What I’m Reading – Dec 4, 2015

In an effort to blog more, I now introduce what I may completely forget about or otherwise adopt as a regular post on my blog, the What I’m Reading post. I am lucky enough to call many, many intelligent, informed people my friends and they share great articles with me. Here are some from this week:

How Mark Zuckerberg’s Altruism Helps Himself – Andrew Ross Sorkin, NYTimes

Bob Ross’s Strange Afterlife – NYTimes

 An interesting, if a bit over the top, article on how to handle an active shooter situation from The Art of Manliness in light of the San Bernardino shooting.

Quote of the week: “People are losing their sh-t over this bird” from the New York Post

Leaked Documents Reveal Dothan Police Department Planted Drugs on Young Black Men For Years, District Attorney Doug Valeska Complicit – a real WTF story that hasn’t gotten much play in the media this week

St. Louis Will Be the Nation’s Second Hottest Real Estate Market in 2016 – methinks these markets are where the young people are buying houses. Are these the coolest and upcoming cities? Seems like it.

New breaches revealed in report that says Secret Service is ‘in crisis’ — very scary revelations. Is Pres. Obama not speaking out because he doesn’t want to seem self-absorbed? He is doing so to his own detriment. With our current climate of terror, it’s an alarming finding.

Resiliency in a Modern Era

As parents, Baby Boomers brought their hippie idealism to their children, teaching them to follow their dreams and live their lives with love, peace and happiness. Their closer, more involved relationships with their children also sometimes shielded them from the randomness and unfairness of the world – the so-called helicopter parents. While those ideals certainly have their place, the effects of this type of nurturing has our society reevaluating what it means to work, what it means to be successful and what it means to live life in a modern era.

We can’t all follow our dreams. It’s not realistic. Not all of us can be video game designers or movie stars. We also can’t play the blame game and project our problems onto others, victimizing ourselves to avoid bad feelings of personal responsibility, shame or jealousy.

This balance between positivity and realism is the hallmark of the rift between the generations. As millennials rise, they are reevaluating our core societal beliefs and reshaping them in their own image. The hipster mentality is all about rejecting sunshine and rainbows for the truth. Boomers who awkwardly avoided race issues with platitudes and low-investment idealism have given birth to millennials who see the issue more plainly and want to acknowledge and address it.

The millennial generation has been labeled the most self-aware but it is also the most giving and caring. More young people volunteer now than ever before. They are more engaged in news and issues. But as they mature, is that realism making it into their views of their own lives?

That’s the issue at hand in a recent New York Times piece on resiliency. The article explores the rising calls for resiliency as college students ask for trigger warnings on difficult subjects or young adults continue to need a helping hand from their parents. It taps into the core fears about the effects of the hippie mentality – that too much coddling has resulted in lazy, self-absorbed and ultimately stagnant and ineffectual behaviors in our citizens.

Is there some truth to these claims? Absolutely, otherwise they wouldn’t have resonated with so many people. We need to be able to discuss tough topics freely. Younger generations need to learn independence and self-reliance. But as with anything, there is a balance. Our maturing young people need to learn to find a middle ground between toughness, resilience and grit and also finding happiness and contentment.

Boomers reacted with their feel-good vibes because their parents did not address their emotional needs. Earlier generations raised in the Depression era were taught to shut up or put up and keep their noses to the grindstone. While this parenting style leads to hardworking progeny, it can also spur emotional issues that go unaddressed, affecting people long into adulthood. It’s natural that Boomers would react and adapt to that as parents, attempting to shield their children from the pain they experienced.

Today we are struggling to find the right balance without over-correcting. As the Times article points out, young people are more stressed and anxious than ever, trying to meet more and more obligations and meet loftier societal standards. Social media and Google have given them the tools to constantly be evaluating and comparing themselves against others. Now we don’t just compete over jobs or sports teams, we also compete over and obsess about prom dresses and baby names.  Previous generations were pressured to behave in certain ways, but never were they as observed or as judged. And they never felt so helpless to rise to the standards against which they were measured.

So what does it really mean to be resilient? I think it means to be realistic about what we can achieve and what life is meant to be like. Life is unfair. Life is tough. Life is random. Life is chaotic. All of these are true and we need to acknowledge and embrace them. But how we react to them is just as important.

We need to acknowledge that some of life’s unfairnesses should not be borne by society. We should, for example, make it our constant goal to remove racism from society rather than sitting back and watching it continue to fester. Systemic injustice given the label of “unfairness” is inadequate, dismissive and a tool in the hands of those who would perpetuate injustice.

