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Snowden Regrets Staged Putin Q&A

Even the NSA leaker’s closest advisers now say his appearance on a Kremlin call-in show, which touched off yet another international firestorm, was a mistake.

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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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This Argentinian ranch sticks to the gaucho way of raising beef

In 2012, Jessica Weiss wrote a story for Grist on factory farms replacing grass-fed beef in Argentina. In Argentina, beef isn’t just a food; it’s a lifestyle. We were inspired to seek out a ranch that’s sticking to traditional methods. Join us as we explore La Dos Hermanas Ranch, where they maintain the tried-and-true ways of raising grass-fed beef in Argentina. Filed under: Article, Food, Living

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Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

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Danny E HooksThe oil-spattered Gulf Coast in 2010. How’s it faring now?On the fourth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the big question is whether the oil spill recovery is finally over. According to BP, yes it is. Or at least BP is wrapping up “active cleanup” and headed home to get its life back, only further available if the Coast Guard calls it. But to many of the people living along the Gulf Coast, who still have to endure the aftereffects of BP’s blunder, hell naw it ain’t over. Given the tarballs and the oil that’s still drawing a ring of eyeliner along the coast, not to mention all the devastated dolphins and oysters, it’s an insult to even suggest it. “Today should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP oil disaster,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And ensure that this never happens again.” There are hundreds of unresolved issues on the Gulf Coast, many of them predating the oil spill. With stories spilling in from all over the place, it’s going to be tough sussing out the true grit from the bullshit. Fortunately the good folks over at the Bridge the Gulf blog got you covered. The blog was created in response to the BP oil spill by Gulf Coast residents and activists who have a direct stake in their communities’ recovery. Many of them have struggled under prior Gulf disasters, like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, and the most recent, Isaac. It’s where you can read about Turkey Creek, Miss., the historically troubled black community that’s the subject of the new documentary Come Hell or High Water. It’s also where you can read about a bunch of other places across the Gulf that have been pricked by storms of both the political and ecological variety. Disclaimer: I served as an editor of the blog in 2012, so I’m biased. But as someone who’s a relentless consumer of news from media sources across the Gulf — and who’s written for many of them — I can assure you that you won’t find a grander assembly of authentic voices and primary sources from the Gulf anywhere else on the web. Among the Bridge the Gulf writer corps are people like Kindra Arnesen, who was a first responder when the BP rig initially broke, and also voices from the Gulf’s top community organizations like Gulf Restoration Network, t.e.j.a.s., Women With a Vision, and the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. Bridge the Gulf just relaunched with a new website design, but with the same strong repertoire of Gulf renewal narratives. Below are a few examples of blog’s best content over the years: “On the Road With Cherri Foytlin”: You may have read about Foytlin in Rolling Stone, where she was named as one of “The New Green Heroes” of the fossil fuel resistance — she’s the “Angry Mom.” She walked from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about health problems along the Gulf believed to be the result of the BP oil spill. She’s been a contributor to Bridge the Gulf since the beginning, as a writer, photographer, and videographer, but here is a rare glimpse of her in front of the camera. “Gulf Coast Residents Appalled by Lack of Concern for Safety After EPA Drops BP’s Ban on Federal Contracts”: The whole BP Deepwater Horizon saga is summarized in this nugget from long-time Bridge the Gulf contributor Karen Savage: “The EPA banned BP from obtaining new federal contracts and oil leases from November 2012 until the ban was lifted on March 16th. Last year, the oil giant pled guilty to illegal conduct leading to and following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, including 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of US Congress and violations of both the Clean Water Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts. Through their guilty plea, BP admitted to obstructing an inquiry by the US Congress, providing ‘false and misleading’ information regarding flow rate and manipulating internal flow-rate estimates.” On Friday, the Public Citizen, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and dozens of other environmental groups demanded that EPA against suspend BP from receiving for federal leases and contracts. “What you missed last week at the BOEM …”: People want to know what the federal government has been doing since the BP oil spill to tighten safety regulations around offshore drilling — especially since it has allowed BP back out to drill in the Gulf. Those safety questions have been handled by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management mainly through a series of nauseatingly boring public meetings. Fortunately, Bridge the Gulf editor Ada McMahon made it unboring for us by attending one and then reporting back in the form of a comic strip: Ada McMahonFiled under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics

Continue reading Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

Nigeria teacher in seized girls plea

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The headmistress of a school in Nigeria calls on the government to do more to save teenage girls abducted by suspected Islamist militants.

