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Rebecca Taylor
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New July 2013

Yes, Of Course That Was Rape on Last Night’s Game of Thrones

[This post contains spoilers from last night's GoT.] Game of Thrones has been a rape-heavy show from very early on. And it hasn’t exactly been progressive in its take on sexual violence — Daenerys falls in love with her rapist, for example. But last night’s rape scene, in which Jaime … More »

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Ask Umbra: How do I fight my city’s terrible litter problem?

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Q. My city is littered with litter! It is all over the place. I try to pick up litter whenever I am outside, but I am only one person. What other methods can I employ to clean up my city? Blakely S. Boston, Mass. A. Dearest Blakely, Of all the environmental issues out there, you’d think litter would be the one we could all agree to fix. After all, when’s the last time you heard someone argue in favor of greasy potato chip bags in the park or cigarette butts in the harbor? But despite the near-universal distaste for litter, there’s still trash flying around town. Go figure. I’m glad to hear you’re concerned. As you may already know, the litter problem does more than make a neighborhood look, well, trashy. Free-range garbage also makes its way into storm drains, and from there, local waterways, where it can end up in the stomachs of turtles and seabirds. It may attract pets and wildlife, which in turn invites the spread of germs. Litter diverts recyclable items from the recycling plant. And in case those reasons don’t move you – personally, you had me at turtles in distress – littering costs businesses and governments billions in cleanup. That’s a high price to pay for the “convenience” of tossing a banana peel out the car window. Your solo anti-littering crusade is no doubt a positive step, Blakely, but you can multiply your impact with a little help from your friends. One person picking up litter can haul a few bags away, sure, but one person inspiring others to pick up litter is what really gets things done. My best piece of advice? Start recruiting others to your cause. This can be as simple as getting a few friends together, handing out bags, and spending a few hours in the sunshine scooping up trash. You might want to add protective gloves, too, just in case. Earth Day is tomorrow – why not celebrate with a spur-of-the-moment cleanup party? If you’re truly moved by this cause, I encourage you to take it a step further and get organized. Community cleanup events that put dozens of locals on the job will have a much bigger impact (and tend to lend a rather festive air to the proceedings to boot). The nonprofit Keep America Beautiful sets up Great American Cleanup events each year, where you can meet like-minded neighbors while hoovering up garbage in your parks, roadways, and community spaces. Connect with your local chapter here. And if you don’t find a ready-made anti-litter event nearby, well, why not start your own? Keep America Beautiful supplies a bunch of helpful tips for would-be litter moguls, from setting up an organizing committee to choosing a date (hint: springtime is great) to getting the word out around town. One of the best ways to add manpower and publicity to a project like this is hooking up with other local organizations: Think schools, churches, nonprofits, service clubs, Scouts, 4-H clubs, college environmental organizations — any group with a track record of community service is a good bet. While you’re at it, talk to your local businesses about donating snacks, tools, or even T-shirts to your volunteers. Before I get too carried away, let me mention one more step: Have your big cleanup be the kickoff for regular anti-trash events! You and your friends, plus any other groups you recruit, can “adopt” particularly litter-challenged spots and make it your mission to keep them wrapper-free. Not only will you be picking up garbage every month or so, you’ll also be instilling a sense of pride and ownership in your community, which is kind of like mosquito repellent for litterbugs. Don’t forget about the power of social media while you’re planning your event, Blakely, whether it’s a simple get-together with friends or a community-wide shindig. Facebook and Twitter can be great ways to spread the word about what you’re up to, and check out what this enterprising man is doing with Instagram. The more people know, the more they’ll be inspired to join your crusade – and the better off your town (and your town’s turtles) will be. Beautificationally, UmbraFiled under: Cities, Living

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Japanese PM’s shrine offering stokes tensions with South Korea, China

Shinzo Abe’s offering was sent just before U.S. President Barack Obama begins a three-day visit to Japan

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Teen hitches ride to Hawaii in freezing flight inside jet’s wheel well

Teen lost consciousness during five-hour flight in freezing conditions, and it’s ‘an apparent miracle’ he survived, FBI says

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Cubans trace roots to remote Sierra Leone village

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Cubans trace roots back to remote Sierra Leone village

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Rent Joss Whedon’s New Film Right Now Via VOD

Experimenting with digital distribution models seems to be the hip thing to do these days, and now Joss Whedon has jumped on the bandwagon. Following Tribeca’s Sunday night premiere of his new supernatural-romance In your Eyes, featuring Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David, Whedon announced that this was “not just the … More »

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Theater Review: It’s Daniel Radcliffe vs. the Irish Stereotype, In The Cripple of Inishmaan

Who’s the worst Irish on Inishmaan? The competition is fierce. There’s the “newsman” Johnnypateenmike, who extorts food for his paltry gossip while trying to kill off his ancient and hideous mammy with drink. There’s young Helen, as nubile as she is vicious, who enjoys kicking grown men in the bollocks … More »

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Garden centres ‘want’ Easter choice

The government is urged to end restrictions that prevent many garden centres in England and Wales from opening on Easter Sunday.

