James West

James West

Climate Desk Producer

James West is senior producer for the Climate Desk and a contributing producer for Mother Jones. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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Video: "Holy Shit!" Freak Weather Event Stuns Brooklyn's Hipster Beach

| Sun Aug. 10, 2014 5:12 PM EDT

The weekend peace and quiet of McCarren Park in Brooklyn, New York—sometimes dubbed the "hipster beach" by locals—was shattered on Sunday afternoon​ by a strange, towering meteorological visitor. And also by the howls of my friend Michael Gambale, who took this video, yelling like the world was fast coming to an end. "It was amazing," he said. "I had my 'oh shit, a double rainbow' moment."​

The spiraling, orange tunnel-like phenomenon appears to be a textbook specimen of a "dust devil", which according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration​ definition, is a "small, rapidly rotating wind that is made visible by the dust, dirt or debris it picks up." It's not a tornado, which is much more powerful and connected to a cloud, and certainly not as dangerous (though in 1992, an Alburquerque dust devil produced 70 mph winds, equivalent to a typical severe thunderstorm.) Instead, according to NASA, "a dust devil typically forms on a clear day when the ground is heated by the sun, warming the air just above the ground. As heated air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler air above it, the air may begin to rotate, if conditions are just right." And they were.

According to Gambale, who was relaxing in the park with friends, it lasted about a minute, leaving some locals "perplexed", and others filled with a sense of adventure: "Some dude ran into it, that's why I said don't run into it," Gambale added. "And he did! He just got all dusty. It wasn't that strong obviously."

But don't diss the dust devil by calling it weak or short-lived: "It's a dirtbag hipster tornado and it's Brooklyn's."

The only other reference I could find to "twister" in McCarren park was of a very different kind: Mass "Twister" performed by a marauding group of Santas for 2009's Santacon. I like this one much better.

See? Everything exciting happens in Brooklyn.

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Fly Through Pyongyang With This Gorgeous Timelapse Video

| Fri Aug. 8, 2014 5:35 PM EDT

Enter Pyongyang from JT Singh on Vimeo.

Timelapse videos of mega-cities like New York have become something of a viral video cliché in recent years. (If you're anything like me, you lap them up without shame, all the same). But I bet you've never seen the capital of the world's most reclusive nation, North Korea, quite like this before. The filmmakers—JT Singh and Rob Whitworth—spent six days in Pyongyang filming this video that delivers you right into the very-human nitty gritty of a place that looks far less creepy than those "Mass Games" videos would lead you to believe.

Even so, how much can we rely on this portrait for an accurate take on North Korea as a whole? Not a lot: the capital is home to the ruling elite, and used by the regime as a showcase city; people here are hardly representative. For example, 16 million of North Korea's 24 million people suffer from critical food insecurity, relying only on state-rationed food, according to the UN; one out of every three children is too short for his or her age. Hunger, poverty, lack of electricity, brutal repression and political reprisals... you name it: A UN special inquiry recently described North Korea's human rights violations as without "parallel in the contemporary world."

It's also true that the video is effectively an advertisement for a company operating out of Beijing called Koryo Tours, which has run tours into North Korea since 1993; the group covered the filmmakers' travel expenses. (Full disclosure: I'm pals with Vicky Mohieddeen, who accompanied the film crew, and works for Koryo).

But I think it adds vital perspective to a place shut away from the world by its repressive government. It's oh-so-interesting taking a look inside.

Colbert Wishes Your Kid a Good Night's Sleep With This New Pro-Gun Illustrated Book

| Wed Aug. 6, 2014 3:46 PM EDT
"My Parents Open Carry" Lorna Bergman, Brian G. Jeffs, Nathan R. Nephew.

I first saw this children's book going around Facebook yesterday. You know the one: it celebrates 13-year-old Brenna's Mom and Dad for "open carrying" their hand guns. At first I thought, "the illustrations and dependence on Comic Sans are so eye-bleedingly bad it must be a perfectly conceived Masters project by some NYU Tisch grad." The website promoting the book carries the kind of knee-slapping prose that must be satirical, right? "Before writing this, we looked for pro-gun children's books and couldn't find any." Couldn't find any! Ha, ha, ha. Which non-profit/government agency/university supplied the grant to fund this brilliant take-down of gun culture in America? Was it Bloomberg himself?

But then I paid my $3.95 for the PDF (you'll pick up the tab, Mother Jones), and it dawned on me: It's real. Then I thought, "Wow, this seems custom-made to be pilloried by Stephen Colbert!"

Enjoy:

Thu Nov. 29, 2012 7:08 AM EST
Mon Oct. 29, 2012 4:50 PM EDT
Wed Oct. 3, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Wed Jul. 18, 2012 5:35 PM EDT
Thu May. 17, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Thu Mar. 22, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Sat Feb. 25, 2012 12:36 AM EST
Thu Feb. 9, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Tue Jan. 10, 2012 5:00 PM EST
Thu Nov. 24, 2011 7:00 AM EST
Wed Nov. 9, 2011 5:09 PM EST