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Colombia to honour Garcia Marquez

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Colombia announces its own ceremony to honour author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was cremated in Mexico, where he lived for more than 30 years.

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Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz Tour Has Been Officially Postponed

While poor Miley Cyrus rests up in the hospital following a nasty sinus infection and severe allergic reaction to antibiotics, her tour has officially been postponed. Although a recovery is expected in time to kick off the European leg in Amsterdam on May 2, the recently canceled dates (including Kansas … More »

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Now available: 29 flavors of open source seeds, sans patents

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There’s been an argument going on for at least 100 years over seeds. Should they be free? Or should the people who develop them control, and profit from, their use? If they were shared, we’d have a more fluid development of agricultural technology, because all plant breeders could experiment with the best stuff. On the other hand, maybe breeders wouldn’t want to engage in the hard work of experimenting if they couldn’t sell their inventions for lots of money. It used to be that those who bred new varieties of plants shared them freely, in part because it was almost impossible to control them: As soon as someone buys one of your new tomato seeds, he can use it to make a hundred more. As Irwin Goldman, a vegetable breeder at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told NPR reporter Dan Charles, plant breeders used to have a code of ethics that mandated sharing: “If other breeders asked for our materials, we would send them a packet of seed, and they would do the same for us,” he says. “That was a wonderful way to work, and that way of working is no longer with us.” All that changed after seed companies began producing hybrids, which lose their superpowers if you try to grow more of them, and as cash-strapped universities have begun patenting more and more of their seeds. But on Thursday the Open Source Seed Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison released the first set of seeds with an open-source license. It is distributing 29 varieties, including broccoli, celery, kale, and quinoa. The license is pretty simple: It’s just a commitment to keep the seeds, and their derivatives, in the public domain. Instead of the pages of small print that comes with most patent use agreements, this is “almost like a haiku,” Goldman said. But, like the software-industry idea it borrows from, it also effectively commits those who use the seeds as raw material for new products to share those innovations under the same open-source terms. In other words, it’s contagious, in a good way. Jack Kloppenburg (who I’ve written about here) has been one of the main people pushing open source seeds. And Kloppenburg, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, says this initiative is aimed at a larger problem. As with open-source software, these seeds are meant to encourage innovation and allow researchers to build quirky things for small markets. Bigger companies generally specialize their products for the biggest market. Here’s Dan Charles again: [Kloppenburg] says turning seeds into private property has contributed to the rise of big seed companies that in turn promote ever-bigger, more specialized farms. “The problem is concentration, and the narrow set of uses to which the technology and the breeding are being put,” he says. Kloppenburg says one important goal for this initiative is simply to get people thinking and talking about how seeds are controlled. “It’s to open people’s minds,” he says. “It’s kind of a biological meme, you might say: Free seed! Seed that can be used by anyone!” This doesn’t conclude the argument over seeds, by any means; it actually ups the stakes. Commercial seeds used to be naturally open source, and now they are overwhelmingly privatized. The Open Source Seed Initiative provides the opportunity to make what was an academic debate real again. For the moment, university scientists will probably be the main people to benefit from open-source seeds. But if you want some, you will soon be able to buy them from High Mowing Organic Seeds and Wild Garden Seed.Filed under: Article, Food

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A surprisingly pleasant song about plastic pollution

If you’re like the Amazing Mr. Smashing, you’re probably singing and chucking water bottles at sea otters. If so, why don’t you kick some puppies while you’re at it? If not, phew — you’re off the hook. Or not. It turns out that most of the junk in the ocean is plastic, and chances are, some of it’s yours. Don’t worry, some of it is mine, too. The stuff just never goes away! Sure, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over a coupla years, but then fish and barnacles and birds and maybe even weird new microbial ecosystems eat it. The video, by illustrator Edward Ward, was produced by Seas at Risk, a Brussels-based group fighting the good fight against ocean trash. This week, the European parliament passed a resolution to reduce single-use plastic bag use by 80 percent in the next five years. (Sorry, American Beauty fans, get your sublime litter fix before it runs out.) It’s not a perfect victory, since problematic “biodegradable” bags get a pass; still, it could save a lot of choked sea turtles in the long run. Nice work, Europe. Now you’ll have something to hum while you’re bringing your goldfish home from the pet store in a Klean Kanteen.Filed under: Article, Living

Continue reading A surprisingly pleasant song about plastic pollution

Watch the Week in 90 Seconds

From the death of a literary titan to the shooting spree at Kansas Jewish centers to NASA’s discovery of Earth’s ‘cousin,’ catch up on the past week’s biggest stories.

