• Growing into the Reverend Tall Tree

    • 02/23/2018
    • Melina Paris
    • Music
    • Comments are off

    The dynamic artist and the Blackstrap Brothers to perform at the Grand Annex

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    There may never be another Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Dynamite,The King of Soul or a Godfather of Soul. Mr. James Brown took all of those forever more. But what about “Hardest Working Man in Show Business?”

    RLn spoke to Reverend Tall Tree ahead of his March 3 performance at the Grand Annex and realized just how hard this man and his band have been working. Going back to his younger days he said that music chose him.

    Reverend Tall Tree, whose given name is Chris Pierce, is actually an ordained minister. He was ordained 15 years ago and studied several spiritual paths and religions. Reverend Tall Tree has received international acclaim for his singing, songwriting and harmonica and guitar playing. More importantly, he knows how to stir his audience. He’s a charismatic and emotive singer who grew up listening to his parents’ record collection comprised of soul music and rhythm and blues hits. Pierce’s inspirations are drawn from the likes of Solomon Burke, Bill Withers, Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone.

    With roots in soul and his expertise in jazz and blues, one could say Pierce has made a religion of musical expression. With his eclectic approach to music he has enjoyed a full roster of worldwide tours as a solo artist and as an opener for many great artists including, B.B. King, Seal, Aaron Neville, Al Green, Toots & the Maytals and Robert Cray.

    “It’s been a journey of basically opening myself up to different experiences, going for things and keeping the love of music in the forefront,” Pierce said.

    Pierce wasn’t just offering up a cliche when he said he opened himself up to different experiences.

    He recounted how he got to open for the multi-Grammy winning international star, Seal, while he was on tour in 2005. The opportunity was the result of a wild chance meeting. A friend suggested he bring his acoustic guitar along to a house party. Pierce did so and in walks Seal. If that isn’t crazy enough, the two chatted during which Seal told him he was going on a scaled down acoustic tour.

    “I kind of jokingly said, ‘Hey, if you ever need an opener, here’s my card,’” Pierce said. “And two weeks later, I was in Germany in front of 10,000 people. With my acoustic guitar, opening for Seal.”

    Pierce said all of these tours kind of “happened that way.”

    Pierce noted that he got on the tours of B.B. King and Aaron Neville by writing letters to their managers. With Al Green, Pierce’s manager at the time reached out to the artist.

    “I just made sure that these folks knew about my love for soul music and R&B music and that was something that I had been a lover of and maker of for many years,” Pierce said. “There’s a lot of power in that. I think a personal touch is always the way to go. Let them know who you are and why you should be there.”

    In addition to his solo records, which include the critically acclaimed albums Chris Pierce Live at the Hotel Café (2009) and When the Hustle Comes to a Stop (2012), Pierce has contributed to full length recordings (in addition to ongoing performances and tours) as a member of War & Pierce (with singer/songwriter Sunny War). He also performs as a featured guest with several orchestras around the United States and abroad.

    Pierce and War, who have recently completed a tour, met through a  mutual friend, Jared Faber. The two met in Prague when Pierce was on that serendipitous tour with Seal.

    “We linked up and fast forward 10 years later he called me and said he just saw this amazing woman play in Venice, ‘her name is Sunny War,’” Pierce said. “The first time we got together we wrote a song and recorded it in one sitting, in two hours. We looked at each other and said let’s just do some more.”

    The duo released an EP (extended play) of six songs and are slowly working on more to release a full LP.

    Pierce’s talents for songwriting and singing have touched mainstream media audiences. Siddhartha Khosla, composer for the NBC family drama This is Us, asked the singer/songwriter to collaborate on a song for a poignant episode called Memphis. The number, We Can Always Come Back To This, was the emotional center of the episode and became a hit single. It charted at number one on the Billboard Blues Chart and in the Top 20 on the rock and R&B charts. They used three different versions of the song. One was a version that Pierce played in the television scene. He was nominated as a co-writer of the song for “Best Song/Recording Created for Television” by The Guild of Music Supervisors.

    For the past four years Pierce has been working on a blues opera and is finally starting to share it in different clubs and theaters. As an added surprise for the Grand Annex performance, he and The Blackstrap Brothers will play a few selections from the opera. He stars in it, acts in it and co-wrote it. Together with television writer Mark Malone they wrote Reverend Tall Tree as a fictional character, a street preacher in the south in the 1930s and ‘40s.

    The tension in the piece is as simple and universal as the human condition itself. Reverend Tall Tree is a man who searches for and yearns for love and a kind of blessedness (a connection with the infinite and the divine) but who is subject to human frailty and human passion (for both good and ill). The opera is a continuation of the stories told in traditional blues.

    “We’re going to have a good time, encourage people to sing along, shout, dance have a good time.” Pierce said.

    Going back to his childhood and previous work in music, when he still only went by his given name, Pierce said he was feeling the music even at a young age.

    “In kindergarten we had choir in our school and I immediately gravitated towards that. I was the kid in the back of the choir rocking out.”

    Those emotions are what inspires Pierce on his musical journey for his entire life. As he grew older he listened to the artists who he called, “folk’s I could relate to, (who) were doing stuff a little different,” such as Prince and Terence Trent D’Arby. His favorite jazz artists are Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum.

    “As far as singers go, the late Jon Hendrick’s who just passed last year is, I think, my favorite all-time favorite jazz vocalists, next to Billie [Holiday], of course, and Ella [Fitzgerald],” he said. “I loved John because he did all the vocalese stuff and basically transcribed horn solos and different solos and put words to them. I thought that was always a unique way to present jazz.”

    For Pierce, the most fulfilling part of performing is the energy of connection.

    “The synergy,” he said. “It’s a way of plugging in to me, as far as life goes. Being able to put things out there and exchange energy with people on a regular basis and share a perspective in hopes that it can move through some of the static and isolated feelings of everyday life with people. I just hope to make a difference through art.”

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  • Information Warfare-Thirteen Russians indicted, but is social media also implicated?

    • 02/23/2018
    • James Preston Allen
    • At Length
    • Comments are off

    Austin Beutner, the one-time candidate for Los Angeles mayor and former publisher of the Los Angeles Times, recalled a funny story during a talk he gave at a breakfast meeting hosted by the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce at Ports O’ Call Restaurant. It was about the time Beutner was delivering a speech on how to make a profit in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Beutner was there as part of a Clinton administration team led by Secretary of State Warren Christopher to help Russia transition from communism to a free-market economy. But suddenly, Beutner realized he’d lost his audience. Bewildered, he turned to his interpreter and asked, “What is it that they don’t understand?”

    The translator turned to him and said, “the term ‘making a profit’ literally translates in Russian to ‘illegal taking,’ and here you are speaking about doing something illegal as a way of doing business.”

    Beutner majored in economics at Dartmouth College and went on to become the youngest partner of Blackstone private equity firm before he moved to Los Angeles. He knew a lot about making a profit, but not much about communism.

    In the decades since, the Russians have learned a great deal about taking a profit and minted a whole new class of billionaires known as “oligarchs.”

    One of the 13 named in special counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictments, Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed by the Russian press as President Vladimir Putin’s “chef” is one of these oligarchs. The indictment alleges that Prigozhin controlled Concord Catering, a company that funded the Internet Research Agency.

    The monthly budget for the Internet Research Agency, which included funding for interference in the US elections, exceeded 73 million Russian rubles, or more than $1.25 million. Isn’t capitalism great when it comes back to bite us?

    It is quite curious how the promise of digital communications created in this country to bring people together all over the world has now been weaponized to do great harm to our own democracy.

    This growing investigation won’t stop here. In fact, the NSA and Congress have previously implicated that social media networks that were used to spawn the Arab Spring uprisings. Now it appears the Kremlin, via its surrogates, has been using these very same social media networks to disrupt our elections by using the same techniques and “algorithms” that savvy marketing and advertising firms use to spread commercial advertising.

