Boulder Weekly



Opportunity knocks

Walk into the indoor mall at Diagonal Plaza on any given weekday and it’ll most likely be empty. Gutted restaurants and gated storefronts line the hall, as a few people mill about outside the DMV Driver’s License Office, waiting for their turn in line. A clock repair shop looks like it still gets some business. A brightly decorated eyebrow threading studio has a handful of customers.

And that’s about it. In the parking lot, scaffolding surrounds the newly opened Walgreens that replaced Rite Aid. Both a Sports Authority and Walmart Neighborhood Market sit shuttered. 

Situated on the southeastern corner of Iris Avenue and 28th Street in Boulder, the 33-acre Diagonal Plaza commercial center is ripe for redevelopment, which has proved elusive for years. Now, at least some economic development officials within the city and the state are hoping a federal tax incentive program can change that. 

In April, the area was designated under the federal Opportunity Zone program, intended to spur growth in economically distressed communities around the country as part of the sweeping tax reforms heralded by President Donald Trump and passed late last year as the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

While the program is seen as a huge opportunity, for lack of a better word, by the state and the pro-development community in Boulder County, the designation in the City of Boulder has also drawn scrutiny from those who think it will only exacerbate affordability and equity issues, including some City Council members. Longmont and Lafayette also have designated opportunity zones and specific plans to leverage them, though it appears Boulder does not yet.

Uncertainty remains about the level of impact opportunity zone investments can and/or will have on local communities. “This whole thing is an incentive offered by the federal government, but not a classic program that the treasury might offer [where] there’d be a fixed budget and you’d know how it would be allocated among projects,” says Jeff Kraft, director, Business Funding and Incentives at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), which led the initiative for the state’s opportunity zone designations. “This is a self-selected investment that [investors] claim on [their] taxes.”

Under the new law, investors have 180 days to roll capital gains over into new and unrelated investments — stock can be sold to invest in real estate projects, real estate can be sold to be used in a venture capital fund, etc. — through the use of  “opportunity zone funds,” which have to significantly invest in designated opportunity zones. Qualifying investments include real estate projects as well as investing in local businesses and start-ups. (Under the draft regulations, a minimum of 63 percent of an opportunity zone fund must be invested in a designated zone, according to the Tax Foundation.) The investor then gets to defer federal taxes until either they sell the investment or Dec. 31, 2026, whichever comes first. If they’ve had the investment for at least five years by 2026, they essentially get a 10 percent discount. If they’ve had it for seven years, they get 15 percent. In other words, “To get the maximum financial incentive to the private entity, the fund has to do its investment by the end of 2019,” Kraft says.

What’s more, if they keep that investment for 10 years or more, they are exempt from future capital gains taxes on that investment altogether.

All of which initiates a pretty fast timeline for investors, and the state is encouraging municipalities to develop community-informed plans for what they want in any given opportunity zone in order to attract national capital and attract it fast.

“It’s important to get going and maximize the benefits that this can drive,” Kraft says. “While we think it’s important to take advantage and attract the maximum tax breaks and incentivize capital, there’s still chances for investments to occur for the next eight or nine years.”

Situated on the corner of Iris Avenue and 28th Street in Boulder, the Diagonal Plaza is ripe for redevelopment as many of the storefronts sit gated and empty.

Cities and local jurisdictions do have some say over what and how development will occur in the zones, as nothing in the law precludes local land use, zoning and permitting regulations. But it is largely a market-driven program that offers tax breaks to investors while, in theory at least, also providing some sort of social benefit.

“I believe commercial real estate can be a driver for social and environmental equity,” says Peter Vitale, a Boulder Planning Board member who works for Stantec, the commercial real estate and design firm responsible for the Pearl Street Mall. “Now, there’s an opportunity to go even deeper and be even more ambitious with projects that are designed to serve the community. Hopefully, this will inspire those developers to do that.”

Nationally, investments in some opportunity zones are already on the rise, spiking by 80 percent since the law passed, while non-opportunity zone investments have decreased, although minutely, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. And investment in these areas has the potential to grow, as only draft regulations from the Department of Treasury have been released to date.

“We’re looking at them and we have folks who have capital gains right now who that could be an option for them,” says Elias Bachmann, an investment advisor with BSW Wealth in Boulder. “We’ve been hesitant to really go great guns to our clients [with opportunity zone funds]. The reason that we haven’t been so aggressive is that the final guidance from Treasury hasn’t even come out yet.”

Real estate has proved the most common investment method so far, but it doesn’t mean all projects will be attractive to investors.

“The biggest constraint right now is that so many of these funds are looking for $20-million-plus projects,” says Kelly Bianucci, who has a background in private equity and is consulting the state on investor engagement and education. “There are a lot of smaller opportunities that no one is really aggregating for these larger funds.”

Consequently, Colorado is currently building a website, expected to go live by the end of the year, to facilitate connections between investors with potential projects in opportunity zones across the state.

To date, there are nearly 9,000 zones, representing nearly 35 million people in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and five U.S. territories. Colorado alone has 126, whittled down to 25 percent of the 1,249 census tracts in the state that qualified. According to federal guidelines, opportunity zones were determined by census tracts, which had to meet median income and poverty rate criteria. In the end, the average poverty rate in opportunity zones nationwide is 32 percent, while the median family income is 37 percent below other tracts in the area, with an unemployment rate 1.6 times higher than the national average.

In Colorado, OEDIT asked local governments, economic development partners and the public for feedback on eligible tracts, including previous development hurdles and the ability to market the potential to investors, with a roughly two-week turnaround in order to make the federal deadline. (The state announced its nominations on March 23 and the Department of Treasury confirmed them on April 11.)

OEDIT also considered a series of data points, in addition to family median income and poverty level requirements, including unemployment rates, employment growth and geographic isolation when deciding which census tracts to nominate. While state officials deliberately nominated more census tracts in rural areas of the state (60 percent), they also designated plenty of census tracts in more populated, high-growth cities along the Front Range, including Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.

“One thing you could do is just take the neediest tracts in the state and that might drive you to small rural tracts that don’t have any investable assets, and we didn’t want to do that because then nothing would happen,” Kraft says. “And at the same time we didn’t just pick a bunch of tracts that met the criteria for opportunity zones but were, say, in the path of development that was already happening so that you might just accelerate displacement.”

In the face of competition with coastal cities in New York, California and Washington D.C., it was a conscious effort to draw capital from national investors and opportunity zone funds, Kraft explains.

“The big funds are probably not going to want to place their investments in lower-population, lower-density areas,” he says. “Boulder and Denver have a chance at attracting that capital, whereas a smaller, really far-flung rural area might not.”

In the end, Gov. Hickenlooper nominated four census tracts in Boulder County, two in Longmont, one in Lafayette and one in the City of Boulder. The Longmont and Lafayette zones are already part of the statewide Enterprise Zone incentive, which provides 10 different income tax credits to businesses located or expanding into the zone for things like employee-sponsored healthcare, job skill training and capital investments. And both cities had already undergone significant planning processes with community support to help direct development in the areas, which made going after the opportunity zone designation a logical next step.

“We already had all the documentation in place to submit to the state,” says Roger Caruso, economic development director for the City of Lafayette, who says the opportunity zone designation, which was mentioned at a Lafayette City Council meeting in early March, has broad support from City officials. The census tract includes a lot of vacant land with the potential for commercial and industrial development, Caruso says.

In Longmont, the two adjacent census tracts straddle the southern part of Main Street, butting up against the St. Vrain Creek to the south and Ninth Avenue to the north. The western tract extends out to Hover Road, the eastern tract encompasses the abandoned sugar mill just south of Third Avenue.

Longmont is hoping to draw investment for the redevelopment of the abandoned sugar mill on the eastern edge of town with its opportunity zone designation.

“We looked at where we had opportunity and where we already had plans in place,” says Jessica Erickson, president of the Longmont Economic Development Partnership (LEDP), plans like the Envision Longmont Comprehensive Plan, Longmont Downtown Development Authority master plan and the First and Main streets transit plan.

“We’re going to be able to show potential investors that there is already public support from City Council and City staff for the plans that are put in place so that they won’t have to be concerned about if there is going to be resistance on the public side to make these investments in the opportunity zone.”

Erickson also says the City and its economic development partners were intentional about choosing census tracts that might not otherwise draw significant investment, even in a place that has seen significant growth in recent years.

“I don’t think it is clear that private capital will come because there are some risks,” Erickson says. Although a lot of work has been done through the Resilient St. Vrain flood recovery efforts, development along the river corridor has proved slow because of flood plain issues. And the sugar mill site will require additional capital to mitigate environmental issues and aging structures. Plus, the site is technically still a part of unincorporated Boulder County and any redevelopment of the site requires annexation.

Following the opportunity zone designation announcement in the spring, Longmont City Council met with an expert from the Brookings Institute to discuss the potential of having an opportunity zone, and Erickson says she hopes to have a community-informed investment prospectus with input from all stakeholders by the end of the year. And the City is set to finalize a housing plan in the next few weeks to ensure its in place before development in the zone begins.

“We were told early on that if you don’t already have housing policy in place you’re going to want to do that because one of the fears of the program is leveraging that tool to overly gentrify an area because of the value of it,” Erickson says.

Additionally, LEDP has been in touch with both current owners and potential investors within the zone to ensure they are educated about the program. Caruso too has been in touch with a variety of developers interested in the Lafayette zone, with projects ranging from senior affordable housing to multiple flex industrial-commercial spaces.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern until we get the rules and regulations,” Caruso says. Developers, “are just following up to get into a position so that they have eyes on what they want to do when the information is released and then they’ll know how to proceed.”

In the City of Boulder, the designated census tract encompasses 2.5 square miles stretching east of 28th Street to 55th Street and north of Arapahoe to Diagonal Highway. According to U.S. Census data, the median household income for the area is $50,885, compared to $60,569 for the City of Boulder and $55,322 nationally.

“I think people look at the overall average income for Boulder and they figure all of Boulder is very prosperous, but that’s not really the case,” says Jennifer Pinsonneault, business liaison with the City’s Economic Vitality department, who submitted Boulder’s feedback to the state. “Once you start to drill down and look at census tracts or small areas, you find that there are areas where folks have not really benefited from the turnaround in the economy. We felt that there was certainly need here.”

According to emails released by the City, there was some hesitancy at first from both City staff and the Chamber of Commerce to pursue designation for an opportunity zone. After talking with state officials, however, Pinsonneault wrote, “Since OEDIT specifically mentions the possibility of using the program to address needs for workforce housing and infrastructure, it may be worth a closer look to determine whether the program could be useful in addressing housing affordability and workforce transportation issues or enhancing diversity and social equity efforts.”

By the beginning of March, City staff decided to pursue the designation for the census tract including Diagonal Plaza with only days to spare before the state deadline. Pinsonneault consulted with the Chamber of Commerce and City staff, but City Council was not involved in these conversations, and the issue has yet to be discussed at a public meeting. Staff did, however, alert the City Council in a Head’s Up memo at the end of March, after the state announced its nominations, which included Boulder. The quick process and consultation with the Chamber but not elected officials has caused some concern among certain Council members and community members worried about transparency, along with the designation in general.

“Really we are the elected,” says Council member Cindy Carlisle. “If people like us or not, or like what we’re doing, we were elected to set the policy, not to have staff doing policy work and then telling us what’s going on.”

The emails also show that the aging Diagonal Plaza is the primary reason City staff chose to support the census tract that was eventually designated, knowing City officials had long talked about redevelopment of the area. At City Council’s urging, the City conducted redevelopment studies for the Diagonal Plaza shopping center back in 2011, concluding that due to the large number of property owners and cost, redevelopment of the site over the next decade was unlikely unless the City actively participated in alleviating some of the “logistical and financial obstacles.”

However, there doesn’t seem to have been much emphasis on the area since then, and the City’s webpage dedicated to the area hasn’t been updated since 2013. Since then, several storefronts have closed or moved elsewhere, even after the original developer and property owner sold the complex in 2015 for $4.05 million to an LLC with several investors, presumably to redevelop the property.

“If this might break free some interest in working on enhancements on Diagonal Plaza, that might be a good outcome for the community,” says Clif Harald, executive director of the Boulder Economic Council which is part of the Chamber of Commerce, and who consulted Pinsonneault on Boulder’s feedback to the state. “This has been an ongoing conversation within the City and with lots of different interests. That’s our interest, is being supportive of that conversation that has been going on for years.”

The census tract is much larger than the Diagonal Plaza, however, encompassing other areas that are either recently redeveloped or in the process, like Boulder Junction and Boulder Community Health Foothills Hospital.

While the City is using the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan for guidance, Pinsonneault says, staff is still in the process of internally evaluating the opportunity zone program and what role local government can and should have in it, without citing specific projects the City has in mind.