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Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

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You will hear a lot of gloomy reports about the state of the Gulf Coast as we approach the fourth-year commemoration of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20. And that’s fair. BP deserves little cheer in the face of widespread health problems across the Gulf, for both humans and marine animals, and the disappearance of entire fishing communities. Despite what BP is telling us, it ain’t all good. But it ain’t all bad, either. Gulf Coast communities from the Florida Panhandle to Texas’s right shoulder had been through a few disaster rodeos before the BP spill. They’ve survived hurricanes named for just about every letter of the alphabet. And they’ve endured careless and reckless decisions from every level of government, way more than one time too many. Given those past experiences, residents and activists along the Gulf corralled together after the BP disaster to make sure their most immediate concerns would be heard this time around. Region-wide networks like the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health were formed immediately after the spill to harness the expertise of Gulf citizens who often historically were excluded from recovery processes. Through guiding documents like the Unified Action Plan for a Healthy Gulf and media projects like Bridge the Gulf, community members were able to voice their concerns and demands, free of bureaucratic or political filters. These projects gave Gulf residents the opportunity not only to frame the Gulf recovery narrative, but also to influence government-led recovery plans. The result has been three demonstrable victories: 1. The Gulf Coast gets to keep the money: The current civil trial against BP to determine how much the company will pay in Clean Water Act fines won’t conclude until next year, but scientists and legal experts expect fines to total upwards of $20 billion, which normally would be great news … for the U.S. Treasury. Under the Oil Spill Liability Act, such fines are directed to a special Treasury account to be used to cope with future oil tragedies. But Gulf Coast communities said, “Wayment, y’alls oil and gas drillers been foulin’ up our waters for decades. We deserve that money for the tragedies y’all been causin’ today.” The community groups wrote up a new law called the RESTORE Act, which would keep 80 percent of the BP fine money right there in the Gulf, and out of reach of D.C.’s balanced-budget stalkers. Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom says no one’s been able to get anything passed through Congress the past few years. Well, the RESTORE Act passed, and it’s now law. The Gulf Coast keeps the money. Derrick Evans, director of the Gulf Coast Fund, explains it better in this video. 2. Gulf Coast residents get some health care (even as they’re denied the full benefits of Obamacare): Unexplained illnesses have become prevalent in the wake of the spill, particularly among those involved in the emergency cleanup response immediately after. Despite an untold number of Gulf residents complaining of respiratory problems, rashes, and nausea, BP stated it would not hear any health-related grievances through its claims process. In fact, BP publicly doubted that any of the reported illnesses were connected to the oil spill. But Gulf advocates did not let BP off that easy. When the company settled part of its civil case with a party of commercial fishermen and oil workers for $7.8 billion in 2012, activists were able to finagle a $105 million carve-out for health centers to be built in every Gulf state. These new health facilities will provide services to all Gulf residents, not just those directly impacted by the oil spill, and also epidemiological training for doctors so they can better monitor for spill-related illnesses as they surface over time. “These communities gave input early on that helped to shape the program that is now coming back to provide health services to them,” says Steve Bradberry, executive director of The Alliance Institute, which helped facilitate the community input. Another silver lining here is that the new health centers, some of which are just now coming online, are being built in states where the governors have turned down federal funding to expand Medicaid. 3. You don’t have to rely on Anderson Cooper for your Gulf news anymore: When disaster strikes the Gulf, national media forces like CNN and The New York Times drone in to capture the melee, then disperse at the first sign of another news story elsewhere in the world. And then Spike Lee comes and shoots a documentary, and it’s a wrap. But that’s not the whole picture anymore. Gulf residents have taken their stories into their own hands, eyes, and voices, mainly through documentaries. The result is what film scholars will hopefully one day recognize as the definitive canon of cinematic Gulf tales of survival. I’ve written about a couple of them, such as Leah Mahan’s Come Hell or High Water and Nailah Jefferson’s Vanishing Pearls. Add to that list Monique Verdin’s My Louisiana Love and Margaret Brown’s The Great Invisible. Then offscreen there’s Cry You One, a play that takes its audience directly to the bayous and wetlands of Louisiana for its narrative — literally. These stories — along with those told in the hundreds of local blogs, news outlets, and books that have sprouted in the past few years — will give future historians a view from the ground of what restoration looked like, who benefited, and who was excluded.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

