May 31, 2018 in 2,995 words

The new model for saving the Colorado River might just kill it

We’ve been gathering information on various threats to the Colorado River for more than five years now at Boulder Weekly. We’ve made trips to the desalination operations at the Paradise Valley Unit on Colorado’s Western Slope; visited the headwaters of the Green River in Wyoming; written a fair amount about the lack of Colorado River water that eventually makes it into Mexico’s Gulf of California despite international treaties guaranteeing its arrival; and reported on many of the current and proposed projects to divert still more water from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range for no better reason than watering the lawns of new housing developments.

But this time around I want to speak to the latest effort “to save” the Colorado River via impact investing because I think it just may be the greatest threat yet to the continued health of the Colorado, the West’s most important waterway.

This threat is not one you’re likely to hear about from our state’s news media or in the glossy brochures of the well-heeled environmental groups who claim to be fighting for the health of this precious public resource. It seems when it comes to the Colorado River, impact investments have been made in more places than just water infrastructure projects. But I’ll talk more about that in a bit.

Simply put, the Colorado is in trouble because there isn’t enough water in it. And there isn’t enough water in it because too many industries and cities are taking too much water out of it. Not to mention climate change and the ongoing drought aren’t helping matters.

It isn’t rocket science.

How the resurgence of white supremacy in the US sparked a war over free speech

With neo-Nazis marching in American cities, the national faith in absolute free expression is breaking down – even inside the organisation sworn to defend it, the ACLU.

Late last summer, the American Civil Liberties Union faced a mounting crisis over its most celebrated cause, which many consider the lifeblood of democracy: freedom of speech. For nearly a century, the ACLU has been the standard-bearer of civil liberties in the US, second only to the government in shaping Americans’ basic rights. Although the organisation has been at the vanguard of many of the country’s most hard-fought legal battles – desegregation, reproductive rights, gay marriage – the argument among its staff last summer, over whether to continue representing white supremacists in free-speech cases, was more intense than anything the organisation had seen before.

After Donald Trump was elected, the ACLU had positioned itself as a leader of what it calls “the resistance”, suing the administration over voting restrictions, illegal detentions, and the Muslim travel ban. It recruited celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Mahershala Ali and Tina Fey to raise money and reassure worried Americans. “The ACLU has had your back for almost a hundred years,” one ad declared. “We got this.” In the nine months after the election, the organisation’s paying membership quadrupled to more than 1.5 million people, and it received more than $80m in donations.

Then, on 10 August, the organisation’s Virginia chapter sued to prevent the city of Charlottesville from relocating a white-nationalist rally to a safer location outside the city centre. The ACLU claimed the move would violate the organiser’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and public assembly. Two days later, when a white supremacist injured 19 people and killed the anti-racist protester Heather Heyer in a car attack during the rally, many people, including Virginia’s governor, blamed the ACLU. One response in particular became a symbol of the larger backlash: “I can’t facilitate Nazis murdering people,” an ACLU of Virginia board member declared, in a series of viral tweets announcing his resignation.

Since its founding in 1920, the ACLU has helped make the US home to arguably the most freewheeling, unregulated public discourse in the world. And it has done this partly by defending, in the courts of law and public opinion, the speech rights of racists and fascists. The ACLU asserts that laws guaranteeing freedom of speech must embrace everybody (think the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis) if they’re going to protect anybody (think organised labour, anti-war protesters and Black Lives Matter). “The same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence you,” its website explains.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

Can America Survive Tribalism?

Amy Chua is optimistic that the country can overcome its divisions—if only it remembers why it was founded in the first place.

Demonstrator Johnny Benitez faces off with a counter-protester during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, on August 20, 2017.

Since President Trump’s election, the term “tribalism” has become ubiquitous. Media outlets, including this one, used the word to explain the president’s victory. And reporters weren’t alone in their hypothesis that tribalism, and the mindset it implies, might help explain a swelling sentiment that contributed to his win. According to a forthcoming memoir by former Barack Obama aide Ben Rhodes, shortly after the election, Obama asked a group: “What if we were wrong? Maybe we pushed too far. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”

Amy Chua, a Yale Law professor and the author of Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, insists that this attitude is nothing new in the American story—and that it’s not impossible to overcome, either.

At its most basic, tribalism describes the human instinct to want to belong to a group of people who are like you. For much of America’s history, Chua said during an event hosted by The Atlantic on Thursday, huge portions of the population “didn’t feel the tribalism,” because the country was governed by an economically, politically, and culturally dominant group: whites. The multitude of groups that didn’t fall within the tribe of whiteness were smaller, and outside of circles of power. But today’s changing demographics—whites are projected to become a minority in the next couple of decades—are causing newfound anxieties, and fiercer divides, particularly among white Americans.

