The Weather Service is open 24/7, forecasters are working without pay, and it’s taking a toll ~ The Washington Post

January 9 at 6:02 PM

Despite working the swing shift this week, and seeing no sign of a paycheck any time soon, Jason Wright feels lucky. The meteorologist and National Weather Service union steward has some savings, a generous father-in-law and a boss who is trying to make the federal shutdown as painless as possible.

That’s a tough job. More than 4,000 National Weather Service employees are working day and night without pay this month. Some have already missed a paycheck — only a day’s worth, if they happened to work Dec. 22. But they’re going to miss a big one this week.

“I can go a couple pay periods and be okay,” Wright said. For others in his Nashville forecast office, though, “missing just one paycheck can be devastating.”

The federal government has three levels of shutdown for employees: furloughed, excepted and emergency. The furloughed employees aren’t working, and they won’t get paid. The emergency workers are called in only if something terrible happens. Excepted employees continue working without pay for the duration of the shutdown, until Congress passes a bill to pay them back. An oft-overlooked footnote to that policy: They also can’t take any kind of leave. No sick days, no vacation, no maternity. If they do, they are furloughed, and they will not be paid at all.

“I think morale is lower. … It depends on what NWS office you’re in,” Wright said. Even in his office, where he says his boss is well-liked and morale is as high as it can be in a situation like this, one of his colleagues is going to have to take a furlough. His wife needs emergency surgery, and he has a special-needs son. There’s no other option.

Wright was disappointed that he couldn’t accompany his two sons and wife, who is also stressed because her husband isn’t getting paid, on a soccer tournament trip this weekend. His kids are adopted and from different backgrounds, and his youngest struggles, he said. He had to skip the trip, and he’s doing everything to guarantee he gets paid eventually. Hopefully.

Becky Kern was gearing up Wednesday to start seven night shifts in a row at the Omaha forecast office and wrapping her head around the lack of a paycheck this week. She and her husband live with their two teenagers, their 7-year-old, two dogs and a mortgage. Kern is the primary breadwinner.

“We are lucky,” Kern said, speaking as the union steward for her forecast office, “and I’m not trying to throw a pity party. But if I knew that on the first of February, I will get some reimbursement money, that gives me peace of mind, you know? If I knew payday was going to be the first of April, I can arrange things. But just having no idea when … gives us a lot of anxiety.”

Meteorologists are uniquely devoted to their jobs. So devoted that they will work for weeks, including night shifts, without a paycheck. And it’s not easy work. They are trained for years to do what they do, even though they’re often derided for “being wrong all the time,” Kern said.

The hours can be brutal. The Weather Service offices are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and everyone rotates from day to swing to night shift. In that time, forecasters issue watches and warnings for tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms and avalanches. They work with emergency managers in the case of life-threatening disasters like California wildfires, dam failures or hurricanes. They have mere minutes to place a warning in the path of a tornado that will trigger emergency sirens and the tones that buzz on mobile phones.

The work is demanding on a good day. What happens when you add the stress of not getting a paycheck and not knowing when one will come?

Kern said the colleagues at her office don’t talk about their feelings about the shutdown. Even though the National Weather Service is unionized, there is a strong aversion to speaking openly about their jobs or the organization. But she sees the morale dropping across the Weather Service as a whole, “through our union page and social media … where we go to air our struggles.”

For the early-career employees, or those simply living paycheck to paycheck, January has been hard. If the shutdown extends into February, it will be hard for everyone. Kern said she would have to start cashing out retirement funds. Wright can last a month without pay, but not much longer.

Wright said he was watching Fox News as he got ready for his swing shift Wednesday, which would last until 11 p.m. He said he chuckled as one of the talking heads suggested that federal workers could just “go get another job” to get paid.

“We are just pawns to the political disagreement,” Wright said.

High honors from high altitude ~ The Watch


From the Grammys to alpine ski racing, awards made in Ridgway are all over the world

Lisa Issenberg
Lisa Issenberg (Photo by Eric Ming)

The creative output of Ridgway metalworkers Lisa Issenberg, owner of Kiitellä, and John Billings of Billings Artworks has touched thousands of lives in some of the most elite professions on the planet.

Billings is responsible for the music industry’s highest honor, the Grammy Award, every one of which is individually crafted in the basement of his Ridgway studio.

Issenberg has designed awards for the American Alpine Club and for competitors in many winter alpine sports. Slalom superstar Mikaela Shiffrin of Vail has hoisted at least 10 of Issenberg’s made-in-Ridgway awards overhead in her brief career, and female racing greats Lindsey Vonn, also of Vail, and Bernadette Schild of Austria, Federica Brignone of Italy and Tessa Worley of France have all won Issenberg’s medals, too.


For one of her clients, Squaw Valley, host of the 2017 FIS Ski World Cup races, Issenberg designed stainless steel awards shaped like skis. The skis were modeled after vintage wooden boards with graphics reminiscent of an antique ski poster (a nod to the historic venue).