“My understanding is that there are a lot of communities that have opportunity zones but aren’t quite sure what they have, and they are still in the process of analysis like we are,” Pinsonneault says. “And there are others that have definite projects in mind, and Longmont is one of them.”

The emails further indicate there is already some investment interest in the area, specifically mentioning plans for an assisted living development with affordable and mid-level pricing as a way of bringing “more inclusionary housing into Boulder.” Pinsonneault says since then she’s spoken to potential investors, but not many. Furthermore, she doesn’t have much information to give them. “A handful of developers have reached out but we don’t have much to tell them yet. It’s still the early days,” she says, emphasizing that they are still awaiting the final regulations from the Treasury Department and the IRS.

Council member Carlisle has been asking for more information regarding opportunity zones from City staff since early fall, she says, after she attended a Sept. 19 informational meeting hosted by Vitale that she was informed of by a concerned citizen. Pinsonneault was also there, as were a variety of investors and  representatives from OEDIT. 

State consultant Bianucci, who was also at the Sept. 19 meeting, says there were a lot of different ideas flying around about how “investments could be channeled” into Boulder’s opportunity zone. But the meeting also showed the state just how “important it is for each local community to be proactive in attracting the kind of investment they want, the kind of projects they want.”

Kraft from OEDIT agrees. To that end, the state is also offering grants, as well as technical assistance, to local governments through the Department of Local Affairs.

“From a state perspective, we do think local communities should tell a story about what they need and what they want,” Kraft says. “And even put other local incentives together to make sure they are getting what they want and there aren’t investments that displace low-income communities. It’s really up to every local area to figure out how to do that best.”

“That’s what we really took away from the Boulder community,” Bianucci continues. “Otherwise, there’s just too much of a risk that all this money is coming into opportunity zones without regard for what the communities need or want.”

There are other significant risks to the program as well, not least of which is the loss of tax revenue for the federal government. Deferring capital gains taxes could cost $9.4 billion over the first five years, according to the most recent estimates released by the Joint Committee on Taxation, although that will significantly drop after a decade.

The program could also prove risky for investors, even if they stand to benefit most.

“I think in this hurried environment as an investor you have to be extremely on your toes and really stick to whatever due diligence protocols you have and maybe even put a little turbo on that. It’s an environment that’s very tempting for potentially unscrupulous managers,” Bachmann, the investment advisor, says. “Whenever there’s urgency and tremendous demand you get into the situation where the people demanding it are the ones on the short end of the stick and that’s the investors.”

The quick timeline could also easily drive demand, and therefore property values up, shrinking the investors’ internal rate of return in the end, Bachmann says. Plus, there’s always a chance that the tax rate will be different at a later date, potentially shrinking any savings from the tax deferment. And like all investments, returns are not a given, Vitale warns.

“Everyone needs to remember, they could also lose everything,” he says. “There’s no guarantee that any of these investments in any of these places is going to work. People seem to be forgetting this simple fact.”

The program is marred by skepticism from economists, as well. There are concerns over the significant lack of reporting requirements in the regulations to measure the impact of opportunity fund investments, especially since earlier, similar tax incentive programs, like the ’90s Empowerment Zones, have proved difficult to evaluate, even with more stringent approval conditions. Although the state is encouraging municipalities to participate in development in the zones, there is nothing that says investors have to disclose they are using opportunity zone funds for either real estate or business development. 

“There will probably be many, many projects that will go under the radar that no one will know about except the investors,” Kraft admits. “And local governments might not even know if they were opportunity funds or not.”

Still, the unknown is potentially one of the largest risks of achieving opportunity zone designations, as are the unintended consequences.

“This is something that we’ve never seen before, so we don’t know what all the risks are, which is not a comfortable space, especially for the public sector which is responsible for managing the City,” Erickson, from Longmont, says.

Further gentrification, driving up property taxes and pricing existing residents and businesses out of the area are also potential repercussions from the program.

“My concern as a U.S. taxpayer is that if we’re going to go to this level of non-progressiveness in the tax code, I want to be really sure that some social benefits are going to occur,” says Hal Halstein, a local investment advisor. “Everybody who has called me about it, no one has focused in on the social benefits.”

With approximately 60,000 in-commuters each day, Boulder is already seen as unaffordable for many residents and non-residents alike. Rent prices are increasing exponentially each year and both commercial and residential property taxes have skyrocketed recently. Many fear the opportunity zone is only going to magnify these issues.

“This is going to lead to just a whole bunch more job development in Boulder or market-rate housing, neither of which we need,” Halstein says. “There’s no upside to this. Boulder doesn’t need it. You’re going to get investments you don’t want.”

Attracting national investment to opportunity zones might therefore be a tradeoff for other community values like economic equity and diversity. When discussing whether or not to pursue designation, one Vitality Department official wrote in an email, “It is true that private investment could increase property values and property taxes on other properties, exacerbating a current high property tax situation. Is that a reason not to seek additional private investment? I don’t think so.”

Others in the community disagree, however, questioning Boulder’s pursuit of the designation when so much hangs in the balance. “To me it’s a matter of social justice,” says Jeff Flynn, a Boulder-area lawyer and fierce critic of the opportunity zone designation. “Boulder needs to help those who are in the middle- and lower-income levels come to and remain in Boulder, not pursue policies that benefit the wealthiest investors who will invest in these opportunity zones.”

Several Boulder Council members have also publicly expressed skepticism about the program as a whole. “It seems to be that we can’t just have this rah-rah booster mentality about it because there’s too much at stake,” Carlisle says. “And what’s at stake is the livability of the community for regular people.”

Other Council members disagree, arguing that the designation could help the City meet some of its affordability goals by attracting specific investors.

“While I understand questioning the motivations of the Trump Administration and the effectiveness of the broader policy decision (which is what many of the articles that have been shared with Council focus on), the reality is: Opportunity Zones exist and they have potential to serve our community goal of building more affordable housing,” Council member Jill Grano wrote in a Nov. 29 email to Council on the citywide hotline.

There’s no doubt the conversation will continue in coming months as Council is scheduled to have its first public discussion of the opportunity zone designation at its Dec. 18 meeting.

“I think it’s clear that Diagonal could be redeveloped and that there’s challenges with redeveloping it given that there are several different property owners,” says Council member Lisa Morzel. “What do people want to see there, do we want more retail, do we need housing, what is it? And that should not be a discussion by a select few but it should be a broad community discussion. I certainly hope that’s the next step.”

One thing is for certain: Boulder County opportunity zones are here to stay, as the federal designations are set for the duration of the program and only an act of Congress could change that. And with maximum benefit to investors in the next year, the City of Boulder needs to figure out its priorities quickly if it hopes to have a hand in shaping the outcome of redevelopment at the Diagonal Plaza, or anywhere else in the census tract.

“It just seems to me that we should put the horse before the cart on this one, and not back into the kinds of contentious situations the City tends to find itself in,” says Sarah Silver, a neighborhood advocate. “As long as this opportunity zone exists, I would like to see the City get ahead of it and figure out how it can support projects that meet actual needs for the city, versus projects that meet the needs for the very big-pocketed investors that are going to benefit from the entire federal opportunity zone program.” 

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Cringe and purge

Dear Dan: I’m a 59-year-old man in good health. For basically my whole adult life, I’ve had this problem during intercourse with a woman of (1) being very quick to come and (2) having a too-intense “cringey” sensation when I come. This has led to often going soft at the prospect of intercourse. This too-intense feeling makes me stop moving when I come, which is not satisfying at all. It doesn’t happen with hand jobs or oral sex — they feel fine and good. Is this a known phenomenon? And, most importantly, what can I do to get to a point where I can enjoy intercourse? This seriously messes up my enjoyment of sex and my confidence with women. One time, and only one time (out of many with a particular girlfriend), I had intercourse and it felt fine when I came, still thrusting, so I know it’s possible. I have been practicing with a Fleshlight, but it’s still painfully “cringey” when I come. It is not fun and rather depressing.

—He Always Really Dreads Penetration And Regrets This

Dear HARDPART: I shared your letter with Dr. Ashley Winter, a urologist in private practice in Portland, Oregon, and the cohost of The Full Release, a sex, health and relationship podcast. Dr. Winter wanted to note that her comments are a general discussion of a medical topic and not individual medical advice. She wanted me to emphasize this point — which she also emphasizes at the top of her terrific podcast — because Dr. Winter is a responsible doctor and not a card-carrying member of the Amalgamated Advice Columnists of America. (Membership in the AACA entitles advice columnists to say pretty much whatever they want.)

“There are three issues at play here,” said Dr. Winter. “First, the pain or ‘cringey’ sensation only associated with vaginal and Fleshlight penetration. Second, being too quick to come. And third, erectile dysfunction. HARDPART insightfully suggests his ED may be related to his performance anxiety as well as anticipated pain, and I would agree with this. I would add that his quick ejaculation is most likely also caused by a mix of ED and pain — the body adapts to pain and erection loss by letting the swimmers off the hook early.”

But why do you experience this pain only during penetrative sex? What is it about PIV (penis in vagina) or PIF (penis in Fleshlight) that causes those painfully cringey feelings?

“If he thrusts more during these activities than he does during oral or hand stimulation, I would expect that either pelvic floor muscle dysfunction or a nerve issue related to the lower spine could be causing the flairs,” said Dr. Winter. “If he were my patient, I would want to know if he has less pain when his partner is on top, which would mean his pelvis is moving less. Also, does he have chronic low back pain? Bowel or bladder issues?”

Dr. Winter and I continued to generally discuss the medical topics raised by your question, HARDPART, and we generally discussed — this is not, again, individual medical advice, but a general discussion — two things someone with your particular issue might want to think about doing. First, a guy with your problem could try taking Viagra — or a related drug — while also using a penis numbing spray. And a guy with your problem should also have his pelvic floor checked out. A urologist can help a guy with a problem like yours determine if there’s something wrong with the complex web of muscles and nerves that crowd together around your junk and, if it is a pelvic floor issue, refer him to a pelvic floor physical therapist.

Finally, a suggestion from me, the person with the AACA card: A guy with a problem like yours — a guy whose dick works a certain way and has worked that way for decades — could save himself the hassle of physical therapy and the side effects of Viagra by accepting his dick and the way his dick works. There are women out there who prefer oral and outercourse to PIV, HARDPART, and you could bed those women with confidence.

Follow Dr. Ashley Winter on Twitter @AshleyGWinter, and check out The Full Release podcast, which she cohosts with comedian Mo Mandel, at thefullreleasepod.com.

Send questions to mail@savagelove.net, follow @fakedansavage on Twitter and visit ITMFA.org.

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Update: ‘Victor’s Heart’

“I think better things are going to come,” Victor says this week, after finding out the crowdsourcing page raising funds to get him health insurance, and therefore the heart transplant he so desperately needs, has exceeded its goal. “I now have more options.”

Boulder Weekly spoke with Victor and his wife, Estella, for the Nov. 29 cover story “Victor’s heart,” which chronicled the challenges their family faces to get Victor the medical care he needs given his immigration status and lack of health insurance. Since the story ran, the Boulder County community has contributed more than $10,500 to Victor’s GoFundMe page.

“When we first opened the GoFundMe we didn’t think anyone was going to support it,” Victor says. “I’m so thankful for everything that’s been helping me, and thanks to God, everything will work out.”

From Guatemala, Victor has lived in Longmont since 1999, when he was 17. He was diagnosed with severe cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure, which consequently leads to a long list of other health issues, in 2005. Shortly after, he married Estella, whom Victor (now 36) knew in Guatemala, and the couple has two young daughters, Ailin, 10, and Yaretzi, 5. In recent years, his condition has worsened, leaving him unable to work and the family unable to afford private health insurance on Estella’s salary from working multiple fast-food jobs.

Doctors have told Victor and Estella that a heart transplant is his only real chance at survival, but without the ability to access public benefits or the funds for private insurance, he hasn’t been able to get on the transplant list. Hopefully, that’s all going to change. Victor and Estella have a meeting this week with a health insurance broker, and if he can apply by Dec. 15, with the ability to pay the first installment, he’ll be able to use it starting Jan. 1. He hopes to use the insurance first to get on the transplant list, then for an electrical shock that will stabilize the abnormal beating of his heart for three months, followed by getting a heart pump installed, which will buy him a few years while he waits for a new heart. The money couldn’t have come fast enough, Victor says, pausing to catch his breath.

“I’m really agitated and with even the littlest walks I’m out of breath, and I need an electric shock because with that I’ll feel a little better,” Victor says.