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Plane search at ‘critical juncture’

The search area for the missing Malaysian plane has narrowed and will be at “a critical juncture” in the next two days, says the transport minister.

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Powdered Alcohol, Coming to a Liquor Store Near You

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Introducing Palcohol, the world’s sneakiest and most efficient way to get drunk. This week, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the powdered booze product, and its makers hopes to unleash it on an unsuspecting public this fall.Read more…

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Captain and 2 Crew Members Arrested After S. Korean Ferry Catastrophe

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After a ferry sank off South Korea last week, leaving over 266 missing and 36 confirmed dead , an arrest warrant was put out for the ferry’s captain, Lee Joon-seok. He and a helmsman, as well as a rookie third mate, were taken into custody this afternoon.Read more…

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BP claims mission accomplished in Gulf cleanup; Coast Guard begs to differ

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BP this week metaphorically hung a “mission accomplished” banner over the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems that it wrecked when the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up and spewed 200 million gallons of oil in 2010. Funny thing, though: BP isn’t the commander of the cleanup operation. The Coast Guard is. And it’s calling bullshit. Here’s what BP said in a press statement on Tuesday, nearly four years after the blowout: “The U.S. Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on the final three shoreline miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon accident. These operations ended in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in June 2013.” Helpful though it may have seemed for BP to speak on behalf of the federal government, the Coast Guard took some umbrage. From The Washington Post: Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, the federal on-scene coordinator of the Deepwater Horizon response, sought to stress that the switch to what he called a “middle response” process “does not end cleanup operations.” “Our response posture has evolved to target re-oiling events on coastline segments that were previously cleaned,” said Sparks. “But let me be absolutely clear: This response is not over — not by a long shot.” The Gulf Restoration Network tried to explain the semantics behind BP’s deceptive statement. “When oil washes up on shore, BP is no longer automatically obliged to go out there and clean up the mess,” spokesperson Raleigh Hoke said. “Now the onus is on the public, and state and federal governments to find the oil and then call BP in.” We get why BP would wish that the cleanup were over. The efforts have already cost $14 billion — a fraction of the $42 billion that the company expects to pay out in fines, compensation claims, and other costs related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It’s a nightmare that we all wish were over — but wishes and rhetoric do not remove poisons from an ecosystem.Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy

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These biologists created a gorgeous film about African glaciers

