Monday, August 26, 2013

Jim Whittaker rocks the house.

"We had been in the Death Zone for 2 months. Nothing grows there. There's no life. We were walking back down to Katmandu. We were carrying Willi and Barry. We'd been in the Death Zone for 2 months. I looked ahead and  everybody had stopped. I came up behind them and asked why and they all said 'Look!' I stopped and I tears started ... 'Look!' We all had tears in our eyes 'Look! A blade of grass!' ...and it was so green... a bright emerald green...'Look! There's a flower!' ... life.... again... we live on a beautiful planet... we're so lucky... leave no child inside... leave no child inside"

Jim Whittaker closed Mountainfilm in Aspen with that story.

Saving  the most spectacular visuals for last, not to mention some serious hometown talent, Mr. Whittaker was there for a screening of "High and Hallowed" the story of his 1963 Everest expedition and the trek back for the 50 year anniversary.

The 1963 American expedition to Everest, was the first summit by an American, Jim Whittaker

Nawang Gombu was with him on the summit they kept their friendship going.

They ascended the Sol Col route, the same one that Sir Edmund Hillary used in the first ascent.

That alone is a remarkable accomplishment but the thing which makes the 1963 expedition stand out is the West ridge ascent and traverse by Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein. Luke Jerstad and Barry Bishop made an ascent via the South Col on the same day. Both teams summited, both teams bivouaked on the Sol Col descent at 27,450 feet. It's a hell of a story.

The visuals from 1963 are stunning because it was sponsored by National Geographic and Barry Bishop was a NatGeo photographer and scientist.

For the 50th anniversary of the 1963 ascent a team went back, including Jim Whittaker and his son. The visuals for that were by our very own Kent Harvey . It was great to be able to follow Kent's tweets from the mountain and dispatches on the Eddie Bauer site during his 2009 "First Ascent"expedition - nerve racking when the avalanche happened on the West Ridge- but great to hear he was okay.

The contrasts in equipment are dramatic.

The changes on the mountain- more sobering the glacier shrinks the rockfalls become more frequent and the ice gets glassy hard.

As usual Mountainfilm does not disappoint. There were highlights, "The Summit" was sobering as it was beautiful. Tom Shadyac was effervescent about his upcoming remake of "The Intouchables"

I got to see my name in the credits for "Keeper of the Mountains" (kickstarter rocks) what a sweet little short. Thank you for honoring Elizabeth Hawley.

my favorite film was still "Slomo"

His goal for the rest of his life is "not to be an asshole." 

Nice goal, not easy, but something to which we can aspire... 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pussy RIOT

"Art is not the mirror held up to reality but the hammer with which we shape it"
That is the quote from Berthold Brecht which introduces the documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

I have to admit the only time I laughed at Brecht was during Christopher Durang and Sigourney Weaver's Das Lucitania Songspeil. It was a laugh riot- especially when Mr. Durang playing the nurse to Ms. Weaver's Juliet walked across the stage with a sign inscribed "Rich People are mean to servants" They had fun with me because I was in the front row wearing a cowboy hat.

A quote from Brecht wasn't likely to get more than a smirk and an avant garde eye roll. But I was wrong... this time it opened a door.

 At Friday's cocktail talk for Mountainfilm at the wheeler introduced me to a new anthropological term. "Third Culture". This refers to a child whose parents are from two different cultures. The premise is that  children who grow up in multi-cultural households or live in multiple cultures have more in common with other "third culture" kids than with either culture.

Yep. That would be me, except that you could probably make that about 6 different cultures. At least....

I know that's why I felt comfortable in Aspen from the first time we visited in 1962, because the majority of kids I met here were also TCK. It felt like home.

I've always liked to put people into situations where they have to interact with others outside their normal social group. I invited a young Republican to a meeting on Education hosted by our local Democratic Party leader. I invited cattlemen to play poker with hippies. I love to mix young and old, black and white, rich and working class.

It shakes things up and forces people to talk to each other.  I particularly enjoy when they find points of commonality, even if that's only a cup of my rather potent egg nog for Christmas.

