Thursday, June 29, 2006

NCFocus response to SESF disclosure

Late Monday night I posted on the background and invisible ties of the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation; in the preface I noted that George and Russ had scooped me by posting an SESF disclosure earlier that night (here's a static copy).

Due to the advanced hour and paucity of still-functioning neurons, I said I'd address their disclosure the next day. I proceeded to not get around to it, eliciting a small (and deserved) goad from Russ earlier this evening.
OK Russ, here goes:

I've been trying to be a good citizen journalist and to "trust, but verify"; however, in this case it's difficult.

For one example, take this section of the SESF disclosure:
"[to avoid conflict of interest]
At the beginning of this year (2006) ... [SESF Board members] Mr. McDaniel and I resigned from the CABPRO Board ...[and] last month [CABPRO Board member] Dr. Lyss resigned [from SESF's board]."

CABPRO's newsletters are online (as pdfs) going back to the fall of 2000*; every newsletter lists the current Board members, and there's a brief report on each new Board member as s/he joins. So the above 'disclosure' statement should be easy to check.

Except that the newsletters from this year don't list the board members, or report any changes.

Another example -

I'd expect that the re-activation of SESF at the beginning of 2006 would have been worthy of mention in the CABPRO newsletter, particularly since it entailed the resignations of board members. It would have been interesting to see what the newsletter had to say.

Except that newsletters for the 4 months from Oct. 2005 through January 2006 are absent from the online archive.

And please correct me if I'm wrong, but is there any mention of the SESF in any of CABPRO's online 2006 newsletters? I didn't notice any.

Russ and George, 2 questions -
1. Was any deliberate effort made (by anyone, not necessarily either of you) to obscure the SESF - CABPRO connection?
2. Is there any way I could take a look at the Oct2005/Nov/Dec/Jan2006 CABPRO newsletters?


Bonus link for readers:

An enlightening quote from the latest CABPRO newsletter (pdf):
"Environmentalism is not about saving the earth for people, but from them."
It's clear that recognition of anthropogenic global warming wouldn't fit comfortably into this worldview.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A look behind the curtain - the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation


1:45 a.m. Tuesday, Nevada City [when this post was published]:
Egads, I've been scooped - prepared to hit Publish only to find that George Rebane had posted a disclosure section at the bottom of the SESF website's About page, likely within the last hour or so*.

Will comment on his disclosure tomorrow.*
late Thurs. eve - commented on the SESF's "scoop" disclosure in the following post (which comes before, on the webpage).
Sat: fixed 'Board Members' assertion in the report below, to make it accurate

NCFocus report:

The enigmatic Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (blog) is not your run-of-the-mill Nevada County nonprofit.

Local conservative blogger Russ Steele announced its launch in April:
"The Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (SESF), a Nevada County non-profit organization, has been activated by local citizen volunteers to help bring clarity and reason to the discussion of issues facing our county and its communities. SESF's goal is to do research and produce information products that promote sane and productive community debates, and support government leaders in crafting effective solutions based upon reliable information, verifiable data, and non-partisan analysis.
To promote discussion and debate, SESF has created a blog ..."

SESF's About page states: "Reasoned thinking should be based on good analysis not constrained by ideology."

A week ago, in a blog-comments exchange with Russ (who is also SESF's Director of Information), I asked him how the SESF is funded. Since then I've asked George Rebane ( SESF Executive Director, Director of Research, and blogger) as well. I've asked them via blog comment - (at NCFocus, at the SESF blog, at Russ's blog), I've asked them in a blog post, and I've asked/reminded them via email*. Last Friday afternoon I was told* that disclosures would be forthcoming, but they have still not appeared.

"If you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you."*

A prominent online registry of charities reports that the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation is a 501(c)(3) environmental nonprofit with NTEE Code C99, signifying Environmental Quality, Protection, and Beautification ("Choosing a good, representative NTEE code will help your organization be more easily found by users searching our database.").