“Although Victor would never show you that he is in pain or feels that his heart is beating abnormally, he said he didn’t sleep for two nights last week,” says Nick Robles, a former neighbor who organized the fundraiser. Robles intends to keep the fundraiser open to help cover Victor’s out-of-pocket and deductible costs, and he’s updating the site with more information about Victor’s condition as it comes in.

“I received help for a medical condition from my community (Lyons, CO) in the ’80’s before GoFundMe existed. It was such a blessing. Let’s do this!!” Lillian Chatham wrote on the site just after Thanksgiving.

Community members flocked to the site in recent weeks, contributing amounts from $15-$1,000, and leaving messages of support, as well as calls to action.

“We can’t help everyone, but we can help one,” Harry and Sally Hempy wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are NOT enough, but maybe some dollars will help.”

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Along the way

It only seems appropriate that John Craigie is on a road trip when he takes my call. The California-born, Portland-based singer-songwriter is known as a modern-day troubadour, a traveling poet with comic flare, whose folk songs chronicle his journey through life and those he meets along the way.

“Most of it is from human interaction; I tend to find that the songs are either my stories or stories that I hear from somebody else,” Craigie says about his music. “I’ve learned that if you’re really honest with your audience and show them who you are, that’s the best you can do.”

His songs are mostly vignettes, flashes of humanity that tap into a deep folk heritage, speaking to the present moment in timeless fashion.

“It’s like a funeral out there/Don’t let the darkness break you my friends/There are so many of us/And only one of him,” he sings in “Presidential Silver Lining,” a song Craigie wrote in 15 minutes before a show right after the 2016 election, hoping to encourage the audience.

Then there’s “I wrote Mr. Tambourine Man,” which is Craigie’s latest release, recorded live with fellow singer-songwriter Jack Johnson.

As Craigie tells it on stage, he wrote the song after a night in a New Orleans bar where he met a guy who told him he wrote “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but Bob Dylan stole it from him.

“I decided in that moment I would steal everything else he said and put it into my song,” Craigie says on the recording. “I figured if it worked for Bob, maybe it could work for me.”

Harmonica melodies and a rowdy drum beat surround the strum of acoustic guitars.

“When the apocalypse is over/I hope you like your job/Ain’t it a shame/Nobody sets anybody free anymore.”

Although he has several studio recordings, Craigie really shines on his live albums, which are reminiscent of Dylan’s sparse live recordings, but interspersed with spoken tracks, where Craigie channels the spirit of late-comedian Mitch Hedberg in both vocal cadence and intonation.

Emulating his folk heroes like Arlo Guthrie, John Prine and Loudon Wainwright, Craigie has also been inspired by humorous singers like Adam Sandler and New Zealand duo Flight of the Conchords. For Craigie, it’s all about the dance between what his website calls “humorous storytelling and serious folk.”

“In the early days, I realized that if I was too funny and then I played a serious song, people would say, ‘What’s that?’” he says. “So that balance is necessary.”

Background conversation and radio, along with the sound of wind swirling around the car as it moves down the road, intersperse our conversation. It’s just before the Thanksgiving holiday and Craigie is with the folk group Shook Twins, traveling to an annual holiday show in Sandpoint, Idaho. He’s technically on break from his fall Keep it Warm Tour, during which he’s collecting new/gently used jackets, gloves, hats, scarves and socks, as well as donating $1 from each ticket sale to area nonprofits working with the homeless population. (Bridge House is the beneficiary for the Boulder show.)

“Portland has a large homeless problem, as do many large cities, and it’s always on my mind as it gets colder,” Craigie explains.

It’s something he can relate to, as he started his career as somewhat of a vagabond, traveling from city to city, unsure of where he might end up each night but hoping to book gigs along the way.

“One time I was playing in Winter Park at a bar, back in my bar days, and I remember I did the gig and then I was going to sleep in my Astrovan that had a bed in it,” he says. “There was a thermometer in it and it said minus 1 degree. For a California boy, I was just like, ‘We’re all going to die.’”

So he went back into the bar, and told the bartender he was afraid to sleep in his car. In turn, the bartender offered Craigie his keys, and said, “I have to stay here until closing time, but the guest room is third door on the left.”

The room was freezing when Craigie got there, so he just put on all of his clothes and crawled into bed. In the middle of the night, he woke up to snow all over the room. “I looked and the drapes were closed but the window had been left open. I actually would have been better off sleeping in my car,” Craigie laughs. “But I survived and that’s always been a thing for me.”

It’s hard to say what really came first, the wanderlust or the music. For Craigie, the two seem intimately intertwined, one almost impossible without the other, and both a way of life for the foreseeable future.

“When you like doing something, it’s hard to imagine not doing it,” Craigie says, without being clear if he’s talking about music, his vagabond life, or both.

“It’s what keeps me inspired, it’s what keeps giving me material,” he says, attempting to clarify. “And I’m not that into staying in one place for too long, I never have been.”

On the Bill: John Craigie. 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, eTown Hall, 1535 Spruce St., Boulder. Tickets are $21.

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Buying local

Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley is as rugged as it gets. It’s bordered by the Sangre de Cristo and the San Juan mountains; anywhere that’s not covered in peaks or sand is used for agriculture.

It’s a far cry from Rising Sun, Indiana, where Laura Haefeli grew up. Her family’s farmhouse on the Ohio River peeked across the Kentucky border through lush trees, which are in short supply in Del Norte, Colorado, her home of 22 years. Like the little hamlet at the western edge of the San Luis Valley, though, Rising Sun was a small agricultural town. This suits Haefeli, who married into a family with beekeeping in its blood.

Laura’s husband, Tom, is a native of Monte Vista, Colorado, where his family has kept bees for generations. Although he left the San Luis Valley for college and worked as a pilot for a number of years, eventually — as Tom tired of making the commute to Denver and Laura became busier with three children and a robust running career — in the early 2000s, the couple realized it was time for a change.

“It just wasn’t sustainable,” Laura says of the time her family spent apart during those years. So the Haefelis did what Haefelis had done since Tom’s great-grandfather emigrated from Switzerland in 1919: they turned their attention to the bees. Their oldest son, John, now sells beeswax beauty products from Haefeli bees whose hives are scattered around the valley, and they opened a storefront in Del Norte, where they continue to sell honey from their hives, just as Great Grandma did in the mid-20th century.

A lot has changed in the intervening century, but the Haefelis still bring their bees down to Grandpa’s property in the milder climate of Presidio, Texas, where they stay into the new year. At the end of January, the crew packs up the hives and ships them to California’s San Joaqin Valley, where they have a pollination contract with an almond grower.

“Farming practices today are monoculturally centered,” Tom explains. “We grow vast amounts of the same crop in a very concentrated area, and almond trees are no different. So you have 80 percent of the world’s almonds growing in a six-week period in California, and the rest are in Spain.”

It’s why beekeepers must ship their bees to specific areas across the country and why almonds and almond products are so expensive, especially as the honeybee populations that pollinate them increasingly fall victim to colony collapse disorder (CCD).

“We’re losing 30 to 40 percent of our colonies a year,” Tom says, adding that a decade ago, it was closer to 10 percent. CCD, in which adult bees inexplicably leave their colonies, has begun to abate somewhat, but the huge array of chemicals (particularly fungicides) in the environment kill the microbiota in bees’ stomachs, preventing them from digesting nutrients.

The monocultural practices Tom mentions, too, are part of the problem. He compares it to living on a single food source for an entire month. You can survive on nothing but steak for 30 days, sure — “but it’s not good for you.”

Haefeli Honey, like many small beekeeping operations, has done its best to alleviate a problem over which it has little control. The Haefeli hives now occupy only about half the space they used to; Tom has moved the bees to the fringes of the San Luis Valley, farther from heavy industrial farming. Some of his beekeeping peers are planting vast swaths of wildflowers, which vary the bees’ diet somewhat.

“Unfortunately, the big corporate farms” — which might have 80,000 colonies, compared to the Haefelis’ 1,200 —  “aren’t doing that,” Tom says. Happier bees make happier honey, he adds.

But simply knowing the bees are well cared for is only part of the reason to buy honey from a local producer. According to the National Honey Board, products must list additional ingredients, but it’s murky what constitutes an “incidental additive.” Corn syrup or cane sugar can make up as much as 49 percent of a product marketed as honey. Plus, the Haefelis say, many manufacturers import tons of cheap honey from China; it’s mixed with commercially produced American honey for a final product that, according to Tom, is “vastly inferior” to what a small-scale manufacturer produces.

All this gives Tom pause when he’s asked about the future of his beekeeping operation. The potential for their oldest son, John, to take over the family business is certainly there — it simply comes down to “whether we want to continue,” he says. As a beekeeper and honey packer, Haefeli Honey bears the combined weight of agricultural regulations, the state health department, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency and the EPA.

But, “we’re in a unique position,” Laura says. The loss of bees worldwide has brought a great deal of attention to beekeeping, and sustainable shoppers want sustainably sourced honey more than ever.

The best way to keep Colorado beekeeping operations — and the towns they help sustain — from drying up? Tom says: “Buy local.”

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Frostbite

Jamie got drunk on a cold night, slept outside,
and didn’t protect his feet.
He limps into the shelter, leaning
on chairs for support, sleeps on a bench, says
the doctors say his feet can’t be saved.

We think toes at first, but in the delay,
they say, the feet, no, the lower part
of the legs will have to go. One morning,

Jamie calls and asks if George has
come in for lunch. “Where
are you?” I ask. “I’m at The Broker. Medicaid
is paying for a respite hotel
for me.” Asks,

“Has George come in? Is George
there? If you see him, tell him
to call me. Tell George
he can stay in the hotel room
with me. He doesn’t need to
sleep outside in the cold tonight.”

Elizabeth Robinson has published several collections of poetry and has taught at the Boulder Writers’ Studio, Naropa, CU Boulder and the Lighthouse in Denver. She is also a homeless navigator for Boulder Municipal Court.

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Kosher cannabis

Hi, it’s me, your token East Coast Ashkenazi Jew friend. My name doesn’t reflect how Jewish I am, but if you ever met my grandmother — the one who never reads anything I write as a form of revenge for not going to law school — you would get it. I’m agnostic and usually don’t call attention to the fact that I’m Jewish, but since anti-semitic hate crimes have increased by 37 percent in the U.S. since Trump took office, I like to remind all the crybaby white nationalists who actually controls the media. Just kidding, that was a joke — another thing we’re better at.

Anyways, we’re in the middle of the highest of holy holidays: Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Or Hanukah/Chanukah/Chanukkah/Chanukka. To be clear, there is no right way to spell it because the English alphabet has different characters than the Hebrew alphabet, and the variety of spellings are just an attempt to represent what the word sounds like in Hebrew. For the purposes of consistency I’m spelling it one way and sticking to it.

Hanukkah dates back to two centuries before Christianity began, when the Greek-Syrians seized the Holy Temple and outlawed the practice of Judaism in Jerusalem. A group of Jews known as the Maccabees rebelled against the government and won, but when the time came to rededicate the Temple, they only had enough lamp oil to burn for one night. Miraculously it ended up staying lit for eight.

Today, we commemorate this ancient phenomenon with an eight-night party involving fried food, presents and the lighting of the menorah at sundown, which is just after 4:20 p.m. this time of year. Yes, cannabis and Hanukkah go in hand in hand, in case you thought Adam Sandler was just joking when he sang about “smoking marijuanikah.”

My people have always been chill about weed, which is probably why there are so many comedians among us. I mean we literally have an eight-night party that celebrates the miracle of oil, making Hannukah parties the perfect time to get lit. It’s cold and dark out, you’re not allowed to work and you’re surrounded by traditional Jewish cuisine, which is mostly just fried potatoes and donuts. I cannot think of a more ideal time to be as high as possible.

A lot of people think Hanukkah is like “Jewish Christmas,” but it’s not. It’s better. Why? Because Christians exchange lame gifts like sweaters and candles while we give our loved ones what really matters: actual cash. Yes, one of the most traditional Hanukkah gifts is gelt, which is just Yiddish for money. So if you’re rich, you can thank your Bubbe for saving you a trip to the ATM on your way to the dispensary. If you’re not rich, you still get gelt, but it comes in the form of chocolate coins, so you can still thank your Bubbe for the munchy food.

Even though the Torrah doesn’t give us a direct blessing to smoke weed, the Jewish tradition of pikuach nefesh (means “saving a life”) says that preservation of human life overrides nearly any other religious consideration. So consuming cannabis is permitted during Shabbat and holidays if this is the most effective way to ensure one’s health, and if you come from a Jewish family, you know that it certainly is.