But we also need to embrace the idea that some will always have more than others and that is not only fair but a good thing. We need some people to earn more than others so our citizens have an incentive to work hard and contribute. We need to get comfortable with the fact that some people will work their asses off and still fail because that’s life. We need the perspective to be able to have an honest conversation about offensive language, whilst also acknowledging that our society has much bigger fish to fry than the use of harsh words. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others, especially superficially, and refocus on our most important societal needs.

Our success at defining this fine – resilient – line between coddling and emotional neglect will be what ultimately determines our success. Our greatest hopes for the future lie in the ability to find the right balance. And there is certainly hope. Debates like these are what shape us into the evolving, intellectual society we are constantly striving to achieve. Awareness and self-reflection are the hallmarks of a resilient, stable and sustainable society. The question is: will our awareness translate into action?



My brother died three years ago this fall. He was 44 and addicted to alcohol, fatally so. Despite rehab attempts, he never was able to remain sober. His last years were lived essentially jobless, living apart from his family with a woman in California who supported him and his alcohol use as well as her own.

One day in 2012 my brother was swimming in a swimming pool. I can only imagine, knowing my brother, that he was probably showboating – demonstrating his prowess at swimming from one end of the pool to the other without coming up for air. I can practically hear the bravado in his gravely baritone voice in my head as I write this.

He never did come up for air. His heart stopped under the water. His partner couldn’t lift his large frame out of the water. He was out too long, declared brain dead and days later the ventilators were turned off.

My brother left behind four of the absolute best kids in the world. Sweet, loving, silly, fascinating people. And my god did he love them. So it really shows to me the depth of his addiction to alcohol that he was never able to stop, even after doctors told him that if he continued he would certainly die.

At the risk of sounding macabre or opportunistic, I thought of my brother when I was thinking about climate change this morning. My thought process on climate change often goes something like this:

“We’re creating too much carbon and it’s going to mean terrible things for the planet.”
“Oh gosh, we’ve got to do something before it’s too late!!”
“But I am one tiny person and all the people with a lot of power are actively working against this.””Fuck, this is depressing,”
“I’m going to think about something else.”

But every time I read another alarming study, I go back to the main question: Why in God’s name are we not doing more to address what is bound to be a ginormous undertaking and growing ginormous-er by the year? Today the phrase that popped into my head was “addiction to oil” or more accurately addiction to fossil fuels.

And that got me thinking about my big brother Matt.

My brother knew what he was consuming would have catastrophic effects. He did it anyway. He couldn’t stop. It was how he lived his life and he couldn’t make the laborious but necessary changes. He, frankly, wasn’t strong enough.

How many more balls-shriveling scientific studies have to come out before we wake up and make some changes, World?

After my brother died, I thought there was nothing I wouldn’t have given to go back in time and do something. Make some sort of change. Say something to get him to change this terrible outcome. I’m still making peace with the fact that that’s not possible.

Many times I was told after my brother’s death that there was nothing I could have done. Alcoholism and addiction is a decision that has to be made by the user. If they can’t stop themselves, no one can.

I am petrified about the state of our global environment and the changes that have started and will continue over the coming decades as a result of our inability to stop using carbon-based fuels. I feel this sadness, this gloom.

What can we do to stop our global usage of oil and coal? What can we do to stop this catastrophic event from devastating human life?

As I wrote this piece, I wasn’t sure what conclusion I expected to come to. Perhaps simply to say that we do have an addiction. That we need to make the changes.

Instead I’m left wondering if we are doomed to repeat my brother’s mistake. If we never will have the fortitude to stop our energy usage and greed for growth at all costs. If perhaps the destruction of global climate change is already as inevitable as was my brother’s death.

New Methane Emissions Move May Miss the Mark

President Obama announced a new initiative Wednesday aimed at curbing methane gas emissions from natural gas drilling wells. The proposal is the latest in a string of regulations put forth by the White House aimed at combating global climate change. While the president appears to be earnest in his environmental goals, his proposed policy may not be as effective as environmentalists had hoped because it imposes restrictions on the wells least likely to contribute to carbon pollution and leaves regulation of the biggest polluters up the discretion of the fossil fuel industry.

Before delving into the policy, it’s important to understand what the White House is seeking to regulate. Methane IS natural gas. About 95-98% of natural gas is pure methane. When talking about reducing emissions, the goal is for companies that drill for natural gas to allow less of their product to escape into the environment by capturing it to sell with the rest of the natural gas extracted from the well.