Similarly, the yellow page listings show it as an Environmental, Conservation & Ecological Organization, literally on the same page as SYRCL (the South Yuba River Citizens League), the The Nevada County Land Trust, the Placer Nature Center, Defenders of Wildlife, the Mountain Lion Foundation and others.

And reports it as an Environmental Group as well:
Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation
293 Lower Grass Valley Road
Nevada City, CA (California) 95959-3101

The listed address (293 Lower Grass Valley Rd, Nevada City; it doesn't appear on the SESF website*) - is also the address of Robinson Enterprises (known locally as Robinson Timber) and of the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, aka CABPRO, a high-profile Nevada County property-rights group.

Historically, CABPRO has not exactly favored environmental protection ("What we people with commonsense are up against is neigh to incredible. A gaggle of radical leftists are trying to redefine reality for the rest of us peons and no better example is available than Wild and Scenic Rivers..."*); for background, see Mark Sabath's "The Perils Of The Property Rights Initiative: Taking Stock Of Nevada County’s Measure D", in the Harvard Environmental Law Review (PDF, as html).

The SESF website provides a one-page bio for each of its three board members - Executive Director and Director of Research George Rebane, Director of Information Russ Steele, and Director of Public Relations Michael McDaniel. These bios contain much background information, but neglect to mention that George Rebane and Michael McDaniel are bothhave both been* CABPRO Board members*, or that Russ headed Citizens for Fair and Balanced Land Use, which was CABPRO's political action committee formed in 2002 to advocate for Measure D, the narrowly defeated Nevada County property rights initiative.(pdf)

To my knowledge neither "CABPRO" nor "California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners" appears anywhere on either the SESF website or weblog.

"non-partisan", "environmental", "clarity", "reliable information", "not constrained by ideology", "discussion and debate" ...there appears to be plenty of open space between SESF's rhetoric and reality.

CABPRO's December 2001 newsletter (pdf) promotes the SESF's nonprofit status:
"Looking for a Tax Deduction AND a Good Cause?
Then make your fully deductible donation to the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Nevada County. SESF engages in research and educational activities to increase public support for balancing human needs with environmental concerns (i.e. putting people back into the picture)
SESF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Federal ID# 77-0408400. Your donation is tax deductible as a charitable contribution for federal and state tax purposes."

I didn't find the SESF in the IRS's online Search for Charities, but absence there isn't conclusive ("Some entities eligible to receive tax deductible charitable contributions may not be listed in Publication 78..."*). So yesterday I checked with the IRS (877-829-5500*); the representative informed me that SESF (77-0408400, and she had me verify the name) was not an exempt organization, and "that's all we can tell the general public".

So, Russ Steele, George Rebane and/or Michael McDaniel - I think we need you to bring clarity here.

"If you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Yes, the climate is changing

There's a house finch singing outside my window, and up until a year or two ago I don't recall there being house finches in Nevada City.
Interesting - its song sounds, well, abnormal. Perhaps it's an outlier in more than geography.
(or perhaps it's just young and inexperienced)

Excellent Boston Globe article putting yesterday's National Academy of Sciences report on global warming into meaningful context:
...A graph of the data has become an icon of global warming and is often referred to as "the hockey stick" because of its shape: A shaft that shows a long period of relatively little change in Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures, and then a spike upward during the last 100 years or so that resembles the blade.
Since the first version of it was published in a scientific journal in 1998, environmentalists have seized on the graph as powerful evidence of human-induced climate change, while some critics have called it alarmist, questioning its methodology and the accuracy of its temperature data.
During a Washington press conference yesterday, other members of the panel said that they had a high level of confidence -- 90 percent to 95 percent -- that the planet is in its warmest period in 400 years and that the odds are "2 to 1" that this is probably the warmest period stretching back 1,000 years, as the original study concluded.

And what did The Union title their version of yesterday's AP story about the report? (Earth’s temperature highest in 400 years, or 2000, or a "a slight fever")?
They didn't print it.