Is cannabis kosher? That’s not as clear cut as the no-pork or -shellfish rule. Weed doesn’t need a kushrat certification if you’re just smoking it. However, it’s an entirely different matter if you’re eating it. Cannabis is a plant just like any other fruit or vegetable, so if it were grown in Israel, to be consumable by Orthodox Jews, its growers would have to adhere to shnat shmita (meaning, allowing the land to rest every seventh year). But this is America, so shmita doesn’t apply to the pot grown here, making kosher approval unnecessary.

While leaving work early to get as stoned as possible and eat warm carbs for eight nights in a row sounds exhausting, my people are up for the challenge. So Happy Hanukkah to everyone in the tribe, including Drake. And Ilana Glazer. And especially Governor-elect Jared Polis, who will be the first Jewish governor of Colorado. 

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For yuppies, pot is ceasing to be a guilty pleasure

According to a story in the Washington Post, yuppies have discovered marijuana, and pot has stopped being a guilty pleasure for them and become just a pleasure. The story quotes Emilia Montalvo, who had tried marijuana in high school, but left it behind after she started a family and a career in the Washington, D.C. area. Three years ago, when the District legalized personal possession and use, marijuana started turning up everywhere, and Montalvo decided to try it again. “It’s getting more comfortable for me as I go out and see more people doing it,” she told the Post. “I don’t feel like I’m doing something wrong or illegal.” The Post also quoted The National Survey on Drug Use and Health as saying that as of 2017, the number of people older than 26 who occasionally used marijuana had increased by 3.2 million in three years.

     

Maybe more people don’t feel they’re doing something wrong or illegal by inhaling, but not all of the nation’s cops have gotten the memo. Earlier this fall the FBI reported that in 2017, 659,700 people were arrested for marijuana-related violations, which is 21 percent higher than the total number of persons arrested for violent crimes in the same year. Of those arrested for pot crimes, just over 90 percent were busted for possession. Total marijuana arrests in 2017 rose for the second straight year after having fallen for more than a decade. “Actions by law enforcement run counter to both public support and basic morality,” says Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, adding that it’s time “for lawmakers to end this senseless and cruel prohibition that ruins lives.”

     

Speaking of lawmakers and pot, the outgoing Congress pretty much stonewalled on marijuana reform, but it looks like it will legalize hemp before it adjourns. Hemp legalization has been pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), whose state was a major hemp producer before reefer madness set in. Hemp legalization was included in the Senate version of the Agriculture bill, while the excretable House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) kept a companion bill in the House from being considered. Happily, the voters in his district kicked his sorry ass out of Congress last month, in no small part because of his stonewalling marijuana reform. Marijuana Moment reports that Rep. James Comer (R-Kentucky) is saying the Senate-House Conference committee considering the Ag bill has come to agreement on the hemp provisions in it — details to come in a few days.

     

One congressman who is all-in on hemp legalization is Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota), who happens to be the incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, who says he’s thinking about growing hemp on his farm after the Ag bill passes. “I’m looking at it,” he told Minnesota Public Radio last Monday. “There’s a big market for this stuff that we’ve been ceding to Canada and other places.”

     

Yikes, there goes the neighborhood, but in a good way. A study published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy found that in Denver the price of new homes within a quarter mile of a marijuana dispensary jumped 7.7 percent. The price of homes within half a mile of a dispensary rose 4.7 percent, but the price rise disappeared entirely for homes more than half a mile away. The study was done by Jesse Burkhardt, an assistant professor in the CSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and graduate student Matthew Flyr.

     

Speaking of studies, a new study published in an American Medical Association journal found that vaping marijuana can get you higher than smoking it. The researchers recruited 17 people who participated in six sessions, three where they smoked marijuana and three where they vaped it, after which they filled out questionnaires and had their blood analyzed. There were three concentrations of both the smokables and the vapables, 0mg, 10mg and 25mg. The researchers found that vaped pot “produced significantly greater subjective drug effects, cognitive and psychomotor impairment, and high blood THC concentrations than the same doses of smoked cannabis.” 

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Astrology 12/6/18

ARIES

March 21-April 19: When I write a horoscope for you, I focus on one or two questions because I don’t have room to cover every single aspect of your life. The theme I’ve chosen this time may seem a bit impractical, but if you take it to heart, I guarantee you it will have practical benefits. It comes from Italian author Umberto Eco. He wrote, “Perhaps the mission of those who love humanity is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.” I swear to you, Aries, that if you laugh at the truth and make the truth laugh in the coming days, you will be guided to do all the right and necessary things.

TAURUS

April 20-May 20: You have a cosmic mandate and a poetic license to stir up far more erotic fantasies than usual. It’ll be healthy for you to unleash many new thoughts about sexual experiments that would be fun to try and novel feelings you’d like to explore and people whose naked flesh you’d be interested to experience sliding and gliding against yours. But please note that the cosmic mandate and poetic license do not necessarily extend to you acting out your fantasies. The important thing is to let your imagination run wild. That will catalyze a psychic healing you didn’t even realize you needed.

GEMINI

May 21-June 20: In my continuing efforts to help you want what you need and need what you want, I’ve collected four wise quotes that address your looming opportunities. 1. “What are you willing to give up, in order to become who you really need to be?” —author Elizabeth Gilbert 2. “Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from.” —Rebecca Solnit 3. “You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” —Frederick Buechner 4. “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne

CANCER

June 21-July 22: I’ve called on author Robert Heinlein to provide your horoscope. According to my astrological analysis, his insights are exactly what you need to focus on right now. “Do not confuse ‘duty’ with what other people expect of you,” he wrote. “They are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect. But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible.”

LEO

July 23-Aug. 22: What does “beauty” mean to you? What sights, sounds, images, qualities, thoughts and behavior do you regard as beautiful? Whatever your answers might be to those questions right now, I suggest you expand and deepen your definitions in the coming weeks. You’re at a perfect pivot point to invite more gorgeous, lyrical grace into your life; to seek out more elegance and charm and artistry; to cultivate more alluring, delightful magic.

VIRGO

Aug. 23-Sept. 22: You know the expiration dates that appear on the labels of the prescription drugs you buy? They don’t mean that the drugs lose their potency after that date. In fact, most drugs are still quite effective for at least another ten years. Let’s use this fact as a metaphor for a certain resource or influence in your life that you fear is used up or defunct. I’m guessing it still has a lot to offer you, although you will have to shift your thinking in order to make its reserves fully available.

LIBRA

Sept. 23-Oct. 22: Libran rapper Eminem is renowned for his verbal skill. It may be best exemplified in his song “Rap God,” in which he delivers 1,560 words in six minutes and four seconds, or 4.28 words per second. In one stretch, he crams in 97 words in 15 seconds, achieving a pace of 6.5 words per second. I suspect that in the coming weeks, you will also be unusually adept at using words, although your forte will be potent profundity rather than sheer speed. I encourage you to prepare by making a list of the situations where your enhanced powers of persuasion will be most useful.

SCORPIO

Oct. 23-Nov. 21: In May of 1883, the newly built Brooklyn Bridge opened for traffic. Spanning the East River to link Manhattan and Brooklyn, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. But almost immediately people spread rumors that it was unstable. There was a growing fear that it might even crumble and fall. That’s when charismatic showman P. T. Barnum stepped in. He arranged to march 21 elephants across the bridge. There was no collapse, and so the rumors quickly died. I regard the coming weeks as a time when you should take inspiration from Barnum. Provide proof that will dispel gossipy doubt. Drive away superstitious fear with dramatic gestures. Demonstrate how strong and viable your improvements really are.

SAGITTARIUS

Nov. 22-Dec. 21: Robert Louis Stevenson published his gothic novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886. It was a bestseller, and quickly got turned into a theatrical production. In the ensuing 132 years, there have been well over a hundred further adaptations of the story into film and stage productions. Here’s the funny thing about this influential work: Stevenson wrote it fast. It took him three feverish days to get the gist of it, and just another six weeks to revise. Some biographers say he was high on drugs during the initial burst, perhaps cocaine. I suspect you could also produce some robust and interesting creation in the coming weeks, Sagittarius — and you won’t even need cocaine to fuel you.

CAPRICORN

Dec. 22-Jan. 19: A blogger on Tumblr named Ffsshh composed a set of guidelines that I think will be apt and useful for you to draw on in the coming weeks. Please study these suggestions and adapt them for your healing process. “Draw stick figures. Sing off-key. Write bad poems. Sew ugly clothes. Run slowly. Flirt clumsily. Play video games on ‘easy.’ OK? You do not need to be good at something to enjoy it. Sometimes talent is overrated. Do things you like doing just because you like doing them. It’s OK to suck.”

AQUARIUS

Jan. 20-Feb. 18: Aquarian athlete Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player who ever lived. He was also the first to become a billionaire. But when he was growing up, he didn’t foresee the glory that awaited him. For example, in high school he took a home economics class so as to acquire cooking abilities. Why? He imagined that as an adult he might have to prepare all of his own meals. His ears were so huge and ungainly, he reasoned, that no woman would want to be his wife. So the bad news was that he suffered from a delusion. The good news was that because of his delusion, he learned a useful skill. I foresee a similar progression for you, Aquarius. Something you did that was motivated by misguided or irrelevant ideas may yield positive results.

PISCES

Feb. 19-March 20: The Bible does not say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute or even a “sinner.” There’s no mention of her sexual proclivities at all. Delusional ideas about her arose in the Middle Ages, instigated by priests who confused her with other women in the Bible. The truth is that the Bible names her as a key ally to Christ, and the crucial witness to his resurrection. Fortunately, a number of scholars and church leaders have in recent years been working to correct her reputation. I invite you to be motivated and inspired by this transformation as you take steps to adjust and polish your own image during the coming weeks. It’s time to get your public and private selves into closer alignment.

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Opportunity zones: Who benefits?

The 2017 tax bill provides for the creation of “Opportunity Zones” (OZs) — economically distressed communities where as a result of investment in said communities, investors’ capital gains will be sheltered from taxes. Investors stand to pay as little as zero taxes on profits from OZ investments if held for 10 years. The ostensible purpose of OZs is to incentivize investment in these struggling communities.

In theory, OZs are a good idea in that they potentially direct capital toward areas of need (struggling communities) that otherwise cannot not attract needed investment.

In theory.

But when they direct capital and investment to areas that are not suffering from a dearth of capital availability or investment (Boulder is hardly a struggling community), they are taking a finite resource (capital) away from areas that don’t otherwise have a way of accessing that resource.

OZs, being a get-out-of-jail-free card from paying capital gains taxes, is a transfer of public money to the pockets of hedge funds and other investors, who don’t need it, at the expense of programs that support ordinary people, such a social services, schools, transit, carbon reduction, affordable housing, etc.

In other words, if not appropriately applied, opportunity zones will just be more of the same corporate welfare characterizing the trickle-down economic policies of the past 40 years and more of the same flow of capital to people and communities at the top of the economic ladder at the expense of everyone else.

In terms of sound economic policy, is this a direction Boulder wants to support, where cheap capital in the form of tax-giveaways to investors and hedge funds rather than community needs, drives development, which leads to bubbles, which ultimately will burst? Just look at Turkey’s current economic meltdown.

There have been trillions of dollars of cheap money circulating in international markets over the past 10 years as a result of low interest rates (arising from the 2008 financial crisis). The result was that it became very easy for governments and companies in economies like Turkey’s, to borrow money. So, Turkish real estate developers and the Erdogan government took advantage of that cheap money to pay for many projects that did not have sound economic basis.

Erdogan built his political base on undertaking gigantic public works projects like mosques, airports and bridges, as well as facilitating big private sector projects that included flashy housing developments, office towers and shopping malls that Turkey could not afford.

It created a bubble, which is bursting. Now, many of those new subdivisions are sitting vacant, without buyers (between 1.4 million and 2 million units) and Turkey is in danger of defaulting on its huge debt. If Turkey defaults on its loans, you have the kernel of a new international financial crisis.

Why is this relevant to Boulder? Because the misallocation of capital to build unneeded projects just because capital is plentiful and cheap, is ultimately harmful to the economy and people. It just repeats the mistakes of the 2008 financial crisis and multiple other burstings of speculative bubbles that were built on cheap money. Boulder ought not to be adding fuel to this fire and certainly not when, as it appears, City Council and community stakeholders (other than the Chamber of Commerce) were largely unaware that Boulder participated in this program.

There is however, a City need that could potentially be addressed with OZs — housing that is permanently affordable to middle income and lower households.

If the areas designated as OZs were to be rezoned, shifting development potential from commercial to residential, the City will be reducing the primary demand driver for housing and thus the primary source of pricing pressure — the increase in workers associated with increased commercial development — while simultaneously accessing of a new source of capital for the purpose of addressing a broader community need.

If the result of these areas’ redevelopment could be mandated to be predominantly housing that is permanently affordable to middle income and lower households, multiple benefits would be derived for the larger community.

