Liberalism, Leadership, & The Fourth Estate

9780374279622_custom-5d7f03d8b126fd10509c68fad812ee37387aae6b-s600-c85When we started this platform in 2011 our primary interest in the Guardian was its excellent environmental reporting, and at least one opinion writer whose 2012 environmental views made him regularly welcome in our pages ever since. Today I can amplify how important this newspaper is based on an interview I just listened to with its former longtime editor, the author of this book to the right.

He mentions several points that I have been prone to believe over the last two decades, particularly about the poisoning of the well of public discourse by Rupert Murdoch’s approach to the business of media.

In the classic sense of liberal perspective that should make me think twice, so as not to lean into my own biases. He also helps me to understand the quite unique value of the Guardian, which I was also already prone to believe. Their endowment and general funding model, which I had only vaguely known about, is well explained in this interview and frankly, difficult as it is to be these days, inspiring. Careful as I may be about confirmation bias, I pass this suggestion along; listen to the interview here (just over half an hour), or read the summary below:


On Dec. 3, 2013, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger faced questions from the British Parliament about his newspaper’s decision to publish material leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Alan Rusbridger knows a thing or two about high-stakes journalism.

During his 20-year tenure running the British newspaper The Guardian, he collaborated with NSA contractor Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on blockbuster stories drawn from secret government documents. Though Rusbridger left The Guardian in 2015, he remembers the stress vividly.

“We were publishing every minute of the day around the world,” he says. “It’s a matter of deadlines and never enough information and people trying to sue you and generally harass you.” Continue reading

A Story That May Make Your Day


FMBeets.jpgThe view above is a stretch of Continental Divide passing through Costa Rica’s central valley. The snapshot is taken from the road close to our home. I hike these mountains most mornings. On Saturdays I visit the farmer’s market in the town square. Beets were on my shopping list this week. One of the very few culinary banes of my youth, beets are now a favorite. A single shot glass of borscht, served to me in Leeuwarden, Holland solved that problem for me in 2004.


Pejibaye, a fruit from one of the many palm varieties growing in this region, is considered a local staple. We find that it has a resemblance to chestnut, so we use it to prepare stuffing to accompany the roasting of something or other on the fourth Thursday of November.

FMDragonFruitThis time of year dragon fruit appears and if it is a sunny morning their color is motivational. That is, I find their color energizing.

But something about the name must explain why, as with beets in my youth, I have not been motivated to eat this fruit.

I am waiting for someone to demonstrate the best way.


I listen to a mix of music and podcasts during the mountain walks. Music energizes the steep uphill grinds while podcasts fill the downhills and straightaways, where I can concentrate. I recommend clicking on the My Ames Is True tab here and I also recommend not reading the blurb describing what it is about. Enjoy the surprise. This podcast is best listened to with no introduction, except for the fact that it is told by Michael Lewis on This American Life. It may make your day.

Podcast Proliferation

VoxPodNearly one month ago, Vox launched a new way for us to source stories. We have sourced from their website when the story fits our mission. For us to scan the news daily and link to at least one article or book review or other media that seems consistent with our mission, we increasingly bump up against the fact that producers of and channels for accessing relevant information seem to be increasing faster than we can possibly keep up.

Today we sampled from their sonic venture, a story about changes way up north, wrought by climate change, geopolitical ambitions, head in the sand-ism and other intrigue. Finding an episode like this one stretches our horizons in a healthy, productive manner:


There’s a new Cold War being fought in the North Pole between the United States and Russia (but also China, Finland, Norway, Canada, Greenland and more). Fueling the battle is the melting Arctic, which just had its warmest winter in recorded history. Vox’s Brian Resnick gives us the science before Yochi Dreazen takes us to the war.