BTW, we're told that George Rebane is currently working on a Disclosure page for the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Questions for/on the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation

Friday morning update: no responses to (or acknowledgement of seeing) my questions in email or blog (I'd emailed a heads-up to Steele and Rebane late wed. night, shortly after posting this); I've just now left reminders in their respective blogs' comments (here and here)

In a recent comment I asked Russ Steele this question:
How is the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (website, blog), whose Board of Directors consists of you, George Rebane, and Michael McDaniel - funded?

He responded:
Public Contributions! Send a check to the post office box on the web site.

I was hoping for a more informative answer.

So, here are some more specific questions for Russ and/or George (who I've met) or Michael (who I haven't) - could one of you please answer them, or say why you don't feel they're appropriate:

  1. How long has SESF been in existence?

  2. Who are its top 5 contributors, and what are the amounts?

  3. Roughly what % of the SESF's total budget has come from these contributors?

  4. What time period are these numbers from? (I'm assuming that an appropriate time period over which to measure would be the year 2006 to date; if another time period would be more informative, feel free to use and specify it)

  5. What other local organization would you like to see similar data for? (if you provide your data, I'll make the same request for theirs)

Russ/George/Michael, if you can devote the time to providing helpful answers (to me and to my readers), I'll contribute $50 to SESF.

Bonus link for readers: SESF has recently published a report on Nevada County's [lack of] 'bird flu' pandemic planning (PDF).
... HTML, Russ, HTML ... (please)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Weather reports - past, present, future

Last evening of spring.

It seems summer intends to do that "in like a lion" thing - the National Weather Service forecast for Sacramento says
Saturday through Sunday night: Clear. Highs 102 to 110.
(Grass Valley* is scheduled to be a mere 94 to 104)

We at NCFocus are commemorating the change of seasons by being a curmudgeon.

Engaged in the obligatory annual Bluegrass Vegetation Sunday afternoon, catching the rays and decibels at the Father's Day Bluegrass Festival at the fairgrounds. View looked like this:
[Father's Day Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley, 2006]

Be grateful, be very grateful, that I am too much of a luddite to have sound on my blog; you are thereby spared the incessant talk and giggles emanating from this:
[Father's Day Bluegrass Festival irritants (and karma) in Grass Valley, 2006]
which continued through the breaks
and through the MC's introductions
and through the upbeat songs
and through the applause
and through the quiet songs
and through my attempts at tactfully making clear the inappropriateness of said behavior.
(but finally taking the photo did seem to help)

I had an English teacher once, who reportedly improved the behavior of a talker at a classical music concert, by leaning over and thunking the offender's head while encouraging silence, but his is an approach best taken under cover of darkness.

I was thinking the festival, would it be legal to carry a concealed weapon? Say, a small, loaded squirtgun; and 'reward' the offending behavior with a mysterious fluid?
(taking care, of course, to maintain one's rapt attention on the stage when the perp-turned-victim looks around for the source)

it's only a thought experiment, but I'd be curious to hear your feedback.

(disclosure: at their age I did the same thing, so it is karma, to be subjected to it now.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Open Thread - Interesting comments over at The Union

(created this post in response to an email)

A compendium; feel free to compend away, now and in future.

Please include date, URL, flavorful (but not overlong) excerpt, and your gently stated reasons for finding the comment(s) noteworthy.

URL should look something like this:
(you can use Copy-Paste with it to insert your URL)

<a href=""> comments </a>

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

FEMA fraud story - which headline is not like the others?