    Contrary to what Trump calls a “witch hunt,” we are now confronted with a Frankenstein monster of our own making. This has been coming for a very long time, ever since some politicians and others have started using social media as a platform to disseminate sanitized, self-promotional eNews to control their public image.  Think Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino’s weekly emailed newsletter or a plethora of other chamber of commerce promotions that, while informative, only provide one-sided members-only promotions — and nothing controversial.  Have you ever wondered, while reading Buscaino’s selfie-laced eNews, what actually took place at the City Council that week that affects your neighborhood or how he voted on the latest homeless issue? Or what’s coming up at next week’s council meeting that you might need to know about before the vote is taken?

    The same could be said of the Port of Los Angeles’ incessantly positive news releases. One might call them positive propaganda since there is hardly ever any skepticism or bad news. There are no doubts or even much worry that anything has gone wrong.

    Even when something does get revealed, there’s always the “positive spin” intended to cover their collective departmental ass. Unfortunately, we have all become accustomed to this tidal wave of self promotional propaganda, and when a publication like this one dares to challenge the “positive spin,”  we are accused of “being too negative” or worse, peddling in fake news — a falsehood the port, the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and a minority of local Trump supporters have slandered me with recently.

    Perpetually producing self-promotional propaganda is a step short of intentionally creating disinformation, creating confusion and disruption in an open society to throw elections. But these producers of positive propaganda and the social media networks who carry them must bear some responsibility like a real publisher does. Considerable care should be given to reporting the good with the bad. Opinion articles are labeled as such because they are opinions and not broadcast as news. And paid-for content needs to labeled as such.

    It was reported in the New York Times this past January that an obscure American company named Devumi collected millions of dollars by selling Twitter followers and retweets for anyone who wants to “appear” more popular than they actually are. The New York Times found that this one company drew upon an estimated stock of 3.5 million “automated accounts” and provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers. So, the phony news is spun by commercial propagandists, but the analytic reports generated to prove audience followers can also be false.

    Going back to the Mueller indictments, what we now see is how vulnerable we as a nation are to foreign hackers who are not afraid to launch attacks in cyberspace — attacks they would never dare risk in a real theater of war.

    The Rand Corporation concluded in a recent blog posting that the U.S. already has an extensive set of tools and capabilities for deterrence in cyberspace.

    “However, these tools are shrouded in a fog of confusion and doubt that prevents the U.S. from using them to the greatest possible effect.”

    Our very own smart social media has been used against us and used as a tool to spread conflict and discord to make us dumber. It may have ultimately thrown the election to the man who lost the popular vote.

    It is my speculation that Putin knows he can control Trump through the Russian money laundering and that Hillary Clinton was seen as a real threat. But only time will tell if the Mueller investigation opens another one of Pandora’s Boxes to expose all of our very own demons.

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  • Feed Frenzy

    • 02/23/2018
    • Reporters Desk
    • News
    • Comments are off

    For years, media outlets (and small businesses) desperately chased the clicks promised by Facebook; now the social media giant threatens to destroy them

    By Daniel Walters

    As with any toxic relationship, the possibility that the news media’s love affair with Facebook may be headed for a breakup is sparking feelings of terror — and maybe a little relief.

    This past month, the social media behemoth announced it would once again alter its News Feed algorithm, showing users even more posts from their friends and family, and a lot fewer from media outlets.

    The move isn’t all that surprising. Since the 2016 election, Facebook’s been under siege for creating a habitat where fake news stories flourished. Company executives were dragged before Congress this past year to testify about how they sold ads to Russians who wanted to influence the U.S. election. In some ways, it’s simply easier for Facebook to get out of the news business altogether.

    But many news outlets that have come to rely on the readers that Facebook has been funneling to their sites. To them, the impact of a separation sounds catastrophic.

    “The End of the Social News Era?” asked a recent headline in the New York Times.

    “Facebook is breaking up with news,” proclaimed an ad for the new BuzzFeed app..

    When a giant like Facebook takes a step — until recently, the social media site had been sending more traffic to news outlets than Google — the resulting quake can cause an entire industry to crumble.

    Serious consumers, meanwhile, have grimaced as their favorite media outlets have stooped to sensational headlines to lure Facebook’s web traffic. They’ve become disillusioned by the site’s  flood of hoaxes and conspiracy theories.

    A Knight Foundation-Gallup poll released this past month revealed that only one third of Americans had a positive view of the media. About 57 percent said that websites or apps using algorithms to determine which news stories readers see was a major problem for democracy. Two-thirds believed the media being “dramatic or too sensational in order to attract more readers or viewers” was a major problem.

    Now, sites that rely on Facebook’s algorithm have watched the floor drop from under them when the algorithm is changed — all while Facebook has gobbled up chunks of print advertising revenue.

    It’s all landed media outlets in a hell of a quandary: It sure seems like Facebook is killing journalism.

    “Traffic is such a drug right now,” said Sean Robinson, a 53-year-old investigative reporter at the Tacoma News Tribune. “The industry is hurting so bad that it’s really hard to detox.”

    you won’t believe what happens next

    It’s perhaps the perfect summation of the internet age: a website that started because a college kid wanted to rank which co-eds were hotter became a global goliath powerful enough to influence the fate of the news industry itself.

    When Facebook first launched its News Feed in 2006, it ironically didn’t have anything to do with news. At least, not how we think of it. This was the website that still posted a little broken-heart icon when you changed your status from “In a Relationship” to “Single.”

    The News Feed was intended to be a list of personalized updates from your friends. When Facebook was talking about “news stories,” it meant, in the words of Facebook’s announcement, like “when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.”

    But in 2009, Facebook introduced its iconic “like” button. Soon, instead of showing posts in chronological order, the News Feed began showing you the popular posts first.

    And that made all the difference.

    Facebook didn’t invent going viral — grandmas with America Online accounts were forwarding funny emails and chain letters when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was still in grade school — but its algorithm amplified it. Well-liked posts soared. Unpopular posts simply went unseen.

    Google had an algorithm too. So did YouTube.

    Journalists were given a new directive: If you wanted readers to see your stories, you had to play by the algorithm’s rules. Faceless, mystery formulas had replaced the stodgy newspaper editor as the gatekeeper of information.

    So when the McClatchy Co. — a chain that owns 31 daily papers including the Tacoma News Tribune and the Bellingham Herald — launched its reinvention strategy last year, knowing how to get Facebook traffic was central.

    “Facebook has allowed us to get our journalism out to hundreds of millions more people than it would have otherwise,” said McClatchy’s vice president of news Tim Grieve, a fast-talking former Politico editor. “It has forced us, and all publishers, to sharpen our game to make sure we’re writing stories that connect with people.”

    With digital ad rates tied to web traffic, the incentives in the modern media landscape could be especially perverse: Write short, write lots. Pluck heartstrings or stoke fury.

    In short, be more like Upworthy. A site filled with multi-sentence emotion-baiting headlines, Upworthy begged you to click by promising that you would be shocked, outraged or inspired — but not telling you why. (One example: “His first 4 sentences are interesting. The 5th blew my mind and made me a little sick.”)

    By November of 2013, Upworthy was pulling in 88 million unique visitors a month. With Facebook’s help, the formula spread.

    Even magazines like Time and Newsweek — storied publications that sent photojournalists to war zones — began pumping out articles like, Does Reese Witherspoon Have 3 Legs on Vanity Fair’s Cover? and Trump’s Hair Loss Drug Causes Erectile Dysfunction.

    Newsweek’s publisher went beyond clickbait; the magazine was actually buying traffic through pirated video sites, allegedly engaging in ad fraud.

    Newsweek senior writer Matthew Cooper eventually resigned in disgust after several Newsweek editors and reporters who’d written about the publisher’s series of scandals were fired. He heaped contempt on an organization that had installed editors who “recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness” and left him “despondent not only for Newsweek but for the other publications that don’t heed the lessons of this publication’s fall.”

    Mathew Ingram, who covers digital media for Columbia Journalism Review, said such tactics might increase traffic for a while. But readers hate it. Sleazy tabloid shortcuts gives you a sleazy tabloid reputation.

    “Short-term you can make a certain amount of money,” Ingram said. “Long-term you’re basically setting fire to your brand.”


