Whether he’s speeding down Cielo Drive, skipping across lanes on the 101, or rambling along Hollywood Boulevard in a sun-kissed haze, Brad Pitt’s irresistible, gold aviator-glasses-wearing stuntman serves many roles in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” But perhaps his most unexpected is as guide to Los Angeles.
Much has been written about how the director Quentin Tarantino’s latest nostalgia-drenched film is a love letter to movies — spotting all the cinematic references requires multiple viewings. But “Once Upon a Time” is also a love letter to the city itself.
El Coyote Mexican Cafe, the Regency Bruin Theater in Westwood, the Spahn Movie Ranch and Playboy Mansion are just a few of the real-life spots that surface in the movie. Taken together, the landmarks and locations help bring to life the pop-infused heady days of the late ’60s and the culture that defined California’s special role in that moment in American history — recalling the historianKevin Starr’s line that “Los Angeles was the ‘Great Gatsby’ of American cities.”
“Once Upon a Time” may be Tarantino’s most overt homage to Los Angeles, but it’s hardly his first. Though he was born in Tennessee, the director grew up in Torrance, Calif., a sleepy middle-class suburb known more for skateboarders than red-carpet goers, and cultivated his encyclopedic knowledge of films while working at a video store in nearby Manhattan Beach. The influences of those South Bay cities and many other parts of the region are apparent throughout his films. In fact, if you were to get in your car and drive the streets and highways of “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill,” you’d get a pretty decent sense of Los Angeles, the glamour but also the grit that make it so unlike anywhere else.
It was a serendipitous discovery, albeit a disconcerting one.
Gregory Wetherbee, a research chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey, had been collecting rain samples to study nitrogen pollution. Instead, he found a familiar leftover of modern life.
“I thought maybe I should look at these under a microscope. And when I did, uh, I was a little shocked by the amount of plastic that I saw in them … chunks of blue, orange, pink, you name it.”
Microplastics were the “furthest thing from my mind when we first started this project,” he said. Now it’s the focus of his new research paper titled “It Is Raining Plastic.” These plastics are tiny pieces of mostly fiber material, invisible to the naked eye
As he stood next to a rain collector in a community garden in Arvada, it wouldn’t surprise you to find plastics in the water gathered here. This spot is close to traffic, parking lots, homes and stores. There’s a lot of plastic around. What really surprised Wetherbee was when he still saw microplastic in the rainwater collected at a site 10,000 feet above sea level in Rocky Mountain National Park.
“That made me realize that what we had here was something that was quite significant because the question is how do those plastics get into that remote area?”
Wetherbee’s study doesn’t answer that big question, and he doesn’t want to speculate. But it makes him think that somehow the plastic is transported through the atmosphere. A similar study was done in France that echoes Wetherbee’s findings. In a remote part of the Pyrenees Mountains, researchers found microplastics in the rainfall.
The study’s lead author told National Geographic that “Microplastic is a new atmospheric pollutant.”
Wetherbee said the plastic he found could be coming from myriad sources. Synthetic fibers from our clothing, shreds from tires on the road. When a grocery bag or a drink bottle breaks down, it becomes tiny pieces that spread. It doesn’t go away.
“Now, I can’t get out of the car at the supermarket without noticing all the plastic trash on the ground,” he said.
Plastic is can be found everywhere: in the deep ocean, in the stomachs of whales, in seabirds, in the fish that we eat and in the water we drink. A study in Orb Media, with the University of Minnesota and the State University of New York, found that 94 percent of tap water samples collected in the United States had micro and nano plastics in it.
Alice Fulmer of the Water Research Foundation said that plastic in rainwater is just one example of the challenges around treating for tiny, man-made material.
“It’s just that there’s such an abundance that even removal of most of them can result in some getting through,” she said.
The sedimentation process — where gravity removes solids from water — gets rid of most of it. But she said no new methods have been implemented to try and completely remove the plastics from drinking water.
“I don’t believe that we have enough information about the potential human health concern or environmental concerns to warrant any new treatment being installed or applied at water treatment plants.”
Fulmer makes the point that finding these plastics doesn’t mean there’s an inherent risk. And there is no definitive research on what impact consuming microplastics does or doesn’t have on human health.
The Water Research Foundation is involved in a project that’s looking at ways to remove microplastics from water. They’re also researching better ways to detect them in the first place. However, it’s important to look at the bigger picture, Fulmer said.
“We’ve got to then be having those conversations as a society and think holistically about how to prevent them from entering the environment and limiting exposure.”