Today The Union ran an AP wire story(links)* by Larry Margasak. Other news outlets have bestowed various titles on this piece; from the list below, can you pick out the one that's not like the others?(*):
$1.4 billion in FEMA aid went to bogus victims
1.4 billion fraud in Katrina pay outs
Audit Shows FEMA Funds Spent On Divorce, Sex Change
Billions feared stolen from hurricane relief
Bogus aid payouts latest FEMA snafu
Bogus hurricane aid hit $1.4 billion, GAO says
Bogus hurricane victims defraud US of $1.4B
Disaster aid spent on porn
FEMA cards bought diamonds, erotica
FEMA funds spent on divorce, sex change
FEMA Gets Hoodwinked
FEMA Hurricane Assistance Spent On Bogus Items
FEMA hurricane cards bought jewelry, erotica
FEMA relief rife with abuse, fraud, report says
Fraudulent Katrina and Rita Claims Top $1 Billion
GAO finds mismanagement of hurricane aid
Government reports fraudulent FEMA hurricane handouts
Government wrongly paid for tickets, a divorce lawyer, vacations
House to see records of FEMA defrauding
Hurricane assistance paid for tickets, divorce lawyer, vacations
Hurricane assistance spent on vacations, football tickets, sex
Hurricane fraud tab could hit $1.4 billion
Hurricane ripoffs cost $1.4B
Hurricanes unleashed flood of FEMA scams
Investigators uncover fraud in Katrina cleanup
Katrina aid improperly spent
Katrina fraud cost up to $1.4 billion
More Than $1 Billion In FEMA Hurricane Aid Spent On Diamonds
Much hurricane aid paid out improperly
Post-hurricane fleecers had $1.4 billion field day
Probe finds FEMA paid bogus claims
Probe: FEMA Defrauded
Report Details How Government Was Hoodwinked After Katrina, Rita
Some Funds By FEMA Spent On Bogus Items
Some storm aid went for sports tickets, divorce lawyer, vacations
Sports Tickets, Trips on Katrina's Tab
Study Finds Huge Fraud in the Wake of Hurricanes
The Fate of FEMA


Did you pick "The Fate of FEMA" too?

actually that's the title Fox News gave it.
(and "Katrina aid improperly spent" was from China Daily)

Ready for The Union's headline?

[photo of FEMA fraud article as printed in The Union]

Yes, "Katrina money may have gone to wrong places"* - overshadowed by the truly important news, "Bush makes visit to Iraq".

what I would give, to know who directs the slant at that paper...

Now there is an alternative hypothesis, namely that it's an artifact of selective perception - perhaps The Union runs all their AP headlines through the blander, and I'm only noticing the colorless heds on those articles which report malfeasance by the fellows now in power in Washington.
This seems unlikely, but it's not impossible. So here's a challenge, to Russ Steele or other local conservative-tending reader(s) with a bit of free time and a passion for inquiry - if you can turn up corresponding example(s) of a wire service story whose headline The Union rewrote to give it a less anti-left tone than the original, from today back to, say, Jan. 1, I'll buy you coffee and a bagel, and bestow upon you all the fame and glory that my weblog has to offer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Of plucky blogging candidates, storybook endings, narrative bias and weblog triumphalism

wed: minor edits, added photo

As reported by Yubanet yesterday, counting the remaining absentee ballots has increased Barbara Coffman's lead over Kerry Arnett from 4 votes to 19. While the outcome isn't yet final*, it's looking final enough.

So - provisionally -
Congratulations to Barbara Coffman; voted onto Nevada City's City Council despite
  • accepting no campaign contributions;
  • having no campaign staff*;
  • having no signage (in marked contrast to the other candidates* - like African flamingos, flocks of signs brightened and befouled a plethora of lawns and corners)
  • mailing no campaign literature;
  • and buying no media advertising

How did she do it?

The secrets: door to door campaigning, word of mouth recommendations, a superb performance at at least one candidate's forum* ...and ... a weblog.

A weblog.
What sweet justice: the modern candidate, reaching out to speak to the populace online, overturns conventional wisdom, negates the naysaying of self-styled pundits*, and wins the prize.

Or so the story could be shaped; and, given the structural biases of journalism (specifically narrative bias) and the blogosphere (weblog triumphalism), it's how the story badly wants* to be shaped.