Continue reading Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

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

Continue reading Obama delays Keystone decision — again

For Sale: The Scariest Island Ever

One Venetian island is the stuff of campfire ghost stories—piles of dead bodies burned, hauntings by plague victims, and a home for the insane. And now, for a price, it can be yours.

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Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted

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When Keith Seilhan was called in to coordinate BP’s oil spill cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the senior company official and experienced crisis manager looked at the situation and thought, “Fuck this.” He dumped his family’s $1 million worth of BP stock, earning a profit and saving $100,000 in potential losses after the share price tanked even further. But Seilhan knew something that other investors did not know when he made that trade. The company was lying to the government and the public about the amount of oil that was leaking from the ruptured well — by a factor of more than ten. And the feds say that doesn’t just make Seilhan an awful person — it means he was engaging in insider trading. Charges and a settlement were announced Thursday. “The complaint alleges that within days, Seilhan received nonpublic information on the extent of the evolving disaster, including oil flow estimates and data on the volume of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf,” the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in its announcement. Without admitting or denying guilt, the Texan, who has since left BP, agreed to pay the government a penalty equivalent to double the $105,409 that he allegedly gained through the trade.Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy

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The week in GIFs: Mark Ruffalo edition

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Mark Ruffalo won our “Who’s your fave green celeb” poll, plus we’re way overdue to stare at gifs of him. Power plants lost their legal bid to douse you with mercury: TumblrThere’s now a gnat named after Bill McKibben: TumblrThe IPCC report was censored: Fracking can make you sick in a number of different ways: TumblrVermont is about to mandate GMO labels on food: GiphyAir pollution disproportionately affects people of color (even though they aren’t causing as much of it): TumblrAirbnb can make your dreams of running a brothel come true: TumblrThanks for being awesome, Ruff. GiphyFiled under: Living