Before grabbing at the OZ goody bag, City Council should establish that a greater good is served and make it clear who Council and the City serve. As it seems now, the beneficiaries of OZs appear to be a select few.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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Macron and les deplorables

French President Emmanuel Macron returned to Paris from the G20 Summit, where he reaffirmed France’s commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, to discover a rebellion against it underway in Paris.

Hundreds of thousands ran riot in the capital and protested throughout the country, more than 400 were arrested in Paris alone, more than 260 were injured, and two were killed… streets blocked, shops attacked, graffiti painted on the Arc de Triomphe, water canon turned on crowds, and so on.

The cause of the rebellion was an increase in the national gas and diesel tax — that was imposed explicitly to combat global warming by reducing driving.

You couldn’t ask for a better juxtopositon of the disconnect between how the Global Climate Consensus perceives global warming and how, uh, les deplorables (aka more than 75 percent of France’s population) see it.

The tax amounts to about 30 cents a gallon on already heavily taxed diesel, raising the price of a gallon of the fuel to around $7. There was a smaller increase in the tax on gasoline, but diesel is the more commonly used fuel in France.

It might seem odd that a 5-percent tax increase on diesel would set off a mushrooming national rebellion that shows signs of turning into a revolution, but then in 1773 the Tea Tax (three pence a pound) didn’t seem like all that much either — to the Brits, that is.

And there’s nothing odd about the pushback Macron got when you consider:

Existing taxes in France add up to 45 percent of the country’s GDP, the highest in the Western World.

The median income in the country is 20,520, or $23,000 a year. This means that half the French live on 1,710 ($1,946) a month. Five million people are surviving on less than 855 ($973) a month. While paying $7 a gallon for gas. (The figures come from Guy Milliere, a professor at the University of Paris.)

Add to that the fact that Macron has the political skills of Marie Antoinette, or worse, Hillary Clinton.

According to Milliere, he once referred to the female employees of a bankrupt company as “illiterates,” made a distinction in a speech between “those who succeed and those who are nothing,” told a young man who spoke of his distress at trying to find a job that all he had to do was move and “cross the street,” and that his fellow countrymen were “Gauls resistant to change.”

Some journos are characterizing the protests as a “rural versus urban” thing, with les deplorables being the rurals, who are dependent on their cars, while the well-off urbans can use public transportation.

They may have a point, but that doesn’t explain the fact that several polls have shown the Yellow Vest Movement (Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes) has the support of more than 75 percent of the country.

Pundits all over the world are writing columns about the “deeper” grievances in France that led to the protests — everything from the high cost of living, high unemployment, low economic growth, immigration, and so on.

It’s the fuel tax, stupid.

The reason “solutions” to global warming like Macron’s fuel tax are furiously rejected by les deplorables isn’t because the deplorables are ignorant or self-absorbed or have other grievances. It’s because the sacrifices they’re being asked to make offer no visible solution to the problem.

The tax will produce no discernable difference in the climate, because in addition to the warming that is baked in due to the carbon dioxide released since the start of the industrial revolution, tens of billions more tons of greenhouse gases will be released annually for decades, until current fossil fuel energy production is phased out (if ever, that is).

Les deplorables will pay the tax — that Macron announced will go up every year — and the world will keep getting warmer. The best the proponents of the tax can say in its defense is that the world will keep getting warmer less quickly — for centuries. That’s not exactly the kind of vision that wins taxpayer hearts and minds.

Then there’s the matter of the tax being explicitly anti-automobile.

The automobile is one of the most potent instruments of personal empowerment and liberation ever put in the hands of ordinary people. And Macron wants to take that empowerment and freedom away, in pursuit of a policy that won’t produce results for centuries. No wonder les deplorables want his head (which in France is a fraught metaphor).

Last Tuesday, Macron suspended the fuel tax for six months, in the hopes that would cool things down, so to speak. He would have been better off cancelling it; the suspension is more likely to cause the Gilets Jaunes to double down. We’ll see this weekend.

Granted, the French seem to stage this sort of rebellion every 50 years or so, but American environmentalists who airily call for a carbon tax should still take the Gilets Jaunes movement as a cautionary tale.

Global warming may or may not be settled science, but it most emphatically isn’t settled politics. And that’s an inconvenient truth that can’t be ignored.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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In praise of the shared experience

The theatrical release of Roma is the cinematographic event of the year. Initially acquired by Netflix for their streaming service, Roma’s visual and aural power proved too big for TVs, laptops, iPads and phones. Sure, subscribers will be able to stream the movie to their hearts’ content starting Dec. 14 — pausing, rewinding and absorbing every last stunning frame — but Roma is an enveloping, engrossing experience; one that wraps you in its sumptuous and steady black-and-white images, in its patient and knowing reveals, and in its climactic tracking shot, where one family is united after another is, finally, let go. Everything in Roma is larger than life, and after a dual premiere at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals this summer, it was clear: Roma demanded the big screen.

Breaking with Netflix’s tradition of only screening movies theatrically once they hit the website, Roma has slowly been rolled out in art-house theaters across the U.S. Now it’s Boulder’s turn; to skip it would be foolish.

Set in director Alfonso Cuarón’s hometown of Mexico City circa 1970, Roma follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young Mixtec housekeeper caring for an upper-middle-class family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood. Life progresses with a day-in-day-out regularity: Father goes to work, Cleo takes care of the children and cooks, Father comes home. On her free days, Cleo hangs out with friends, goes to the movies, meets a boy, Toño (Diego Cortina Autrey), and falls in love. Then things shift. As Cleo sits in a hotel bedroom, Toño shows off his chiseled physique and impressive bo skills. He explains that martial arts saved him from himself, and Cleo sits quietly and listens. In another movie, this might be the moment when true love starts to blossom, but above Cleo’s head is a painting of a turbulent sea, waves crashing against cliffs and a boat helplessly adrift.

There’s a storm brewing in Cleo’s world, too.

Rooted in Cuarón’s memories, Roma is a love letter to the woman who raised him and the city he called home. Using the ALEXA 65 — a digital camera that mimics 65mm film with surprising results — and utilizing a rich, incomparable soundscape, Cuarón deftly sets up this world and patiently watches as it falls into discord. When Father abandons his family for a mistress, wife Sofía (Marina de Tavira) must search for employment to support her three children and Cleo. And when Toño does the same to Cleo, Sofía and Cleo find themselves cast overboard without life jackets. But Cleo learns to swim, so to speak, and Sofía finds the family she’s had all along.

Like the best cinema tends to do, Roma first drains you then fills you back up before sending you out into the world. That is why Roma demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, in the dark, with a community of strangers. Life is a shared experience; movies are no exception.

On the Bill: Roma, free screening. 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, International Film Series, Muenzinger Auditorium, University of Colorado Boulder, 1905 Colorado Ave., Boulder, internationalfilmseries.com

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Free the free press from Wall Street plunderers

A two-panel cartoon I recently saw showed a character with a sign saying: “First they came for the reporters.” In the next panel, his sign says: “We don’t know what happened after that.”

It was, of course, a retort to Donald Trump’s ignorant campaign to demonize the news media as “the enemy of the people.” But when it comes to America’s once-proud newspapers, their worst enemy is not Trump — nor is it the rising cost of newsprint or the “free” digital news on websites. Rather, the demise of the real news reporting by our city and regional papers is a product of their profiteering owners. Not the families and companies that built and nurtured true journalism, but the new breed of fast-buck hucksters who’ve scooped up hundreds of America’s newspapers from the bargain bins of media sell-offs.

The buyers are hedge-fund scavengers with names like Digital First and GateHouse. They know nothing about journalism and could care less, for they’re ruthless Wall Street profiteers out to grab big bucks fast by slashing the journalistic and production staffs of each paper, voiding all employee benefits (from pensions to free coffee in the breakroom), shriveling the paper’s size and news content, selling the presses and other assets, tripling the price of their inferior product — then declaring bankruptcy, shutting down the paper, and auctioning off the bones before moving on to plunder another town’s paper.

By 2014, America’s two largest media chains were not venerable publishers who believe that a newspaper’s mission includes a commitment to truth and a civic responsibility, but GateHouse and Digital First, whose managers believe that good journalism is measured by the personal profit they can squeeze from it. As revealed last year in an American Prospect article, GateHouse executives had demanded that its papers cut $27 million from their operating expenses. Thousands of newspaper employees suffered that $27-million cut in large part because one employee — the hedge fund’s CEO — had extracted $54 million in personal pay from the conglomerate, including an $11-million bonus.

To these absentee owners and operators, our newspapers are just mines, entitling them to extract enormous financial wealth and social well-being from our communities.

The core idea of the “civic commons” is that we are a self-governing people, capable of creating and sustaining a society based on common good.

A noble aspiration!

But achieving it requires a basic level of community-wide communication — a reliable resource that digs out and shares truths so people know enough about what’s going on to be self-governing. This is the role Americans have long expected their local and regional newspapers to play — papers that are not merely in our communities, but of, by and for them.

Of course, being profit-seeking entities, that are usually enmeshed in the local moneyed establishment, papers have commonly (and often infamously) fallen far short of their noble democratic purpose. Overall though, a town’s daily (or, better yet, two or more dailies) makes for a more robust civic life by devoting journalistic resources to truth-telling.

But local ownership matters, as some 1,500 of our towns have learned after Wall Street’s corporate demigods of greed have swept in without warning to seize their paper, gut its journalistic mission, and devour its assets. For example, Digital Media, a huge private-equity profiteer, snatched the St. Paul Pioneer Press and, demanding a ridiculous 25-percent profit margin from its purchase, stripped the newsroom staff from a high of 225 journalists to 25.

As Robert Kuttner reported, these tyrannical private equity firms are paper constructs that produce nothing but profits for faraway speculators. He notes that the blandly named entities only exist “thanks to three loopholes in the law” — the first lets them operate in the dark, the second provides an unlimited tax deduction for the massive amounts of money they borrow to buy up newspapers, and the third allows them to profit by intentionally bankrupting the paper they take over.

Our right to a free press is meaningless if Wall Street thieves destroy our communities’ presses. The good news is that many enterprising people are devising ways to rescue their newspapers. For more information, go to dfmworkers.org.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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Letters: 12/6/2018

Solving poverty in the U.S.

Thanks to Jim Hightower for pointing out the absurdity of the recent “poverty is over” announcement (Re: “Have you heard the news? Poverty is over!”, The Highroad, Nov. 29, 2018). For one in five children, one in seven seniors, and millions of other Americans who live in poverty, this is a slap in the face. But each of us can speak up to make a difference, calling for full funding of the SNAP program and an attack on the causes of poverty in the richest country in the world. Our calls, letters, and visits to those who represent us in Congress can help turn this around. Organizations like RESULTS (results.org) help people learn to be effective advocates and take actions end poverty in our nation.

Willie Dickerson/via internet

On organic crop insurance

Will Brendza wrote an interesting piece titled, “Boulder County’s reported 80 percent farm failure rate doesn’t tell the full story.” (Re: Boulderganic, Nov. 29, 2018).

He writes “And since the U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture doesn’t offer crop insurance for most organic produce farming, severe and unpredictable weather can make or break these farms.” This is not completely accurate.

The USDA does offer crop insurance for organic farmers — see rma.usda.gov/news/currentissues/organics.  Why an organic farmer chooses to participate or not merits its own discussion.

Meredith Kaufman/via internet

On synagogue shooting

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center deplores and opposes all forms of violence, racism, and oppression. We are deeply horrified by massacre of Jews at the Pittsburgh synagogue. We send our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of the victims and to everyone who feels threatened by anti-semitism. Violent anti-semitism has taken an enormous toll on human beings over many centuries and in all parts of the world. Unfortunately hatred of Jews is by no means dead and must be firmly resisted wherever it occurs. The RMPJC also deplores the ongoing targeting and killing of people of color, LGBTQ, immigrants and all other people targeted by violence.

Betty Ball/Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

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Dioramas: the theater of science and discovery

It’s a busy Saturday afternoon at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science but there are no lines for any of the exhibits. Free to go wherever one pleases, wandering the museum’s dimly lit halls takes on a quality of discovery, every visitor creating their own experience which, since its inception in 1900, has been the Museum’s singular intention. Whether at one of the newer exhibits, taking a virtual reality trip through outer space, or in one of the the oldest, a 1919 diorama of the now extinct passenger pigeon, each visitor is offered the opportunity not just to visit an impossible place, but to experience it.

Even though modern museum-goers increasingly demand high-tech experiences (the entrance to the virtual reality exhibit is framed with the words, “we heard you,” as if to say the exhibit exists only because it’s what the people wanted), the seed of each exhibit still lies in the original innovation of the diorama.

