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New July 2013

Anger over ‘slow’ Korea ferry rescue

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Families of passengers on a sunken South Korean ferry protest angrily over the rescue operation, scuffling with police on Jindo island.

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Obama delays Keystone decision — again

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Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay — and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, “A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana.” The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay: The Obama administration has — again — postponed a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by giving eight different agencies more time to submit their views on whether the pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the Texas gulf coast is in the national interest. The 90-day period for interagency comments was supposed to end May 7, but the State Department extended that deadline, citing “uncertainty” created by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that could lead to changes in the pipeline route. The State Department, which must make the final decision on the permit because it crosses an international boundary, said it would use the additional time to consider the “unprecedented number” — 2.5 million — of public comments that were submitted by March 7. Queue the predictable outcry from pipeline supporters. That includes not just Republicans (though outcrying is their specialty) but also the 11 Democratic senators from red and swing states who recently wrote Obama a letter calling on him to quickly approve the project. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Landrieu, who organized the letter writers. She vowed to use her new position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to force approval. (Good luck with that.) Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from the oil-loving state of Alaska called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice” and said that “the timing of this announcement — waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice — only adds further insult.” Keystone opponents are of two minds. Billionaire climate hawk and campaign funder Tom Steyer called it “good news on Good Friday.” The League of Conservation Voters went further and called it “great news.” The Natural Resources Defense Council seems to agree: The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible. … Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL. The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. But 350.org slammed the administration for its procrastination. “It’s disappointing President Obama doesn’t have the courage to reject Keystone XL right now,” the group said in a release. “It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time — that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it.” Still, the group claimed a partial victory: “this is clearly another win for pipeline opponents.” Anti-Keystoners will, of course, keep fighting the proposal. On Earth Day, April 22, they’ll kick off a Reject and Protect protest on the National Mall. “The encampment will feature 15 tipis and a covered wagon, and begins on Tuesday with a 40-person ceremonial horseback ride from the Capitol down the National Mall,” says 350. “Ranchers from Nebraska, tribal leaders from Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas, actor Daryl Hannah, the Indigo Girls, environmental and social justice leaders, and others will take part at the encampment over the week.” And Steyer has promised to help fund political candidates who oppose the pipeline. Politico reports that he “pledged Thursday to leverage his largely self-funded super PAC to support members of Congress who come under attack for their opposition to the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.”Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

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This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle

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If the words “recumbent trike” make your lip curl, we understand. Weird bikes often seem to perpetuate the myth that cyclists are fringey oddballs disconnected from reality. But the ELF deserves a second glance: A team from Durham, N.C., designed the semi-enclosed, three-wheeled contraption to marry the best aspect of bikes and cars. The result is a low-impact EV that gives you some protection from the elements and plenty of room for groceries. Pedal when you can, but let the solar-powered battery kick in if you’re hauling bags of kitty litter uphill. The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles — farther if you put your thighs to work. The ELF’s main problem is its $5,495 price tag. Then again, if you’re basically getting 1,800 mpg, it could be worth it — more than 300 ELF owners seem to think so. If, like moi, your wimpiness forever prevents you from turning cyclist, velomobiles like the ELF just might be the gateway drug.Filed under: Business & Technology, Living

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“Years of Living Dangerously” host on the climate change stories we need to tell

