In a sharp-elbowed opinion piece in The New York Times this week, Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego, took several big-name schools to task for the ways that they handle their endowments.
Fleischer cited Harvard, the University of Texas, Stanford and Princeton — but he reserved his harshest criticism for Yale University, which he says pays private equity firms $480 million a year to handle its endowment. Meanwhile, he says the school spends only $170 million dollars on financial aid for students — while tuition often rises.
“As some of these endowments grow larger and larger, the group that benefits the most is not students; it’s not faculty. It’s the fund managers who manage the money,” Fleischer says. “The point is: What is the endowment there to serve? The point is to advance teaching and research and scientific inquiry today.”
He points to the ways the universities managed their money during the tough financial losses of the financial crisis.
“It’s striking that, in those circumstances where you would expect the universities to tap into the endowment for a lot of support, they didn’t. Instead, the focus was on growing the endowment back to the previous size.”
Fleischer’s argument moved Malcolm Gladwell, the author and New Yorker writer, to fire off a barrage of tweets excoriating Yale and the other schools featured in Fleischer’s article.
Waste water in retention ponds near the Animas River in Colorado.
Durango, Colo. — THE recent mining pollution spill in my corner of Colorado — La Plata County — is making national news for all the wrong reasons. Beyond the spill and its impact on everyone downstream, the underlying causes are far more worrisome and dangerous than just a mistake made by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Yes, it is a cruel irony that an E.P.A. contractor, while trying to clean up pollution from old mines, instead made the problem much, much worse. The jaw-dropping before-and-after photos contrasting the pre-spill Animas River I know and love with the subsequent bright orange, acidic, heavy-metal-laden travesty are sadly accurate.
The Animas River is the heart of La Plata County. Our jobs rely on it, people the world over travel here to raft and fish it, and farmers and ranchers feed their animals and water their crops with it. But more than that, it’s a member of the community. We see it every day. We play in it. We work with it. And of course we drink it. It’s no overstatement to say that La Plata County as we know it would not exist without the Animas River.
The damage caused by this spill is all the more heartbreaking because it is part of a larger national and ongoing tragedy: the hundreds of thousands of inactive and abandoned mines that litter our country, thanks to the General Mining Law of 1872.
President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Mining Law when the nation (apart from Native Americans, who had already lived here for thousands of years) regarded the West as a frontier to be conquered. Governing hard-rock mining, mostly of metals like gold and copper, the law is a product of its time. It gave away public minerals (worth an estimated $300 billion and still counting); sold mineral-bearing public lands for less than $5 an acre; contained no environmental provisions for mining operations, and required no cleanup afterward. Apart from a few small regulatory changes in 1980, the 19th-century act is still the law of the land.
The result? A study by the environmental group Earthworks estimated that approximately 500,000 abandoned and unreclaimed mines litter the country. The E.P.A. says that mining pollutes approximately 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds and that cleaning up these mines may cost American taxpayers more than $50 billion.
Why hasn’t this problem been solved, given its pervasiveness and impact?
It isn’t because we don’t know how. There are pilot reclamation projects around the West that have shown how to do it if we choose to. It isn’t because it’ll cost jobs. Montana’s experience suggests that mine reclamation can create more jobs per dollar spent than mining itself.
The problem of unreclaimed, abandoned and inactive mines remains unsolved because the mining industry stubbornly obstructs meaningful attempts to reform or replace the 1872 Mining Law. As a result, there’s simply not enough money to address the problem. The E.P.A. is operating on a shoestring budget. Despite this, an E.P.A. contractor was trying to reclaim the Gold King Mine because it was seriously polluting the Animas River before the spill. The E.P.A. was doing the best it could with what it had. But what it had wasn’t enough.
The solution to the problem is comprehensive reform of the old law, and Congress already has a bill before it that will do it: H.R. 963, the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona.
The new law, currently bottled up in committee, would create a fund to clean up abandoned and inactive mines by establishing an 8 percent royalty on all new hard-rock mines on public lands, a 4 percent royalty on existing mines on public lands and reclamation fees on all hard-rock mines, including those that were “purchased” for low prices under the 1872 Mining Law.
A similar system is already in place for abandoned coal mines, so there’s no practical reason it can’t work for hard-rock mining too. The bill would also improve both reclamation standards and requirements that mining companies financially guarantee that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up existing mines.
What happened in La Plata County this month is a tragedy. For our ranchers and farmers, for wildlife, the tourism industry and all our local residents. The Animas River is part of our everyday life, and it needs to be protected. I’m not alone in wanting to stop this reckless pollution from endangering the rest of our communities and our environment.
Gwen Lachelt is a La Plata County commissioner.
Lisa’s favorite Linocut… just viewed again at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in “Pastoral to Pop: 20th-C Britain on Paper”
Swiss painter and linocut artist, Lill Tschudi was born in 1911. Her interest in the art of linocut was brought about by seeing the work of Norbertine Bresslern-Roth. She studied with Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art from 1920 to 1930 and in Paris with Andre Lhote, Gino Severini and Fernand Leger.
Some of Tschudi’s prints are typical Grosvenor School subjects: “Sticking Up Posters” (1933) and “London Buses” (1935) and others show Swiss scenes: “Knaben mit Skis” (c1935) and “Swiss Parliament” (c1935). Tschudi makes references to her Swiss homeland in her sporting prints. Some obvious examples include the winter sports of ski-jumping, skiing and sledding.
Tschudi found her place as an artist very quickly, having completed twenty-five linocuts, only two years after leaving the Grosvenor School. Claude Flight included her linocut “Fixing the Wires” in his 1934 textbook, “The Art and Craft of Linocutting and Printing”. Between 1930 and 1939, she produced some sixty-five prints, many of which were first shown in London.
Throughout the 1930s, Tschudi enjoyed greater recognition in England than in her native country, however in 1986, she was awarded the National Print Prize for her lifetime achievements in linocut.
Global warming caused by human emissions has most likely intensified the drought in California by roughly 15 to 20 percent, scientists said Thursday, warning that future dry spells in the state are almost certain to be worse than this one as the world continues to heat up.
