The Luck of the Draw

Me (left, obviously) with my Costa Rican non-birder friends in Río Celeste, Costa Rica

We’ve discussed eBird countless times here in the past, but I don’t think I ever mentioned their monthly challenges, which are designed to encourage eBirders to contribute some extra element of data to their usual checklists in a given month, with the chance of being randomly selected from the pool of people who satisfy the challenge requirements. If you’re chosen, you’ll receive an excellent pair of binoculars from Zeiss Optics!

In the past there have been challenges related to adding breeding codes to checklists (for example, noting if a species was observed carrying nesting material, or displaying, or feeding a juvenile); noting flyover species; going out birding with someone else and sharing the checklist; using the eBird app; and more! I think I remember a challenge from 2015 that involved checklists including raptors and vultures, and I recall being frustrated because it came a month after I’d been in Jamaica reporting Turkey Vultures several times a day. Continue reading

Entrepreneurial Conservation & Armenian Foodways

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Motal cheese is a fresh goat’s milk cheese made primarily in remote mountain areas in Armenia. Cross of Armenian Unity/Ruslan Torosyan

We are on the lookout for stories that combine our interest in topics such as conservation, and entrepreneurship, and traditional foodways, and innovation (among other things) and this story touches on several of our favorite themes. Thanks to the salt team at National Public Radio (USA):

Armenia’s Ancient Motal Cheese Makes Its Way Into The Modern Age

In the mountains of eastern Armenia, about 75 miles north of the capital Yerevan, motal means change.

Motal cheese is like a business card for our region,” says Arpine Gyuluman, who owns Getik Bed and Breakfast in Gegharkunik. “[Because of it], we’re seeing more and more visitors annually.”

Motal is a white goat cheese flavored with wild herbs that is similar to homestyle country cheeses in Iran and Azerbaijan. Motal is prepared in locally made terra cotta pots sealed with beeswax ― a method that dates back at least 5,000 years. A little more than a decade ago, it was in danger of disappearing. That is, until a local university student named Ruslan Torosyan embarked on a personal crusade to save motal. Continue reading

Junto Clubs For 2018 & Beyond

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The Junto Club outgrew into the American Philosophical Society.

This historical reference is not typical of posts on this platform, except for when one of our contributors was in the midst of historical coursework that led to riffs like this; and then during his archival research that led to riffs like this.

We are riffing now from a current need (to put it mildly) for better conversation, with hindsight to a widely respected man’s approach at a time full of contentions. Thanks to Andrew Marantz for this brief note, whose accompanying illustration below belies the seriousness of the situation. Click the image to the left above to go to a historical archive with more background on this Talk of the Town item below:

Benjamin Franklin Invented the Chat Room

Conversation clubs, inspired by the Founding Father, have never felt more necessary.

180409_r31846webIn 1727, when Benjamin Franklin was twenty-one, he and a few friends—among them a scrivener, a joiner, and two cobblers—formed a conversation club called the Junto. They met on Friday evenings at a Philadelphia alehouse. “The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company,” Franklin wrote in his autobiography. The United States was not yet the United States, but already he sensed a civility problem. His solution: structured, secular chitchat, “conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory.” Continue reading

MA’O’s Marvelous Mission

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If we had come upon the website with no introduction maybe it would have looked like just another pretty organic farm in a tropical paradise.

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But there are people involved, and it is a pleasant surprise to learn from Dakota Kim’s story Youth Farm In Hawaii Is Growing Food And Leaders how those people bring that place further to life. There is a mission worth reading about:

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Cheryse Sana, farm co-manager, cuts a banana blossom off a tree at MA’O Organic Farms. Dakota Kim

A tight circle of teenagers is deep in conversation — not about movies or apps, but about … vegetables.

It’s 7 a.m. at MA’O Organic Farms, part of 24 acres nestled in an emerald mountain-ringed valley just two miles from Oahu’s west shore. Under a hot sun that bathes this idyllic breadbasket, college-aged farmers harvest tons of mangoes, bananas, mizuna (mustard greens) and taro every month for the island of Oahu.