    Plenty of media outlets have tried to build their business on the foundation of the News Feed algorithm. But they quickly got a nasty surprise: That foundation can collapse in an instant.

    As Facebook’s News Feed became choked with links to Upworthy and its horde of imitators, the social network declared war on clickbait. It tweaked its algorithms, which proved catastrophic for Upworthy.

    “It keeps changing,” Ingram said, “Even if the algorithm was bad in some way, at least if it’s predictable, you could adapt.”

    A 2014 Time magazine story estimated that two to three global algorithm tweaks on Facebook were happening every week.

    Much of the time, Facebook and Google don’t announce their shifts up front. Media outlets often have had to reverse-engineer the changes, before issuing new commands to their troops in the field.

    A pattern emerged:

    Step 1: Media outlets reinvent themselves for Facebook

    Step 2: Facebook makes that reinvention obsolete

    Big publishers leaped at the chance to publish “Instant Articles” directly on Facebook, only to find that the algorithm soon charged, rewarding videos more than posts and rendering Instant Articles largely obsolete. So publishers like Mic.com, Mashable and Vice News “pivoted to video,” laying off dozens of journalists in the process.

    “Then Facebook said they weren’t as interested in video anymore,” Ingram said. “Classic bait and switch.”

    Which brings us to the latest string of announcements: The News Feed, Zuckerberg announced last month, had skewed too far in the direction of social video posts from national media pages and too far away from personal posts from friends and family.

    They were getting back to their roots.

    It might be easy to mock those who chased the algorithm from one trend to another with little to show for it. But the reality is that many of them didn’t really have a choice, Ingram said.

    “You pretty much have to do something with Facebook,” Ingram said. “You have to. It’s like gravity. You can’t avoid it.”

    Zuckerberg’s comments that stories that sparked “meaningful social interactions” would do the best on Facebook caused some to scoff.

    “For Facebook, it’s bad if you read or watch content without reacting to it on Facebook,” wrote tech journalist Joshua Topolsky at The Outline. “Let that sink in for a moment. This notion is so corrupt it’s almost comical.”

    “It just, more and more, seems like Facebook and news are not super compatible,” said Shan Wang, staff writer at Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Laboratory.

    At least not for real news. For fake news, Facebook’s been a perfect match.

    faking it

    Not long ago Facebook was positively smug about its impact on the world. During the Arab Spring its  platform fanned the flames of popular uprisings in places like Tunisia, Iran and Egypt.

    “By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible,”  Zuckerberg bragged in a 2012 letter to investors under the header, We hope to change how people relate to their governments and social institutions.

    And Facebook certainly has — though not the way it intended.

    A BuzzFeed investigation before the 2016 presidential election found that “fake news” stories on Facebook, hoaxes or hyperpartisan falsehoods actually performed better on Facebook than stories from major trusted outlets like the New York Times.

    That, experts speculated, is another reason why Facebook, despite its massive profits, might be pulling back from its focus on news.

    “As unprecedented numbers of people channel their political energy through this medium, it’s being used in unforeseen ways with societal repercussions that were never anticipated,” wrote Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s product manager for civic engagement, in a recent blog post.

    The exposure was widespread. A Dartmouth study found about a fourth of Americans visited at least one fake-news website — and Facebook was the primary vector of misinformation. While researchers didn’t find fake news swung the election — though about 80,000 votes in three states is a pretty small margin to swing — the effect has endured.

    Donald Trump has played a role. He snatched away the term used to describe hoax websites and wielded it as a blunderbuss against the press, blasting away at any negative reporting as “fake news.”

    By last May, a Harvard-Harris poll found that almost two-thirds of voters believed that mainstream news outlets were full of fake news stories.

    The danger of fake news, after all, wasn’t just that we’d be tricked with bogus claims. It was that we’d be pummeled with so many different contradictory stories, with so many different angles, the task of trying to sort truth from fiction just becomes exhausting.

    So, you choose your own truth or, Facebook’s algorithm chooses it for you.

    Every time you like a comment, chat, or click on Facebook, the site uses that to figure out what you actually want to see: It inflates your own bubble, protecting you from facts or opinions you might disagree with.

    And when it does expose you to views from the other side, it’s most likely going to be the worst examples, the trolls eager to make people mad online, or the infuriating op-ed that all your friends are sharing.

    That’s partly why many of the 3,000 Facebook ads that Russian trolls bought to influence the election weren’t aimed at promoting Trump directly. They were aimed at inflaming division in American life by focusing on such issues as race and religion.

    Facebook has tried to address the fake news problem — hiring fact checkers to examine stories, slapping “disputed” tags on suspect claims, putting counterpoints in related article boxes — but with mixed results.

    The recent Knight Foundation-Gallup poll, meanwhile, found that those surveyed believed that the broader array of news sources actually made it harder to stay well-informed.

    And those who grew up soaking in the brine of social media aren’t necessarily better at sorting truth from fiction. Far from it.

    “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak,” concluded Stanford researchers in a 2016 study of more than 7,800 students. More than 80 percent of middle schoolers surveyed didn’t know the difference between sponsored content and a news article.

    It’s why like groups like Media Literacy Now have successfully pushed legislatures in states like Washington to put media literacy programs in schools.

    That includes teaching students how information was being manipulated behind the scenes, said the organization’s president, Erin McNeill.

    “With Facebook, for example, why am I seeing this story on the top of the page?” she asked. “Is it because it’s the most important story, or is it because of another reason?”

    But Facebook’s new algorithm threatens to make existing fake news problems even worse, Ingram said. By focusing on friends and family, it could strengthen the filter bubble even further. Rewarding “engagement” can just as easily incentivize the worst aspects of the internet.

    Hoaxes, conspiracy theories, idiots who start fights in comments sections are really good at getting engagement. Nuance doesn’t get engagement. Outrage does.

    feast and famine

    It’s not fair, exactly, to say that Facebook killed the alt-weekly in Knoxville, Tenn. But it probably landed the final blow.

    The internet, obviously, has been killing newspapers for a very long time. Why, say, would you pay a monthly subscription to the Daily Cow, when you can get the milk online for free?

    It killed other revenue sources as well. Craigslist cut out classified sections. Online dating killed personal ads. Amazon put many local mom-and-pop advertisers out of business.

    Yet the Metro Pulse, Knoxville’s longtime alt-weekly, was still turning a slight profit in 2014 when the E.W. Scripps Co. shut it down. So editor Coury Turczyn and a few other staffers set out to start their own paper.

    But in the six months it took to get the Knoxville Mercury off the ground, the market had changed.

    “We lost a lot more small-business advertisers than we expected,” Turczyn said.

    Facebook had captured them.

    At one time, alt-weeklies could rake in advertising money by selling cheaper rates and guaranteeing advertisers to hit a younger, hipper, edgier audience. But then, Facebook came along. The site let businesses micro-target their advertisements at incredibly specific audiences.

    Like Google, Facebook tracks you across the web, digging deep into your private messages to figure out whether to sell you wedding dresses, running shoes or baby formula.

    “You go to Facebook, you can try to pick your audience based on their geographic location, their interests,” Turczyn said.

    It’s cheaper; it’s easier; and it comes with a report chock-full of stats on who the ad reached.

    “Even if it doesn’t result in any sales and foot traffic, it at least has this report,” Turczyn said.

    Mercury advertising representatives would cite examples of businesses who advertised in print and saw their foot traffic double the next day — but the small businesses wouldn’t bite. Attempts to rally reader donations weren’t enough. The Mercury shut down in July.

    “It’s just more of the same sad story,” Turczyn said. “It’s a slaughter, there’s no doubt about it.”

    Turczyn said two decades of journalism experience hasn’t helped much with the job search. Journalists aren’t what outlets are looking for.

    “The single biggest job opening I see consistently is social media manager or ‘digital brand manager,’” Turczyn said. “Those are the jobs on the marketplace right now.’

    It’s not that nobody’s making massive amounts of money on advertising online. It’s just that only two are: Facebook and Google — and they’re both destroying print advertising.

    The decline in print advertising has ravaged the world of alt-weeklies, killing icons like the Boston Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Philadelphia City Paper and the Baltimore City Paper.