Disclosure: the truth looks different.

  • Barbara also benefited from serendipity; aiding her were:
    1. the weather; heavy rains this spring begat monstrous potholes which brought home, viscerally, the sorry state of Nevada City's infrastructure;
    2. consequent increased disaffection for the incumbents;
    3. entreaties from those supporting the other challenger*, for voters to choose Barbara too.

  • It wasn't her idea to blog; the nagging NCFocus proprietor cajoled, led and pushed her into it.

  • We never put a sitemeter on the blog, so she never knew how many were reading it.
    And it's unlikely that many did read it; it received next to no publicity.
    (Most online traffic would have come by way of Yubanet, which - in a wonderfully bloggy piece - published the list of candidate blogs*; to my knowledge, The Union didn't even provide candidates' website URLs.)

  • She doesn't think she wants to do it anymore.
    (Perhaps this vignette will help to keep her in the fold?)
    (hope does spring eternal...)

So, fellow blog triumphalists, she's no longer willing to be our stooge.

I hate it when that happens.

(maybe if she heard pleas to continue her blog, from her constituents and far-flung visitors...? you could put it in the comments below...or send her an email, or, if you're here, stop by Java John's on Broad St in the early morning...?

[photo of Barbara Coffman doing crossword puzzle at Java John's]

or - after telling her "two tickets please", at the Nevada Theatre's Sunday night movie - add "and please keep doing your weblog"...?)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

We have seen this in operation

On Tricks of the Trade, a simple algorithm for how to win any argument:
  1. Take the position that the truth of the matter is unknowable;
  2. Make your opponent define his position concisely;
  3. Ask your opponent questions until he is forced to admit there are unknown variables.

But its effectiveness wears down with extended use, and this is not a tool that can be sharpened.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Nevada City City Council - the blogger is In.

Tue June 13 update: Barbara's lead has widened, it appears she'll win (see new post).
Previous updates at end of this post.

Original post, with edit:

...or so it appears, from the vote count reported on the county website: as of 11:45pm Tue, with 4 of 4 precincts reporting, it's:

484 Sheila Stein
420 Barbara Coffman
416 Kerry Arnett
363 Conley Weaver

The two incumbents go down, the two challengers come in.

And - once again, if you ever wonder if your vote really matters* - note the 4 votes separating Barbara from Kerry.

Yes, whether or not a candidate is a blogger shouldn't be a top deciding factor. Yes, we should value forward thinking, visionary candidates who value and want to conserve what's special about our town. But part of being forward thinking is to prepare for what's coming, and - IMHO - it is not going to be pleasant, and we're not going to be better off than we are now; and a no-brainer, in terms of preparing for a difficult future, is to get our affairs in order and our infrastructure in shape. And it hasn't been happening.


Wed June 7:
Jumped the gun, the fat lady's not singing yet - it seems absentee ballots that were handed in at the polls on Election Day have still not been tallied. ( details here, or likely soon on Barbara Coffman's blog)
And predicting final results is fraught with uncertainty: while absentee voters as a whole are typically more conservative, and thus would be more likely to increase Barbara's 4-vote lead over Kerry, my guess is that absentee voters who never get around to mailing their ballots in might differ significantly from this norm.
And not just statistically significantly(?) either.

Time will tell.

Thurs June 8:
Barbara, you are sleeping on the job, and you don't even have the job yet; it's time to update your weblog!.

Sat. June 10 update: the Barbara-vs.-Kerry race is(was) still in play; 260 Nevada City ballots remain to be counted, says Yubanet.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Today's reading - Silicon Valley, Nevada County and wealth

(but first, VOTE)

New Paul Graham essay on How to be Silicon Valley - his essays are enormously worthwhile and this one is particularly so, given the implications for Nevada County. Economic Resource Council, are you listening? (Russ, perhaps you could pass it on?)

