snapped shut. Some are speaking now for the first time. The combination of profound ambivalence and fierce conviction in their voices, as they opened themselves up, was chastening.

The Atlantic’s got a nice list of remembrances, some of which are new or new to the internet.

Shake: Hilarious High-Speed Photographs of Dogs Shaking by Carli Davidson

This is hilarious. Learn more at colossal or check out Carli Davidson’s website for photo samples and more about the project.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Trailer

The first trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was released today. Looks positively Wes Anderson-errific. Can’t wait.

The Best American Infographics 2013

The Best American Infographics 2013 came in yesterday. It’s chock-full of goodness and inspiring visual displays of data. Some are nonsensical, some are dense and shocking. They’re all pretty engaging and the collection appears well-curated. Wired has a number of the selected graphics online.

The book’s introduction was written by David Byrne. I’ll add a link to the essay if it appears online. In the meantime, my favorite bit follows.

The very best of these, in my opinion, engender and facilitate an insight by visual means - allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and easily that otherwise would take many pages and illustrations and tables to convey. Insight seems to happen most often when data sets are crossed in the design of the piece - when we can quickly see the effects on something over time, for example, or view how factors like income, race, geography, or diet might affect other data. When that happens, there’s an instant “Aha!” - we can see how income affects or at least correlates with, for example, folks’ levels of education. Or, less expectedly, we might, for example, see how rainfall seems to have a profound effect on consumption of hard liquor (I made that part up). What we can get in this medium is the instant revelation of a pattern that wasn’t noticeable before.

One would hope that we could educate ourselves to be able to spot the evil infographics that are being used to manipulate us, or that are being used to hide important patterns and information. Ideally, an educated consumer of infographics might develop some sort of infographic bullshit detector that would beep when told how the trickle-down economic effect justifies fracking, for example. It’s not easy, as one can be seduced relatively easily by colors, diagrams and funny writing.

Living on Earth: Bridging Faith and Reason

Arri Eisen, a close friend, mentor, and Professor of Pedagogy at Emory University, was recently featured on Living on Earth along with two of his most unique students — Lodoe Sangpo and Thabkhe Thabkhe, Tibetan Buddhist monks learning and doing science and taking courses. Check out the interview below.

David Byrne: Will Work for Inspiration

David Byrne, in an editorial at Creative Time Reports:

Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don’t buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don’t romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit. But I also don’t believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.

The city is a body and a mind—a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where many of New York’s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city—the body—has been improved immeasurably. I’m a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bike-share program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city—the mind—has been usurped by the top 1 percent.

This Charming Charlie

One part Peanuts comic strip, one part Smiths lyrics. One hundred percent hilarious. See more here.

Incredible Photos of Mars

The Verge highlighted some amazing photos from NASA and University of Arizona’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment). From the HiRISE FAQ page:

HiRISE returns images of the Martian surface with higher resolution than ever seen before from an orbiter. This means we can see extraordinary detail in all kinds of surface features. Scientists all over the world are already using these images to understand many previously-unexplained phenomena on the Red Planet. We might also discover brand new types of features never seen before! The stereo and color capabilities will also allow us to explore Mars in 3D, and with compositional information. The ultra high resolution also makes HiRISE the perfect tool for investigating the safety of future landing sites for other missions, such as the Phoenix lander or the Mars Science Laboratory. We’ve also done some searching for past Mars landers, both successful and not. But even without the higher resolution and added capabilities, additional cameras in Mars orbit are always valuable for imaging new terrains on Mars, and for monitoring the dynamic surface and atmosphere for activity and changes.

A few more favorites:

The Elvis Impersonator, the Karate Instructor, a Fridge Full of Severed Heads, and the Plot 2 Kill the President

Remember that crazy story about the dude in Mississippi who mailed ricin to Obama and then tried to frame some other dude in Mississippi for the crime? Well, as Wells Tower discovered when he traveled to Tupelo and started poking around, the story is a thousand times crazier than you thought.

This is the most insane thing I’ve read in a while. Highly recommended.

The Briefcase

Kevin Delaney, a high school teacher at Wayland High School, notices a briefcase in his department’s storage room. He’s seen it before, opened it before, but hasn’t really explored its contents — he doesn’t know the treasure within.

After a quick scan, we realized that we had in our hands the astonishing personal collection of Lt. Col. Martin W. Joyce (1899-1962), the 46 year old Army officer who was appointed commanding officer of Dachau Concentration Camp just days after its liberation in late April, 1945. Among the 250 original documents are personal letters, an 85 page scrapbook, his military files, Dachau documents, and a photo album presented to him by Yugoslavian survivors, who credit Joyce and the Americans with saving the lives of some 32,000 survivors. It’s clad in blue and gray striped fabric of prison clothing.

Boston Magazine elaborated a bit on the papers and on Joyce:

Inside were the assorted papers—letters, military records, photos—left behind by a man named Martin W. Joyce, a long-since deceased West Roxbury resident who began his military career as an infantryman in World War I and ended it as commanding officer of the liberated Dachau concentration camp. Delaney could have contacted a university or a librarian and handed the trove of primary sources over to a researcher skilled in sorting through this kind of thing. Instead, he applied for a grant, and asked an archivist to come teach his students how to handle fragile historical materials. Then, for the next two years, he and his 11th grade American history students read through the documents, organized and uploaded them to the web, and wrote the biography of a man whom history nearly forgot, but who nonetheless witnessed a great deal of it.

“Joyce became the thread that went through our general studies,” Delaney says. “When we were studying World War I, we did the traditional World War I lessons and readings. And then stopped the clocks and thought, ‘What’s going on with Joyce in this period?’”

As the class repeatedly asked and answered that question, they slowly uncovered the life of a man who not only oversaw the liberated Dachau but also found himself a participant in an uncommon number of consequential events throughout Massachusetts and U.S. history. In a way Delaney couldn’t have imagined when he first popped open the suitcase that day, Joyce would turn out to be something akin to Boston’s own Forrest Gump—a perfect set of eyes through which to visit America’s past.

So cool and such an impressive, thoughtful way to teach a history class. The icing? The students built a website and put much of the content on the web before turning the collection over to the Holocaust museum.

via kottke

Lisa Jackson on the Moth

Lisa Jackson, former EPA Administrator, tells an audience at the Moth about how she transitioned into Environmental Engineering. Great story.

Earth Island Journal's Conversation with Naomi Klein

A good interview with Naomi Klein leading her new book coming out in 2014. Read the whole thing here.

You’ve said that progressives’ narratives are insufficient. What would be an alternative narrative to turn this situation around?

Well, I think the narrative that got us into this - that’s part of the reason why you have climate change denialism being such as powerful force in North America and in Australia - is really tied to the frontier mentality. It’s really tied to the idea of there always being more. We live on lands that were supposedly innocent, “discovered” lands where nature was so abundant. You could not imagine depletion ever. These are foundational myths.

And so I’ve taken a huge amount of hope from the emergence of the Idle No More movement, because of what I see as a tremendous generosity of spirit from Indigenous leadership right now to educate us in another narrative. I just did a panel with Idle No More and I was the only non-Native speaker at this event, and the other Native speakers were all saying we want to play this leadership role. It’s actually taken a long time to get to that point. There’s been so much abuse heaped upon these communities, and so much rightful anger at the people who stole their lands. This is the first time that I’ve seen this openness, open willingness that we have something to bring, we want to lead, we want to model another way which relates to the land. So that’s where I am getting a lot of hope right now.

The impacts of Idle No More are really not understood. My husband is making a documentary that goes with this book, and he’s directing it right now in Montana, and we’ve been doing a lot of filming on the northern Cheyenne reservation because there’s a huge, huge coal deposit that they’ve been debating for a lot of years - whether or not to dig out this coal. And it was really looking like they were going to dig it up. It goes against their prophecies, and it’s just very painful. Now there’s just this new generation of young people on that reserve who are determined to leave that coal in the ground, and are training themselves to do solar and wind, and they all talk about Idle No More. I think there’s something very powerful going on. In Canada it’s a very big deal. It’s very big deal in all of North America, because of the huge amount of untapped energy, fossil fuel energy, that is on Indigenous land. That goes for Arctic oil. It certainly goes for the tar sands. It goes for where they want to lay those pipelines. It goes for where the natural gas is. It goes for where the major coal deposits are in the US. I think in Canada we take Indigenous rights more seriously than in the US. I hope that will change.

Arcade Fire's Reflektor Single

I am very excited about a new Arcade Fire album. So is rest of the music-loving world… and the entirety of the internet. Yay.

Errol Morris's The Unknown Known

Errol Morris is at it again. From an interview at The Daily Beast:

… Of all the so-called nefarious characters within the George W. Bush administration, why Rumsfeld?

If I’m asked to think about the two major Secretaries of Defense of the last fifty years, it’s Robert S. McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld—two Secretaries of Defense who presided over disastrous wars and were major public figures. People are going to say this is The Fog of War 2. One very big difference between [McNamara and Rumsfeld] is that McNamara says the war was a mistake, it was wrong. He didn’t say it at the time, but has subsequently said it. Rumsfeld? Not so much. I always say it’s Tabloid 2.

The topic of war seems to fascinate you. Why are we in a seemingly constant state of war?

Because I think people are crazy. I talk very briefly about Shakespeare, and with Shaskespeare, the motivating force of history is insanity, greed, jealousy, hate, power. Rumsfeld said, “Well, maybe that was true then, but it’s different now.” Then he reads this memo to Condi Rice where he basically tells her to shut up, you’re not in the chain of command, nobody wants to hear from you, and if you continue to talk out, I’m going to the president and I’m going to have you muzzled.

This is going to be fascinating. And terrifying.

via kottke

Rim Fire images from NASA & the KPCC Fire Tracker

Devastating. KPCC has an interesting, interactive tool for monitoring California’s wildfires. A bit is embedded below, but the whole thing is worth a look.

NASA’s posted a number of photos of the fire from space. A smattering are embedded below.

In some of the photos, you can see the plume from the Rim Fire and the plume from the American Fire in Tahoe National Forest.

Reno’s been adversely affected by the plume from the Rim Fire, reporting unhealthy on their AQI (can’t find any numbers, at the moment); NASA projects that the plume is impacting AQ in 4 states.

Good luck to the firefighters and rangers working to control the blaze. Our thoughts are with them and others in the surrounding communities.

EIA: World petroleum use sets record high in 2012 despite declines in North America and Europe

U.S. Energy Information Administration:

The world’s consumption of gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil, and other petroleum products reached a record high of 88.9 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2012, as declining consumption in North America and Europe was more than outpaced by growth in Asia and other regions (see animated map). A previous article examined regional trends in petroleum consumption between 1980 and 2010; today’s article extends that analysis through 2012.

Some other specific points of interest:

Between 2008 and 2012, Asia’s consumption increased by 4.4 million bbl/d. The rapidly industrializing economies of China and India fueled much of Asia’s demand increase, growing 2.8 million bbl/d and 800,000 bbl/d, respectively. If China’s use of petroleum continues to grow as projected, it is expected to replace the United States as the world’s largest net oil importer this fall.

Petroleum use in Europe has declined in every year since 2006. Part of this decline was related to a reduction in overall energy intensity and government policies that encourage energy efficiency. Europe’s weak economic performance has also affected its petroleum use, with declines of 780,000 bbl/d in 2009 and 570,000 bbl/d in 2012 occurring at a time of slow growth and/or recessions in many European countries.

Mark Kingwell on the future of the book

My own set of self-serving predictions about the future of reading begins with the belief that long-form reading will be with us as long as there is such a thing as individual human consciousness. That consciousness is a complicated burden. There is stimulation and pleasure in consciousness but also boredom, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, and grief. Books are my friends when nobody else can be; they offer a form of intimacy nothing else does. They do not make me a better person, but they give me respite from the incessant noise of existence. That market will never collapse. In the future, some people will be able to make a living as writers, others won’t. But writing will remain among the cheapest forms of cultural production ever, especially relative to its effect.

John Nelson's A Breathing Earth

John Nelson, writing about the creation of these images:

Having spent much of my life living near the center of that mitten-shaped peninsula in North America, I have had a consistent seasonal metronome through which I track the years of my life. When I stitch together what can be an impersonal snapshot of an entire planet, all of the sudden I see a thing with a heartbeat. I can track one location throughout a year to compare the annual push and pull of snow and plant life there, while in my periphery I see the oscillating wave of life advancing and retreating, advancing and retreating. And I’m reassured by it.

Of course there are the global characteristics of climate and the nature of land to heat and cool more rapidly than water. The effects of warm currents feeding a surprisingly mild climate in the British Isles. The snowy head start of winter in high elevations like the Himalayas, Rockies, and Caucuses, that spread downward to join the later snowiness of lower elevations. The continental wave of growing grasses in African plains.

But, overall, to me it looks like breathing.

George Saunders's speech to the Syracuse U class of 2013

This speech slays.

Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf - seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things - travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) - but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality - your soul, if you will - is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

The New Yorker: Mapping the Rise of Craft Beer

As part of their Ideas of the Week series, the New Yorker mapped craft beer breweries and other beer related statistics. The interactive maps are particularly fun to play with.

As of March, the United States was home to nearly two thousand four hundred craft breweries, the small producers best known for India pale ales and other decidedly non-Budweiser-esque beers. What’s more, they are rapidly colonizing what one might call the craft-beer frontier: the South, the Southwest, and, really, almost any part of the country that isn’t the West or the Northeast. The interactive map below, based on newly released 2012 data gathered by the Brewers Association, illustrates this phenomenon and offers a detailed overview of the American craft-beer industry.

Past EPA Administrators: The US "must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally."

Writing in an NYT Editorial, four previous EPA administrators make a strong case for climate action now.

Climate change puts all our progress and our successes at risk. If we could articulate one framework for successful governance, perhaps it should be this: When confronted by a problem, deal with it. Look at the facts, cut through the extraneous, devise a workable solution and get it done.

We can have both a strong economy and a livable climate. All parties know that we need both. The rest of the discussion is either detail, which we can resolve, or purposeful delay, which we should not tolerate.

Mr. Obama’s plan is just a start. More will be required. But we must continue efforts to reduce the climate-altering pollutants that threaten our planet. The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.

The writers are former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency: William D. Ruckelshaus, from its founding in 1970 to 1973, and again from 1983 to 1985; Lee M. Thomas, from 1985 to 1989; William K. Reilly, from 1989 to 1993; and Christine Todd Whitman, from 2001 to 2003.

China to spend $277 billion to curb air pollution

Reuters, reporting on statements by Chinese state-run media:

China plans to invest 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) to combat air pollution over the next five years, state media said on Thursday, underscoring the new government’s concerns about addressing a key source of social discontent.

The money is to be spent primarily in regions that have heavy air pollution and high levels of PM 2.5, the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Jinnan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning as saying. Wang helped draft the plan.

EIA: World energy consumption will increase 56% by 2040

EIA’s recently released International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO2013) projects that world energy consumption will grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040, from 524 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) to 820 quadrillion Btu. Most of this growth will come from non-OECD (non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, where demand is driven by strong economic growth.

Renewable energy and nuclear power are the world’s fastest-growing energy sources, each increasing 2.5% per year. However, fossil fuels continue to supply nearly 80% of world energy use through 2040. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel, as global supplies of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane increase.

The industrial sector continues to account for the largest share of delivered energy consumption and is projected to consume more than half of global delivered energy in 2040. Based on current policies and regulations governing fossil fuel use, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise to 45 billion metric tons in 2040, a 46% increase from 2010. Economic growth in developing nations, fueled by a continued reliance on fossil fuels, accounts for most of the emissions increases.

And now, some whimsy: Beer Labels in Motion

David Simon: "...real pride is earned and internalized only with a grown-up understanding that even a good or great nation, while deserving of our allegiance and civic commitment, can indeed shame itself."

David Simon, writing toward his vocal detractors, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin decision:

To those who can’t conceive of anyone ever being ashamed, or expressing shame at those moments when this country abandons or even betrays its core values, I’m actually willing to go even further than my initial comment: You may, in fact, be the one who doesn’t understand what it means to be a proud American. Not truly and not deeply; not without some measure of shame as well.

Why not? Because just as good cannot be truly understood to the marrow without a corresponding sense of evil, pride in one’s country — if it is substantive pride, and not merely the rote, pledge-allegiance mouthings of patriotic cliche — requires the sober knowledge that American greatness is neither assured, nor heaven-sent. It comes to us from our national premise and ideals — and our willingness to maintain those things at all hazards. And if you’ve never felt ashamed for us for having strayed from our core values in even the most appalling ways — say, the wartime detention of Japanese-Americans, or a My Lai or Kent State , or Bull Conner, or COINTELPRO, or life sentences for juvenile defendants, or prisons-for-profit — then maybe you’ve never really acknowledged what the actual stakes are for a republic, or how much work, rather than platitude, is required to assure an honorable, democratic future. Yes, you claim an all-encompassing pride and you wallow in it, brooking not even a mention of anything shameful that happens on our watch as citizens. But in fact, real pride is earned and internalized only with a grown-up understanding that even a good or great nation, while deserving of our allegiance and civic commitment, can indeed shame itself. Saying so when it happens is a fundamental of self-governance, as all dissent is a fundamental of self-governance.

NASA: The Day the Earth Smiled

That’s something, isn’t it?

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself). At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.

"Warp drive. Like on 'Star Trek.'"

Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA, beckoned toward a table full of equipment there on a recent afternoon: a laser, a camera, some small mirrors, a ring made of ceramic capacitors and a few other objects.

He and other NASA engineers have been designing and redesigning these instruments, with the goal of using them to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with a device called an interferometer. So sensitive is their measuring equipment that it was picking up myriad earthly vibrations, including people walking nearby. So they recently moved into this lab, which floats atop a system of underground pneumatic piers, freeing it from seismic disturbances.

The team is trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel — warp drive — might someday be possible.

Warp drive. Like on “Star Trek.”

This is a fun one. They’ve also got a nice statement from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

“Routine travel among the stars is impossible without new discoveries regarding the fabric of space and time, or capability to manipulate it for our needs,” he said, adding, “By my read, the idea of a functioning warp drive remains far-fetched, but the real take-away is that people are thinking about it — reminding us all that the urge to explore continues to run deep in our species.”

Thomas Prior's Insane Photos from Fireworks in Tultepec, Mexico & El Torito de Antigua

Kottke linked to Thomas Prior’s collection of celebrations laden with fireworks in Mexico. Madness.

The original article at Wired tells us a bit more:

The annual nine-day festival attracts more than 100,000 people to bathe in the glow of pyrotechnicians’ expert displays. The main event is the Pamplonada — a seven-hour running of the (wooden) bulls in which more than 200 timber-framed toros of fire roll through the streets with up to 4,000 fireworks on each in perpetual explosion.

Tultepec is the center of the country’s firework industry, accounting for half of all fireworks made in Mexico. Approximately 30,000 of the 120,000 Tultepec townsfolk work in the pyrotechnics industry building frames, supplying parts and distributing goods. Two thousand work daily in the 300 registered workshops manufacturing fireworks.

The National Pyrotechnic Festival takes place in honor of Saint John of God, the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, firefighters and alcoholics — quite fitting given the occasion’s flaming revelry and danger.

Those photos reminded me of some revelry I encountered in Guatemala. Witness El Torito de Antigua:

The video actually captures it pretty well. The nonchalance of the fellow who’s got explosives strapped to a wooden bull he’s wearing over his head. The nervous, bemused excitement and terror of the crowd. The madness of the entire endeavor. Not quite the same level insanity as in Tultepec… but of a similar. Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be pyrotechnics.

We also monitored air pollution in the plaza (of course) during the march of El Torito.

Nicola Twilley's The Coldscape

Nicola Twilley, writing at Cabinet Magazine:

More than three-quarters of the food consumed in the United States today is processed, packaged, shipped, stored, and sold under artificial refrigeration. The shiny, humming stainless steel box in your kitchen is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak—a tiny fragment of the vast global network of temperature-controlled storage and distribution warehouses cumulatively capable of hosting uncounted billions of cubic feet of chilled flesh, fish, or fruit. Add to that an equally vast and immeasurable volume of thermally controlled space in the form of shipping containers, wine cellars, floating fish factories, international seed banks, meat-aging lockers, and livestock semen storage, and it becomes clear that the evolving architecture of coldspace is as ubiquitous as it is varied, as essential as it is overlooked.

Fascinating read. Good summary and follow up by Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic. The Center for Land Use Interpretation has an exhibit with Twilley called “PERISHABLE: AN EXPLORATION OF THE REFRIGERATED LANDSCAPE OF AMERICA” featuring many of the places Twilley has visited and including a pretty neat interactive app of some of the key cold-storage sites throughout the US.

And, from January of 2013, listen to a Here and Now story with Twilley about this work.

Report of the US-China Climate Change Working Group

From the report:

We have prepared this Report mindful of the overwhelming scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change and its worsening impacts, as well as the urgent need to intensify global efforts to combat climate change. Rising temperatures are predicted to lead to sea level rise that could affect tens of millions of people around the world, as well as more frequent and intense heat waves, intensified urban smog, and droughts and floods in our most productive agricultural regions. Global climate change represents a grave threat to the economic livelihood and security of all nations, but it also represents a significant opportunity for sustainable development that will benefit both current and future generations. We believe that ambitious domestic action by China and the United States is more critical than ever. China has given high priority to building an “Ecological Civilization” by striving for green, circular and low-carbon development. It has adopted proactive policies and measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The United States is implementing robust policies to promote renewable energy, enhance energy efficiency, and reduce emissions from transportation, buildings, and the power sector. Both countries recognize the need to work together to continue and build on these important efforts.

Five key areas of collaboration were outlined.

  1. Emission reductions from heavy-duty and other vehicles.
  2. Smart Grids
  3. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage.
  4. Collecting and managing greenhouse gas emissions data.
  5. Energy efficiency in buildings and industry.

There’s an explicit acknowledgement of coal as a bad actor here, but nothing explicated about moving from dirty to clean fuels for generation of electricity. Some mentions of co-benefits, as well.

New music from Volcano Choir / Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver): Byegone

Volcano Choir's new album is coming in September. In the meantime, tide yourself over with Byegone.

'Don't Be Evil' my ass: Google hosts fundraises for climate denier

From the Guardian:

The Lunch, at the company's Washington office, will benefit the Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, who has made a career of dismissing climate change as a "hoax" on the Senate floor.

Proceeds of the 11 July lunch, priced at $250 to $2,500, will also go to the national Republican Senatorial Committee.

It's the second show of support from Google for the anti-climate cause in recent weeks.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the internet company had donated $50,000 for a fundraising dinner for the ultra-conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute – topping the contributions even of the Koch oil billionaires.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has launched multiple law suits aimed at trying to discredit the science behind climate change – accusing scientists of fraud. None have so far succeeded.

The CEI also specialises in filing open records requests, demanding universities turn over email correspondence of climate scientists with journalists.

Facebook also contributed $25,000 to the CEI dinner last month.

Google responded:

... a company spokesperson noted that Google maintained data centres in Oklahoma. The spokesperson then sent an email saying: "We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn't mean we endorse all of their positions. And while we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma."

NYTimes: "A single word tucked into a presidential speech...

Justin Gillis, writing in the NYT about Obama's choice to use the word divest:

He knows that if he is to get serious climate policies on the books before his term ends in 2017, he needs a mass political movement pushing for stronger action. No broad movement has materialized in the United States; 350.org and its student activists are the closest thing so far, which may be why Mr. Obama gazes fondly in their direction.

“I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends,” he said plaintively at Georgetown. “What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up, and speak up, and compel us to do what this moment demands.”

Let's hope the movement towards divestment grows.

Details on 'Power Africa,' the White House's new plan for electrification across sub-Saharan Africa

From the White House:

Today the President announced Power Africa, a new initiative to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, and more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lack access. Power Africa will build on Africa’s enormous power potential, including new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas, and the potential to develop clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy. It will help countries develop newly-discovered resources responsibly, build out power generation and transmission, and expand the reach of mini-grid and off-grid solutions.

According to the International Energy Agency, sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $300 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. Only with greater private sector investment can the promise of Power Africa be realized. With an initial set of six partner countries in its first phase, Power Africa will add more than 10,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity. It will increase electricity access by at least 20 million new households and commercial entities with on-grid, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions. And it will enhance energy resource management capabilities, allowing partner countries to meet their critical energy needs and achieve greater energy security.

As that first paragraph points out, this is inherently an issue of rural energy — and of household energy. The following bit seems a bit… optimistic:

Power Africa will work in collaboration with partner countries to ensure the path forward on oil and gas development maximizes the benefits to the people of Africa, while also ensuring that development proceeds in a timely, financially sound, inclusive, transparent and environmentally sustainable manner.

Google Street View of Hashima, the abandoned island base featured in Skyfall

Hashima, commonly known as battleship island, served as a model for a set piece in Skyfall, the recent James Bond movie. Remember the creepy ruins where Javier Bardem’s character is introduced? That was based on Hashima. Google recently mapped the real island, using their trekker backpack camera.

PRI’s The World recorded and wrote a short piece on Hashima after the release of Skyfall.

The island is known as Hashima, or alternatively as Gunkanjima (“Battleship”) Island, and it sits about nine miles off the Japanese coast in the East China Sea.

In the late 1880s, coal was found on the sea floor beneath the island. In the early days, Japan’s Mitsubishi company, which was mining the coal, would ferry miners to and from the work site from Nagasaki.

Then, the company decided it would be easier to just build houses for the workers, and their families, on Hashima itself.

Giant, multi-storey concrete apartment blocks went up. Schools, bath houses, temples, restaurants, markets, even a graveyard, were built, all on a space the size of a football field.

“Once they reached 5,000 people or more out there, it was recognized as the most densely populated place on earth…ever,” says Thomas Nordanstad, a Swedish filmmaker.

EPA's thoughts on Keystone XL

Obama, yesterday:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

The EPA, reviewing the State Department’s environmental impact assessment of the Keyspan proposal:

As recognized by the DSEIS (Department of State’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement), oil sands crude is significantly more GHG intensive than other crudes, and therefore has potentially large climate impacts. The DSEIS reports that lifecycle GHG emissions from oil sands crude could be 81% greater than emissions from the average crude reformed in the U.S. in 2005 on a well-to-tank basis, and 17% greater on a well-to-wheels basis. This difference may be even greater depending on the assumptions made. The incremental emissions from oil sands crude transported by the Project would therefore be 18.7 million metric tons C02-e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year when compared to an equal amount of U.S. average crudes, based on the Project’s full capacity of 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude per day. To place this difference in context, we recommend using monetized estimates of the social cost of the GHG emissions from a barrel of oil sands crude compared to average U.S. crude. If GHG intensity of oil sands crude is not reduced, over a 50 year period the additional C02-e from oil sands crude transported by the pipeline could be as much as 935 million metric tons.

The whole report is interesting, though laden with acronyms. The EPA decided that there’s insufficient information to make a clear decision at this point, tossing the ball back into State’s court. They specifically focus on a central conclusion of the DSEIS report — that the tar sands oil will find a way to market whether or not the pipeline is built. EPA doesn’t contest that point directly, but requires more sophisticated and modern modeling of the impacts of these alternates routes of getting the oil to the US. This makes sense — if the oil will be pulled from the ground and travel to and through the US, then all possible routes and methods of transport must be equally evaluated.

That said, the current analysis of Keystone indicates it could “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

Obama: "...that bright blue ball rising over the moon's surface, containing everything we hold dear -- the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity -- that's what's at stake."

President Obama, yesterday at Georgetown, at the end of his speech calling for action and outlining new policies on climate change:

Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue.

I understand the politics will be tough. The challenge we must accept will not reward us with a clear moment of victory. There’s no gathering army to defeat. There’s no peace treaty to sign. When President Kennedy said we’d go to the moon within the decade, we knew we’d build a spaceship and we’d meet the goal. Our progress here will be measured differently — in crises averted, in a planet preserved. But can we imagine a more worthy goal? For while we may not live to see the full realization of our ambition, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the world we leave to our children will be better off for what we did.

“It makes you realize,” that astronaut said all those years ago, “just what you have back there on Earth.” And that image in the photograph, that bright blue ball rising over the moon’s surface, containing everything we hold dear — the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity — that’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And if we remember that, I’m absolutely sure we’ll succeed.

Mother Jones’s nice outline of the key points of the speech follows:

Here are the key components of the plan aimed at reducing US emissions:

  • Directs the EPA to issue draft emission rules for existing power plants by June 2014, to be finalized by June 2015.

  • Asks the EPA to “work expeditiously” on finalizing rules for new power plants that the agency issued in March 2012 (though does not appear to include a due date for that).

  • Pledges that the federal government will draw 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

  • Sets a goal of permitting an additional 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020.

  • Sets a goal of putting 100 megawatts of renewable energy on federally subsidized housing by 2020.

  • Creates a new, $8 billion loan guarantee program for advanced fossil fuel projects at the Department of Energy (think clean coal, etc.).

  • Directs the EPA and the Department of Transportation to work on fuel economy standard for heavy-duty trucks, buses, and vans for after 2018 (following up on the 2014-18 rules they rolled out in 2011).

  • Sets a goal of cutting at least 3 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2030 through improvements in energy efficiency standards.

  • Calls for an end to US funding for fossil fuel energy projects overseas unless they include carbon capture technology.

Radiolab: Jenny Hollowell reads her short story, "A History of Everything, Including You"

“Life evolved or was created. Cells trembled and divided and gasped and found dry land. Soon they grew legs and fins and hands and antennae and mouths and ears and wings and eyes—eyes that opened wide to take all of it in: the creeping, growing, soaring, swimming, crawling, stampeding universe. Eyes opened and closed and opened again; we called it blinking. Above us shone a star that we called the Sun and we called the ground the Earth. So we named everything, including ourselves. We were man and woman, and when we got lonely we figured out a way to make more of us. We called it sex and most people enjoyed it.”