“Every piece is new, every project is custom,” Issenberg said of her work. “It’s a poor business model.”

It does, however, allow her to tailor each award specifically to the needs of each client, something Issenberg thinks a lot about.

She got her start in Telluride, where she moved after college.

“I guess it was Telluride that influenced me, but mostly it was finding (the nearby small community of) Ophir. I remember having a feeling of home that I’d never experienced,” Issenberg recalled.

“The combination of getting outside, high into the mountains, at first with a camera,” for photographs she fused with metal jewelry, was an initial inspiration.

“Bärbel Hacke at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art took me in when I was just 21 and sold my work. I’m so grateful,” Issenberg said. Almost three decades later, the gallery still represents her.

As she met more people, her work broadened.

“Mountainfilm asked me to create awards, and that led to work for the Telluride Regional Medical Center, and for the Michael G. Palm Theatre, which to this day is the site of my largest donor wall,” she said. “All the while I was accepting assignments for everything from furniture to metal railings. I said yes to everything. I felt fortunate, but it was a scattered feeling.”

So Issenberg took a break to study industrial design at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute.

“I was out of place there,” she said frankly. “I was an artist. Eventually, somebody told me, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just do what you do.’”

It’s a philosophy she’s followed ever since. Her design today is a fusion of art and a clean aesthetic coupled with a newfound understanding of how industrial processes work.

“Prior to design school, my personal design ‘depth’ felt so limited,” Issenberg said. “I’d come up with one design and not know how to go deeper. It cuts off passion when you can’t go deeper. I learned that whatever the object, no matter how simple,” its permutations are limitless. “It was a world of possibilities that I brought back with me to the mountains.”

Now in Ridgway, she decided to focus solely on creating awards, and today her portfolio includes clients from Marmot to KEEN to Squaw Valley, Lake Placid, the Vail Valley Foundation and more.

“With any project, my design philosophy is multifold,” she said. “My first thought is to learn what is the essence of a place or an event. Everything will be different, whether it’s a snowboard race or a theater. The second is to see what’s essential. It can’t just be a simple, minimal sculpture with no words. Names and titles are part of this. Often there are logos and dates, and sometimes more than that. I want to use only what is absolutely essential, to take all these objects and ask, ‘How can I strip these away, so the essence is what speaks to people?’”

Commissions often come by word-of-mouth. Two years ago, Issenberg designed awards for the U.S. Ski Team Freestyle National Championships in Lake Placid. That is where Jenna Lute, an event manager for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, first spied Issenberg’s designs.

“We’d been using the same medals since the beginning of time,” Lute recalled. “I had no idea we had a choice. Lisa’s awards had a rustic look and the way she layered colors on them was really cool. They were multi-dimensional. So, I reached out to her. I was surprised that it’s just her, a one-owner business. I put through a proposal to our CEO that we use her medals for all our World Cups this year. He really liked her work and said yes.”

Accordingly, Issenberg has designed awards for World Cup bobsled, skeleton, luge, and freestyle aerials and moguls events (in Lake Placid next week).

Earlier this season, her awards went to elite downhill men’s skiers at the World Cup Birds of Prey event in Beaver Creek.

The work “is enormously fulfilling on so many levels, artistically and philosophically,” she said.

Some of the awards she’s proudest of have been given out by organizations such as the Conservation Alliance, “which distributes funds to smaller groups in order to, say, clean up a river, or take down a dam, or protect open space,” and to individuals deeply involved in conservation, like the former Secretary of the Interior.

“Last year, Sally Jewell received one of my awards from the American Alpine Club,” Issenberg said. “She’ll never know me. I’m just tickled I got to create an award for someone I admire and am thankful for.”

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Colorado’s Got a Gay Governor: Who Cares?

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Jared Polis, the incoming governor of Colorado, at left, with his partner, Marlon Reis.CreditCreditBenjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times

BOULDER, COLO. — On Tuesday, the first openly gay man elected governor in American history was sworn in, his partner at his side. It was a vision of progress captured in its unfurling: a milestone celebrated by those who saw themselves represented, even as it was also accepted by others as a matter of unremarkable course.

In November, Jared Polis beat his Republican opponent, Walker Stapleton (a second cousin to Jeb and George W. Bush), in a self-funded campaign that helped make the race the most expensive in Colorado history. Constituents voted for him by a more-than-10-point margin, in a state whose swing on gay rights in the last three decades can be described as a complete about-face. Even in Colorado, once known as the “Hate State” for its anti-gay policies, Mr. Polis’s gayness was “interestingly uninteresting to voters,” as the conservative columnist George F. Will wrote.

“What we found,” Mr. Polis said, “was that the voters don’t really care. This has been a much bigger deal nationally.”