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If you thought the title of Showtime’s new series, Years of Living Dangerously, was just a reference to the perils of climate change, think again: “I almost died on that show,” one of its hosts, M. Sanjayan, told us when he came into the Grist office earlier this month. Sanjayan helps tell the story of climate change by journeying to exotic places like the Andes and Christmas Island. But when he’s not swashbuckling around the world in the name of the environment and science, he’s still vouching for it: previously, as the head scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and now as the executive vice president of Conservation International. He also keeps the conversation going through media outlets like the Huffington Post and CBS News. We talked with Sanjayan about his brush with death, finding the face of climate change (hint: It’s not a polar bear’s), and coming to grips with the fact that, at this point, we’re going to have to adapt to the hot new conditions we’ve created. And, in our lightning round video at the top of the post, we asked him what we really wanted to know: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye? Here’s an edited and condensed version of our conversation. Q. We wanted to start by asking you about Years of Living Dangerously and any notable, meaningful moments. A. I almost died on that show. Yeah. I was actually ready to quit pretty early on – literally almost died. Q. Wow – what happened? A. They sent me to the Tupungatito glacier in the Andes, on the Chile-Argentine border. It’s a pretty big mountain. And we were going to the top of it and then cresting it and then going into sort of a caldera to look for very old ice, with an ice scientist by the name of Paul Mayewski. He’s a University of Maine professor. The problem is, we were doing this really fast. And so we base-camped at like 10,000 feet and then in a day we went to 20,000. And it’s very steep, it’s very loose, and there were boulders the size of basketballs coming down the mountain. We started with a crew of 12 people total. Four of them didn’t summit, which gives you an idea. There was a lot of attrition. The main camera guy we brought from New York got deathly ill on day two. He had to be evacuated out. So we flew in by helicopter a Chilean cameraman to replace him. He got kicked in the head by a horse, so he was out. So the [assistant producer] took the camera and started shooting. The director couldn’t get out on the glacier; she was just sort of throwing up. And I was like, “I’m going to die. I literally could die here.” Q. Science! A. Exactly. It gave me a real sense that the scientists we were following on the show were going to the ends of the Earth to get data. Quite literally. And they were risking a lot, in very physical terms, to get what they thought was necessary to learn about the future of the planet. Another journey I did was to Christmas Island, the Pacific atoll, with a woman named Kim Cobb. Kim studies coral because coral grows in a really unique way that’s very tightly linked to temperature. So you can drill into the coral head and figure out what the ocean temperature was very precisely. I can tell you November 1972, this was the temperature. Really amazing. And then she uses fossilized coral to go back 7,000 years. Kim was probably in her late 30s, a mom of three, and she’s underwater with a giant, 100-pound drill, drilling cores out of coral. There’s one flight in every week from Fiji and Hawaii. That’s it. M. Sanjayan.Q. Did you walk away from that project with a different perspective on climate change? A. Without a doubt. Look, I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve felt a bit like a fake when I’ve gone out and talked about climate, because I only understood it intellectually. I study it. I read the papers. It was an intellectual argument — it wasn’t a story that I could tell. I didn’t feel it in my bones. I went on Lettermen a few years ago, and he hammered me on climate. He’s really passionate about climate, and he just came at it really hard. And I zigged and zagged and parodied and joked, and kind of got myself out of there. But I knew how I dodged it – he was asking me something really serious that I couldn’t talk about in any personal way. It seemed distant. And so part of this was actually going out with these guys and seeing it on the ground myself. And I came away with the sense that these stories now are real. Q. So would you tell the story of climate change differently now? A. Yeah. I mean it’s here, it’s now, it’s us. Michael Mann recently had a great quote: “We are the polar bear.” And he’s right — I think this show shifts the focus squarely on the human faces; a preacher’s daughter in the Southeast, a rancher in Texas, Indonesian foresters. Real people who are dealing with real issues right now. Q. It seems like the conversation has really changed recently from mitigating climate change to adapting to it? A. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re giving up on mitigation. I think emissions control, a price on carbon, and things like reforestation schemes are all hugely important. But I think focusing on adaptation makes [sense]. It makes the argument much more present. And it’s what people are worrying about — if you’re a Texas rancher, the here and now is way more important to your life than something in the future. And by dealing with the here and now, I think it provides a brilliant entry point to dealing with the long-term challenge. Think about what it was like when, during President Garfield’s time, we realized that there were these things called microbes. They were invisible and tiny and they could really fuck you up. And no one would believe you that [they were] there. Lister in Europe had already figured this out, and it was sort of trickling into America, but not really getting accepted. But when Garfield got shot, he died of an infection — not because of the bullet wound, but because doctors didn’t know about [microbes], and they stuck their finger in the wound. What’s interesting about that anecdote is we didn’t say we’re going to get rid of microbes. Now that we know they’re there, our goal isn’t to get rid of microbes; it’s adaptation. And that provides a much better entry point to then deal with bigger questions of sanitation and public health. You almost see an analogy today with climate change. By focusing on adaptation and here and now, I think it allows you to have the bigger discussion about what’s happening to the planet. Q. I think there’s a thirst now for scientists to become communicators. Where in your evolution did you decide, “I’m a scientist but I’m also going to embrace this role as a communicator.” A. I grew up in West Africa in a very insulated family very far away from any kind of city. And so as a small family, we told stories. I think the storytelling was always within me. It just got married to my passion of science. I think you’re right, though, that more scientists are understanding it. Maybe 10 years ago, 20 years ago, as a scientist your responsibility was to publish a paper. That was it. I think people generally understand now that there’s so many more venues to communicate outside of peer-reviewed publications. And that’s just how the world has evolved. Corporate CEOs are being more communicative now, too, it’s just what it demands. I mean Darwin did that, right? Darwin went and did this big experiment and then sat on his work for a decade plus. And then he communicated it. And then he went on the road with it — literally did a road trip. Q. Still, there’s so much uncertainty about how climate change is going to play out. We can’t even predict what the weather is going to do tomorrow. That’s hard for people to deal with – even folks who know that climate change is a real threat. A. You could look at people and say, “Without a doubt, you’re very likely to die of heart disease. That’s what’s going to kill you.” And they will say, “Great, I understand what you’re saying. I will start my diet tomorrow. I will start exercising this weekend.” Clearly. But I am more optimistic, I think more recently there has been a movement — I do sense that things are changing, and quite dramatically. And this Showtime series will do part of it. I think we’re at a real tipping point, and it kind of depends whether it’s the next two years or the next 10 years. And I’m hoping it’s the next two years. Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy

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£180m scheme for NI social housing

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A record finance deal worth £180m will kick-start the construction of 1,600 new homes in Northern Ireland.

