A Picture of Change for a World in Constant Motion ~ NYT

 

Early spring. A heavy sky. Chilly, but not bitter. We’re near Suruga Bay, on the south coast of Honshu; maybe you can taste the salt in the air.

 

The year is 1830 or so: the waning days of the Tokugawa shogunate. And from the northwest, a wind is blowing with the force of a steamroller.

It’s not his most famous work, but this is my favorite woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai: “Ejiri in Suruga Province.” It’s the 10th image in his renowned cycle “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.”

 

I love it most for how it captures an instant, with an exactitude that feels almost photographic. Here. Now. A country road, two trees, daytime: hold onto your hats.

And for something else: the story it tells about how images circulate in a cosmopolitan world.

 

Today Hokusai stands — for Western audiences, and in Asia too — at the pinnacle of “Japanese art.” But if you told the grandees of 19th-century Edo that Hokusai would become the most famous artist in the country’s history, they’d never believe you.

~~~  GREAT INTERACTIVE PIECE, CONTINUE  ~~~

‘Bad Boy’ and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. woopin it up

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Falwell with his pants unzipped, belly showing, part of his beard painted and his arm around a young woman.

The caption on the now-deleted post reads, “more vacation shots. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht. I promise that’s just black water in my glass. It was a prop only.”

 

This giant climate hot spot is robbing the West of its water ~ The Washington Post

 

By 

 

ORCHARD CITY, Colo. — On New Year’s Day in 2018, Paul Kehmeier and his father drove up Grand Mesa until they got to the county line, 10,000 feet above sea level. Instead of the three to five feet of snow that should have been on the ground, there wasn’t enough of a dusting to even cover the grass.

The men marveled at the sight, and Kehmeier snapped a photo of his dad, “standing on the bare pavement, next to bare ground.”

Here, on Colorado’s Western Slope, no snow means no snowpack. And no snowpack means no water in an area that’s so dry it’s lucky to get 10 inches of rain a year. A few months after taking the photo, Kehmeier stared across the land his family had tilled for four generations and made a harsh calculation: He could make more money selling his ranch’s water than working his land.

Water from Colorado’s snowpack is distributed across the region through a complex network of dams, pipelines and irrigation canals.

 

 

A 20-year drought is stealing the water that sustains this region, and climate change is making it worse.

“In all my years of farming in the area, going back to about 1950, 2018 was the toughest, driest year I can remember,” said Paul’s father, Norman, who still does a fair share of the farm’s tractor work at 94.

Click any temperature underlined in the story to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit

This cluster of counties on Colorado’s Western Slope — along with three counties just across the border in eastern Utah — has warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius, double the global average. Spanning more than 30,000 square miles, it is the largest 2C hot spot in the Lower 48, a Washington Post analysis found.

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The average flow of the Colorado River has declined nearly 20 percent over the past century, half of which is because of warming temperatures, scientists say. With the region’s snowpack shrinking and melting earlier, the ground absorbs more heat — and more of the precious water evaporates.

On the Kehmeiers’ farm, like the rest of the area, just under two inches of rain fell between Jan. 1 and July 19. Less than half an inch has fallen since the farming season began on April 1, just 25 percent of the long-term average.

“The seasons where you don’t want to see the warming are warming faster,” said Jeff Lukas, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Western Water Assessment.

In the 2015 Paris accord, international leaders agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the Earth’s overall warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The world has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius since the industrial revolution, on average. But global warming doesn’t affect the planet uniformly, and 10 percent of it is already at 2C, The Post found. These hot spots offer a window into what will happen as more of the planet warms: In New Jersey and Rhode Island, a 2C world has weakened winter’s bite; in Siberia, 10,000-year-old mammoths are being exposed by melting permafrost; and from Japan to Angola to Uruguay and Tasmania, changing ocean currents and warming water have decimated fisheries and underwater kelp forests.

 

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In Colorado, the rising temperature is forcing a reckoning in this conservative community. The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people across the West and in Mexico. It nurtures everything from vineyards to cattle to peach trees on the Western Slope, and flows to Los Angeles’s water faucets and Arizona’s cotton fields.