The national press trumpeted his win as part of a “Rainbow Wave”that carried more than 150 L.G.B.T. candidates into office nationwide. Here in Colorado, Mr. Polis, 43, a five-term congressman from a district that includes Boulder and Fort Collins as well as rural and mountain communities, has been shruggingly, who-cares gay for years. He does not conform to the clichéd gay stereotypes: He’s a techie nerd with thinning hair and an ungymmed physique, in ever-present blue sneakers and a western belt. (Mr. Polis’s inaugural ball is the Blue Sneaker Ball; the dress code is easy to infer.) In 2014, GQ called him the worst-dressed congressman ever, though he’s improved his style a bit since then.

Jared Polis, with his family and supporters, at his election night party in November. Credit Evan Semon/Reuters

When Mr. Polis was first elected to Congress in 2008, though, the usual preconceptions about gay men preceded him. “The things people assume but don’t know about the L.G.B.T. community,” said his partner, Marlon Reis, 37. “All gay men are stylish, they dance well, they yada yada yada.” When they arrived in Washington, Mr. Reis continued, “Barney Frank actually said to Jared one day, ‘Your suit looks like you crumpled it up in your pocket for the whole day.’”

Annise Parker, the chief executive of LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports L.G.B.T. candidates and endorsed Mr. Polis, stumped with him during the last month of his campaign. “I have great respect and affection for him but he’s not the most exciting guy in the world,” she said. “He’s very low key; he’s a policy wonk. He just wants to work for the citizens of Colorado. And that clearly came through.”

A candidate’s sexual orientation, she said, was “not a reason for people to vote for you.”

“Someday,” she added, “it won’t be a reason for people to vote against you.”

His recent campaign for governor focused on education (Mr. Polis proposed to fund full-day preschool and kindergarten for the entire state), affordable health insurance and renewable energy, and he neither played up nor played down his sexual orientation and his family. Mr. Reis, who has generally shied away from interviews and public appearances, campaigned with him, but sparingly.

Barack Obama endorsed him. President Trump endorsed Mr. Stapleton and tweeted that Mr. Polis was “weak on crime and weak on borders.” (Mr. Polis responded: Did you “mean Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, or Arizona? Those are the only borders Colorado has.”) Attack ads warned that Mr. Polis — branded by conservatives a “Boulder liberal” — wanted to turn Colorado into an progressive paradise imaginatively called “Radicalifornia.”

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

The National Weather Service is ‘open,’ but your forecast is worse because of the shutdown ~ The Washington Post

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January 7 at 3:46 PM

Ostensibly, the partial government shutdown does not affect National Weather Service operations related to its mission to protect lives and property. The agency is considered critical, and the “staff continue mission-essential functions,” according to a spokeswoman.

But there are less-obvious ways in which the shutdown does affect the Weather Service — even its operations. Forecasters and managers are not getting paid. Weather models are not being maintained, launched or improved. Emergency managers are not being trained. Effects could stretch well beyond when the government reopens.

The National Weather Service is a 24-hour operation with often-grueling shift work. Not getting paid to do that job makes it even more stressful. One manager of a National Weather Service office, who wished to remain anonymous to speak openly, said the lack of empathy from the people in their community — and the government — is like a slap in the face.

“Federal employees care about what they do,” the manager said. “As much as we can repeat in our minds, ‘It will be okay, eventually,’ you can’t tell your body to stop worrying. One employee got two hours of sleep last night after going through all his bills, trying to figure out where to start.”

“We constantly hear, ‘You’ll get paid eventually, right?’ ” the manager said. “Well, we have to pay bills today.”

The National Weather Service is also responsible for the forecast models it uses on a daily basis. From the massive Global Forecast System to the narrowly focused hurricane models, forecasters partner with researchers to improve those systems or bring them back online when they fail.

Suru Saha, a union steward at the Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Md., said the main impact has been on the National Weather Service’s new global forecast model, which was scheduled to go live in February but will surely be delayed because of the shutdown.

But in the meantime, the current Global Forecast System — or the GFS — the United States’ premier weather model, is running poorly, and there’s no one on duty to fix it.

“There was a dropout in the scores for all of the systems” on Dec. 25, Saha said of the scoring system used to rank how the forecast models are performing. “All of the models recovered, except for the GFS, which is still running at the bottom of the pack.” Not only does that mean the day-to-day weather forecast is worse, she said, it is also a national security risk.

Saha thinks it has to do with the data format. The model brings in data from all over the world, from dozens of different countries that are now standardizing the format to adhere to new regulations. The Environmental Modeling Center was working to adjust for the new formats when the shutdown started. Saha said that even though the Weather Service is getting the data, the GFS doesn’t recognize the format, so it can’t use it. And a model forecast is only as good as its input data.

“Once the GFS scores start to go bad, it impacts everything,” Saha said. Transportation, the energy sector, national security, agriculture, the stock market, extreme weather. There are about 50 full-time federal employees at EMC and 150 contractors. Only one person is working during the shutdown, she said — a manager who does not work on data or the models. “Things are going to break, and that really worries me because this is our job. We are supposed to improve our weather forecasts, not deteriorate them.”

“I’m sorry,” Saha said. “I’m just really passionate about this. To be sitting at home watching scores go down, it feels terrible. We owe taxpayers the best.”