“We have to acknowledge that demographic change is really dislocating, and try to begin to have that conversation,” Chua said. She blamed “coastal elites” (identifying herself as one) for not being able to understand what gave rise to the president’s “Make America Great Again” motto, and also for “weaponizing” words in the form of identity politics. Berating from the left, she said, drives bigoted ideas underground, and “that’s where the real extremity is.”

Takers or makers? How Americans decide who ‘deserves’ a safety net

It’s about to get worse for those needing help as the Trump administration tightens access to all sorts of benefits.

Rationing government assistance – whether or not it involves blatant racism – rests on the idea that only ‘deserving’ should receive aid.

Endless paperwork. Dirty looks on the checkout line whether you are buying Skittles or pricey organic kale. Hours spent in tedious training for non-existent jobs. Urine tests, supervised by creeps. Unclear requirements, mandatory appointments without regard for lack of transportation or childcare, arbitrary deadlines that are undisclosed until you run afoul of them.

And, after all that, the skimpy benefits obtained don’t begin to cover expenses.

These are just a few of the ways the American social safety net aims to deter aid seekers, ensuring that unworthy “takers” don’t get unearned crumbs from the mighty “makers”.

It’s about to get even worse for those needing help. The Trump administration has begun tightening access to all sorts of benefits, from housing to healthcare. It has already offered states waivers to allow them to impose work requirements and drug testing on people seeking healthcare access. The current agriculture bill (that recently failed for other reasons, but will likely be resubmitted) includes onerous job requisites for food stamp recipients. And Michigan has even devised a plan that would, by exempting certain white, rural counties with high unemployment rates, impose work requirements for Medicaid mainly on black people in cities.

Rationing government assistance – whether or not it involves blatant racism – rests on the idea that only “deserving” should receive aid. As a result, understanding how Americans decide who belongs in this worthy group may be the key to fighting these unfair policies.

WE CAN START by electing progressives to Congress who will fight for a universal living income for all while ensuring that the rich assholes who got us to where we are today have their shit taxed out of them.

They didn’t earn their wealth. They took it from others.

How Trump Gave Us The Weirdest Conspiracy Theory Ever

The amazing and terrifying thing about humans is that if we’re unhappy with reality, we’ll simply choose to live in a different one. Just ask the small but growing group of conspiracy buffs who insist that Donald Trump is secretly doing battle with a worldwide conspiracy … and winning, thanks to his unparalleled genius. Every triumph in this struggle is relayed to them in code from a shadowy anonymous insider.

Welcome, friends, to the world of QAnon. Buckle up.

5. What The Hell Is QAnon?

Did you know that Donald Trump is the greatest leader in American history, if not world history? I know he seems like a buffoon who’s perpetually on the verge of accidentally tweeting nuclear launch codes, but the “QAnon” theory says that’s all part of an act to disguise his true mission: the dismantling of a worldwide conspiracy run by a cabal of politicians, bankers, journalists, celebrities, and other elites who secretly rule society. Included in their truly exhausting list of sins are Satan worship, a global child sex trafficking ring, economic exploitation of the masses, and plots to start a war.

Thus, every time Trump takes a break from running the country to insult someone on Twitter, he’s secretly taking the next step in his master plan that’s totally going to come to fruition any day now.

CNN is too afraid to run this story, but a former National Enquirer writer won’t let the truth be silenced.

If that all sounds like gibberish, well, you might want to grab a drink and settle in. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this theory because you’re lucky enough to be leading rich, fulfilling lives, QAnon — aka the Storm — began with a series of still-ongoing cryptic 4chan posts by someone claiming to be a high-level government insider. It’s like if Woodward and Bernstein had demanded to be taken seriously after graffitiing their findings in random back alleys with their own feces.

The “Q” in QAnon comes from the Q clearance the source claims to have, and “the Storm” comes from a rambling non-answer (or secret code to true American patriots!) that Trump once gave a reporter’s question. Roseanne Barr is a fan of all this, and James Woods is intrigued too. The community’s first subreddit got banned for inciting violence, but don’t worry — they just moved to another one.

The Increasingly Intricate Story of How the Americas Were Peopled

For one young scientist, a genetic study of 91 ancient remains yielded fascinating, complicated results—and an ethical quandary.

Max Gros Louis, the grand chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation of Quebec, one of the tribes consulted in a new genetic study.

Tens of thousands of years ago, the places that have since been named Russia and Alaska were not separated by water, but connected by a continuous bridge of land. People walked across that land, heading eastward from Asia. For a time, their journey was blocked by two gigantic ice sheets that smothered most of what is now Canada. But once the ice started melting, those early pioneers—the ancestors of today’s Native Americans—spread southward.

Sometime between 14,600 and 17,500 years ago, they split into two main lineages: a northern group and a southern one. The northern group gave rise to the Algonquian-, Na-Dené-, Salishan-, and Tsimshian-speaking peoples of Canada, and to the Ancient One—a famous 8,500-year-old skeleton found in Kennewick, Washington. The southern group included the ancestors of modern Central and South Americans, as well as Anzick-1—a 12,600 year old infant skeleton from the widespread Clovis culture.