Even though the findings suggest that the drought is primarily a consequence of natural climate variability, the scientists added that the likelihood of any drought becoming acute is rising because of climate change. The odds of California suffering droughts at the far end of the scale, like the current one that began in 2012, have roughly doubled over the past century, they said.
“This would be a drought no matter what,” said A. Park Williams, a climate scientist at Columbia University and the lead author of a paper published by the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “It would be a fairly bad drought no matter what. But it’s definitely made worse by global warming.”
The paper echoes a growing body of research that has come to similar conclusions, but scientists not involved in the work described it as more thorough than any previous effort, because it analyzed nearly every possible combination of data on temperature, rainfall, wind speed and other factors that could be influencing the severity of the drought. The research, said David B. Lobell, a Stanford University climate scientist, is “probably the best I’ve seen on this question.”
The paper provides fresh scientific support for political leaders, including President Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown of California, who have cited human emissions and the resulting global warming as a substantial factor in the drought. They have been attacked for that stance by Republicans who question the science of climate change. Mr. Obama, in turn, has mocked the Republicans for attitudes he once described as reminiscent of the Flat Earth Society.
“We have a real challenge in California,” Mr. Brown said this month as he visited firefighters battling a blaze near Clear Lake that has burned thousands of acres. “Unlike the East, where climate change seems to be adding more storms, here in California and the Southwest it’s more dryness.”
FOLSOM, Calif. — Evert W. Palmer has a vision for this city famous for its state prison: 10,200 new homes spread across the rolling hills to the south, bringing in a flood of new jobs, new business and 25,000 more people.
Yes, Mr. Palmer, the city manager, is well aware that Folsom Lake, the sole source of water for this Gold Rush outpost near Sacramento, is close to historically low levels, and stands as one of the most disturbing symbols of the four-year drought that has gripped this state. And that Folsom is under orders to reduce its water consumption by 32 percent as part of mandatory statewide urban cutbacks.
But Mr. Palmer, like other officials who approved the ambitious plan to expand this city, said he was confident that there was enough water to allow Folsom’s population to grow to nearly 100,000 by 2036. It would be economic folly, he said, to run things any other way.
Mr. Elliott in “The Big Lebowski.” The Coen brothers’ screenplay.
Then he was given Joel and Ethan Coen’s screenplay.
“We hear male voices gently singing ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds,’ ” it begins, “and a deep, affable, Western-accented voice — Sam Elliott’s, perhaps.” The voice belongs to the Stranger, later described as “middle-aged, amiable, craggily handsome — Sam Elliott, perhaps. He has a large Western-style mustache and wears denims, a yoked shirt and a cowboy hat.”
Mr. Elliott recalled thinking: “ ‘Even in a Coen brothers movie, I can’t play one of their wacky characters, I gotta play a cowboy.’ I think you feel, on some level, when you get boxed in in this business, you get sold short.”
Mr. Elliott ended up loving to work with the Coens, and the admiration was mutual. After shooting the last scene perhaps 15 times, Mr. Elliott finally said, “Guys, you’ve got to tell me what you want.” They replied, he recalled, that they had gotten what they wanted on the sixth take, but just loved watching him do it over and over again.
Since then, Mr. Elliott said, his resistance to playing cowboys has softened to gratitude. Appearing in “The Big Lebowski,” which starred Jeff Bridges as the Dude, helped get him a key role in “The Contender” (2000), playing a close adviser to Mr. Bridges’s president. Mr. Elliott said the director, Rod Lurie, told him, “I just want to see more of you and the Dude.” Mr. Elliott’s casting in Chris Weitz’s “The Golden Compass,” again as a cowboy.
A car was buried in a mudslide possibly triggered by rain related to an El Niño pattern in January 1982. While an El Niño can bring rain to California, it may not bring a lot of snow.
This year’s El Niño weather pattern could be the most powerful on record, federal forecasters said, while warning that the effects of the weather system are never certain.
“We’re predicting this El Niño could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record,” said Mike Halpert, the deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a teleconference with reporters. This year’s El Niño is already the second strongest for this time of year in more than 60 years of record-keeping, he said.
El Niño, which begins with warmer-than-usual water temperatures in the Eastern Pacific, can affect weather around the world — in the United States, it can bring heavy winter precipitation in California and across the South. El Niño events have also been linked to droughts in Australia and India, more numerous hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean (but fewer in the Atlantic), and a warmer planet over all.
Most of the eastern United States were cooler than average last year, but globally 2014 was the warmest year since 1880, federal scientists say.2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics JAN. 16, 2015
The current El Niño, along with unusual warming in the Northern Pacific, will produce what is “very likely to be the warmest year on record,” Daniel Swain, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford who runs the respected California Weather Blog, said in an interview.
The federal forecasters announced a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño would continue all winter for the Northern Hemisphere. The likelihood that the effects will last into early spring is 85 percent, up from last month’s prediction of 80 percent.
Conditions in the Pacific Ocean suggest that what has formed there is as big as anything seen since 1997-98, a system that brought the term “El Niño” into popular culture and which is remembered for the catastrophic amounts of water it dumped on California, leading to flooding and mudslides.
California receives most of its precipitation in the winter, and that is when the effects of a potent El Niño system are felt.
Quentin Tarantino’s first teaser trailer for his upcoming Western The Hateful Eight brings wintry dread, dark laughs and plenty of cabin fever. The acclaimed director’s eighth film is set, per the film’s YouTube description, “six or eight or 12 years after the Civil War” and follows bounty hunter John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as a brutal Wyoming storm forces their stagecoach to touch down at Minnie’s Haberdashery en route to Red Rock.
The duo is joined by two strangers: union-soldier-turned-bounty-hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix, a Southern renegade who claims to be the town’s new sheriff (Walton Goggins). The group take refuge among four fellow dwellers: Minnie’s temporary caretaker Bob (Demián Bichir), Red Rock hangman Oswaldo (Tim Roth), cow-puncher Joe (Michael Madsen) and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).