It's like an Andrew Goldsworthy stone fence... where he "trespasses" equally on both sides of the boundary by making  the stones do the slalom.

Which brings me to this morning's coffee talk with Tom Shadyac and Maxim Pozdorovkin

Tom started us all off by having the audience say "Pussy Riot!" ... twice.. 2nd time with fists in air.  

You don't need by to review Maxim Pozdorovkin's film other's have done that: NY Times  Mother Jones

What the film did extremely well was humanize the 3 women on trail for their demonstration. Three distinct personalities came through, each with their own passion and intelligence. That was a joy. I would also like to add if your lawyer's idea of a joke is "They've already planned to kill you in Siberia." maybe it's time to get a new lawyer.
The coffee talk had some great highlights not the least of which was Marty Martin (one of the main players in "Manhunt") giving the insider's view of what kind of surveillance Pussy Riot supporters and members would face in Russia, and how to circumvent that surveillance. Tom Shadyac- who can certainly stray off into his own polemic with a featherweight flick of encouragement- did a stellar job orchestrating audience Q&A while inserting broader viewpoints including quotes from one of the Pussy Riot convicted Nadia Tolokonnikova.

One of the most humorous moments was when Maxim described the confusion on the part of HBO executives when they were confronted with a group which was anti-copyright- to the point they wouldn't even sign a paper saying there was no copyright. 

Maxim gave even more background on the three Pussy Riot members with a spot light on Nadia who is an A+ student and devours philosophical theorems like candy. She is now in prison and housed in the same block as a woman who... and I'm quoting Maxim here.... killed and ate her husband.

Bottom line, if *anything* proves that the best thing which can happen to a protestor is the Government pushing back- this is it. Their stage went from 100's to 100's of thousands overnight and they have the Orthodox Church to thank for that. 

Which brings me back to 

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction

The harder you push, the harder you fall. 

Shake it up a bit. Take people outside the comfort zone. Change the point of view. In other words, be an artist.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Ants March on...

Colin Fletcher is one of my favorite authors. His book "The Man Who Walked Through Time" is probably the best known. It tells the story of his solo walk the length of Grand Canyon National Park. That's not the book which haunts my memory. The one image I think of most is from his book "The Winds of Mara" where he returns to the Kenya of his youth.  There is a moment where he watches ants cross a dirt road. Time stops and the ants march on. The world of human cares fade and the ants march on. Of all the things which have changed since he last walked the Mara this has not, the ants march on.

September 11, 2001 I was on the ranch in Colorado. A short 2 weeks before I'd been in a yellow cab under the World Trade Center riding back to Greenwich Village. We were just finishing a Studio launch for a new network on Bond Street. It was scheduled to go live September 11.  

I, like millions of other Americans, watched the plane hit the second Tower on TV. Like millions of other Americans I saw the film of the Towers falling, over and over again. I spent that week trying to stay in contact with my friends on the East Coast, particularly those who lived in New York. The internet proved the best way to do this which meant I was spending a lot of early morning hours in the Studio.

While walking back from the Studio to the House I saw a line of ants.  It was a beautiful blue fall day with a silent sky.  I stopped. I crouched down and stared at the steady stream. The words rang in my head "The ants don't know that the world has changed forever." 

The second movie at Mountainfilm last evening was "Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden" It's a film about CIA Analysts and Operatives.  Greg Barker must have done a jig when he found Marty Martin, the camera loves him. Reality Show producers worldwide would line up to get Mr. Martin. The "sisterhood" of Analysts were far more compelling although I'm pretty sure "wrangling" them would be like wrangling a room full of Many Patinkin clones. The breakthrough moment was when they recognized the sequencing of seemingly unrelated events revealed an underlying organization, a bureaucracy of terrorism. My favorite line has to be "How can you connect the dots when the whole page is black?"