It must also be mentioned that having outlets we trust recommend other outlets is a must. And here is an example of one we appreciate:

“Today, Explained”: An Edgy New Vox Podcast to Compete with “The Daily”



Hosted by Sean Rameswaram, the Vox podcast “Today, Explained” feels funny, knowing, and energetic—which, in this news climate, isn’t easy. Photograph by James Bareham / Vox Media

Podcast-wise, 2017 was arguably the year of “The Daily,” the beautifully produced, gently voiced narrative-news offering from the Times, hosted by Michael Barbaro, which started last January and quickly became indispensable. The show, which parses a different news story in each episode, through a conversation with a reporter or other guest, then delivers a brief news roundup, has sufficient perspective and empathy that it produces in its listeners an intoxicating, if temporary, feeling of sanity; by now, its theme song alone cues in me a Pavlovian calm. The show garners 4.5 million unique listeners each month; in April, it will expand to public-radio syndication. Continue reading

Longform Escape & Corrections


There are two dynamic illustrations in this piece by David Samuels that cannot be replicated here, but are worth visiting the website of The Atavist for, so the images above and below are placeholders. Anyway, the words are the thing so I take a paragraph from near the end as an example of why to read this:

…In the 1970s in Brooklyn, where I grew up, pigeons were everywhere, which is probably why I am here. Some of my earliest gray-scale memories include pigeons, which fluttered and occasionally nested on the windowsill of the first place I was aware enough of to call home, a housing project near the Brooklyn Bridge built for working families like mine. There was a bona fide pigeon coop on the roof of a building nearby, like in the famous scene from On the Waterfront. Sometimes I could see a man on the roof waving a flag, which in my imagination was red but in fact could have been any color. The pigeons he guided back to their loft every night were a promise of safety that New York City in the 1970s was obviously unable to keep, which is why my parents moved to the suburbs, where the birds in the trees outside my window twittered and cooed in foreign tongues that signified nothing…

I am not surprised that this is the article on their website that I gravitated to. The author wrote an item in the New Yorker at a time when I was just completing many years of work in Montenegro and Croatia, and I knew the landscape he was describing well, and still he brought the place alive for me in a way that living there had not. He does not need photos, gifs, or other illustrations to make his words dance better. And in this piece he does something even more magical, providing a correction for me.

Seven years in south India had at least one unexpected effect on me, and it is embarrassing. I developed a passionate dislike for pigeons. Pigeons caused continuous problems in one of the properties we developed and managed, an urban location pigeons loved as much as people. And pigeons express their love in messy ways, so they became my bane. At our home, pigeons would coo on the window sill and I remember that at the time I posted this, which was peak pigeon problem, my enthusiasm for conservation was red hot but I had an unwanted, guilty ability to imagine why passenger pigeons disappeared. Reading David Samuels just now, I have snapped out of that.

pigionssa-1436823680-87 Continue reading

Family, Editorializing, Persistence


A front page screen shot of Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, which has won a Pulitzer Prize. Photograph: Storm Lake Times

There seems to be a tradition in the field of journalism in the USA whereby one publication celebrates another’s victory in the Pulitzer awards race. Thanks to the Guardian for its shout out, from across the water, to this little publication. As a member of a small organization with multiple family members working together; an organization that editorializes about food as much as anything else; an enterprise that persists against the odds; I particularly like the David & Goliath ring of this:

Tiny, family-run Iowa newspaper wins Pulitzer for taking on agriculture companies

Art Cullen owns the 3,000-circulation Storm Lake Times with his brother John. His wife and son also work at the paper Continue reading

The Future Of News

2503_cover_beigeThe purpose of this, where I am typing this just now, is to share information. Sometimes that information comes in the form of a personal story, which is highly subjective but informative about the challenges, the innovations, and accomplishments related to conservation and the wellbeing of communities around the world. We depend on the New York Times for this kind of information every day, and more days than not we link out to stories they publish related to the environment, community, or other topics of interest on this platform; so this story matters to us:

ARTHUR GREGG SULZBERGER doesn’t remember the first time he visited the family business. He was young, he says, no older than 6, when he shuffled through the brass-plated revolving doors of the old concrete hulk on 43rd Street and boarded the elevator up to his father’s and grandfather’s offices. He often visited for a few minutes before taking a trip to the newsroom on the third floor, all typewriters and moldering stacks of paper, and then he’d sometimes go down to the subbasement to take in the oily scents and clanking sounds of the printing press. Continue reading

Model Mad, Magazine


Mother Jones staffers celebrate after winning the 2017 Magazine of the Year award.

We are not normally watching awards shows, but this story catches our attention because of some notable winners in the world of magazines, some of which we monitor regularly for stories relevant to our purpose. And in particular at this moment, when we have been monitoring the news for examples of creative protest, we realize that we had neglected or avoided some of these publications because of their partisan positioning (there is enough of that without our joining in). But this magazine today joins our list of regularly monitored sources because they have been relentlessly pursuing important stories, for a long time: Continue reading

Thank You, Guardian & John Vidal


Vidal visiting the experimental solar thermal power plant on the outskirts of Masdar, UAE, in 2011.