No excerpt will really do this justice; Hollowell’s reading is funny, poignant, and devastating. Begins around 3 minutes in, though the whole podcast is worth a listen.

Delicatessen with love: Global grammas + their favorite foods

Arianna Rinaldo, introducing Gabriele Galimberti’s photo gallery of grandmothers and their prized recipes:

Appealing to their natural cooking care and their inevitable pride in their best recipe, common factors to all grandmothers in the world, Gabriele persuaded them to do their best in the kitchen. This means moose stake in Alaska and caterpillars in Malawi, delicious, but ferociously hot, ten-spice-curry in India and sharks soup in the Philippines. He has come back with a cookery book of detailed recipes that mix love, photography and travel amongst the many exotic ingredients. Indeed, each for each grandmother he has produced a portrait of the cook, and easy to follow recipe and an image of the extraordinary and at times mouthwatering final dish.

His photos and text are great. I’ve had a similar idea floating around for a short video series of how people cook in households around the world — with a specific focus on how they cook AND what the meal looks like. My colleagues and I tend to focus on the fuel, the stove, and the practices of cooking in rural households — but often don’t pay as much attention to the nourishing final product. The meals carry such cultural and local significance (not to mention deliciousness) — a fact that Galimberti highlights magnificently.

via kottke

The 'Social Cost Of Carbon' Is Almost Double What The Government Previously Thought

Think Progress has a nice summary of the report out of the Obama administration updating the social cost of carbon (SCC). From the report’s executive summary:

The SCC estimates using the updated versions of the models are higher than those reported in the 2010 TSD. By way of comparison, the four 2020 SCC estimates reported in the 2010 TSD were $7, $26, $42 and $81 (2007$). The corresponding four updated SCC estimates for 2020 are $12, $43, $65, and $129 (2007$). The model updates that are relevant to the SCC estimates include: an explicit representation of sea level rise damages in the DICE and PAGE models; updated adaptation assumptions, revisions to ensure damages are constrained by GDP, updated regional scaling of damages, and a revised treatment of potentially abrupt shifts in climate damages in the PAGE model; an updated carbon cycle in the DICE model; and updated damage functions for sea level rise impacts, the agricultural sector, and reduced space heating requirements, as well as changes to the transient response of temperature to the buildup of GHG concentrations and the inclusion of indirect effects of methane emissions in the FUND model. The SCC estimates vary by year, and the following table summarizes the revised SCC estimates from 2010 through 2050.

After reviewing the full document, the changes update the science to the state of current understanding. As such, the projections offered within are more current (and based on more evolved science) than previously SCC estimates. The conclusions from the report are significant, but seem to overplay the US’s actions and role to date:

However, the climate change problem is highly unusual in at least two respects. First, it involves a global externality: emissions of most greenhouse gases contribute to damages around the world even when they are emitted in the United States. Consequently, to address the global nature of the problem, the SCC must incorporate the full (global) damages caused by GHG emissions. Second, climate change presents a problem that the United States alone cannot solve. Even if the United States were to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero, that step would be far from enough to avoid substantial climate change. Other countries would also need to take action to reduce emissions if significant changes in the global climate are to be avoided. Emphasizing the need for a global solution to a global problem, the United States has been actively involved in seeking international agreements to reduce emissions and in encouraging other nations, including emerging major economies, to take significant steps to reduce emissions.

This is a step in the right direction, but dodges real leadership.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes: NIN - Came Back Haunted

Merry Christmas?

Bald Head Island's Generator Society

From Our State magazine, a well-written piece about idyllic Bald Head Island. Sounds pretty nice:

Toward the ends of many afternoons, they all came together, usually gathering on East Beach, for what they took to calling TPP, or Total Population Parties. The kids’ job was to collect a mess of driftwood to make a fire. The women brought hush puppies and coleslaw. The men cooked the fish they caught that day or boiled a big pot of shrimp or made chowder from fresh clams. They ate and told stories and jokes. They played guitar and sang songs. They even shared some coveted “diamonds” for drinks.

The sun set.

Night fell.

Out came the ghost crabs skittering on the sand and the bright white stars in the sky.

At the Dunlaps’ by the beach, where they almost never ran their generator for light, the adults lit the lanterns, probably a dozen or so latched to the walls, 6 or 7 feet off the floor. They played Monopoly or dominoes or checkers or chess. The kids ran up and down the beach, around on the dunes, just enough light from the moon. They clambered up a ladder to the wide, flat deck on the roof of the house. From there, they could see the hulking cargo ships, with their blinking lights, coming in off the Atlantic and approaching the mouth of the river. They went back down in the house and grabbed all the cushions, dragged them back up to the deck, and finally closed their eyes.

Seems like the island’s got some advocates worried about climate change, too.

Bald Head Island Conservancy has developed a comprehensive public outreach campaign to help educate community members about the potential impacts of climate change to the island and individual choices that can help improve the socioecological system’s resilience. Staff work with community members to identify tangible solutions to future problems. The Conservancy has attained funding to build a research and educational facility and is developing a knowledge sharing network, the Coastal Barrier Island Network, with other barrier islands to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and lessons learned as communities begin to adapt to climate change.

Read more here.

Stories To Mark 60 Years Since First Summit Of Everest

slayers among men.

From SFGate:

Nepal celebrated the 60th anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest on Wednesday by honoring climbers who followed in the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Among them was Italian Reinhold Messner, the first climber to scale Everest without using bottled oxygen and the first person to climb all of the world’s 14 highest peaks.

“I am here in Nepal again for filming … not any more for climbing,” Messner said, adding he did reach the base camp of Mount Kanchenjunga during his visit. “I am full of energy and full of enthusiasm for this country.”

Nepalese officials offered flower garlands and scarfs to the climbers who took part in the ceremony. They were taken around Katmandu on horse-drawn carriages followed by hundreds of people who marched holding banners to mark the anniversary.

Hillary and Norgay reached the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953. Since then thousands of people have reached the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak.

and from NPR:

On this, the 60th anniversary of the first successful summit of the world’s tallest mountain, there’s plenty of news about Mount Everest. Here are six stories [NPR] found interesting.

New Boards of Canada (!!!): Reach for the Dead

Do the kids even know about Boards of Canada? The new album, Tomorrow’s Harvest, is due out June 11. Exciting.

Tesla pays back US government early

NYTimes Dealbook:

Tesla, the maker of electric cars, paid off a $465 million loan on Wednesday that the Energy Department made in 2010. The repayment is a lift to the Obama administration, whose clean-energy loan programs faced criticism after the collapse of Solyndra, the solar panel maker. The company, using money it raised last week in the markets, is repaying the government nine years before its loan was due.

“Today’s repayment is the latest indication that the Energy Department’s portfolio of more than 30 loans is delivering big results for the American economy while costing far less than anticipated,” Ernest Moniz, the energy secretary, said in a statement.

Less coverage than hoped for across the big media outlets.

Happy Towel Day

Today is Towel Day, in honor of Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Last Chance to See, the Dirk Gently series, etc. Why Towels?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon

Robert Krulwich, at his blog, points to a dramatization of DFW’s commencement speech to the class of 2005 at Kenyon college. Excerpted below (read the full transcript).

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

The Koch coke pile in Detroit

The NYT reports on a growing pile of coke, a byproduct of refining, in Detroit. In this case, the coke is produced as a result of tar sands refining; due to its high sulfur and carbon content, it is largely useless in the developed world. It seems that Koch brothers, who have purchased the coke from tar sands operations in Alberta, plan to sell it abroad.

Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.

While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.

“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.”It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”

Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.

The Ranbaxy Boondoggle

Cover-ups. A corporate culture not only lacking ethics but endorsing and encouraging amoral behavior. Unfettered greed. And excellent reporting by Katherine Eban at Fortune on Ranbaxy’s atrocious behavior. I remember not long ago reading about how much of a boon Ranbaxy could be for PEPFAR and for getting good medicines to those most in need.

Shameful behavior and a slow and unacceptable response from the US FDA. Kudos to the employees and auditors who brought the abuses to light.

The two men strolled into the hall to order tea from white-uniformed waiters. As they returned, Kumar said, “We are in big trouble,” and motioned for Thakur to be quiet. Back in his office, Kumar handed him a letter from the World Health Organization. It summarized the results of an inspection that WHO had done at Vimta Laboratories, an Indian company that Ranbaxy hired to administer clinical tests of its AIDS medicine. The inspection had focused on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that Ranbaxy was selling to the South African government to save the lives of its AIDS-ravaged population.

As Thakur read, his jaw dropped. The WHO had uncovered what seemed to the two men to be astonishing fraud. The Vimta tests appeared to be fabricated. Test results from separate patients, which normally would have differed from one another, were identical, as if xeroxed.

Thakur listened intently. Kumar had not even gotten to the really bad news. On the plane back to India, his traveling companion, another Ranbaxy executive, confided that the problem was not limited to Vimta or to those ARV drugs.

“What do you mean?” asked Thakur, barely able to grasp what Kumar was saying.

The problem, said Kumar, went deeper. He directed Thakur to put aside his other responsibilities and go through the company’s portfolio — ultimately, every drug, every market, every production line — and uncover the truth about Ranbaxy’s testing practices and where the company’s liabilities lay.

Murakami on the Boston marathon bombings

Haruki Murakami, author and avid runner, in the New Yorker:

Why? I can’t help asking. Why did a happy, peaceful occasion like the marathon have to be trampled on in such an awful, bloody way? Although the perpetrators have been identified, the answer to that question is still unclear. But their hatred and depravity have mangled our hearts and our minds. Even if we were to get an answer, it likely wouldn’t help.

To overcome this kind of trauma takes time, time during which we need to look ahead positively. Hiding the wounds, or searching for a dramatic cure, won’t lead to any real solution. Seeking revenge won’t bring relief, either. We need to remember the wounds, never turn our gaze away from the pain, and—honestly, conscientiously, quietly—accumulate our own histories. It may take time, but time is our ally.

For me, it’s through running, running every single day, that I grieve for those whose lives were lost and for those who were injured on Boylston Street. This is the only personal message I can send them. I know it’s not much, but I hope that my voice gets through. I hope, too, that the Boston Marathon will recover from its wounds, and that those twenty-six miles will again seem beautiful, natural, free.

Soderbergh on Cinema and parallels with doing science

Steven Soderbergh recently gave a “State of the Cinema” talk at the San Francisco International Film Festival (embedded above, transcript here). If you’re interested in film, cinema, and the arts, it’s worth a read. Soderbergh is an excellent, intelligent storyteller.

The passages below stood out — mainly because I think his description of art, and of cinema, parallel creative scientific thinking nicely. We face some of the same problems of “entrenched ideology” — the scientific enterprise can be slow to respond to alternative viewpoints. Second, there’s a similar and interesting distinction between science and “Science” that resembles the distinction he draws between cinema and movies.

Art is also about problem solving, and it’s obvious from the news, we have a little bit of a problem with problem solving. In my experience, the main obstacle to problem solving is an entrenched ideology. The great thing about making a movie or a piece of art is that that never comes into play. All the ideas are on the table. All the ideas and everything is open for discussion, and it turns out everybody succeeds by submitting to what the thing needs to be. Art, in my view, is a very elegant problem-solving model.

Now we finally arrive at the subject of this rant, which is the state of cinema. First of all, is there a difference between cinema and movies? Yeah. If I were on Team America, I’d say “Fuck yeah!” The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made. It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.

via daring fireball

Dustin Curtis: "The future is extremely hard to see through the lens of the present."

Dustin Curtis recounts at his blog early meetings with the founders of Pinterest and Vine and their prototypes of now-thriving visions:

… my first reaction to their earliest attempts wasn’t to give them the benefit of the doubt-it was to immediately find problems and then dismiss their ideas.

The future is extremely hard to see through the lens of the present. It’s very easy to unconsciously dismiss the first versions of something as frivolous or useless. Or as stupid ideas.

How to be gracious

Tom Chiarella writes an amazing little piece on grace.

…graciousness reflects a state of being; it emanates from your inventory of self. Start with what you already possess. You, for instance, have a job. Live up to that.

When wandering the world, forget your business cards. Don’t look for more contacts. Instead, observe. Say hello to the people you see every day, but don’t make a fetish out of it. Stay interested in others. Be generous in your attentions but not showy. Don’t wink, snap your fingers, high-five, or shout, though laugh with those who do. It bears repeating: Look around. Remember names. Remember where people were born.

On the street, in the lobby, square your shoulders to people you meet. Make a handshake matter — eye contact, good grip, elbow erring toward a right angle. Do not pump the hand, unless the other person is insistent on just that. Then pump the hell out of their hand. Smile. If you can’t smile, you can’t be gracious. You aren’t some dopey English butler. You are you.

Remember that the only representation of you, no matter what your station, is you — your presentation, your demeanor. You simply must attend. Stand when someone enters the room, especially if you are lowly and he is the boss, and even if the reverse is true. Look them in the eye. Ask yourself: Does anybody need an introduction? If so, before you say one word about business, introduce them to others with pleasure in your voice. If you can’t muster enthusiasm for the people you happen upon in life, then you cannot be gracious. Remember, true graciousness demands that you have time for others.

So listen. Be attentive to what people say. Respond, without interruption. You always have time. You own the time in which you live. You grant it to others without obligation. That is the gift of being gracious. The return — the payback, if you will — is the reputation you will quickly earn, the curiosity of others, the sense that people want to be in the room with you. The gracious man does not dwell on himself, but you can be confident that your reputation precedes you in everything you do and lingers long after you are finished. People will mark you for it. You will see it in their eyes. People trust the gracious man to care. The return comes in kind.

Via kottke.

66 Behind the Scenes Pics from The Empire Strikes Back

there is so much amiss in this photograph.

I don’t know if this is a curated collection or just a fan finding every behind the scenes image he can from ESB… but it doesn’t matter. The pictures are amazing. Enjoy.

via Daring Fireball

Wired's 20th Anniversary

Wired Magazine is 20 years old. They write:

In his very first editor’s letter, Louis Rossetto wrote, “There are a lot of magazines about technology. WIRED is not one of them. WIRED is about the most powerful people on the planet today: the Digital Generation.” On this, our 20th anniversary, the time has come to reflect on this generation of leaders, thinkers, and makers. These people, their companies, and their ideas have shaped the future we live in today. Below, we’ve gathered stories for, by, and about the people who have shaped the planet’s past 20 years—and will continue driving the next.

I remember when it came out, distinctly marking me as old. I also vividly remember being excited when that iconic, thick, heavy slab arrived in the mail - for years in Louisiana and then throughout college. They’ve got a number of good features looking back, including a nice historical piece; a piece by Jason Kottke about kottke.org; and a fun, old picture of Steve Jobs, captioned simply “Remembering a Legend” (attached below).

They also interviewed Bill Gates, a different kind of legend, who had some great quips throughout his interview.

20 years ago we had the idea that information could become available at your fingertips. We got that done. Now everyone takes it for granted that you can look up movie reviews, track locations, and order stuff online. I wish there was a way we could take it away from people for a day so they could remember what it was like without it.

We need a malaria epidemic in the blogging community! Either that or we need people who have seen the malaria epidemic to start blogging. Seriously, we have two communities that don’t intersect with each other. One is about a billion and a half people—families, children—who live in malaria-prone areas. The others are living pretty nice lives, and it’s great. If the malaria epidemic was nearby, this stuff would be very prominent.

People doing innovative work in technology are making a huge contribution—they don’t have to feel bad about it. But if they make enough money, they should give some of it away to causes that they personally develop a connection to. If they can have an awareness about global poverty and disease, that’d be great. Twenty years ago, I didn’t have much awareness about those things. But in 1993, Melinda and I took a trip to Africa and made the decision to focus mostly on global health.

Surprising science: a mere taste of beer triggers joy

From Surprising Science, a blog at smithsonianmag.com:

Scientists have long known that part of the reason alcohol induces pleasure is that intoxication leads to the release of dopamine, which is associated with the use of other drugs (as well as sleep and sex) and acts as a reward for the brain. But new research suggests that, for some people, intoxication isn’t necessary: Simply the taste of beer alone can provoke a release of the neurotransmitter within minutes.

A group of researchers led by David Kareken of Indiana University came to the finding, published today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, by giving tiny amounts of beer to 49 adult men and tracking changes in their brain chemistry with a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, which measures levels of various molecules in the brain. They chose participants with varying levels of typical alcohol consumption—from heavy drinkers to near-teetotalers—and even tested them with the beer they reported that they drank most frequently. Because they used an automated system to spray just 15 milliliters (about half an ounce) of beer on each participant’s tongue over the course of 15 minutes, they could be sure that any changes in brain chemistry wouldn’t be due to intoxication.

Paul Gipe: "For the Amount Spent on the Iraq War the US Could be Generating 40% to 60% of its Electricity with Renewable Energy"

David Roberts at Grist pointed to this article today. Striking.

If we had invested the $3.9 trillion that the war in Iraq will ultimately cost, we would generate nearly 40% of our electricity with new renewables. Combined with the 10% of supply from existing hydroelectricity, the US could have surpassed 50% of total renewables in supply.

However, this is a conservative estimate. If we include the reasonable assumptions suggested by Robert Freehling, the contribution by renewables would be even greater.

Freehling’s assumptions raise to as much as 60% the nation’s lost potential contribution by new renewables to US electricity supply by going to war in Iraq. With the addition of existing hydroelectric generation, the opportunity to develop as much as 70% of our nation’s electricity with renewable energy was lost.

And unlike the war in Iraq, which is an expense, the development of renewable energy instead of war would have been an investment in infrastructure at home that would have paid dividends to American citizens for decades to come.

A new track from The National: Demons

Characteristically awesome.

The band’s sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me is out May 20/21.

Jason Molina, of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, Dead

I stumbled upon a Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia fansite while a junior in college. I liked his music then, and still do, a great deal. Molina had been quiescent for a few years, dealing with his health and alcoholism. A note had surfaced suggesting he was okay, on the mend. Unfortunately, he passed away on March 18.

There are a number of nice tributes out to him on the interwebs. I particularly appreciated this one, from Stephen Thompson at NPR music, who wrote:

I got to meet Molina once, back in 2005. I’d heard stories that he could be prickly and unapproachable, to the point where I hesitated to say hello, but decided to suck it up as an act of selfishness; I just couldn’t resist the chance to tell him how much I’d come to love his music. The man was sweet and warm to the point where, when we parted, he reached into his bag and handed me a sheet of paper. He’d been scribbling some strange drawings — a little reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr’s album covers, but primitive and drawn in black pen — on the back of loose paperwork while bored on tour, and figured I might like one as a keepsake. He was right.

That sheepish generosity, coming from someone whose relationship with the world could be so difficult, stuck with me, and always will.

Paste Reveals "Top of the Hops" Winner

I was a little harsh of some of the selections along the way, but the exercise is fun. The winner is the Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA, which Paste describes as “simply the best IPA in America.” Not sure I agree, but it is a damn fine beer.

Sixty-four IPAs began Paste’s Top of the Hops IPA Challenge, but there can only be one winner. After blind-tasting 60 pairs of American India Pale Ales through four rounds, four beers still had a shot at the Championship.

All 64 beers met our initial criteria—an IPA from an American brewery that was available year-round and maxed out at 7.5% ABV (meaning no Imperial or Double IPAs). Each round had seven judges, including Paste’s beer-loving staff, musicians we invited in to participate and Atlanta-area beer experts like CNN beer writer Nate Berrong, Kraig Torres of Hop City and Eddie Holley of Ale Yeah!, two of Atlanta’s best craft beer stores.

It’s been a fun project, especially in these final rounds where all four beers were simply exquisite.

Whuck: Alec Baldwin interviews Thom Yorke on Here's The Thing

This shouldn’t work, but Baldwin nails it. Listen below or read the transcript here.

Air Pollution Linked to 1.2 Million Premature Deaths in China

As Kirk pointed out in an email this morning, the NYT missed half of the problem. He wrote:

Remarkable narrow vision to fail even to mention that household air pollution has about an equal impact in the country. Even though the GBD study shows both on the same graphs, journalists and policy makers see one, but not the other. These is also an estimated 0.2 million overlap, what we call secondhand cookfire smoke, which is the portion of outdoor air due to cooking fuels in the country. If you account that to household air pollution, than the total impact of household air pollution is greater than that from outdoor air pollution due to all other sources combined (1.2 million premature deaths compared to 1.0 million).

Our work has been showing — in India and in China — that outdoor air pollution isn’t just an urban problem; it is simply measured most commonly (and thus identified most easily) in urban areas. We’re working to quantify that contribution and to make the case that cleaning up households can help clean up ambient air — in urban and rural areas.

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) and the Northern Lights

Pretty amazing time-lapse photography from Babak Tafreshi, a science journalist, photographer, and astronomy communicator. Captured on March 20 in northern Norway.

The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.

Happy Easter. A tale from David Sedaris (listen to him read it here), who casts all holidays in ridiculous and appropriate light.

Jesus Shaves by David Sedaris

“And what does one do on the fourteenth of July? Does one celebrate Bastille Day?”

It was my second month of French class, and the teacher was leading us in an exercise designed to promote the use of one, our latest personal pronoun.

“Might one sing on Bastille Day?” she asked. “Might one dance in the street? Somebody give me an answer.”

Printed in our textbooks was a list of major holidays alongside a scattered arrangement of photos depicting French people in the act of celebration. The object was to match the holiday with the corresponding picture. It was simple enough but seemed an exercise better suited to the use of the word they. I didn’t know about the rest of the class, but when Bastille Day eventually rolled around, I planned to stay home and clean my oven.

Normally, when working from the book, it was my habit to tune out my fellow students and scout ahead, concentrating on the question I’d calculated might fall to me, but this afternoon, we were veering from the usual format. Questions were answered on a volunteer basis, and I was able to sit back, confident that the same few students would do the talking. Today’s discussion was dominated by an Italian nanny, two chatty Poles, and a pouty, plump Moroccan woman who had grown up speaking French and had enrolled in the class to improve her spelling. She’d covered these lessons back in the third grade and took every opportunity to demonstrate her superiority. A question would be asked and she’d give the answer, behaving as though this were a game show and, if quick enough, she might go home with a tropical vacation or a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer. By the end of her first day, she’d raised her hand so many times, her shoulder had given out. Now she just leaned back in her seat and shouted the answers, her bronzed arms folded across her chest like some great grammar genie.

We finished discussing Bastille Day, and the teacher moved on to Easter, which was represented in our textbook by a black-and-white photograph of a chocolate bell lying upon a bed of palm fronds.

“And what does one do on Easter? Would anyone like to tell us?”

The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, “Excuse me, but what’s an Easter?”

Despite her having grown up in a Muslim country, it seemed she might have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. “I mean it,” she said. “I have no idea what you people are talking about.”

The teacher then called upon the rest of us to explain.

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and … oh, shit.”

She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.

“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two … morsels of … lumber.”

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

“He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”

“He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”

“He nice, the Jesus.”

“He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.”

Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.

“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”

“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.

I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”

My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.

“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears. “You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”

“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods.”

The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country. “No, no,” she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome.”

I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”

“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?”

It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That’s a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth—and they can’t even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character; he’s someone you’d like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It’s like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they’ve got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That’s the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there’s no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell’s dog -and even then he’d need papers. It just didn’t add up.

Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate. Confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder. I wondered then if, without the language barrier, my classmates and I could have done a better job making sense of Christianity, an idea that sounds pretty far-fetched to begin with.

In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom. Why bother struggling with the grammar lessons of a six- year-old if each of us didn’t believe that, against all reason, we might eventually improve? If I could hope to one day carry on a fluent conversation, it was a relatively short leap to believing that a rabbit might visit my home in the middle of the night, leaving behind a handful of chocolate kisses and a carton of menthol cigarettes. So why stop there? If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt? I accepted the idea that an omniscient God had cast me in his own image and that he watched over me and guided me from one place to the next. The virgin birth, the resurrection, and the countless miracles -my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.

A bell, though, that’s fucked up.

Treehouses by Takashi Kobayashi, Japan

I’ve got a long obsession with (1) tree houses and (2) Japan. This short story and related photographs takes those two interests and smashes them together with vigor.

From designboom:

takashi kobayashi is a self-taught designer that has brought treehouse vernacular to the japanese landscape. the carpenter and architect of 120 houses throughout japan, his prolificness is borne of a deep-seated investment in the creation of a new architectural tradition in his country added to the hefty, overall aim of each project- to erode the boundary between man and nature. using reclaimed wood, the designer and his collective treehouse people have developed methods since the first building in 1993 for the arboreal structures balanced on living boughs and limbs that avoid stunting the growth of the tree.

forecast.io

Beautiful new service from the creators of Dark Sky. A number of cool things about it, including its beautiful visualizations and use of data from around the globe. Particularly, the developers note:

We’ve gathered hour-by-hour observations from tens of thousands of ground stations world-wide, in some places going back a hundred years. We expose it as a sort of “time machine” that lets you explore the past weather at any given location. We’ve also used the data to develop statistical forecasts for any day in the future. For example, say you have an outdoor family reunion in 6 months: with the time machine, you can see what the likely temperature and precipitation will be at the exact day and hour.

Their API sounds good, too, though I haven’t taken the plunge on that yet.

Now that we’ve developed a general-purpose weather API, we’re trying to compete with the other weather APIs available around the Internet. We’ve found those APIs to be difficult and clunky to use, so we’ve tried to make our API as streamlined as possible: you can sign up for a developer account without needing a credit card, and start making requests right away—you can worry about payment information when your app is ready. Additionally, we’ve lowered our prices so that we’re competitive with the other data providers out there.

Via DF

Tokyo Metro Posters

Back in 2008, the Tokyo Metro system launched a three-year-long campaign aimed at reminding subway passengers to mind their manners while riding the trains. It featured the slogan “Please do it at home” or “Please do it again” alongside an illustration of the featured manner or rule. All posters are written in Japanese and English, some featuring hilariously outrageous and sometimes confusing activities that make you wonder, “Do people actually do that on a train?!”.

Via The Loop

NYTimes: How beer gave us civilization

…[T]hese same lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization.

To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.

We needed beer.

Read the whole article here.

via Vargo

Excellent Infograph in NYT: The Small-State Advantage in the United States Senate

from the first part of the related interactive article:

What is certain is that the power of the smaller states is large and growing. Political scientists call it a striking exception to the democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” Indeed, they say, the Senate may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.

Behind the growth of the advantage is an increase in population gap between large and small states, with large states adding many more people than small ones in the last half-century. There is a widening demographic split, too, with the larger states becoming more urban and liberal, and the smaller ones remaining rural and conservative, which lends a new significance to the disparity in their political power.

And this little gem:

Beyond influencing government spending, these shifts generally benefit conservative causes and hurt liberal ones. When small states block or shape legislation backed by senators representing a majority of Americans, most of the senators on the winning side tend to be Republicans, because Republicans disproportionately live in small states and Democrats, especially African-Americans and Latinos, are more likely to live in large states like California, New York, Florida and Illinois. Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.

Happy Birthday, Douglas Adams

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies: 1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Google marked the birthday of Douglas Adams, raconteur supreme and creator of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, today with a pretty fun doodle. Beyond his comedic creations, Adams was a technologist-futurist and a conservationist. The doodle’s awesome — a fitting little tribute to DNA.

thanks to Dr. CLK for pointing the doodle out!

In Focus: Two Years after the Japanese Tsunami and Earthquake

The Atlantic:

In a few days, Japan will mark the 2nd anniversary of the devastating Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami. The disaster killed nearly 19,000 across Japan, leveling entire coastal villages. Now, nearly all the rubble has been removed, or stacked neatly, but reconstruction on higher ground is lagging, as government red tape has slowed recovery efforts. Locals living in temporary housing are frustrated, and still haunted by the horrific event, some displaying signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Follows up on a similar activity they did after one year. In fact, some of the before shots are the same — so you can see how things looked a year and two years after the devastating disaster.

Beautiful, devastating, and appropriate: Nora Ephron's Final Act

A moving tribute and farewell from son (Jacob Bernstein) to mother (Nora Ephron).

In the play my mother wrote, there’s a scene toward the end, in which McAlary, sick with cancer, goes to the Poconos to visit his friend Jim Dwyer, then a columnist at The Daily News. It’s a glorious summer day, and McAlary’s 12-year-old son, Ryan, wants to do a flip off the diving board, but he gets scared and can’t do it. So McAlary takes off his shirt, walks to the edge of the diving board and says to him: “When you do these things, you can’t be nervous. If you think about what can go wrong, if you think about the belly flop, that’s what’ll happen.”

And then McAlary does the flip himself and makes a perfect landing.

It’s a metaphor, obviously, for his view about life. And I’ve come to think it might as well have been about my mother. The point is that you don’t let fear invade your psyche. Because then you might as well be dead.

As she saw him, McAlary was a role model not so much in life, but in death, in the way that he used writing to maintain his sense of purpose and find release from his illness. In the six years my mother had MDS, she wrote 100 blog posts, two books and two plays and directed a movie. There was nothing she could do about her death but to keep going in the face of it. Work was its own kind of medicine, even if it could not save her when her MDS came roaring back.

Read the whole thing. Keep a box of Kleenex or a towel handy.

NYT Public Editor's Journal: For Times Environmental Reporting, Intentions May Be Good but the Signs Are Not

Margaret Sullivan, the fifth public editor appointed by The New York Times, on the recent closings of the Environment Desk and the Times’ Green Blog:

Here’s my take: I’m not convinced that The Times’s environmental coverage will be as strong without the team and the blog. Something real has been lost on a topic of huge and growing importance.