It's been an interesting summer in Aspen for connecting dots. It started out with Thomas Friedman and Solly Granatstein talking at The Aspen Ideas Festival about their Showtime series "Years of Living Dangerously"

It's basic premise is that climate change leads to revolution. Their argument is the Arab Spring was fueled by the price of bread. There is little question that throughout history climate change has precipitated regime change

This was closely followed by the Aspen Security Forum at the Aspen Institute. There was even a session on "Manhunt".  The Security Forum revolved mostly around NSA issues and how 9/11 had shoved us into this policy of gulping mega data. However, the most intriguing session may have been the one on Africom with General Carter Ham who stated that Africom wasn't seen as a military command, until Libya. During the Q&A he elaborated that even though our intelligence gathering and drone ability is the most requested US contribution from local governments our strategic intelligence gathering gets a  "C+" and he stated  "We have to listen first.. we can't carry.. an attitude..we gain as much as we give..." followed by "If you're in search of stability... you may need to bring veterinarians." With a "C+" analysis giving drones their targets, yep I'd rather send out veterinarians.

The icing on the cake was the Aspen Institute's McCloskey Speaker Series with Condoleezza Rice and Raj Shah discussing the state of the Department of State. Podcast

Honestly I never expected to hear "humanitarian work is not separate from political stability" or "subsistence agriculture is at the heart of rebellion" in this talk but it was there. The nod to poverty as an incubator for violence was soon submerged under the old carrot stick standby of "military and economic aid" being the heart of US foreign policy. It all sounded very Cold War and Domino theory Military Advisors. There was a general wariness leaking around the edges of the discussion whenever it touched on the Arab Spring. That's unfamiliar territory.

Which brings me back to 2011. Take a close look at the picture- above the "D" in TED... really closely... you will see a handmade sign in English held by one of the people in Tahrir Square during the protests of 2011. It reads "America  F***  your  Aid" Mr. Khanfar was the one who provided a number of images for his speech. Our projection designer is the one who scaled this one and he *swears* he didn't see the juxtaposition.


This was one of the most extraordinary TED talks I've ever seen. 

Wadah Khanfar head  of  Al Jazeera TV talking in February of 2011

 I thought of Wadah Khanfar when I listened to the last words of "Manhunt" which bluntly stated ".... hope that you never have to fight an enemy who has no respect for human life." Whatever ride the documentary had taken me on- whatever admiration I may have had for the tenacity of the Analysts or the dedication of the CIA Operatives, it was wiped out in that last sentence. I had just watched a documentary where torture and invasion was justified. I had just watched a movie where the escalation from 19 drone attacks a month to 300 drone attacks was seen as a something "overenthusiastic" a bit of a runaway train which was a direct response to a ruthless enemy.  The fact that this bred more terrorists was seen as a regrettable and unforeseeable side effect. 

Yet it was only "the enemy" who disrespected human life? 


The ants march on, and so do we.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Nuclear Follies

"Nuclear Follies" is the title of a musical some friends of mine wrote. It had a brief (very brief) run at the Village Gate in the 80's.

My Eco Freak self has never been a Nuke supporter. 

There's Hiroshima, Nagasaki, 

Storage and testing in the desert southwest, 

mining uranium in the Grand Canyon (a personal nightmare),

and Project Rulison. My middle school class monitored the last underground nuclear test in the US which was set off in Rulison Colorado in 1969. We set up a small plumb bob on a triangular mount over a paper bullseye in the playground and watched the ground shake from an underground blast 70 miles away.

The first time my "no nukes" attitude was challenged was in Paris. France is about is pro-nuke as a country can get.

I was visiting Mom in Paris in the late 80's and she was ebullient  about the nuclear industry in France. She was even more thrilled with "chauffage central" being supplied by the city to homes in Paris. This wasn't being done with nuclear power, but by turning garbage into heat.

I have to admit it was the first time in my life I remember being warm in her Paris apartment- *ever*. This government supplied heat had the extra benefit of being government regulated which meant our "super" couldn't chose when it should be turned on (not when he was on vacation in October for instance).

The next time my anti-nuke beliefs were challenged was at Bill Gates TED talk.

His argument for using nuclear waste as an energy source was compelling.

Then came Fukishima

which really seemed to reinforce my original anti-nuke ideas.

I've seen two documentaries which have made me look again.

