Breaking my blogging silence to shout from the internet rooftops about being published today on BBC Future, the BBC's science and technology website. I wrote for them about tech billionaires' efforts to beat governments to the punch in inventing a workable fusion reactor. Microsoft's Paul Allen, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and PayPal's Peter Thiel are all invested in start-ups pursuing high-risk/high-reward approaches to viably generating fusion energy. (Physics-phobes, never fear: I explain what fusion is.) To understand why, I traveled to Vancouver, BC and visited General Fusion (their prototype reactor, and founder, are pictured above), tried and failed to get access to secretive Tri Alpha Energy, and interviewed a bunch of nuclear physicists (plus one venture-capital investor).
The SEC yesterday finalized a long-awaited, controversial rule requiring public companies to disclose the ratio between the pay of their CEO and the average pay of their workers. I contributed reporting to an Oregon Business story about this rule last year, contacting almost all of Oregon's publicly traded companies to find out how the (then-proposed) regulation might affect them.
What didn't make it into that story (for the most part) was the lack of transparency I discovered among local public companies when it comes to worker pay. Despite the fact that these companies were certainly going to be required to disclose this information at some point—and I'll just leave aside the info's arguable value to investors and the public—they were outright cagey with the data.
Here's the breakdown: Of the 35 companies that I contacted, 15 never replied to multiple emailed requests for comment, including Lithia Motors, FLIR, and TriQuint. Three responded, but only to decline to comment, including two of the state's largest public companies, Precision Castparts and Columbia Sportswear. Other top Oregon public companies, including Nike and Schnitzer Steel, sent insubstantial replies. For example, Nike spokesman Ben Samples did not respond to my questions, instead providing a one-sentence statement: "Nike is aware of the proposed rule and will comply if and when it becomes effective for our company."
Even among the companies that did send substantial replies, almost all said they didn't know the average pay of their workers or declined to provide that info. The only company that voluntarily disclosed its average worker pay was NW Natural. (It was $75,920, if you're curious.)
Frankly, it's still not 100% clear to me why companies that had presumably made decisions about compensation based on the employment market and in consultation with HR pros wouldn't be able or willing to talk about those choices. But with the finalization of the pay-ratio rule, they'll have to be ready to have those conversations by 2018.
My Civil Eats food & faith series continues with this story on the growing religious contingent of the anti-GMO movement. As I write in the piece:
"Indeed, as GMO-labeling measures appear on the ballot in state after state—from Oregon to California, Washington, and Colorado—a growing number of people of faith are starting to see genetic engineering of crops as a religious issue. To be sure, the GMO debate remains on the fringe in many faiths, with traditionally progressive denominations showing the most engagement.
However, two of the country’s largest religious denominations, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church, have come out in favor of GMO labeling, and from Catholicism to Islam, there’s hardly a religious tradition in which GMOs aren’t the subject of some debate."
You wouldn't know it from this blog, but this agnostic is also writing about secular matters. I'm still picking performing-arts "best bets" for The Oregonian every week, and I've got some cool (hot?) irons in the fire...
Last fall, I wrote a story about Jewish back-to-landers for Civil Eats. The good folks over there liked it enough that they asked me to write a series on faith and farming. I’m not religious myself, but I am interested in people’s belief systems, and the Jewish-farmers story had shown me there could be pretty intriguing intersections between those belief systems and agriculture. So, I said yes.
Last month, CEran the second piece in the series, about a vast, yet little-known system of welfare farms run by the Mormon Church. It’s gotten about as much attention as any story I’ve ever written. Check it out—and stay tuned for more “Faith in Food” installments.
After months of reporting, my first feature for Portland Monthly, about Oregon’s drone industry, is finally on newsstands!
Drones are fast moving from the military to the commercial sphere, where they’ve got cool applications in areas like farming and firefighting. Thanks to a fortuitous convergence of engineering and aviation heritage, Oregon has the potential to become a hub of this emerging industry—if “Silicon Sky” boosters can overcome red tape and public fears.
In the same issue, you can also find my story about The Librarians, a new Portland-filmed television show from the folks behind Leverage. Stars met (kinda) during reporting: Noah Wyle, Rebecca Romijn. Not too shabby for a Portland story!
P.S. (Awesome) photo by William Anthony