Especially given The Times’s declared interest in attracting international readers and younger readers, I hope that Times editors — very soon — will look for new ways to show readers that environmental news hasn’t been abandoned, but in fact is of utmost importance. So far, in 2013, they are not sending that message.

Understatement of 2013, thus far.

NYT, WaPo cut back environment coverage, since we're not worried about that anymore

Grist.org:

On Friday afternoon, The New York Times discontinued the Green blog, the paper’s one-stop shop for environment-related news. Then on Monday, the Washington Post announced it was pulling its star climate reporter, Juliet Eilperin, off of the beat and putting her on an “online strike force” covering the White House.

All of this can only mean one of two things: 1) The environment is fine, or 2) imminent global catastrophe is not as interesting as photo essays of matching, over-upholstered apartments in Manhattan.

the Eames timeline

As part of an effort to save the Eames House and come up with a 250 year plan, the Eames Foundation is selling 500 copies each of 4 limited edition prints at 75 USD each. The prints are interesting and well-designed.

They’ve also got a great timeline up of the Eames’ achievements. Pretty cool and definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Eames and their work.

C. Everett Koop (1916 - 2013)

C. Everett Koop — public health hero, activist, and the man who brought power and sway to the office of the Surgeon General — died at 96 today. Among his largest achievements were (1) speaking candidly about AIDS from a bully pulpit, from which he advocated condom use, prevention, and early sex education, despite his conservative Presbyterian beliefs; and (2) bringing the harms of smoking to the forefront nationally by comparing the habit to heroin and condemning it as “the greatest killer and producer of premature deaths” in the United States.

From the NYT:

As much as anyone, it was Dr. Koop who took the lead in trying to wean Americans off smoking, and he did so in imposing fashion. At a sturdy 6-foot-1, with his bushy gray biblical beard, Dr. Koop would appear before television cameras in the gold-braided dark-blue uniform of a vice admiral — the surgeon general’s official uniform, which he revived — and sternly warn of the terrible consequences of smoking.

“Smoking kills 300,000 Americans a year,” he said in one talk. “Smokers are 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers, two times more likely to develop heart disease. Smoking a pack a day takes six years off a person’s life.”

When Dr. Koop took office, 33 percent of Americans smoked; when he left, the percentage had dropped to 26. By 1987, 40 states had restricted smoking in public places, 33 had prohibited it on public conveyances and 17 had banned it in offices and other work sites. More than 800 local antismoking ordinances had been passed, and the federal government had restricted smoking in 6,800 federal buildings. Antismoking campaigns by private groups like the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association had accelerated.

The New Yorker looked backed into their archives and pulled a nice profile written upon his retirement that highlights his work on AIDS.

In his frequent interviews with the press and in his reports to the public Dr. Koop insisted on using words that are considered taboo in much of the country—“condom,” “penis,” “rectal intercourse”—not to shock but, rather, to dispel the dark mystery that cloaked the AIDS epidemic. To Dr. Koop, there was nothing immoral about medical wisdom. By using those banned words, the Surgeon General accelerated the ongoing sexual education of America. He also alienated many of his supporters on the right: they accused him in the bitterest terms of abandoning his fundamentalist Christian convictions and promoting illicit sexual behavior. “I’m not the nation’s chaplain general—I’m the surgeon general,” Dr. Koop would counter. Meanwhile, liberals, including those on Capitol Hill who in 1981 had vehemently opposed his nomination, because of his impassioned stand against abortion and his reputation for moral fervor (Dr. Kook, they tagged him), took to hailing him as a new folk hero. But throughout this political firestorm Dr. Koop insisted that he was the same man: the same reverence for human life that had impelled him, as a distinguished surgeon at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, to operate on horribly deformed infants no other doctors would go near now drove him to take bold measures against the spread of AIDS. Explicit safe-sex education for the general public, and care and protection for those stricken with the disease—these were the twin pillars of Dr. Koop’s public-health strategy.

Everyone in the US owes Koop their gratitude, especially those of us in public health. His writings and speeches are collected at NIH’s National Library of Medicine. Highly recommended.

And now this: Goats Yelling Like Humans

From kottke.org and our pal Pat:

Ella Chou: What Would China's Carbon Tax Regime Look Like

A thoughtful and insightful overview of the proposed carbon/environmental tax by Harvard graduate student Ella Chou. Some excerpts follow.

The first thing I want to clarify is that calling it a “carbon tax” would be a gross misnomer, because for a long time to come, the majority of the tax collected from this would still be from what used to be called “pollution discharge fees”, not from taxing carbon emissions.

The tax on carbon would in fact be puny. The Xinhua report noted that previous MOF expert suggestion for the carbon tax was 10 yuan (US $1.5) per ton of carbon dioxide in 2012, with gradual increase to 50 yuan ($7.9) per ton by 2020.

…[T]he tax on coal in China is merely 2-3 yuan (US $0.4) per ton, and 8 yuan (US $1.27) per ton for charred coal, even though the price of coal has increased to several hundreds of yuan per ton.

The point of a carbon tax, be in China or elsewhere, is to set the price signal straight. We tax income; we tax property; we tax goods and services — all the things we want more of, so wouldn’t it be logic to actually tax the thing we want less of: pollution?

I should note that the proportion of environmental tax in the overall revenue of any level of government would be tiny, as is the pollution discharge fee portion of the revenue mix now. Local governments would continue to come up ways to give industries tax rebates and subsidies to attract them to their own jurisdictions, so the effect of the environmental tax or the carbon tax on the industries would be negligible. Standardizing fees into a tax is a step in the right direction. China can use a price on carbon, and environmental issues in general, as a starting point to address the price distortions that are stifling its long-term growth.

Mississippi ratifies 13th amendment, finally

The Clarion Ledger, the daily newspaper out of Jackson, Mississippi, posted a story Saturday, February 17 that reads like something out of the Onion:

Historic oversight corrected: Film ‘Lincoln’ inspires look into slavery vote

This is, all jokes aside, a kind of amazing story. Two non-politicians — one a physician, one an “anatomical material specialist” — from University of Mississippi Medical Center acted to get the ratification officially passed.

After seeing Lincoln, the curious physician scoured the web to investigate the progression of states ratifying the amendment. From the article:

… there was an asterisk beside Mississippi. A note read: “Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification is not official.”

The initial resolution went to the state’s senate and house in 1995, which still seems absurdly late. Regardless, the resolution passed back then, but was never formally filed with the Office of the Federal Register. That ‘oversight’ was formally resolved on February 7th.

Visualizing US Gun Killings in 2010

An impressive visualization created by Periscopic using public data. They calculated counterfactual stories for each of the individuals killed by gun violence, offering an alternate likely cause of death had they not been killed. Their description of their methods:

Our data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, which include voluntarily-reported data from police precincts across the country. In 2007, according to the FBI, law enforcement agencies active in the UCR Program represented more than 285 million US inhabitants—94.6% of the total population. This special dataset is at the raw, or incident, level—containing details of each person who was killed, including their age, gender, race, relationship to killer, and more.

For the gray lines, we calculated alternate stories for the people killed with guns using data from the World Health Organization. To calculate an alternate story, we first performed an age prediction weighted according to the age distribution of US deaths. Using this age, we then predicted a likely cause of death at that age. We do not adjust for life-expectancy differences between demographic groups, as we have not yet found data to that extent. We used data from 2005, the most recent year available.

Traditional cooking and household energy use in the Library of Congress online archives

In the past few weeks, a lot of people have been mining the LoC photo databases for images of public works posters, images of cities early in their development, etc. The archive is outstanding and a lot of the pictures, negatives, schematics, and drawings are available online in multiple resolutions.

I ran some searches for household energy, hearths, cooking fire, cooking stoves, etc and found a number of fascinating results. Many of the pictures from the US were not available online yet - in particular, two libraries of “cooking technologies” from the 1920s and 1930s weren’t around. I’m working on getting access to those through some data request channels. A few that were accessible are below. The majority are from Sikkim and were taken by Alice Kandell between 1965 and 1971. The large one above is supposedly from Jerusalem and was taken between 1900-1920. The seventh one below is from 1908 in Paterna, Spain.

Clearly a wealth of interesting historical information in the archives. Looking forward to further explorations.

Climate Change in Obama's 2013 State of the Union

Strong words from President Obama on climate change during his 2013 State of the Union Address

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods - all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year - so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

Wind industry installs almost 5,300 MW of capacity in December

Today in Energy:

Approximately 40% of the total 2012 wind capacity additions (12,620 MW) came online in December, just before the scheduled expiration of the wind production tax credit (PTC). During December 2012, 59 new wind projects totaling 5,253 MW began commercial operation, the largest-ever single-month capacity increase for U.S. wind energy. About 50% of the total December wind capacity additions were installed in three states: Texas (1,120MW), Oklahoma (794 MW), and California (730 MW)…

Wind generators provided the largest share of additions to total U.S. electric generation capacity in 2012, just as it did in 2008 and 2009. The 2012 addition of 12,620 MW is the highest annual wind capacity installment ever reported to EIA. Wind capacity additions accounted for more than 45% of total 2012 capacity additions and exceeded capacity additions from any other fuel source, including natural gas (which led capacity additions in 2000-07, 2010, and 2011).

EPA Releases its "Climate Change Adaptation Plan"

We live in a world in which the climate is changing. Changes in climate have occurred since the formation of the planet. But humans are now influencing Earth’s climate and causing it to change in unprecedented ways.

It is in this rapidly changing world that EPA is working to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. Many of the outcomes EPA is working to attain (e.g., clean air, safe drinking water) are sensitive to changes in weather and climate. Until now, EPA has been able to assume that climate is relatively stable and future climate will mirror past climate. However, with climate changing more rapidly than society has experienced in the past, the past is no longer a good predictor of the future. Climate change is posing new challenges to EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission.

David Miller: Global Justice and Climate Change: How Should Responsibilities Be Distributed?

Earlier today, I was looking for a Tanner lecture about climate change. I didn’t find the one I was looking for — but came across an equally intriguing one. I’ve just started working through it, but recommend it. The written version offers Miller’s take on a philosopher’s role in the climate change conversation. Early on, he offers a compelling take:

My aim here is not to answer all of the philosophical questions about climate change. I am simply going to assume, in particular, that if we continue to pump greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane especially) into the atmosphere at the rate we are now doing, we will inflict serious harm on many human beings, harm that we have a basic ethical obligation to avoid. It is known that the damaging effects of global warming will be quite unevenly distributed across societies. The broad picture is that it will hit hardest those societies that are currently poor and already most vulnerable to natural disasters such as drought and flood. This is partly a matter of simple geography, and partly a result of the fact that these societies have fewer resources with which to combat the effects of global warming—for example, by erecting defenses against rising sea levels. The effects on human beings in those societies will be severe—they will starve as food production dwindles, fall prey to waterborne diseases, and so forth. If we do nothing to prevent this from happening, we can properly be charged with violating their human rights—not directly, as happens when we intend death and injury by waging war, but indirectly by virtue of failing to act when we had the opportunity to do so.

Bill Murray in GQ and at the Pebble Beach Celebrity Golf Tournament

Bill Murray’s been in the news a bit the last few weeks. First, he was featured in GQ’s January 2013 issue (excerpted below). More recently, he participated in the Pebble Beach Nation Pro-Am celebrity golf tournament, in which he was rocking some outstanding facial hair, making angels in bunker sand, and getting patted on the arse by Kenny G.

From GQ:

… He talks about the original reason for the trip, where he went first: to see the recently completed FDR Four Freedoms memorial, located on the tip of the island (where, he mentions, an unfilmed scene in Ghostbusters was meant to be set). He had seen a documentary about the project on PBS and, having recently channeled the president, decided to take his sons and their friends for a look.

“It was designed by Louis Kahn, and it’s got some moves,” he says, flipping through photos on his phone and shaking his head, impressed. “This is what they call The Room,” he says, passing the phone. “There’s six-by-six-by-twelve-foot granite blocks with a tiny bit of space between them that’s polished on the inside, so the light actually kicks through the whole thing. The Room is pretty boss.”

The only problem was that the memorial was in the final stages of construction and not yet open, so they crept around the edges, looking for a way in. A perfect setup for a little of that Murray magic.

“I waved to the people driving in and out in their itty-bitty cars, and eventually I saw one of the guys walking back, saying, ‘They said you were out here.’ ” Murray seems suddenly sheepish, as if hearing how it sounds: just another celebrity getting through doors on the strength of his face—not with wit and charm and guile, not with sand.

“It wasn’t like they were like, ‘Hey, you’re the guy from What About Bob?’ or anything. One guy didn’t speak very much English, and they obviously weren’t really movie buffs…,” he says, rubbing those legs gingerly. A mere guard, he’ll have you know, is still no match for the power of the Murricane. He’d have made it through the gate.

“I had that,” he says with perfect confidence. “If I had a little more time, I could have gotten it done.”

EPA: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities

A cool tool for visualizing large GHG emitters in the US.

Through EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHGs are required to annually report their GHG emissions to EPA. The facilities are known as direct emitters. The data reported by direct emitters provides a “bottom-up” accounting of the major sources of GHG emissions associated with stationary fuel combustion and industrial processes. Well over half of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for in this facility level data set, including nearly complete coverage of major emitting sectors such as power plants and refineries.

Divestment in San Francisco

From a 350.org press release:

This Tuesday, February 5, San Francisco District 11 Supervisor John Avalos will introduce a resolution urging the Retirement Board of the San Francisco Employee’s Retirement System (SFERS) to divest from the 200 corporations that hold the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves.

“San Francisco has aggressive goals to address climate change,” said Supervisor John Avalos. “It’s important that we apply these same values when we decide how to invest our funds, so we can limit our financial contributions to fossil fuels and instead promote renewable alternatives.”

If the resolution is approved by the Board of Supervisors, San Francisco would become the second city in the nation to pursue fossil fuel divestment. This December, the Mayor of Seattle pledged to keep city funds out of the fossil fuel industry and urged the city’s pension funds to consider divestment. Avalos is also introducing a resolution today to push SFERS to divest from arms manufacturers.

Flying over tulip fields

Normann Szkop, a French photographer, took some amazing photographs of Tulips in the Netherlands. See them all at this Flickr page.

Flying over the Tulips Fields in Anna Paulowna a municipality and a town in the Netherlands, in the province of North Holland. The tulip has come to be a loved symbol of the Netherlands. Many tourists visit the country just to see the bright coloured flower and the astonishing view over the bulb fields. The season begins in March with crocuses, followed by the daffodil and the yellow narcissi. In April the hyacinths and tulips blosssom to some time in mid May, depending on the weather. Later, in August it is time for the gladioli. Even when spring is over, the Netherlands is still a garden, visitors can enjoy flowers in the Netherlands all year round. In the 20th century, the bulb flower business continued to boom, resulting in the establishment of auction and trading houses, large-scale cultivators and cooperatives. Today, The Netherlands exports bulbflowers in large quantities to over a hundred countries worldwide.

Air Quality in Delhi

From India Ink at the NYT:

But in New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution levels far exceeded those in Beijing, only without any government acknowledgement or action. It is not the first time pollution in India’s capital has outpaced that in China.

The level of tiny particulates known as PM 2.5, which lodge deep in the lungs and can enter the bloodstream, was over 400 micrograms per cubic meter in various neighborhoods in and around Delhi Thursday, according to a real-time air quality monitor. That compared to Beijing’s most-recent air quality reading of 172 micrograms per cubic meter. (The “Air Quality online” link to the left of the Delhi website gives you real-time monitoring of Delhi’s pollution levels.)

At the University of Delhi’s northern campus at 12:30 p.m., the reading for PM 2.5 was 402 micrograms per cubic meter; in the eastern suburb of Noida it was 411; at the Indira Gandhi International airport it was 421.

Having spent winters in Delhi, I can attest to the intensity of the air pollution. Part of the problem, like in other large cities, relates to winter meteorology; another significant component is the location of industry and power production in close proximity to urban population centers.

I’m working on culling the data from the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences air pollution monitors; check back soon.

In Focus: China's Toxic Sky

The Atlantic has an amazing collection of photographs of Beijing’s sky during these last few weeks of intense PM pollution. Particularly striking are the before-and-after shots, which on their site allow you to fade between polluted and less polluted days. One is adapted below, but check them all out.

Since the beginning of this year, the levels of air pollution in Beijing have been dangerously high, with thick clouds of smog chasing people indoors, disrupting air travel, and affecting the health of millions. The past two weeks have been especially bad — at one point the pollution level measured 40 times recommended safety levels. Authorities are taking short-term measures to combat the current crisis, shutting down some factories and limiting government auto usage. However, long-term solutions seem distant, as China’s use of coal continues to rise, and the government remains slow to acknowledge and address the problems.

The focus, of course, has been on Beijing, but astute observers note that it is hardly the most polluted city in the country. As a result of the widespread pollution - which has been getting remarkable coverage in the mainstream media - Chinese activists, educators, and policymakers are speaking out.

Professor Qu Geping, China’s first environmental protection chief, in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post:

“I would not call the past 40 years’ efforts of environmental protection a total failure,” he said. “But I have to admit that governments have done far from enough to rein in the wild pursuit of economic growth … and failed to avoid some of the worst pollution scenarios we, as policymakers, had predicted.”

After three decades of worsening industrial pollution resulting from rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, China has accumulated huge environmental debts that will have to be paid back, Qu said.

He said recently he regretted that some of the very forward-looking strategies - emphasising a more balanced and co-ordinated approach to development and conservation, that were worked out as early as 1983 - were never put into serious practice when China was still at an early stage of industrialisation.

Pan Shiyi, “one of China’s highest profile antipollution warriors” and a real estate mogul, asked Chinese bloggers and social media users to vote on whether or not China should enact national clean air legislation. According to the WSJ’s China Real Time Report,

In less than 10 hours of voting, nearly 32,000 microbloggers have said they agree with real estate mogul Pan Shiyi’s call for China to implement a clean air law. Fewer than 250 said they were opposed, while just over 120 said they weren’t sure.

As of a few minutes ago, 46,353 people had participated in the poll. A drop in the ocean, but a start.

Finally, according to the Times, the Beijing government is taking steps to curb emissions in the capital. The state run news agency reports that 180,000 old vehicles will be removed from the road; the heating systems of 44,000 old, single story homes and coal-burning boilers downtown will be replaced with clean energy; and 40% of Beijing will be forest covered in the next five years.

The city also plans to reduce coal consumption by 1.4 million tonnes and volatile organic compounds emissions by 8,000 tonnes, in addition to closing some 450 heavily polluting plants, according to municipal authorities.

Reasonable measures, but not ones that will occur rapidly. And, as mentioned, this doesn’t help much with the other, equally or more heavily polluted cities throughout the country.

In 2011, China consumed nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined

From EIA’s interesting today in energy series:

Figure based on available EIA data

Coal consumption in China grew more than 9% in 2011, continuing its upward trend for the 12th consecutive year, according to newly released international data. China’s coal use grew by 325 million tons in 2011, accounting for 87% of the 374 million ton global increase in coal use. Of the 2.9 billion tons of global coal demand growth since 2000, China accounted for 2.3 billion tons (82%). China now accounts for 47% of global coal consumption—almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined.

Robust coal demand growth in China is the result of a more than 200% increase in Chinese electric generation since 2000, fueled primarily by coal. China’s coal demand growth averaged 9% per year from 2000 to 2010, more than double the global growth rate of 4% and significantly higher than global growth excluding China, which averaged only 1%.

Another thought-provoking climate post from David Roberts

A good, compelling piece from David Roberts, who appeals to a fundamental moral need for climate action:

The U.S. must act because all people have a moral obligation to act. We have no guarantee that if we act, others will act; we have no guarantee that if everyone acts, it will be enough. But inaction is not a choice. If the danger were an invading army from another planet or a raging global pandemic, we wouldn’t be having these arguments. The need for everyone to act would be obvious. Quibbles over who acts first, or who benefits most from the planet not being invaded, or how to avoid spending “too much” to avoid being annihilated would rightly be seen as verging on sociopathic. Everyone would be eager to act, despite having no certainty of success, because the alternative is simply unacceptable.

That’s the root of it: The results of inaction are morally unacceptable. They are also economically unacceptable, worse than virtually anything we might inflict on ourselves through too-vigorous pursuit of clean energy, regenerative agriculture, reforestation, resource-efficient land use, and resilient infrastructure. But ultimately it is a moral argument. We know we are on track for unthinkable human suffering and we know how to avoid it. Even if we can’t make a dime by saving millions of future children in Africa and Asia, we ought to save them. Even if we’re not certain of our success, we have to try. It’s a matter of human decency.

There was a time, not that long ago, when America took pride in leading the world against such dangers. Where is that pride now?

Courier Prime: It's Courier, just better

John August:

Since the beginning, screenplays have been written in Courier. Its uniformity allows filmmakers to make handy comparisons and estimates, such as 1 page = 1 minute of screen time.

But there’s no reason Courier has to look terrible. We set out to make the best damn Courier ever.

We call it Courier Prime.

Re-envisioned for the 21st century and beyond. Real italics, a nice-looking bold. Optimized for screen and print. Typography geeks, rejoice. Free!

Courier Prime was designed by Alan Dague-Greene for John August and Quote-Unquote Apps.

Via Daring Fireball

Amazing, old-fashioned movie theater photographed by NYC Scout

Photo courtesy NYC Scout

To quote Dr. Peter Venkman: I guess they just don’t make them like they use to, huh?

NYC Scout has an amazing set of photographs from the old Loew’s Valencia Theatre in Queens. According to Cinema Treasures, the theater opened originally in early 1929 and was the first of five “wonder theatres” that Loew’s built in NYC. It had over 3,500 seats. It closed in 1977 and has since served as the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People church.

The NYT has a couple articles about the other wonder theatres. Pretty fascinating stuff. Nice to see that one of them is well maintained and lives on. Hard to imagine going to a show or a movie in such an opulent setting. A far cry from today’s theater experience.

Thanks Anoop.

Your Warming World

newscientist.jpg

New Scientist has released a web app that asks you to think about climate change in a more selfish manner — for yourself or your community. It loads a world map and you can click where you live and get a quick glimpse of how temperatures have changed — for you.

The graphs and maps all show changes relative to average temperatures for the three decades from 1951 to 1980, the earliest period for which there was sufficiently good coverage for comparison. This gives a consistent view of climate change across the globe. To put these numbers in context, the NASA team estimates that the global average temperature for the 1951-1980 baseline period was about 14 °C.

The analysis uses land-based temperature measurements from some 6000 monitoring stations in the Global Historical Climatology Network, plus records from Antarctic stations recorded by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Temperatures at the ocean surface come from a measurements made by ships from 1880 to 1981, plus satellite measurements from 1982 onwards.

It’s a neat, somewhat egocentric approach. I’m not sure if it really engages a broad audience — but it points towards the kinds of interactivity that may be able to reach skeptical members of the public.

Nicholas Stern: 'I got it wrong on climate change - it's far, far worse'

Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott at The Guardian:

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four “. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”

He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.

“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”

David Roberts: The 14 fossil-fuel projects poised to seriously damage the climate

David Roberts, writing at Grist:

If we want a reasonable hope of hitting our 2 degree target, we have to leave about 80 percent of the known fossil fuels in the ground.

That is indeed terrifying math, but it may become slightly less so as it becomes more specific and concrete. (It is always helpful to break a large task into component parts.) Toward that end, today saw some fascinating new work from the research consultancy Ecofys. Commissioned by Greenpeace, it attempts to rank the most dangerous fossil-fuel projects currently being planned.

The metric is simple: how many additional tons of CO2 the project will emit by 2020. (See the report for more on methodology.) Here’s how they rank:

China’s Western provinces / Coal mining expansion / 1,400

Australia / Coal export expansion / 760

Arctic / Drilling for oil and gas / 520

Indonesia / Coal export expansion / 460

United States / Coal export expansion / 420

Canada / Tar sands oil / 420

Iraq / Oil drilling / 420

Gulf of Mexico / Deepwater oil drilling / 350

Brazil / Deepwater oil drilling (pre-salt) / 330

Kazakhstan / Oil drilling / 290

United States / Shale gas / 280

Africa / Gas drilling / 260

Caspian Sea / Gas drilling / 240

Venezuela / Tar sands oil / 190

A simple pie chart here is useful — of the 14 projects, the majority of the problem involves coal, though others aren’t far behind. Note that the the compression here is a bit tricky — coal includes export expansion, for instance. Nonetheless, the point stands — our dirtiest fuel, from a climate and health perspective, appears to be on a trajectory to create more substantial problems for the global environment.

And now, for something more lighthearted: True Facts about Morgan Freeman

From a show with zefrank:

Enjoy.

Climate change and sustainable energy in President Obama's second inaugural address

President Obama, during his second inaugural address (emphasis added):

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet…”

Tackling the world's forgotten killer

My advisor, writing at CNN:

About the worst thing you can do is stick burning stuff in your mouth. Every year, tobacco kills more than six million people, according to the World health Organization. Including secondhand tobacco smoke affecting non-smokers, it is the chief cause of ill-health (measured as lost years of healthy life) among men globally and for everyone in North America and Western Europe.

The terrible disease burden imposed by tobacco is recognized by most people, but the risk of another form of smoke is also highlighted in the new “Global Burden of Disease” report released last Month in The Lancet - smoke from cooking fires. About 40 percent of the world still cooks with solid fuels, like wood and coal, in simple stoves that release substantial amounts of the same kinds of hazardous chemicals found in tobacco smoke directly into the household environment. Indeed, a typical wood cookfire emits 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour.

This “household air pollution” is responsible for about 3.5 million premature deaths each year. Perhaps it is not surprising that the impact on health is so high when one considers that this smoke particularly affects a very vulnerable group - poor women in developing countries.

The 20 most influential beers of all time

From First We Feast:

These days, we’re so spoiled with great beer that we barely bat an eyelash when we walk into a bar with 20 taps devoted to craft brews, or run to the corner deli to pick up a bottle of world-class Belgian beer to pair with our takeout pizza. With new local breweries popping up every day and far-flung imports hitting shelves from the likes of Iceland and New Zealand, the choices can feel overwhelming. But as we always say when someone tells us they love Kanye West but have never heard of Rakim: Respect the OGs, son!

As the beer market matures, it’s important to have a sense of context—to understand how we got here, and appreciate the trailblazers that took brewing to new heights (or dragged it so low that others were inspired to fight back). Of course, determining a beer’s influence is a tricky and subjective matter. Yet it is one that brings up a lot of questions worth asking: Which beers set the standard within their respective style? Which IPAs ushered in the era of the American hop bomb? What is the gateway beer that has converted the most newbies into beer nerds?

Their list:

Gablinger’s diet beer, Rheingold, New York

Blind Pig IPA

Westmalle Tripel

New Albion Ale

Fuller’s London Pride

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

Pilsner Urquell

Anchor Steam Beer

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye

Ayinger Celebrator

Generic lager

Cantillon Classic Gueuze

Anchor Old Foghorn

Reissdorf Kölsch

Draught Guinness

Allagash White

Sam Adams Utopias

Saison Dupont

Schneider Aventinus

Of course, this article has created a minor brew-ha-ha (ha!). Martin Cornell writes a different (and better, in my opinion) list:

I mean, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye is more influential in the history of beer than Bass Pale Ale or Barclay Perkins porter? Don’t make me weep. Allagash White trumps Hoegaarden and Schneider Weisse? (You may not like Hoegaarden or Schneider Weisse, but I hope you won’t try to deny their influence.) Gueuze, Saison and Kölsch are such important styles they deserve a representative each in a “most influential beers of all time” list, while IPA and porter are left out? I don’t think so. And the same goes for Schneider Aventinus: where are the hordes of Weissebockalikes? Sam Adams Utopias has influenced who, exactly? “Generic lager”? I see where you’re coming from, in that much of what has happened over the past 40 years in the beer world is a reaction against generic lager, but still … And I love London Pride, but it’s not even the third most influential beer that Fuller’s brews.

His list:

Spaten Dunkel

Pilsner Urquell

Hodgson’s East India Pale Ale

Parsons’ porter

Barclay Perkins Russian Imperial Stout

Schwechater Lagerbier

Einbecker Ur-Bock

Paulaner Salvator

Anheuser-Busch Budweiser

Bass No 1

Schneider Weisse

Hoegaarden

Duvel

Fuller’s ESB

Newcastle Brown Ale

Tennent’s Gold Label

Fowler’s Wee Heavy Wee Heavy

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Blind Pig IPA

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

Read the comments on his blog — they are hilarious and he’s extremely articulate in his refutal of other contenders.

Fun times. Makes me want a beer.

NASA/NOAA: Smog in China, as seen from space

smog_space.jpg

NOAA:

Smog is a common part of life across much of eastern China; however the past week has seen extremely high air pollution counts, some exceeding 750 micrograms per cubic meter of particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter. In the U.S., the EPA classifies any PM2.5 concentration above 100 as “unsafe,” as these tiny particles are able to penetrate deep into airways causing many health risks. This image of eastern China was taken on January 13, 2013 by the NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. Clouds can be seen as bright white areas, whereas the smog and other pollutants appear as a dull gray blanket over the region.

The great Beijing 'fog': dispatches from around the web

Dashiell Bennett, at The Atlantic Wire:

Chinese officials have shut down factories and ordered cars off the roads to try and save their capital city after spending three straight days under a cloud of toxic smog. Visibility has been as low as 100 yards in some parts of the city, as an increase in winter coal burning, combined with low wind conditions pushed the nation’s already crushing pollution problems to dangerous levels.