... and the film I saw last night at Mountainfilm

It's hard to get a better spokesman than Stewart Brand who was also padding around the lobby of the TED where Mr. Gates made his pitch. Mr. Brand is a Colossus of the Environmental Movement with his bible "The Whole Earth Catalog" and his view then, as it is now, is "technology will save us"

Why take my review when the Washington Post and the Hollywood Reporter have done it so well?

Here are the pro-nuke points from the film which leapt out:

1. We're talking breeder reactors which would use the nuclear waste we already have. 

2. The newer breeder reactors can "self" shut down. I'm a hearty believer in Murphy's Law so this one isn't as compelling but it's very well presented in the film. The safety record *is* compelling- in nuclear's favor- even over PV panels.

3. There's been a lot of talk about 350 parts per million of carbon and we're already at 400 parts per million and climbing (basically, we're screwed). To get to the  current "goal" of 450 ppm by 2050 at current uses of electricity we would have to build one nuclear power plant *per day* to satisfy that consumption and keep the carbon ppm *down*. Oh, goodie.

4. Radiation levels: it's all about the microsieverts. By this chart avoiding dental Xrays and flying at 20,000'  makes a lot more sense than worrying about levels of radiation nuclear reactors. 

Fukushima with 102 microsieverts  which is .0001 of a sievert. That's too many decimal points for my small brain but basically means 10,000 days (27+years) of exposure would = 1 sievert.  One sievert is where the health risks start according to the World Health Organization.

A good deal more education could be done with this and the mass market media is throwing numbers around for the reason they normally throw numbers around- because it makes you sound smart- not because it's informative.

Here are some the the points they "fluffed" (IMO)

1. Conservation isn't a pipe dream. There was some rather unflattering 20+ year old footage of Amory Lovins showing off CFLs. What they didn't go into is that our major use for fossil fuels is *heating* and conservation combined with smart building can give you a house without a furnace (I know, I live in one). 

2. There was the the old 60 minutes trick of giving flattering camera angles and lighting to your proponents and unattractive camera angles and lighting to the people you want to discredit. That's a cheap trick. They could have made the film without casting anyone as a villain (or worse, as a dupe). The Environmentalists are an easy lobby to ridicule- they wear a lot of funny hats and chant a lot. Let's stop doing that.

3. The assertion that nuclear plants in the US are nothing more (or less) than a political football is an easy lob over the net. Polarization in Congress? Really? Who knew.  It did get the most titters and giggles from the audience but it's hardly a way to help *de*- polarization. 

4. Murphy's Law and my essential distrust of the ability of human engineering to out think the future is a deep rooted and well rewarded skepticism which will take a lot more than some nice graphs to dispel.  

So where does that leave me?

I'm very much afraid that I'm being asked to choose between natural gas and nuclear.

Natural Gas is here. We can access it more easily and cheaply than ever before. It is the darling of many Environmentalists and hailed as a "bridge" fuel from fossil fuel to renewables. (There is nothing so permanent as a "bridge fuel" to paraphrase the French "there is nothing so permanent as the temporary") The cost of Natural Gas is no less than our artesian water supply- all of it- through fracking and releasing all those million year old chemicals back into the water and the air. Given the recent benzene leaks into Parachute creek- it also threatens our above ground water supply.

Nuclear is here- but we haven't built breeder reactors yet. The capital costs are enormous but the potential benefits of a  fuel source which does not give off carbon is hugely appealing. The safety record is far better than public perception and the breeder reactor designs are truly hopeful. Using the waste we already have is really appealing. 

What's stopping the nuclear industry? Errr... other than really really bad graphics?

Well, fear for one. However the record doesn't support the level of fear the word "nuclear" evokes. Getting that genie back in the bottle isn't going to be an easy task.

More to the point it's expensive and there are a lot of interests which would *not* profit from a nuclear powered world (natural gas, coal and fossil fuels to name a few). We will probably do what we have always done which is pick the quick, cheap and immediately profitable over the long, expensive and long-range profitable. It will take an incredible strategist to move nuclear out of the possible into the probable. 

I'm not hopeful. 

Here's something that I am hopeful about, biomass. It's about heat, even more than it's about light, it's about heat; and electricity is a lousy fuel source for heat. Remember when I mentioned Paris getting central heating from it's garbage? Trash, we got. In the Western US we have more than that, we have beetle kill. 