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Bids invited to operate schools at five sites

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Two vacant schools and three new sites are being offered for the development of non-profit international schools. Bids are being invited for use of the sites as part of government measures to boost the number of international school places in Hong Kong. The Education Bureau estimates that the exercise could provide more than 3,300 extra places. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Black rainstorm leaves Festival Walk soaked and reeling from losses

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Rain-soaked stores at a glitzy Kowloon Tong shopping centre have been left counting their losses after Sunday’s freak downpour, uncertain whether insurers will compensate them. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Baoding ready for Beijing overflow

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Baoding, a city just outside Beijing, in Hebei province will create 34 districts to absorb branches of institutes and companies based in the overcrowded capital, authorities say. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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U.N. climate report offers lots of bummer news plus a few dollops of encouragement

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Climate change has broken down the floodgates, pervading every corner of the globe and affecting every inhabitant. That was perhaps the clearest message from the newest report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the latest in a conga line of warnings about the need to radically and immediately reduce our use of fossil fuels. Published Sunday, it’s the second installment of the IPCC’s fifth climate report. The first installment was released last September; the third comes out next month. (If you’re wondering WTF the IPCC even is, here’s an explainer.) This latest installment catalogues climate impacts that are already being felt around the world, including floods, heat waves, rising seas, and a slowing in the growth of crop yields: IPCCClick to embiggen.As we reported when a draft of key parts of the document was leaked in November, the IPCC says current risks will only worsen – risks such as food crises and starvation, extinctions, heat waves, floods, droughts, violent protests, and wars. Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke called the report an “S.O.S. to the world,” reminding us that failure to “sharply curb carbon pollution” will mean more “punishing rainfall, heat waves, scorching drought, and fierce storm surges,” and that the “toll on our health and economy will skyrocket.” But the report doesn’t just focus on climate change’s risks and threats – it looks at ways in which national and local governments, communities, and the private sector can work to reduce those threats. And some of the news on climate adaptation is actually, gasp, slightly encouraging! “Adaptation to climate change is transitioning from a phase of awareness to the construction of actual strategies and plans,” chapter 15 says. “The combined efforts of a broad range of international organizations, scientific reports, and media coverage have raised awareness of the importance of adaptation to climate change, fostering a growing number of adaptation responses in developed and developing countries.” Farmers are adjusting their growing times as they adapt to changing local climates, for example. Wetlands and sand dunes are being restored to protect against storm surges and flooding, drought early-warning systems are being established, and governments are turning to the traditional knowledge held by their indigenous communities for clues on how best to cope with the increasingly hostile weather. But the report highlights a depressingly unjust fissure between the world’s rich, who have caused most of the global warming but can afford to adapt to some of it, and the world’s poorest countries and communities, where countless lives can be ruined en masse by a single unseasonably powerful storm or drought. “Climate change is expected to have a relatively greater impact on the poor as a consequence of their lack of financial resources, poor quality of shelter, reliance on local ecosystem services, exposure to the elements, and limited provision of basic services and their limited resources to recover from an increasing frequency of losses through climate events,” chapter 14 says. And the report highlights the yawning gap between the amount of money that needs to be spent on climate adaptation and how much is actually being spent. Chapter 17 cites a World Bank estimate that it will cost the world $70 billion to $100 billion a year to adapt to the changing climate by 2050 (but notes that these figures are “highly preliminary”). Yet actual spending in 2012 was estimated to be around $400 million. Those high adaptation costs will be out of reach for many of the world’s poorest countries — something that IPCC delegates from the U.S. and other Western countries don’t want you to think about. The New York Times reports that the World Bank’s $100 billion figure was scrubbed from the report’s 44-page summary at the last minute under pressure from rich countries, which have been spooked by poor countries’ calls during recent negotiations for climate compensation and far-reaching adaptation assistance.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food, Politics

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Festival Walk slammed for poor maintenance after flooding

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Festival Walk shopping mall came under fire yesterday, accused of poor maintenance and a slow response to Sunday’s flood, as shopkeepers mopped up. The criticism came as the Observatory warned that heavy rain and squally thunderstorms would continue to affect Hong Kong and the region. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert faces jail after graft conviction

<!– google_ad_section_start –> It is the first time a former Israeli premier has been convicted of bribery in what has been called one of the worst corruption scandals in the country’s history. Sentencing will take place later, but legal experts say such a conviction will almost certainly entail time in prison for Olmert. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

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