Continue reading The week in GIFs: Mark Ruffalo edition

Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies

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I used to bike like everyone was trying to kill me. I was fresh out of college and had moved to San Francisco to seek my fortune, only to discover that the city’s public transit system was more of a simulacrum of a system than something that actually got me reliably on time to my job — or, let’s be honest, jobs. Living in the city required a lot of jobs, and sometimes the bus came and sometimes it didn’t. So I started biking. Even if drivers didn’t bear any malice towards me — and almost none of them did — I learned to regard them with caution. They were bored. They were tired. They were steering 3,000+ pounds of metal powered by a combustion engine, but they spent so much time there that they behaved like it was their living room. (I looked over, once, and saw a woman in huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, eating corn on the cob and driving with her elbows.) It is because of this experience that I view the recent news that California’s Department of Transportation has signed on to the National Association of City Transportation Officials guidelines for street design with unmitigated delight. NACTO is the kind of agency that rarely makes the news — probably because it’s dead boring. But to those interested in the future of our cities, NACTO is also an illustration of how local governments can have much more power than they initially seem to. Cities are often more progressive than the states that surround them. And while city governments that set out to plan for a future that will have more bike traffic and public transit and fewer personal automobiles can be jerked around by their states, they can also make inroads against more conservative state and national policy. In the case of NACTO, they accomplish this by working together to form a giant multi-city Voltron. In 2007, a traffic engineer in Portland, Ore., named Rob Burchfield set out to design away a particularly common car/bike accident – the one in which a car turns right without noticing the cyclist in the right-hand bike lane coming at it. The fix he developed — brightly marking off a specific box for cyclists that leaves them in front of any car, in the driver’s line of vision — was common in Europe, but not in the U.S. Burchfield encountered some red tape from the Federal Highway Administration for his decision. It was the last straw for Burchfield. He’d come up with the designs in response to two fatal accidents that had occurred within a two-week period. So he partnered up with Portland’s former city bike coordinator, Mia Birk, and began compiling a set of street design guidelines that they called Cities for Cycling. Portland was a member of NACTO, and it persuaded the group to adopt the standards for their own. Anyone designing roadways is trying to do so with an eye towards avoiding lawsuits or unwanted attention from the Federal Highway Administration for getting too creative. By adopting the Cities for Cycling guidelines, the cities of NACTO saved themselves the hassle of designing their own individual standards for, say, what is the appropriate signage for a contra-flow bike lane. In the process they also created a grassroots urban policy that could someday be adopted by the federal Department of Transportation and become truly national policy — instead of just a set of standards that happens to have “National” in its name. When I began biking, San Francisco seemed like a city primed to become the bike capital of the country. It was only seven miles square, it had nice weather, and it was full of both hippies and people who liked to exercise compulsively. (The hills, you say? They added drama. Plus, they were easy to cut around.) But creating bike safety infrastructure, like bike lanes that were separated from car traffic, was a process that took much, much longer than I, in my idealism, ever expected. Often, at the last minute, changes would be overruled. Or they’d have to go through an $900,000 Environmental Impact Review. Or they’d just be taken out altogether, because Caltrans had declared that a road was too critical to car transportation to put in a bike lane. According to the categorization developed by the Portland Department of Transportation, I, as a young cyclist in San Francisco, was one of “The Strong and the Fearless.” This sounds like a soap opera, but in reality describes the 0.5 percent of the population who will ride a bike regardless of the dangers of the road they are traveling. As cities have put in more bike lanes, they have brought out onto the road more of the cyclists classified as “The Enthused and Confident” – the 7 percent who are happy to take on the risks of cycling, as long as there’s a bike lane. Cities that are serious about making it safer to bike are now going after a tougher crowd: the 60 percent of the population that actually fears death on two wheels. The elderly. Parents with kids. People who haven’t been on a bike since they were kids. To accomplish this, communities face the prospect of going back into the bicycling infrastructure that they’ve already built and changing it even further — taking out street-side parking that can result in cyclists being hit by car doors; adding concrete barriers between car traffic and bike traffic; even making entire streets bicycle-only. That’s going to be a massive project. As of this month, San Francisco — and any other city in California — is one step closer to it.Filed under: Article, Cities, Living, Politics

Continue reading Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies

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

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

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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How BP turned a whole community into an endangered species