“One of them fellas is not what he says he is,” says the Hangman. And the clip adds to the mysterious vibe, showcasing typical Tarantino fireworks: gunfire, punchy line delivery and widescreen visual splendor. The Hateful Eight is out in 70mm format on December 25th before its wider release on January 8th, 2016. Composer Ennio Morricone – best known for his work on iconic Westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – will score the film.
Tarantino first announced Hateful Eight in November 2013 but canceled the release following a heavily publicized script leak in January 2014. The director considered adapting the screenplay into a novel, then held a script reading with the full cast at Los Angeles’ United Artists Theater. Tarantino eventually changed course, starting filming in January of this year in Telluride, Colorado.
WHEN OUR RIVER TURNED ORANGE ~ Nine things you need to know about the Animas River mine waste spill. ~ Jonathan Thompson an old Silverton friend is an excellent writer and critical thinker. Take some time to read his Rio de las Animas piece…
Jonathan Thompson is a native Westerner with deep roots in southwestern Colorado. He owned and edited the Silverton Standard & the Miner newspaper in the tiny town of Silverton, Colo., and was the editor-in-chief of High Country News from 2007 to 2010. After that he lived in Berlin, Germany, and then was a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Now he lives in Durango, Colorado, with his wife and two daughters.
“The question that is crowding upon Durango thick and fast is one of water. The mill slimes from Silverton are now reaching us.”
— Durango Democrat, 1899
On a scorcher of an August afternoon, a crowd gathered on a bridge over the deep-green waters of the Animas River on the north end of Durango, Colorado. A passerby might have thought they were watching a sporting event, perhaps a kayak race or a flotilla of inebriated, scantily clad inner tubers. Yet the river that afternoon was eerily empty of rowers, paddlers or floaters — unheard of on a day like this — and the mood among the onlookers was sombre. One mingling in the crowd heard certain words repeated: sad, tragic, angry, toxic.
They were here not to cheer anyone on, but to mourn, gathered to watch a catastrophe unfold in slow motion. Soon, the waters below would become milky green, then a Gatorade yellow, before finally settling into a thick and cloudy orangish hue — some compared it to mustard, others Tang. Whatever you called it, it was clearly not right.
The river turned a mustardy-Tang color as the wastewater moved through. This was taken about 24 hours after the spill.
The mustard-Tang plume was the result of approximately three million gallons of wastewater and sludge that had poured from the dormant Gold King mine into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas, some 60 miles upstream on the previous morning. The water had backed up in the mine behind a sort of dam formed when the mine portal’s ceiling had collapsed sometime earlier. Workers from the Environmental Protection Agency were hoping to install a pipe to drain the water so that they could eventually plug the mine, keeping the contaminated water inside it and out of the streams. Instead, they ended up accidentally breaching the dam, releasing the water.
While the spill occurred just a few miles above Silverton, the impacts hit Durango the hardest. The Animas River courses through the middle of Durango, provides a portion of its drinking and irrigation water, and over the last few decades has become the recreational and aesthetic, wild, green heart of the city. The spill essentially stopped the heart’s beat. Officials closed the river for public health reasons, shutting down hundreds of recreational boaters and tubers, not to mention the local rafting industry. No one yet knows what will happen to the fish, the birds, the bugs and other wildlife that call the river home.
The Animas River was closed for public safety as the wastewater plume moved through town.
I’m very sorry for what happened,” said David Ostrander, EPA’s emergency response director, at a public meeting in Durango held just hours after the plume reached town. “This is a huge tragedy. We typically respond to emergencies, not cause them.”
Really, though, the EPA wasn’t the root cause of the emergency. It was, most likely, a disaster waiting to happen and the most visible manifestation of an emergency that’s been going on in the Upper Animas River Watershed for decades. Here’s nine items to help you understand the big picture:
• Pollution in the Animas is not new: The Upper Animas River watershed consists of three main streams, the Animas, Cement Creek and Mineral Creek all of which drain the Silverton Caldera, the highly mineralized collapsed core of an ancient volcano, and which run together at Silverton. Miners started going after the minerals in the 1870s, and the river’s been the victim of their pollution ever since. Mines simply poured their tailings directly into the creeks and rivers until, in the 1930s, downstream farmers got them to stop; the remnants of those releases can still be found under the river bed in Durango and beyond. Then there’s acid mine drainage. The portals and shafts blasted into the mountainsides hijack the natural hydrology, pulling water flowing through fractures toward natural springs into the mine tunnels. There, the water reacts with iron disulfide (pyrite) and oxygen to form sulfuric acid. The acidic water dissolves naturally occurring heavy metals such as zinc, lead, cadmium, copper and aluminum. The resulting contaminated water flows out of the mine adit as if from a spring. By 1991, when the last major mine in the watershed shut down, there were some 400 mines in the watershed, many discharging unmitigated discharges into streams. Not a fish could be found for miles downstream from Silverton, and the impacts to aquatic life were felt in Durango, where, when the mines were still running, sensitive fish were unable to reproduce.
• Superfund has long been on the table, and long been swept off: As mining waned in the late 1980s, federal and state regulatory agencies started looking at how to clean up the mess. Superfund, which comes with a big pile of cash, seemed like the obvious approach. But locals feared that the stigma would destroy tourism along with any possibility of mining’s return. Besides, Superfund can be blunt; the complex Animas situation demanded a more surgical, locally-based approach. So the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a collaboration between concerned citizens and representatives from industry and federal and state agencies, was created in 1994 to address the situation. The approach was successful, at first, but then water quality began deteriorating again. The specter of Superfund returned. Many locals, worried about impacts to property values and tourism, have again resisted. Sunnyside Gold Corp. (see below) has offered millions of dollars to further cleanup efforts — as long as there’s no Superfund designation.