To put the current crisis in perspective, the World Health Organization considers an acceptable level of airborne particulates to be 25 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3). On Saturday, readings in Beijing reached 993 ug/m3. The head of cardiology at Peking University People’s Hospital said “The number of people coming into our emergency room suffering heart attacks has roughly doubled since Friday.”

James Fallows at the Atlantic, highlighting excerpts from an English-language version of an editorial in Global Times, a state-run newspaper:

It’s worth reading the English version of a notable editorial in Global Times, a government-controlled and often hard-line paper. In days of yore, the Chinese press would downplay pollution reports — calling it “fog,” saying that foreigners were meddling in Chinese affairs by even monitoring the most dangerous pollutants, etc. In context, this editorial is filled with quite eye-opening lines, which I have helpfully highlighted:

“The public should understand the importance of development as well as the critical need to safeguard the bottom line of the environmental pollution. The choice between development and environment protection should be made by genuinely democratic methods…

“The government cannot always think about how to intervene to ‘guide public opinion.’ It should publish the facts and interests involved, and let the public itself produce a balance based on the foundation of diversification.

“The government is not the only responsible party for environmental pollution. As long as the government changes its previous method of covering up the problems and instead publishes the facts, society will know who should be blamed.”

Additional interesting coverage at Live From Beijing, with reasonable explanations of what all the numbers mean.

Finally, a set of photos at WSJ’s China Real Time Report and a summary of the Chinese media response to the ongoing “airpocalypse.”

Beijing's Air Quality hits "Crazy Bad" status again

From the NYT:

The municipal government reported levels as high as 500 on Saturday evening from some monitoring stations. The Chinese system does not report numbers beyond 500. Nevertheless, readings in central Beijing throughout the day were at the extreme end of what is considered hazardous according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency standards. (By comparison, the air quality index in New York City, using the same standard, was 19 at 6 a.m. on Saturday.)

Pollution levels in Beijing had been creeping up for days, and readings were regularly surging above 300 by midweek. The interior of the gleaming Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport was filled with a thick haze on Thursday. The next day, people working in office towers in downtown Beijing found it impossible to make out skyscrapers just a few blocks away. Some city residents scoured stores in search of masks and air filters.

Revisiting the old, real-time graph I created from the Twitter data:

The magnitude of the pollution is somewhat hard to comprehend. We often see levels as high as these peaks in unventilated, indoor spaces where people cook using solid fuels (like wood, grass, or dung). To imagine concentrations like that at ambient levels is terrifying from a public health perspective. Health data from Beijing in the coming weeks should back this up — if it is made accessible. Indicates a clear need for some sort of action to preserve population level health, especially amongst the most vulnerable.

Public Health School Deans: "Ban Intelligence Involvement in Public Health Campaigns."

The deans of the top schools of public health around the US speak out against covert action under the guise of health-promoting campaigns:

In the first years of the Peace Corps, its director, Sargent Shriver, discovered that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was infiltrating his efforts and programs for covert purposes. Mr. Shriver forcefully expressed the unacceptability of this to the President. His action, and the repeated vigilance and actions of future directors, has preserved the Peace Corps as a vehicle of service for our country’s most idealistic citizens. It also protects our Peace Corps volunteers from unwarranted suspicion, and provides opportunities for the Peace Corps to operate in areas of great need that otherwise would be closed off to them.

In September, as a result of a CIA sham vaccination campaign used to hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, Save the Children was forced by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) to withdraw all foreign national staff. This action was apparently the result of CIA having used the cover of a fictional vaccination campaign to gather information about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. In fact, Save the Children never employed the Pakistani physician serving the CIA, yet in the eyes of the GoP he was associated with the organization. This past month, seven or more United Nations health workers who were vaccinating Pakistani children against polio were gunned down in unforgivable acts of terrorism. While political and security agendas may by necessity induce collateral damage, we as a society set boundaries on these damages, and we believe this sham vaccination campaign exceeded those boundaries.

This is important. Support global health and sign the petition.

2012 was the United States' warmest year on record

2012 was the hottest year on record. It was 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th century average and 1 degree hotter than the previous record.

TemperatureAnomaly2012_HRl.jpg

The year consisted of the fourth-warmest winter, a record-warm spring, the second-warmest summer, and a warmer-than-average autumn.

The map above shows where the 2012 temperatures were different from the 1981-2010 average. Shades of red indicate temperatures up to 8° Fahrenheit warmer than average, and shades of blue indicate temperatures up to 8° Fahrenheit cooler than average—the darker the color, the larger the difference from average temperature.

Every state in the contiguous United States had an above-average annual temperature for 2012. Nineteen states had a record-warm year, and an additional 26 states had one of their 10 warmest. On the national scale, 2012 started off much warmer than average, with the fourth-warmest winter (December 2011-February 2012) on record. The winter snow cover for the contiguous United States was the third smallest on record, and snowpack totals across the Central and Southern Rockies were less than half of normal.

Weather Madness in Australia

First: days so hot that the Australian Meteorological Service defaulted on their normal heat-map color scheme and decided to indicate here-to-fore unseen levels of sweltering with… purple. The purple, by the way, represents just shy of 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 Celsius). A few days ago, it was 95 degrees F at midnight in Sydney. That’s bloody hot.

Next up in the madness lineup: insane wildfires are raging across the entire continent. The Atlantic Wire has a terrifying set of photos from the fires.

Cyclone-Narelle2_729-620x349.jpg

Finally, storms. Tropical cyclone Narelle is approaching the northwestern coast of Australia. It is currently unclear how severe it will be when it hits lands. A second storm front off the coast has yielded at least a couple of amazing photographs from Brett Martin, one of which is above.

Bon Iver Breakup Stories

Stumbled upon this on accident earlier today. Hilarious. One sample below, more available here.

I made little cheese cracker sandwiches as I watched Bon Iver make perfect blocks of butter that he’d just finished churning. The candle light found a home in his eyes as he took off his apron.

“Its amazing how one thing becomes another with just a little effort”, I purred as I kissed his forehead. I barely noticed him tremble as my lips touched his cool skin.

“It’s amazing how something becomes nothing without any effort at all”, was all he said before walking off into the rain. Now all I have left is butter. Until it spoils.

For Star Trek Geeks: Riker Ipsum

Need to fill a space with a block of text? Tired of the usual Lorem Ipsum? Now you can fill your space with bonafide Riker-isms.

Fate. It protects fools, little children, and ships named “Enterprise.” When has justice ever been as simple as a rule book? Yesterday I did not know how to eat gagh. Smooth as an android’s bottom, eh, Data? Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. Maybe if we felt any human loss as keenly as we feel one of those close to us, human history would be far less bloody. You did exactly what you had to do. You considered all your options, you tried every alternative and then you made the hard choice. Come on. Let’s get out of here, Commander.

Via kottke.org

Borowitz: Al Qaeda Disbands; Says Job of Destroying U.S. Economy Now in Congress's Hands

The Borowitz Report at the New Yorker:

In an official statement published on the group’s website, the current leader of Al Qaeda said that Congress’s conduct during the so-called “fiscal-cliff” showdown convinced the terrorists that they had been outdone.

“We’ve been working overtime trying to come up with ways to terrorize the American people and wreck their economy,” said the statement from Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. “But even we couldn’t come up with something like this.”

Mr. al-Zawhiri said that the idea of holding the entire nation hostage with a clock ticking down to the end of the year “is completely insane and worthy of a Bond villain.”

“As terrorists, every now and then you have to step back and admire when someone else has beaten you at your own game,” he said. “This is one of those times.”

The Bakken Oil Shale Field

Nice, keen catch from Dr. Drang:

Look north and slightly east of Denver. See that big, somewhat diffuse patch of light? Here’s a zoomed-in view of that area with a few cities labeled to help you get your bearings.

Even if you didn’t know that this lit-up patch was in a generally empty area, covering western North Dakota and parts of eastern Montana and southern Saskatchewan, you could guess that it’s not a population center; despite its size, there’s no bright center to it.

The lights are from the oil shale fields spread out over the Williston Basin. It’s one thing to read about the boom in oil shale, it’s quite another to see such graphic evidence.

As a point of reference, here’s EIA map of 2011 oil shale plays in N. America.

The Imported Landscapes of Petur Thomsen

Petur Thomsen, an Icelandic photographer, has been documenting “man’s attempts to dominate nature” and “man’s transformation of nature into environment.”

One set of photographs - his “Imported Landscape” series — is particularly striking. It examines the impact of the Karahnjukar Hydroelectric Project in eastern Iceland.

The project consists of three dams, one of them being the highest in Europe, and a hydroelectric power plant. The dams block among others the big glacial river Jokula a Dal, creating the 57km2 artificial lake Halslon.

The power plant is primarily being constructed to supply electricity to a new Aluminum smelter built by Alcoa of USA in the fjord of Reyoarfjorour on the east coast of Iceland.

The artificial lake and the constructions have spoiled the biggest wild nature in Europe. Making the Karahnjukar project, not only the biggest project in Icelandic history, but also the most controversial one. There have been a lot of debates about this project. Environmentalists are fighting for the preservation of the wild nature while those supporting the project talk about the need to use the energy the nature has to offer.

The best way for me to participate in the debate was to follow the land in its transformation.

Environmental degradation in the name of energy production — even ‘clean’ energy production — is nothing new. Thomsen’s take starkly frames the respective powers of man and nature as antagonists. For me, he conveys perfectly our conflicting senses of nostalgia/loss and awe/control. His photos embody contrasting, awkward meanings of power — electricity, energy, dominion, destruction, beauty.

Via The Fox is Black.

It's been 27 years...

We’ve made massive progress since these days. Phones fit in a pocket, the internet connects billions of people, and shoulder pads are history. Isn’t it finally time to change the course of our climate, too?

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a NOAA report that it had been 333 months with an above-average global temperature. Looks like that report stirred up some interested and advocacy. 27 years:

“27 years” is a creative project that illustrates the warming of the planet. It is inspired by NOAA’s State of the Climate Global Analysis, released in December 2012.

The analysis shows that November marked the 333rd consecutive month with an above-average global temperature. That means the world has not experienced a cooler-than-average or average temperature month in 27 years. In other words, it’s a clear sign that the world is quickly warming up.

Neat stuff — funny, hip, and pointed.

Excellent Dweebery: What your favorite classic NES video game says about you.

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency:

Metroid: You have killed a mosquito with hairspray.

The Legend of Zelda: You have carried a piece of string cheese behind your ear for a whole day.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: You have used an oversized licorice whip as a jumprope.

Castlevania: You have killed a fly with an algebra test.

Super Mario Bros.: You have hit a wiffle ball with a skateboard deck.

Super Mario Bros. 2: You have hit a moth with a tennis racquet.

Super Mario Bros. 3: You have attempted to carbonate milk.

Tecmo Bowl: You have attempted to skateboard while wearing roller skates.

Duck Hunt: You have injured yourself trying to drink out of a sprinkler.

Via kottke.org

Ravi Shankar, supreme master of the sitar, dies at 92

Shankar at Monterey Pop

From the NYT Obituary:

“If I’ve accomplished anything in these past 30 years,” Mr. Shankar said in the 1985 interview, “it’s that I have been able to open the door to our music in the West. I enjoy seeing other Indian musicians — old and young — coming to Europe and America and having some success. I’m happy to have contributed to that.

“Of course now there is a whole new generation out there, so we have to start all over again. To a degree their interest in India has been kindled by ‘Gandhi,’ ‘Passage to India’ and ‘The Jewel in the Crown.’ What we have to do now is convey to them an awareness of the richness and diversity of our culture.”

Memories for the Future: Documenting what was lost during the Tohoku quake & tsunami

Really cool - and thoughtful - use of internet tech from Google. The before and after photos, in particular, are striking and overwhelming. I like this kind of thing — it imagines the internet and social networks out of the doldrums of daily life and highlights the power of these kinds of technologies; it remembers the old promises of what these technologies could do for us.

On March 11, 2011 a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, causing unimaginable damage. Many people lost their lives, their homes, and all their precious memories collected over generations. Among the things lost were precious photos and videos — cherished images of family, friends, pets and once-in-a-lifetime events — buried in rubble or washed to sea.

To help people in Japan share their photographs and videos that did survive, Google created a website, “Mirai e no kioku” (text is in Japanese only), which means “Memories for the Future”. Through this site, people have been able to rediscover lost memories of their homes and towns.

Google is now also providing thousands of miles of Street View imagery in the affected areas that were collected before and after the disaster. Seeing the street-level imagery of the affected areas puts the plight of these communities into perspective and ensures that the memories of the disaster remain relevant and tangible for future generations.

Click the “Before” or “After” links at the top of this page and use the Google Maps display to see the areas where we have Street View coverage. Find an image in Street View by dragging the yellow “Pegman” icon onto the map where you see a blue overlay. Then click between the “Before” and “After” links to see how the earthquake and tsunami impacted that area.

Erik B. Krenz's Scrumptiously Crunchable Hobbit Art

Erik Krenz, an illustrator from Minneapolis, made some drawings of Tolkien characters in the run up to the release of the Hobbit (fellow nerds and geeks rejoice). They’re fun and capture the spirit of Tolkien - and Peter Jackson’s play on his books - really well.

Via thefoxisblack.

Pioneering Jazz Musician Dave Brubeck Dies at 91

Brubeck died Wednesday morning of heart failure after being stricken while on his way to a cardiology appointment with his son Darius, said his manager Russell Gloyd. Brubeck would have turned 92 on Thursday.

Brubeck had a career that spanned almost all American jazz since World War II. He formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 and was the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine — on Nov. 8, 1954 — and he helped define the swinging, smoky rhythms of 1950s and ’60s club jazz.

The seminal album “Time Out,” released by the quartet in 1959, was the first ever million-selling jazz LP, and is still among the best-selling jazz albums of all time. It opens with “Blue Rondo a la Turk” in 9/8 time — nine beats to the measure instead of the customary two, three or four beats.

A piano-and-saxophone whirlwind based loosely on a Mozart piece, “Blue Rondo” eventually intercuts between Brubeck’s piano and a more traditional 4/4 jazz rhythm.

The album also features “Take Five” — in 5/4 time — which became the Quartet’s signature theme and even made the Billboard singles chart in 1961. It was composed by Brubeck’s longtime saxophonist, Paul Desmond.

“When you start out with goals — mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically — you never exhaust that,” Brubeck told The Associated Press in 1995. “I started doing that in the 1940s. It’s still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements.”

Five hours of landing planes... in 30 seconds

From the Cy Kuckenbaker, the creator, at petapixel:

The concept is simple: shoot the individual planes flying across a pure blue sky, then chroma key the blue out as if it’s a green or blue screen leaving only the plane behind. Then put them all together on a video timeline. I did some tests and discovered that it didn’t work well if there were trees in the edges of the frame so scouting good locations took the most time. I watched the weather for a cloudless day then sat in a park and shot every plane that flew over. I locked the camera (Canon 7D with a EF-S 17-55 f/2.8) on a tripod and shot the planes with 1080p video at 24fps with an exposure I’d tested the day before (50/s, f/13, ISO 100) that would keep the sky deep blue with no blowout for a good chroma key.

To give the video a sense of temporal change as the planes fly by I did an 8 hour time-lapse under a bridge nearby shot at the same angle and composited it over the planes. Without it there’s no sense of time passing. I used an intervalometer to shoot about 800 images with the same exposure as the video. Once I had it posted as a regular video clip, I keyed the sky out of it as well. I put everything together in Adobe Premiere, which challenged my system since I needed 40 video tracks to stack all the airplane clips together. The last piece was to put a new sky back in — a still image with depth and clouds that’s panned using key frames in Premiere.

Via Colossal

Bill Murray on Gilda Radner

Via kottke.org, Bill Murray discussing Gilda Ratner:

Gilda got married and went away. None of us saw her anymore. There was one good thing: Laraine had a party one night, a great party at her house. And I ended up being the disk jockey. She just had forty-fives, and not that many, so you really had to work the music end of it. There was a collection of like the funniest people in the world at this party. Somehow Sam Kinison sticks in my brain. The whole Monty Python group was there, most of us from the show, a lot of other funny people, and Gilda. Gilda showed up and she’d already had cancer and gone into remission and then had it again, I guess. Anyway she was slim. We hadn’t seen her in a long time. And she started doing, “I’ve got to go,” and she was just going to leave, and I was like, “Going to leave?” It felt like she was going to really leave forever.

So we started carrying her around, in a way that we could only do with her. We carried her up and down the stairs, around the house, repeatedly, for a long time, until I was exhausted. Then Danny did it for a while. Then I did it again. We just kept carrying her; we did it in teams. We kept carrying her around, but like upside down, every which way—over your shoulder and under your arm, carrying her like luggage. And that went on for more than an hour—maybe an hour and a half—just carrying her around and saying, “She’s leaving! This could be it! Now come on, this could be the last time we see her. Gilda’s leaving, and remember that she was very sick—hello?”

We worked all aspects of it, but it started with just, “She’s leaving, I don’t know if you’ve said good-bye to her.” And we said good-bye to the same people ten, twenty times, you know.

And because these people were really funny, every person we’d drag her up to would just do like five minutes on her, with Gilda upside down in this sort of tortured position, which she absolutely loved. She was laughing so hard we could have lost her right then and there.

It was just one of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ll always remember it. It was the last time I saw her.

There’s a great consistency in the way Murray describes little life vignettes. A nice and subtle combination of melancholy and honesty permeates his public story-telling.

Bill Murray in NYT

The snarglr of all snarglrs, Bill Murray, in the NYT:

David Itzkoff:

After Mr. Murray’s interview with another interrogator ran overtime, I was invited to accompany him to an evening appearance at Florence Gould Hall — and onto the stage of its theater, where a private chat turned into a public spectacle for a few hundred members of the Screen Actors Guild. (Imagine accompanying Mr. Murray on a version of the famous tracking shot from “Goodfellas,” through the back rooms and bowels of an unfamiliar building until the moment you expect to part ways and take your seat in the audience, only to realize then that you’re part of the act.)

Lucky bastard. My favorite excerpts follow.

Q. Are there days where you wake up and think: “Nothing good has come to me in a little while. I’d better prime the pump”?

A. Well, who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation.

Q. Did you ever think that the lessons you first learned on the stage of an improv comedy theater in Chicago would pay off later in life?

A. It pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, “That’s a beautiful scarf.” It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow.

A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy

Warren Buffett, in the NYT:

Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.

Under those burdensome rates, moreover, both employment and the gross domestic product (a measure of the nation’s economic output) increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground.

So let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities.

And, wow, do we have plenty to invest. The Forbes 400, the wealthiest individuals in America, hit a new group record for wealth this year: $1.7 trillion. That’s more than five times the $300 billion total in 1992. In recent years, my gang has been leaving the middle class in the dust.

I had a hard time deciding on the pull quotes from this article. The whole thing is worth a read. Buffett’s on fire.

Eat estrogenic plants and become more aggressive, have more sex, and stop grooming.

UC Berkeley News Center:

Eating certain veggies not only supplies key nutrients, it may also influence hormone levels and behaviors such as aggression and sexual activity, says a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that could shed light on the role of diet in human evolution.

The research is the first to observe the connection between plant-based estrogenic compounds, or phytoestrogens, and behavior in wild primates — in this case, a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda.

The more the male red colobus monkeys dined on the leaves of Millettia dura, a tropical tree containing estrogen-like compounds, the higher their levels of estradiol and cortisol. They also found that with the altered hormone levels came more acts of aggression and sex, and less time spent grooming — an important behavior for social bonding in primates.

Don’t get too excited and plan a weekend tofu binge.

The study authors cautioned against overinterpreting the power of phytoestrogens in altering behavior, however. They emphasized that estrogenic plant consumption is just one of multiple factors influencing primate hormone levels and behavior. Notably, the primates’ own endogenous hormone levels were the stronger predictor of certain behaviors, while phytoestrogens played a secondary role.

Dieter Rams: Less and More Interview

This video is a couple of years old but was recently featured at The Atlantic. For those who don’t know, Rams was the influential product designer at Braun whose simple, minimal designs have widely influenced modern industrial design. In the mid-80s, Rams articulated a set of 10 design principles focusing on utility, aesthetic simplicity, and understandability. In the short video, Rams is quirky, thoughtful, and intriguing. Read more about his ten principles for good design here.

If you're 27 or younger, you've never experienced a colder-than-average month

From NOAA’s State of the Climate (as reported by Grist) October 2012:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976. The Northern Hemisphere ranked as the seventh warmest October on record, while the Southern Hemisphere ranked as second warmest, behind 1997.

Read more at NOAA.

Read this Blog: davidsimon.com

David Simon’s been writing on his blog pretty often of late. He wrote a post on Petraeus and on what we, as Americans, should expect in response to revelations of the sexual peccadilloes of our public officials.

The second piece intensely recalls Simon’s interaction with John O’Neill. He concludes the piece:

Everyone I’ve talked to in the FBI acknowledges that had John’s reputation as a profligate ladies man not accompanied him, he would have easily weathered the internal investigation of the security matters and continued as the head of counterterrorism. And his lobbying effort with the Yemenis would have continued as well. But Mr. Freeh and others equated John’s personal life with his professional endeavors and he was told to take the pension or risk termination.

And yet, if all of the Americans killed in 911 and all of their families could speak to this dynamic, what do you think they would say? Yes, the price of greatness is responsibility and no sacrifice is too great, and no individual so unexpendable, that we must keep the head of counterterrorism doing his job. Fire his womanizing ass. Or, would they say, who gives a damn who this guy screws or why? He made the Cole case. He supervised the embassies investigation. He went to Pakistan to arrest the man who shot up the CIA headquarters in Langley. He’s the best we have in counterterrorism. Let him do his damn job. And while we’re at it, let Winston Churchill, the greatest wartime leader of the century, drink whatever the hell he wants in as much quantity as he can manage, as long as he continues to lead this country as he does.

I don’t need rectitude from my leaders. I need competence. I need results. If you have someone better than Petraeus, then that’s one thing. If he’s the best at counterinsurgency, then he is not expendable at this time, when counterinsurgency and our response to it mean actual American lives in the balance.

And, to hammer the point home, reflecting precisely on General Petraeus: If you were a combat soldier or Marine or a CIA operative on the ground in Afghanistan, right now or the family of a combat soldier or Marine or a CIA operative on the ground in Afghanistan right now, who do you want in command of the American intelligence agency? The man who is regarded as the better counterinsurgency expert who can’t keep it in his pants? Or the moral paragon of marital fidelity who is in any way less effective at counterinsurgency. That’s a real-world choice. Just as forcing John O’Neill out of the FBI in the run-up to 911 was a real-world choice.

The Believer - Interview with Maurice Sendak

Emma Brockes, a British author and journalist at The Guardian, interviewed Maurice Sendak before his death. She writes in the preface to the interview:

After his death, in May, much was written about Sendak’s legendary crossness, but it was really just impatience with artifice. “I refuse to lie to children,” he said. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.” There was no roughness in his delivery. It was spiked with merriment. He was also very tender. Sendak’s memories of his family, the suffering they had gone through during the war, and the effect this had on his development as an artist, still brought him close to tears. He recalled his mother and father as bewildered, hurt people, first-generation immigrants from Poland set at sea in America.

He had been grieving since the death, in 2007, of Eugene Glynn, his partner of fifty years, and was not afraid of dying. He wanted a “yummy death,” he said, in the style of Blake. Famously, he hated being called a “children’s illustrator”—it reduced him, he thought—and while he leaves a body of work that speaks as profoundly to adults as to children, he spared his youngest readers at least one aspect of grown-up heartache. By and large, after their adventures, Sendak’s young heroes get to do something his own family did not get to do, something which Sendak knew to be a more mythical journey than his wildest imaginings, fueled as it was by an unfulfilled yearning: they got to go home.

The interview is touching, with Sendak sincerely reflecting on the whole of his life. There are some gems in the interview, like his take on e-books:

BLVR: What do you think of e-books?

MS: I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book. I know that’s terribly old-fashioned. I’m old, and when I’m gone they’ll probably try to make my books on all these things, but I’m going to fight it like hell. [Pauses] I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it. I was young just minutes ago.

on Obama:

I can’t read the papers anymore. I just feel sorry for Obama. I want him so much to win. I would do anything to help him win. He’s a decent, wonderful man. And these Republican schnooks are so horrible. They’d be comical if they weren’t not funny. So. What’s to say, what’s to say? It’s very discouraging. Which is probably why I’m going back in time. I’m a lucky man, I can afford to do that. I can afford to live here in silence, in these trees and these flowers, and not get involved with the world.

and, hilariously, on Salmon Rushdie:

[The phone rings. It is NPR letting Sendak know that a recent interview with him has run and is generating a lot of responses. He praises Terry Gross, the interviewer.]

MS: The only thing she said wrong was that her favorite interviews had been me and that stupid fucking writer. Salman Rushdie, that flaccid fuckhead. He reviewed me on a full page in the New York Times, my book Dear Mili. He hated it. He is detestable. I called up the Ayatollah, nobody knows that. What else shall we talk about?

On the Cold Front: Photos of Receding Glaciers

In an effort to provide concrete visual proof of climate change and its devastating effects, photographer James Balog embarked on a years-long project that spanned the northern reaches of the globe. He set up cameras from Greenland to Alaska in order to capture horrifying—yet undeniably beautiful—time-lapse photos that reveal the unprecedented rate at which glaciers are receding. As the award-winning Chasing Ice, which chronicles Balog’s monumental endeavor with his Extreme Ice Survey, hits New York on November 9, VF.com showcases breathtaking photographs from Balog’s Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, published by Rizzoli.

From Dave Pell’s NextDraft

Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal

David Simon on the re-election of Barack Obama:

This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes are going to be counted, more of them with each election. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against each other, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens who demand to control their own bodies.

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year.

What makes us happy? The Grant Study & Dr. George Vaillant

Kottke.org posted a link to the an excellent piece by David Brooks entitled “The Heart Grows Smarter” at the NYT opinion pages. Brooks describes the Grant Study, a longitudinal evaluation of mental and physical health status. It tracked 268 Harvard students for upwards of 50 years, beginning in the 40s and following the participants through war, marriage, divorce, failure, success, and death. Brooks draws some pleasant and hopeful conclusions from the study:

The men of the Grant Study frequently became more emotionally attuned as they aged, more adept at recognizing and expressing emotion. Part of the explanation is biological. People, especially men, become more aware of their emotions as they get older.

Part of this is probably historical. Over the past half-century or so, American culture has become more attuned to the power of relationships. Masculinity has changed, at least a bit.

The so-called Flynn Effect describes the rise in measured I.Q. scores over the decades. Perhaps we could invent something called the Grant Effect, on the improvement of mass emotional intelligence over the decades. This gradual change might be one of the greatest contributors to progress and well-being that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes.

Partly because of Brooks’s writing on the topic, and partly because of the topic (longitudinal cohort studies are super interesting… and super difficult to pull off), I spent a few minutes using google to find out more. One of the most accessible pieces that popped up about the study was Joshua Wolf Shenk’s beautiful and long 2009 essay from The Atlantic (interestingly, Brooks wrote about Shenk’s essay in a separate NYT op-ed piece from 2009).

Shenk’s piece is stunning. He reveals, for instance, that JFK was part of the Grant study — and that his files from the study are sealed until at least 2040. Other participants went on to be in a Presidential cabinet, or run for Senate, or become the editor for the Washington Post, or to write best-selling novels. But the really fascinating stuff arose from Shenk’s juxtaposition of stories of the study participants and descriptions of the study’s brilliant, quirky lead investigator, Dr. George Vaillant.

The study started by collecting every bit of anthropometric data imaginable on the study subjects, including

everything from major organ function, to the measure of lactic acid after five minutes on a treadmill, to the size of the “lip seam” and the hanging length of the scrotum. Using a new test called the electroencephalograph, the study measured the electrical activity in the brain, and sought to deduce character from the squiggles. During a home visit, a social worker took not only a boy’s history—when he stopped wetting his bed, how he learned about sex—but also extensive medical and social histories on his parents and extended family. The boys interpreted Rorschach inkblots, submitted handwriting samples for analysis, and talked extensively with psychiatrists.

Vaillant continued some of the physical measures — and savvily added new ones along the way to help keep the study relevant to potential funders. His real interest, though, lay in the underlying psychology of the participants.

His central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how—and to what effect—they responded to that trouble. His main interpretive lens has been the psychoanalytic metaphor of “adaptations,” or unconscious responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty.

Most psychology preoccupies itself with mapping the heavens of health in sharp contrast to the underworld of illness. “Social anxiety disorder” is distinguished from shyness. Depression is defined as errors in cognition. Vaillant’s work, in contrast, creates a refreshing conversation about health and illness as weather patterns in a common space. “Much of what is labeled mental illness,” Vaillant writes, “simply reflects our ‘unwise’ deployment of defense mechanisms. If we use defenses well, we are deemed mentally healthy, conscientious, funny, creative, and altruistic. If we use them badly, the psychiatrist diagnoses us ill, our neighbors label us unpleasant, and society brands us immoral.”

This perspective is shaped by a long-term view. Whereas clinicians focus on treating a problem at any given time, Vaillant is more like a biographer, looking to make sense of a whole life—or, to take an even broader view, like an anthropologist or naturalist looking to capture an era. The good news, he argues, is that diseases—and people, too—have a “natural history.” After all, many of the “psychotic” adaptations are common in toddlers, and the “immature” adaptations are essential in later childhood, and they often fade with maturity. As adolescents, the Grant Study men were twice as likely to use immature defenses as mature ones, but in middle life they were four times as likely to use mature defenses—and the progress continued into old age. When they were between 50 and 75, Vaillant found, altruism and humor grew more prevalent, while all the immature defenses grew more rare.