The farm’s atmosphere bubbles with enthusiastic lightheartedness, its college interns quipping across the rows that they can beat their neighbors’ harvesting speed. But a calm falls over the group as they move from joking around to talking more seriously. A circle forms under an open pavilion, and a young woman speaks. Continue reading

Coffee, Starbucks & Costa Rica

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Yesterday we were compelled to link to an illustration that captured the importance of vigilance. Putting that link in context was the reminder that our primary purpose on this platform is to seek out evidence of progress related to environmental and social innovation.

kgGVpXmJ-6720-4480Today a case in point. Credit is due to Starbucks. Just a couple days ago our vigilance antennae were roused by their opening in Yosemite, one more step in a national park system compromised by commercialism. There is no doubt that Starbucks is commercial, but they can also be model corporate citizens when seen from another angle.

tMOCnNCo-5246-2623Costa Rica provides evidence in favor of Starbucks. Their recently opened facility–a combined working coffee farm, milling operation, visitor center, cafe, gift shop–called Hacienda Alsacia looks like a win-win for a country that deserves attention and investment, and a company that can provide them both of those.

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I plan to visit the property next week, so will save my commentary, focusing here on what makes me want to visit:

Starbucks Opens World Renowned Costa Rican Coffee Farm to Visitors

A 46,000-square foot visitor center immerses guests in the entire life cycle of sustainably grown, high-quality arabica coffee from seedling to picking, milling, roasting and the craft of brewing in a café

Starbucks approach to ethical sourcing and innovative coffee tree hybrid research also showcased at the visitor center, part of the company’s $100 million investment in an open-sourced farmer support program to help make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agriculture product Continue reading

Yesterday’s Curry

Fish curry inflected with coconut is a staple dish in the coastal Indian state of Goa. It’s usually eaten accompanied by unpolished rice, fried fish and a dab of pickle. Once all the fish has been eaten up, the leftover curry is reheated over a low flame until it condenses and thickens. At that point, it is reborn as Kalchi koddi, which literally translates to “yesterday’s curry.” Joanna Lobo

Local food-ways have long been an interest on this platform, especially when spice is involved. Thanks, once again, to the Salt and Joanna Lobo for sharing this story.

Geothermal Cooking, Just Because

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Jon Sigfusson, the chef at Fridheimar, a restaurant in Reykholt, Iceland, picking herbs for cooking lamb. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Thanks to Peter Kaminsky, who helps answer the question Why Cook Over an Icelandic Geyser? and does so with gusto:

REYKHOLT, Iceland — Standing in the mud of the Myvatn geyser field in northern Iceland, Kolla Ivarsdottir lifted the lid of her makeshift bread oven. It had been fashioned from the drum of an old washing machine and buried in the geothermally heated earth. All around us mudpots burbled and columns of steam shot skyward, powered by the heat of nascent volcanoes.

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Mr. Sigfusson, left, and Kjartan Olafsson, a restaurant critic and fish exporter, putting food into the communal geothermal oven. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Ms. Ivarsdottir, a mother of three who sells her bread in a local crafts market, reached into the oven and retrieved a milk carton full of just-baked lava bread, a sweet, dense rye bread that has been made in the hot earth here for centuries. She cut the still-hot loaf into thick slices. It is best eaten, she said, “completely covered by a slab of cold butter as thick as your hand, and a slice of smoked salmon, just as thick.” We settled for bread and butter — still a supernal combination. Continue reading

Progress In Mongolia Looks Like This

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Odgerel Gamsukh has a started a company to create a green community in the unplanned and polluted sprawl outside of Ulaanbaatar. Katya Cengel for NPR

My one visit to Ulaanbaatar was in 1984, so I have outdated perspective, but I do recall the haze. I did not know it was from coal, associating it more with the Soviet gloom that I grew up believing was a permanent shadow on those lands. The military guards patrolling the train station were ominous at first sight. And one of them walked up to my buddy, grabbed his camera and ripped the film out of it. Yikes. No photo ops for us. But when our train, the Trans-Siberian, left the station I saw that Mongolia is one of the most blessedly beautiful landscapes I had seen, or have seen since. Multiple rainbows alway on the horizon. Thanks to Katya Cengel and NPR for this reminder that the sun is always shining somewhere in Mongolia:

To Fight Pollution, He’s Reinventing The Mongolian Tent

It takes the taxi driver three tries to find the neighborhood and at least another three wrong turns on narrow unpaved roads before he locates the company’s front gate. Each time he gets turned around the driver reaches for a cell phone. On the other end of the line Odgerel Gamsukh directs the driver to Gamsukh’s garage door business. Neither man seems bothered by the multiple interruptions and resulting delay. Mongolians are used to it taking a little extra time to get around, especially in the ger areas of Ulaanbaatar.