    Dailies keep suffering, too, no matter how prestigious or internet-savvy.

    The West Virginia Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer Prize last year for reporting on the opioid crisis. It filed for bankruptcy last month. Eleven staffers were cut from the Oregonian on Jan. 31, the same day Silicon Valley’s San Jose Mercury News slashed staff.McClatchy’s made a lot of cuts in the past year, too, though Grieve declined to say exactly how many positions have been eliminated. He, for one, doesn’t blame Facebook.

    “Our newsrooms are smaller than they once were, but because we’re so focused on serving the needs of our communities, we’re actually reaching more readers than we ever have before,”  Grieve wrote in an email.

    Yet, the convergence of layoffs with the pressure to get web traffic has influenced coverage, Robinson said. Stories about schools don’t get many clicks. Weird crime stories do.

    But as a long-time reporter, Robinson knows that bombshell scoops can sometimes begin with mundane reporting.

    “The media companies want the traffic, the traffic, the traffic,” Robinson said. “The stuff [readers] need to know — but don’t know they need to know — disappears.”

    If you’re not a behemoth like BuzzFeed your best bet is to be small enough to be supported by die-hard readers, Ingram, at the Columbia Journalism Review, said.

    “If you’re really, really hyper-focused — geographically or on a topic — then you have a chance,” Ingram said. “Your readership will be passionate enough to support you in some way.”

    That’s one reason some actually welcome the prospect of less Facebook traffic. Maybe, the thinking goes, without a reliance on Facebook clicks, newspapers would once again be able to build trust with their readers. Maybe, the hope goes, readers would start seeking out newspapers directly again.

    But even if Facebook suddenly ceased to exist, there are other sites with other algorithms that can drive traffic and shape coverage. As traffic referred by Facebook falls, the focus at McClatchy is already shifting. You can optimize your news coverage to appear high in the Facebook News Feed — but you can also optimize it to appear higher in the Google search results.

    “We’re all about Google, again,” Robinson said. “Google, Google, Google!”


    A reporter for Inlander.com, Daniel Walters reports on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County. Walters also occasionally dabbles in TV criticism, where his writing has been linked by TV showrunners and national pop culture sites

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  • Ports O’ Call Replacement Plans Readied–but has Port Planning Lost Its Way?

    • 02/23/2018
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
    • Comments are off

    A Veteran Planner Voices Concerns for the Community

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On March 20, the Port of Los Angeles will hold a public meeting at the Warner Grand Theater, where it and the developers will unveil plans for redeveloping the Ports O’ Call Village site. Contrary to popular belief, Ports O’ Call restaurant will remain open for the foreseeable future, but no formal agreement has been announced. However, many deep community concerns remain about the plan — a plan which seem starkly at odds with what the community had been led to expect dating back almost two decades.

    However, sources close to the port indicate that the Ratkovich and Jerico development team are still in negotiations with Ports O’ Call restaurant but the port has not received a Letter of Intent to lease.

    “This idea of coming in and making a clean sweep — take everything out — this is 1970s urban renewal. It was a total failure,” said Rafique Khan, the Community Redevelopment Agency’s deputy director of planning, who worked on projects in San Pedro and Wilmington from 1997 to 2008. “You’ve got to bring in all the assets, on the waterfront, who have survived all this time — the Ports O’ Call, the restaurants—they need to be nurtured. Coming in and telling them for two years you’re going to get a holiday — you’re going to create a desert there.”

    That’s precisely what happened to Beacon Street in the 1970s.

    While Khan professed respect for both the Johnsons’ community investments and Wayne Ratkovich’s development record, he was both puzzled and skeptical of the preliminary plans Random Lengths News obtained through a public records act request from the port.

    For a successful development, Khan said, “You have to understand what people are looking for, and translate that into a program. After the program is done, then you know what your marketing plan is, who your client is, what your needs are, then you come and do the physical structure around it.

    Unfortunately, in most cases, it’s the other way around. We come in and do the physical things first, and then we look around for how were going to market it.”

    So the plans he saw puzzled him.

    “I’m not sure these guys really understand the underlying issue: What is the vision of San Pedro of the future 21st century? In my opinion, the core is you have to get new jobs in the area, and you have to understand how do we connect the community to the waterfront. The present plan is in the middle they build a shopping center, and with the promenade it really is further separating the community from the waterfront.”

    That’s a glaring problem, given that connecting the community with the waterfront — functionally as well as visually — has been a central guiding theme of waterfront development planning since the end of the Richard Riordan mayoral administration.

    “I’m not sure what the thinking behind these plans is,” Khan said. “To give a very gross example, cities are like human beings. Here you have a human being with broken bones, and has not been nourished for generations. You suddenly put a nice suit on the person, and give them a facial and say then, ‘Here we are. Go.”

    Khan had “a classic example” in mind, pointing to “the other side of Harbor Boulevard where the port spent considerable dollars on landscaping the area where cruise ships are berthed,” one of the first waterfront development project, over a decade ago.

    “There is an elaborate water feature and expensive hardscape. It all looks good, but in terms of the economics of San Pedro, has it made any difference?” he asked. “Unless you have a lot of underpinning, unless people have a desire and reason to go to these places, pretty pictures and pretty buildings don’t matter. People don’t go for buildings,” Khan observed. Rather, “You have to understand what are the underlying issues,” and address them first.

    Most significantly, “San Pedro is a waterfront community, and it has lost its connection with the waterfront … losing a connection is difficult. It doesn’t exist anymore,” Khan said. Most of the wide range of jobs residents once had — fishing and processing, shipbuilding and repair — have vanished. “The port is there,” he acknowledged, “But it’s a very big enterprise, and it’s not connected with San Pedro because it’s become too big and the social fabric of the town is torn apart. It was a very small community, a vibrant, small community.”

    But for a long time now that fabric has frayed into competing interests.

    “They all seem to be pulling in different directions and San Pedro does not have a vision,” he said.

    “Unless you craft the vision and know where you’re going, you can’t just start walking. You have to know what your destination is.”

    This is more or less what the community managed to do over the course of a decade of planning, from 1999 to 2009, when the Waterfront Development’s Final environmental impact report was approved in a marathon seven-hour meeting in the wee hours of Sept. 30, with approximately 500 people in attendance overall. Despite recurrent clashes with the port, different community factions came together well enough at that time to get a plan they could live with, even though it fell short of the Community Sustainability Plan, whose supporters were drawn from diverse parts of the community from the Sierra Club to the Chamber of Commerce. But things have deteriorated significantly since then, with vastly diminished public input.

    “My take on San Pedro is that it really needs a remedy on all three fronts, and that’s physical, economic and vision. Unless these are restored, there’s not going to be much improvement in the community,” Khan explained.

    The first one would make a physical connection with the old street grid. That needs to be restored. All the north-south and east-west street must physically connect to the waterfront.

    He qualified slightly, in view of the cliffs south of Seventh Street. “Every street does not have to be motor able,” he said. “Having said that, there are streets in LA with very steep gradient; one in my neighborhood — Silverlake — has a very steep grade. The street has become a tourist attraction.” A lesson worth considering. “The point is to create visual corridors that connect the community with its Waterfront,” he continued.

    “The street pattern on the two sides of Harbor Boulevard should be of the same character. That is the first step for creating the seamless interface,” another concept that dates back to the Riordan administration.

    As for economics, “The land uses in that grid must relate to the community, and must have some bearing which will bring jobs to the community which will bring in new economic base to the community,” Khan said. “Unless these things happen, these new buildings are not going to do anything. Because unless you have the economics in the community, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

    Finally, “The last point is the vision, San Pedro was a thriving mid-20th century small community. That is gone. What is the vision for the 21st century?” Khan asked. “Is it going to be a bedroom community? Is it going to be a repository for social service users? Or is it going to be a community that relates to all these people and creates community in which there’s a place for all people?”

    The last option is clearly preferable, but as Khan observed that, “We’re so truncated and so bifurcated in our thinking that the interest groups only look at their interests … they don’t look at other interests. I spent 10 years in the community. [It is] my sense is there are certain things that could be done which will really make it into the vibrant, best in all of Southern California.”