A researcher calibrates a methane-monitoring equipment at a natural gas drilling site. (Source: University of Texas)

This volume of escaped methane plays a big role in greenhouse gas emissions. Though methane emissions represent only about 9% of all GhG emissions, because of the chemical makeup of the methane molecule, it traps much more heat than carbon dioxide – about 20 to 25 times more. So even though the world emits more CO2, methane actually exacerbates global temperature regulation moreso than CO2.

How much gas are we talking about? According to the Washington Post, “..oil and gas producers lose 8 million metric tons of methane a year, enough to provide power to every household in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.” The proposed regulation seeks to cut methane emissions by 40 to 45% by requiring new wells to capture escaping methane, putting more funding towards leak detection and asking for voluntary efforts to capture methane from existing wells.

Many companies acknowledge that making the process more efficient is good business sense but oppose regulation of methane emissions because it adds an unnecessary regulatory burden to an already-improving process. Or as Thomas Pyle of the American Energy Alliance put it, “It would be like issuing regulations forcing ice cream makers to spill less ice cream.”
In reality, the proposal would require them to release less methane on new wells, but emissions at old wells will continue to be at the owner’s discretion. Because about 90% of methane emissions are from existing wells, many green groups have questioned how effective the policy will be at meeting its goals.
During his time in office, the president has had to skirt a fine line with environmental regulation. Any and all environmental regulations are viewed unfavorably with conservative members of Congress, making the political climate for reform incredibly difficult. Conservative politicians and industry groups oppose these types of laws, arguing they put too much of a burden on businesses. With the oil and gas industry under strain from falling gas prices, companies have already begun announcing layoffs and shutting down oil rigs. It is not just the president’s environmental legacy at stake, but also his economic one. And though he may be reluctant to admit it, much of the recovery has been made through homegrown energy booms in natural gas drilling and shale oil in North Dakota. Though curbing methane emissions is cost effective and companies would lose less product as a result, the argument that the regulation could hurt the American economy may play a larger role politically than it does economically.

One way the president could skirt this problem is by tailoring the regulations to the biggest offenders, which need not be every well. The largest source of methane emissions nationwide, a Delaware-sized plume of methane discovered by NASA via satellite, is not caused by natural gas drilling, but through leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico, much of it located on federal land. The methane escapes from coal beds and though some of it is captured, much of it is either burned off or simply released into the air. Since this represents the large emissions region in the country and it is on federal land, the president could focus on just the basin and make significant strides.

NASA Satellite Image of Methane Emissions from New Mexico

A red spot near the Four Corners region of New Mexico represents the largest methane hotspot in the country. (Source: NASA.gov)

Additionally, the president could focus on features of existing wells which are known to leak more than other components. For example, a University of Texas – Austin study found that two issues were responsible for 40% of leaks at testing sites – faulty pneumatic valves and a process of drawing drilling liquid out of an older well to extract more gas towards the end of the well’s life (called liquid unloading). In the case of the valves, only about 20% of valves were responsible for 95% of emissions. Similarly, in wells observed while unloading liquid, about a fifth of wells were responsible for 83% of emissions. These findings echo the comments of industry groups which argue that not all wells are responsible for leakage. Perhaps instead of an across-the-board solution, the president’s policy could target the worst offenders, lessening the regulatory burden for companies while concentrating efforts on fixes that will have the greatest impact.

(It should be noted – this University of Texas study was funded in part by oil and gas companies including Pioneer Natural Resources and XTO Energy, an Exxon-Mobil subsidiary. Another interesting find from the study – the EPA substantially underestimated both the number of pneumatic valves used in drilling and the amount of emissions per valve, raising concerns about the efficacy of the EPA’s natural gas data.)

President Obama will undoubtedly receive support from the environmental community and citizens concerned about climate change for his ambitious goal to cut methane emissions for the first time in our country’s history. But whether his goals will be met by the preliminary policy proposal released this week remains to be seen. The rules for methane emissions are still being finalized within the EPA and will not be released until 2016. In the meantime, the plan seems likely to be another heated talking point between green groups and fossil fuel industry supporters alike.

Media outlets need to change their tactics for reporting on studies

When I worked as a TV news producer, I loved to run a good health study in my show. Give me some prescription pill b-roll, summarize a pre-written script handed down by CNN or ABC and plug it in to eat up some time at the bottom of the B or C block.

The news media reports on studies all the time, but sometimes I have to question – what for? Sure, it’s important for people to be informed about the research going on in the science community. There’s no doubt about that. But the problem is that media outlets nowadays, especially local TV stations and newspapers, use these studies as quick filler and don’t spend the proper time fleshing them out. The result is that news consumers don’t give them much thought. The problem is leading to increasing ignorance of scientific issues and making it easier to disguise the growing number of fake science journals published by ladder-climbing researchers across the globe and the publishers they pay off to print them. In fact, the issue has gotten so out of hand, some are concerned it may be negatively affecting one of the core principles of science research — that bad research will self-correct as more studies are conducted.

