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I'm a graduate student in Ecology and Evolution at Stanford University, where I study ecosystem metabolics and function. In particular, I'm interested in how changes to plant and animal communities... Read More »

ST. HELENA, CA – It’s a fine Saturday, and the traffic lines up on Highway 29 as the day’s crop of tourists meander from vineyard to vineyard along the road that bisects Napa Valley. 

By year’s end, 4.5 million people will have passed through, sampling vintages from the state that grows 92% of the nation’s grapes and supplies 60% of its wine. More than 200 million cases of California wine are sold within the United States each year; a further 250 million find their homes abroad. California is the world’s fourth largest wine exporter, after Italy, France, and Spain.

And Napa Valley is at the heart of it all.
Every once in a while, I like to go for a run on the beach. One of my favorite spots to hit the sand is San Gregorio State Beach – it lies just across the Santa Cruz range, is invariably quiet early on weekday mornings, and offers a good stretch of hard-packed sand along a southern route toward Pomponio State Beach.

At least, when the tide is out.

Let me begin by saying that I bleed blue. Not Yankee blue or horseshoe crab copper — IBM Blue. I was raised on a corporate paycheck and through all the years my mother worked for the computing giant (and the months I spent in sales internships with them) I never once shook an unfriendly hand or doubted a coworker’s ethics. We were all good people, selling a good product that we believed in — that I still believe in.

But we were also part of corporate America, hard at work building the fortunes of the 1 percent.

How can I reconcile what I know about the personhood of employees with the faceless and troubling power that big business wields on Wall Street and Capitol Hill?

By the time Dr. Maciej Zwieniecki returned to the blackboard, I’d gotten sufficiently lost in the intricacies of fluid dynamics that I wasn’t sure how much more I could absorb from his lecture on vertical water transport in trees.  Still, I could objectively admire his off-the-cuff artwork as he brushed away a cross-section of a tree and quickly outlined a perfectly recognizable…fighter jet?

The audience watched, bemused. Maciej chuckled, then explained how mechanisms borrowed from tree physiology might one day be used to efficiently transfer heat from jet wings to the cockpit.  At least, that’s what the Department of Defense, which funded his basic research on tree mechanics, hoped.

Turkey Day is coming, and with it, the deadline for Obama’s 12-member “Super Committee,” a group of Congress members tasked with carving $1.2 trillion off our national debt.

If the bipartisan group can even reach a deal (so far, they’ve missed their own deadline by at least ten days, flatly refused each others’ proposals and been awfully closed-lipped about possible compromises), it seems like everyone’s going to feel the pinch.

Everyone, that is, who can’t buy his or her way out of it.

Last week, the American Petroleum Institute — the notorious “Big Oil” lobby representing Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell and others — started running ads thanking Republican super committee members for preserving industry-specific tax breaks worth $40 billion over the next ten years.