Winter happens to be a critical time for hurricane model updates, said Eric Blake, the Weather Service union steward at the National Hurricane Center. In November and December, researchers look back at the storms of the previous season to see how the models did, and try to tweak them to perform better next season. They use the months from January to June to make improvements.

“You evaluate what happened, and you use that to push forward,” Blake said. “Almost none of that is happening” because of the shutdown.

They also use this time to train emergency managers from Texas to Maine before the start of the next hurricane season. That’s supposed to start next week, and it’s not clear whether the week-long sessions will be made up when the government reopens.

Saha said that even without pay, she would be working if she could. The last thing she and her colleagues want is an obvious failure in the forecast models.

“This is what we do. This is what the public never sees,” Saha said. “We work day and night to make sure it never becomes apparent.”

Boogie Down, Bronx Girl

By Maureen Dowd

Opinion Columnist


WASHINGTON — Lucky there’s no Saturday detention at the Capitol.

Republicans — and some Democrats — would certainly make like Mr. Vernon, the “Breakfast Club” disciplinarian, and lock down the irrepressible Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s only been in town a moment and has already, in this city of acronyms, become famous enough to supersede the shorthand for the Architect of the Capitol.

A.O.C. now simply signifies the congresswoman from the Bronx and Queens.

No longer content with Nancy Pelosi, the right craves a new she-devil. Republicans have mocked Ocasio-Cortez’s hardscrabble story, howled at her proposal to soak the rich with a 70 percent tax, scrutinized her clothes and booed her at Pelosi’s swearing-in. A.O.C. saucily tweeted back, “Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fellas.”

The frenzy reached new absurdity when a tweet popped up with a video of her with friends at Boston University doing a dance from “The Breakfast Club,” with this slam: “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is.” Holy Footloose.

“It is unsurprising to me that Republicans would think having fun should be disqualifying or illegal,” she told The Hill.


“That’s it, Alexandria you’re in the club,” tweeted Molly Ringwald, one of the actresses from the 1985 movie.

When Obama got to the White House, Republicans trembled at his midichlorian count, but their fear faded as he grew more professorial and remote. A.O.C., despite some stumbles and lacunae in political knowledge, is more adept at using the force, especially on social media.

She claimed the mantle of dancing queen, tweeting out a new boogie in front of her congressional office to Edwin Starr’s antiwar anthem “War,” and taunting: “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too!”

The tableau at the Capitol Thursday, as Nancy Pelosi reclaimed the gavel, was redolent of that iconic “Breakfast Club” scene, with all its rebellious energy and zeal to fight The Man.

When Ocasio-Cortez, a leader of the brat pack that has put the old guard on notice, voted for Pelosi, it was an electric visual: two fierce women, a controlled 78-year-old capping her career and an uncontrollable 29-year-old starting hers, joining forces to fight the 72-year-old Neanderthal in the Oval Office.

I loved seeing the splotches of bright colors, from Pelosi’s hot pink dress to A.O.C.’s gleaming white suffragette-inspired suit, in a chamber that was once a monochromatic sea of men in gray pinstripes. When I covered an earlier “Year of the Woman,” after disgust over the Hill-Thomas hearings swept a group of women into Congress, it was startling to see the first dapples of gold and pink and red lighting up the House floor in 1993.

Cynthia McKinney, a young black freshman wearing gold sneakers, slacks, braided hair and a Mickey Mouse watch, stepped into an elevator in the Capitol and was rebuffed by the elevator operator, who icily repeated three times, “This elevator is for members only” before finally noticing McKinney’s congressional pin.

On Thursday, 102 women, nearly all Democrats, were sworn in as House members. This influx produced a gratifying inconvenience, reported by The Washington Post: a line for the first time to get into the ladies room off the floor of the House.

Pelosi is the ultimate rebuttal to the 1992 Barbie doll who chirped “Math class is tough.” The new speaker can count, legislate, horse-trade and stroke. But she’s also unapologetically tough. “She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding,” Alexandra Pelosi said of her mother the other day.

But Madam Speaker will need a few fancy dance steps of her own to keep her exuberant freshmen and her socialist wing in line, so that the centrist Democrats in the country’s middle are not alienated and President Trump does not become, of all things, a sympathetic figure.

Hours after Rashida Tlaib became one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, Tlaib told a cheering crowd that “we’re going to go in there and impeach” Trump, referring to him with a raunchy word that made many Democrats cringe.

Put on the spot to comment, Pelosi handled it deftly, saying that, being from an older generation, she did not like the coarse language but that she’s “not in the censorship business” and that it wasn’t worse than what Trump has said.

Indeed, Trump used the word publicly a number of times, including at a 2015 rally, and Kanye West spewed it over the Resolute desk recently while Trump laughed.

Liz Cheney, part of the Republican House leadership, complained about “foul language,” ignoring the fact that her father used an epithet during an argument about Halliburton and Iraq on the Senate floor. Trump huffily called Tlaib’s vulgarism “disgraceful” and “highly disrespectful to the United States of America.”