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Gamsukh’s designs are displayed on his desk.
Katya Cengel for NPR

If street addresses mean little in the city center, where residents commonly give directions based on landmarks instead of street names, they mean even less in the surrounding ger areas, named for the circular felt tents in which many residents live. In these neighborhoods, the route that takes you from one place to another is sometimes a grass-covered hill. That is because the government has yet to catch up with the city’s rapid growth. Sixty years ago only 14 percent of Mongolia’s population lived in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, the country’s largest city. Today it is approximately 45 percent, more than one million people. The majority of them, 60 percent, live in ger areas that often lack basic services such as sewer systems, running water and trash collection. The coal that area residents burn to warm their homes is the main cause of winter air pollution that now rivals Beijing’s. Continue reading

Getting To No On Plastic

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The cleanup … Glastonbury 2017. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

This headline in the Guardian, accompanying the photo above, is well timed for me:

Glastonbury festival set to ban plastic bottles in 2019

Emily Eavis says festival is working on ‘enormous project’ to ban plastic bottles on site when it returns after year off in 2018

MarriottNoStraw.jpgThat story continues after the jump, but I want to add to this post an image I just photographed when visiting the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose that was built more than two decades ago. Amie and I were friends with the managers of that property from the mid- to late-1990s, but had lost track of what this property has been up to lately. And I was very happy to learn today that they have recently earned five leaves in the CST program, whose board of directors I served on in the mid- to late-1990s. Bravo, Marriott! And as I snapped this photo, I was told that starting next month this property will have no straws, even if someone says they “really need one” (as the text on the sign says near the bottom). Double bravo!

We have reported on efforts in India, during our years there, to reduce noise pollution using similar signage. Whoever designed this sign for the Marriott property in Costa Rica was thinking along the same lines, graphically speaking. While I am in Costa Rica this week, I hope to have more to report, but for now, back to Glastonbury: Continue reading

Indonesian Seaweed Farming

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Seaweed harvesting in Takalar, Indonesia. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

The subject of seaweed farming, which we sometimes refer to as kelp farming, is of keen interest to us because of the relationship to conservation; our thanks to Tiffany Waters at Cool Green Science:

Seaweed Farming: A Gateway to Conservation and Empowerment

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Seaweed seedlings. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

“What does your husband do while you’re working on the seaweed lines?”, we ask. She laughs and says in Bahasa, “He does the cooking and the cleaning.”

It’s day 6 of our field visit to Indonesia and we’re in Takalar visiting our fifth island and third seaweed farm of the trip. On the brink of the ‘extreme season,’ stifling hot is an understatement, but the light breeze from the Flores Sea provides a welcome break from the three flights and 2-hour van trip that brought us here. Continue reading

A More Virtuous Tea

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Tea pickers stand in the scorching sun, hand-plucking the tea leaves for about eight hours a day. Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

Thanks to Julie McCarthy and her colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for this story posted from our old neighborhood:

Tea Farmer In India Leads Charge For Organic, Evades The Charge Of Elephants

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Tenzing Bodosa is a tea grower and a staunch practitioner of organic farming. He stands in his small tea estate beside the nature preserve he has cultivated.
Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

As you clutch a cuppa for a bit of winter warmth, spare a moment to consider the elaborate process that goes into producing that seemingly simple sip of tea.

In the biggest tea-growing region in India, the hazards alone range from red spider mites to herds of wild elephants.

Grower Tenzing Bodosa, a native of Assam, fights the former and unusually invites the latter.

From the large Bodo tribe and widely known by his first name, Tenzing stands beside the vermilion flames of a brick oven that provides the heat for a drying contraption erected in his backyard. Continue reading

Blue Planet II’s Attenborough Masterpiece

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The broadclub cuttlefish is one of the psychedelic creatures featured in “Blue Planet II.” Photograph courtesy BBC

blue_planetWe have not linked to many television reviews, and the reason is simply that we instead mostly promote going and seeing instead of sitting and watching.

But this one seems a perfect exception to the norm because the series narrator is such a frequent guest in these pages, for good reason after many good reasons. This show may be his own sense of a masterpiece, if you consider what he says in a recent interview to a confirmed urbanist, which is worth half an hour of listening to in addition to the review below:

“Blue Planet II” Reviewed: The Ocean Continues to Impress

The seven-episode follow-up to the 2001 series flexes the BBC’s mastery of a genre that it created.