Sarah Haas
A handmade paper flower made as a study for a diorama, now in the Denver Museum of Natural History archives.

The word “diorama,” which comes from the Greek for “to see through,” was first used in the modern sense by French artist Louis Daguerre who, in the 1820s, devised a box that could illuminate theatrical backgrounds from behind, changing the nature of the scene. Eventually, these scenes evolved to include 3D objects and, by the 1880s, the trick was picked up by natural history museums across the world as a way to display their collections. The original idea was that, in borrowing theatrical hacks, the museums would likewise be able to suspend the viewer’s disbelief long enough to entertain the concepts at play in each and every diorama. From there, museums hoped the viewer would come to care about nature and so become its steward.

But, more than 100 years later, as reported by Menachem Wecker for Smithsonian.com in 2016, museums across the country are wrestling with the dilemma of what to do with dioramas in the 21st century, when the art form seems antiquated at best. Some, like the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., have decided to downsize or scrap their collections altogether. But at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where the tactile displays still have three floors of real estate, director of zoology John Demboski says their eradication is not an option. In part, this is because the dioramas are, in themselves, historical art objects. But just as importantly they are still, even a century later, just as effective as scientific and educational tools as they ever were.

Johnny Woods

Demboski explains that hidden deep in the innards of the museum and well out of the public eye, 4.5 million specimens and artifacts are kept as “vouchers” for the items on display on the floor. These items have been collected since the 1870s, a swelling archive of Mother Nature herself, preserved and studied in the name of scientific understanding. Arguably, this is why the museum exists, so that life can be kept, recorded and better understood, but the museum’s goal is decidedly more public facing, its mission “to ignite the community’s passion for nature and science.” It is the museum’s belief that the dioramas were, and continue to be, the best way to present the archives to the people so as to truly excite and engage the public.

One need only see the interaction between people and the dioramas to recognize their effect, and on this particular Saturday afternoon, when the Wildlife Halls are bustling with hundreds of people standing silhouetted against more than 90 lit displays, such engagements are plentiful. Take for instance a young couple holding hands in front of the Alaskan tundra, found deep inside of one of the museum’s maze-like halls.

It would appear to be fall, the mountain background painted in oxidized reds and aspen-leaf yellows. In the foreground, thousands of individually painted leaves echo the alpine hues. To the couple’s left stands a herd of caribou caught in the midst of their trek down to lower elevations, where they will live out the harsh winter. To the right are two behemoth moose traveling higher up as they are wont to do in the coldest months.

Johnny Woods

The tundra diorama contains a chance encounter between these two species. René O’Connell, an archivist for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, says that in real life, it’s rare that the two should meet. Nonetheless, it’s possible, and so, when the scene was being sculpted in the early 1970s, its creators leveraged it as a moment of subtle but high drama that would invite the audience’s attention.

The result is uncanny. The caribou, appearing to be in the middle of steps that never land, don’t just look alive but as if they are in motion. The moose seem to be making the decision to let them pass without a fuss. The young couple watches on for awhile as if to wait and see if the scene will reach its conclusion, but it won’t. And so, eventually, the spectators will move on from this little instance of theater, frozen in time, and the boyfriend will whisper to the girlfriend, “It’s hard to believe it’s not real.”

This, the veracity of the diorama, is forever a matter of debate, one that, like the caribou’s footsteps, will never fall on the side of right or wrong, but always hover somewhere in the middle. In some ways, these exhibits are as real as it gets: The animals were hunted (or in museum speak “collected”) by museum staff of yesteryear, old-school natural historians whose job it was to trek into the wilderness and document its exact conditions.

Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

These scientists, collecting specimens and detailing conditions, were also swashbuckling adventurers, living for months in the field so they could kill the very real animals now standing immemorial behind walls of glass. With blood and sweat on their hands, they knew the death of each specimen was crucial for the art of bringing nature back to life. Because they were also rugged artists, sculptors taking plaster molds of burrows and plein-air painters sketching a place in detail so it could later be exacted from thousands of miles away.

Once back home in their museum labs and studios, the explorers would take to deconstructing the specimens they’d collected, taking apart animals and plants so their pieces could be replicated in paper and wax and fiberglass before being put back together. It would take years for them to do this painstaking work. It is in light of this scrupulous attention to detail that their work earns its gravity because the goal was not merely mimicry of the natural world, but the replication of the feeling of being there.

Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Bill Berry painting the background for the Moose-Caribou Diorama in North American Mammal Hall. 1973,74.3

At different points in time, the diorama artists used different techniques to transport viewers. According to O’Connell, up until the 1950s the background artists were decidedly atmospheric in their approach, creating illusions of depth through faded colors and blurred details in their murals. The artists knew that the viewer’s mind would take the detailed foreground and subconsciously supplant its suggestions upon the scene at large. But by the 1970s there were new artists on staff using new techniques of realism, painting sharp images on the background that left little work to the imagination.

These days, it’s a matter of personal taste which one prefers, but both can be said to achieve the same sensation of being in a certain place at a precise moment in time, at least almost. For while the scene is meant to feel real, it is, as the boyfriend reminds us, not. It is an illusion, one designed to be seen by the viewer who holds a predetermined perspective.

Sarah Haas
Caribou Moose Diorama from behind the scenes.

There is another way to see each diorama, though. Most of them are equipped with a seemingly ordinary door that acts like a portal to another world, for as soon as you turn the corner the illusion goes kaput. Just out of the viewer’s line of sight, the background mural abruptly stops and the foreground, which appeared a rugged mountain pass, is actually just scaffolding covered with plaster and a thin layer of dust. Some of the caribou aren’t even all the way on the platform, but hover, somehow, in the middle. In all ways, the diorama is a fabrication and its effectiveness depends on its ability to hide parts of itself from the viewer so that they might forget the line between the real and the fake altogether, losing themselves in the scene instead.

But in this modern time, when museums say “we heard you” and design a virtual reality exhibit instead of a new diorama, it seems audiences are clamoring not for suspension of disbelief but for total immersion in the spectacle instead. And while one solution might be to give the people what they think they want, another might be to insist on the tangibly real, to face the diorama’s intended illusion head on, and to dispel it.

Of course, this would come with a risk — breaking the rules always does — but as society creeps toward a cultural merger of the real and the fake, perhaps we can reclaim some magic by admitting how our tricks are performed.

For example, when viewing the Cheetah in the African Hall and gawking at the way his feet stir up permanent clouds of dust, does it ruin the illusion to know that it’s nothing but an effect achieved by thin sheets of acetone, scuffed with brown paint? Or, are we inspired by knowing that the impalas he is chasing are standing on a maze of rebar armaments, running from one through the other, as can be seen if one crouches down to the floor? Do either of these facts make the question posed by the placards, “Will the Cheetah catch the Impala?” any less evocative?

And while the Denver Museum of Nature and Science makes a statement by keeping its dioramas, it’s worth noting that long ago the museum let go of its diorama staff, save for the custodial crew tasked with cleaning the glass and occasionally dusting the exhibits themselves.

If and when new diorama needs pop up, usually for restoration’s sake, freelance taxidermists and muralists are employed. And the museum no longer sends people out to “collect” new specimens. Instead, they rely on never-ending streams of donated dead things: road kill donated from state or federal agencies, or the dead birds that accumulate, both inside and out, at Denver International Airport. These new specimens will most likely arrive and stay in the museum’s hidden archives where they will be reserved for scientific needs.

Johnny Woods
Wolves in the Alaskan Tundra

Which is to say that to look toward the future of the museum diorama is to look toward the preservation of those that already exist. Any new spending will go toward remodeling the halls, probably to make them more interactive and user-friendly.

To be fair though, any pronouncement of the death of the diorama would be premature. To the contrary, the profession of taxidermy is, according to the London Taxidermy Academy, experiencing something of a modern resurgence, as private markets swell with demand for dead animals brought back to life and new artisans lining up to be trained in their morbid production.

It seems that, faced with a dying planet, memento mori, Latin for “remember you will die,” is once again relevant, both in practice and philosophy, and that there may be no better symbol for the fate we are beginning to imagine for our planet, and our species, than the nature diorama itself. If art is the human expression of the soul, it is only fitting that its ultimate form would be that of putting the dead on display so that we might better understand the point of all this living. And yet it’s a tad ironic that the diorama, conceived as a means to achieve our planet’s conservation, now threatens to stand a totem of its fate.

But all hope is not lost, for on this particular Saturday afternoon, when the diorama halls are bustling, there is proof that people are still drawn, like moths to a flame, to the dramatic light of the diorama. An elderly man stands in front of a pride of African lions and tells his grown daughter about a long-ago trip he took to Botswana. A family in the Colorado room remembers a time when they were high up in the subalpine and saw a marmot, just like the one on the other side of the glass. And a little girl, pretending to talk into her mother’s cell phone, peers into a diorama, describing it to her imaginary friend, a smile widening across her face as she does.

She tells about the cactuses, squat and prickly, and about the sand that looks hot, and about how a little rodent is using a leaf to keep cool in the hot desert sun. And suddenly she lets out a gasp and drops the phone and starts jumping up and down with glee. At first she’s speechless, pointing at a little butterfly resting on a pale pink flower, and when words return to her, she’s stumbling over them, trying to convince her skeptical mother that, yes, the butterfly actually flapped its wings.

On one hand it’s impossible — after all, dioramas are not real. But on the other, maybe it did, whether by a trick of the trade or a trick of the mind. Either way, does it really matter, if, even for just for a moment, we succumb to awe and marvel at the natural world, as if it were something incapable of being taken for granted?

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Biking Vail Pass

When you first introduce yourself as someone born and raised in Colorado, people typically assume you’re an avid outdoors enthusiast, spending every free moment in the mountains, that you learned how to ski as soon as you could walk. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, that’s just not the case. I love spending an hour or two wandering through REI pretending I have even the smallest ambition to use the carabiner I picked up as something other than a keychain. Despite our close proximity to the outdoors, I’ve always found myself a bit more at home in front of a fire with a book than rappelling down a rock face.

It’s not that I don’t want to spend my time seeking adventure between the Maroon Bells’ aspens and the Indian Peaks’ spruce. Honestly, I’m simply a textbook over-committer. When I decided I wanted to snowboard, I purchased an entire set of gear and used it approximately four times before the assortment found a nice warm home in my garage. I do enjoy hiking and have an entire bookshelf dedicated to the day hikes of Colorado, but honestly I haven’t actually gone hiking in over a year. Things get busy, the roads are packed, and getting up at 6 a.m. to beat the crowds is just not my forte.

Here’s my idea of a great mountain day: Drive up for a long weekend in the Vail or Breckenridge area, check into a cabin and sit with a microbrew in hand and the fresh mountain air out my window. Nothing’s better than the sweet forest smell wafting from the trees, especially when enjoyed from a porch while wrapped in a blanket.

The thing is, building a habit of adventuring is hard, but I’m realizing there are plenty of ways to enjoy everyday adventures without checking off an entire list of 14ers. I’ve been slowly putting my toe in the water toward adventuring over the last few months, researching hiking trails near me and trying out more outdoor activities on vacations. My last big trip I went surfing in Maui and felt so free and alive that I knew I needed to bring that adventurous spirit back home with me.

On a recent trip to Vail, I discovered that Charter Sports has a guided bike tour that drops you off at the top of Vail Pass and allows you to coast the 17 miles and 3,000-foot descent back toward Lionshead Village, the far west side of Vail town square. I’ve always been interested in biking in the mountains, but if snowboarding was any indication, I knew I couldn’t buy a whole kit just for it to sit in the garage. Booking bikes for the day with the promise of an easy ride ahead sounded like the perfect opportunity to try things out, and traveling with a guide gave me a safety net that ensured there was no chance of getting lost on the journey. With only the power of my legs to pursue the trail, I’d have help, but still be responsible for making it back to town on my own. Once out in the mountains, calling for a Lyft wasn’t going to be an option. 

Courtesy Annie Murlowski
“Here’s my idea of a great mountain day: Drive up for a long weekend in the Vail or Breckenridge area, check into a cabin and sit on the porch with a microbrew in hand and the fresh mountain air out my window.”

We started off in the shop where Tom, my guide for the day, helped fit me with a proper helmet and an appropriately sized bike. Within minutes we were in a van and on the road up the pass, ears popping every few minutes. As Tom pointed out some of the guideposts we’d be watching for as we made our way back toward Vail, I was tired still from the drive up from the metro area the day before and wishing I was spending my Sunday morning snuggled into blankets instead of wondering how painful biking down a mountain was going to be. The farther we got from town, I felt confident that if I somehow lost Tom, at least the brown totem poles marked with trail names would create an easy breadcrumb-like path all the way back to my afternoon nap.