    The keys are a combination of existing, under-utilized strengths. “Say we’re going to have an art and culture, historic community that will encompass a commercial area, a residential area and the waterfront,” Khan said. “It’s not going to be a typical historical district of LA, but a new district…. We’re not going to just simply live in history, but these are the roots and on the basis of these roots we’re going to plant some new trees, and the new trees could be some new uses, new housing, new commercial activity, which will bring economic activity into the area.”

    The existing restaurant scene could be raised to whole new level with a marketing plan including a unified system of free valet parking, for example. A number of older ideas could be synergized — brining in a law college, creating a Wi-Fi district and expanding the arts district — and combined with an idea he’s had since leaving the area — a land swap between the city and the port that would involve giving the parkland around the Korean Bell to the port to establish a university based on maritime uses and security against terrorism, and give San Pedro’s waterfront property to the city for parkland, possibly an arboretum. It could also accommodate museum concepts, which Random Lengths has suggested in the past—a labor museum, a museum of maritime cultures, joint satellites from Los Angeles’s major museums.

    Sure, it might seem wildly outlandish. But today’s port is wildly outlandish by 1920s standards. The waterfront planning process was always recognized as a multi-decade affair. Perhaps in our hurry to finish things, we’ve lost sight of where we want to go.

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  • Calendar

    • 02/22/2018
    • Reporters Desk
    • Calendar
    • Comments are off


    March 2

    Strunz & Farah


    Yeah, you’ve heard of ‘em. Maybe at the Grammys, where they were nominated long ago. The guitar duo have been performing their original rhythmic flamenco-style world fusion since 1979. But which one’s Strunz?

    Time: 8 p.m. March 2

    Cost: $25

    Details: www.grandvision.org

    Venue: Grand Annex, 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro


    March 3

    Candi Sosa, Christina Rebull


    Cristina Rebull channels Edith Piaf in vocal range and versatility. Candi Sosa can go from a Celia Cruz style rumba to a Shirley Bassey big ballad.

    Time: 8 p.m. March 3

    Cost: $30

    Details: www.alvasshowroom.com

    Venue: Alvas Showroom, 1418 W. 8th St., San Pedro


    March 3

    Reverend Tall Tree


    Internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Chris Pierce and his band deliver original blues and American roots music in the tradition of Little Walter. TIM-berrrrrrrr!

    Time: 8 to 11 p.m. March 3

    Cost: $20 to $30

    Details: www.grandvision.org

    Venue: Grand Annex, 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro




    Before It Hits Home


    Set in Midwestern America in 1991, Before It Hits Home is a complex and powerful drama that explores the effect of AIDS on charismatic jazz musician Wendal Bailey, his lovers, parents, and even his 14-year-old son. The play was the winner of the Helen Hayes Award for best new play in 1992.

    Time: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 23 through March 11

    Cost: $10 to $15

    Details: (310) 243-3589; www.csudh.edu/theatre/tickets.

    Venue: Edison Studio Theatre, Cal State Dominguez Hills, 1000 E. Victoria St., Carson


    March 3

    Let Them Eat Books


    International City Theatre is bringing classic literature frolicking to life in their production of Let Them Eat Books. Poems and stories from Lewis Carroll, James Thurber, and e. e. cummings are performed with energy, humor, and lots of audience participation. The performance has an improvisational feel.

    Time: 11 a.m. March 3

    Cost: Free

    Details: (562) 495-4595; www.ictlongbeach.org


    March 17

    The Invention of Morel


    Based on influential Argentinian author Adolfo Bioy Casares 1940 novel La invención de Morel, Copeland and Moore’s opera examines the triumph of time-bending love over convention in a story of adoration and desire. In the story, an escaped fugitive who is fearful of discovery arrives on an isolated, strange island.

    Time: 7:30 p.m. March 17 and 24, and 2:30 p.m. March 25

    Cost: $49 to $150

    Details: longbeachopera.org

    Venue: The Beverly O’Neill Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach



    Guys and Dolls


    Gangsters and gamblers, missionary dolls, and showgirls turn the gamble of love into a high-energy musical. Rolling the dice is the vice of choice for Nathan Detroit (Matthew Henerson). He has big spenders ready to join his latest illegal crap game, but he needs some serious dough to keep the game afloat.

    Time: 8 p.m. March 1, 2 and 3, 1 p.m. Feb. 25 and March 4, 2 p.m. March 2 6 p.m.

    Cost: $20

    Details: (562) 856-1999; www.musical.org.

    Venue: Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach



    Feb. 24

    You be Bulky Item; I’ll be Curb Alert


    Sheridan Lowrey’s photographs of San Pedro’s castoffs allow views into the otherwise shuttered interiors and thus the private lives of city residents by way of objects’ psychological associations, utility and juxtapositions. The exhibition runs from Feb. 24 to March 31. The opening reception is Feb. 24.
    Time: 6 to 9 p.m. Feb.  24

    Details: (310) 266-9216; corneliusprojects.com

    Venue: Cornelius Projects, 1417 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro


    March 3

    Wilmington Art Walk Retro-Con


    The Wilmington Art Walk is back. This free for all ages event features artists, craft vendors and food trucks.

    Time: 1 to 6 p.m. March 3

    Cost: Free

    Venue: Longshoremen Hall, 231 W. C St., Wilmington



    Minoru Ohira: Memory & Nature


    Palos Verdes Art Center is pleased to announce Memory & Nature, recent sculpture by Minoru Ohira. Composed of wood, granite, graphite, and resin, his forms are abstracted from the human body as well as vegetal shapes, filtered by the traces of memory in a process of meditative carving.

    Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, through March 4

    Cost: Free

    Details: pvartcenter.org; memoryandnature.com

    Venue: Palos Verdes Art Center, 5504 W. Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes



    7 Painters


    TransVagrant + Gallery 478 are pleased to present 7 Painters including the works by Katy Crowe, Ron Linden, William Mahan, Jay McCafferty, Marie Thibeault, Ted Twine, and HK Zamani.

    Time: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, through March 11

    Details: (310) 732-2150

    Venue: Gallery 478, 478 W. 7th St., San Pedro



    The Rebel Body


    Angels Gate Cultural Center is pleased to present The Rebel Body, a solo show by Johanna Breiding.

    Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Mondays through Fridays, and 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 17

    Cost: Free

    Details: angelsgateart.org

    Venue: Angels Gate Cultural Center, 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro



    Making Social


    Making Social is an exhibition based on a pedagogic approach to social experience and art. The show is based on a course taught by Matt Rich over the past decade about social experience as a medium in art.

    Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 17

    Cost: Free

    Details: http://angelsgateart.org

    Venue: Angels Gate Cultural Center, 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro



    Robert Irwin: Site Determined


    This exhibition traces Robert Irwin’s process development as he embraced the ambient environment itself as his medium in his outdoor site-responsive projects. Site Determined reveals the artist’s process and demonstrates how he used landscape as muse and upheld observer as collaborator.

    Time: 12 to 5 p.m. Sundays through Thursday, and 12 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, through April 15

    Cost: Free

    Details: www.csulb.edu/university-art-museum

    Venue: University Art Museum, CSULB, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach



    Mar. 3

    SPIFF Oscar Nominated Short Films


    San Pedro International Film Festival will present Oscar-nominated documentaries.  

    Time: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. March 3

    Cost: $10 to $14

    Details: (310) 548-7672; Spiffest.org

    Venue: Warner Grand Theatre,  478 W. 6th St., San Pedro


    Mar. 3

    Brouwerij West 2nd Anniversary


    Brouwerij West is celebrating 2 years of brewery production at Warehouse  9 in San Pedro/Port of L.A. with iconic punk bands, X, Mike Watt + The Missingmen and L.A. Witch.

    Time: 6 p.m. March 3

    Cost: $20 to $75

    Detais: www.brouwerijwest.com

    Venue: Brouwerij West, 110 E. 22nd St., San Pedro


    Feb. 28

    Tenant Rights Workshop


    Join then Long Beach Resource Center in learning about fair housing rights and responsibilities as a tenant.

