California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, Oct. 29.

Study says California condors are capable of virgin births.
Border Patrol is accused of deploying "shadow police units."
And a fantastical sculpture garden in Sonoma County.

Please note: The newsletter will pause Monday. Back in your inbox Tuesday.



The California condor is one of our rarest, largest, and most magnificent birds.

James Michael

California condors can reproduce without having sex. Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance made the unexpected finding while analyzing the DNA of two chicks, which had not a single gene from a father. They were, in a sense, virgin births, raising the possibility that fatherless childbearing may occur in other species undetected. Dr. Oliver Ryder, co-author of a newly published study on the discovery, said it gives him goosebumps to this day. WIRED | The Atlantic


"Vaccinating kids? Why now?"

The L.A. Times asked that question Thursday in a striking front-page analysis, which said the case for vaccinating children against Covid-19 had weakened with the virus now in retreat. It cited FDA advisors who expressed concerns about limited safety data: "At this stage of the pandemic, there are just too many unknowns to support blanket vaccinations for all, several panel members said."

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California has mandated the vaccines for all students pending full FDA approval, but some school districts are moving faster. Oakland Unified on Thursday voted to require the shots for children 12 and up by Jan. 1. S.F. Chronicle | Oaklandside


Two clips simulated a juvenile shark’s view of a swimming seal and a swimming surfer.

Gif created from video by Laura Ryan et al.

For decades, scientists have suspected that shark attacks of surfers are cases of mistaken identity, as the ocean predators mistake surfboards for sea lions. A study published Wednesday put the theory to the test by simulating what humans, seals, and sea lions look like through young white shark eyes. The conclusion: They look the same. N.Y. Times | Popular Science


The moon over the Sierra Nevada.

Jassen Todorov

On this week's California Sun Podcast, host Jeff Schechtman interviewed Jassen Todorov, a concert violinist, music professor at San Francisco State, and aerial photographer. Todorov talked about how his musical upbringing melded into his photographic work, a passion he discovered later in life. "In music, we often talk about patterns, we often talk about composition, the form, we often talk about colors," he said. "So you can apply the same terminology into photography."

Todorov's Instagram is a must-follow for California lovers. 👉 @jassensf


Northern California


Some reactions on Twitter to Facebook's new name, Meta:

"#BREAK Facebook's new company name is Meta

It still has all the same problems it had this morning." — @donie
"BIG NEWS lol jk still Twitter" — @Twitter
“Meta” has been a useful word and concept. I’ll miss it." — @JamesGleick
"You can run, but you can’t hide, @Facebook" — @SenBlumenthal

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Facebook's rebranding, Mark Zuckerberg explained, is part of a move toward the next digital frontier, a merging of digital worlds into something called the metaverse. The Atlantic sounded a note of skepticism: "There is not a single person in existence who has scanned Facebook’s News Feed and said: Yes, immerse me in this reality. I want to feel my uncle’s meme about Hot Pockets on my face."


For her first 60 years, Dierdre Wolownick avoided rock climbing. But she could never understand her son, the renowned climber Alex Honnold, when he used jargon like “jugging” and “rapping.” So she gave it a try. Ten years later, at age 70, Wolownick just became the oldest woman to scale the face of El Capitan. “Just being on El Cap is a mind-bender," she said. "Your life changes." N.Y. Times | L.A. Times


Yue Minjun's "Contemporary Terracotta Warriors" stand guard at Donum Estate.

Tucked inside the rolling hills of Sonoma County is a fantastical collection of gigantic artworks. The sculpture garden at Donum Estate — with more than 50 pieces by artists including Ai Weiwei, Doug Aitken, and Jaume Plensa — began in 2015, after a pair of Hong Kong–based art collectors took ownership. In an interview with the N.Y. Times, Allan Warburg said he saw an opportunity to combine his interests. “Walking around the landscape with a couple of glasses of wine," he said, "objects become more beautiful." Here's a nice visual tour of the property. 👉 Design Boom


Southern California


A pair of immigrant rights groups sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday accusing the Border Patrol of deploying "cover-up units" to protect officers involved in killings. They cited the 2010 killing of Anastasio Hernández Rojas at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, saying a responding unit failed to notify local police, altered an arrest report, and asked medical staff to test Rojas' blood for drugs. James Wong, a former internal affairs agent in the Border Patrol, condemned the units. "Investigators should never set out to mitigate liability," he said. S.D. Union-Tribune


Farmworkers wait for work in the border town of Calexico on Jan. 22.

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

An analysis of FBI data found that communities along the southern border had a rate of violent crime about 15% lower than the national average in 2020. The disparity was even starker when comparing border communities with towns further north that had similar poverty demographics. Axios said the data "dispels myths of the U.S.-Mexico border as a region filled with crime and chaos."


Lauren Cho, a 30-year-old New Jersey woman, was staying with friends at an artist-oriented Airbnb resort about 30 miles north of Palm Springs when she disappeared in June. After months of searching, officials confirmed Thursday that they found her remains in the rugged open desert of Yucca Valley. The friends said Cho was upset before she vanished. Authorities said they suspect no foul play. CNN | CBSLA


A 33-year-old electrical engineer in Santa Clarita was perusing ticket options at Six Flags Magic Mountain, located just a few minutes from his office, when he noticed the deal of a lifetime: A $150 season pass included two meals a day for an entire year. For years, he ate lunch and dinner every day at Magic Mountain as he paid down his student loans, got married, and bought a house. “It wasn’t healthy at all," he acknowledged. Mel Magazine


In case you missed it


The accommodations at Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast in Upper Lake.

Five items that got big views over the past week:

A cottage built from glass bottles near Death Valley, a secluded hobbit house near San Diego, and antique railroad cabooses on the shore of a Northern California lake. Fodors Travel named California's 10 most unusual hotels.
In February, a shelter opened in North Hollywood with 40 colorful tiny homes. At a cost of $5.2 million, critics said it was too expensive. But a photographer found something often missing from stories about the homeless: "a narrative of positive progress." L.A. Times
A helicopter crew captured what the crisis at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach looks like up close. Wall Street Journal
Amtrak's Coast Starlight has been called "the most spectacular seashore route in the world." Departing daily, it runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, traversing about 1,400 miles in 35 hours. A pair of photographers documented their journey in 15 lush pictures. Field Mag
An Atlantic article on the new incarnation of methamphetamine identified a willful myopia among advocates for the homeless: "Policy makers and advocates instead prefer to focus on L.A.’s cost of housing, which is very high but hardly relevant to people rendered psychotic and unemployable by methamphetamine."

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The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

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