James West

James West

Senior Producer, Mother Jones/Climate Desk

James West is senior producer for Mother Jones and its reporting project Climate Desk. 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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How to Open a Wine Bottle With Your Shoe

| Fri May 9, 2014 6:07 PM EDT

Once upon a time a father sat his son on his lap and said, "Son, one day you will have a bottle of wine, but you will not have a corkscrew to open it with. You will look around for some sort of apparatus with which to free the wine from the bottle."

"Daddy, should I use a knife to push the cork into the bottle?"

"Ha. No. That's a horrible idea. Use your shoe!"

And so began the legend of the wine-bottle-shoe-trick. But many were dubious. Was this just a story? An old wives' tale told by frat boys with an urge?

It turns out: No! You can really open a wine bottle with your shoe*.

How do we know? Smart, fearless Mother Jones reporter Tim McDonnell made it happen (watch the video above).

Here's how:

  1. You need a solid-soled shoe. No work-out soft-soled BS.
  2. Find a really sturdy wall. We're talking brick.
  3. Have courage and strength.
  4. The shoe must be perpendicular to the wall.
  5. Have faith, and take several determined, precise swings.
  6. The cork should slowly emerge over the course of several swings.
  7. Keep your face and other vulnerable bits away from the impact zone (SCIENCE).
  8. The force of the liquid inside the bottle will force the cork out.
  9. Drink!!!

*Mother Jones does not endorse that you try this at home in any way. Please drink in moderation. And don't drive.

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Virginia Oil Tanker Derailment: "The River Was On Fire"

| Thu May 1, 2014 3:56 PM EDT

On Wednesday afternoon, a CSX train carrying crude oil jumped its tracks in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, sending three tankers careening into the James River with a fiery load; it was the second derailment for the company this year. While no one was injured, the fire burned for hours, and more than 300 people were evacuated from the nearby area. "The river was on fire," deputy city manager Bonnie Svrek told The Washington Post.

It's still unclear how much of the missing 50,000 gallons of crude was burned and how much spilled into the river. The video footage above—shot from a drone—shows just how close the derailment was to both the town and the river.

Meanwhile, this next Instagram video shows the intensity of the fire:

This derailment is the latest in a series of fiery accidents involving oil tankers. According to the Association of American Railroads, the amount of crude oil traveling by rail skyrocketed from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 in 2013. Our analysis published in February showed that in the United States, seven of the 10 worst railroad oil spills of the past decade happened in the last three years, totaling nearly $2 million in damages. (This number doesn't include the catastrophic accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last July, which decimated the town and killed 47 people.)

US regulators have promised safer, more robust tanker cars in new regulations due out soon. Spurred by Lac-Megantic disaster, the Canadian Government last week issued tough new laws for the transportation of oil by rail, promising to retire older cars and replace them within three years, and making sure railways have emergency plans for responding to explosions.

Yet—despite evidence that shows the older tank cars are more susceptible to rupture after a derailment—the United States lags behind Canada: Its proposed new rules have yet to be passed. As recently as mid-April, policy makers met in Washington to discuss the problem, showing videos of older cars rupturing during a puncture tests and spraying their contents, according to reportsRobert Fronczak of the Association of American Railroads told the meeting of the National Transportation Safety Board that eliminating them by attrition alone could take 40 to 50 years.

Will Colbert Use "The Late Show" To Save the World?

| Fri Apr. 11, 2014 2:07 PM EDT
Bill O'Reilly on Stephen Colbert's Comedy Central show in 2007.

Jumping from his niche cable show on Comedy Central to a plum CBS slot will roughly triple Stephen Colbert's national television audience. So when he takes over David Letterman's late night show next year, we at Climate Desk be tracking one thing in particular with great interest: Will he bring his astute political satire about global warming to an even bigger audience?

None of the current late night barons—Kimmel, Fallon, Ferguson among them—are especially notable for speaking out about climate change, though they occasionally work it into the odd monologue or guest appearance. Colbert is different. In his role as right-wing Satirist-in-Chief, Colbert has regularly skewered climate deniers by pretending to be one of them. One of my favorites is this takedown of Fox and Friends (a frequent target of the show), whose hosts had accused Nickelodeon of pushing a sinister warmist agenda...via SpongeBob Square Pants:

 

And this year, he nailed Donald Trump:

 

But Colbert has not just mercilessly parodied the attacks on climate science, he has also delved into some of the more complex aspects of climate adaptation, including geoengineering. During an interview last year, Harvard University environmental scientist David Keith presented the case for pouring out sulfuric acid into the atmosphere to temporarily ameliorate the effects of warming. "It would be a totally imperfect technical fix," Keith said. "It would have risks. It wouldn't get us out of the long-run need to stop polluting. But it might actually save people and be useful."

But perhaps his best—most sobering, most blistering, most poignant—take on the subject was during this segment from January 2013, where he lampooned an emerging trend of commentators throwing up their hands in faux despair, and resigning themselves to the fate of a warming world. (In this case, he's going after Erick Erickson, who worked for CNN at the time):

COLBERT: Sure, I know: America beat Tojo, we crushed Hitler, we put a man on the moon, but incrementally reducing CO2 emissions? That sounds like a lot of work. And how can fight an enemy we can’t see? I mean, get out of here, get, get out of here, carbon! [Swats air]. Did I hit it? I don’t know. So it’s high-time we stop trying to solve the problem and resign ourselves to each day getting worse. Because ladies and gentlemen, when Erick Erickson says "get used to it", he means get used to city-swallowing storms, mass extinctions, deadly heat waves, crippling floods, and droughts that make a desert out of Oklahoma. And, that's just how it is now. Our problems are just too big to cure. So join me and Erick. Give up. Crawl into bed with a cheesecake and wait for death. And now, sure, the only thing worse than global warming itself might be knowing you're destroying the planet, and doing nothing, but if guys like me and Erick have our way, you'd better get used to it.

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