Vail Pass begins at an elevation of 10,662 feet, making sunscreen and water a necessity on a hot day. The warm 70 degrees in town hard-changed to a brisk 50 at the summit. At the Black Lakes Picnic Site, just off I-70, we jumped out of the van and listened to a brief tutorial on biking safety. When biking it’s important to stay single-file, so that there’s plenty of room for faster bikers to pass along the narrow pathways. Stopping for a scenic view means you and your bike should move off the roadway, and make sure to hydrate while at a higher altitude. 

The last time I actually rode a bicycle was to and from campus in Fort Collins nearly a decade ago, so getting acclimated to the gears took time. Before starting off, Tom reminded me how the gears function and made sure I was set up to easily transition without getting stuck on any uphill climbs. The logic to shifting is backwards to what you might initially expect. To go up a hill with momentum you shift down, and to pick up speed in a descent you shift up. The well-paved uphill path alongside the Black Lakes was the perfect space for relearning how to balance appropriately while testing out which gears took the burn off my calves. Then downhill, shifting into a higher gear made my legs work, so that each pedal forward was propelling the bike faster rather than just coasting along with the help of gravity.

Past the lakes, a brief segment of the trail took us alongside I-70. There’s plenty of shoulder in between bikers and the speeding cars, but the wind that whips off the highway forced me to pump my legs harder and maintain enough core strength for balance. Just a few minutes into the ride we popped under a bridge and the mountains filled the horizon. We had entered a new world, where time was irrelevant.

Courtesy Annie Murlowski

Without cell service, no buzzing alerts were there to distract me from the journey ahead, and I felt like I could spend the entire day looping around the mountains. The crisp air and the wind in my face woke up my senses to the world around us. Just as my mind felt fully awake, a deer appeared on the side of the path, watching us as we slowed down to avoid frightening it. If I could have reached out without spooking it, my fingers would have brushed across its fur. This is what adventure is all about.

The paved trail followed the path of what used to be U.S. 6, before I-70 was carved through the mountain. The original path through the Gore Range was cut by Charlie Vail, a highway engineer who had no idea that the town would eventually bear his name. After we broke through the trees, we rested at a small stream before turning onto the speed portion of the trail. Breathing in the thin air and enjoying cool water gave a fresh perspective on what it would have been like to traverse through the rugged landscape before the ease of modern transportation.

It’s easy to take for granted all the beauty of the mountains that is just a quick drive away. Today I can enjoy a path cut hundreds of years ago with nothing but a helmet and a bottle of water. Whether on the trail or in my personal journey at home, it’s a reminder that no matter how hard the road is ahead, there are trailblazers who have forged a much more difficult path before me. I am forever grateful for the experiences I get to have.

After the stream, the trail opened up to panoramic views of the town of Vail to the west. I-70 is far off to the left and the rugged terrain of the mountains is a natural barrier to the right. The well-maintained trail ahead declined at 8 percent, promising to make the ride back into town a brisk one. The descent made my heart race as I picked up speed heading faster and faster toward civilization. I almost wanted to slow time down so I could enjoy the simplicity of the mountains without the pulls of technology and noise of the city. But it was too late. Life happens so quickly, and there is no fighting gravity.

A few riders passed going the opposite direction, but Tom assured me that after a few runs, the climb uphill isn’t nearly as daunting as it sounds. Decades-old cyclist names emblazon the trail, guiding the uphill path, acknowledging racers from the Coors Classic who braved Colorado’s mountain landscapes in the ’80s. Originally a three-day race, the Coors Classic has grown to a two-week-long journey, spread across the country. The historic names, so easy to pass over, changed the face of cycling and paved the way for contemporary variations of the sport.

Tom pointed out another notable point of interest across the valley. The intimidating rock face above the trees is a favorite of ice climbers during the winter months. The direct vertical descent leaves climbers hanging, literally, off the edge of the earth. I think I’ll stick to biking as my adventure for now.

Courtesy Annie Murlowski

Another bridge takes us under I-70, and the trail starts to feel more like a town path, crisscrossing through neighborhoods full of unique architecture and landscaping. The path continues, winding past the Betty Ford Alpine Garden and then the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. These landmarks would be easy to miss if I was racing back into town, but a leisurely pace allowed for a brisk walk through the internationally acclaimed gardens.

When starting out on an adventure, there’s no reason to take a fast pace. Life is best enjoyed as a marathon, and taking that approach to experiencing the mountains gave me time to enjoy the beauty of the gardens and learn about what the Fords brought to the area.

Past the gardens, the ride began to change, each pedal forward making my calves burn, reminding me that biking in the mountains on level or uphill ground is a lot more work than coasting on a descent. The cost of the easy downhill portion is the challenging final mile back toward Lionshead Village.

Once in Vail again, we hopped off to amble through the busy weekend foot traffic, people-watching as the farmers market overtook most of the town streets. The real world came rushing back with cell phones ringing, music playing and the buzz of technology palpable in the air. The atmosphere felt almost too fast-paced, too vibrant. Through the bulk of traffic, easy-to-navigate city streets led us back toward our initial departure point, bringing the morning to an end. I get it now, that no matter how busy the world feels, an escape into nature is just a few minutes away.

The ride wasn’t difficult, but there were parts of the trail that were challenging, forcing me to test my acclimation to a higher altitude and imploring my muscles to work harder to journey up the steep hills. Just like in life, sometimes the best rewards are at the top of the hill. From my vantage point at the top of the pass, I was able to understand what it means to have the freedom to enjoy the outdoors, to come face-to-face with wildlife and to gain a fresh perspective on the pace of life around me. Despite my uneasiness of the initial journey, it was worth it, and I learned that not only am I capable of biking, I really enjoyed it.

I’m not ready yet to tackle Capitol Peak, but I can sense now what it means to appreciate and enjoy the outdoors. There are outdoor adventures for any skill level, and with time and practice, I’ll be confident enough that I can head out on the road with only the mountain air to guide me. In the meantime, I’ll head into the garage, dust off that snowboard set and head out on the mountain this winter, ready to tackle a new adventure, even if I stay on the green trails.

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Healing in the national parks

Gil Schaenzle is tough. It’s not her demeanor; she laughs easily and speaks warmly about her family. But this is a woman who once broke her ankle seven miles into a half-marathon in Yuma, Arizona, hobbled to an aid station, fashioned herself a duct-tape splint, and finished the race.

Any previous hardships in Schaenzle’s life, though, did nothing to prepare her for an almost unthinkable loss: that of her daughter, Anna, who passed away in March 2017 at just 21 years old. Anna had neuroendocrine cancer (NET cancer, for short), and lived just nine months after her diagnosis — the same amount of time, Schaenzle points out, that she carried Anna, and the same number of months it took her to run through 50 national parks after Anna’s death. 

The idea to run through dozens of national parks became a way for Schaenzle to cope with the death of her only child, but it didn’t begin that way. Schaenzle had been a sprinter in high school and ran throughout college, until she developed pain in her knee and eventually needed surgery.

“Of course, back then, [surgery] wasn’t that great,” she remembers. “My surgeon said to go home, throw away all my high heels, and never run again.”

Courtesy of the Healing NET Foundation

By the time she was in her 50s, the combination of her once-bum knee and an autoimmune disease had taken its toll on her running ambitions. Eager to lose the weight she’d gained, she regularly went for walks in her Evergreen neighborhood. Then, one day, it occurred to her to try jogging a little.

“I think I went about 10 feet before I had to stop,” Schaenzle laughs. The next day, she ran about 20 feet before she was out of breath, and less than a month later, she was running her first 10-kilometer race.

Within two months, she was racing her first half-marathon — Schaenzle doesn’t take things slowly. This, it turned out, was a bit of a problem. After the ankle break in Yuma, she was eager to lace up her shoes again, and ended up re-injuring herself. As she recovered, the national parks idea began to take shape.

Waiting for her ankle to heal, Schaenzle’s doctor urged her not to bear any weight on the injured limb, let alone run. “I was bored out of my mind,” she says of those weeks. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get out of the race circuit for awhile and just get into nature. What if I ran all the national parks?’”

Schaenzle started planning her running mission to pass the time. Soon enough, she was in physical therapy. “That’s when my daughter was diagnosed with this insidious cancer,” she explains, the optimism draining from her voice. “So of course the plan immediately went to the back burner.”

Anna passed away nine months later, and Schaenzle was inconsolable. “I couldn’t stop crying,” she says of the dark days after Anna’s death, “but I got another little shoulder-tap, like, ‘You need to do this.’”

She consulted Anna’s surgeon about the possibility of using the running mission to raise money and awareness for NET cancer, and the surgeon put her in touch with the Healing NET Foundation. Schaenzle put the whole thing together in just two months, and on Nov. 10, 2017 — NET Awareness Day — she embarked on her mission in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.

Over the next few months, Schaenzle traveled more than 42,000 miles between national parks, where she ran, hiked and kayaked. Along the way, she met countless NET patients, and her efforts have raised more than $12,000 for NET research.

Courtesy of the Healing NET Foundation

“NET patients go through a lot,” she says, noting that NET cancer is often misdiagnosed. She explains that NET can occur anywhere in the human body, though it’s most commonly found in the torso. (Anna’s cancer was in her adrenal gland.)

Schaenzle compares pancreatic cancer, for example, to NET cancer found in the pancreas: “It’s misdiagnosed because [doctors are] looking for horses, not zebras,” she says. Those two particular types of cancer can occur in the same place, but, she explains, they’re treated differently. On her national parks runs, she often wore zebra stripes to raise awareness of such differences, and hopes folks who get a cancer diagnosis that “just doesn’t ring true” for some reason will ask their doctors to check for NET cancer.

Schaenzle was often on the road with her husband, Fred, and she spent plenty of time meeting folks at the beginnings and ends of her runs. When it was just her on the trail, though, she says it felt like time she was spending with Anna.

It only made sense that Schaenzle, a Colorado resident since her teenage years, would finish her journey at Rocky Mountain National Park, where she often took Anna as a little girl. She tears up as she describes that emotional finish along the road near the park entrance station.

“A guy pulled up next to me as I was finishing up my last run,” she remembers, “and asked ‘Are you Anna?’ I told him, ‘No, I’m Gil, Anna’s mom.’” The next thing Schaenzle knew, he was hanging a sign out his car’s window. “‘You did it, Gil and Anna!’ he told me.” Cars behind him started to cheer her on, as well. “It restored my faith in humanity to have all these people interested in Anna’s story,” she says of her months on the road.

One day during Anna’s battle with NET cancer, when she was home after a chemotherapy session, Schaenzle mentioned the national parks run. She wondered if her daughter would be her support crew as she logged miles in each of her planned parks.

To her surprise, Anna shook her head. “She told me, ‘I’m going to run it with you,’” Schaenzle says through tears. “She knew with utter resolve that she was going to do this with me.” Anna couldn’t join her mom on the running mission in the way she’d intended, but, to hear Schaenzle tell it, she was still along for the ride.

Learn more about NET cancer at www.thehealingnet.com, and visit Schaenzle’s blog to read more about her run through the parks.

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You definitely won’t shoot your eye out

It doesn’t matter whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it isn’t, by the by, from Bruce Willis’ own lips during the only funny moment of his Comedy Central roast). Or how many times you’ve experienced a miracle on a certain street about eight blocks from 42nd. Or if you think life is, in fact, wonderful. The most divisive Christmas movie debate in the history of Christmas, movies and debate is, beyond a bearded, bowl-full-of-jelly-bellied shadow of a doubt, whether A Christmas Story sits atop the heap of holiday classics or is merely cult-flick counterprogramming that no one could love other than ironically.

How you answer that question will likely determine whether you’ll love or loathe A Christmas Story: The Musical. Because, let’s face it, if you already detest the 1983 Hollywood source material then the 2012 Broadway adaptation is just as likely to roast your chestnuts. In contrast, if you wait with candy cane-baited breath every year for the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon on TV, then prepare to be holly and/or jolly, because A Christmas Story: The Musical remains slavishly faithful to the original’s story beats while marrying them to musical numbers written by the songwriting team responsible for the standout tunes in Dear Evan Hansen and La La Land.

It’s the 1940s in Indiana, and young Ralphie Parker (Ned Swartz or Miles Shaw) wants an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle for Christmas. As only a preteen can be, he’s obsessed with what he sees as the greatest Christmas present ever. The problem is that his mother (Joanie Brosseau-Rubald) thinks BB guns are dangerous. She’s sure that if Ralphie gets one he’ll shoot his eye out.

© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com

While Ralphie explores, increasingly desperately, all the ways he might get past the “classic mother-BB gun block,” the days leading up to Christmas fly by, each with its own hilarious, true-to-life moments. When Ralphie’s father (Scott Beyette) isn’t battling his frozen Oldsmobile or duking it out with the family’s furnace, he’s entering crossword contests in a thinly veiled effort to bolster his self-esteem. When the Old Man finally wins a “major award,” it arrives in a form that has become one of the most enduring pop culture images of the past 35 years… the Leg Lamp.