• The problem is massive and complex, but not hopeless: In 1991, the last big mine in the region, the Sunnyside, shut down. Its owner, Sunnyside Gold Corp., planned to plug the American Tunnel, thus stanching the flow of acid mine drainage (which it ran through a water treatment plant), and then walk away. The state wouldn’t allow it: While a plug, or bulkhead, would be a short-term fix, in the long-term the water, and its contaminants, might back up in the mine and find another way to the surface. So Sunnyside agreed not only to bulkhead its mine, but also to clean up abandoned mines nearby — a sort of pollution offset project — while continuing to run the waters of upper Cement Creek through a water treatment facility. That, combined with the ARSG’s extensive efforts, worked: By the early 2000s, zinc, cadmium and lead levels in Mineral Creek had dropped by 50 to 75 percent, and water quality in the Upper Animas had improved significantly (Cement Creek had never supported fish, and never will). Fish appeared just below Silverton, where they hadn’t been seen in probably a century. It was success, without Superfund.
• Then it got even more complex: Sunnyside cut a deal with the state and Gold King mining, a small operation owned by a Silvertonian. Sunnyside would leave, and turn over its water treatment operations to Gold King, along with enough cash to keep it running for a while. Gold King hoped to eventually resume mining the Gold King (not far from the American Tunnel). For decades, the Gold King, like the nearby Red and Bonita mine, had not discharged any water. But not long after Sunnyside sealed its bulkheads, water started pouring out of all of them. “It was not a coincidence,” says Peter Butler, ARSG co-coordinator. The backed up water had found natural fractures to follow into the other mines. Together, the Gold King and Red and Bonita would become some of the biggest polluters in the basin. Initially, their waters were run through the treatment plant that Sunnyside had left behind. But before long, Gold King ran into technical, financial and legal troubles and the treatment plant stopped operating. Water quality for miles downstream once again deteriorated. The fish that had returned to the Animas below Silverton were wiped out. Part of the renewed impetus for a Superfund designation was to bring in funds to resume water treatment as well as figure out ways to clean up the basin’s remaining major polluting mines.
• In the meantime, a piecemeal approach continues: The ARSG, along with federal and state agencies, continue to do what they can to clean up mines. In some cases, this means plugging them, which is what the EPA is working on at the Red and Bonita, and planned to do at the Gold King, when the dam broke. Other methods include diverting water before it gets into the mine in the first place, and removing waste piles at the entrances to mines so that acidic discharge from the mine can’t leech minerals out of the rock. Until the Gold King is plugged, it will continue to discharge acid mine drainage, just as it had before the spill.
• This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened, nor is it the worst: In June of 1975, a huge tailings pile on the banks of the Animas River northeast of Silverton was breached, dumping tens of thousands of gallons of water, along with 50,000 tons of heavy-metal-loaded tailings into the Animas. For 100 miles downstream, the river “looked like aluminum paint,” according to a Durango Herald reporter at the time; fish placed in a cage in the water in Durango all died within 24 hours. It was just one of many breaches of various magnitude. Just a decade before, the same tailings pile was found to be spilling cyanide-laced water into the river. In 1978, after the American Tunnel was bored Sunnyside Mine workings got too close to the floor of Lake Emma, the lake burst through, sending an estimated 500 million gallons of water tearing through the mines, sweeping up huge machinery, tailings and sludge, and blasting it out the American Tunnel and sending it downstream. No one was working in the mine at the time, which is either miraculous, or suspicious, depending on who you ask.
• Short-term impacts aren’t as bad as the water looks: Sampling done by the EPA upstream from Durango show that the plume’s peak put the Animas River’s water’s acidity on par with black coffee, and contained elevated levels of iron, manganese, zinc and copper. But by the time it reached town, the acidity had been diluted significantly, and levels of those metals were far lower, but still “scary,” according to EPA officials. Still, the plume moved through quickly, lessening harm. A test by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in which trout in cages were placed in the river prior to the plume’s arrival, has so far shown no acute effects: Only one of 108 fish had died during the first 24 hours in contaminated water. Meanwhile, the Mountain Studies Institute has been monitoring macro-invertebrates, and their results have been similarly positive.
• Long-term impacts are still unknown: As the plume moved downstream, sediment settled onto the river bottom and its rocks, which could affect aquatic bugs. And it’s likely to get kicked up during high water flows. If thick enough, the sediment could even affect the river’s appearance, providing a Tang-colored reminder of this disaster for months to come. Also, water in some domestic wells near the river reportedly had a yellow tint in the days after the spill moved through, but it’s not yet known what other contaminants may have gotten into the water. Irrigators had to shut down their ditches in hot weather, which could damage crops, and the ag economy, just as the river closure is costing rafting companies thousands of dollars each day. The plume moved through critical habitat for razorback suckers and pike minnows further downstream; they may prove more sensitive than the trout. But then, the Animas and San Juan rivers in New Mexico had their own water quality issues before the spill: alarmingly high levels of human fecal bacteria.
• The EPA messed up, but they’re not the root cause: It’s true that EPA officials took a “cavalier attitude” (EPA Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath’s word) in the first hours after the spill, downplaying the impacts and failing to notify those downstream. And they admit that before tinkering with the mine, they should have taken better steps to mitigate a possible disaster, such as drilling into the mine from the top to assess the situation without the danger of busting the dam. Had they not messed with it at all, though, the gathering water and sludge might have busted through the de facto dam sometime anyway. Clearly, the water quality issue goes far deeper than this one unfortunate event.
If initial public reaction is any indication, the disaster has woken Durangoans up not only to how important the river is, but also to what’s been going on upstream. And they’re likely to exert whatever pressure they can on their neighbors up in Silverton to accept, even embrace, Superfund and a comprehensive cleanup effort. They speak from experience: Durango was the site of a massive federal cleanup of a uranium tailings pile in the early 1990s, and tourism and property values did just fine. Moab, Utah, another tourism mecca, is currently in the middle of a similar cleanup. The hordes of visitors mostly seem oblivious to it. Such is not the case, however, with our Tang-hued river.
Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor of High Country News. Follow @jonnypeace
Don Frank Coffey on the right, taking a well earned break at Tio Bob’s, Portillo Chile
Frank Coffey, Snow Safety Director at Portillo called me today and said they finally got all the lifts open (Tuesday) after a wild 4 day storm accompanied by a large avalanche cycle and days of mitigation. Storm total was 225 cm. with 198 cm falling the first 2.5 days of the storm. “Today was probably the best powder day I’ve had in a long time” were his words.
Don Frank testing slab shear strength
The mission of professional mountain climbers is almost impossibly difficult by design: Their very livelihood is based on achieving the unprecedented. Their expeditions are complicated, exhausting, often life-threatening. Risk is the fuel that keeps them going.
This Op-Doc video profiles three of them. Back in 2008, the elite climbers Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk spent more than two weeks in excruciatingly difficult conditions attempting the first ascent of the precarious Shark’s Fin route on Mount Meru, in the Indian Himalayas. That ascent was thought to be impossible, and indeed, they did in fact give up, just a few hundred feet from the summit. I found their story a stunning account of failure, and the factors that go into accepting it — in this case the likelihood of losing fingers and toes, if not their lives. It is also ultimately a fascinating story of resilience.
These themes transcend mountain climbing. As a native New Yorker, I became acquainted with the sport only in 2012 when I met Jimmy Chin, who was making a documentary with his fellow climbers about their experiences on the Shark’s Fin. I joined their filmmaking team, and ultimately Jimmy and I co-directed a feature-length film about their series of near-death climbing experiences on Meru and beyond.
My relationship to this kind of risk-taking changed when Jimmy and I married in 2013 and became parents. I was no stranger to risk myself, having made documentaries in dangerous conditions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Africa. Parenthood has made me more cautious. But making this documentary has taught me that our relationship to risk is fundamentally relative. I remain struck by the trust these three professional climbers share and how their matrix for decision making is not what we onlookers might assume. Their story makes me question the paths we choose in life, and why.
Because ultimately, as these men show, embracing risk — and failure — is critical to success. In 2011, they went back to the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru to attempt that elusive first ascent again. This time, they made it.
Bottles of absinthe line the bar at a display dedicated to the drink at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans.
There’s something romantic about absinthe — that naturally green liquor derived from wormwood and herbs like anise or fennel. Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde drank it. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso filled the glasses of cafe patrons with absinthe in their paintings. Absinthe was a drink of aesthetes.
Yet it was not art, but necessity that first helped popularize absinthe: It was included in the rations of French soldiers who marched off to colonize Algeria in the 1840s. As Betina Wittels and Robert Hermesch write in Absinthe: Sip of Seduction, French army doctors issued absinthe to soldiers “for the prevention of fevers and treatment of dysentery.”
Le louche refers to the transformation that happens when water is added to absinthe, turning the liquor from a deep green to a milky, iridescent shade. At left, a classic pour. At right, an absinthe glass fitted with a brouilleur, a device that holds the ice and lets water slowly drip down.
Soon, the soldiers were drinking the beverage for nonmedicinal purposes, too. Wittels and Hermesch write that it became a fashionable beverage in Algerian cafes and nightclubs, and when soldiers returned to France, they weren’t ready to give the drink up. At the time, the French wine industry was collapsing owing to a vine-killing aphid called phylloxera that left wine in short supply. Absinthe was in the right place at the right time. But rather than simply substituting one alcohol for another, the French developed a ritual for drinking absinthe that gave rise to some of the greatest liquor paraphernalia — known as absinthiana — around.
NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviews President Obama at the White House on Thursday.
President Obama says his agreement over Iran’s nuclear program — while facing fierce criticism in Congress and among the American public now — will look better in years to come.
In an interview with NPR, Obama’s tone was restrained, but his words were not. He expressed no patience for opponents of the deal, saying their arguments are “illogical or based on the wrong facts, and then you ask them, ‘All right, what’s your alternative?’ and there’s a deafening silence.”
The president also told Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep that his critics need to “pull out of the immediate politics” and consider “the right thing to do for the country.” Republicans have led the criticism of the Iran deal, but prominent Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Eliot Engel, have also voiced their opposition.
“When this agreement is implemented and … we’ve got inspectors on the ground and it becomes clear that Iran in fact is abiding by this agreement, then attitudes will change, because people will recognize that, in fact, whatever parade of horribles was presented in opposition have not come true,” Obama said. “That, instead, what we’ve seen is an effective way to bind Iran to a commitment not to have nuclear weapons and, in that scenario, it’ll probably be forgotten that Republicans uniformly opposed it.”
Obama also spoke about what he thinks the region could look like if the deal is approved.
On what he would do with the “freedom” to push back on Iran if the deal goes through
Well, let’s first focus on the fact that a central objective of not just my foreign policy but of U.S. foreign policy with Democratic or Republican administrations has been preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That would be a game-changer.
And this deal achieves that. It cuts off all the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon. In exchange, Iran gets relief from the sanctions that we organized, systematically, with the international community over the last several years that’s crippled their economy and forced them back to the table. …
But here’s the point I don’t want to get away from, though, Steve. It’s that under any scenario our problems are greatly magnified if in fact Iran also has a nuclear weapon. And, you know, this is a situation of first things first, this deal accomplishes that, and it’s, as a consequence, worthy of support.
On criticism that the deal leaves Iran free to act in the region
Yeah, but, but, but, but Steve, that is not accurate because the notion that somehow Iran is untethered ignores the fact that, for example, we’ll still have our sanctions in place with respect to non-nuclear activities like sponsorship of terrorism or violation of human rights. There will still be U.N. prohibitions on arming groups like Hezbollah.
And so there’s no evidence. There’s no logic to the notion that somehow we will let up on trying to prevent activities that Iran may engage in that would be contrary to our national security interests.
On whether the deal could reshape the region or security situation
What I’ve said is, is that this deal does not count on our fundamental relationship with Iran changing. It’s not based on trust. It’s not based on a warming of relations. It’s based on hard, cold logic and our ability to verify that Iran’s not pursuing a nuclear weapon.