When the photograph to the left was taken we were just starting to gather stories here.  John Vidal was the veteran among major news-gathering organizations and the Guardian had shown leadership with an Environment section. Not always pleasant, but fair to say that Mr. Vidal has balanced the good, the bad and the ugly better than most. Thanks to him for that.

In 27 years as environment editor at the Guardian, I have seen both devastation and progress. Now I’m retiring – but I still have hope for the future of the planet

John Vidal on an Arctic ice floe in 2012.

John Vidal on an Arctic ice floe in 2012. Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace

In September 1989, Guardian editor Peter Preston took me to one side. “Environment? Your idea. You do it,” he said. I was on the arts desk and had quite forgotten that, two years earlier, I had proposed that we cover this fast-emerging issue in more depth and with new pages. Continue reading

The Definition Of Rich


David Kaiser, is a fifth-generation Rockefeller and the head of a family fund fighting Exxon Mobil. Credit Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

The saying “that is rich” means, in this case, something more like–Really, Exxon Mobil?

Exxon Mobil Accuses the Rockefellers of a Climate Conspiracy


Exxon Mobil, under fire over its past efforts to undercut climate science, is accusing the Rockefeller family of masterminding a conspiracy against it. Yes, that Rockefeller family. Continue reading

Smart Reading, 20 Years On

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-09-24-amThere is a 5-10 minute read in the upcoming issue of the New Yorker that helps put two decades into a narrow but interesting perspective. 20 years ago I was in the process of moving my family to Costa Rica for a job I had accepted one year earlier. I remember the period described below, which could be considered the transition to life online, as we now know it. Odd to think it was happening just as we moved to a kind of Garden of Eden. Slate has been a part of “life online” ever since. I was mainly drawn to Kinsley, one of the sharpest of thinkers and communicators. He is long, long gone from Slate. But the experiment was fruitful; Slate is alive and well even as the media landscape is oversaturated with copies of copies of copies:


The digital magazine’s founding editor-in-chief and his successors got together to survey its history and its contributions to online journalism.

It’s been twenty years since Michael Kinsley, the former editor of The New Republic, undertook a novel adventure: the creation of a magazine, underwritten by Microsoft, that was to exist primarily in what was then known as “cyberspace.” “There will be efforts to update it, perhaps on a daily basis,” the Times noted, in a report that appeared below the fold on page D1 of its issue of Monday, April 29, 1996, two months before the launch of Slate.

Recently, Kinsley, who was the editor-in-chief of Slate from 1996 until 2002, and his three successors—Jacob Weisberg, David Plotz, and Julia Turner—gathered in Washington, D.C., to record a podcast: a five-way conversation with Josh Levin, the magazine’s executive editor. It was a nostalgic and forgivably self-regarding celebration of what Turner characterized as Slate’s “smarty-pants, curious journalism, opinion, and analysis.” The editors posed, grinning, for a group photo. Continue reading

Conservationists and Climate Change

Deforestation in Peru, photo via the American Bird Conservancy’s habitat loss webpage

Almost two weeks ago, we shared a story from Conservation Magazine that covered a recent discussion piece published in the academic journal Biological Conservation, which was titled, “From biodiversity-based conservation to an ethic of bio-proportionality.” The author argued that the word ‘biodiversity’ limited conservationists to too small a goal in policy changes; in her opinion, ‘bioproportionality’ would be a better baseline. Today, we consider another contrasting view on conservation and what it should focus on when biodiversity is threatened, this time sourced from a commentary article in Nature, and covered by environmental writer Michelle Nijhuis for the New Yorker:

In January of this year, James Watson, an Australian scientist who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, noticed an image that had been tweeted by a friend of his, a physician in Sydney. With a chain of progressively larger circles, it illustrated the relative frequency of causes of death among Australians, from the vanishingly rare (war, pregnancy and birth, murder) to the extremely common (respiratory disorders, cancer, heart disease). It was a simple but striking depiction of comparative risk. “I thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done something like this for the rest of nature?’ ” Watson recalled.