    Time: 2 to 4 p.m.

    Cost: Free

    Details: www.FHFCA.org or call 1(800) 446-FAIR

    Venue: Neighborhood Resource Center, 100 W. Broadway, suite 500, Long Beach

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  • POLA Moves 808,728 TEUs

    • 02/14/2018
    • Reporters Desk
    • Briefs
    • Comments are off

    SAN PEDRO — The Port of Los Angeles handled 808, 728 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs in January.

    While it is a slight decrease compared to January 2017’s record of 826,640 TEUs it is significantly higher than the port’s most recent 5-year January average of 683,033 TEUs.

    January 2018 imports increased 1.8 percent to 422,831 TEUs compared to the previous year. Exports decreased 7.6 percent to 150,035 TEUs while empty containers decreased 5.2 percent to 235,861 TEUs. Combined, January overall volumes were 808,728 TEUs, a 2.2 percent decrease compared to last year.

    January volumes are due, in part, to retail stores replenishing inventory after the holidays and cargo ships calling ahead of the Lunar New Year, when goods from Asia slow down considerably.

    Details: www.portoflosangeles.org/maritime/stats.asp

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  • $10K Reward Offered for Information on CSULB Student’s Shooter

    • 02/14/2018
    • RL Intern
    • Briefs
    • Comments are off

    LONG BEACH — On Feb. 14, homicide detectives announced a $10,000 reward for information on a person suspected of killing Cal State University Long Beach honor student.

    The reward, sponsored by Mark Ridley-Thomas and approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, was announced at the CSULB campus.

    Twenty-one-year-old Estephan Hernandez was shot several times, Sept. 28, 2017, in the 11000 block of East 148th St. in Compton, while sitting in his parked car having a conversation with his female friend. Unknown assailants drove by and shot at him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

    The suspect’s car fled westbound on 148th Street, away from the victim vehicle and out of view.
    Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500 or anonymously visit http://lacrimestoppers.org.

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  • Ballot Measure, Documentary Series Tackles LB Housing Issues

    • 02/13/2018
    • RL Intern
    • Culture
    • Comments are off

    By M. Smith, Editorial Intern

    While Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia touted development in the city as sign of progress at his State of the City address Jan. 9, many renters in Long Beach are fearing the impacts of gentrification.

    Sixty percent of Long Beach’s residents are renters, but the cost of rent is soaring and low-income families can’t catch up, putting them at risk of homelessness. Local activists are taking it to the polls. In late January, tenants began collecting signatures for proposed rent control ballot measure. If voters approve the Long Beach Rent Control Ordinance residential rent control and “just cause for eviction” requirements, renter protections would be established  in the city.

    The tenants’ struggles are featured in KCET’s multi-platform documentary, City Rising.

    Local housing advocates hosted a free screening of the KCETLink Media Group’s documentary special  Jan. 24 at the Art Theatre of Long Beach. The screening was followed by an interactive panel discussion with Long Beach community leaders featured in the film. It showed glimpses of the six-chapter series focusing on six different cities, each facing gentrification and displacement.

    City Rising touches on the deep discriminatory roots of gentrification and the mobilizing against high rents, which place people at risk of homelessness.

    In the episode titled, Impact the drastic difference in investment between the developed downtown of Long Beach and the low-income communities that are in close proximity are compared. The episode gives a tour of The Current, a luxury high rise apartment complex. According to a downtown market study, there are  33,000 residents living in downtown Long Beach and 75 percent are low-income.

    “If you look at Long Beach it fits a fantastic example of heavy investment downtown along the waterfront, massive gleaming buildings, and you go 3[or] 4 blocks away from that and seeing that there is virtually no investment in those communities at all,” said Anthony Iton, senior vice president of The California Endowment in the episode. “You need to balance the needs of development and the needs of renters who are much more vulnerable than property owners.”

    The third installment of the docu-series, Return to the Cities shows the lack of ownership in low-income communities of color is a prominent issue in displacement. Rent is increasing and small businesses are being displaced. Local mom-and-pop shops can’t compete with big corporations.  The rent increases also change demographics. Oakland, where rent also is increasing and small businesses are being displaced, is a primary example.

    “The area …  used to be predominantly black, I go there [now] and I don’t see black people anymore,” said Tonya Faison, founder of the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter.

    Boyle Heights is yet another community fighting gentrification. The historically Latino community was featured in the series struggling to preserve the landmark, Mariachi Plaza, from demolition. The episode concluded with the message that a statement is more effective if those affected take a stand.

    “We’re not going to be able to do this unless we fundamentally believe in democracy, and … it’s best measure is who shows up” Iton said.

    Learn more about how to get involved in advocating for fair housing at www.bhclongbeach.org or www.housinglb.org. All six chapters of City Rising are at www.kcet.org/shows/city-rising.

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  • Polarizing Polar Bears

    • 02/12/2018
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
    • Comments are off

    Unmasking a proxy war strategy by online climate change denialists

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    In early December, a video of a dying, emaciated polar bear, foraging for food on an iceless portion of the Arctic, went viral on social media. The video garnered millions of views on Facebook and YouTube. For most, it was a vivid signal of the future in store for us all due to human-caused (anthropogenic) global warming — rising temperatures due to increased carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. For those who deny or minimize the existence of anthropogenic global warming it wasn’t a polar bear, but a red herring (“Propaganda,” one YouTube viewer called it) — no one knows why it was dying, much less if it can be connected to global warming.

    That’s true, but also a bit beside the point.


    The problem is that an ever-warmer future means polar bears will have less and less access to their seal prey, so the rate at which bears die from malnutrition/starvation will increase,” said Dr. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for the nonprofit Polar Bears International. “So, regardless of the proximate cause of this bear’s condition, this heart-wrenching footage provides us with a warning about the future.

    Just days before the video went viral, a paper Amstrup co-authored presented the polar bear as something else as well: a “keystone domino,” a proxy used to attack global warming. The paper stated that:

    Because this evidence [for global warming] is so overwhelming, it would be virtually impossible to debunk; the main strategy of denier blogs is therefore to focus on topics that are showy and in which it is therefore easy to generate public interest. These topics are used as “proxies” for [anthropogenic global warming] in general; in other words, they represent keystone dominoes that are strategically placed in front of many hun­dreds of others, each representing a separate line of evidence for anthropogenic global warming. By appearing to knock over the keystone domino, audiences targeted by the communication may assume all other dominoes are toppled in a form of “dismissal by associ­ation.

    The paper, Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy, by Jeffrey Harvey, a senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, and 13 co-authors, looked at 90 blogs and 92 peer reviewed papers. They analyzed them in terms of what they said about sea ice (declining rapidly or not, or varying unpredictably over the long run) and polar bears (threatened with extinction or not, or capable of adapting to threats).

    Another co-author, Bart Verheggen, a climate scientists at Amsterdam University College, starkly described their findings:

    There is a clear separation amongst blogs, where approximately half of the 90 blogs investigated agree with the majority of the scientific literature, whereas other blogs took a position that is diametrically opposed to the scientific conclusions. Most of the blogs in the latter group

    based their opinions on one and the same source: Susan Crockford.

    Crockford is an unpaid adjunct professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

    There were a few contested papers — ones that drew critical comments after publication — that fell outside the consensus, but they all fell between the two groups of blogs.

    “Our paper was clearly a direct hit because the response from the denial blogs was immediate,” Harvey told Random Lengths. “As is their modus operandi, they studiously avoid the core messages, which are that they use a tiny set of topics (proxies) to dismiss anthropogenic global warming… in attacking the evidence that [anthropogenic global warming] is driving a rapid reduction in seasonal arctic ice extent, [which] threatens polar bears, they almost completely avoid the published scientific literature.”

    It’s worth noting that two of Harvey’s co-authors, Amstrup and Ian Stirling, co-authored more than 20 of the 92 papers in that literature, an indication of their depth of knowledge that denialists actually held against them.

    The paper also concluded with an unusual call to action:

    We believe that it is imperative for more scientists to venture beyond the confines of their labs and lecture halls to directly engage with the public and policymakers, as well as more strongly confronting and resisting the well-funded and organized network of [anthropogenic global warming] denial.