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Shawn EscofferyOystermen of Plaquemines Parish, La.Whether you live in Seattle, Baltimore, or Schenectady, N.Y., if you’ve had an oyster dish, chances are the shelled delicacies came from the Gulf of Mexico, most likely off the Louisiana coast, which produces a third of the nation’s oysters. Crabs? Hate to break it to you, but those luscious “Baltimore” crab cakes — yep, those are from Louisiana too. This has been a fact for a long time, but it might soon become an artifact. The reason: the BP oil spill disaster of 2010, which dumped over 205 million gallons of oil and another 2 million gallons of possibly toxic dispersants into the Gulf, devastating the area that’s responsible for 40 percent of the seafood sold commercially across the U.S. For the end user, this just means Maryland chefs actually using Maryland crabs again. But on the supply side, this means that whole communities of fishers along the Gulf Coast have been put out of business, their livelihoods ruined. Oystermen have fared among the worst in that bunch, notably the African-American oystermen who live and work in Plaquemines Parish, on the lowest end tip of Louisiana. They used to harvest a great deal of the shellfish that eventually adorned our restaurant plates, but the impacts of the BP disaster have proven too difficult to rebound from. They’re now facing “zero population” of oysters, as one seafood distributor put it. For too long, these black oystermen have been invisible not only to the nation they serve but also to the state they live in. The new documentary Vanishing Pearls from first-time filmmaker Nailah Jefferson hopes to raise the oystermen’s visibility and also our awareness of their value in our national economy and environment. Nailah JeffersonJefferson, a New Orleans resident, began making the film shortly after the BP disaster, based off a friend’s tip. She followed that tip down to Pointe à la Hache, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, where a small community of black fishers live and have subsisted off the bays there for decades. (You can read more about them in this story I reported shortly after the spill.) After meeting them, Jefferson immediately concluded that the hardscrabble men and women here deserved more shine, especially in the face of a disaster that threatens to destabilize their lives with little remedy. Vanishing Pearls makes its national debut on April 18 in New York and Los Angeles. It’s the culmination of more than three years of work by Jefferson, filming and reporting on the BP disaster’s impacts long after the rest of the media shifted their focus elsewhere. The documentary was featured this January at Slamdance, the Utah-based film festival known for showcasing breakout films that Sundance slept on. Christopher Nolan and Lena Dunham are among the directors discovered at Slamdance. Slamdance also helped Jefferson catch the attention of Ava DuVernay, founder of the pioneering film distribution company African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), and the first African-American woman to win the Sundance Best Director prize for her 2012 film Middle of Nowhere. With DuVernay’s power behind the project, Vanishing Pearls will now throw more shine on the struggling black oystermen than Jefferson originally imagined. Friday’s opening coincides with the four-year commemoration of the BP disaster. I was able to catch Jefferson by phone from her home office in New Orleans to discuss her filmmaking experience and the fate of these oystermen. Q. So how does it happen that entire communities are just rendered invisible? A. Because they don’t matter enough. It’s about the money. Down there in Pointe à la Hache, you have a fishing community that has contributed so much to our state, our identity, and our economy. But what contributes more is oil and gas, and fishing has historically been in the way of the growth of oil and gas. So when up against the industry, they don’t matter. [The oystermen] know that, that the terms are unbalanced in favor of the oil and gas industry, but I don’t think they thought that a natural disaster would come and wipe out entire portions of their livelihood also. We will continue to drill, because it’s just a way of life here, but I think the state needs to work harder to strengthen regulations so that if another disaster occurs, it won’t wipe out the remaining estuaries that are still thriving. Q. While your film is about people and communities, you didn’t shy away from breaking down the environmental toll of the BP disaster. Did you personally have much background in the science? A. No, it was a steep learning curve. I interviewed Dr. Ed Cake, who’s one of three well-known oyster biologists in the Gulf Coast, because this is absolutely not my field. But I felt that if this was a story I was going to tell, I’d better dive in and figure it out. I didn’t want to bog people down with the science, but if you don’t grasp even a little bit of it, then you won’t get the whole story. Q. You show that the oyster beds were exposed to some oil and dispersants. How do you deal then with the question of whether seafood is safe to eat? A. The best way I can describe it is the way Dr. Cake explained it to me: Oysters are like the canaries in the coal mine. If they’re able to survive, thrive, and reproduce, then the waters are OK; if they’re not, then the waters are unhealthy. At the time that the spill had occurred, the dispersants had been sprayed, but the full effects hadn’t played out yet. So there were still oysters that could be harvested in that area. The last of that harvest came in late 2011. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department put a hold on fishing, closing the public [oyster bed] grounds for a long time, and then when they opened them back up, those guys went out and harvested the last of what survived. There hasn’t been much left. Q. The oystermen come across as the real scientists in your film. A. I think when people think of fishermen, they think of simple bayou people who aren’t educated. Perhaps they haven’t been in school for the longest time, or they don’t have post-grad degrees, but they are very much knowledgeable about what they do, and it’s something they’ve done for years. I wanted to show that their work is more complicated and harder than people think. You have to have a certain type of intellect to get this work and be successful at it. Q. You find many of the oystermen in the film talking about generational instructions on how to harvest oysters sustainably. Did you get the sense they were natural environmentalists? A. Yes, it was clear from when I first met them that these are the real environmentalists, because they actually have to live off the land and water. It really is in and of itself a science that’s been passed down to them, and I think it’s their passion for this work that makes them want to remain bayou residents. Q. Despite their expertise, they’ve had to play defensive with scientists and environmentalists, notably those who under the Louisiana coastal master plan want to use freshwater diversions to replenish the eroded marshlands, even though this will ruin what’s left of the oyster beds. Did you sense that professional environmentalists respected these fishers’ expertise at all? A. There isn’t proof that these freshwater diversions will work or will be as beneficial as stated. People have told them, “Look, you’re going to have to sacrifice for the greater good of the state.” If the diversions were something proven to work, then it probably wouldn’t be such a harsh pill to swallow for them. It’s not that the [environmentalists] know better [than the oystermen], they just understand things differently. We need a more collective approach moving forward. Q. What can people do after seeing your film if they want to help? A. One reason I signed with AFFRM is that they are very supportive of social advocacy campaigns. We’ve already launched one and hope to do more around supporting efforts to clean up the spill and make sure regulations are tighter so that we don’t have this kind of occurrence again. We have a petition you can sign encouraging EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to support efforts to tighten regulations under the Clean Water Act so that our streams and tributaries going into the Mississippi River won’t be polluted — and also, of course, so those communities who rely on those waters will be able to have healthy water again. —– Watch the trailer for Vanishing Pearls: Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living