Continue reading

Figs and Ficus

Photo by Milo Inman

A past employee who used to be a regular contributor here, writing about all things Indian – and in particular, from Kerala – would publish frequently about plants and animals, among other subjects, and once, he wrote three posts in quick succession about three trees in the Ficus genus: the Elephant Ear, the Country Fig, and the Sacred Bodhi. The following month, another author here wrote on his feelings about ficus. This week, journalist Ben Crair writes about figs for the New Yorker:

The produce section of the grocery store is a botanical disaster. Most people know that a tomato is technically a fruit, but so is an eggplant, a cucumber, and a spaghetti squash. A banana, which grows from a flower with a single ovary, is actually a berry, while a strawberry, which grows from a flower with several ovaries, isn’t a berry at all but an aggregate fruit. The most confusing classification, though, will start showing up on American shelves this month. Shoppers will find mission figs with the grapes, kiwis, and other fruit, but a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses. Although many people dismiss figs as a geriatric delicacy or the sticky stuff inside bad cookies, they are, in fact, something awesome: enclosed flowers that bloom modestly inward, unlike the flamboyant showoffs on other plants. Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms.

Continue reading

Selling Invasive Species Online

A seller, who was offering to export killer algae (Caulerpa taxifolia) from the UK said he thought it was unlikely that the plants would find their way into the environment if they were disposed of properly. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

We report on the problems of invasives pretty often on this blog, whether its herps, plants, fish, or even mammals. Today, I learned that many of the opportunistic organisms creating problems in the US and UK, as well as Australia, are sold online by merchants on eBay and Amazon, often with no legal repercussions despite trading in banned species. In an article written for The Guardian, Karl Mathiesen discusses the issue. After reading it, I thought of the opportunity for citizen scientists to “tip off” their governments after spending a couple minutes online, browsing for internet traders in invasive species. I’ll be looking into that in the weeks to come. For now, Mathiesen reports:

A killer algae, a monstrous pondweed, a tree that has infested the Everglades and a dozen more of the US’s most environmentally destructive plants have been discovered for sale on eBay. Online traders told the Guardian that ignorance of the law led them to create listings that had spread hundreds of illegal specimens across the country.

Continue reading

More Less Than Good News Related To The Effects Of Climate Change

Sea level correction. Increase has been more intense than previously understood, study says

Photo by Robert Kopp. “What this paper shows is that sea-level acceleration over the past century has been greater than had been estimated by others,” said Eric Morrow, a recent Ph.D. graduate. “It’s a larger problem than we initially thought.”

We were not looking for more bad news today, really; but science has that unrelenting need to march forward, and this news from the latest finding is not so good (thanks to Harvard Gazette):

Sea level correction

Increase has been more intense than previously understood, study says

By Peter Reuell, Harvard Staff Writer

The acceleration of global sea level change from the end of the 20th century through the last two decades has been significantly swifter than scientists thought, according to a new Harvard study. Continue reading

2014 Food Writing, Putting 2015 In Perspective

My mother thought of food the way we all now do: as a means of self-definition. CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL GILLETTE

My mother thought of food the way we all now do: as a means of self-definition. CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL GILLETTE

When a writer of John Lanchester’s deep quality and broad diversity uses the word repent, we take note. This reflection on the current state of foodie-ism caught our attention a couple months ago as we were well into 51’s first season open, and preparing for the next opening, reminding us to keep it all real, in perspective. Below we excerpt what should be read from beginning to end, using the dangerous ellipsis as carefully as we can but hoping you will click over to the source:

…Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go—about who we want to be, how we choose to live. Food has always been expressive of identity, but today those identities are more flexible and fluid; they change over time, and respond to different pressures. Some aspects of this are ridiculous: the pickle craze, the báhn-mìboom, the ramps revolution, compulsory kale. Is northern Thai still hot? Has offal gone away yet? Is Copenhagen over? The intersection of food and fashion is silly, just as the intersection of fashion and anything else is silly. Underlying it, however, is that sense of food as an expression of an identity that’s defined, in some crucial sense, by conscious choice. For most people throughout history, that wasn’t true. The apparent silliness and superficiality of food fashions and trends touches on something deep: our ability to choose who we want to be. Continue reading

The Importance of Whale Poo

Whales often feed at depth but return to surface waters to defecate. Their faecal plumes fertilises the surface waters and help plankton thrive. Caption: The Guardian. Photograph: Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images

We’ve posted about ambergris before, but this article by The Guardian‘s George Monbiot covers a completely different type of significance when it comes to cetaceans’ excrement. Here’s more from Monbiot:

I can hear you muttering already: he’s completely lost it this time. He’s written a 2,000-word article on whale poo. I admit that at first it might be hard to see the relevance to your life. But I hope that by the time you have finished this article you will have become as obsessed with marine faecal plumes as I am. What greater incentive could there be to read on?