This means that a glimpse of any one moment in a life can be deeply misleading. A man at 20 who appears the model of altruism may turn out to be a kind of emotional prodigy—or he may be ducking the kind of engagement with reality that his peers are both moving toward and defending against. And, on the other extreme, a man at 20 who appears impossibly wounded may turn out to be gestating toward maturity.

Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Grab a cup of your favorite liquid and prepare to tune out for a half hour as you read the whole article.

A Victory for Obama and for Obama's America

Relief. It’s finally over. Obama is (still) President.

The speed at which the 2012 Presidential election came to a close was astonishing. The aggressive, lumbering, expensive build up over the past year and a half, with meteoric gains in velocity over the last 8 weeks, came to an abrupt and complete halt.

It all happened so quickly last night — and with so little in the way of added madness (save some Rove/Fox insanity). As major networks called the election, commentators shifted gears and began punditing almost immediately, with conservative bobbleheads predicting more gridlock and imminent doom as the world falls off a fiscal cliff.

John Cassidy, writing on a blog at the New Yorker, summed it up nicely.

With Obama on his way to the McCormick Place convention center in downtown Chicago to greet his supporters, the talking heads were already vying to predict what would happen next: two more years of Washington deadlock; a civil war inside the Republican Party as the long-muzzled moderates finally take on the likes of Sarah Palin and Grover Norquist; a reinvigorated President ready to reach across the party divide; a boom in the Colorado tourism industry as potheads the world over flock to the Rockies to get high. (A ballot initiative there to legalize marijuana passed by fifty-three per cent to forty-seven per cent.)

Hang on a minute, y’all. Who knows what the future holds? For now, let’s take the measure of what has happened, which is historic enough. For the fifth time in the past six Presidential elections, the Democrats have won the popular vote. For the second time in succession, Americans have elected a black man, the same black man, as President. Throughout the country, Republican extremists like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock have been repudiated. Residents of Maryland and Maine (and probably Washington state, too) have voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. The United States of 2012 hasn’t turned into Scandinavia, but it isn’t the United States of 2010 and the Tea Party either. To the extent that the election was about anything more than negative advertising and relentless micro-targeting, it was a triumph of moderation over extremism, tolerance over intolerance, and the polyglot future over the monochrome past.

And we got a slight climate nod in the acceptance speech.

Will Ferrell wants you to vote.

Obama’s twitter feed just posted this. Hilarious!

Decode DC: The DecodeDC Voter Guide

An exemplary episode of Andrea Seabrook’s new, crowd-funded, political podcast. The series is outstanding — but this is the best one yet, and offers a slightly more optimistic take on the election.

Perhaps the most cockeyed voter guide you’ve ever heard, this piece intentionally avoids the big issues of this race. Instead, Andrea talks to brilliant thinkers — among them Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Lawrence Lessig (The Future of Ideas, One Way Forward: The Outsider’s Guide to Fixing the Republic) and Jim Wallis (Sojourners, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It) — about what they’re thinking as they head to the voting booth.

Gott and Colley's Median Poll Statistics

A lot of talk in the blogsphere about Nate Silver and his ‘tarnished’ (pun-slap) reputation.

J. Richard Gott, III and Wesley N. Colley have their own, open and published statistical models that look at the median margin of victory. These chaps claim to be pretty right, pretty often.

As of the 5th of November, they have Obama winning 291-234. And then the vitriol will hopefully subside a bit.

David Byrne + St. Vincent on the Colbert Report

DB and St. Vincent discussed their album, their collective powerless apartments, and their use of showers in Brooklyn. Colbert suggested the three of them shower together in his office. And that SV and DB were eseentially dating.

The interview was hilariously awkward, with Colbert being Colbert, DB being DB, and Annie looking uncomfortable. It’s awesome, as were their performances on the show.

Disney to Acquire Lucasfilm, Ltd

Holy shit.

“For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” said George Lucas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lucasfilm. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney’s reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products.”

Under the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of Lucasfilm, a leader in entertainment, innovation and technology, including its massively popular and “evergreen” Star Wars franchise and its operating businesses in live action film production, consumer products, animation, visual effects, and audio post production. Disney will also acquire the substantial portfolio of cutting-edge entertainment technologies that have kept audiences enthralled for many years. Lucasfilm, headquartered in San Francisco, operates under the names Lucasfilm Ltd., LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound, and the present intent is for Lucasfilm employees to remain in their current locations.

Kathleen Kennedy, current Co-Chairman of Lucasfilm, will become President of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Additionally she will serve as the brand manager for Star Wars, working directly with Disney’s global lines of business to build, further integrate, and maximize the value of this global franchise. Ms. Kennedy will serve as executive producer on new Star Wars feature films, with George Lucas serving as creative consultant. Star Wars Episode 7 is targeted for release in 2015, with more feature films expected to continue the Star Wars saga and grow the franchise well into the future.

Yu Yamauchi's Dawn

Japanese photographer Yu Yamauchi spent five months a year for four consecutive years living on a hut near the summit of Mount Fuji. Every morning, he shot sunrise at the exact same location.

The photographs are astonishing. A few more of my favorites are below.

Via Spoon & Tamago

The Atlantic features the Veolia Wildlife Photographers of the Year

The announcement of the Veolia Wildlife Photographers of the Year has been floating around the internet for a few days. I’ve been wanting to link to it, but have been having a hard time finding high resolution images on their website. Thankfully, the Atlantic took care of that. Click here to see more.

90 Days, 90 Reasons

90 Days, 90 Reasons is an independent initiative unaffiliated with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. 90 Days, 90 Reasons was conceived by two guys originally from Chicago, Dave Eggers and Jordan Kurland. In late July, they looked around and saw that many of Obama’s voters and donors from 2008 needed to be reminded of all he has accomplished, and all he will do if given another term. They asked a wide range of cultural figures to explain why they’re voting for Obama in 2012, in the hopes that this might re-inspire the grassroots army that got Obama elected in the first place. Every day, a new reason will be posted—in short, Twitter form, with a longer essay available here. Please spread the word.

Assistant Professor Henry 'Indiana' Jones, Jr: Tenure Denied

Indy’s application for tenure at Marshall College was denied (as recounted at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency). Why, you may ask?

The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm. Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from “possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency” to “practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics” to “unabashed grave-robbing.” Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn’t surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.

Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist’s tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver.

Also, don’t overlook the fact that

Several faculty members maintain that Dr. Jones informed them on multiple occasions of having discovered the Ark of the Covenant, magic diamond rocks, and the Holy Grail! When asked to provide evidence for such claims, he purportedly replied that he was “kind of immortal” and/or muttered derogatory statements about the “bureaucratic fools” running the U.S. government.

Good stuff. Via DF.

Stop-motion Video of Space Shuttle Endeavor

From Matthew Givot, who posted the video on his Vimeo account:

A very special thanks to the City of Inglewood, Chief of Police Mark Fronterotta, Lieutenant James Madia, Sergeant Dirk Dewachter, and to the Men and Women of the Inglewood Police Department. None of this would have been possible without them.

This project was only made possible by the help of a truly amazing and talented timelapse team which included; Joe Capra, Chris Pritchard, Brian Hawkins, Andrew Walker, Ryan Killackey and myself.

This truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we are so happy and honored to have been be a part of.

The endeavor started on Thursday night and went on until Sunday night, with very little sleep to no sleep. The only thing that kept us going was pure love of the art and adrenaline. One thing that stood out the most for me, while I was shooting, was the people of Los Angeles. It was so powerful to see the excitement on peoples faces and the pride of their home town. No matter how many times I would see the Shuttle it would never get old.

This has been an amazing experience that I will never forget. My hope is that this film will show you the amount of dedicated people and teamwork that it took to get the Endeavour to its new home. Enjoy.

Kanye Wes

What happens when you add Kanye lyrics to frames from Wes Anderson films? Hilarity and madness.

See more here.

Via kottke.org

Polyhedral Panoramic Projects by Rorik Smith

Rorik Smith, “an Artist and Draughtsman based in North Wales,” has created some amazing, disorienting drawings somewhat reminiscent of M.C. Escher.​

Library, Corporation St. Wolff’s carbon pencil, conte and paraloid B67 on hardwood ply, 702 x 1221 x 9mm, Rorik Smith, 2012

The composition, executed on site, prior to the relocation of the town library, is calculated to disorient, to convey a sense of uncertainty, while retaining a sense of sublime and overwhelming awe felt when faced with the sheer volume of information which libraries contain. Aiming to encapsulate the opportunity, absurdity and ultimate futility of attempting to make sense of it all. With reference to Borges;​ “The Universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries… from any hexagon one can see the floors above and below” Borges, the Library of Babel, 2000, from Collected fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley, 1998

Nailed it, I’d say.

(via colossal)

Nature, Nurture, Medication, Arrogance

A pretty terrifying article from the NYT about prescriptions of psychotropics - regardless of ADHD diagnosis - in school age children. I couldn’t read the article in any light but one of utter disbelief; I’m not sure if that’s me imposing my bias on it or if its actual paints the practice as problematic.

Some excerpts below, but read the whole thing.

Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies these medications as Schedule II Controlled Substances because they are particularly addictive. Long-term effects of extended use are not well understood, said many medical experts. Some of them worry that children can become dependent on the medication well into adulthood, long after any A.D.H.D. symptoms can dissipate.

According to guidelines published last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics, physicians should use one of several behavior rating scales, some of which feature dozens of categories, to make sure that a child not only fits criteria for A.D.H.D., but also has no related condition like dyslexia or oppositional defiant disorder, in which intense anger is directed toward authority figures. However, a 2010 study in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggested that at least 20 percent of doctors said they did not follow this protocol when making their A.D.H.D. diagnoses, with many of them following personal instinct.

You can argue either way about this — that helping struggling students perform is a good thing; that riddling younger kids with drugs that we know are addictive AND for which we don’t know the long-term side effects of is insane. I tend toward two seemingly sensical principles here — 1) the precautionary principle, something largely eschewed in this country and 2) finding better ways to engage students in school beyond medication. Medication is appropriate when the prescription is made with a valid medical diagnosis. In some of the cases described, however, the diagnosis is flimsy, the ethics questionable, and the end-result hardly what we want, as a society, for our youth. I can’t help but think there must be another way.

Scotch: A Pronunciation Guide (with Brian Cox & video)

How do you pronounce this?

image from the UK Whisky Tasting Club

It’s a fair point that many names of Scotches are very, very difficult to pronounce. Esquire and actor Brian Cox (not to be confused with physicist Brian Cox) have a hilarious set of short videos in which Cox pronounces Scotch names.

(via kottke.org)

YouTube: Bon Iver Live at Radio City Music Hall

Don’t miss this — Bon Iver’s recent concert at Radio City Music Hall, broadcast live and now on YouTube (for two days only). A great setlist (below) and an outstanding performance.

Setlist: Perth / Minnesota, WI / Creature Fear / Hinnom, TX / Wash. / Brackett, WI / Holocene / Blood Bank / Woods / Towers / Michicant / Calgary / Beth/Rest // Encore: Skinny Love / The Wolves (Act I & II) / For Emma

Update: The Bowery pulled down the full video. Check out eight songs here.

Operation Teapot: The Effect of Nuclear Explosions on Commercially Packaged Beverages (March 1956)

In 1956, amidst concerns of domestic nuclear fallout, the FDA and Federal Civil Defense Administration undertook a study and released a report covering the exposure of commercially packaged beverages — including soft drinks and beer — to nuclear explosion.

Mind blown. This is real. Packaged drinks, like beer and soda in cans and bottles, were placed at varying distances from a nuclear detonation. Following the mushroom cloud, their fitness for consumption and taste were evaluated.

Typical of sci-yunce, they evaluated a number of metal can types and glass bottles (all closed). The cans were either 12 or 16 ounces; glass bottles ranged from 6-28 ounces. Various combinations of bottles and cans were placed between 0.2 and 1 mile from ground zero. They were either buried, placed on the ground, or embedded loosely in earth.

So what happened?

Most of the bottles and cans lived through the blast overpressures. Most of the container failures were caused by “flying missiles” of debris, severe crushing due to structural collapse, and falling from shelves.

The ones closest to ground zero were marginally radioactive. Of course, marginal radioactivity is concerning, but the scientists state

Even the most [radioactive] beverages were well within the permissible limits for emergency use and could be consumed upon recovery…

The induced activity of the beverage container, whether metal or glass, did not carry over to the contents… Radioactivity of contents did not vary directly with radioactivity of the container. The beverages themselves showed mild induced [radioactivity]… Beer by reason of its higher natural salt content exhibiting a somewhat higher activity than soft drinks.

My favorite part, though, is when they evaluate the taste of the beverages.

Representative samples of the various exposed packaged beers, as well as unexposed control samples in both cans and bottles, were submitted to five qualified laboratories for carefully controlled taste testing. The cumulative opinions on the various beers indicated a range from “commercial quality” on through “aged” to “definitely off.” All agreed, however, that the beer could unquestionable be used as an emergency source of potable beverages.”

This story and study came to light by way of a blog post by Robert Krulwich that referenced a blog post entitled Beer and the Apocalypse by Alex Wellerstein. In that post, Wellerstein linked to the full report.

Wellerstein summed it up well, “For me, the takeaway here is that the next time you find yourself stocking up on beer, remember, it’s not just for the long weekend — it might be for the end of days.”

Rushdie on becoming Joseph Anton

update: NPR’s Morning Edition has a compelling interview and another excerpt from Joseph Anton. Read it and listen to the piece here.

The New Yorker recently featured an excerpt from the forthcoming Rushdie memoir Joseph Anton. Rushdie is typically eloquent and masterfully conveys a vast range of emotions about the period immediately after the fatwa was issued and he went into hiding.

Some highlights below — but read the whole thing.

On February 22nd, the day the novel was published in America, there was a full-page advertisement in the Times, paid for by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the American Library Association. “Free People Write Books,” it said. “Free People Publish Books, Free People Sell Books, Free People Buy Books, Free People Read Books. In the spirit of America’s commitment to free expression we inform the public that this book will be available to readers at bookshops and libraries throughout the country.” The PEN American Center, passionately led by his beloved friend Susan Sontag, held readings from the novel. Sontag, Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Claire Bloom, and Larry McMurtry were among the readers. He was sent a tape of the event. It brought a lump to his throat. Long afterward, he was told that some senior American writers had initially ducked for cover. Even Arthur Miller had made an excuse—that his Jewishness might be a counterproductive factor. But within days, whipped into line by Susan, almost all of them had found their better selves and stood up to be counted.

When the book was in its third consecutive week as No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, John Irving, who found himself stuck at No. 2, quipped that, if that was what it took to get to the top spot, he was content to be runner-up. He himself well knew, as did Irving, that scandal, not literary merit, was driving the sales. He also knew, and much appreciated, the fact that many people bought copies of “The Satanic Verses” to demonstrate their solidarity.

While all this and much more was happening, the author of “The Satanic Verses” was crouching in shame behind a kitchen counter to avoid being seen by a sheep farmer.

And…

He had spent his life naming fictional characters. Now, by naming himself, he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well. Conrad Chekhov wouldn’t have worked. But Joseph Anton was someone who might exist. Who now did exist. Conrad, the translingual creator of wanderers, of voyagers into the heart of darkness, of secret agents in a world of killers and bombs, and of at least one immortal coward, hiding from his shame; and Chekhov, the master of loneliness and of melancholy, of the beauty of an old world destroyed, like the trees in a cherry orchard, by the brutality of the new, Chekhov, whose “Three Sisters” believed that real life was elsewhere and yearned eternally for a Moscow to which they could not return: these were his godfathers now. It was Conrad who gave him the motto to which he clung, as if to a lifeline, in the long years that followed. In the now unacceptably titled “The Nigger of the Narcissus,” the hero, a sailor named James Wait, stricken with tuberculosis on a long sea voyage, is asked by a fellow-sailor why he came aboard, knowing that he was unwell. “I must live till I die—mustn’t I?” Wait replies.

In his present circumstances, the question felt like a command. “Joseph Anton,” he told himself, “you must live till you die.”

Perhaps in light of the memoir coming out, there’s recent news of Iran’s Ayatollah Hassan Sanei resurrection and increase of the reward for the killing of Rushdie to 3.3 million USD.

Madness, utter and foolish.

Obama Profiled in Vanity Fair by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has crafted a masterful profile of Obama. Compelling, personal, and deferent, Lewis covers everything from Obama’s favorite place in the White House to a basketball game at the FBI to his decision-making process. Some of my favorite bits follow.

On the basketball game:

Obama was 20 or more years older than most of them, and probably not as physically gifted, though it was hard to say because of the age differences. No one held back, no one deferred. Guys on his team dribbled past him and ignored the fact he was wide open. When he drives through the streets, crowds part, but when he drives to the basket large, hostile men slide over to cut him off. It’s revealing that he would seek out a game like this but even more that others would give it to him: no one watching would have been able to guess which guy was president. As a player on the other team, who must have outweighed Obama by a hundred pounds, backed the president of the United States down and knocked the crap out of him, all for the sake of a single layup, I leaned over to the former Florida State point guard.

“No one seems to be taking it easy on him,” I said.

“If you take it easy on him, you’re not invited back,” he explained.

On what he would tell Lewis if their roles were instantly reversed (and also on focus):

“You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” The self-discipline he believes is required to do the job well comes at a high price. “You can’t wander around,” he said. “It’s much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. You don’t bump into a friend in a restaurant you haven’t seen in years. The loss of anonymity and the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”

Probability & Decision-making:

“Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable,” Obama said at one point. “Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.” On top of all of this, after you have made your decision, you need to feign total certainty about it. People being led do not want to think probabilistically.

Oh, f-it. The point here is that you need to read this article.

Wired: The Perfect Bagel Is Engineered in California

Bagels from Beauty’s Bagel Shop

In July, Wired released an article entitled “The Perfect Bagel is Engineered in California.” The URL slug includes “bagel-blasphemy.” I tend to agree. That said, the article was enlightening — lots of suggestions for bagels to try in the Bay Area.

The article focuses on Dan Graf, who runs Baron Baking. On making bagels:

“There’s a whole wealth of technology and applied science out there that is not being used in the culinary field,” Graf says.”It’s slowly working its way in… As people start to realize that you don’t need to be rooted as deeply in tradition, that there are other ways of doing things, there will be more people who are trying to kind of push the boundaries of what a specific food product is — that change it and tweak it.”

Graf knows this all too well: He’s competing locally with a raft of fellow bagel insurgents like Beauty’s Bagel Shop (“Montreal style”), Authentic Bagel Co. (a California-New York hybrid), and, perhaps Graf’s most respected competitor, Brooklyn-style Schmendricks. Like Graf and Baron Baking, Schmendricks uses a two-stage fermentation involving a slower “retardation” stage inside the refrigerator. Or at least that’s what Graf believes, based on his well-informed tasting of the competition.

Had a delicious bagel sandwich this morning at Beauty’s Bagels in Oakland (and bought six to eat for the rest of the week). Best bagel I’ve had in the Bay Area. Can’t speak to the others, but the bar has been set.

Zadie Smith & Jay-Z

A beautifully written piece from Zadie Smith for the NYT:

But asking why rappers always talk about their stuff is like asking why Milton is forever listing the attributes of heavenly armies. Because boasting is a formal condition of the epic form. And those taught that they deserve nothing rightly enjoy it when they succeed in terms the culture understands. Then something changed: “As I started getting life experiences, I realized my power was in conveying emotions that people felt.” He compared himself to a comedian whose jokes trigger this reaction: “Yo, that’s so true.” He started storytelling — people were mesmerized. “Friend or Foe” (1996), which concerns a confrontation between two hustlers, is rap in its masterful, full-blown, narrative form. Not just a monologue, but a story, complete with dialogue, scene setting, characterization. Within its comic flow and light touch — free from the relentless sincerity of Tupac — you can hear the seeds of 50, Lil Wayne, Eminem, so many others. “That was the first one where it was so obvious,” Jay noted. He said the song represented an important turning point, the moment when he “realized I was doing it.”

At times he restricts himself formally, like the Oulipo, that experimental French literary group of the 1960s. In the song “22 Two’s,” from 1996, we get 22 delicious plays on the words “too” and “two.”

Ten years later, the sequel, “44 Fours,” has the same conceit, stepped up a gear. “Like, you know, close the walls in a bit smaller.” Can he explain why? “I think the reason I still make music is because of the challenge.” He doesn’t believe in relying solely on one’s natural gifts. And when it comes to talent, “You just never know — there is no gauge. You don’t see when it’s empty.”

It's getting hot in here: Shifting Distribution of Northern Hemisphere Summer Temperature Anomalies, 1951-2011

From Goddard Space Flight Center:

This bell curve graph shows how the distribution of Northern Hemisphere summer temperature anomalies has shifted toward an increase in hot summers. The seasonal mean temperature for the entire base period of 1951-1980 is plotted at the top of the bell curve. Decreasing in frequency to the right are what are defined as “hot” anomalies (between 1 and 2 standard deviations from the norm), “very hot” anomalies (between 2 and 3 standard deviations) and “extremely hot” anomalies (greater than 3 standard deviations). The anomalies fall off to the left in mirror-image categories of “cold, “very cold” and “extremely cold.” The range between the .43 and -.43 standard deviation marks represent “normal” temperatures.

As the graph moves forward in time, the bell curve shifts to the right, representing an increase in the frequency of the various hot anomalies. It also gets wider and shorter, representing a wider range of temperature extremes. As the graph moves beyond 1980, the temperatures are still compared to the seasonal mean of the 1951-1980 base period, so that as it reaches the 21st century, there is a far greater frequency of temperatures that once fell 3 standard deviations beyond the mean.

There’s another telling animation showing extreme heat events across the Northern Hemisphere. This one, like the above, was created by Goddard using Hansen’s data. It is available here.

David Byrne + St. Vincent Interviews / Dreamboats, Unite!

Photo by Andreas Laszlo Konrath

Impossibly good looking super-musicians David Byrne and Annie Clark have been making small rounds discussing their collaborative effort Love this Giant.

From Pitchfork

There is very little eye contact made in a room with David Byrne and Annie Clark in it. Seated a healthy distance apart from each other on a SoHo studio couch, the pair genially trade compliments and jokes, but their restless eyeballs seldom, if ever, light on each other’s, as if the energy exchange involved in a head-on glance might scorch their fragile nerve endings. Byrne’s legs joggle constantly, his hands clutching absently at the green fabric of his pants when he is lost for words, while Clark, carefully sipping water with her legs arranged neatly beneath her, gives thoughtful answers from beneath the partial shade of an artful hat.

On what they admire in each other’s work:

DB: I know I’m not the first to remark on this, but I hear an acceptance of melody without any fear in Annie’s work, which isn’t totally common in up-and-coming musicians. But these beautiful melodies are often undercut by very creepy or disturbing subject matter. When I met Annie, I complimented her on how disturbing her video was.

AC: David is capable of so many shades and moods, and one of them is a rare combination of paranoid mania and ecstatic joy. It’s a really unmistakable, singular tone. He also has an ability, lyrically and musically, to talk about or address big subjects in a way that never feels pretentious or lofty. David never seems to be suffering from a dearth of creative energy. It takes many forms, but he doesn’t seem to be a nostalgic person. He always wants to be moving forward. That’s inspiring.

David Byrne on being David Byrne:

I feel like I’m a fairly boring, almost well-adjusted person. But I am fascinated by extreme mental states. I love outsider art from people who are making up their own worlds, exposing some part of human life that would be really uncomfortable for most of us. Or they do something that touches some part of you and you go, “I recognize this person is probably out of their fucking mind, but I recognize that part in myself, too.”

There are other interviews out there, as well. See The Stool Pigeon, Cheat Sheet, and Vulture.

And, of course, stream the whole album at NPR.

Davey Johnson's Long Exposure Fireworks

Never seen anything like this before. Really cool stuff. Via Colossal. See more of his long-exposure photographs here.

More NPR Tar Sands Coverage

NPR’s got some great coverage of Tar Sands (and energy issues in general). In particular, there is a great, recent interview with a Texan whose land the Keystone XL pipeline will be traversing.

What Daniel wants most from TransCanada is answers. He actually drew up a list of 54 questions.

“One of my many questions was: If there’s a spill and we have to leave, are you going to take care of us?” Daniel says.

He also wanted to know things like: What kind of damage could a spill cause? And what chemicals would flow in the pipeline?

TransCanada told Daniel in writing that questions about spills were hypothetical because their pipeline would be designed not to spill. But in a document for the State Department, TransCanada predicted two spills every 10 years over the entire length of its Keystone XL pipeline, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists argue that the company underestimates that risk. Another pipeline it put into service two years ago has had 14 spills in the United States, although most were small, according to TransCanada.

2 spills every ten years doesn’t seem like great numbers - or numbers that should be permissible at all. And the ease at which the spills are cleaned up, according to the article - and unsurprisingly - is oversold. In Michigan,

Early on, the EPA gave the company a couple of months. Two years and $800 million later, the cleanup is still going on. The cost eclipses every other onshore oil cleanup in U.S. history.

… Cleanup crews didn’t know what they were dealing with. They expected it to act like oil usually does and float on water. So they focused on vacuuming oil and skimming it from the surface.

But about a month into the cleanup, some fish researchers got a surprise. One of them jumped from a boat into the river. With each step he took, little globs of black oil popped up.

That kicked off a search for sunken oil.

“And everywhere they looked, they found it,” Hamilton recalls.

And, finally, perhaps the most rational appeal people who oppose Keystone XL and tar sands writ large can make:

“For me, as a father, I have a duty and responsibility to protect my family. What I know about this project is they can break laws and put my family at risk. I’m not OK with any of that. If that means I’ll have to stand in front of a bulldozer, I’ll stand in front of a bulldozer.”

Tar Sands Madness, Depicted

Nice, simplified infographic from NPR about the production of Tar Sands.

The oil product extracted from Canada’s tar sands isn’t like conventional crude. Known as bitumen, it’s sticky and so thick, it can’t flow down a pipeline without extensive processing. There are two methods for getting bitumen out of the ground and turning it into usable products. Both are complex, energy-intensive and expensive processes - but high oil prices are finally making tar sands profitable.

Speaking in India - Indian English

There was a recent thread at Quora titled, “What are some English phrases and terms commonly heard in India but rarely used elsewhere?” It is really, really priceless.

I find this kind of thing fascinating, and know many of the smarter out there know more about the academic and intellectual underpinnings of adaptation of a language to local culture, circumstance, region. Fascinating, though, how a foreign language, once adopted, grows to become something unique, evolving, unto itself. I can’t help but think that part of the unique change that occurs during this adoption process is just bootstrapping words and phrases — say in Hindi — to an approximate equivalent in English. Throw out some of the confusing conventions that English speakers take for granted, and it can feel you’re speaking two distinct languages.

The quora discussion explores unique vagrancies of the English language in India. A few of my favorite excerpts follow:

That reminds me, I should get my pre-paid converted to post-paid to make sure there is no hassle with roaming. The operator tells me that under the current scheme roaming is free but always the possibility for screwup is there. But the paperwork for updation is too great. Every time wanting same to same KYC. Limited timings, phones always engaged, very much difficult. They trouble you like anything but never answer any of your doubts. Tell me, what is one to do yaar? They are like that only.

I need to prepone some meetings to arrange for the trip so I need to rush due to the same, but not to worry, I will keep you initimated of my progress. Will give you a missed call when I deplane upon returning back.

Indian : Too much stuff in dicky

American : Too much junk in trunk

Gymming: In-house version of ‘Working out’. Have you been gymming lately?

Hope your head is not paining, I didn’t mean to eat your brains. I will offer a translation in a few days. Now it’s time to slow the volume, increase the AC, and off the light because sleep is coming. Kindly to stay in tune.

Paining always gets me. Eating brains evokes the zombie apocalypse.

Everything is lost — and found again — in translation.

Samsara

I first saw Baraka in college and was blown away by the imagery and the format — a beautiful 70mm film, silent, relying solely on the power of its images to carry narrative force. It succeeded. The follow-up - 20 years later - took five years to make and was filmed in 25 countries. From the creators’ website:

SAMSARA is a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life” and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives. Filmed over a period of almost five years and in twenty-five countries, SAMSARA transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders. By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, SAMSARA subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern.

Expanding on the themes they developed in BARAKA (1992) and CHRONOS (1985), SAMSARA explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, SAMSARA takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation. Through powerful images, the film illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.

The filmmakers approach non verbal filmmaking with an understanding that it must live up to the standard of great still photography, revealing the essence of a subject, not just its physical presence. SAMSARA was photographed entirely in 70mm film utilizing both standard frame rates and with a motion control time-lapse camera designed specifically for this project. This camera system allows perspective shifts to reveal extraordinary views of ordinary scenes. The images were then transferred through the highest resolution scanning process available to the new 4K digital projection format that allows for mesmerizing images of unprecedented clarity. SAMSARA will be a showpiece for the new, high-resolution 4K digital projection, the HD format, as well as standard digital and film projection.

Air Quality in London During the Olympics

Earlier this week, a few British newspapers ran stories about the implications of poor air quality in London and the impact it may have on athlete’s performance. The articles were a bit scant on details, but hinted at dangers for vulnerable populations and an increased risk of exercise-induced asthma during certain times of the day, especially for athletes. They cited London Air, a site that is tracking a number of important pollutants at sites throughout London.

They’ve got a remarkable amount of relatively easily accessible data on their site, and a special subsection catered towards visitors to London for the 2012 games. They’ve also created (in collaboration with the Environmental Health group at King’s College) free location-aware smartphone apps for Android and iOS that are impressive, easy to use, and comprehensive.