Having said that, it is possible that as a consequence of this engagement, that as a consequence of Iran being able to recognize that what’s happening in Syria for example is leading to extremism that threatens their own state and not just the United States; that some convergence of interests begins to lead to conversations between, for example, Saudi Arabia and Iran; that Iran starts making different decisions that are less offensive to its neighbors; that it tones down the rhetoric in terms of its virulent opposition to Israel. And, you know, that’s something that we should welcome.
On going forward with the deal even if Congress votes to disapprove it
Well, what I know is, is that, unfortunately, a large portion of the Republican Party, if not a near unanimous portion of Republican representatives, are going to be opposed to anything that I do, and have not oftentimes based that on a judgment on the merits, but have based that on their politics.
That’s true in health care, that’s true in, you know, budget negotiations. That’s been true on a whole host of things.
And I don’t think that’s a surprise to anybody.
What I do know, though, is, is that when this agreement is implemented and we’ve seen centrifuges coming out of facilities like Fordow and Natanz, and we’ve got inspectors on the ground and it becomes clear that Iran in fact is abiding by this agreement, then attitudes will change, because people will recognize that, in fact, whatever parade of horribles was presented in opposition have not come true.
That, instead, what we’ve seen is an effective way to bind Iran to a commitment not to have nuclear weapons and, in that scenario, it’ll probably be forgotten that Republicans uniformly opposed it.
Robert Green, a Hurricane Katrina survivor, sits in June on the steps that once led into his mother’s home in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Li Muzi/Zuma
Maps: 10 Years After Katrina, NOLA’s Poor Neighborhoods Are Still Largely Abandoned
The Lower Ninth Ward only has a fraction of its pre-storm population.
Charles Bukowski’s 95th birthday would have been this Sunday. And, inevitably, here comes “On Writing,” a selection of letters, and a scattering of drawings, by that prolific and bellicosely opinionated author, from 1945 to 1993. According to the news release from Ecco, the book is “the first in a series of at least three Bukowski anthologies.” Batten down the hatches, folks — as surely everyone must know by now, this wasn’t a man inclined to edit himself.
“Now I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore,” Bukowski wrote on May 12, 1964, in a letter to a fellow author, Harold Norse. “That’s the danger of talking. You talk talk talk all wax and wallow and pretty soon you don’t know what you are saying … I don’t … that’s why I feel much better when I am mostly quiet.”
For public figures, all posthumous protection against overexposure must rest with executors and editors. There’s been little restraint in Bukowski’s case, with a stream of books published since his death in 1994 at 73. (Also arriving on Saturday is “The Bell Tolls for No One,” a collection of previously unpublished pulp fiction from City Lights.) It’s hard to imagine Bukowski putting much stock in the choices made in his absence: “Writers have to put up with this editor thing; it is ageless and eternal and wrong,” he wrote.
Edited and with an afterword by Abel Debritto, a Bukowski biographer, “On Writing” won’t disturb the broad contours of Bukowski’s reputation, which have long since been established, whether to celebrate or vilify him: boozer, brawler, loner and unrepentant dirty old man of letters. Champion of the working class and the down and out, to the extent that any misanthrope can champion a cause other than his own. Even that cause is relative.
“I kept writing not because I felt I was so good,” he wrote in a 1972 letter to David Evanier, “but because I felt they were so bad, including Shakespeare, all those. The stilted formalism, like chewing cardboard.”
Shakespeare is just one canonical author to get smacked by Bukowski in these pages. Though he rails against the rules when it comes to his work being dismissed, he is quick to lay down his mandates. The only true artist is “a pure Artist saying it properly out of pain and madness and truth,” preferably from a flophouse, surrounded by the salt of the earth, cheap women and cheaper wine. Frequent visits to the racetrack recommended. Particular ire is directed, not surprisingly, at contemporaries and movements that achieved the fame he alternately disdained, yearned for and worried about.
Writing to Edward van Aelstyn in 1963, he describes the Black Mountain poets as “some precious group with staff and walking shorts gathered upon a North Carolina mountaintop.” In 1967, in another letter to Norse, he remarks about Issue 50 of the literary journal Evergreen Review that “the thing is shot through with the famous,” but “the writing is all bad, except mine and a really good play by Heathcote Williams.” In 1969, while submitting work to Paloma Picasso, he remarks that William S. Burroughs’s “cutups and tape arrangements are just ghetto bored flip of a safe and secure man.”
Because Bukowski had beefs with just about everyone, I found myself alternately chuckling and rolling my eyes (sometimes both) as the hits kept coming. Yet the overall effect is wearying, and it’s difficult not to feel increasingly ungenerous toward Bukowski’s litany of laments, complaints and rages, particularly as the references to “black homos,” “pansies,” “whores” and the like stack up.
And yet it’s hard, also, not to feel a certain sympathy toward Bukowski, at least as far as concerns his blamelessness for the structure of “On Writing,” which stacks the deck against him. Few artists are at their most thoughtful or generous when discussing the waters in which they must swim to further their careers, especially when kvetching with friends and railing against gatekeepers. The correspondence in this book has been first selected because it fits a theme, and then edited so that only the parts of each letter that relate to this theme are included, with missing material indicated by “[…].”
The result, to use Bukowski’s own words against him, is “a little house of inbred horrors.” It shows a disregard for the compositional integrity of a letter, and does a disservice to a writer whose best prose and poetry is enlivened by deft jump cuts, register shifts and juxtapositions both ridiculous and beautiful.
It’s worth noting that the inbred horrors to which Bukowski refers are “the rejected material and the complaints of the writers” for a publication that was meant to focus on works by authors that had previously been turned down, accompanied by the writers’ commentary. Bukowski declined to submit, noting that “I thought my rejected stuff should have been rejected.”
There are moments of wit and insight throughout “On Writing,” and flashes of a man who, teetering between a desperate seriousness and an acknowledgment of the absurd, mostly just wanted to be left alone to do his work at the “typer.” His agitations in these pages, more often than not, end less with a bang than with a philosophically winning sigh, as in this 1980 note to Mike Gold: “It’s confusing, Mike, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m getting ready to go out and play the quarter horses.”