It’s like that joke that these days pretty much everything causes cancer. Ask someone about what causes cancer and they’ll tell you that every other day there is a new study that comes out saying plastic can cause cancer, or wait, here’s another one that says the results are inconclusive. Does aspirin really prevent heart attacks or did a drug company pay for that study to sell more pills? For someone outside the science community and even many within it, it’s hard to know what to trust.

Simply by virtue of the amount of studies we pump out, news consumers have study fatigue. They don’t trust the results of any studies because another study could easily come out and say something different. The studies often sound the same in the same vague terms. “There may be a tie between x and y. Researchers have found that in a study there was a percent change of x in the presence of y. They say more tests will be needed to determine if this information is in any way relevant to you.” It’s no wonder this kind of reporting is relegated to filler and the majority of news consumers tune out or put little stock in the results.

The media is getting this part of science and health reporting very wrong and it’s not just hurting the news and leaving people less informed. More than that, it is a missed opportunity to explain studies and their nuance, whether it’s breaking down the way the research is conducted to determine the realistic impacts it makes or explaining that the study may just be correlation and not causation and that further studies should be conducted and here’s what those studies should be. What about the scientists that are performing these studies? Who is their employer? Who is funding their study? Are they well-regarded in the science community? Does a spouse or relative create a conflict of interest in their research? These are pieces of information that we typically do not get in such a story. And all of those questions don’t even begin to take into account the new flood of research coming from online journals who will accept payments for publication, even if the science is dubious, or worse, just flat out false.

If we are going to report on a scientific study, it should either be given enough time and space to be fully reported and explained or it should not reported at all. For one, if you are diluting your news product to the point that it doesn’t mean much to your readers/viewers/listeners, then either make room for more reporting on the subject or report another issue more in depth.

But there is an even more important reason for improving how we report on research and studies – controversial issues like climate change or hydrofracking can no longer be covered in a way that is considered neutral or unbiased. So many studies with conflicting information have come out, no one knows what to trust when there appears to be conflict over an issue. Or worse, even when the science community is at a consensus about an issue, outside influences who are threatened by the results of the such research – for instance, businesses who may face a financial cost if the results of those studies are confirmed – can fund new studies to give the appearance that there is not consensus on an issue. As a result, news consumers who are only somewhat informed on health and science issues can be misled on the subject and be convinced to, at a minimum, question the seriousness of the issue, they may remain neutral or apathetic, or worse, they may be convinced to disregard the consensus of the scientific community, especially if they have a personal stake in that issue, perhaps working in an industry where a job may be perceived to be threatened by the ramifications of the study.

People who aren’t able to understand the scientific nuance or haven’t been explained it properly dismiss it and don’t call for change because, since they don’t know the true ramifications of climate change, they don’t understand why people think it’s a big deal. In that way, it’s very reminiscent of the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his book, the citizens opt to get rid of books so people who can’t read them won’t feel left out or bad about themselves. In a similar way, American citizens throw out climate change and other scientific, health and environmental concerns because they can’t understand them.

If people in the scientific community are serious about tackling issues like climate change and making sure our citizens are informed against a growing tide of scientific misinformation, we first need to tackle the issue of intentional scientific ignorance by our populous and how the mainstream media’s half-hearted science and health reporting is contributing to the problem.

The Disposable Economy


If my bed still looked like this, this blog post never would have been written.

Today my night owl self woke before dawn because my bed has turned into an awkward hammock. What was once a humble mattress is now what my fellow insomniacs online call a “canoe bed” because our mattress has formed two body-sized depressions. I found the term after some expert research googling “dent in bed neck pain” and “back hurts fix bed.” I came upon a post which promised to fix my issue for just $9. (Spoiler alert: you put pillows under the mattress.) What struck me was not the post itself, but the 80+ comments by people who evidently have the same exact pillowtop mattress as me. Before I inherited this mattress as part of the stuff that came with my boyfriend, I slept for years on the same mattress – a sentiment echoed by many other sleepless web commenters. The consensus seems to be that the newer mattresses just aren’t made as well.

It’s not just mattresses. The quality of many products have seen a sharp decline over the last decade. Jeans once designed to withstand the continued beatings of a working man’s day now fold to the pressure of a school girl’s walk home within six months’ time. Cheaply-made parts leave consumers replacing whole appliances instead of just the pieces. Supermarket staples are made with cheaper ingredients or come in smaller boxes.