By Troy Patterson

The nature documentary “Blue Planet II” is oceanic in topic, tone, scope, and majesty. A production of the BBC Natural History Unit, the seven-episode series flexes its broadcaster’s mastery of a genre that it created. Over excellent footage shot on a circumglobal photo safari, the venerable narrator David Attenborough orates zoological narratives as if delivering a state-of-nature address. “Blue Planet II” follows the network’s “The Blue Planet,” which dropped in 2001, but it is less a sequel than a subsequent quest, like the second voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, or Apollo 14. Continue reading

A Community Of Immigrants Prevails

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Coogan’s faced a rent increase so extreme that it could not be misconstrued as a negotiating ploy. The response from the neighborhood was swift and overwhelming. Animation by Christopher Hopkins-Ward

Jim Dwyer, a New York Times reporter who we have only had reason to feature once in these pages, should have remained on our radar once we saw his attention to one of our heroes, Chuck Feeney. In particular, if we had snooped around one year ago after reading that article, we would have found this. Interesting fellow, beyond his journalistic talents. But he dropped off our radar, and for the last year we have probably missed many stories that would fit in these pages. Case in point, he wrote a story a couple weeks ago that failed to capture our attention.

And what a failure, though we might be forgiven the mistake. In the early paragraphs he mentions that the bar at the center of the story is closing because its landlord, a hospital, has plans for the building where the bar is located. That sounds not only ho-hum, but perhaps like progress; hospitals are the most communitarian of institutions, right? We correct that now:

Coogan’s, an Uptown Stalwart, Makes Its Last Stand

The Big Carbon Footprint For Mining Virtual Currency

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A computer server farm in Iceland, dedicated to mining Bitcoin. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times for this story on how much electricity is required to create virtual currencies:

SAN FRANCISCO — Creating a new Bitcoin requires electricity. A lot of it.

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An employee at a Bitmain facility in Inner Mongolia, one of the biggest Bitcoin farms in the world. Credit Giulia Marchi for The New York Times

In the virtual currency world this creation process is called “mining.” There is no physical digging, since Bitcoins are purely digital. But the computer power needed to create each digital token consumes at least as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years, according to figures from Morgan Stanley and Alex de Vries, an economist who tracks energy use in the industry.

The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries — which country depends on whose estimates you believe. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day. Continue reading

Understanding Oregon Rancher Culture’s Concerns

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If, like those of us who contribute to this platform, you had been following the standoff mentioned in this article, and following the Bundys as a sidenote, this article is worth a read. The author Jennifer Percy gives full voice, as far as we can tell, to the concerns of the people from that region and specifically their opposition to all aspects of the federal government other than the military. The last three paragraphs of the article are particularly chilling but getting there is a worthy journey:

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The landscape of eastern Oregon has little in common with the state’s Pacific Coast. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

I took the eastern route from Idaho, on a day of freezing rain, over the Strawberry Mountains, into the broad John Day River Basin, in Oregon. I was used to empty places. Most of my childhood was spent in this region of eastern Oregon, in remote areas of the sagebrush desert or in the volcanic mountains with their jagged peaks and old-growth forests. My family moved away just before I entered high school, and I never returned; I’ve felt in romantic exile ever since. This part of America that had once belonged to my childhood became the spotlight of national news in the winter of 2016, when the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — an old childhood haunt — became the scene of a cowboy takeover. The takeover began as a protest in the town of Burns after two ranchers were sentenced to prison for arsons on federal land. The ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, caught the attention of the Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, who thought the punishment unfair. Bundy and a crowd of nearly 300 marchers paraded through Burns, and a splinter group eventually took over the Malheur headquarters. For 41 days, they refused to leave, protesting federal ownership of public lands, which they considered unlawful and abusive. I didn’t understand what had happened since I left, why so many people seemed so disillusioned and angry.

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Joe Cronin on his ranch in the Malheur National Forest, in October. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

The ground was snow-covered when I visited John Day last winter and the temperature below freezing. I was there to attend a meeting organized by Jeanette Finicum, the widow of LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher who was shot and killed by government agents a year earlier. LaVoy was a leader of the Malheur occupation. He left the refuge for a speaking engagement in John Day with plans to return, but he was shot three times at an F.B.I. roadblock. For that reason, his widow was calling this event “The Meeting That NEVER Happened.” Continue reading

State By State Ranking For USA Bicyclists

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PHOTO COURTESY OF MACHIKO THRELKELD

Thanks to Sierra magazine for bringing this to our attention:

Is Your State Bicycle-Friendly?

A new report ranks the best and worst places to hop on the saddle

Do you live in the safest or the most dangerous state for riding a bike? The 2017 Bicycle Friendly State Report Card has the answer.