You can imagine him there, keeping to himself. Allowed, for a moment, to be quiet.
By Charles Bukowski
Illustrated. Edited by Abel Debritto. 216 pages. Ecco/HarperCollins. $25.99.
EPA Says It Released 3 Million Gallons Of Contaminated Water Into Las Animas River near Silverton, Colorado
Contaminated wastewater is seen at the entrance to the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colo., in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency. The photo was taken Wednesday; the plume of contaminated water has continued to work its way downstream.
In an event that has led to health warnings and turned a river orange, the Environmental Protection Agency says one of its safety teams accidentally released contaminated water from a mine into the Animas River in southwest Colorado. The spill, which sent heavy metals, arsenic and other contaminants into a waterway that flows into the San Juan National Forest, occurred Wednesday. The EPA initially said 1 million gallons of wastewater had been released, but that figure has risen sharply.
Las Animas river last month at Purgatory Creek. And the river now, contaminated w/ mine waste:
From member station KUNC, Stephanie Paige Ogburn reports for our Newscast unit:
“The EPA now estimates 3 million gallons of wastewater spilled from the mine into the Animas River. They also confirmed lead concentrations had spiked over 3,500 times historic levels just above the town of Durango. “Debra McKean, a toxicologist with the agency, says levels peak and then decrease as the contamination flows downriver. ” ‘Yes, those numbers are high and they are scary because they seem so high,’ she said, ‘especially compared to the baseline numbers.’ “New test results show significant increases in arsenic levels, and some mercury has been detected. Durango and La Plata County have declared a state of emergency.” Officials are warning residents, farmers and outdoor enthusiasts to avoid the water. The spill occurred at Cement Creek, releasing contaminants that will eventually make their way downstream toward New Mexico and Utah, in a river system that links to the Colorado River and Arizona.
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET: Contaminants Reach New Mexico The National Park Service says that the plume of wastewater has now reached the San Juan River in New Mexico, NPR’s Howard Berkes reports. Howard adds that the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has issued a statement saying, “Most river sediments will settle out of the water when the river current slows at Lake Powell.” GCNRA spokeswoman Cynthia Sequanna tells Howard that in the slackwater of the lake, “We expect most sediments will drop out in the 40-mile section of the San Juan River that is part of Lake Powell.” The Colorado River also runs through Lake Powell in that same section. Our original post continues: After waiting a day to reveal the incident, the EPA has been criticized by those who say it didn’t announce the accident soon enough. EPA officials say it took time to realize the magnitude of the spill. The EPA team had been working on the Gold King Mine near Silverton, an area that has many disused mines. KUNC reports, “Scientists say it’s the largest untreated mine drainage in the state, and problematic concentrations of zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum are choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.” The station also explains how the mines became sources of contaminated water: “For most of the West’s history, miners were basically allowed to run willy-nilly across the landscape, burrowing for gold, silver or other valuable minerals. According to Ronald Cohen, an environmental engineer at the Colorado School of Mines, whenever you dig into a mountain, ‘at some point you are going to hit water.’ “That water, when it runs through the rocks in a mine, hits a mineral called pyrite, or iron sulfide. It reacts with air and pyrite to form sulfuric acid and dissolved iron. That acid then continues through the mine, dissolving other heavy metals, like copper and lead. Eventually, you end up with water that’s got high levels of a lot of undesirable materials in it.” Reporting on how the breach occurred, Colorado Public Radio says that an EPA team used heavy equipment to dig into a dam at the Gold King Mine site, hoping to install a drain pipe. But because of the volume of water and the dam’s makeup of soil and not rock, it spewed zinc, iron and contaminants into a runoff channel that leads to the nearby creek.
Anger Rises as E.P.A. Increases Estimate of Toxic Water Spill at Colorado Mine
The Animas River receding to reveal a layer of sludge, just north of Durango, Colo., last week. Credit Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald, via Associated Press
DURANGO, Colo. — Anger over a spill of toxic water from a mine that turned this community’s river into a yellow-orange ribbon rose on Sunday when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the spill was three times larger than previously stated — and that the agency was still unsure if the polluted water posed a health threat to humans or animals.
The agency, typically charged with responding to toxic disasters, has claimed responsibility for the spill, which unleashed a chemical brew that caused levels of arsenic, lead and other metals to spike in the Animas River, a tributary that plays a vital role in the culture and economy in this patch of southwestern Colorado.
Agency officials said on Sunday that the size of the spill was larger than originally estimated: more than three million gallons rather than one million.
La Plata County and the City of Durango have declared states of emergency, and the county estimates that about 1,000 residential water wells could be contaminated. The river is closed indefinitely, and the La Plata sheriff has hastily recast his campaign signs into posters warning river visitors to stay out of the water.
The yellow plume has traveled down to New Mexico, where it is being tracked, but it is starting to dissipate, officials said.
On Sunday night, residents packed a school auditorium in Durango for a meeting with the agency’s regional director, Shaun McGrath. During a public comment session that lasted more than two hours, residents flouted a sign on the wall that instructed the auditorium’s typical patrons — middle schoolers — to refrain from calling out, jumping up or insulting others during assemblies.
Shouts rang out. A few people cried. One resident questioned whether the agency had refashioned itself into the “Environmental Pollution Agency.” Others demanded to know what would happen to wildlife, livestock, water wells, sediment and river-based jobs.
“When — when can we be open again?” said David Moler, 35, the owner of a river-rafting company who had approached a microphone. “All I hear is a handful of ‘gonna-dos,’ ” he added. “What should I tell my employees?”
Mr. McGrath and his colleagues urged patience and assured residents that they would provide information about health risks once they had it. The agency, he said, is awaiting test results to determine whether the water poses a risk.
“We’re going to continue to work until this is cleaned up,” Mr. McGrath said, “and hold ourselves to the same standards that we would anyone that would have created this situation.”