Click here to see a map of PM10 concentrations around London and visit their site for more information.

The AP story has been picked up by the Washington Post.

Loading the Climate Dice & Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Two stunning pieces of climate change work from pre-eminent scholar-journalists hit the internet in the past couple days. The first, from Paul Krugman in the NYT, focuses on the situation in the US:

How should we think about the relationship between climate change and day-to-day experience? Almost a quarter of a century ago James Hansen, the NASA scientist who did more than anyone to put climate change on the agenda, suggested the analogy of loaded dice. Imagine, he and his associates suggested, representing the probabilities of a hot, average or cold summer by historical standards as a die with two faces painted red, two white and two blue. By the early 21st century, they predicted, it would be as if four of the faces were red, one white and one blue. Hot summers would become much more frequent, but there would still be cold summers now and then.

And so it has proved. As documented in a new paper by Dr. Hansen and others, cold summers by historical standards still happen, but rarely, while hot summers have in fact become roughly twice as prevalent. And 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000.

But that’s not all: really extreme high temperatures, the kind of thing that used to happen very rarely in the past, have now become fairly common. Think of it as rolling two sixes, which happens less than 3 percent of the time with fair dice, but more often when the dice are loaded. And this rising incidence of extreme events, reflecting the same variability of weather that can obscure the reality of climate change, means that the costs of climate change aren’t a distant prospect, decades in the future. On the contrary, they’re already here, even though so far global temperatures are only about 1 degree Fahrenheit above their historical norms, a small fraction of their eventual rise if we don’t act.

The second, from McKibben writing in Rolling Stone, is more far-reaching and expansive. He starts with some striking, scary numbers:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere - the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation - in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.

Not to mention floods in China. 179 fires raging across Russia. Drought alerts across many states in India. He outlines three big numbers to focus on.

One: 2º Celsius

Despite such well-founded misgivings, political realism bested scientific data, and the world settled on the two-degree target - indeed, it’s fair to say that it’s the only thing about climate change the world has settled on. All told, 167 countries responsible for more than 87 percent of the world’s carbon emissions have signed on to the Copenhagen Accord, endorsing the two-degree target. Only a few dozen countries have rejected it, including Kuwait, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Even the United Arab Emirates, which makes most of its money exporting oil and gas, signed on. The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius - it’s become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees.

Two: 565 Gigatons

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. (“Reasonable,” in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)

This idea of a global “carbon budget” emerged about a decade ago, as scientists began to calculate how much oil, coal and gas could still safely be burned. Since we’ve increased the Earth’s temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we’re currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.

Three: 2,795 Gigatons

This number is the scariest of all - one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number - 2,795 - is higher than 565. Five times higher.

The top half is great and informative. The bottom half really gets going, though, with salient discussions of the politics and economics of change. Read it.

Amazing photos of Indonesia

Hengki Koentjoro was born in March 24, 1963 in Semarang, central java, Indonesia. He acquired his knowledge of multimedia production at brooks institute of photography, Santa Barbara, California, USA. Majoring in video production with minoring in fine art of photography, he graduated in 1991.

Photography is not just a way of expressing his most inner soul but also creating a window to the world where through his pictures the unseen and the unspoken can be grasped. Driven by the desire to explore the mystical beauty of nature, he develops his sense and sensibility through the elements of fine art photography. His freedom of expression is more reflected in the elaboration and exploration of black and white.

Photography can never be separated from the aspects of making the common things unusual, welcoming the unexpected, indulging and embracing ourselves with the joy of photography as well as believing that anything is possible.

Via colossal.

The Yellow River

Zhang Kechun is a 32 year old Chinese photographer born in Sichuan, China. He’s created a large-format collection of photographs called “The Yellow River Surging Northward Rumblingly.” The images — with their muted tones — showcase a stunning, vast landscape mottled with people. The large intrusions and scars on the scenery — smoke stacks, superhighways, cooling towers — appear unnatural, huge, imposing. Large compared to the scale of the people in his photos, but small in comparison to the enormity of the surroundings. Really impressive work.

It is a river, with its unity of bend and straight, fullness and imperfection, rapid and slow, active or tranquil, majestic and elegant, simple and wonderful, bright and dark, light and color, form and spirit, visionary and real… It embraces people’s reality and fate, joy and sorrow, firmness and leisure.

I determined to follow its pace, with all my courage and my… large format camera.

See the whole set here.

McCain: Decency in Defense of Huma Abedin

“Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

Lawrence Lessig: "A nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive."

Brilliant, poignant, and terrifying piece by Lessig in the Atlantic. Excerpted below. Mandatory reading.

A tiny number of Americans — .26 percent — give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent — 196 Americans — have given more than 80 percent of the super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far.

These few don’t exercise their power directly. None can simply buy a congressman, or dictate the results they want. But because they are the source of the funds that fuel elections, their influence operates as a filter on which policies are likely to survive. It is as if America ran two elections every cycle, one a money election and one a voting election. To get to the second, you need to win the first. But to win the first, you must keep that tiniest fraction of the one percent happy. Just a couple thousand of them banding together is enough to assure that any reform gets stopped.

Some call this plutocracy. Some call it a corrupted aristocracy. I call it unstable. Just as America learned under the Articles of Confederation, where one state had the power to block the resolve of the rest, a nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.

The only way to cure this disease is to spread the power to fund elections more broadly. Just as democracy spreads the vote among the millions it calls citizens, representative democracy in America must spread the power to fund elections among a group larger than those named “Lester.” We need a world were at least 30 million must band together to block the reform of 300 million — not this world, where 30,000 can assure that no sensible reform can happen.

Yahoo Video: The Lego Wire

The Wire, reimagined by snarky Legos. Click above to watch (requires Flash).

From Yahoo, via kottke.org.

"Selfishness run amok"

Frank Bruni, in the NYT:

Selfishness run amok is a national disease (and, to judge by Greece, Italy and a few other European countries, an international epidemic). Too many people behave as if they live in a civic vacuum, no broader implications to their individual behavior.

I’ve known a few of them. I bet you have, too. Making a mockery of all the Americans who rightly depend on such aid, they exaggerate impairments, pressuring doctors to validate their conditions, on the theory that no harm is really done, not when they’re suckling at a teat as elastic and amorphous as the federal Treasury.

But that treasury is the sum of us — of our deposits and withdrawals — and to cheat it is to cheat your neighbor. It’s really that simple.

You wouldn’t know this from the way people approach taxes, which are what the federal Treasury must take in if it’s going to spit out anything at all — for the military, the highways and a whole lot else. Americans most frequently boast of how little they manage to pay, crowing about accounting gimmicks exploited, tricks successfully tried. I’m all for cunning, but we’ve gone beyond that.

Designboom: House of Cedar by Suga Atelier

Via Designboom:

Japanese practice suga atelier has sent images of their recently completed project ‘house of cedar’, a residence in osaka, japan. oriented towards the north to overlook a sloping bank of earth and river, a glass facade secured with a rectilinear pattern of aluminum mullions reveals two interior stories. the squared exterior is interrupted with a fold which creates a reveal between the structure and ground plane. placed along the eastern elevation, the line runs through the main entry portal which continues the crease through metal door.

A different type of treehouse. See more pictures.

"Old MacDonald had an organic urban rooftop farm, EEE-I-EEE-I-OOOOOOOOOOO!"

Another gem from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

“Old MacDonald had an organic urban rooftop farm, EEE-I-EEE-I-O! And on that farm he had a vegan girlfriend named September who he met at a sheep shearing class at 3rdWard in Brooklyn who was totally hot and was totally into the rooftop-farming thing until she realized that she liked going to the Hamptons a whole lot more so she dumped Old MacDonald for a documentary filmmaker/personal trainer/DJ/sushi chef/surfboard shaper/trust fund baby whose father owns half of East Hampton.”

“… And on that farm he had a tattoo of Tony Danza with the words WHO’S THE BOSS written underneath it on his right forearm but then he saw a guy on the L train with a tattoo of the whole cast of Saved By The Bell on his thigh, which got him thinking that maybe he should get another tattoo of Alyssa Milano and that woman who played her mom on his other forearm, you know, to up the irony-ante.”

Read more here.

52tiger.net: Brief history of the iPad: Prologue

Dave Caolo has decided to tackle the ‘history’ of the iPad, including its mechanical and intellectual forebearers (he goes all the way back to 1888, amazingly). Seems like an interesting and clever undertaking and one motivated by some startling facts:

Today the iPad is so popular that it’s easy to overlook that it’s only three years old. Apple has updated it just twice. Here’s a little perspective to reinforce the iPad’s tender age:

  • When J. K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, there was no iPad.

  • When President Barak Obama was inaugurated as America’s 44th president, there was no iPad.

  • In 2004 when the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series for the first time in 86 years, there was no iPad. Nor did it exist three years later, when they won the championship again.

Hard to imagine that the device is only three years old. At least in the US, it has become something of an iconic, cultural touchstone.

Read Dave’s piece and check back for updates as he moves us through the development of iPad.

We are nature

These are stunning, multiple exposure shots created on a modern Nikon camera by Christoffer Relander. See more.

British Columbia's Carbon Footprint: An Interactive Map

British Columbia is a net carbon sink, owing largely to huge swaths of forest and eelgrass and partly to a relatively low population density and footprint.

Tyee Solutions Society recently published an interactive carbon map showing the impacts of a number of sources on the net carbon footprint of BC. They include forest, eel grass & salt marsh, communities, highways, and industrial facilities. Each contributor/sink can be toggled; a Google Map updates in realtime. Pretty neat.

Click here to see the map.

A rough approximation, of course — we’re not going to “turn off” communities, highways, or the forest — but an interesting one, nonetheless. To create their map, Tyee Society sought out

the most credible data available to quantify the most important currents in B.C.’s carbon “flux” — the scientific term for the net difference between carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from all sources, and carbon dioxide removed from the air and sequestered in stable carbon stocks (typically in plants or organic matter). The goal and, with some important qualifiers, the result is a rough carbon balance sheet revealing the interplay of emissions and ecosystems at scales from the provincial to the local.

They found a number of interesting, though unsurprising, facts while doing their research. First,

According to the latest 2010 provincial data, B.C. emitted 62 million tonnes of “CO2 equivalent” (a metric measure used to aggregate emissions from various greenhouse gases with different global warming potentials). But if [they] include emissions generated by the coal and natural gas we export, that number nearly quadruples, to as much as 240 million tonnes.

Second, as a result of warming, some of the net-sinks may be “switching” to net-emitters. Their explanation is a little unsatisfactory, but acknowledging this shift is important.

B.C.’s share of the northern boreal forest, considered in isolation, continues to soak up enormous quantities of CO2. But the broad swath of light gray that appears along the B.C. coast in the map, indicating ambiguity and uncertainty in the data, is a startling reminder that our historic forest carbon “sink” may be switching to a net emitter of greenhouse gases — a testament to wide-ranging changes in everything from forest decay rates to insect plagues unleashed by warmer winters.

Cheers to the Tyee society for citing their sources and explaining where their data came from. Good stuff, and rare.

The Awesome Insanity of Del Popolo

Image from gBlog.

Take a 5000 pound, imported wood-fired oven. Put it inside a shipping crate. Add glass, metal, and beautiful branding. What do you get?

Del Popolo (“of the people”), Jon Darsky’s new, mobile, super-food shipping-container. Read more at eater.com, gizmag.com, grubstreet.com, and Inside Scoop SF.

Follow Del Popolo on Twitter.

Pantone Skin Tones: humanæ

An ongoing project by artist Angelica Dass.

Humanae inventory is chromatic, a project that reflects on the colors beyond the borders of our codes by referencing the PANTONE ® color system.

The project conducts a series of portraits whose background is dyed the exact shade extracted from a sample of 11x11 pixels from the very face of the people portrayed. The ultimate aim is to record and catalog, through a scientific measurement, all possible human skin tones.

Pretty cool stuff. Definitely worth seeing the whole collection. In a similar vein to the work of Pierre David.

From Wal-Mart to Library

From PSFK, a great story about the decision in McAllen, Texas to turn an abandoned Wal-Mart into an award-winning library.

In the Monitor, a local newspaper, Dave Hendricks wrote:

A massive canopy, the kind often found at fancy hotels and Las Vegas casinos, shades the building’s main entrance. Towering above the canopy is a translucent tower of glazed glass, which will glow with color-changing lights at night. Stucco walls now soften the building’s boxy exterior, replacing the retail giant’s signature blue with shades of brown.

“The only comparison to Walmart is the size of the building,” said library Director Jose Gamez, who donned a hard hat and safety vest Wednesday to show off the library-to-be.

Inside, walls have divided the cavernous, 123,000-square-foot space into conference rooms, computer labs and room for more than 300,000 books. Both a coffee shop and copy center will operate inside the new library.

I like the idea of transforming familiar, well-known centers of commerce into vibrant, educational meeting grounds. It helps, I think, that they were extremely forward thinking both in the physical / UX design of the space and the selection of books, technology, and amenities within the building. Seems like a good template for future libraries — a confluence of traditional library services with the amenities of big-box bookstores that draw people in. The McAllen library seems to go one step farther, elevating both the interior and exterior to the level of art - a place that needs to be experienced.

The gamble (of around 25 million USD) seems to have paid off. According to a later story by Hendricks, 2000 people lined up for the grand opening of the 129,000 square feet library, which claims to be the largest single floor library in the US. 48,000 visitors roamed the space in December, with ~1600 new registrants and 8000 account updates.

The library has posted quite a few videos about the process and some amazing pictures of the transformation of the abandoned space into a library.

Higgs boson! HIGGS BOSON!! H-I-G-G-S B-O-S-O-N!!!

I’d be remiss to not mention this, though of course it’s everywhere today.The unobtainable has most likely been obtained and scientists everywhere are very, very excited. Press outlets are covering the story. It’s on the radio, on the news, and splattered about the web.

What does it mean, though? Perhaps the best bit of science communication on the topic comes in the form a brief animation (embedded below) from PhD Comics.

More useful information from World Science Festival, featuring Brian Greene:

Maggie Koerth-Baker, writing last year at Boing-Boing, describes the Higgs boson as follows:

You know that reality is like a Lego model, it’s made up of smaller parts. We are pieced together out of atoms. Atoms are made from protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks. (Quarks and electrons, as far as we know, are elementary particles, with nothing smaller inside.) When you’re talking about the Higgs Boson, you’re talking about the mass of these particles. Here’s an imperfect analogy: A top quark, the most massive particle we know of, is like an elephant. An electron, on the other hand, is more like a mouse. And nobody knows for certain why those differences exist.

There is a theory, though. Back in the 1960s, a guy named Peter Higgs came up with the idea that all these particles exist in a field, and their mass is a reflection of how much they interact with that field. Heavy particles have a lot of interaction. Lighter particles are relatively standoffish. If this field exists, the Higgs Boson is the tiny thing it’s made of.

And, finally, some more useful reading:

Ten things you may not know about the Higgs boson

Q&A: The Higgs boson

The Best Analogies Scientists and Journalists Use To Explain the Higgs Boson

Scientists might have found the Higgs Boson (includes a long list of valuable links)

NPR: Oakland Turns A Corner As Calif. Faces Budget Woes

Speaking of cities, a nice story from NPR about our current home — and featuring Cafe Van Kleef!

When Van Kleef opened his bar 10 years ago, everyone said he was crazy. At the time, he says, “hookers, muggers, thieves and homeless were rampant” in the area.

“At 5 o’clock, the streets were absolutely empty. Everybody vacated Oakland. There was nobody here,” Van Kleef explains. “You could park anywhere you wanted. You could park a fleet of taxis if you wanted to!”

But Van Kleef, an artist and former rock impresario, had a different vision for Uptown Oakland, which he saw as “the last geographical possibility” for an arts and entertainment district in the city. So Van Kleef opened his bar just a block from City Hall.

“I suddenly felt like a paramedic pounding the chest of Oakland with some vision of breathing life into this dead thing,” Van Kleef recalls. “And it worked. The city revitalized. The heart started beating again.”

Dave Pell's NextDraft: Meet Me in the City

Dave Pell, in his excellent NextDraft newsletter, points to a couple of quick and entertaining links about cities.

First, from NPR, a fun way to figure out if you live in a city.

Second, from The Atlantic Cities, a short but entertaining look at cities that may or may not have been without air conditioning. Pretty scary stuff, when we think about the rapid increase in AC use in the developing world and the concomitant strain on power supplies and use of harmful, climate forcing chemicals.

Indolence as virtue

I’ve found myself falling into “The ‘Busy’ Trap” as described by Tim Krieder in the NYT far more often since I’ve moved out West. Part of it, I think, is the atmosphere in my department, which is more pressured by the urgency of the work at hand than other places I’ve been (and, as a result, has made more contributions to the field than many other places). Another part is crushing, self-induced pressure to keep on top of myriad obligations. Regardless, Krieder’s exposition rings true — and is entertainingly written, to boot. He makes a strong case for checking our tendency to default to busyness and embrace more leisurely, somewhat indolent behavior.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

China's Air Quality Dilemma

Fascinating commentary in JAMA (related primarily to this article). The article and the commentary focus on the extraordinary pollution mitigation and control strategies undertaken by the Chinese government in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics.

To ensure acceptable air quality during the Olympics (held from August 8-24) and the Paralympics (held from September 6-16), the Chinese government launched a series of aggressive measures to reduce pollutant emissions. To reduce industrial emissions, the operations of combustion facilities were restricted in smelters, cement plants, power plants, nonattainment boilers, and construction and petro-chemical industries. To reduce traffic emissions, certain vehicles and trucks were banned, 70% of government-owned vehicles were kept off the streets, and other vehicles could travel through the city only on alternating days.

The pollutant reductions are striking and substantial — reductions in mean concentrations of sulfur dioxide (-60%), carbon monoxide (-48%), nitrogen dioxide (-43%), elemental carbon (-36%), fine particulate matter (PM2.5, -27%), ozone (-22%), and sulfate (-13%), were reported. (Of note, even during the cleanest days in Beijing, mean concentrations exceeded the worst days in LA).

The study by Rich et al in JAMA (linked above) presents compelling evidence of changes in biomarkers due to the decreased pollution that point towards the vast potential for improved health with air quality regulation. The nitty-gritty scientific details are interesting, but more salient, I believe, are the policy ramifications. The reductions in ambient air pollution under the pressure of the IOC and widespread, international attention prove that change is possible, though at a potentially steep economic cost.

China’s dilemma, like many countries with emerging industries, is how to reconcile rapid economic growth with environmental protection. In recent decades, China has achieved industrialization and urbanization. However, China has been much less successful in maintaining the quality of urban air. Several factors challenge the implementation of air pollution controls in China: heavy reliance on coal as a main heating system, especially in subsidized housing; lack of political incentives for trading slower growth for less pollution; economic factors: most Chinese factories and power plants run on extremely thin margins and fines for polluting are generally lower than the cost of controlling emissions; and economic transformation of the landscape, from ubiquitous construction sites to the rapid expansion of the nation’s vehicle fleet. If air pollution in China and other Asian nations cannot be controlled, it could spread to other continents. A recent study by Lin et al provides compelling evidence that Asian emissions may account for as much as 20% of ground-level pollution in the United States. Clean air is a shared global resource. It is in the common interest to maintain air quality for the promotion of global health.

Affordable Care Act Upheld, Explained in a single paragraph

From SCOTUSblog, via the Atlantic:

In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.

From the ruling:

Today we resolve constitutional challenges to two provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010: the individual mandate, which requires individuals to purchase a health insurance policy providing a minimum level of coverage; and the Medicaid expansion, which gives funds to the States on the condition that they provide specified health care to all citizens whose income falls below a certain threshold. We do not consider whether the Act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation’s elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions.

From the New Yorker:

On the last possible day, the Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act. (Here’s a pdf of the opinion.) Who won, then? John Roberts, the Chief Justice, who put himself in the majority with the Court’s four liberals, and may have changed the definition of what we call “the Roberts Court”; President Barack Obama, whose first term was defined by it; our sense of how the balance of powers ought to work, and against, perhaps, our growing cynicism about the Court’s politicization (although there is a fine line between cynicism and simple prudence). A conservative court, and a conservative justice, upheld a law passed and treasured by liberals. This is not the way the Court has worked in recent years, for either side. “The Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act,” according to the majority opinion, written by Roberts. No one asked it to.

But, really, the winners are Americans—the more than fifty million of them who don’t have health insurance, but also the rest. Income and well-being have increasingly come to define each other; this is a victory for our sense of fairness, and that there need not be two Americas—one where, say, a mother can get good prenatal care and a cancer patient has choices, and another where pregnant women show up at emergency rooms, “preëxisting conditions” can be a death sentence, and medical costs are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy and foreclosure. It won’t be immediate. This is a major step toward American fairness.

And (surprisingly, from error/spoiler CNN), a nice page collecting lines from the justices.

Michael Lopp / Rands in Repose: "The future is invented by the people who don't give a shit about the past."

Your success is delicious. Others look at your success and think, “Well, duh, it’s so obvious what they did there - anyone can do that” and, frustratingly so, they’re right. Your success has given others a blueprint for what success looks like, and while, yes, the devil’s in the details, you have performed a lot of initial legwork for your competition in the process of becoming successful.

More bad news via metaphors. Your enticing success has your competition chasing you, and that means that, by definition, that they need to run harder and faster than you so they can catch up. Yes, many potential competitors are going to bungle the execution and vanish before they pose a legitimate threat but there’s a chance someone will catch up, and when they do, what’s their velocity? Faster than yours.

Shit.

The reward for winning is the perception that you’ve won. In your celebration of your awesomeness, you are no longer focused on the finish line, you now lack a clear next goal, and while you sit there comfortably monetizing eyeballs, you’re becoming strategically dull. You’ve forgotten that someone is coming to eat you and if you want until you can see them coming, you’re too late.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

via Daring Fireball.

The Antlers: Drift Dive

Anti- records has posted the first track from The Antlers’ Undersea EP at SoundCloud (embedded below). Combines all that lovely, layered ambience they are so good at with a wee bit less melancholy. Can’t wait for this EP.

Update: NPR has posted a second track as part of their Summer Music Preview.

Enjoy.

200 Years of the New England Journal of Medicine

The New England Journal of Medicine - among the most preeminent medical journals - is 200 years old this year. In recognition of that two century milestone, they’ve put together a number of special (and accessible) articles available here.

In “The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine,” authors David Jones, Scott Podolsky, and Jeremy Greene outline shifting patterns of disease and their effect on the role of medicine in society.

diseasestatuschange.gif

The article contains numerous anecdotes, some unbelievable, about diseases and disease states that were common 100 years ago. Some sound familiar; others, not so much. I find the article particularly interesting when it starts to delve into how we define and prioritize diseases, and how that ties into inequities in well-being:

A population’s disease status can also be gauged by lists of common diagnoses at clinics or hospitals, but no single measure definitively characterizes a population’s burden of disease. Choosing among metrics is as much about values and priorities as about science, and it directly affects health policy. Whereas advocates of clinical and research funding for cardiovascular disease might use mortality data to support their claims, mental health advocates can cite morbidity measures in seeking greater resources. Data on causes of childhood mortality would justify certain priorities; analyses of health care spending would justify others. An ideal, sophisticated health policy would integrate all measures to form a holistic map of the burden of disease, but in practice competing interests use different representations of disease burden to recommend particular policies.

And, later in the article:

The persistence of health inequalities challenges our scientific knowledge and political will. Can we explain them and alleviate them? Genetic variations don’t explain why mortality rates double as you cross Boston Harbor from Back Bay to Charlestown or walk up Fifth Avenue from midtown Manhattan into Harlem. Nor do they explain why Asian-American women in Bergen County, New Jersey, live 50% longer than Native American men in South Dakota. Although we know something about the relationships among poverty, stress, allostatic load, and the hypothalamic - pituitary - adrenal axis, doctors and epidemiologists need more precise models that sketch in the steps between social exposure, disease, and death. … Disparities in health and disease are outcomes that are contingent on the ways society structures the lives and risks of individuals.

In many respects, our medical systems are best suited to diseases of the past, not those of the present or future. We must continue to adapt health systems and health policy as the burden of disease evolves. But we must also do more. Diseases can never be reduced to molecular pathways, mere technical problems requiring treatments or cures. Disease is a complex domain of human experience, involving explanation, expectation, and meaning. Doctors must acknowledge this complexity and formulate theories, practices, and systems that fully address the breadth and subtlety of disease.

The article hints at the relationship between public health, health policy, and medicine, but doesn’t delve fully into how those relationships have evolved over the 200 year history of the Journal. It would be interesting to learn more along that vein - how medicine has informed policy and influenced public health measures, etc. Overall, though, an interesting, enlightening read.

Matthew Cusick's Map Art

Matthew-Cusick_203.jpg

Impressive collages made entirely from bits and pieces of various maps. No painting done on top of the maps, though some minimal inking to bring out certain contrasts. I’m struck by the tones and the obvious deliberation that went into the placement. There’s also something intriguing about deconstructing the geographies of maps to create new visuals.

Matthew Cusick, the artist, in an interview with My Modern Met

I found that maps have all the properties of a brushstroke: nuance, density, line, movement, and color. Their palette is deliberate and symbolic, acting as a cognitive mechanism to help us internalize the external. And furthermore, since each map fragment is an index of a specific place and time, I could combine fragments from different maps and construct geographical timelines within my paintings.

I never paint on the maps. I let the maps be themselves and they establish the palette for me. Sometimes there will be an underpainting that is revealed when I scrape off maps that aren’t working. These areas are never planned though, just happy accidents. I do often paint the sky of a composition a single flat color.

If I need to manipulate the values of the maps in order to achieve richer darks, I use ink, mostly walnut ink that I make myself. This way I am not really adding a new medium to the map, only increasing one that is already there—the ink.

Rio +20 Recycled Art

As part of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) an enormous outdoor installation of fish was constructed using discarded plastic bottles on Botafogo beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The sculptures are illuminated from the inside at night creating a pretty spectacular light show.

Many of the photos from Rio +20 are worth checking out. See them here.

via Colossal

Murakami Bingo

Brilliance from artist Grant Snider. From his blog, notes

I’ve spent the last few years devouring the books of Haruki Murakami. Twelve novels, three short story collections, and one memoir later, I came up with this comic. If you have yet to experience the genius of Murakami, keep this Bingo card handy as you delve into his work. I recommend starting with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Stamen Maps

Stamen design creates some amazing maps and variations of existing map tiles. They’re a design firm based in SF. Two of their most intriguing maps are Toner and Watercolor.

San Francisco

London

Luzinterruptus: Light "Interventions" in Madrid

Pretty fascinating social commentary / artwork by a group in Spain. They subvert various issues at local to international scales — nuclear power / waste, environmental degradation, loss of a local swimming pool to development — using simple, community-engaged art projects. The results are striking. A few of my favorites are posted below — but check out their website for more details of their work.

via colossal

Thrill Murray: A Coloring Book

Greatest. thing. ever.

Be it in Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters, Rushmore or Lost in Translation Bill Murray has become a diamond of the modern screen, the heartbeat of any worthy DVD collection….

We asked 24 different illustrators to create 24 different images, each one inspired by the great man himself. WE PUT THEM TOGETHER AND MADE THIS BILL MURRAY INSPIRED COLOURING BOOK

Be you young, old, wrinkly, thin, drunk, happy, disillusioned or a bit bored you can enjoy colouring in!

Download David Byrne & St. Vincent's Who

Posted about this collaboration a few months ago and was pretty excited.

An email went out to DB’s mailing list today describing how the project - titled ‘Love this Giant’ - came to be, when to expect it, where to get tour details, and how to get the first song from the collaboration. A few highlights below:

I found that writing words to this brass-centric sound meant I had to re-think my lyrical approach. Brass has many associations—marching bands, Italian banda, New Orleans bands, classical chorales, RnB and funk. In general it’s not a subtle sound, so the words had to respond to that. We worked with a group of great arrangers, usually passing them midi versions of the parts that we had created on computers. They did their arrangements and often sent us synthesized versions to hear before the real players came in. The process involved a number of steps, so it took a while. On some songs I re-wrote the words about three times before I hit a direction I felt worked!

We both had other records and tours in the works, so this project was done in fits and starts, and each series of recording sessions involved a lot of players. It was an education that involved figuring out the variety of sounds and approaches one could come up with using more or less the same group makeup on every song—we could go funky or majestic with the exact same band. When John Congleton added some beats we could see a surprisingly song-centric record emerging. A lot of people, hearing a description of this project, assumed that it might be an artsy indulgence, but somehow it didn’t turn out that way. It’s a pop record—well, in my book anyway. I started to sense that we were ending up with a sound and approach I’d never heard before. There were elements that were reminiscent of things I’d heard, but a lot of it was completely new. Very exciting!

The track is poppy, weird, and recommended. Download here.

Yayoi Kusama: the Obliteration Room

Before: After:

Really cool concept. Take everyday furnishing, strip them of all color, and turn them into a canvas for kids (of all ages). Give the attendees to the exhibit little round stickers of varying sizes and colors and let them go to town and “obliterate” the room.

Obliterate, invigorate.

The obliteration room 2011 revisits the popular interactive children’s project developed by Yayoi Kusama for the Queensland Art Gallery’s ‘APT 2002: Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’. In this reworked and enlarged installation, an Australian domestic environment is recreated in the gallery space, complete with locally sourced furniture and ornamentation, all of which has been painted completely white. While this may suggest an everyday topography drained of all colour and specificity, it also functions as a blank canvas to be invigorated — or, in Kusama’s vocabulary, ‘obliterated’ — through the application, to every available surface, of brightly coloured stickers in the shape of dots.