The spectacle of Republicans as snowflakes is rich. But while the fiery spirit among the new Democrats is refreshing and members of Congress are entitled to say what they want, the brat pack may want to avoid getting too far over their skis while their learning curve is steep.

They should focus on the big picture: Trump is doing such an amazing job as a vulgarian and villain, it would be a shame to get in the way.

This is what democracy looks like


The new Republican members-elect look like the ‘Old White Boy’s Club with one woman.  The Democratic-elect show racial, cultural & gender diversity as a democracy should. rŌbert

It was the chant heard again and again at the women’s marches the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated and echoed later in mobilizations on behalf of gun sanity and the Affordable Care Act, in defense of immigrants and refugees, and in support of democracy itself.

Those determined gatherings were, indeed, part of what democracy looks like. There is a reason the First Amendment to our Constitution asserts “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” immediately after it guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The assembly right is intimately linked to the next one on the First Amendment’s list: the people’s right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

One of the main goals of tyrants is to keep dissenters shut in their homes and out of view. Only when they find each other can advocates of change realize their potential power.

But democracy also looks like what we saw on the floor of the House of Representatives last Thursday. Through use of the ballot, fortified by exceptional feats of organization and mobilization, voters changed the face of government in our country — in both a literal and figurative sense.

The contrast between the diversity of the Democratic side of the House (by gender, race, ethnicity and religion) and the visible homogeneity on the Republican side has been much noted. It was genuinely thrilling to see how free elections can allow citizens to bring about so much transformation in such a short time. And this new House was the product of the highest midterm elections turnout since 1914, back when all citizens aged 18-21 and most women and African Americans were denied the ballot.

What Nancy Pelosi wants to accomplish as speaker

Now that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is leading the House for her third term, she faces a tricky political landscape and a big agenda.

The electoral rebuke to President Trump (measured by the Democratic advantage in House races of nearly 10 million votes) showed that those who marched and demonstrated understood that peaceful assembly was only the first step toward achieving their goals. In cities and towns, red and blue, large and small, they met in church basements, coffee shops, living rooms and libraries. There, they planned how to persuade their neighbors to elect a majority that would stand up to the president and his pliant congressional allies. Then they executed the hard work of door knocks, phone calls, social media conversations, fundraising and texts. And they prevailed.

It is thus appropriate that the new majority gave the hallowed designation H.R. 1 to the bill they presented Friday with the purpose of expanding democracy while pushing back against corruption. The headline aspects of the legislation took aim at Trump-era sleaze, including a requirement that presidential candidates release their tax returns and tightening of White House ethics rules.

But the guts of the bill are all about making our system more democratic: automatic voter registration along with limits on voter purges and other methods that states use to block access to the ballot box, especially for minorities and the young. It would also ban contributions from corporations controlled by foreign entities.

Central to the proposal is a new campaign finance system designed to limit big money’s power in elections. It would create a series of incentives, including matching funds for donations of $200 or less, to encourage candidates to rely on small donors rather than the typically self-interested generosity of the wealthy. Creating a better way to pay for politics is central to a democratic egalitarianism that was well described by the political philosopher Michael Walzer: “a society free from domination ” where there would be “no more bowing and scraping, fawning and toadying.”

H.R. 1 would be accompanied by a new Voting Rights Act restoring the federal government’s ability to end discriminatory voter suppression, ripped away by the Supreme Court’s misguided 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder .

Leaders of the Republican Senate dismissed the House effort and said they’d ignore it. But this doesn’t reduce its importance. Democracy is a long game. It involves pressuring those who resist reform (see: peaceable assembly above) and offering proposals future electorates can eventually endorse (see: the New Deal, which brought to life many ideas first floated by progressives in the 1920s).

Protecting and enhancing democracy should be the central cause of the new House majority. Democracy is, after all, what allowed it to come into being, and Trump’s hostility to democratic norms must be challenged at every turn.

At this moment of trial for all who treasure democratic institutions, the world could use an example of politicians whose solutions to our problems involve more democracy, not less.

The veins of America: Stunning map shows every river basin in the US ~ CHECK IT OUT!

The map shows the network of streams and rivers in the 48 contiguous states of the US

The largest, shown in pink, reveals basins for the Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas rivers

Other basins, including Pacific Northwest, Upper and Lower Colorado, and Great Lakes are shown

A stunning new map shows the complex network of rivers and streams in the contiguous United States.

Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej, a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River.

The map visualizes Strahler Stream Order Classification, the creator explains, with higher stream orders indicated as thicker lines.

Scroll down for video 

 In the past, the map enthusiast has unveiled numerous striking visualizations of the natural processes all around us. His past work, available on Etsy , includes colourful maps of river basins all around the world. The breathtaking visualizations (the US is shown above, for example) rely on Strahler Stream Order Classification


It was created using the open-source QGIS software, and the high-resolution prints are available on Etsy.