On Aug. 5, a team from the Environmental Protection Agency was investigating an abandoned mine about 50 miles north of here. Called the Gold King, it was last active in the 1920s, but it had been leaking toxic water at a rate of 50 to 250 gallons a minute for years. It is owned by a group called the San Juan Corporation.
A call to the company’s lawyer was not returned.
The agency had planned to find the source of the leak in the hope of one day stanching it. Instead, as workers used machinery to hack at loose material, a surprise deluge of orange water ripped through, spilling into Cement Creek and flowing into the Animas. The burst did not injure workers.
The next day, as the neon water slid into Durango, masses of community members watched from the riverbanks. Some called it a painful procession: The Animas River is considered the cultural soul of this region, a sort of moving Main Street that hosts multiple floating parades a year and is typically bustling with rafters and kayakers.
Children study the river. Sweethearts marry on its banks. Its former name, given by Spaniards, is Río de las Ánimas, coincidentally, “River of Souls.”
On Sunday, State Senator Ellen Roberts, a Republican who lives near the river, cried softly as she considered the pollution, adding that she had dropped her father’s ashes in its depths.
“It is not just a scenic destination,” Ms. Roberts said. “It is where people literally raise their children. It is where the farmers and ranchers feed their livestock, which in turn feeds the people. We’re isolated from Denver through the mountains. And we are pretty resourceful people. But if you take away our water supply, we’re left with virtually no way to move forward.”
There are about 200 abandoned mines in the Animas watershed, the last of which closed in the early 1990s. Colorado has about 23,000 abandoned mines; the United States has an estimated 500,000. Since the 1870s, metal mining has both enriched and poisoned this region, turning the earth under portions of southwest Colorado into a maze of tunnels and leaving behind shuttered sites oozing with chemicals.
The Animas region is distinct in that it has an organization called the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a loose coalition of mining companies; environmental groups; property owners; and local, state and federal government entities that have worked together since 1994 to clean up some of these sites.
In recent years, the group had identified the Gold King as one of the two most polluted mine sites, and some have pushed to figure out the sources of its chemical bleed, believing that a cleanup was necessary. The Environmental Protection Agency was moving ahead with that project — without its partners — when the spill occurred.
A YWCA summer camp for girls called Camp Nizhoni took place at Lincoln Hills from 1924-1945.
Fresh air, the smell of pine trees, the sounds of birds chirping and brooks babbling — all of these have helped American city-dwellers unwind for generations. But in the era of Jim Crow segregation, nature’s calm also gave African-Americans a temporary respite from racism and discrimination.
Those fortunate enough to afford a resort stay could visit relatively well-known getaways like Martha’s Vineyard’s Oak Bluffs, or Idlewild in Lake County, Mich. But tucked into a narrow canyon at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains about 40 miles from Denver was the lesser-known mountain resort called Lincoln Hills. The only black resort of that era west of the Mississippi, Lincoln Hills provided a safe haven for middle-class African-Americans to play and relax under the pines.
They needed it. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan ran Colorado. Klan-affiliated politicians controlled the state House of Representatives. The governor was a Klansman; so was the mayor of Denver. It wasn’t uncommon for the terrorist group to march through the streets in white robes and those sinister pointy-hat masks, sticking crosses in the lawns of black families, setting them ablaze.
This was the environment that Gary Jackson’s great-grandparents and grandparents endured. The 69-year-old Denver County judge talks about the discrimination his relatives faced, despite their educational attainment and middle-class status. So when an opportunity arose for Jackson’s great-grandfather to buy property in the mountains, away from it all, he didn’t hesitate.
In 1922, two black developers purchased 100 acres of land that had been blighted by decades of gold and silver mining (part of the reason it was available to African-Americans in the first place). It was divided into lots and sold on credit. Five dollars a month for 20 months could get you one of the nicer plots. Jackson’s great-grandfather purchased several and built cottages. Some were sold off but, almost 90 years later, two are still in his family.
The cabin Jackson owns is right near the entrance to Lincoln Hills, above railroad tracks where trains piled high with coal pass frequently. The California Zephyr cuts through here, too, carrying passengers from San Francisco to Chicago, with a stop in Denver. It’s from that train that Jackson’s cabin got its moniker — Zephyr View — coined by his Uncle Johnny in the early ’50s.
The nickname stuck. You’ll find it emblazoned on a red wooden sign above the cabin’s sliding glass door. Another sign hangs over the bathroom, part tongue-in-cheek, part reminder of a not so distant past. COLORED RESTROOM, it reads.
Each encounter I have with Jerry O, usually to wander around the mountains, I come away with something new, a different way of looking at the world. Dialogue shared on books, film, art, music or old bars like the Family Dog in Berkeley (where we both spent time watching New Riders of the Purple Sage or some other Bay area band)… I depart wondering how someone becomes so creative? I had a conversation with mountain roshi, Peter Shelton, and he offered; “It’s amazing to me how Jerry, a wonderfully gifted sculptor that works in 3D, can produce such beautiful paintings in 2D after a single painting class.” Local painter extraordinaire, Susie Billings called Jerry O’s paintings “Inspired!”
Each painting was produced in an afternoon studio session at The Ah Haa School of Art. – J.R
In the ceramics studio at Berkeley, the spirit of misrule reigned. Under the cigar chomping, whiskey-swilling tutelage of Peter Voulkos, we were continually challenged to push out beyond conventional notions of what is beautiful. “Death & Dump Ware” was the result of having to make a teapot in under two minutes. Art & aesthetics discussion was ignored; making stuff was the only thing that mattered. “You might try a little something here”, wasdetailed feedback.
With Robert Weatherford at Ah Haa we have been similarly urged to push against our notions of beauty, discard our need for control, challenge our academic preconceptions, upset the apple cart of Art and maybe find our authentic voice.
Good fun. I’m often reminded of Henry Miller’s suggestion to “Paint as you like & die happy”. As for subject matter, the sign in English on a Japanese music store in Nihonmatsu, “Music is Vitamin of the Heart”, pretty much sums it up.
– Jerry Oyama 2013