We could certainly benefit from Thomas Heatherwick's design for a Power Plant as community center and a (literal) mountain of safety.

It is the concept design for a biomass power station on the banks of the river Tees. 

As a miner buddy of mine is fond of saying "If you don't grow it, you mine it." Uranium we mine, trees we grow. 

We should use our nuclear waste and power as much as we can but mining more Uranium, especially tearing up the Western US to do it- nope not so much. 

If we can pyrolize our trash into biochar  and sequester that carbon back into the soil we may have a chance. 

As usual, JMO.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

EasyWater evaporates

I installed the EasyWater saltless water softener and promised a follow up. This is the follow up.

I waited a month after installing the EasyWater then I took 2 mason jars and put equal amounts of water direct from the well:

and from the house...

I labeled them

and set them aside to evaporate.

At first the only difference between the two was that the sample from the house had a lot more air bubbles. Other than that they looked identical.

After the water evaporates only the minerals should be left. If the EasyWater is doing it's job there should be less residue in the House sample than in the Well Sample.

If there is a difference, it's pretty small.

...really really small.

House "treated" water

Well "untreated" water.

I'm going to be really generous and wait a couple more months and try again; but really I'm thinking "don't waste your money".

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer Lunch

I pulled up one of the Red McClure potato plants early just to see how they were doing. What I got were some lovely "new" potatoes. Obviously if I'd let this plant develop into September I would have gotten a lot more.

I decided on lunch instead.

I sliced these into 1/4" slices. Please notice that these are really firm since they've only gotten natural rainfall since June 10 they're dense and have absorbed a lot of "earth" flavor.

Normally I'd steam these first and then sauté them but these are so tiny I can do a slow sauté and then braise. Get the fire under the skillet, get it hot, then add olive oil.

I like Spanish olive oil because it's made when the olives are green and it's more "olivey" but this combo of Spanish and Italian is pretty darn good and won't break your wallet the way the pure Spanish Olive oil will. 

As the oil heats I prep some baby broccoli and onion. I add garlic (from the garden) to the onion and let it sit for at least 10 minutes since I learned on my favorite cooking program The Spendid Table that you get most of the health benefits from garlic if you slice/crush it first, let it sit , then heat it.

Here's my little trick for anything which has onions *and* tomatoes. I add some local honey to the onions while they sit. This melts into the onions, counters the acidity of the tomatoes and adds sweetness.

This is wildflower honey and adds a fantastic depth of flavor. 

When the oil is hot enough I add the sliced potatoes and turn down the heat. I want these to cook slowly, not as slowly as eggs- but slowly.

As the potatoes simmer I add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh rosemary and sage (because sage and potatoes are the *perfect* combination.)

I wait till the potatoes start to brown on one side and then turn them over- gently one at a time...

I add the things which take longer to cook, the onions with garlic and honey.

and the broccoli.

... and then I add the cherry tomatoes which are perfect tart little bursts of goodness right now....

By this time the oil should have cooked down enough that the tomatoes begin to deglaze the pot. 

Turn up the heat.

If I use the word "deglaze" you have to know that the word "wine" isn't far behind. For this I use a white Bordeaux which keeps the colors fresh and mixes with the olive oil to make a bright lovely pan sauce. If you don't want to use wine then skip the honey on the onions and deglaze with apple juice or cider.

This is a ridiculously affordable White Grave from it gives a good tart and tanin flavor without overpowering with sweetness.

I add one of my local favorites. Avalanche Cheese makes Goat Cheese.

That tastes, looks and feels like a pasturized Brie.

Just drop a few chunks on top....

turn off the heat ... and let the steam happen.

Slide it all into a shallow bowl and serve with a mild red wine

Add a few more cherry tomatoes on top because they are soooooo good right now!

I'm serving this with an Italian table wine Montelpulciano d'Abruzzo it's slight acidity will lend brightness to the olive oil and potatoes  and dance well with the tomatoes and honey.

Buon Appetito.

If you need desert, have a piece of fruit...