Over decades of American prosperity, consumers got hooked on cheap and disposable items. The appeal is obvious. There are few these days who prefer to hang on to the humble handkerchief when compared to disposable products like Kleenex. And buyers don’t need to worry about the quality of that side table from Ikea because at $9, if it were to break, a replacement could be easily afforded (assuming you didn’t need that money to fix your sagging mattress).

In the ’90s and ’00s, wages started to stagnate and the buying power of the average Joe went down, so in order to keep goods cheap, the era of the big box store and mass production kicked into high gear. Larger stores meant companies could carry a greater variety in one place, making it exceptionally convenient for busy parents. The generation whose sensibility helped them make it through the Depression saw their buying power decline as they reached old age and fewer mom and pop stores were created to cater to their desires for quality-made products. The big box stores succeeded, multiplied, and streamlined their goods so consumers could count on getting the same product in Portland, Maine and Phoenix, Arizona and get it at a very low price. Large corporations squeezed out smaller stores who couldn’t lower prices by manufacturing en masse or utilizing cheap labor overseas. Mom and pop stores and handmade items lost their allure.

Nowadays, the result of our move towards a disposable economy has turned around and bitten us in the ass. It’s the reason a $10 shirt you bought at Old Navy might have lasted you a few years in 2000, but the same shirt is now so thin the fabric rips, develops holes or even develops runs like pantyhose after only a few weeks. It’s the reason why when you go to the store to buy a lawnmower, your choices are between a lawnmower that is priced cheaply but may only last you a year or a quality-made, warrantied lawnmower with a price that is unrealistic on the budget of the average consumer.

But that’s been changing recently. A new generation is slowly bringing back cache to buying for quality not price. In fact, young consumers are more than willing to pay more for things like organic and locally-grown food, craft beer, even shoes and glasses from companies like Toms and Warby Parker that promise to give a second pair to a person in need with each purchase. IFC’s Portlandia lampoons the behavior with skits such as one that features a store that only sells knots or another in which a restaurant customer played by Fred Armisen badgers his waitress about the source of the chicken on the menu – “I’m gonna ask you again – is it local?” The jokes are on trend because the movement has grown and continues to spread throughout towns across the country.

Why, then, can we not buy quality-made clothing items, appliances and, yes, mattresses within our our price range? One of the basic tenets of a free market economy is if there is demand, a business will seize the opportunity to cater to it. Right now there is a building demand for the goods that people purchase to be long-lasting, made responsibly, and cost an attainable price. Enterprising individuals should take this opportunity to get back to selling American products that are well made and made to last. Until they do, you’re likely to find more sleep-deprived consumers taking to their blogs to air their grievances about the iron maidens they have for mattresses.

Times Square Bombing and NYPD

If you see something, say something.

That’s what a vendor did on 45th street when he saw Nissan Pathfinder smoking, and that’s what he wants to tell New Yorkers.

Times Square Bomb SUV

Courtesy CNN

By now, everyone’s heard about the foiled bombing attempt on Times Square in which a parked car filled with propane tanks started smoking when a bomb squad was called to handle it.  Police are still looking for the suspect at the time of this posting.

Speaking of the police, I have differing opinions on New York’s Finest.  The police officer that first found the car, while undoubtedly a fine gentleman of outstanding character, is being touted as a hero.  But what did he really do?  He looked at something he was told to investigate.  Isn’t that the job of a police officer?

I say this, because in the context of budget shortfalls, incidents like these can lead to even more panic about Bloomberg’s threat to cut the police force in the coming year from people worried about safety.  My experiences have been mixed.  I’ve seen extensive police coverage in more questionable areas of New York that I’ve been entirely grateful for, but I’ve also seen overcoverage – one example that comes to mind is the 15 police officers milling around the

NYPD in Times Square

NYPD in Times Square

Franklin Avenue 2/3/4/5 station when I come home from school.  Likewise, if it was a street vendor that noticed the smoke in the recent bombing, why couldn’t he or she have just pulled another of the dozens of officers in Times Square aside and asked them to investigate.

The question I’m getting to is this: Do more police officers = safer NY?

I’m inclined to say yes, but up to a certain threshold.  Undoubtedly the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations have proven that lots and lots of cops, compared to fewer, make the streets much safer.  But given that the last two planned terrorist attacks – Zazi and this Times Square bombing – were uncovered by other New Yorkers and reported to the police, I have to wonder if shaving off some police officers will really hit the department as hard people say it will.

Is it really that much to worry about?

What do you say, fellow New Yorkers??? (or non-fellow New Yorkers for that matter!)