Farming in America’s dry interior has always amounted to an act of defiance. Water has reinvented the landscape that Kehmeier’s ancestors began working on more than a century ago. A vast irrigation network of pipes, tunnels and dams steers melted snow into fields across the valley and has transformed this sagebrush terrain into a thriving agricultural hub.

“It would have to come about 16 miles from the top of that mountain down the creek,” he said, pointing toward Grand Mesa, “and the chance of getting it down the creek in a hot dry year when there’s not much water in the creek and a lot of thieves beside the creek, it was questionable. So, let somebody else deal with that.”

Kehmeier, who grows alfalfa and grass hay, didn’t agonize over his decision, but he didn’t like driving by his dried-up field every day. Call it a blessing or a curse, but farming is in his blood.

“And if it’s in your blood, you want to do it,” he said. “I want to go out kicking and scraping if I have to, but I don’t want to give up.”

He could always plant hay the following year, he thought. Surely, the snow would return.

 

 

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The Unraveling of America ~ RollingStone

Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era

BAYONNE, NJ - MAY 3: A wind blown American flag at the Tear Drop 9/11 Memorial flies over the skyline of New York City as the sun sets on May 3, 2020 in Bayonne, New Jersey. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

The COVID crisis has reduced to tatters the idea of American exceptionalism.

Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

 

Wade Davis holds the Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. His award-winning books include “Into the Silence” and “The Wayfinders.” His new book, “Magdalena: River of Dreams,” is published by Knopf.

 

Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.

In a single season, civilization has been brought low by a microscopic parasite ten thousand times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.

Our interventions to date have largely focused on mitigating the rate of spread, flattening the curve of morbidity. There is no treatment at hand, and no certainty of a vaccine on the near horizon. The fastest vaccine ever developed was for mumps. It took four years. COVID-19 killed 100,000 Americans in four months. There is some evidence that natural infection may not imply immunity, leaving some to question how effective a vaccine will be, even assuming one can be found. And it must be safe. If the global population is to be immunized, lethal complications in just one person in a thousand would imply the death of millions.

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th century the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years.

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

COVID’s historic significance lies not in what it implies for our daily lives. Change, after all, is the one constant when it comes to culture. All peoples in all places at all times are always dancing with new possibilities for life. As companies eliminate or downsize central offices, employees work from home, restaurants close, shopping malls shutter, streaming brings entertainment and sporting events into the home, and airline travel becomes ever more problematic and miserable, people will adapt, as we’ve always done. Fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental degradation.

To be sure, financial uncertainty will cast a long shadow. Hovering over the global economy for some time will be the sober realization that all the money in the hands of all the nations on Earth will never be enough to offset the losses sustained when an entire world ceases to function, with workers and businesses everywhere facing a choice between economic and biological survival.

Unsettling as these transitions and circumstances will be, short of a complete economic collapse, none stands out as a turning point in history. But what surely does is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.

No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. Bled white and left bankrupt by the Great War, the British maintained a pretense of domination as late as 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. By then, of course, the torch had long passed into the hands of America.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria. Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis. At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock. Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes. A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

In the wake of the war, with Europe and Japan in ashes, the United States with but 6 percent of the world’s population accounted for half of the global economy, including the production of 93 percent of all automobiles. Such economic dominance birthed a vibrant middle class, a trade union movement that allowed a single breadwinner with limited education to own a home and a car, support a family, and send his kids to good schools. It was not by any means a perfect world but affluence allowed for a truce between capital and labor, a reciprocity of opportunity in a time of rapid growth and declining income inequality, marked by high tax rates for the wealthy, who were by no means the only beneficiaries of a golden age of American capitalism.