In truth it’s not just about whale poo, though that’s an important component. It’s about the remarkable connectivity, on this small and spherical planet, of living processes. Nothing human beings do, and nothing that takes place in the natural world, occurs in isolation.

Continue reading

What We Read, Why, And How

Chris Hughes, the thirty-one-year-old owner of The New Republic. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN WIGGS/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY

Chris Hughes, the thirty-one-year-old owner of The New Republic. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN WIGGS/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY

We care about books, and libraries, and languages, and long form journalism among other reasons to get perspective, to become informed beyond our local experience. When a century-old vital institution from any of these realms perishes, it is worth taking note, and mourning as George Packer does in a short punch of a post:

…As for the mass self-purge of editors and writers at The New Republic, it might be taken as part of the ongoing demise of old journalistic institutions in the face of new realities of technology and business. Or it might just be the story of one incompetent media mogul. Two years ago, with a lucky Facebook-based fortune and earnest talk about great journalism, Chris Hughes seduced a lot of hardened veterans of the New York-Washington news world who were desperate for a vision of the future.

Continue reading

Good Writing, According To Steven Pinker

Thanks to Intelligence Squared for the last dozen years of excellent debate, Oxford style, and in particular for this recent conversation that picks up where this last post, and the one before that, left off in terms of making us want to hear more from Steven Pinker:


with Ian McEwan

Steven Pinker is one of the world’s leading authorities on language, mind and human nature. A professor of psychology at Harvard, he is the bestselling author of eight books and regularly appears in lists of the world’s top 100 thinkers.

On September 25th he returned to the Intelligence Squared stage to discuss his latest publication The Sense of Style, a short and entertaining writing guide for the 21st century. Pinker argued that bad writing can’t be blamed on the internet, or on “the kids today”. Continue reading

If You Use Amazon, Read This

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 10.58.33 AM

As the article below suggests, whether we shop with them or not we are all complicit. It is the best article yet on the growing concern over not only Amazon’s market power but its cultural influence. And in true liberal spirit of the great publication that offers it, both sides of the argument are presented starting at the first sentence:

Before we speak ill of Amazon, let us kneel down before it. Twenty years ago, the company began with the stated goal of creating a bookstore as comprehensive as the great Library of Alexandria, and then quickly managed to make even that grandiloquent ambition look puny. Amazon could soon conjure the full text of almost any volume onto a phone in less time than a yawn. Its warehouses are filled with an unabridged catalogue of items that comes damn close to serving every human need, both basic and esoterica mere click away, speedily delivered, and as cheap as capitalism permits. Continue reading

Those Who Make Chinese Restaurants In The USA What They Are


Chinatown employment agencies can get immigrants kitchen jobs in a few hours. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY ANNIE LING

When our interest in long form journalism intersects with our wide and deep interest in foodways, we could not be happier than to pass it along. Have a taste of this deeply reported story on cooks in the Chinese restaurant trade in the USA, as offered in this week’s New Yorker:

In a strip mall on a rural stretch of Maryland’s Indian Head Highway, a gaudy red façade shaped like a pagoda distinguishes a Chinese restaurant from a line of bland storefronts: a nail salon, a liquor store, and a laundromat. On a mild Friday morning this July, two customers walked into the dimly lit dining room. It was half an hour before the lunch service began, and, aside from a few fish swimming listlessly in a tank, the room was deserted.

In the back, steam was just starting to rise from pots of soup; two cooks were chopping ginger at a frenzied pace. Most of the lunch crowd comes in for the buffet, and it was nowhere near ready. “Customers are here already!” the restaurant’s owner, a wiry Chinese man in his fifties, barked. He dropped a heavy container onto the metal counter with a crash. “How can you possibly be moving this slowly?” Continue reading