One of Paul's observations is that suburbia is not conducive to innovation; he gives several reasons why this is likely so, but missed the applicability of William Levitt's "No man who owns his own house and lot can be a communist; he has too much to do."
No communism, no startups...

In similar vein,* evolutionary anthropologist Jared Diamond on How to Get Rich
("what is the best way to organize human groups and human organizations and businesses so as to maximize productivity, creativity, innovation, and wealth?")

And a third out-of-the-box financial thinker, Nicholas Tayeb; local blogger George Rebane posted about Taleb's book a while back, and in the comments* to that post I provided some other links and excerpts.
("[in the financial markets] Taleb buys options because he is certain that, at root, he knows nothing, or, more precisely, that other people believe they know more than they do..."; Edge on Taleb here)

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Tuesday: Appended an appendix (with sample)

Occasion: honoring philosopher / historian / Grass-Valley-native-turned-Harvard-Man Josiah Royce at his place of birth, now the Grass Valley (Royce) Library; four interlopers from the halls of academe descended upon Grass Valley to speak on various aspects of and relations to Royce's thoughts and writings.


  • To my left: Bruce Conklin, riffing off Royce's mother Sarah with Mary Hallock Foote and Julia Morgan.
  • To my right: George Rebane, aiming to clarify the Absolute.
  • In between: self, wondering (incoherently) where to get the most interesting information the easiest way.
  • Before self: strawberries, which nobody passed around.
  • Recording for posterity: NCTV
  • Unnatural constraint on communication: a microphone which needed to be brought to each would-be questioner in turn. (the utterances were not pre-moderated however)

Speakers' themes: recursion / metonymy / synecdoche / epitome

Gist: there are no unrelated topics

For context: past NCFocus posts on North Star House controversy (full Oct 2004 archive), another Julia Morgan house


If you're curious about the nature of Saturday's discourse, here's a sample* from one of the speakers:
...a moment ago I realized that, if I had understood precisely what [Josef] was trying to get at when he pointed out that for Hegel the Absolute is "social," I could have improvised a contribution that might have been truly helpful in articulating the stakes of theorizing California as a polity through the lens of German Idealism.

Got it?

It never hurts to know what the individual words mean, so I looked up polity.

It doesn't always help to know what the individual words mean.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Followup: The Union's commenting guidelines, written and unwritten

Wed June 7 update: editor has emailed back, but didn't provide unambiguous answers to my questions.
(e.g., on "unfavorable to the Union's image"; does this just mean comments with an ugly scurrilous _tone_ (which is unfavorable to The Union's image), or does it also include [civil] comments that contain _information_ that's unfavorable to The Union's image?)
I'm hoping that at some point unambiguous answers will be forthcoming.


The Union's written Comment Policy, as it appears on the online "comments" pages (e.g. this one from today):
The comments feature of is a service for our readers to discuss stories online with other readers, and provide feedback to the staff.

Those submitting comments to articles will abide by the following guidelines:
  • No personal attacks
  • No profane or vulgar language
  • No racial, ethnic or religious slurs
  • No unlawful use of copyright material

All comments go to a moderator before being posted online. Sometimes, it may take several hours [for] a comment to appear online. Those not adhering to the guidelines will be deleted.

There's an additional, unwritten guideline, says Russ Steele (of NC Media Watch, in a comment to my previous post):
"comments unfavorable to the Union's image will not be tolerated in the comments."
(and another commenter suspects this boils down to "comments unfavorable to the Union's bottom line will not be tolerated in the comments.")

I didn't want to leave this assertion unconfirmed, so made an effort to find out more.
An email (sent a week ago, reprinted here on NCDocuments; I think it raised some good points) to The Union's editor asking for details/confirmation did not receive a response.

June 4 update: Ran across this quote:*:
Swift Newspaper[s] is a strong believer in local autonomy, and in practicing journalism without fear or favor. Or, as its statement of values vows, "We apply our values in our actions. We believe there should be no difference between what we say and what we do."