The top left portion of the map shows much of the Pacific Northwest basin, illustrated in a brownish-orange color.

And, the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins stand out as well, in bright yellow.



In the map, the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins stand out in bright yellow. This can be seen in both the black (top) and white (bottom) versions of the image


There are 18 major river basins in the 48 states of the contiguous US, but much of the map is dominated by the massive catchment area for the Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas rivers, as seen in pink

There are 18 major river basins in the 48 states of the contiguous US, but much of the map is dominated by the massive catchment area for the Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas rivers, as seen in pink


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The First Solo Antarctic Traverse

In last week’s celebration of two solo treks across Antarctica, the pioneer whose unsupported crossing 22 years ago set the standard has been unfairly diminished.

By David Roberts

Mr. Roberts is a writer and mountaineer.

Borge Ousland, 33, of Norway at the South Pole in 1996Credit Ketil Soyland/Associated Press

Last week, after a marathon closing dash of 77.5 miles during 32 sleepless hours, the American Colin O’Brady stormed to the finish line at the foot of the Leverett Glacier to claim the first solo, unsupported traverse of Antarctica — a challenge Mr. O’Brady had called The Impossible First. Two days later, culminating a rivalry that commentators likened to the race between Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole in 1911-12, Louis Rudd of Britain finished the same arduous journey of more than 920 miles across the frozen continent, surviving brutal winds, whiteouts, crevasse scares and temperatures below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. Rudd’s expedition was conceived in part as a tribute to his friend and mentor, Henry Worsley, who died of peritonitis after sledding more than 800 miles attempting the same feat three years earlier.

All but lost in the celebration of Mr. O’Brady’s and Mr. Rudd’s splendid achievements was the deed of another polar explorer, the Norwegian Borge Ousland, completed more than two decades before. Or, if Mr. Ousland’s own traverse was glancingly and anonymously invoked, it was tagged with an asterisk, as this year’s trekkers were hailed for attempting the crossing without the aid of dogs or sails.

It’s not surprising that in 2018, the effort to claim the purported first solo, unsupported traverse of Antarctica became an all-out race between two contenders. For sponsored professional adventurers who feel the need to connect in real time to a social media audience, true exploration becomes secondary to the need to set “records,” to claim “firsts,” no matter how arbitrarily defined.


Colin O’Brady in Antarctica in December. Colin O’Brady/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Following last week’s outpouring of congratulations to the American and the Briton, some veteran observers of the Antarctic scene wondered whether their feats should be starred with asterisks of their own. Most significantly, this year’s traversers began and ended their treks not at the seacoast but at the heads of the two great ice shelves. The distance they traveled — 925 miles — was only half the 1,864 miles that Mr. Ousland covered in 1996-97. In the tweet announcing his finish, Mr. O’Brady claimed, “As I pulled my sled over this invisible line, I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided.”

Grueling Treks, One Twice the Length of the Others

The Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland traversed Antarctica — farther than the straight-line distance between Chicago and Los Angeles — in about two months: Nov. 15, 1996, to Jan. 17, 1997. Two recent trekkers used satellite phones and GPS navigation; they traveled along a track, the South Pole Overland Traverse, for more than 350 miles.

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The heads of the Ross and Ronne Shelves, he insisted, were “where Antarctica’s land mass ends and the sea ice begins.” As the Antarctic historian and mountaineer Damien Gildea argued in a post to the website ExplorersWeb: “The ice shelves are land ice and therefore part of the continent. This was accepted by all the earliest polar travelers who did, or attempted, crossings.” Mr. Scott and Mr. Amundsen, of course, had no choice but to start their expeditions from the true coast, and on their return from the pole, Mr. Scott and his four companions died on the Ross Shelf, unable to haul their sledges one step farther.

ExplorersWeb also pointed out that from the South Pole to the “finish line” at the bottom of the Leverett Glacier, both Mr. O’Brady and Mr. Rudd skied along the South Pole Overland Traverse track, “a flattened trail groomed by tractors towing heavy sledges” to resupply the polar station. “Flags every 100 meters or so make navigation easy during whiteouts.” What’s more, the tractors scrape away the hard ridges of sastrugi — the wavelike ridges of hard snow — that are a sledder’s nightmare, and the track is routed to avoid crevasses. It’s unclear what condition the trail was in when Mr. O’Brady skied along it. But in his own photo from Day 50 (Dec. 22), only four days short of the finish line, tractor marks are clearly visible, and no hint of sastrugi ridges can be seen.

In 2018, polar trekkers could count on the incalculable support of GPS, satellite phones and rescue crews equipped with planes and helicopters capable of landing within hours of an emergency call. Mr. O’Brady sent out tweets and Instagram photos detailing his daily progress and spoke to his wife in Oregon regularly by satellite phone. When an ailing Mr. Worsley called for help in January 2016, an airplane whisked him to Chile. He died not on the ice but in a hospital in Punta Arenas.

