Left to right: Richard Rodriguez; Chipmunks at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology; Natalie Coughlin, Olympic swimmer from a profile; U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson; California magazine, with Special Global Warning edition on top. Photos of chipmunks, Coughlin, and Henderson by Marcus Hanschen.
Richard wrote this essay for the inaugural issue of the redesigned California Magazine. David Foster Wallace later chose it for the prestigious Best American Essays collection, and it was included in Richard's last book, Darling, A Spiritual Autobiography. He is, in my estimation, one of the most insightful and challenging writers of our time, and he was an intellectual inspiration for re-imagining the magazine.
Though John Steinbeck was not, in my opinion, the best California writer of the last century, The Grapes of Wrath remains California’s greatest novel. The native son imagined California from the outside, as a foreigner might; imagined wanting California desperately; imagined California as a remedy for the trial of the nation.
Otherwise, I might think of John Milton when I think of California and the writer’s task. Milton devised that, after the Fall, the temperature in San Diego would remain at 75 degrees, but Adam and Eve’s relationship to a perfect winter day would be changed to one of goose bumps.
The traditional task of the writer in California has been to write about what it means to be human in a place advertised as paradise. Read more.
This article, on Dark Matter, was the last one I edited for the magazine. Elizabeth Colbert selected it for that year's edition of Best Science and Nature Writing. Keay is the author of biographies on Carl Sagan and Thomas Kuhn.
“Your job as a scientist is to figure out how you’re fooling yourself,” Saul Perlmutter declares. The famed astrophysicist is sitting in the cafeteria at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, eating a falafel. Normally he talks at a machine-gun pace, but his speech, between bites, is measured. He glances out a big picture window toward the Berkeley hills and the fog-veiled universe beyond. “Our brains are … so good at seeing patterns that we sometimes see patterns that aren’t there.”
Perlmutter and his colleagues have spent two decades looking for patterns in the night sky—specifically, patterns in the spatial distribution of distant, dying stars that suddenly brighten, and then fade. They hope to resolve an ancient puzzle: How will the universe end? Eleven years ago, in the autumn of 1997, they uncovered a big piece of the puzzle. But their discovery was so unexpected that they worried the patterns were illusory. Read more.
Lisa's piece, which describe the state energy research at Berkeley, was selected by Folio as the Best Feature Article for 2007, in a year in which California also won Best Association Magazine in America. The article was also honored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Its main subject, Steven Chu, was later tapped as Secretary of Energy by President Obama.
Venture capitalists are not known to haunt Sproul Plaza, with its drummers and dreamers, but last spring Silicon Valley’s financiers showed up in force. On March 21 they filed across the flagstones and into the Student Union auditorium to hear such scintillating discussions as “Carbon Regulation and the Impact on Innovation,” and “Energy Storage: Hydrogen, Batteries, and Beyond.” The draw was not the topics, but rather the 400 people sitting in the folding chairs. They encompassed the entire energy universe of California—researchers in architecture, chemistry, biology, engineering, and economics from Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; influential state regulators; the governor’s main man on economic growth. Read more.
We teamed up with the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley to produce this special issue, which reported on some of the initial effects of the warming climate around the globe. The school won a Peabody for the reporting, and the issue won a special award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Dean Orville Schell, the noted China scholar and writer, contributed the following piece, called China's Sorrow.
... Having visited many provincial cities over the more than three decades I have been traveling to China, I was well-acquainted with their gritty industrial charmlessness, which can be so unrelieved in its bleakness as to make one forget that such a thing as natural beauty can exist in an urban environment. I knew that Shanxi was coal country: 70 percent of China’s energy comes from burning this fossil fuel, meaning that China uses more coal each year than the U.S., the E.U., and Japan combined. So rapidly is the demand for energy increasing that experts believe annual coal production increased by 14 percent over the past two years. But even with this knowledge, I was still completely unprepared for what we found in Shanxi. Read more.
I commissioned Ken to write a piece on the Grinnell Resurvey Project at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley to show what they had learned about the effects of climate change on the park's fauna. He wrote something much richer, about the tribe of field biologists that had carried on the work there for over a century. Years later, I re-edited a version of the article for Yosemite: A Storied Landscape.
The regiments of small mammals at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology roll out smoothly, on long wooden trays, from the steel cabinets of their museum cases. Deer mice, jumping mice, trade rats, pocket gophers, moles, voles. They march rank on rank, shoulder to shoulder, all in the same direction, their tails wired stiff and straight behind them. In the library hush and faint echo of the museum, above the range of human hearing, a visitor can almost detect it, some Pied Piper playing his tune. The rodent armies stride in lock-step and brainlessly, the extracted skull of each soldier trailing behind, preserved along with the jawbone in a corked glass vial at the tip of the tail. Read more.