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Chasing Ice launched a new sub-genre of horror films: Watch big beautiful glaciers melt. OK, that might not sound as date-night friendly as a slasher flick, but, hey, if a kid talking to a wagging finger named Tony can be scary, watching the Arctic melt away is downright terrifying. Filmmakers Neil Losin and Nathan Dappen recently joined the field with Snows of the Nile, a visually stunning documentary about the disappearing glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains (you can watch the trailer here). Losin and Dappen brought a twist to their ice-gazing short by focusing on glaciers where you might not expect them: the tropics. The emerging filmmakers, who both have PhDs in biology and star in the film, got some financial help from a Dos Equis promotion. Snows follows their journey to the Rwenzori, with prints of its glaciers from a 1906 expedition in hand. And yes, as compared to the original photos, the glaciers have changed. A lot. Grist interviewed Losin and Dappen about their respective transitions from young science students to photographers to documentarians — and on beer’s starring role. On liquid courage: Losin: I was a fan of [Dos Equis'] page because I loved The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign. And one day this thing about the “Stay Thirsty” grant came across my Facebook feed, and I thought “wow, I could really use that $25,000 – what could we pitch that would cost that much to do.” Dappen: We already had this idea of documenting tropical glaciers that are disappearing, since not a lot of attention is given to them. Neil started doing research on the topic and he found the Rwenzori Mountains. And then he discovered there was this expedition there in 1906 that photographed the glaciers. We came up with the idea to replicate the photographs. Losin: It turned out when all was said and done, the Rwenzori idea could cost about as much as the Dos Equis grant – or at least enough to get us there so we could get the footage to tell the story. On finding science: Losin: When I was 8 years old, my grandmother gave me an old bird book and a pair of binoculars that she got at a garage sale. And I was just like immediately hooked. I knew from that point forward that I wanted to do science in some way. Dappen: Growing up, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a scientist. But my mom was an agricultural economist working mostly in the third world, and my dad was a doctor and a big adventurer. So I spent a lot of time traveling in kind of exotic locations, like in the new world tropics and in Africa. On finding photography: Losin: My passion for photography also started out with birds, but there’s sort of a barrier to entry for equipment costs to photograph birds because you need enormous, expensive lenses. But ultimately I was able to invest the money into getting a big telephoto lens, and my bird photographs were like the first images that I actually sold into magazines and books. Dappen: I started taking photos in high school – I was really interested in art. I worked a lot in black and white. And then I got a job working in a photo studio and started shooting weddings and stuff like that. During my biology PhD, I still did a lot of that on the side, just because pay is not very high in grad school. On forming Day’s Edge, their production company: Dappen: We met when we were both in grad school, on an eight-week intensive field biology course for graduate students. We both quickly realized that we had a lot in common and became close friends. We talked a lot about science and photography and communication. At that point in time I think both of us thought we’d go into academia and research, but over the next few years we continued to meet up and go on adventures and talk about using our images to communicate science. And it sort of just evolved to the point where we said, “Hey, maybe we could do more with our sort of visual storytelling skill set in science than by actually doing research.” On telling the story of climate change: Losin: We really wanted to make Snows of the Nile more experiential than just beating people over the head with the same messages over and over again. So we framed it in terms of us going on a quest to recapture the images from the 1906 expedition, and the conflicts we have fighting against the weather and fighting against the clock, because we didn’t have a lot of time in the mountains to get what we came for. I also think it’s important to see climate change not just in terms of shrinking glaciers, but also in terms of what that’s going to do to human inhabitants. I think the people from the Bakonjo tribe who helped with our trip were such a great embodiment of the human impacts of climate change in the Rwenzori Mountains. To see the surprise in their eyes when we showed them the prints from 1906 – they knew stories of what it used to be like from their great-grandparents, but most of them had never seen images of it before. On green guilty pleasures: Dappen: Both Neil and I are really big into equipment. When the new camera gear comes out, we’re always excited about buying it, you know? And, finally, on dealing with green guilt: Dappen: I try to set certain guidelines of how to live and what to buy, but for me it’s not the end of the world. I think everybody just has to change in small ways. Losin: There comes a point where it can be your entire life trying to have a lower impact. And I think it’s because there isn’t necessarily an infrastructure to make life easier for people to consume in a way that doesn’t release enormous amounts of CO2. And that’s why I don’t think it should be on every individual’s shoulders – there are things that every individual can do and should do, because it really doesn’t place any undue burden on you, but the most important things might be if we can advocate politically, because then we can make it easier for everyone to live greener. Once we have a certain kind of infrastructure in place, then it doesn’t have to take your entire day to go out of the way and do these things. They become a lot more natural.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living

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No-till farming’s Johnny Appleseed — in a grimy Prius