In 1996, Mr. Ousland navigated by compass and the sun during the day, tracing his route on sketchy 1:250,000 maps, and used an unwieldy, early-generation GPS device at night in his tent to check his position. The silence and solitude posed psychological challenges of their own. As he later wrote, “It generally takes 10 to 14 days to find the inner harmony needed to survive in such an unforgiving world. But when it all comes together, being so totally alone is also a good experience.”

Early on, he fell through a snow bridge into a hidden crevasse and was saved only by strong titanium bars linking him to his sled, which served as a dead-weight anchor. If he needed rescue, he could have activated an Argos beacon that sent a mere dot of his location to a colleague in Norway. The only hope of evacuation was a Twin Otter airplane stationed at the Patriot Hills base camp in Antarctica more than a thousand miles away by the end of his trip.

As the news of Mr. O’Brady’s “first” spread across the media, Mr. Ousland wrote magnanimously on his Facebook page, “We congratulate Colin O’Bradly [sic] with his achievements in Antarctica.” But he added that he “was the first person to ski alone across Antarctica.” As he told me in an email: “It should not be necessary for me to have to stand up and fight for my ‘honor.’ I believe that I should be credited as the first to have crossed Antarctica solo and unsupported from coast to coast. Period.”

David Roberts is the author, most recently, of “Limits of the Known.”

A Photographer’s Quest to Reverse China’s Historical Amnesia

A rally at a stadium in Harbin, China, in 1966, attended by the photographer Li Zhensheng. A Communist Party secretary and the wife of another official were denounced and splattered with inkCredit Li Zhensheng, via Chinese University Press

By Amy Qin

HONG KONG — The photographer Li Zhensheng is on a mission to make his fellow Chinese remember one of the most turbulent chapters in modern Chinese history that the ruling Communist Party is increasingly determined to whitewash.

“The whole world knows what happened during the Cultural Revolution,” Mr. Li said. “Only China doesn’t know. So many people have no idea.”

Clad in a dark blue photographer’s vest, Mr. Li, 78, spoke in a recent interview in Hong Kong, where the first Chinese-language edition of his book “Red-Color News Soldier” was published in October by the Chinese University Press of Hong Kong.

Blending history and memoir, the photo book compiles images taken by Mr. Li in the 1960s when he was working at a local newspaper in northeastern China. Since 2003, the photos have been exhibited in more than 60 countries, bearing witness around the world to the Cultural Revolution — the decade-long turmoil that unfolded from 1966 and turned students against teachers, sons against fathers, and friends against friends.


A younger Don Frank, center, performed a “loyalty dance” for Red Guards in Harbin in 1968. Credit Li Zhensheng, via Chinese University Press

In China, the Cultural Revolution has become an increasingly taboo topic and officials there have repeatedly blocked Mr. Li’s attempts to publish the photos. The new edition of his book can be distributed only within the semiautonomous city of Hong Kong, but that has not dampened his hopes of getting copies of it into the Chinese mainland.

“We’ll bring the books into the mainland one by one,” Mr. Li said. “It’ll be like ants moving house.”

After Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution, what began as a political campaign aimed at reasserting control at the top soon became a sweeping nationwide movement that shook all levels of society. Rival groups of militant youth known as Red Guards fought against one another and against perceived “class enemies,” including intellectuals, officials and others.

Tens of millions of people were persecuted. Up to 1.5 million died as a result of the campaign, according to some estimates. Many were driven to suicide.

“No other political movement in China’s recent history lasted as long, was as widespread in its impact, and as deep in its trauma as the Cultural Revolution,” Mr. Li said.

He added that he was concerned that without a deep historical reckoning, something similar could happen in China again. Already, Mr. Xi’s efforts to elevate himself to the status of Mao and extend his rule indefinitely have for many evoked the days of one-man rule, when Mao was worshiped like a god, culminating in the disaster that was the Cultural Revolution.

Pilots in the People’s Liberation Army reading from “Quotations From Chairman Mao Zedong,” also known as “The Little Red Book.” Credit Li Zhensheng, via Chinese University Press

Mr. Li’s collection of photos from that time is a nuanced portrayal of both the pain and the passion that the movement generated. At a time when cameras were scarce, he was given rare access to official events, taking more than 30,000 photos, many of which he carefully stashed under the floorboards of his home in the city of Harbin.

Among those are scenes of Red Guards forcing monks at a temple to denounce Buddhist scriptures and tearing out an official’s hair because he was deemed as too closely resembling Mao. There are people shouting praises to Mao as they swim in the Songhua River. There are many images of officials and ordinary folk, some standing on chairs, some splattered with black ink, many bowing their heads, and all at the mercy of massive crowds denouncing them for supposed crimes, sentencing them to hard labor or taking them away for execution.

Mr. Li’s photos first gained widespread attention abroad in 2003, when he worked with Robert Pledge, the director of Contact Press Images in New York City, to publish “Red-Color News Soldier.”

Almost immediately, publishers in China began reaching out to Mr. Li, who had moved to New York to be closer to his children. Knowing that the photos had only a slim chance of receiving approval from China’s official censors, Mr. Li and his editors in China made plans for a Chinese-language version of the book that would bury the contentious photos in a sea of text.