    But global warming denialism is so pervasive it can now be considered a contributing factor to global warming itself — something to be studied and mitigated. This paper is just the latest in the growing field of scientific studies of global warming science and denialist response that’s increasingly causing denialists to squirm.

    Studying Climate Denialism: A Growing Subfield

    This began in 2004, when science historian Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science and affiliated professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard, produced the first of several studies establishing the existence of a solid 97 percent consensus of scientists that humans are responsible for ongoing global warming. It’s also been shown that increasing awareness of this consensus increases public acceptance. In 2015, Norwegian climate scientist Rasmus Benestad pioneered the study of patterns of mistakes across dissenting papers in the remaining 3 percent. These were discovered by trying to replicate their results.

    In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, another of Harvey’s co-authors, initiated another line of research. He explored patterns of reasoning in the public at large. He first discovered that belief in a cluster of conspiracy theories was associated with global warming denial. Then he studied the online response of denialists to that study in a paper called “Recursive Fury,” in which he reported that many denialists exhibited at least one of six previously identified characteristics of conspiracist ideation.

    The denialists reacted furiously again and the journal that published the paper withdrew it, not because there was anything scientifically wrong with it, but for fear of being sued. This was widely condemned for encouraging scientifically unfounded attacks. Crockford also tried to get Harvey’s paper withdrawn and others tried to get Harvey condemned by his employer, but both were firmly rebuffed.

    Finally, in 2016, Yale sociologist Justin Farrell initiated another line of research, using network science and text analysis to investigate the overall structure and organizational power of the contrarian network, including the role of elite corporate benefactors.

    Thus, the first two lines of research establish why there’s no credible scientific support for rejecting global warming, while the next two broadly explain the consensus gap between scientists and the public in terms of a combination of individual psychology and socio-political influence, with a strong financial component. Harvey’s paper provides a much sharper focus for that broad explanation, leaving little wiggle room for a denialist response short of throwing up their hands in surrender.

    “They clearly did not want to respond through the peer reviewed literature, but instead resorted to three main tactics,” Harvey said. “The first was to accuse us of ganging up on Susan Crockford, even though she does not appear until page three of the article and is not the primary focus.”

    Indeed, Crockford is not even indirectly mentioned in the paper’s abstract.

    “They also launched all out attacks on the two most prominent authors, Mike Mann and Stephan Lewandowsky, finally coming around to me after some days,” Harvey said.

    Mann was principally responsible for the “hockey stick” graph, the first widely-accepted reconstruction of the past 1,000 years of northern hemisphere temperatures, showing dramatic temperature increases in the past few decades, which has made him a prime target for denialist attacks. “Recursive Fury” in particular made Lewandowsky a prime target. Finally, “They have tried to discredit the paper by criticizing the statistical analyses,” Harvey concluded.

    This was an effort spearheaded by economist Richard Tol, who floundered badly in a similar 2014 attempt to discredit the existence of the 97 percent consensus on global warming.

    On the last point, Lewandowsky, highlighted what he called, The “Monty-Pythonesque” angle of them trying frantically to invalidate their data.

    “The only way to achieve that would be if their blogs didn’t make the claims they clearly insist on making — namely that the Arctic isn’t melting and polar bears are just fine,” Lewandowsky said.

    A New Proxy Fight:  Crockford Cries ‘Rape!’

    But what they lacked in substance, they made up for in sound and fury, with Crockford herself leading the way. After pointing out the denier blogs’ heavy reliance on her, the paper read:

    “Notably, as of this writing, Crockford has neither conducted any original research nor published any articles in the peer-reviewed literature on polar bears.”

    Crockford, a zoologist who’s been secretly paid by the denialist Heartland Institute, seemingly proved their point by responding with a series of heated blog posts, rather than a comment letter to the journal. One post claimed the paper was a conspiratorial response getting back at her for a non-peer-reviewed paper she’d published on the web.

    On one blog post, she stated that:

    Bioscience article is academic rape: an assertion of power and intimidation…. Characterizing a professional, respected scientist as an unqualified vengeful opinion writer is the same kind of power attack as rape. It’s meant to humiliate and intimidate.

    Other denialist blogs echoed her theme, characterizing the paper’s authors as “climate bullies” and harassers.

    “Crockford’s claim of academic rape is, in my opinion, really appalling,” Harvey said. “Four of my co-authors are women, including two in their 20s.”

    So, was Crockford accusing them of rape, too? Or simply erasing their existence?

    “Our team has no agenda against a specific blogger,” said Meena Balgopal, associate professor of biology at Colorado State University — another co-author. “We simply found that the majority (80 percent) of the blogs that were identified as ‘climate denying’ referenced Crockford’s blog. Our goal was to use objective methods to better understand how blogs that describe climate change and polar bears present and frame information. Discussions of  ‘#MeToo’ or ‘rape’ are, therefore, irrelevant to our study.”

    Competing Conspiracy Theories

    There’s a second element in Crockford’s persecution narrative: Her entry into the half-baked conspiracy theories about the origins of Harvey’s story.

    “It’s interesting to see the different conspiracy theories being touted about our paper [on different denialist blogs],” Verheggen said.

    Verheggen said that all of them are wildly wrong. The following are a few of the claims he refutes:

    Mann and Lewandowsky are behind it all, and they dragged others in with them (WUWT [a blog], others)

    Amstrup and Stirling wanted to get back at Crockford who criticized them and got others to help them (Tom Fuller at cliscep and elsewhere)

    A clique around Bart Verheggen and Amsterdam Academia got others to join them in their crusade against “skeptics,” (the Dutch deniosphere at climategate.nl)

    WUWT — What’s Up With That? — is the most viewed denialist website worldwide. It actually promoted both of the first two conspiracies. Conspiracy theorists often embrace multiple, different and even contradictory conspiracy narratives. This is one of the six characteristics of conspiracist thought mentioned above, known as “must be wrong,” a pervasive belief that a conspiracy exists despite specific disproofs. Another corollary of this conspiracy thought characteristic is the belief in mutually-contradictory theories.  The conspiracies listed above aren’t mutually exclusive, but they do illustrate another characteristic of conspiracist thought, “persecution-victimization,” the tendency to see themselves as persecuted victims of the conspiracy, as well as potential heroes. Thus, Crockford and her fans prefer the conspiracy theory revolving around her and the Dutch denialists prefer the conspiracy centered on Dutch soil.

    A Peek Into Peer Review Confusions

    “Amstrup is pissed off because I criticized his work,” Crockford wrote in a comment on WUWT. “He and Stirling are not used to being challenged.”

    She touted her theory of the paper’s origins and purpose, based on a paper she published online at PeerJ, which is not in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Ignoring that fact, she wrote, “Colleagues have read my paper and found it to be fully acceptable as a piece of academic scientific work. If that were not true, this desperately ridiculous Bioscience paper would never have been published.”

    But that’s not how science works. A paper generally has to be peer reviewed and published, before other scientists feel a need to respond.

    “It was peer-reviewed by several well-qualified colleagues before publication (and revised accordingly) [which is not what ‘peer-reviewed’ means] but was not peer-reviewed again by the PeerJ organization, as is their policy,” Crockford wrote.

    So, she knows full well it wasn’t peer reviewed, but wants to confuse her non-scientist readers. That was from a blog post containing her “letter to the editors of the journal Bioscience requesting retraction of the shoddy and malicious paper by Harvey, et al.”  The editors surely saw through this amateurish deception. Just like Donald Trump, she was playing to her base.

    That’s hardly her only deception. Elsewhere on her blog, Crockford let her real feelings about Bioscience show—feelings so strong they seemed to impair her basic math:

    BioScience is an interesting choice for this ‘Forum’ paper: I counted only 4 polar bear research papers in this journal since 2004  but 11 papers on “climate change denial” since 2010 (not including this one). In other words, few polar bear scientists would usually read this journal but many people interested in the “problem” of “climate change denial” would seek it out.