Jack Buffington, an assistant professor at the University of Denver, has some ideas for that. Buffington teaches supply chain management and just released a book called Peak Plastic: The Rise and Fall of Our Synthetic World. He argues that the supply chain is responsible for the problem.
“We can create these materials at such a cheap price,” he said. “We can throw them away, we can produce them all over the world. We can ship them all over the world.”
Plastics weren’t designed to be in a circular system like aluminum cans are, he said. It’s easier and more economical to recycle aluminum products than to dig up materials and make them new. Plus, it doesn’t downgrade in the process. Buffington said plastic needs to be designed in the same way.
“Problem is, is that, how long is it going to take for that to happen? And what impact is it gonna have in the environment for that not to be fixed?”
Buffington posits that if plastic waste had value to a community it could be seen as a resource, instead of trash to be shipped off and processed somewhere else, likely overseas. Right now, only 10 percent of the 380 million tons of plastic produced every year is recycled.
“And think about these communities, they don’t have natural resources,” he said. “But they do have waste. So waste could become their natural resources. Big companies are not looking to build manufacturing sites in these communities. So maybe these communities could create small manufacturing through waste.”
The first step would be to get people to understand the scope of the problem — just how pervasive plastic is in our environment, the issues it creates and what it means to our reality. Gregory Wetherbee, the researcher with the USGS, wants to get out the same message. That’s why he titled his paper, “It Is Raining Plastic.”
“It’s an emphatic statement about a condition that we believe is something that people should know about,” he said — that there’s more plastic in the environment than meets the eye.
Less than two hours after former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III finished six hours of testimony on Capitol Hill, President Trump spoke to the news media about Mueller’s testimony.
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‘Nothing’ to Rally Around
The hosts pounced on President Trump’s response to criticism of his Wednesday rally in North Carolina, where people in the crowd chanted “send her back” — referring to Ilhan Omar, the Somali-born congresswoman from Minnesota. Trump later claimed he’d tried to stop the chant; the hosts raised their eyebrows at that, as well as his remark at the rally that he had “nothing to do.”
“He started the rally saying he had plenty of time because he had ‘nothing to do.’ That might be the first factual statement he’s made since becoming president.” — JIMMY KIMMEL
“Nothing to do? The guy is president of the United States and he sounds like your buddy who just got laid off. ‘Where’s the party at, bro? It’s Tuesday morning and I’ve got nothing to do!’” — TREVOR NOAH
In August 2015, the Gold King Mine blew out.
When it did, more than 3 million gallons of orange wastewater spilled into the Animas River in southern Colorado.
The accident occurred at an inactive mine where polluted water had been accumulating for years before an Environmental Protection Agency crew accidentally released it during cleanup work.
The EPA declared the mine, and 46 others near it, a superfund site. Since then, the agency has been waging fights over who is going to clean up the site — and who is responsible.
The water has led to environmental hazards that some say have severely hurt fish and wildlife populations in the river.
Sunnyside Gold Corp. has spent millions of dollars trying to clean up the site. This month, it told the EPA it won’t carry out the cleanup work ordered by the agency.
Jonathan Thompson is the author of a book on the disaster. Here’s what he said you need to know about the mine.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What’s the latest?
The EPA recently ordered the Sunnyside Gold Corp. to do some drilling work to investigate where the water originates to help with cleanup. But just a few days ago, Sunnyside Gold sent a letter to the EPA essentially saying, “No, we’re not going to do it.”
What’s their rationale for refusing?
Back in 1992 when Sunnyside Gold Corp. closed their mine and started cleaning up, the company came to an agreement with Colorado that they would plug the mine and do a certain amount of cleanup.
Sunnyside Gold also agreed to clean up unrelated, neighboring mines to offset the pollution in the river. In a way, they were like pollution credits.
The company spent well over $20 million on clean-up. Now they’re basically saying, “Look, we came to this agreement with the state — the EPA signed off on the agreement — and we did everything that we were supposed to do.”
So what’s the next step?
We’ll it’s going to be another court battle, likely. So far, it has been the subject of a number of ongoing lawsuits. This is just going to add to that legal quagmire. In the meantime, it’s just going to delay progress on the superfund cleanup.
Do you foresee the cleanup will eventually finish?
It will take place, it’s going to take a long time. And that’s not totally surprising. Superfund designations tend to be very long, drawn out processes. Don’t expect them to wrap up the cleanup any time in the next 10 years, maybe not the next 20.
What are the detrimental effects to the environment?
Mostly it’s to aquatic life: bugs and fish. It’s bad for them. We’ve seen that dramatically on the Animas River, where the mine spilled into. The number of species of fish downstream for maybe 40 miles downstream has declined.
