Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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A Dispatch from Darwin Day

| Thu Feb. 12, 2009 7:24 AM EST

Christians have Christmas. Atheists have Charles Darwin's birthday--a date that has inspired months of zealous non-worship in the lead-up to today’s fete of his 200th. Before midnight the world will have witnessed some 600 Darwin Day events, from the Darwin Day Barbecue in Melbourne, Australia, to the Darwin Day Rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to the Darwin Day Evolutionpalooza, a gathering last Sunday in the basement conference room of the San Francisco Public Library, where 100 guests of the local atheist club ate birthday cake and heard the Charles Darwin Backup Singers belt out “The Twelve Ages of Evolution,” a Christmas-inspired ditty that ended with the Pleistocene era’s shopping list of "bisons and humans, hawks and higher primates, horses and whales, conifers and mammals, bipedal dinosaurs, reptiles, trees, and insects, spiders, mites and sharks, land plants and fish!" And the list went on.

Other than taking place in America's most Godless major city, San Francisco’s D-Day was notable for the presence of the mutton-chopped Darwin himself, who took to a podium in a chiffon scarf tied like a cravat and thanked the crowd for "all your great efforts in channeling me into the 21st Century." Forthwith began the kind of autobiography that could only come from a scientist--a mostly dry, rambling affair occasionally enlivened by Far Side jokes. "I have a friend who was Unitarian," Darwin said at one point, without mentioning that he was raised as one, "and the Klu Klux Klan burned a question mark in front of his house."

Evolutionpalooza, which was advertised on Facebook with a drawing of hominids evolving into a man carrying a birthday cake, is the brainchild of atheist author David Fitzgerald, who’d shown up wearing the classic walking fish shirt. "I hesitate to venerate Darwin too highly, to make him sound like he's our prophet," he told me. "There's already so much baggage attached to that kind of thing." But, he added, Darwin was a convenient rallying point in the effort of group’s 1,000 members to counteract the Religious Right. And they certainly had cause to party: President Barack Obama had proclaimed during his inauguration speech that “we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.” This followed by Darwin’s bicentennial hinted at sunrise over a decade of darkness: “I have never been more optimistic about seeing Atheism being accepted in America,” Fitzgerald said. “The more we learn, the less plausible any one of those religions out there seems.” 

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San Francisco Rejects American Apparel: Has the Fight Against Chain Stores Gone Too Far?

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 1:51 PM EST

Last week, activists from the hippest street in San Francisco's uber-hip Mission neighborhood—where skinny pants and a shrunken American Apparel sweatshirt are like Polos and Dockers in Nantucket—successfully defeated American Apparel's application to open a store there. The backlash has been swift. Not less than three San Francisco Chronicle columnists weighed in, noting that American Apparel would have filled one of Valencia Street's 27 vacant storefronts with 15 employees earning $12 to $14 and hour plus healthcare—and during a recession! "American Apparel is lucky," sneered columnist Caille Millner. "What a burden it would be to have a store in a magical place with such nasty elves."

The elf in question is Chicken John Rinaldi, a performance artist, boat-maker, and 2007 San Francisco mayoral candidate (he got 2,500 votes) whose recent blog post inspired some 200 people to flood a planning commission meeting and buzz-saw the store's permit application like high school disciplinarians tackling an overgrown handlebar mustache. I spoke with Chicken John this morning as he was driving home from his art studio in Winters, California, (he can no longer afford to work in San Francisco) with his equally vocal best friend, Dammit the Amazing Wonder Dog.

 

Mother Jones:What happened?

Chicken John: We explained to American Apparel in no uncertian terms [that the store would never get approved], and I called their guy on the phone, and the guy was like this indignant fucker, like, "Yeah, we'll see. What you got?" And I was like, "Are you fucking kidding me? I eat guys like you for breakfast." [See American Apparel's response at bottom]

MJ: Clearly, a lot of people in the Mission oppose American Apparel coming in.

CJ: Let's not use the term "American Apparel" anymore. Let's use "Formula Retail." There's a lot of people in the Mission who oppose formula retail on Valencia Street. No one's saying that we oppose formula retail in the Mission. We just oppose it on eight blocks on Valencia Street. You want to put America Apparel [one block over] on Mission Street? I think that's a great idea.

MJ: What's wrong with Valencia Street in particular?

CJ: You want to put a chain store on the only eight blocks in America that don't have a chain store? If you can't see why that's wrong and bathed in vileness, then we're just going to have to agree to disagree. Like if you can't see that it's the last place that doesn't have a fucking Starbucks on it. Have you been to the rest of the country? It's out of control. There is no coffeeshop anymore. There is no diner.

MJ: There are other places in the city that don't have any chains.

CJ: Name one.

MJ: Hayes Valley has a rule against chains as well. But if you look at Hayes Valley, it's also full of stores selling $10,000 coats. Isn't that the issue, as opposed to whether the hipsters in the Mission, who already shop at American Apparel, are gonna have an America Apparel next to them or not?

Does the EPA Know Which Industry is America's Dirtiest?

| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 12:57 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 12:57 PM EST

Today the EPA filed a laudable lawsuit against Kansas-based Westar Energy for violating the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act. Laxly enforced by the Bush Administration, the rule requires power plants to install more advanced pollution-control technologies when they perform upgrades. The EPA action is part of what it bills "a national initiative to stop illegal pollution from coal-fired power plants." Sounds good to me, but unfortunately the EPA gets a bit carried away in its press release, which says: "Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States."

Weighing the Climate Impact of the Stimulus Bill

| Thu Feb. 5, 2009 1:16 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 1:16 PM EST

Today Greenpeace released a report indicating that the House's $819 billion stimulus bill is a net environmental gain by a longshot. The bill's energy efficiency and conservation provisions alone could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 61 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of electricity use in 7.9 million American homes. Meanwhile, the worst-case-scenario for the bill's transportation provisions would reduce the overall carbon benefits by only 5 million tons annually. The report, which was written by the respected energy consulting firm ICF International, apparently didn't examine other provisions in the bill, but given that transportation is by far the biggest environmental white elephant, the overall package looks surprisingly eco-friendly. Ironically, the real downside won't kick in unless the stimulus succeeds in reviving the economy, causing consumption to rise. Yet if the bill starts rebuilding the economic system into something sustainable, we'll be better off than where we started.

The Real Problem With the Digital TV Switchover

| Tue Feb. 3, 2009 12:14 PM EST

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On February 17th, the government-mandated switchover from analog to digital television broadcasting is expected to spur a rush on electronics stores, as thousands of clueless Americans suddenly realize that their old TVs will no longer work. Worried that too many people aren't ready for the change, Congressional Democrats tried and failed to delay the switchover another four months. But their fear that Joe Sixpack might miss a few episodes of CSI is misplaced. The bigger concern should be what we'll do with millions of obsolete boob tubes with innards full of toxic heavy metals. Although electronics stores and manufacturers have started take-back programs, the only real way to keep TVs out of landfills and environmentally devastating Chinese scrap yards is to make it illegal to put them there. And unfortunately, only six states (California, Iowa, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Maine) enforce laws governing environmentally-responsible disposal of electronic waste. Long before making the TV switch, Congress should have passed a national electronics recycling law. But I guess they were too busy doing other things. Like watching CSI.

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