    Yet, it only takes a moment, clicking on the links Crockford provides in the text, to discover she’s totally wrong. There are actually 88 journal articles listed on polar bears, 72 classified as research articles. For ‘climate change denial’ the numbers are 19 and 16, respectively. So, she’s wrong both about the journal’s content, as well as what people read it for. It is not, as she pretends, a comfy conspiratorial den for her enemies, but a well-respected journal of bioscience.

    “This kind of harassment, intimidation and threats are typical in my opinion of climate change deniers when they are criticized,” Harvey concluded. “They rarely pursue the normal professional response of writing a rebuttal to a journal until all other options have been exhausted.”

    Back to the Science

    If the point of such proxy controversies is to distract, it’s good to refocus on what it’s being distracted from.

    “In addition to the badgering and nitpicking, we’ve been getting more conflation of the present and the future, more about how it has been warm in the past, and more suggestion polar bears will be fine on land,” Amstrup said.

    These are all topics well-settled in the scientific literature that are ripe for confusion in the context of a heated proxy fight. The paper explains these confusions, but denier blogs don’t pay attention to scientific literature. That’s the study’s main finding, remember? So Amstrup ticked off what was being obscured.

    “Deniers have criticized polar bear scientists because things we projected for later this century have not yet happened,” he said. That’s the main point of Crockford’s non-peer-reviewed paper. So, “there are no future threats.”

    This ignores the known long-term trends and the point Amstrup made about the dying bear video.

    “Lowered polar bear survival means more bears are starving to death, so regardless of what happened to cause this particular bear’s problems, we know a future with less ice means higher rates of this kind of event in the future — a future we can avoid by mitigating greenhouse gas rise,” Amstrup said.

    He also commented on past warm periods.

    “The best evidence suggests we will be far warmer by mid-century than any time in the polar bear’s evolutionary history,”  Amstrup said. “The current warming is occurring over the top of gradually declining insolation is caused by humans and is not at all analogous to past warming events.”

    As for polar bears surviving on land, studies show there just isn’t enough nutritious food for them to survive on without access to sea ice where they can hunt seals.  Sure, bears have been known to catch geese, for example, but, “there simply are not enough geese to feed all the polar bears if we ultimately let the ice disappear,” Amstrup said.

    Of course, the point of the paper is that all the above is well-known to scientists and is deliberately obscured on the denier blogs. The response to the paper helps to prove its point.

    A Last Hurrah — Or Harrumph

    One last response deserves special attention: that of economist Richard Tol, who has made slipshod scientific-sounding arguments before. In a 2014 paper he criticized one of several studies showing a 97 percent consensus on global warming, arguing it was “only” 91 percent instead.

    His paper was was rejected twice by one journal for flawed methodology, before it was published by another, still with some of the problems reviewers had flagged. A debunking of his claims, 24 Critical Errors in Tol (2014),  written by 10 co-authors was published at skepticalscience.com, which noted that in his most glaring mistake:

    “Tol effectively conjured approximately 300 papers rejecting or minimizing human-caused global warming out of thin air, with no evidence that those papers exist in reality.”

    This time outlooks strikingly similar. The data issues, once again, are illusory.

    “Simply put, there are no issues with the data and Tol doesn’t report any,” Lewandowsky said. “What Tol is doing instead is to throw various innuendos at our particular form of the data and listing the limitations of it. This is a never-ending game of ‘gotcha’ because every type of data has specific limitations, which are taken into account by the appropriate statistical analysis.”

    His conclusions are chimeral, too.

    “Harvey et al. (2017) thus really show that there are people who worry about sea-ice and polar bears, and those who do not and cite Dr. Crockford,” Tol wrote.

    “Tol’s description of ‘what we really show’ is a bit tricky,” Varteban said. “It’s written in a way that attempts to ridicule and downplay what we did, without being outright wrong.”

    “We do not only show there are people who worry and people [who] do not,” added Peter Roessingh, another co-author, an ecologist at the University of Amsterdam. “We show that all scientist are in one camp, with half of the blogs, and all other blogs are in the other camp. It is not a random mixture. By omitting the science position he distorts our conclusion.”

    Tol also complained that some of the paper’s co-authors had co-authored a good number of the papers on sea ice and polar bears, which made them biased. He layered multiple misleading arguments to make it seem quite underhanded and nefarious — questioning why only a small subset of papers on polar bears (in the Scopus database) were used, for example.

    “There may well be 278 papers on polar bears in Scopus,” Lewandowsky responded. “In fact, there are probably 10,000 papers in Scopus on bears. And a million on mammals. Holy cow, does this mean we ignored nearly a million relevant papers? Of course not! … He’d get the same number of papers [we did] if he actually used our search terms….. Tol is complaining that the Bioscience paper is co-authored by scientists with a high level of relevant expertise. I would call that a strong asset of our paper!”

    In short, Tol’s response comes off as the final flourish in a flood of responses, all of which add up to a resounding underscoring of Harvey’s results. As Lewandowsky said, it’s Monty-Python-esque.

    “Our paper is hardly surprising, but deniers are angry simply because they have been formally exposed,” Harvey summed up. “It is patently obvious that denier blogs are master cherry pickers of quite dubious sources. They know it too, but they just don’t want to admit it.”

    Which is why the paper’s call for scientists to become more engaged on social media is so crucial. The more of them there are, the harder it will be for the cherry pickers to win when the next viral video comes around.


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  • LA River Defender Honored

    • 02/09/2018
    • Andrea Serna
    • News
    • Comments are off

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    The Los Angeles River, infamously tamed and confined in concrete is coming back to life, one small step at a time. The improbable revitalization began thanks to poet, artist and crusader Lewis MacAdams.

    This month MacAdams’ extraordinary accomplishments were recognized with a 7-foot statue created by sculptor Eugene Daub titled, Poetry and Politics. On the monument are MacAdams’ words: “If it’s not impossible, I’m not interested.”

    The monument was installed in the Frogtown neighborhood of Los Angeles, officially known as Elysian Valley. The river runs through the small community bordered by 110 Freeway to the south, the 2 Freeway to the north, Interstate 5 to the west and the Los Angeles River to the east.

    MacAdams, the founder of the non-profit Friends of the LA River, also known as FoLAR, points to the frog as the symbol of the river. Frogtown’s name comes from the days when red-legged frogs used to climb out of the river to lay their eggs. On warm summer evenings croaking could be heard throughout the river valley. Red crawfish used to live in that river and the last steelhead trout was caught in 1948. MacAdams may never bring back the steelhead, but his goal is to repopulate the river with the sound of frogs.

    The genesis of MacAdam’s activism dates back to the 1980s when he moved here from San Francisco and stumbled across the concrete ribbon called the LA River. The poet was invited to participate in a performance festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art, called Angels Flight. As part of his performance he and two friends grabbed their wire cutters, cut a hole in the surrounding chain link fence that had defined the river as an inhospitable drainage ditch and performed something of a ceremonial unleashing of the river. He called his piece, Friends of the LA River, and a movement was born. The impossible task was to return one of the world’s most heavily industrialized rivers to nature.

    Honoring the campaign to free the river, Daub moved away from his traditional bronze medium and created a statue from concrete. This is the first time he worked with that material. The statue depicts MacAdams over a relief of river flora and fauna including frogs, herons and fish. Marsh Park, the location for the installation, was renamed MacAdams Park in his honor.

    The park itself is a triumph. The goal was always to ‘crack the concrete’ and return the river to the people, for recreation, environmental education and as a community space. In 2014, FoLAR built the first visitor center for the river. Affectionately referred to as the Frog Spot, it sits on the bank of the river overlooking heron’s resting on rocks and trees growing on the banks. Now, the park provides a verdant location for newlyweds to exchange vows, hipsters to knock back a beer while enjoying live music, as well as for families to take pleasure in a simple picnic. Each Saturday they host live music and recruit volunteers for their grassroots advocacy.

    In April 2018, FoLAR will organize the 29th annual Great LA River Cleanup/La Gran Limpieza. In 2017, 10,000 volunteers removed 100 tons of trash from the river banks.

    To be part of MacAdams visionary project and have an up-close experience with the river, volunteer at folar.org.

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