As with many of Kusama’s installations, the work is disarmingly simple in its elemental composition; however, it brilliantly exploits the framework of its presentation. The white room is gradually obliterated over the course of the exhibition, the space changing measurably with the passage of time as the dots accumulate as a result of thousands and thousands of collaborators.

Perfection: Xaver Xylophon's "FOR HIRE! BANGALORE RICKSHAW"

This short animation captures the cadence of local travel in India perfectly. It nails those conflicting sensations of monotony, adventure, and relief.

Green, yellow, black. They are the blood in the veins of Bangalore: the 450,000 rickshaws and their drivers. Knocked together from bits and pieces, decorated, ready for the junk heap or carefully maintained like antique cars, the vehicles are as charismatic as their owners, who brave the monstrous traffic of this metropolis daringly, sleepy, chattering or stoic, making sure the passanger’s trip from A to B will be full of memorable experiences.

Based on days of riding around in rickshaws and drawings made locally, this animation captures the tough workaday life of a rickshaw driver, seen through the eyes of a European visitor.

Result of a one month trip to Bangalore, India as part of the project “The Law of the Market” at the University of Arts Berlin Weißensee, 2011

Star Wars: The Baroque Version from Mattias Adolfsson

In the vein of Kottke’s excellent post today of Star Wars as reimagined by someone channeling Dr. Seuss, I present another awesome reframing — this time, in a baroque style. Click here to see the full set.

Nothing lasts forever... not even Giant Turtle Love.

The world’s oldest animal marriage looks set to have turtley ended after an incredible 115 years when the two Giant Turtles at an Austrian zoo refused to share their cage anymore.

How’d the zookeepers know? (Also, great Salmon in the sky, TURTLEY? barf.)

Zoo staff realised the pair had fallen out after Bibi attacked her partner - biting off a chunk of his shell - and then carrying out several further attacks until he was moved to another enclosure.

Although they have no teeth Giant Turtles have a horn rimmed mouth and powerful jaws that are a potent weapon when they want to cause damage. Each of the 100 kilo animals has the ability to kill the other if they wanted.

Zoo staff have told the experts that nothing has changed in the pair’s routine - but Bibi in particular wanted to have the cage to herself and be a single.

Typical.

Astronaut Don Pettit's Photos from Space

“My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible, due to electronic detector noise effectively snowing out the image. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, then ‘stack’ them using imaging software, thus producing the longer exposure.”

Fascinating and striking. Also, Don Pettit seems like the coolest imaginable dude. Megan Garber reported in the Atlantic that

Pettit has found a totally worthwhile way to pass the time not spent berthing space capsules, installing scientific equipment, being a bold explorer into the final frontier, etc. Pettit has been orchestrating space-based science demonstrations, broadcasting them to earth via YouTube in a series he calls Science off the Sphere.

Pettit is clearly incredibly excited about these demonstrations — and his enthusiasm makes for buoyant viewing, even in zero gravity. A couple weeks ago, the astronaut, chemical engineer, and Eagle Scout took zero-gravitied water droplets and used sound waves to manipulate them. It was beautiful and powerful and weird. Yesterday, though, Pettit outdid himself — by stripping down to a seemingly self-cut muscle T, taking a vacuum cleaner hose, and using said hose to create a makeshift, spaceborn didgeridoo.

None of that is a typo.

James Nizam: The Lighthouse

A few weeks ago, The Morning News featured photographs from James Nizam of Vancouver. They referred to an article in Canadian Art that described Nizam’s process in more detail.

The large black and white photographs depict the transformation of darkened rooms into uncanny light sculptures that intersect elegant geometry with math-class daydreaming. Bridling sunlight into streamlined rays via perforated and sliced walls, and with the aid of artificial fog to intensify the slants of light, Nizam creates imagery that might bend our perception of photography.

The majority of works in the exhibition were created in a darkened studio space where small mirrors were fastened to ball joints for easy pivoting, perfect for manipulating the light streaming through holes in the walls. The logistics were no small feat; Nizam sometimes had as little as five minutes of perfect sunlight in which to create his images. And the process of waiting for those brief periods no doubt felt like déjà vu for a photographer who has spent plenty of time in dim rooms watching dust dancing in sunlight.

The effect is striking. Highly recommend checking out more of his work at Nizam’s website and at TMN. More on the specific process used to create these images is available here.

Bill Murray, Ladakh, Magic

I love Bill Murray. I love Ladakh.

Should get that stuff out of the way early and bluntly. Aaron Cohen put together a long list of Bill Murray interviews. Pretty cool stuff. One of the oldest interviews was with Timothy Crouse of Rolling Stone in 1984. In it, Bill Murray discusses his time in Ladakh filming The Razor’s Edge. This blew my mind. Excerpts follow.

You realize just how big the mountains are: you’re not flying over them; you’re flying between them. Coming in to land, the plane goes between two mountains and there is about forty feet of clearance on either side, When the wind comes up, the planes don’t go there, because you can lose forty feet in half a second. You’ve never really lived until you’ve landed a plane in that shoebox there.

At the airport, we were met by a fleet of black jeeps driven by Tibetan[s] who drive like cow­boys. A big chain of black jeeps set out and headed toward the monasteries, where we were going to shoot. In sixty miles of the Himalayas, I saw about all the spectacular things I ever saw in the Rockies. It was like a hall of fame of mountain majesty. There were Stupas everywhere - these big reliquaries - and monks walking on the road. Then we came over a rise and saw the first real mountain. It wasn’t Everest or anything, it was just one of the boys, and it was much bigger than the biggest mountain I’d ever seen.

We also needed an older man to play the high lama. They were reading actors for it in London, and I said “Look, we’re going to find the guy over there; don’t worry about it”. We’re not going to hire Ben Kingsley to play this part; we’re going to find a real guy to do this.” Well, we found the guy - he was the uncle of the owner of the Yaktail Hotel, the same guy who did the paintings - but he didn’t speak a word of English. So we then needed a Ladahki who spoke English, to teach him his lines, but we couldn’t find anyone. But the hotel owner had given me the address of this monk who worked up at some school centre and spoke English.

He turned out to be younger than me, and his name was Chiptan Chostock, but we called him Tip. Tip spoke English, Hindhi, Ladhaki, Tibetan, Kashmiri - you name it. He would huddle together with the old guy and repeat the line “You are closer than you think,” over and over. They did it for hours at a time. Once Tip arrived, we had no more problems with the monks. It was like “Hey, he’s one of our guys”. It was like having an Indian scout. All of a sudden, we had somebody who spoke all of the languages, and the unspoken too.

Anyway, he became my partner. He was just so interested in everything. He loved riding in the jeep and looking through the camera. And we put him in the movie. Here’s this incredibly spiritual guy who walks 200 miles back and forth between this monastery and the school where he teaches. And these A.D.’s are saying, ”Can we get Tippy-Tip in here, please.” “Does he need any makeup?” “No, he’s very dark already, he’ll be fine.”

The last night I was there, he said, “I want you to come over to my place.” I thought, okay, I’ll see where he lives, meet his family; I’ll probably have to sign a lot of autographs, have my picture taken with the sisters. So we drive to Tip’s father’s, which is on the outskirts of Leh, a big house with a garden. We go inside, and I’m thinking that we maybe should have asked the driver in. Tip said, “I did ask him in, but he wouldn’t come in because he’s a Shiite, and Shiites won’t take anything from Buddhists.”

By this time, Tip’s father had appeared, and he said, “but we Buddhists take everything from them” At which point I realized that Tip’s father spoke English. Now Tip had gone to a school where he learned with a lot of English people - he learned English from me as well - but there was no explanation for his father’s English, because he’d lived in this place for his whole life, and anyone who spoke English had only come but recently, and he didn’t have any truck with anybody. He just sort of knew it, intuitively. Which was real spooky cause you got it real clear that this guy spoke the language and wasn’t trying. We sat down and started making buttered tea, and Tip’s mother came with various desserts made out of butter. So, after about a gallon and a half of buttered tea, all twelve courses of buttered desserts, they said, “Would you like to stay for dinner?” I thought that was pretty good considering that these people all weighed about 105 pounds apiece. I said I really had to go back.

So they showed me the house, they took me to the kitchen. It was a dark room, and there were all these Asian faces, and the walls were full of these copper pots covered with carbon, and there was a hole in the ceiling where the smoke went out, and it looked right up to the stars.

The stars were very bright, they lit up this room and everybody’s faces and all the pots on the wall. And all of a sudden, all the children - there were twelve - sort of materialized out of the walls, The father looked like Fu Manchu - he was the only man I saw over there who was over six feet tall - and I was attacking him and tickling him, and hitting myself on the head with pots, and showing him my stomach, and stuff like that. We were all laughing and all the sound was going right up through the skylight.

There was a perfect exchange of something between the stars and what was happening in the room. I don’t think I’ve ever felt comfortable like that. I felt like if I stayed there longer, something magical would happen, like they’d break down and say, Okay, Bill, you passed the test; you’re one of us. I really wanted to stay there. They were so free, so open. They made you feel that you could act like a fool and not feel bad about it, and they made you feel like there was more to it than that, and if you watched yourself you’d know even more.

Alan Alda's Flame Challenge

When actor, scholar, and activist Alan Alda was eleven, he asked a teacher a question that had been plaguing him. “What’s a flame? What’s going on in there?”

The teacher paused, as Alda recollects, and replaced one unknown with another, commenting, “It’s oxidation.” Alda notes that as an encounter with the failure of scientific communication.

Unbeknownst to me, Alda has pursued science communication pretty actively over the last few years, between interviews on Scientific American Frontiers and work at SUNY Stony Brook. He wrote recently,

I began to think that clarity in communicating science is at the very heart of science itself. And I wondered if written and oral communication skills could be taught systematically throughout the entire length of a student’s science education. The State University of New York at Stony Brook picked up on this idea, founding the Center for Communicating Science. I became part of the teaching faculty, and we began experimenting. We are now teaching communication courses for credit to graduate students in the sciences. Students learn to distill their message and write without jargon. They also experience an innovative course in improvisation, which teaches them to communicate with a live audience with the ease and familiarity of an animated conversation. The intention, of course, is not to turn scientists into actors but to allow them to be more authentically themselves in public inter- actions. Most of all, we discourage any form of “dumbing down” the science. The goal is to achieve clarity and vividness.

He also returned to that original question about flames and opened a competition. The winner is embedded below — pretty outstanding little video created by Ben Ames, an American PhD student studying quantum optics.

A Unified Theory of... Muppets

The same thing is true of Muppet Theory, a little-known, poorly understood philosophy that holds that every living human can be classified according to one simple metric: Every one of us is either a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet. Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and—paradigmatically—Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. Zelda Fitzgerald was a Chaos Muppet. So, I must tell you, is Justice Stephen Breyer.

Order Muppets—and I’m thinking about Bert, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, Kermit the Frog, and the blue guy who is perennially harassed by Grover at restaurants (the Order Muppet Everyman)—tend to be neurotic, highly regimented, averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. They sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders, but they secretly revel in the knowledge that they keep the show running.

Click and Clack Signing Off

Sad. I’ve been listening to these two for as long as I can remember.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, aka Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers, the famous comedian mechanics who host NPR’s Car Talk, told their listeners this afternoon that as of this fall, they’ll no longer record new programs, but that the weekly call-in series will continue to be distributed by NPR drawing on material from their 25 years of show archives. The note from the Magliozzis to their listeners is in full at cartalk.com.

From the brothers’ blogpost:

RAY: Hey, you guys. My brother has always said, “Don’t be afraid of work.”

TOM: Right. Make work afraid of YOU!

RAY: And he’s done such a good job at it, that work has avoided him all his life.

TOM: And with Car Talk celebrating its 25th anniversary on NPR this fall (35th year overall, including our local years at WBUR)…

RAY: …and my brother turning over the birthday odometer to 75, we’ve decided that it’s time to stop and smell the cappuccino.

TOM: So as of October, we’re not going to be recording any more new shows. That’s right, we’re retiring.

RAY: So, we can finally answer the question, if my brother retired, how would he know?

TOM: The good news is that, despite our general incompetence, we actually remembered to hit the “record” button every week for the last 25 years. So we have more than 1,200 programs we’re going to dig into starting this fall, and the series will continue.

RAY: Every week, starting in October, NPR will broadcast a newly assembled Car Talk show, selected from the best material in our archives.

TOM: Sorry, detractors, we’re still going to be on the air!

RAY: But to our fans, don’t be sad. We’ve managed to avoid getting thrown off NPR for 25 years, given out tens of thousands of wrong answers, generated lawsuit threats from innumerable car companies, and had a hell of a lot of fun talking to you guys.

Tim Kreider on Ray Bradbury

…it is worth pausing, on the occasion of Ray Bradbury’s death, to notice how uncannily accurate was his vision of the numb, cruel future we now inhabit.

Mr. Bradbury’s most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” features wall-size television screens that are the centerpieces of “parlors” where people spend their evenings watching interactive soaps and vicious slapstick, live police chases and true-crime dramatizations that invite viewers to help catch the criminals. People wear “seashell” transistor radios that fit into their ears. Note the perversion of quaint terms like “parlor” and “seashell,” harking back to bygone days and vanished places, where people might visit with their neighbors or listen for the sound of the sea in a chambered nautilus.

Mr. Bradbury didn’t just extrapolate the evolution of gadgetry; he foresaw how it would stunt and deform our psyches. “It’s easy to say the wrong thing on telephones; the telephone changes your meaning on you,” says the protagonist of the prophetic short story “The Murderer.” “First thing you know, you’ve made an enemy.”

Anyone who’s had his intended tone flattened out or irony deleted by e-mail and had to explain himself knows what he means. The character complains that he’s relentlessly pestered with calls from friends and employers, salesmen and pollsters, people calling simply because they can. Mr. Bradbury’s vision of “tired commuters with their wrist radios, talking to their wives, saying, ‘Now I’m at Forty-third, now I’m at Forty-fourth, here I am at Forty-ninth, now turning at Sixty-first” has gone from science-fiction satire to dreary realism.

“It was all so enchanting at first,” muses our protagonist. “They were almost toys, to be played with, but the people got too involved, went too far, and got wrapped up in a pattern of social behavior and couldn’t get out, couldn’t admit they were in, even.”

WSJ: GZA + Science: Rapper Finds Muse in the Stars

So, so dope.

On an early May afternoon in the offices of Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, a model of Saturn caught the eye of a 45-year-old high-school dropout, and a lyric was born.

“I thought, this is probably the longest spinning record in the world,” said GZA, the hip-hop artist and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, referring to the ring system surrounding the planet. About a week later, the words crystallized and he offered them over a vegetarian lunch on the Upper West Side.

“God put the needle on the disc of Saturn / The record he played revealed blueprints and patterns,” he rapped in his signature rhythmic baritone, offering a taste from his forthcoming album, “Dark Matter,” an exploration of the cosmos filtered through the mind of a rapper known among his peers as “the Genius.”

Informed by meetings with top physicists and cosmologists at MIT and Cornell University, “Dark Matter” is intended to be the first in a series of albums that GZA—born Gary Grice in Brooklyn in 1966—will put out in the next few years, several of which are designed to get a wide audience hooked on science.

“Dark Matter” is scheduled for a fall release. Another album will focus on the life aquatic, a subject he’s fleshing out with visits to the labs of marine biologists and researchers, as well as meetings with the likes of Philippe Cousteau.

“After ‘Dark Matter,’ he said, “we’ll be back on earth, but in the ocean.”

Still, he believes that “Dark Matter” will tap into the innate curiosity of listeners—even those with no outward interest in science.

“I don’t think people have ever really been in touch with science,” he said. “They’re drawn to it, but they don’t know why they’re drawn to it. For example, you may be blown away by the structure of something, like a soccer ball or a geodesic dome, with its hexagonal shapes. Or how you can take a strand of hair and can get someone’s whole drug history. They’re different forms of science, but it’s still science.”

He plans to package “Dark Matter” with a short illustrated book that may also include the album’s lyrics and a glossary, “like an epic textbook,” he said.

What Lies Beneath the New York Times?

Fascinating short piece by Claire O’Neill about the man responsible for the NYT Archives — and the archives themselves. I got a little kick out of Claire taking a photo, with Instagram, of a picture of William Faulkner taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Worlds colliding, a bit — a quick snapshot of an old print filed away underground in an antiquated fashion. (Also, Faulkner slays, even in a photo of a photo. Slays).

By the numbers: It’s 4,000 cabinet drawers of newspaper clips, according to Roth, and 5 to 6 million photographic prints and contact sheets, cross-referenced by card catalogs made on typewriters and amended by hand. The scope is downright unfathomable, the system impossibly antiquated.

Some of the photos from the archive are now being resurrected and uploaded to a fantastic Tumblr run by NYT called The Lively Morgue.

According to the Lively Morgue, “if we posted 10 new archival pictures every weekday on Tumblr, just from our print collection, we wouldn’t have the whole thing online until the year 3935.”

Beamer for Mac

Beamer’s tag line sums it up: “Play any movie file directly via Apple TV.” A bargain at $7. Drop AVIs, MKVs, etc on Beamer and it shoots them over to your AppleTV. Started an mkv movie and watched an episode of TV using it — works like a charm. All it needs is some volume control and it’ll be golden.

Flickr Blog: Japanese Manhole Covers

Flickr’s blog recently featured a set of Japanese manhole covers from MRSY’s photostream. There’s also a pretty expansive group featuring similar shots.

courtesy MRSY

A little about Japanese manhole covers, from Remo Camerota, author of Drainspotting:

In the 1980s cities began making customized manhole covers. Today nearly 95 percent of the 1,780 municipalities in Japan sport their own specially designed manhole covers. Designs range from images that evoke a region’s cultural identity, from flora and fauna, to landmarks and local festivals, to fanciful images dreamed up by school children.

Funny or Die: The Wire: The Musical

Michael Kenneth Williams stars alongside Sonja Sohn, Larry Gillard Jr., Andre Royo & Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire in The Wire: The Musical where they will allow you to experience America’s failing drug war through the magic of song!

Yes, yes, yes. So ridiculous, so hilarious. Faizon Bell as Stringer Bell is a particularly good touch. As is Michael Kenneth Williams’s ridiculous dancing.

NYT Magazine: 32 Innovations that Will Change Your Tomorrow

Mixed feeling about this article — entirely Western-focused. Looks bad in the context of solving bigger global problem through innovation. In NYTs defense, though, they do title the article with “your tomorrow” which points toward their base, who probably aren’t as concerned with water, sanitation, household energy, and other blights of the bottom billion.

All that aside, this bit is really nice and broadly applicable.

We tend to rewrite the histories of technological innovation, making myths about a guy who had a great idea that changed the world. In reality, though, innovation isn’t the goal; it’s everything that gets you there. It’s bad financial decisions and blueprints for machines that weren’t built until decades later. It’s the important leaps forward that synthesize lots of ideas, and it’s the belly-up failures that teach us what not to do.

When we ignore how innovation actually works, we make it hard to see what’s happening right in front of us today. If you don’t know that the incandescent light was a failure before it was a success, it’s easy to write off some modern energy innovations — like solar panels — because they haven’t hit the big time fast enough.

Worse, the fairy-tale view of history implies that innovation has an end. It doesn’t. What we want and what we need keeps changing. The incandescent light was a 19th-century failure and a 20th- century success. Now it’s a failure again, edged out by new technologies, like LEDs, that were, themselves, failures for many years.

That’s what this issue is about: all the little failures, trivialities and not-quite-solved mysteries that make the successes possible. This is what innovation looks like. It’s messy, and it’s awesome.

Via kottke.org.

In My G4 Over Da Sea

Complete madness. NMH’s In an Aeroplane Over the Sea mashed up with hip-hop. Utterly weird, a little uncomfortable, mind-bendingly disconcerting and, at points, outstanding. Track list is hilarious:

  1. King Of Ante Up, Pt 1 03:44

  2. King Of Jesus Walks, Pts 2 & 3 03:51

  3. My 1st Airplane 04:26

  4. Look At The Two-Headed Boy 04:27

  5. The Fool (Skit) 01:06

  6. Miami, 1981 04:15

  7. Communist Mic 04:40

  8. Oh Dougie 05:13

  9. Forgot About Ghost 04:07

  10. Untitled Paint Job 04:09

  11. There Two-Headed Boy Go, Pt 2 04:03

Also, ridiculous cover art.

Via kottke.org.

Jason Snell / Macworld: Tim Cook at All Things D

Jason Snell did an amazing job covering Tim Cook’s interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at this year’s All Things D conference. My favorite bits from Tim are below - secretive on products, opening up on all the other important stuff.

Tim: We’re going to double down on secrecy on products. I’m serious. However, there’s going to be other things where we’re going to be the most transparent company on the world. Like social change. Supplier responsibility. What we’re doing for the environment. We think that transparency is important in these areas, and if we are, other people will copy us.

In the past we did an annual report and that was our method of transparency. Did we do more than others? I think most people would say yes. Our actions were clearly much more. But our communication was once per year. Now we’re putting out monthly reports. We want everyone to know what we’re doing, and we hope people copy us.

Kara: Assess the China situation. You have many critics, not just fictional ones.

Tim: We decided over a decade ago that there were things we could do better than anyone else, and those things we could do ourselves. And other things, other people could do those better than we can… manufacturing was one of those. The operational expertise and engineering and supply chain mgt, Apple does all of that. But manufacturing, we said, you know, other people can do that as well as we can.

Walt: Is that still true?

Tim: I think it’s still true. We went through a lot of effort in taking overtime down. It’s hard, it’s complex. Some people want to work a lot. Some people want to work a whole lot because they want to move and work for a year or two and bring back as much money as they can to their village. We took a position to say we want to bring this down. We’re measuring working hours for 700,000 people. I don’t know who else is doing this. And we’re reporting it. It’s almost like the labor report that the U.S. puts out.

Walt: There’s been a lot of attention in the last month to revival of manufacturing in the US, WSJ today had a piece about wages in US being relatively attractive. You used to have factories in the US. Do you ever see the possibility? You’re a huge company, the most influential company in tech. One of the most in any industry. Will there be an Apple product ever made in the US?

Tim: I want there to be. This isn’t well known, but the engine for the iPhone and the iPad are built in the US, not just for the US but the world. The glass for your iPhone is made in a plant in Kentucky, not just for the US but other markets outside the US. so I think there are things that can be done in the US, not just for the US, but exported for the world

People focus on the final assembly, because that’s the part where people look at it and say that’s an iPhone, they don’t think of all the parts underneath that add significant value. So on assembly, could it be done in the US? I hope so some day. The tool and die maker skill in the US began to go down in the 60s and 70s. How many tool and die makers do you know now? We couldn’t fill a room. In China you’d need several cities.

So there has to be a fundamental change in the education system, to bring back some of this. But there are things that we can do. The semiconductor industry is fantastic in the US. The Corning deal with glass in Kentucky, this is fantastic. So we will do as many of these as we can do.

And we will use the whole of our influence [so] that we can do it.

Golden Gate's 75th Birthday

This just happened. Drove over to Marin with the camera, the 50mm dreamboat lens, and a large, beast of a video tripod. More soon here.

From ABC News Blogs: Cows beer

They’re smart. They’re organized. And they’re coming for your beer.

Police in Boxford, Mass., arrived at the scene of a backyard party on Sunday night to find six cows helping themselves to a table full of beer.

The cans of beer were left behind by the 12 or 13 young adult females who had been enjoying their Sunday night when the cows crashed their party in Boxford, a Boston suburb with a population of nearly 8,000, according to police.

“I could hear them [the partygoers] screaming in the backyard and I hoped they weren’t getting trampled,” Lt. James Riter told WickedLocal Boxford, which first reported the story.

“I saw one cow drinking the beer on its way down as it spilled off the table,” he told the site. “Some of the cows were also picking through the empties in the recycling bin. They just went in and helped themselves.”

Lt. Riter was first put on the cows’ trail around 9 p.m. when the department received a call that six cows were loose in the rural town’s Main Street area. Riter and his partner, officer Joseph Borodawka, drove behind the cows in their cruiser. But that sent the cows off the main road and into the surprised partygoers’ path.

Business Insider: Tar Sands: A View from Above

Another look at the Athabascan tar sands operation, this time from above. The scale of the undertaking — both logistically and literally — is mind-bogglingly immense. From the air, the trucks look like micro-machines playing in the mud. Micro-machines, though, don’t have tires 17 ft tall; they don’t claim to be able to roll over full-sized Ford and Chevy trucks with little effort; they aren’t bucketwheels, the “largest crawling machine in existence”; they don’t cost 40-6000 USD each. They don’t obliterate their surroundings so completely that you can see the whole blighted region on Google Maps (embedded below - zoom in, scroll around).

Two things stand out. First, the whole thing is on the scale of a hellish scene from a Michael Bay Transformers movie — the machines; the muted colors, occasionally splotched with a frightening vibrance; the flames; the mud-spattered faces; the destruction. A disaster, in every possible sense of the word.

Second, and more seriously, the impact here is tremendous. There’s the immediate environmental impact, which is severe. Then there’s the fact that the tar sands contain two times the carbon dioxide emitted by humanity’s cumulative fossil fuel use. The long-term implications of accessing and using this resource, while continuing to exploit our current stores of coal, natural gas, and oil, is nothing short of apocalyptic.

James Hansen, the pre-eminent climate scientist, put it nicely in a recent NYT Editorial.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million to 393 p.p.m. over the last 150 years. The tar sands contain enough carbon — 240 gigatons — to add 120 p.p.m. Tar shale, a close cousin of tar sands found mainly in the United States, contains at least an additional 300 gigatons of carbon. If we turn to these dirtiest of fuels, instead of finding ways to phase out our addiction to fossil fuels, there is no hope of keeping carbon concentrations below 500 p.p.m. — a level that would, as earth’s history shows, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control.

See more pictures from Business Insider’s trip at Flickr. Check out my first post on the Athabascan Tar Sands.

The Bay Lights

The Bay Lights Project will mount 25,000 individually controllable LEDs on the Bay Bridge’s suspension cables. You can see some BLP folks on the cables here, in an amazing video. Seems to be a massive undertaking and a potentially incredible art project. It should draw some pretty neat attention to one of the ‘other’ SF-area bridges.

The artist’s vision is to be able to control the individual LEDs to create a pulsing, mutating, living array of shapes, textures, and light.

The Bay Lights is an iconic light sculpture designed by internationally renowned artist Leo Villareal. This stunning fine arts experience will live for two years on the Bay Bridge West Span, starting with a Grand Lighting in late 2012.

Robert Krulwich's 2011 Commencement Speech at Berkeley

In May of 2011, Robert Krulwich (co-host of RadioLab and Emmy-award winning communicator extraordinaire) gave the commencement speech at Berkeley’s School of Journalism. The whole thing is fascinating, outlining Krulwich’s path into journalism, his interactions at CBS, and his vision for the future of young journalists. As expected, some of it is specific to journalism, but much of it is sagely gold rendered from words. My favorite bit’s below, but the whole thing is, per the norm, worth a read.

Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it.

And when it comes to security, to protection, your friends may take better care of you than CBS took care of Charles Kuralt in the end. In every career, your job is to make and tell stories, of course. You will build a body of work, but you will also build a body of affection, with the people you’ve helped who’ve helped you back.

And maybe that’s your way into Troy.

There you are, on the beach, with the other newbies, looking up. Maybe somebody inside will throw you a key and let you in… But more likely, most of you will have to find your own Trojan Horse. And maybe, for your generation, the Trojan Horse is what you’ve got, your talent, backed by a legion of friends. Not friends in high places. This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength.

Coda 2 and Diet Coda

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Coda 2 and Diet Coda (for the iPad. Great, great name), from the gurus at Panic, are coming out this week! So exciting. Check out the aforelinked pages.

Hemingway in the Paris Review

Hemingway, responding to a question about “the function of [his] art” from an interview published in the Paris Review.

From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?

Seems true for all creative endeavors. Really enjoying the interviews series at the Paris Review.

Zeldman Redesign and Manifesto 2012

Seems many people are on a redesign tear. All focused on readability and putting content front and center, and abstracting other elements to the background — navigation elements, ads, etc. Zeldman’s the latest — and most extreme — case. His site looks pretty amazing (and striking) and probably looks outstanding on retina-calibre displays (to be confirmed in a few minutes). If we believe the following, we’re blessed:

This redesign is deliberately over the top, but new ideas often exaggerate to make a point. It’s over the top but not unusable nor, in my opinion, unbeautiful. How can passages set in Georgia and headlines in Franklin be anything but beautiful? I love seeing my words this big. It encourages me to write better and more often.

But this is my personal site. There are many like it, but this one is mine. And on this one, I get to try designs that are idea-driven and make statements. On this one, I get to flounder and occasionally flop. If this design turns out to be a hideous mistake, I’ll probably eventually realize that and change it. (It’s going to change eventually, anyway. This is the web. No design is for the ages, not even Douglas Bowman’s great Minima.)

I don’t think you will see much type quite this big but I do think you will see more single-column sites with bigger type coming soon to a desktop and device near you. For a certain kind of content, bigger type and a simpler layout just make sense, regardless of screen size. You don’t even have to use Typekit or its brothers to experiment with big type (awesome as those services are). In today’s monitors and operating systems, yesterday’s classic web fonts—the ones that come with most everyone’s computer—can look pretty danged gorgeous at large sizes. Try tired old Times New Roman. You might be surprised.

The present day designer refuses to die.

Gary Snyder in the Paris Review

Beth and I saw Gary Snyder speak at Berkeley in Doe Library a few nights ago. Snyder is among my favorite poets; hearing him speak and read some of his works fulfilled an old dream. He lectured mainly on his acts of translation, interwoven with anecdotes from his past.