But censors rejected the nearly finished book with no explanation.

Livid, Mr. Li sent letters of protest to China’s top leaders. One of his main points of contention: In 2000, Deng Xiaoping’s daughter had published a book about her father titled “Deng Xiaoping and the Cultural Revolution: A Daughter Recalls the Critical Years.”

“I was so angry,” Mr. Li recalled. “Why can Deng Xiaoping share his Cultural Revolution experience and not Li Zhensheng?”

People swimming in the Songhua River in Harbin in 1967 while shouting praise for MaoCredit Li Zhensheng, via Chinese University Press

Now, more than a half-century after the Cultural Revolution began, there is little public discussion of that period in China. What some have called the nation’s collective amnesia has only gotten worse in recent years as leaders have walked back efforts to reckon with the country’s modern history.

Last year, the South China Morning Post reported that a state-run publisher had evidently revised a middle-school history textbook to omit references to Mao’s “mistakes” in stirring up the Cultural Revolution. And a recent exhibition at the Capital Museum in Beijing featuring historical images taken by photographers for the official news agency Xinhua made no mention of the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution was not always off limits. In 1988, the organizers of a nationwide photography competition approached Mr. Li with a request that would be almost unimaginable in China’s current political climate.

“We can’t have an entire decade of history missing in a competition as big as this,” Mr. Li recalled one of the organizers saying. So would he consider submitting his photos to the competition?

Mr. Li won the competition. The local news media and observers were stunned by the images, which depicted the Cultural Revolution more completely than had been seen before.


The execution in 1980 of Wang Shouxin, far left, a rebel during the Cultural Revolution. A guard, right, is handing a single bullet to Wang’s executioner. Credit Li Zhensheng, via Chinese University Press

“Some people have criticized me, saying I am washing the country’s dirty laundry in public,” he said, using a Chinese idiom that refers to the belief that a family’s problems should not be aired in public. “But Germany has reckoned with its Nazi past, America still talks about its history of slavery, why can’t we Chinese talk about our own history?”

Though his photos cannot be published in the mainland, Mr. Li has given lectures on the Cultural Revolution at several Chinese universities, including Tsinghua University and Peking University.

In 2017, a new museum dedicated to Mr. Li’s life and photography was opened in a small town in Sichuan Province. It was part of a cluster of private history museums opened by Fan Jianchuan, a property developer and history buff who, like Mr. Li, has become well-versed in the push and pull of China’s censorship system.

But walking the line has meant making compromises. Sitting in his hotel room in Hong Kong, Mr. Li mentioned a new book he had been preparing using photos he had taken in Beijing during the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Asked if he had plans to publish the book, the normally opinionated photographer went quiet. He was hesitating, he said, because he was concerned the museum in Sichuan could get shut down by the authorities in retaliation.

“Let’s not talk about the Tiananmen book,” he said. “One story at a time.”

‘Miracle’ Boy Survives Avalanche After Being Buried Alive For 40 Minutes

A 12-year-old boy survived 40 minutes buried under an avalanche in the French Alps on Wednesday, a feat rescuers called a “miracle.”

The boy was skiing on an off-piste section of the slopes at the La Plagne ski resort in Bourg Saint-Maurice when he was swept away and separated from his group, French police told the Associated Press.

According to officials, he was going down the slope ahead of seven other skiers and “was caught when a large section of snow detached and roared down the mountain.” The deluge of snow, ice and rocks carried the boy at least 110 yards but it’s unclear how deeply he was buried.

The region of the Alps where the avalanche occurred had a massive snowfall earlier this month, after a late start to the ski season, which kept many local resorts shuttered longer than expected. Courchevel, where La Plagne is located, had about 15 inches of snow over a single weekend and although that brought some relief to business owners, it created a high risk of avalanches.

The boy, who was not wearing a jacket equipped with an avalanche detector, was eventually found by a rescue dog – trained to find human scent buried deep in the snow — at an altitude of 7,875 feet.

To see how quickly an avalanche can swallow up a mountain side, The Times created this compilation of “massive avalanches” around the world. (Word of advice: Don’t be like the guy at the 4:47 minute mark.)

The odds of surviving for 40 minutes are extremely low. National Geographic reports:

And reported that during the 15 to 45-minute period, two thirds of victims die of asphyxiation. ” During this period the surrounding air will either be exhausted or the victims respiration will condense and freeze slowly rendering the surrounding snow impermeable.”

“We can call it a miracle,” Captain Patrice Ribes said, according to the AP. “A day after Christmas, there was another gift in store.”

The boy suffered a broken leg and was transported to Grenoble hospital, where he was placed under observation, Euronews reported.

Post Script: It is unclear if the avalanche rescue dog that saved the day was a Saint Bernard sporting a mini-barrel of life-saving booze around it’s neck, however, here’s a video of a rescue dog named Henry, told entirely from his perspective.