Continue reading How BP turned a whole community into an endangered species

Chris Christie is still trying to force a pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands

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In January, on the heels of the embarrassing revelation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) staffers created a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish an obscure political rival, Christie and his allies were handed a defeat. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected a proposed 22-mile natural-gas pipeline that would go through a national reserve of forests and wetlands. Though Christie went so far as to bully a commissioner who was skeptical of the pipeline into recusing himself from the decision, that wasn’t enough to secure approval. But now the pipeline is back. The state’s leading power brokers want the commission to reconsider and are pressuring commissioners to change their votes, working both behind the scenes and through public statements and symbolic votes in county and town legislative bodies. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, “A growing number of elected officials from Gov. Christie to lawmakers including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) have joined county freeholders and township officials in support of the project. They are considering ways of returning the issue to the Pinelands Commission, possibly as a ‘compelling public need’ for energy security and scores of jobs.” The promise of merely “scores” of jobs in a state with 8.9 million residents is a clue that job creation is not the real issue. One of Christie’s top cronies is involved in the proposal. The law firm of David Samson, whom Christie appointed as chair of the Port Authority, represents Rockland Capital, owners of the power plant that the Pinelands pipeline would supply with natural gas. As Wayne Barrett noted in the New York Daily News, “Christie … was so eager to help Rockland that his [Department of Environmental Protection] and Board of Public Utilities (BPU) decided to support the pipeline, paid for by rate increases, despite that the fact that … it would run underground through 15 miles of the million-acre Pinelands, the country’s first natural preserve and a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.” (Samson resigned from the Port Authority last month after the Bridgegate debacle and media reports that he is under federal investigation for lobbying for companies with business before the Port Authority.) The B.L. England power plant, which would be served by the pipeline, currently burns coal. Christie’s Democratic predecessors had forced it to sign agreements to reduce its pollution or switch to natural gas. The Christie administration gave it a reprieve until 2015. Switching from coal to gas could be beneficial to the climate — when burned, gas emits roughly half the CO2 that coal does (though that’s not so impressive compared to wind or solar). But in practice, natural gas drilling operations and pipelines often leak methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, which can neutralize any climate benefit. And beyond climate change, the pipeline would pose obvious threats to the local environment. Environmental critics say the proposal has such strong backing because the beneficiaries, such as Samson, are politically connected. “It’s not the jobs, it’s the power,” says Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Tittel also speculates that Christie, seeking support from anti-environment conservatives in the Republican presidential primary, is trying to bolster his pro–fossil fuel bona fides. “The governor had been pro-wind until he went national,” says Tittel. “This [project] is in the middle of an area that was set aside for big wind farms. Cheap gas power will kill offshore wind.” The Christie administration did not respond to a request for comment. Environmentalists and neighbors would like to see the B.L. England plant shut down. Ironically, climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, makes its shoreline location especially precarious. “The power plant is in an area that floods with storm surges,” notes Tittel. And the plant is a blight on the shore. “It’s a big ugly smokestack in a scenic area, Ocean City, which is a tourist hub,” Tittel says. If you decommissioned the plant, Tittel argues, you could create more jobs with development of condos, hotels, and restaurants in the area. (Although any development in a future flood plain could be risky, power plants are especially vulnerable to a storm surge, as all of Lower Manhattan learned when it lost power for days after a transformer station on the East River got hit during Superstorm Sandy.) Unfortunately, New Jersey politicians are notorious for making these types of decisions on the basis of cronyism rather than empiricism. Christie’s latest heavy-handed tactic was to veto 5 percent raises for the Pinelands Commission staffers.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

Continue reading Chris Christie is still trying to force a pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands

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