This interview from the Paris Review sums up many of the reasons I like the man. A few gems follow (some line breaks added to split up the text):

I guess one’s work as a writer really holds one to the literally physical act of writing and visualizing and imagining and researching and following out the threads of one’s project. However, if one is a nonfiction prose writer or a poet, one is apt to be much more closely engaged with daily life as part of one’s real work, and one’s real work actually becomes life.

And life comes down to daily life. This is also a very powerful Buddhist point: that what we learn and even hopefully become enlightened by is a thorough acceptance of exactly who we are and exactly what it is we must do, with no evasion, no hiding from any of it, physically or psychologically. And so finding the ceremonial, the almost sacramental quality of the moves of daily life is taught in Buddhism. That’s what the Japanese tea ceremony is all about. The Japanese tea ceremony is a model of sacramental tea drinking. Tea drinking is taken as a metaphor for the kitchen and for the dining room. You learn how to drink tea, and if you learn how to drink tea well, you know how to take care of the kitchen and dining room every day. If you learn how to take care of the kitchen and the dining room, you’ve learned about the household. If you know about the household, you know about the watershed. Ecology means house, oikos, you know, from the Greek. Oikos also gives us economics. Oikos nomos means “managing the household.” So that’s one way of looking at it. I understand that there are other lines and other directions that poets take and I honor them. I certainly don’t believe there’s only one kind of poetry.

And then the fundamental ethical precept: whatever you do, try not to cause too much harm.

Bandwiches by John Peck

Imagine your favorite rock band… as a sandwich. My favorites below, but check out the whole list. It is outstanding.

Led Zeppelin: Arum sandwich with hummus, lettuce, 22 thin-sliced deli meats; side of Colman’s mustard.

Bob Dylan: Scrapple, melted pepper jack, hemp-seed garlic bread.

Ted Nugent: Cubed Grizzly bear, white buffalo brisket, unicorn haunch, Jim Beam barbecue sauce, white bread.

Bruce Springsteen: Cheesesteak, peppers, grilled headband, ketchup, seeded bun.

Queen: Fried Corinthian leather, Pop Rocks, sprouts, mayo, baguette.

Prince: Braised peacock cheeks, lavender spread, mustard, mayo, baguette.

Delicious.

Roar your terrible roars... Maurice Sendak (1928 - 2012)

Some gems from the NYT Obit follow:

Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 83 and lived in Ridgefield, Conn.

In book after book, Mr. Sendak upended the staid, centuries-old tradition of American children’s literature, in which young heroes and heroines were typically well scrubbed and even better behaved; nothing really bad ever happened for very long; and everything was tied up at the end in a neat, moralistic bow.

Though he understood children deeply, Mr. Sendak by no means valorized them unconditionally. “Dear Mr. Sun Deck …” he could drone with affected boredom, imitating the semiliterate forced-march school letter-writing projects of which he was the frequent, if dubious, beneficiary.

But he cherished the letters that individual children sent him unbidden, which burst with the sparks that his work had ignited.

“Dear Mr. Sendak,” read one, from an 8-year-old boy. “How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there.”

See some great interviews between Sendak and Stephen Colbert here and here.

The Dark Side

So dope.

An Economic Lifelife of Barley and Hopes

Deschutes County, Oregon may be Mecca for American beer aficionados. There’s Deschutes, of course, but also Cascade Lakes, Bend Brewing, Three Creeks, Boneyard, and Crux. Sounds pretty outstanding - and turns out all the craft beer making has had positive economic impacts. From the NYT:

While places like Seattle and Denver and Brooklyn and Delaware can claim impressive craft brewing scenes, and a weirdly large number of people nationwide now speak of hop fetishes and beer crushes, Bend is a per capita powerhouse. With 80,000 people surrounded by not much of anything — with no Interstate, no university, and the closest major city 160 miles away across steep and snowy mountains — beer has had room to make a difference.

And, from the Oregon Employment Department,

Eight brewers sold 106,115 barrels of beer, 27 percent of the total barrels sold in the state by Oregon breweries and brew pubs. In people terms, local breweries and brew pubs sold 222 pints per Deschutes County resident of legal drinking age in one year. This was more than six times the number sold by all Oregon breweries and brew pubs per Oregon resident of legal drinking age last year. Since 2005, Deschutes Brewery sold at least 20 percent of the state’s total taxable barrels concocted by Oregon breweries and brew pubs.

In Oregon, there were approximately 3,000 jobs at the 94 breweries and brew pubs that reported taxable barrels of beer in 2010. Not all of the 94 businesses on the OLCC list reported employment last year, but 80 firms did report. The reported jobs made up just 0.2 percent of the state’s total employment.

Deschutes County breweries and brew pubs reported 450 jobs in 2010. That is 15 percent of all of the brewing employment in the state. For a county that had 4 percent (one of every 25 jobs) of the state’s total employment that year, one out of seven jobs in Oregon brewing is quite impressive.

One wonders about the sustainability of the enterprise and the potential for dilution of quality by flooding the market with (delicious) niche products. That said, one of my favorites parts about my time in the Pacific Northwest was discovering small, local breweries that don’t sell their beers outside of a small geographic zone. In our increasingly globalized marketplace, it’s nice (and admittedly quaint) to be able to enjoy something at the site of its creation and nowhere else.

Stephen King: Tax Me, for Fuck’s Sake!

Stephen King, just slaying it with righteous anger. I appreciate anyone who can use “bullshit persiflage” and keep on steam-rolling. A few passages from the article below, though the whole thing is worth a read.

Cut a check and shut up, they said.

If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.

Tired of hearing about it, they said.

Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing ‘Disco Inferno’ than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, ‘OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.’ That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it’s not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It’s un-fucking-American is what it is. I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.

Via kottke.org.

Yeoh GH's flickr stream

Cool photographs, all set against a white background with their respective color pallet below them. Nice idea and beautiful implementation. Check out the full set.

The Abominable Charles Christopher

Karl Kerschl’s art in the Abominable Charles Christopher is absolutely gorgeous. He’s styled it as an old-fashioned comic strip which comes out once a week. The stories are funny, poignant, touching, hysterical, and often carry some pro-environment overtones. Highly recommend — for kids big and small.

Composit by Aanand Prasad

I wrote about Pep Ventosa's composite photographs a little while ago. Pretty amazing stuff. Aanand Prasad, a London based developer and designed, created a little tool to create something similar sourcing photos by keyword from Flickr. This is highly recommended -- really neat. The photos aren't as resolved as those created by Pep, but the effect is startling for some words. I tried a few different keywords, but really enjoyed how Dalai Lama (below) turned out. A few others that are pretty neat:

Steve Jobs | Moon | Rose (macro)

DalaiLama.jpg

We're Not Sleeping Here, There Are Dead Cows: Forest Service Considers Blasting Frozen Cows With Explosives

Officials near Conundrum Hot Springs have a literal conundrum on their hands -- what to do with several frozen cows stuck in a cabin?

"We decided we were going to snowshoe to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen," said cadet Marshall Kay, 21, a junior at the Air Force Academy.

"When I walked up to the doorway there was a head," said junior Air Force cadet Cameron Harris, 20. "It scared me. I thought it was a bear initially."

"Cameron got there first and he says, 'Ah, I think we're going to have to sleep on the snow tonight, man. The cabin's full of frozen cows,'" said Kay.

"There's no way we're staying here tonight. The floor is covered," said Harris to Kay during their hike. "And he's like, 'What are you talking about?' and I was like, 'Well, there's dead cows in here.'"

"I didn't know what the heck he was talking about," said Kay.

Perhaps the above dialogue wasn't as ridiculous as it sounds; the way its reported, however, is ridiculous. And, of course, the kicker:

"Finding cattle in a cabin, frozen, is quite unusual," said Steve Segin, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. Segin said the dead cows in the cabin now create a nuisance and a thorny issue concerning how to remove them.

"It's 8 miles in. It's within the wilderness, so we can't use any mechanical means. No aircraft, no helicopters, no chainsaws, no ATV's," said Segin. "They are prohibited."

So the forest service is considering blowing up the cabin, along with the cows inside.

Of course. There's a cabin in the frozen hinterlands full of dead cows. We have to blow it up.

Learned about via Daring Fireball

Update Follow the full store at the following links:
Discovery, March 31
The Challenge, April 16
The Quandary, April 18

"What would David Byrne do?"

Read more about DB + SV’s collaboration here.

A question I ask myself from time to time. Often. More importantly, an official confirmation from Annie Clark / St. Vincent about an upcoming collaboration with David Byrne.

St. Vincent + David Byrne From Pitchfork:

Annie Clark: “… It’s not what I would expect— in a good way— though you will recognize both of us in it. It’s an honest-to-god, straight-down-the-middle thing. He wrote music, I wrote music; he wrote words, I wrote words. He sings half the songs, I wrote half the songs. I’ve never been that closely entwined in the songwriting, arranging, singing, and lyric-writing process with anyone. On occasion, I found myself writing vocal melodies that were very much like, “What would David Byrne do?” It ends up that I’m singing some of that stuff, though.”

“David has this amazing ability to not be critical of anything. He’s so curious and eager that he just throws out every wild idea from A to Z and then there’s this other process where he refines it and picks the best part. It makes him fearless— that’s why he’s David Byrne.”

Can’t wait.

Bay Bridge Lightning Strike

Last Thursday, there was a crazy thunderstorm here unlike any I’ve encountered since we moved. It reminded me of storms back in Louisiana and Georgia — booming thunder, raucous rain, and a lot of lightning.

I went looking for photos from that night o’lightning, hoping enterprising individuals were out capturing it. I wasn’t disappointed - and the photo by Phil McGrew really sealed the deal. Pretty terrifying looking and crazy 20 second exposure. Check it out on Phil’s flickr stream or click here.

Burn: An Energy Journal

It is the fundamental issue of our time: Energy; where we get it; how we use it; what happens then. It powers our homes and our economy; it creates troubled alliances and disturbing divisions; it empowers and impoverishes; it enables almost all that we do and now threatens all that we have become.

The Peabody-award winning SoundVision Productions presents BURN: An Energy Journal, a broadcast and digital project hosted by one of public radio's most trusted journalists and master storytellers, Alex Chadwick. Alex will explore our energy future through the intimate stories of visionaries of research, maverick inventors, industry insiders and concerned citizens. These personal stories will help explain how and why we face an energy crisis, the dilemma of the continuing demand for energy, the realities and consequences of a mostly carbon-based industry and infrastructure, and some possible alternatives and personal/global solutions to an energy and climate future in the coming decades. BURN will follow the quest for Energy answers and the stirring public initiative required to transition to this new energy world.

I'm listening to the first episode now about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster and what it means for nuclear power in the future. Really well put together and reported. And timely. Highly recommended. Listen here.

Pep Ventoso Photographs

Really striking photographs. My favorite collection is "Trees, In the Round," though all of them are spectacular. Of that collection, Ventosa says

"Multiple shots of each tree were taken while walking in a circle around it, then blended together and reworked to discover what became of the orbit - the tree and its environment in the round."

via Kottke.org

Interactive, motion-filled US Windmap

A pretty stunning visualization of wind direction and speed over the continental US. Data is pulled from the National Digital Forecast Database every hour, so the visualization is almost in real-time. And, impressively, they're using HTML5 to draw the map and wind animation.

Beautiful + impressive.

Anchorman 2, confirmed.

Ron Burgundy, on Conan last night:

I actually have an announcement. I want to announce this to everyone here in the Americas. To our friends in Spain, Turkey, and the UK -- including England -- that as of oh-nine-hundred mountain time, Paramount Pictures and myself Ronald Joseph Erin Burgundy have come to terms on a sequel to Anchorman. It is official. There will be... there will be a sequel to Anchorman. There will be a sequel.

Bloomberg Tech Blog: "Now Can We Start Talking About the Real Foxconn?"

Tim Culpan, on 20 March :

There are also things happening at Foxconn that just aren't sexy to talk about: the cheap accommodation and subsidized food for workers, the Foxconn-run health centers right on campus, the salary that's well above the government minimum and other companies, the continuous stream of young workers who still want to work there.

The problem with Mike Daisey's lies is that they've painted a picture of the Evil Empire, a place devoid of any happiness or humanity. A dark, Dickensian scene of horror and tears. They also make anyone who tries to tell a fuller, more balanced account look like an Apple or Foxconn apologist because your mind is already full of the "knowledge" of how bad it is there.

To the public, a story about a 19-year-old shrugging her shoulders and claiming work is not so bad just can't stand up against a 12-year-old working the iPad factory lines. The naïve and youthful smile of a kid having found his first girlfriend at a Foxconn work party pales in comparison to a crippled old man holding an iPad for the first time. Compared to the lies, the truth just doesn't make good theater.

And again, on 23 March:

If one of the most ardent and well-versed groups in the whole labor debate struggles to put a finger on exactly what the standards are for good employment practices, then there's little hope that the rest of the industry's stakeholders can reach a conclusion, let alone actually achieve it.

Some things are clear. Worker deaths are bad. Underage labor, with such ages clearly defined, is also bad. A safe, clean, healthy work environment is good. Social welfare such as health-care and pensions, also good. Student internships are a grey area while that ultimate desire of all workers - a decent living wage - hasn't exactly been solved in the West. So far neither local laws nor industry self-regulation have succeeded in turning these principles into rules the industry will comply with. Meanwhile, neither camp has done anything to compare conditions at Apple suppliers with the rest of the industry, the country, or the rest of the world.

His second set of points hit the nail on the head. We know what's good and bad -- but we don't know how to contextualize what we know about Apple and Foxconn in the larger global picture. More importantly, we're not clear how to move forward. So, yes, we can all acknowledge there's a problem and something needs to be done. But until there are clear standards and actionable, realistic, mutually agreed upon steps forward, the caustic, circuitous discourse will continue.

Mike Daisey: "It's not journalism. It's theater."

Ira Glass, showing again why he's among the best journalists in America today:

I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week's episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory."

Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.

We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors - our friends and colleagues - have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It's trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards.

Friends and loved ones encouraged me to see Daisey's show and listen closely. They pointed to my like of Apple products. I read about it, thought about it, and tried to balance it with the picture of conditions that Apple (and now others) puts out about their industrial hygiene and environmental practices. It didn't all fit, but I made room for it.

Today, then, the shocker -- This American Life is retracting the previous show and dedicating an hour to setting the record straight. Who does this in this day and age? Who makes a public pronouncement of their own fallibility and goes out of their way to correct it in an ethical way that respects their audience?

I'd argue very few do this. Corrections are relegated to the dusty interior pages of print papers and magazines and hidden from online viewers, for the most part, in the nether regions of websites. NPR may be the exception (as a slight aside, their ethics portal clearly and nicely lays out their stance on a number of things, including retractions, social media, and the like).

Looking forward to hearing the show and continuing to support This American Life's breed of ethical, conscientious, and respectful journalism.

One amendment: I doubt working conditions are perfect in Apple's contractor's factories in China and elsewhere. We know that efforts are being taken to improve them. We know that Apple is beginning to be more transparent about what goes on and is working with independent auditors to get some more precise data about working conditions. And we know they have a long way to go to true transparency.

Industrial hygiene and environmental audits of this type are difficult -- they're heavily biased because they are scheduled visits, often with predetermined and specific objectives. What Daisey's conflation of theatre and journalism does, though, is undermine legitimate reports of working conditions. Exaggeration for theatre may be fine, but the maniacal press tour -- with his descriptions of specific chemical exposures, guards with guns, underage workers, etc passed off as fact -- doesn't work. No one will argue that conditions should improve - but for them to improve, we need a true understanding of baseline conditions, actionable interventions to make the situation healthier, and regular reporting to understand how the situation is changing.

Pop Song Carbon Footprints

A little silly, but fun. My favorite is below.

"Light My Fire" by the Doors

The time to hesitate is through. No time to wallow in the mire. Try now we can only lose, And our love become a funeral pyre, Come on, baby, light my fire

Carbon Footprint: A traditional open-air funeral pyre burns for around six hours, using approximately 385 lbs. of wood. A single funeral pyre produces 362.25 lbs. of CO2, though in India four million tons of wood are used annually for traditional cremations.

Guardian Blog: Once the smoke clears: how clean cookstoves can transform lives

Julia Roberts, writing in the Guardian:

Alarmingly, nearly 3 billion people still rely on solid fuels to cook their food each day. When burned in open fires and inefficient cookstoves, fuels such as wood, coal, charcoal and animal waste create a toxic smoke that fills homes and communities the world over.

Two million people die annually from pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and heart disease caused by cookstove smoke, and millions more suffer from these ailments for years, as well as from injuries such as cataracts and burns.

Women are predominantly the household cooks in most countries, and with their children swaddled to their backs or at their side as they cook, the entire family becomes victim to this silent killer.

Before they can even begin cooking, however, women will likely have spent hours searching for wood and other fuel sources. Children often accompany their mother on this journey, which keeps them from attending school or earning an income.

Such a nurturing act as cooking should not put lives at risk. There are effective solutions, which can save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change.

Edits

Amazing new creation by Ian Coyle (a Portland based badass).

Short narratives in film and photography. A quarterly publication.

This inaugural issue is a personal retrospective on the ideas of exploration and home.

(via Daring Fireball)

Ignoring the Megapixel Race

Mark III

Thought I should revise my previous post on this beastly camera, which was addle-brained and pointless.

Some points of interest: the camera only adds 1 megapixel to the count of its predecessor. This sets a good precedent that is arguably happening across the dSLR industry -- a move away from MPs as the ultimate benchmark of performance and a focus on the fundamental quality of the image. This move also offers a clear contrast with Nikon, Canon's biggest competitor in this space, who is pursuing a different strategy with their product lines.

The camera also finally offers 50 and 60 frames-per-second video capability, albeit at a reduced resolution of 720p. This feature has been available on a number of lower-end Canon cameras for quite some time; its a nice / needed upgrade here.

Lastly, the price has been upgraded. $3500 at Amazon. Assume it will come down with time - but that's a lot of money.

Camera Labs sums up the reason photographers and gadget-geeks are excited pretty nicely:

The headline specifications are a new 22.3 Megapixel full-frame sensor with 100-25600 ISO sensitivity (expandable to 102,400 ISO), 1080p video at 24, 25 or 30fps and 720p at 50 or 60fps, a 61-point AF system (with 41 cross-type sensors), 6fps continuous shooting, a viewfinder with 100% coverage, 3.2in screen with 1040k resolution, 63-zone iCFL metering, three, five or seven frame bracketing, a new three-frame HDR mode, microphone and headphone jacks and twin memory card slots, one for Compact Flash, the other for SD; the control layout has also been adjusted and the build slightly improved. So while the resolution and video specs remain similar to its predecessor, the continuous shooting speed, AF system, viewfinder, screen and build are all improved, and again there's the bonus of twin card slots.

Sample shots and videos are available at the following: Canon Japan and dpreview.com (and their preview).

The Old Fashioned: A Complete History and Guide to this Classic Cocktail

Back in November, slate.com published a long, thorough, kind of insanely detailed history of the old fashioned. My favorite part of that actually comes from a Letter to the NYT Editor dated Jan 1, 1936. The author simply names himself "OLD TIMER."

Consider, for instance, the old-fashioned cocktail. Time was when the affable and sympathetic bartender moistened a lump of sugar with Angostura bitters, dropped in a lump of ice, neither too large nor too small, stuck in a miniature bar spoon and passed the glass to the client with a bottle of good bourbon from which said client was privileged to pour his own drink. In most places the price was 15 cents or two for a quarter.

Nowadays the modern or ex-speakeasy bartender drops a spoonful of powdered sugar into a glass, adds a squirt of carbonic to aid dissolution, adds to that a dash or two of some kind of alleged bitters and a lump of ice, regardless to size. Then he proceeds to build up a fruit compote of orange, lemon, pineapple and cherry, and himself pours in a carefully measured ounce and a halt of bar whisky, usually a blend, and gives one a glass rod to stir it with. Price 35 to 50 cents.

Profanation and extortion.

The whole article is worth a read. Check it out here.

NYTimes: Low Tide

Min Jin Lee, reporting nearly a year after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami:

There are two sayings in Japan for when bad things happen: shikata ga nai, an idiom that means "it can't be helped"; and gambaru, a verb translated as "to persevere against adversity." When life doesn't go your way -- a job loss, illness or a romantic failure -- your friend is likely to say, "Sho ga nai" (a variation of shikata ga nai), it's out of your control. If you need a boost before an exam or when your favorite team is losing, you hear "gambatte," you can do it.

Several survivors shown here, their faces carved deeply like woodblocks, withstood wars, rationing, atomic bombs, postwar reconstructions, economic booms and busts and now an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. From the outside, it looks as if the Japanese accept all things with equanimity. But we cannot know if inside, the survivors want to spit at another well-intended sho ga nai.

See the associated slideshow, Faces of the Tsunami.

Arrested for breaking the law of large numbers

James B. Stewart wrote a piece about Apple and the Law of Large Numbers. Maybe the article was okay as a whole, but he entirely misrepresented the Law of Large Numbers, which has ab-sa-toot-ly nothing to do with individual corporations and their future growth projections.

How does this slip by the NYT? How does it get by their legions of fact-checkers, statisticians, and Nate Silver? Shouldn't any mention of statistical theory or mathematical theorems be properly represented by a paper that continually pushes the need for better science and math education?

I digress. A fun piece from Dr. Drang has popped up on the blogosphere about this blunder.

Let's start with what the Law of Large Numbers really states. Put simply, it says that the sample mean of a random variable will tend toward the underlying population mean as the number of samples grows larger. For example, Wolfram Alpha says the average height of an adult male is 5′ 9″. If you measured the height of a few randomly selected men, you might get an average for your sample that's quite far from 5′ 9″. But if you increased the size of the sample, the tendency would be for your sample average to move closer to 5′ 9″.

The law does not state that "a variable will revert to a mean over a large sample of results." The Law of Large Numbers says nothing about individual measurements; it's all about averages. And it certainly doesn't "suggest" anything about the future growth of large companies.

If the Law of Large Numbers worked the way Stewart says, you could repeatedly measure the height of Dirk Nowitzki and he'd eventually shrink down to 5′ 9″. I'm surprised the Mavericks' opponents haven't thought of this.

Read the full article here.

Old Fashioned 101

As the Old Fashioned gets more popular, so do bastardizations of said magical cocktail. The 6 plus step process created by Martin Doudoroff at oldfashioned101.com lays out some guidelines for the creation of this majestic, "simple and sublime drink."

I couldn't have said this better or executed it more perfectly. This is a nice way to learn how to make an old fashioned and a humorous guide for getting started with making the best damn drink on the planet.

Resilience.

TOKYO (AP) -- Last Sunday was the six-month anniversary of the day the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan's northeast coast.

Some 20,000 people are dead or missing. More than 800,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed. The disaster crippled businesses, roads and infrastructure. The Japanese Red Cross Society estimates that 400,000 people were displaced.

Half a year later, there are physical signs of progress.

Much of the debris has been cleared away or at least organized into big piles. In the port city of Kesennuma, many of the boats carried inland by the tsunami have been removed. Most evacuees have moved out of high school gyms and into temporary shelters or apartments.

Last week the Kyodo News agency distributed an amazing group of combination photographs showing three scenes. The first scene is right after the earthquake and tsunami hit, then three months later and finally, how the scene looks now.

Dear Photograph

Socolow: Reflections on Fukushima

Amazing article from a leading energy thinker. A portion is quoted below; I recommend reading the whole thing.

I can find no escape from Fukushima Daiichi. Words I hoped never to read in a news report, like loss of coolant accident (LOCA), exposed core, hydrogen explosion: Here they are. Except for those who can identify ways to contribute directly to the management of the disaster, we scientists have only one job right now -- to help governments, journalists, students, and the man and woman on the street understand in what strange ways we have changed their world.

We must explain, over and over, the concept of "afterheat," the fire that you can't put out, the generation of heat from fission fragments now and weeks from now and months from now, heat that must be removed. Journalists are having such a hard time communicating this concept because it is so unfamiliar to them and nearly everyone they are writing for. Every layman feels that every fire can be put out.

We must also explain the strange temporal features of radioactive spent fuel. Hour by hour, week by week, year by year, one isotope passes grief to a second and the second passes grief to a third. As the tragedy emerges at Fukushima, the moral complexity is overwhelming. The radiation is coming primarily from short-lived isotopes, and it is lethal in hours for anyone who is near the plant. We are watching a civilized society facing Sophie's Choice writ large, as the Japanese government decides how to use workers and soldiers and volunteers at the site, trading their large doses of radiation against an outcome where far more people will face the statistical risks of a shortened life. Evacuation is another part of the agony. So, too, is distribution of iodide tablets to limit thyroid cancer.

Already, however, the next form of grief is emerging: grief that results from ambiguity. Small quantities of radioactivity are being detected in food. Unless a large dread-to-risk ratio is assigned to choices such as whether to eat or not to eat, the experts' models of risk will not match the choices. Inevitably, much more of the same lies ahead, with immense human costs, as measurements on fields and city streets and in buildings confirm contamination with radioactivity. Notably, two rogue isotopes with 30-year half-lives, Cesium 137 and Strontium 90, will be found everywhere, both of them unmistakably attributable to the accident. They will be measurable throughout the lifetimes of everyone alive today. Throughout this century, the poor will live on the contaminated land, eat the contaminated food, and live in the contaminated buildings.

All aspects of the suffering that has come -- and will continue to come -- from the succession of dominating isotopes are familiar to philosophers and economists, to the nuclear power community and its civil defense counterparts.

And unto thee, the white hand of god delivers iPad 2

File it away as possibly incorrect, but I'm guessing that later in the Fall of this year, Apple will drop the 2 from the iPad name and release iPad HD or iPad pro or iPad SOMETHING, marking the first split in this product line. I don't think they'll go iPad 3 -- after all, they declared 2011 the year of the iPad 2.

Update: CLAIM CHOWDAH! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! We're already at iPad (4th generation).

Edouard Glissant (1928-2011)

“…despite our consenting to all the indisputable technologies; despite seeing the political leap that must be managed, the horror of hunger and ignorance, torture and massacre to be conquered, the full load of knowledge to be tamed, the weight of every piece of machinery that we shall finally control, and the exhausting flashes as we pass from one era to another—from forest to city, from story to computer—at the bow there is still something we now share: this murmur, cloud or rain or peaceful smoke. We know ourselves as part and as crowd, in an unknown that does not terrify. We cry our cry of poetry. Our boats are open, and we sail them for everyone. “

Poems available on the web

Promenade of Solitary Death

Country, Highest Noon

Stata Bundle for TextMate

This link is as much for me as for anyone reading this thing. I'm beginning to learn Stata, a statistics software package, as it is broadly used at the School of Public Health at Berkeley [along with a fair amount of SAS and R, just to keep things interesting].

I was looking for and found an updated Stata bundle for TextMate, which works nicely and can be quickly updated and customized.

Thanks to Dan Bylr.

Superconductivity in FeTe1-xSx induced by alcohol

Cue never-ending jokes.

A Japanese scientist who "likes alcohol very much" has discovered that soaking samples of material in hot party drinks for 24 hours turns them into superconductors at ambient temperature.

Dr. Yoshihiko Takano of the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) in Tsukuba, Japan, made the discovery after a party, soaking samples of a potential superconductor in hot alcoholic drinks before testing them next day for superconductivity. The commercial alcoholic beverages, especially wine, were much more effective than either water or pure alcohol.

We found that hot commercial alcohol drinks are much effective to induce superconductivity in FeTe0.8S0.2 compared to water, ethanol and water-ethanol mixture. Both the highest zero resistivity temperature of 7.8 K and superconducting volume fraction of 62.4 % are observed for the FeTe0.8S0.2 sample heated in red wine. Any elements in alcohol drinks, other than water and ethanol, would play an important role to induce superconductivity.

Eric Stoltz is... Marty McFly?

bttf.jpg

This is outstanding. I can't imagine a better movie to see alternate takes with a different actor. Re-releasing in theaters and to blu-ray soon. So excited.

NYT Editorial on Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Great, short editorial in the NYT about the clean cookstove initiatives.

Here is a shocking statistic: nearly two million people -- mostly women and children -- in the developing world die annually from illnesses brought on by breathing toxic smoke from indoor cooking stoves. The Obama administration is rightly doing something about it.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a global partnership aimed at providing 100 million clean-burning stoves to villages in Africa, Asia and South America. That would cover about one-fifth of the 500 million poor families that burn wood, crop waste, coal, even dung, for cooking and heating.

The United States will provide $50 million in seed money to the project, known as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Other countries and private organizations have pledged a mere $10 million to the cause. But, as Mrs. Clinton noted, "we have to start somewhere," and Washington will, and must, press for more.

Researchers have long known of the risks of primitive indoor stoves -- including pneumonia in children, lung cancer, pulmonary and cardiovascular disease. They have also known that these stoves contribute to global warming by producing large quantities of fine-particle soot normally associated with diesel engines and burning down forests.

The replacement stoves are relatively small, simple cylindrical devices costing less than $100 and capable of capturing between half and 95 percent of the harmful emissions. The program will sensibly not use the money to buy and ship stoves but, rather, to create small manufacturing companies close to the target populations -- creating new jobs in the process. This is an ingenious and overdue response to a global problem.

Cee-Lo's vulgar new masterpiece

This track is hilarious, catchy, fantastic, and NOT SAFE FOR WORK. The video’s great; the simplicity and tone work. Awesome.

Perseids, Airplanes, Joshua Tree

perseids

Well, this is one of the dopest things I've ever seen. Beautiful.

Check out the new CMF website

Tons of work. Tons! The new site integrates some fancy custom social networking type features, includes amazing wide displays of student content, and is just fantastic.

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