Are people threatened by these kinds of spills?
Not necessarily. People were certainly affected because they had to close the river and they had to shut off irrigation ditches. And it was also emotionally and psychologically traumatic for people, to see the river turn that color. As far as health effects go, there wasn’t enough lead or mercury in the spilled water to really affect human health, and many wastewater treatment facilities downstream are able to clean these things out.
Black bear yearling with calf elk kill
There’s magic in making ‘sit’ a four-syllable word
In 1994, the first time the Roots played the Montreux Jazz Fest, event founder Claude Nobs took the band’s frontman Questlove to his house to watch a film of Aretha Franklin performing at the festival in 1971. “He told me, ‘This is the reason I dedicate my life to Montreux Jazz,’ ” Questlove recalls.
It had taken Nobs years to get Aretha to play there. She had canceled repeatedly, made extravagant demands — a bigger dressing room, an extra suite — and he had tried to woo her with flowers and candy, he later told Franklin biographer David Ritz. “It was hell trying to arrange the date.”
Now, though, in June 1971, she was there onstage, in a flowing gown and dangling earrings — relaxed but in control of her music and her audience. Though she often hired local musicians on the cheap while touring Europe, this time she had brought her regular band, saxophone great King Curtis and the Kingpins. But as she sat at the Steinway midway through her 10-song set, it was clear that this young woman, not yet 30, was not merely the singer but the de facto bandleader. Watching her now, Questlove still finds it astonishing.
“It’s literally her in a zone so deep and so spiritual,” said the Roots’ frontman.
“Aretha doesn’t get the credit because she’s not dancing around like James Brown. A lot of his body movement accentuates the band that’s behind him, but, you know, she has just as much power, if anything more power, sitting at the piano commanding her band.”
And then, eight songs in, came the high point: “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business).”
She started with a piano roll, then paused.
“Does anybody feel like hearing the blues?” she coyly asked her audience. “You don’t think it’s too early for the blues right now?”
She resumed playing and began to sing. “I don’t want nobody . . . always . . . sss-sss-sss-sitting around . . . ”
It went on for six or seven seconds, that sss-sss-sss. Search as much as you like; she never sang the song quite like that in any other recorded performance. “It just becomes something beyond onomatopoeia or chanting,” says Questlove. “To watch her pronounce the word ‘sit’ for six seconds, it’s just unheard of. That’s when you’re lost in a zone, that’s when you’re really into your craft.”
When she wrote “Dr. Feelgood” — for her breakthrough 1967 album “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” — she was married. Unhappily. To the co-writer of the song. Ted White was her husband, her manager and her tormentor, the man she married in 1961 against her father’s wishes, when she was just 19.
Three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is at the heart of some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48. Famous for its red rock canyons, arches and fossil beds, the rugged land is punctuated by sites like Death Ridge, Carcass Canyon and Hell’s Backbone Road.
Those names staked on the old maps by the region’s first white settlers tell you all you need to know about how harsh, brutal — and beautiful — the land is.
“Them old cowboys back in those days, they were tough,” says Shannon Steed, a businessman and armchair local historian.
Steed comes from a long line of Mormon pioneers: the cowboys and loggers who helped tame this country, as locals put it, and scratch out a living from it.
His hometown Escalante, population 800, along the meandering Escalante River is ringed by mesas.
The town has long struggled economically, especially since its timber mill closed in the 1990s — Steed’s father ran it. Depending on who you ask, things got even worse, when President Clinton protected much of the area as a national monument in 1996.
Today, it remains a flash point for one of the rural West’s perennial and most polarizing fights – who gets to do what on federal public lands.
In December 2017, President Trump signed a proclamation shrinking the protected boundaries of the GSEM nearly in half. This summer, the administration is moving ahead with plans to open up parts of it to mining and expanded cattle grazing, despite legal challenges and a recent effort by Democrats to thwart the move.
‘E for Escalante’
The latest battle over the Grand Staircase is reigniting a decades-old debate about the future of the rural communities in and around the monument, which have lately seen an influx of newer residents setting up businesses around tourism.
On the outskirts of town, Steed points out a closed down timber mill his dad used to own. Up to his left is a large “E” painted on the side of a hill.
“It doesn’t stand for environmentalist,” Steed says. “It stands for Escalante.”
In some corners of this town, environmentalist is still a dirty word.
“We’ve always said it’s God’s country,” Steed says. “The people from out here said that’s because nobody’d have it but God, and now it seems like everybody wants it.”