This narrative comes from archaeology, linguistics, and most recently, genetics. By studying and comparing the DNA of the Ancient One, Anzick-1, and two infants from Upward Sun River in Alaska, scientists have started to piece together the movements—and existence—of ancient peoples. “There have been a lot of interesting ancient DNA findings in the Americas, but always based on one or two genomes,” says Christina “Freddi” Scheib, from the University of Tartu. “I wanted to see if we could fill out this picture by getting as many ancient genomes as we could.”

Scheib and her colleagues ultimately analyzed DNA from the remains of 91 people, who lived in California’s Channel Islands and southwestern Ontario, between 200 and 4,800 years ago. And their study both confirms and complicates the existing story of how the Americas were peopled.

Columbia and Yale scientists found the spiritual part of our brains—religion not required


You don’t have to be religious to have spiritual experiences.

Scientists seek to quantify everything—even the ineffable. And so the human search for meaning recently took a physical turn as Columbia and Yale University researchers isolated the place in our brains that processes spiritual experiences.

In a new study, published in Cerebral Cortex (paywall) on May 29, neuroscientists explain how they generated “personally relevant” spiritual experiences in a diverse group of subjects and scanned their brains while these experiences were happening. The results indicate that there is a “neurobiological home” for spirituality. When we feel a sense of connection with something greater than the self—whether transcendence involves communion with God, nature, or humanity—a certain part of the brain appears to activate.

The study suggests that there is universal, cognitive basis for spirituality, as opposed to a cultural grounding for such states. This new discovery, researchers say, could help improve mental health treatment down the line.

Previous studies have examined the brain activity of Buddhist monks or Catholic nuns, say—people who are already spiritually inclined and familiar with the practice of cultivating transcendent states. But this research analyzed subjects from different backgrounds with varying degrees of religiosity, and totally different individual notions of what constitutes a spiritual experience.



The slip n’ fall is not a good look.

A confident stomp and wide, carefree stride are now totally in vogue. Orthopedic sandals, chunky sneakers, fanny packs, and big, ripped jeans are dominating the fashion scene, and all the coolest cats look like kibbutzniks, circa 1978.

Officially, this easy, gender-neutral style that feigns indifference to attractiveness is known as “ugly fashion.” But beauty isn’t a fixed notion, so what was once called odd is now all the rage—and if we’re lucky, the look is here to stay.

Aghast industry insiders, who are still attached to classics like high heels and short dresses, deem this comfortable clothing atrocious. However, the business of la mode is still dominated by men who’ve never perched atop stilettos, pulled down a miniskirt, been stuck with a clutch, or walked fast past a posse of catcallers. So what do they know?

Unofficially, the trend is a win for feminism and egalitarianism, a signal that confidence, good sense, and freedom are hot, whereas vanity, coquettishness, and discomfort are not. The popularity of “ugly” clothing should come as a great relief to all. It’s proof that clothes don’t make the man or woman, and that sitting easily in one’s skin—and gear—is the best look. Be glad practicality is back—even if it can cost a pretty penny, like Balenciaga’s $895 moonbootish sneakers, and the $400 furry Birkenstock collaboration with Rick Owens.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Fox News pundits find it impossible to defend Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet directed at Valerie Jarrett, and the fallen sitcom star blames the incident on Ambien.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Look, you were probably already racist, but maybe Ambien made it worse? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

THANKS to TBS and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee for making this program available on YouTube.

Comedian Michelle Wolf takes us inside her studio and answers 73 questions. Michelle talks about hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the time she was most starstruck, and her new Netflix show The Break.

顔だけ! But only Maru’s face!

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s me commentary on the cheese rolling contest of 2018.

Max is back to his cage doors in the sunroom.


Michael Pollan talks psychedelics and the mind

Michael Pollan says he writes about where “nature and culture intersect,” places that often end up being on our dinner plates and in our bodies. His book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, won a James Beard Award and was one of The New York Times 10 best books of 2006. His follow-ups, Food Rules and In Defense of Food, among others, investigated food and agricultural systems so thoroughly that many people use Pollan’s work as a manifesto for the way they eat, shop and live. His line, “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much,” has now become the rallying cry for sustainable food advocates and those people just looking to eat a little better.

But Pollan’s latest book, How to Change Your Mind, departs from food issues and delves into psychedelic drugs and how they can be used to cure psychological disorders and connect us better to the world. Pollan, as in his other books, takes a hands-on approach and recounts his own experiences with psychedelics, using research to provide context for what he learned.

We talked with Pollan ahead of his appearance on June 1 hosted by the Boulder Book Store at First Congregational Church.

Ed. I’ve been sick with a stomach ailment while working crazy hours. So… More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?