But freedom and affluence came with a price. The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” Since 2001, the U.S. has spent over $6 trillion on military operations and war, money that might have been invested in the infrastructure of home. China, meanwhile, built its nation, pouring more cement every three years than America did in the entire 20th century.

As America policed the world, the violence came home. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, the Allied death toll was 4,414; in 2019, domestic gun violence had killed that many American men and women by the end of April. By June of that year, guns in the hands of ordinary Americans had caused more casualties than the Allies suffered in Normandy in the first month of a campaign that consumed the military strength of five nations.

More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose. In wide swaths of America, the family as an institution lost its grounding. By the 1960s, 40 percent of marriages were ending in divorce. Only six percent of American homes had grandparents living beneath the same roof as grandchildren; elders were abandoned to retirement homes.

With slogans like “24/7” celebrating complete dedication to the workplace, men and women exhausted themselves in jobs that only reinforced their isolation from their families. The average American father spends less than 20 minutes a day in direct communication with his child. By the time a youth reaches 18, he or she will have spent fully two years watching television or staring at a laptop screen, contributing to an obesity epidemic that the Joint Chiefs have called a national security crisis.

 

 

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The Teenage Tinkerer Behind an E-Bike Revolution ~ NYT

After reading/riding and researching for a year, I bought a Rad Power Bike because of the quality, the ride and the price which was affordable.

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Mike Radenbaugh dreamed up Rad Power Bikes over a decade ago in his family’s garage and now sets the pace for affordable battery-propelled bicycles.

Credit…Meron Tekie Menghistab for The New York Times

By

 

The residents of Garberville, Calif., didn’t know what to make of 15-year-old Mike Radenbaugh and the odd motorized bikes he was concocting in his family’s garage.

It was 2005, the home-brew era for electric vehicles, and there he was, a high school freshman zooming by at up to 35 miles an hour, not even pedaling. He seemed to defy gravity as he ascended the region’s steep winding roads lined with 300-foot redwoods.

As the captain of the school’s mountain-bike racing team, he had collected a heap of spare frames and parts. Mr. Radenbaugh started tricking them out with old motorcycle-starter batteries, moped motors mail-ordered from Japan and crude powertrains held together with bungee cords, pipe clamps and thick layers of electrical tape. “I needed to find a solution where I had freedom as a young person without a lot of dollars,” he said.

Before long, he was making his 16-mile school commute on his electric Frankenbike.

Wires fried and batteries died. But after six months of experimentation, Mr. Radenbaugh had a semi-reliable electric bike. “It got better and better. And it got faster,” he said. “All of a sudden, I’d be riding into town passing slow cars. I quickly became known as the kooky e-bike guy in my little hometown.”

By his junior year, he’d founded Rad Power Bikes. Now based in Seattle, his company approached $100 million in sales in 2019. It has sold over 100,000 electric bikes. Numbers aren’t well reported for this young industry, but Rad Power Bikes is widely considered the largest e-bike seller in the United States.

When he was starting out in Humboldt County — home to back-to-the-landers and backwoods pot farmers — Mr. Radenbaugh fielded requests. “They wanted high handlebars, comfortable seats, powerful motors and long range,” he said. In other words, a blend of a bicycle, moped, scooter and motorcycle. This was in contrast to the few light and low-powered European and Japanese e-bikes available a decade and a half ago.

Sixteen years later, Rad Power Bikes is sticking to its formula: comfort, power and simplicity.

And that was before a pandemic sent the whole country searching for a socially distanced way to get around. Throughout spring 2020, Rad’s sales tripled compared with the year before. Many models now have a three-month wait for delivery. What had been a niche product for Humboldt’s aging hippies heading to Burning Man has become a mainstream option for Everyman.

Guidehouse Insights, a market research firm, conservatively forecasts that electric bike sales in the United States will grow to nearly a million by 2023, up from 650,000 this year. “For years we’ve been saying that the market needs a decent, good-quality, relatively high-performing e-bike for $1,000 to $1,500. That’s the sweet spot,” said Ryan Citron, a senior research analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “Rad Power Bikes hit that mark.”