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Let’s start with Jeff Mitchell’s car. From the outside, it looks like a regular, if slightly dinged-up, white Prius. But inside it’s so messy that it’s hard for me to describe it without sounding like I’m exaggerating. When I say the back seat is packed solidly with papers, I mean that literally: It’s as if Mitchell had pulled up alongside a set of filing cabinets and transferred everything that could fit into the back, carefully filling the leg space until it was high enough to be incorporated into the stack on the seats. The papers are wedged solidly together, three-quarters of the way up to the headrests. There’s some PVC pipe back there too, some metal tools, a power cord, and some luggage. But that’s just what I could see on the surface. On the front dash there’s another layer of files, and a layer of dirt. And again, when I say dirt, I’m not overstating it. It’s not just a patina of dust; there are big clots of mud clinging to the face of the radio. “What can I say?” Mitchell said when I asked about the state of his vehicle. “I’m embarrassed. People say I could just scatter seeds in here and they’d grow.” I was never able to get a straight answer out of Mitchell as to why his car was so squalid, but it’s easy enough to guess. He has spent years driving up and down California’s long Central Valley, from one field to another, asking farmers to sign up to try new conservation techniques. He estimates that the car has driven 600,000 miles, though he can’t say for sure: The odometer stopped at 299,999. The car really does have to function as a high-speed file cabinet, as well as a mobile tool shed and soil-sample transporter. “So, is this basically your life?” I asked, after about an hour driving down highway 99. I was expecting a good-natured gripe about him becoming permanently welded to the driver’s seat. But instead he said: “You know, I’ve been truly fortunate. I’ve been doing this long enough that wherever I go I’ll look out and see a field and think, ‘That’s where we did that one trial, how’s that coming along?’ And there have been some big changes. It’s gratifying. There’s a soil scientist at Berkeley, Garrison Sposito, who says it may be just once or twice in a century that agriculture has an opportunity to re-create itself in a revolutionary way. Now, it may sound way over the top, but I think that’s what’s happening with conservation agriculture. It’s energizing for me to wake up to that every day.” His official title is Associate Extension Vegetable Crops Specialist, but since the early 1990s Mitchell has really been a Johnny Appleseed for conservation, leading an ever-growing band of farmers toward sustainability. The idea driving Mitchell’s work is to develop farm systems that are closer to proven natural systems. That main idea breaks down into four tenets: Don’t disturb the soil; maximize the diversity of plants, insects, fungi, and microbiota; keep living roots in the soil; and keep the ground covered with plant residues. Since 1999, a team working with Mitchell has been demonstrating that it’s possible to do all that profitably. After another hour on the road we reached the University of California West Side Extension and Research Center. Behind a handful of one-story buildings lay a collection of plots that workers have farmed continuously with conservation techniques. Mitchell took me to a field where they had been experimenting with a tomato-and-cotton rotation since 1999: “These beds have not moved, they have not been worked, in 15 years.” This 15-year study suggests that there are real, sustained benefits to the methods that the UC researchers have pioneered. Mitchell waded into the shoulder-high cover crops of one bed. There’s a bed nearby of cleanly plowed soil. The contrast couldn’t be more different. Mitchell knelt in the cover crop, pushing aside the plants. The earth was covered in a layer of duff (dead leaves and twigs). It looked a lot like — well, like any bit of ground that humans haven’t recently scraped. “There’s more organic material going into the soil, more carbon and more nitrogen. There’s more capture of water, and the shade and residue reduces soil water evaporation.” These kind of innovations might seem obvious, but the journey to no-till cotton has been exasperatingly hard. Cotton requires coddling: It has a large seed, but it’s not a vigorous seedling, so often a farmer will knock off a layer of dry soil, drop the seeds onto moist earth, then cover it up. All this requires tilling the field. So Mitchell’s team decided to fine tune a planter to bury the seeds at just the right depth: Too close to the surface and they’d dry out, too deep and they’d never make it up. But when they ran the planter over the field it bounced over dry tomato stalks and dropped seeds higgledy-piggledy. That first year the crop came up patchy. So they started trying residue managers, to push debris out of the way of each seed line, then brush it back into place. Mitchell went to Georgia to see what they were using there. They tried different timing and amounts of irrigation. If they tried to plant while the field was too wet the tractor would turn everything into a muddy mess. If they waited until it dried, the seed wouldn’t get enough moisture. If they irrigated after planting, the soil might form a hard crust that the seed couldn’t penetrate. They made pass after pass, making minute adjustments to the equipment until tempers frayed. “I’m not an argumentative guy, but some of the things have been so trying,” Mitchell remembered. At the end of one of those days, one of Mitchell’s collaborators threw up his hands and said, “This will never work!” But then, in 2004, after years of disappointments, they finally hit on just the right combination of techniques — specific levels of irrigation, fine-tuned equipment, special disk and finger attachments for the planter — and got a beautiful cotton crop. When all the pieces came together, the cotton began producing reliably. And Mitchell also noticed an added benefit: As the years passed, the soil improved, and all this got easier. Instead of the farm equipment needing to break up clots of compacted soil, the researchers found they were planting into soft, fine-grained earth, continuously tilled by worms and roots and microorganisms. Mitchell’s work looks like a clear winner on paper: The yields are now the same as in the plowed beds, and the no-till beds take less work, sequester more carbon, suck up less water, and require less tractor fuel. And yet few farmers have taken up these methods. “When I had the results showing that you can save 16 percent of irrigation water with residues and no till, I thought it would really change things in the Valley,” Mitchell mused. “But it hasn’t seemed to be that relevant.” There are farmers successfully using these methods, but the percentage is still very low. And Mitchell can understand why people are skeptical. The cost savings — for fuel and labor (water prices are too variable to estimate) — are just $70 an acre, which isn’t terribly significant for a cotton farmer. And, as Mitchell knows, there are lots of things that can go wrong when a farmer starts trying new things. That reluctance to change doesn’t slow Mitchell down for long. He knows that surmounting the technological challenges is less than half the battle. The bulk of the work is in teaching people how to do the same thing, and — even more importantly — convincing them that it’s worth their time. And so he gets in the dirty Prius again, year in and year out, adding mile after uncounted mile, and carrying his Johnny Appleseed act across California.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

Saks Fifth Avenue
7 For All Mankind, a division of VF Contemporary Brands
Bren-Books.com, Modern first editions and collectible fiction<

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US iTunes, App Store, iBookstore, and Mac App Store
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Burberry
New July 2013