Each year, the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group founded in 1880 to improve street conditions for bikers, releases a detailed ranking that cyclists can use to track where it’s safe, and not so safe, to hop on wheels. The group also monitors each state’s progress toward increased bicycle safety. The rankings are derived from a variety of factors, including five key bicycle-friendly actions, federal data on bicycling conditions, and summaries with feedback on how each state can improve the safety and mobility of bicyclists. Continue reading

Undoing Dams, Animals Pitch In

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Since 2014, Washington’s Elwha River has flowed freely through what once was Lake Mills and the Glines Canyon Dam. But the site still leaves a barren scar in Olympic National Park. Now, a human- and bird-led effort is turning it green again. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

Conservation is sometimes in the hands of animals, as this story in the current Audubon magazine illustrates:

Birds Are Helping to Plant an Entire Lost Landscape in Olympic National Park

After the largest dam removal in U.S. history, scientists, Native Americans, and wild animals are working together to restore the heart of the Elwha.

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The Elwha Valley and Glines Canyon Dam prior to demolition. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

It’s a scorching August day in the Elwha Valley, and it only feels bleaker as we peer into the 200-foot void of Glines Canyon Dam. A sputtering trail of water marks the concrete lip where, for nearly a century, two hulking braces trapped logs, rocks, and sediments as they washed down from the mountains of northern Washington, forming a reservoir that was six times deeper than a competition-diving pool. At its height, the dam churned out 13.3 megawatts of hydroelectricity, enough to power 14,000 homes and a local paper mill. But it also seriously altered the Elwha River’s ecology, along with that of surrounding Olympic National Park. Endangered chinook salmon were cut off from their spawning sites; fish-eating birds and otters suffered; and estuaries became more brackish and shallow. Finally, in 1992, the U.S. government issued the order to destroy Glines Canyon Dam and the nearby Elwha Dam. Yet it wasn’t until two decades later when the water was completely freed. Continue reading

Vote Early, Vote Often

Voting open for crowdsourced climate change innovations

MIT Climate CoLab allows the public to vote for promising crowdsourced ideas on how to tackle climate change.

Annalyn Bachmann | MIT Climate CoLab

MIT-CCl-02_0.jpgThis is better than democracy, and as important as any citizen science initiative we know of, so we hope you will contribute:

MIT Climate CoLab has opened a public voting period to select the top innovative ideas on how to tackle climate change. A project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, Climate CoLab is an online platform where over 90,000 community members from around the world work together to develop and select proposals to help solve this massive, complex issue. Continue reading

Shoreline Durability

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The dunes of Midway Beach have a secret ingredient hiding beneath the sand. © Cara Byington/The Nature Conservancy

Thanks to Cool Green Science:

The Secret in the Sand Dunes

Dominick Solazzo likes to say the healthy dunes at Midway Beach and South Seaside Park on the Jersey Shore have a “secret ingredient.” Of course, it’s a secret that gives itself away pretty readily when the wind blows.

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Dune grasses have deep roots that help trap sand and anchor the dunes, and help them grow and resist wind erosion. © Cara Byington/TNC

“It’s Christmas trees,” Solazzo says with a smile. Discarded (natural) Christmas trees donated by the city of Secaucus, New Jersey and given a second life – so to speak – as sand dunes. And, yes, according to him and a few of his neighbors, you can smell the sharp, familiar scent of fir through late winter and part of the spring.

But why Christmas trees? In a word: structure.

“They’re like re-bar in concrete,” explains Solazzo. “They help hold the sand and the dune in place, and give it structure. And good structure matters for dunes. It matters a lot.” Continue reading

Bike-Share Good Samaritanism

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Collin Waldoch Illustration by Tom Bachtell

We linked out to stories about bike-sharing when it was relatively new in New York. This week, an enchanting short note on a peddler of angelic behavior, and a couple examples of people who have pedaled accordingly:

Hacking the Citi Bike Points System

A program offers modest benefits to riders who help rebalance the city’s network of bicycles. One man outdid its expectations.

By Ian Parker

On a recent Monday, Glenn Reinhart, a former salesman of chemicals for the cosmetics industry, and now, in his mid-fifties, a freelance karate instructor with a fair amount of leisure time, took twenty-two rides on Citi Bikes, one after another, and then went out to breakfast in Chelsea. He had arranged to meet Collin Waldoch, who runs Bike Angels, the Citi Bike program that awards points, redeemable for extended membership and other modest benefits (a commemorative pin; a white bike key), to riders who help the company rebalance its network of twelve thousand bikes. Angels earn points for taking bikes from full stations and parking them at empty ones. A ride from one to the other might earn two or three points. When the scheme was launched, this spring, Waldoch thought that someone might, in the course of a year, earn five hundred points. By the fall, Glenn Reinhart had earned nearly eight thousand—twice as many as anyone else—and Waldoch sent him an e-mail and invited him to breakfast. Continue reading