Mr. Citron cautions that Rad, which sells direct to consumers, might lose customers who want to take a test ride before buying. Brick-and-mortar stores also offer e-bikes from the likes of Specialized, Trek and Giant — although commonly selling for $2,500 to $5,000. Deluxe models climb to $15,000 and higher.

Regardless, an accessible joy ride is a welcome pandemic diversion. For the past couple of months, I ditched my car and used a Rad Power Bike as my primary mode of transportation.

The $1,199 RadRunner, one of the company’s top sellers, has extra-fat tires to absorb bumps rather than an expensive front suspension.

Credit…Meron Tekie Menghistab for The New York Times

The company sells 11 models: city, cargo, folding and all-terrain options. I went with the $1,199 RadRunner, one of the company’s top sellers. Like most Rad Power Bikes, it’s equipped with a 750-watt motor; that’s the legal limit for a Class 2 bicycle and provides electric assist up to 20 miles an hour. No permit required.

Its battery pack, about the size of a loaf of bread, is 48 volts and 672 watt-hours. It takes about six hours to fully charge from a household outlet. On a mostly flat surface, and with light pedaling, the pack provides 30 to 40 miles of range.

On my first few trips, I wasn’t so much as riding as zooming. The road manners and the ability to cut through back alleyways are like any other bicycle — except my legs had reserves of backup power. Rad equips all its e-bikes with a half-twist hand throttle. It’s irresistible to launch with the flick of the wrist. There’s always a chance to pedal, but it’s not obligatory. It took some pedaling to propel the 65-pound bike up the steepest Berkeley hills. But it’s not onerous.

“Ninety-nine percent of your riding is blissfully electric. It’s an exciting amount of power,” Mr. Radenbaugh said. For the other 1 percent, he says, “you can overcome it with pedaling or by planning your approach to a hill.”

What’s most impressive about the RadRunner is its use of smart design, wringing value from clever choices. The RadRunner has extra-fat tires to absorb bumps rather than an expensive front suspension. The rear hub motor is simpler and more cost-effective than what is known as a pedal-assist mid-drive. The LED controller mounted on the handlebars is basic, but it’s user-friendly and gets the job done. The detachable battery can be brought inside to charge.

Squeeze the hand brakes to engage the 180-millimeter Tektro disc brakes, cutting off the motor and illuminating a rear red brake light. The chunky aluminum frame comes in two colors, black or forest green, and precisely one size, with an adjustable seat post making it adaptable to riders of nearly all heights.

“It’s the Volkswagen Beetle of e-bikes,” Mr. Radenbaugh said. “When we thought up the RadRunner, it was with that sense in mind. What’s the best-selling car in history? What’s the e-bike to do it all?”

Credit…Meron Tekie Menghistab for The New York Times

 

I’ve also been test-riding the RadWagon 4, the company’s latest release. The Runner’s 67-inch length is stretched nearly a foot to 78.7 inches on the RadWagon. This is an e-bike for grown-ups with family responsibilities.

It extends the cargo-style frame to accommodate a long list of accessories: running boards, sturdy metal baskets of various sizes, sizable insulated delivery bags and a Thule child seat. Adding cushions and handgrips for passengers now allows my wife to hop on back for trips to visit friends. I also added a large basket so we can load up on produce at the farmers’ market. The company’s easy universal accessory and mounting system would make Ikea jealous.

The RadWagon has seven gears. The low gears, when combined with a high level of electric power, allow the relatively heavy cargo bike to climb harsh inclines with little effort. But the real fun comes when setting the electric motor to 5, its highest setting, thumbing the shifter to the top gear and pedaling hard. Thankfully, the RadWagon’s speedometer shows when I need to brake to conform with legal limits.

Jeff Loucks, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media and Telecommunications, believes there will be 130 million e-bikes sold globally between 2020 and 2023. “They make so much sense, especially in a Covid world,” he said. However, he added that the United States still needs to catch up to cities in Europe and Asia with a biking culture and proper lanes to make cyclists feel safe. Cities have accelerated that process because of the pandemic. “People are turning to cycling for transportation, exercise and just to keep sane during this time,” Mr. Loucks said.

Mr. Radenbaugh, now 30, manages a staff of 200 people. He described the current pace of change — and the myriad business challenges it poses — as “hyper-growth.” It’s not easy steering a transportation revolution. He said, “Every night, I feel like my brain was beat to pieces.”

Fortunately, Mr. Radenbaugh has a way to clear his head. Every day, rain or shine, he rides his e-bikes to commute, shop or haul things around. He often uses prototype models to dream up new features and uses. “One of my favorite things to do is e-bike camping,” he said. He has a favorite campground about 30 miles east of Seattle, within reach of the RadWagon’s battery range. That’s where he can forget about the worries of the world, glide through country roads and relive the thrill of riding an e-bike for the first time.