Randy (Markus Hollekim or Hayden McDonald), Ralphie’s little brother, refuses to eat and winds up a turtle on his back in his Michelin Man snowsuit. Flick (Trenton Fano or Quin Solley) gets his tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole after Schwartz (Brody Lineweaver or Ayden Edgar) triple dog dares him. Ralphie doesn’t say “fudge” when the lug nuts go flying as he’s helping his dad change a flat tire. The Scut Farkus Affair plays out as expected. Ralphie entreats Santa. The bunny suit makes an appearance, and Ralphie’s family is once again introduced to Chinese turkey.

The biggest departure from the film version is that the adult Ralphie narrating the story as he reminisces is present on stage in the musical version. Wayne Kennedy gets the honor, and his presence — even if just at the periphery of a scene — enlivens the proceedings immeasurably.  He delivers some of the most memorable lines from the movie with just the right mix of reverence and quirky playfulness. 

The always dependable BDT Stage has outdone itself with A Christmas Story: The Musical. Perhaps it’s the shorter-than-usual run, but every member of the cast seems abuzz with excitement to be putting on this show. Whatever eggnog-flavored Kool-Aid director Scott Beyette has his actors drinking, it’s working. The set, in particular, astounds (thank you, Amy Campion). Using just a few movable constructions, the crew quickly and seamlessly transitions from the Parker house to the elementary school to Higbee’s department store and back again. The Parkers even take multiple car rides assisted by the BDT Stage’s rotating stage.

If you’re a fan of A Christmas Story then the BDT Stage’s A Christmas Story: The Musical is sure as sugarplums a must-see. Even if you’d rather shoot your eye out than watch the movie again this year, you may be surprised at just how much you enjoy the musical adaptation. There’s only one way to find out. Fa, ra, ra, ra ra!

On the Bill: A Christmas Story: The Musical. BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. Tickets are $45 and up. Through Jan. 5. bdtstage.com

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Still, we’ll proceed

In the name of efficiency and progress in today’s digital world, we’ve all but lost the library due date ink stamper, innocuous an object as it is. And who cares, really? Date checked-out, date checked-in… that’s all there is to it.

Or is it?

When you think about it, the ink stamper contains all of history, every date that’s ever been or will be (for several thousand years, at least), right there in your hand. The stamper is like a passport, sending books off on journeys, providing a record of where a book has been, and when.

In Underneath the Lintel — the inaugural production by Boulder’s TreeLine Theater — the stamper creates a gateway to the world for an uptight Dutch librarian who has never left his town of Hoofddorp. After he discovers a travel guide has been returned 113 years past its due date, the Librarian sets off on a journey across the world, across the ages, to find who anonymously returned the book.

“It’s beautifully written,” says TreeLine founder and artistic director Steve Grad. “It has some very powerful themes in it; themes of the necessity for human contact, for intimacy, to leave a legacy behind after we’re gone. It raises the question of the existence of God. And it’s funny. I won’t do anything that doesn’t have some humor in it.”

Grad plays the Librarian in the monodrama. It was roles like that of the older Librarian that Grad found lacking in Boulder’s traditional theater scene (“I was looking for things that would have a nice role for a man my age — a young fella, you know?”). A lifelong actor who cofounded Boulder’s long-lost Theater 13 company, Grad figured the best way to get the roles he wanted was to start a theater group. TreeLine formed this year with funding from the Boulder County Arts Alliance.

For the company’s debut production, Grad asked his friend Amy Kaplan, a veteran writer and video editor, if she’d be interested in directing Underneath the Lintel. The two had worked together on several productions from VIVA, the intergenerational theater troupe of Boulder’s Society for Creative Aging. They worked together on 2016’s The Outgoing Tide, where Grad played a man struggling to maintain control in the throes of Alzheimer’s, and last year’s Parlor Tricks, where Grad played a husband caught between his wife and mistress at the hairdresser.

“Steve asked me to direct, and I like him, and I like his sense of humor and that he doesn’t take himself terribly seriously as either a man or an actor,” Kaplan half-jokes.

“I love the humor,” she says of Underneath the Lintel, “because it’s based in character. It’s not lines that were written to be funny. The humor is coming out of this [character’s] personality.”

Personable and gracious, someone who has traditionally spent his winters in Mexico and teaches English through Boulder’s Intercambio organization, Grad’s own personality is quite different from that of the deeply fearful, misanthropic character he plays in Lintel. Yet Grad effortlessly taps into the Librarian’s curmudgeonly arrogance, reveling the deep insecurity that causes it. Alone on stage, Grad easily fills the space and time with the Librarian’s bumpy journey toward self-actualization.

He and Kaplan have trimmed the play slightly to run at around 80 minutes, giving Grad the space he needs to develop the plot without making the production a marathon for its sole actor. The result is a runtime that’s also pleasing to the audience.

“What makes any artistic experience valuable is the aesthetic value of it,” Grad says. “Whatever the themes are. I have a degree in Russian literature, believe it or not, and I was thinking about Tolstoy, who later in life had a religious conversion and began writing religious texts. Nobody reads them now, but people are still reading War and Peace, they’re still reading Anna Karenina, they’re still reading his short stories because they have the same message but they’re said with art. They’re said aesthetically.”

Lintel is a gentle reminder that we are each solitary, ordinary people on one unified, extraordinary journey. While the play touches on the existence of God, it doesn’t ask us to believe in God. Rather, it asks us to believe in something — anything — in the face of the reality that we are all tiny specs living on a tiny rock hurtling through an infinite universe. It asks us to believe in ourselves, and, most importantly, to believe in one another.

“Still, we’ll proceed,” the Librarian says over and again throughout the play, a reminder that he must keep going when it seems there’s nowhere to go. It’s a reminder to the audience as well.

On the Bill: Underneath The Lintel — presented by TreeLine Theater. Friday, Nov. 30-Sunday, Dec. 9. Dairy Arts Center, Carsen Theater, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors.

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Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ tailored for the Christmas season

It’s been 276 years, and people are still talking about Handel’s Messiah.

Of course, it’s one of the best-known and best-loved pieces ever written, but that does not make it immune to controversy. One thorny subject is that it has become the quintessential Christmas piece.

But Messiah was not written for Christmas, and only about a third of it has anything to do with Christmas. The rest takes the story through Easter and the Resurrection. The first performances were given in April 1742, during Lent, and most performances in Handel’s lifetime followed that pattern.

Many people consider performances of the entire piece during the Christmas season inappropriate. Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis is one of those people, but she has found a way to reconcile Messiah’s popularity at Christmas with its content. With the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, the Boulder Chamber Chorale and soloists, she will lead performances Dec. 1 and 2 of what she calls “a Christmas version.”

“We’re doing the Christmas section, plus,” she explains. In addition to the full Part One, which is the Christmas portion of the oratorio, “we use elements from Part Two and Part Three that illuminate why this birth is so important.”

In Handel’s day, the three parts were performed in concert, as three acts of a drama. “That might be a great way to do it for Easter, but for Christmas it’s possible to tell a coherent, beautiful, majestic and sublime story without going into three acts.”

Katsarelis used three main criteria in selecting musical numbers from parts two and three. The first is to present texts that add to the Christmas story. “What is significant is to tell the story,” Katsarelis says. “I put things together in parts two and three by scenes, so that it makes a coherent story.”

The scenes are smaller groupings of musical pieces within what Katsarelis characterizes as “basically an opera that’s not staged.” Each scene tells a separate part of the story, through a combination of recitatives, arias, duets and sometimes a concluding chorus. There is musical continuity within each scene, with momentum that builds from the first musical number to the last.

Another criterion was selecting pieces that were especially suitable for the four soloists — soprano Jennifer Bird, alto Leah Creek Biesterfeld, tenor Stephen Soph and baritone Adam Ewing. “They are so wonderful, and they’re wonderful together,” Katsarelis says.

Finally, she had to consider the key changes between sections. These transitions from one musical number to the next happen smoothly when the whole piece is played as written, but when sections are cut, new junctions occur that may sound awkward. “I have made sure that there’s nothing jarring,” Katsarelis says. “I find [the piece] incredibly flexible, and by taking things by scenes, it works itself out pretty well.”

She is not the first person to abridge Messiah in just this way. As a violinist, Katsarelis has played dozens of Messiah performances, many of them with the second and third portions cut down to place the focus on the Christmas story. And in her research, she discovered that Leonard Bernstein did such a performance with the New York Philharmonic in 1956.

“You can go into New York Philharmonic digital archives and see his score,” she says. “I didn’t know about the Bernstein [performance] before. He and I didn’t necessarily come to exactly the same conclusions, but close.”

Pro Musica Colorado is not a historical instruments orchestra, but Katsarelis says they perform “on modern instruments with historically informed sensibilities. It’s scaled to the venue (Boulder’s Mountain View Methodist Church). “We’ve got a choir of 40,” Katsarelis says, “which is about the scale of the original Dublin premiere.”

One aspect of this performance that is absolutely authentic is that it is a benefit concert. The very first performance in Dublin was a charity concert for prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary. Later, Handel arranged for Messiah to be performed annually in London to benefit the Foundling Hospital, which stills owns a copy of the score in Handel’s hand.

The Boulder performances will include a food drive for Community Food Share. Audience members are encouraged to bring non-perishable, packaged food items, such as canned goods, cereal and pasta to be collected at the performances.

And in case you are wondering, yes, the “Hallelujah” Chorus will be included, although it has been moved from the end of Part Two to the very end of the performance. That “may be controversial” for purists, Katsarelis says, “but it sums up the feelings of the story.”

Besides, there is no better way to end the Christmas story than with that blockbuster choral number. “It will knock everybody’s socks off,” Katsarelis says. “They must come to hear that.”

On the Bill: Pro Musica Colorado and Boulder Chamber Orchestra present Handel’s Messiah. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, Mountain View Methodist, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder.

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Bergman at 100

“[F]ilm is the great adventure — the costly, exacting mistress.” —Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman’s legacy in the annals of cinematic history is secure. With over 60 films and documentaries to his name, Bergman brought Swedish cinema to the world stage while devising new ways to photograph and dramatize the inner life of the soul. When action and movement seduced other filmmakers, Bergman sought the dark corners of desire and inadequacy behind his actors’ eyes. Or was it his desire, his inadequacy he sought?

“Isn’t art always, to a certain extent, therapy for the artist?” he mused.

Yes, but somber tombs of doom and gloom these movies are not. Though they tackle heavy matters — death, old age, mental crack-ups, God’s silence, etc. — they do so with cinematic vim and vigor, with clowns and comedians, with joyous dancing and loads of sharp wit. They are highly entertaining films, some even light at times, and there is no better place to start than 1957’s The Seventh Seal, which will open CU-Boulder’s International Film Series’ Bergman Centennial Retrospective on Dec. 4.

Bergman staple Max von Sydow plays Antonius Block, a knight who returns home from the Crusades only to cross paths with Death (Bengt Ekerot) on Sweden’s rocky shores. To delay the inevitable, Block engages Death in a game of chess while trekking home across a country vastly different than the one he left years before.

Thanks to The Seventh Seal’s success, Bergman had all the cachet he needed to further an already flourishing career. His next film, Wild Strawberries (Dec. 5) once again took up the subject of mortality, this time against the backdrop of an aging professor (Victor Sjöström) returning home to receive a lifetime achievement award.

Similar to The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries is a road movie; one that wonders what good is it living in a world full of suffering. Both films find a joyous answer, but in 1960’s The Virgin Spring (Dec. 6), the answer is not so joyful and certainly not as easy. Here, a young woman is raped and killed, and her father (Sydow) seeks revenge. Is he justified in his actions? Can one respond to immorality morally? Or is any cycle of violence doomed to consume all who inhabit it?

Watching these films chronologically, the French writer Jean-Claude Carrière concluded that Bergman’s main concern is religious guilt, one where the presence of God slips into the shadows and leaves men and women to their own devices. That is most evident in 1966’s Persona (Dec. 7), a beautiful and layered masterpiece that defies explanation.

While the best movies illuminate, Persona haunts viewers the way a recurring dream permeates waking life. The line separating the two becomes blurred, and all things — life and death, hope and despair, love and sex — become one in the white-hot light of cinema — just the way Bergman wanted it.

CU professor Surajan Ganguly will introduce The Seventh Seal and Persona on Dec. 4 and 7. Michael J. Casey will introduce Wild Strawberries and The Virgin Spring on Dec. 5 and 6. Persona will be presented via DCP with the other three screenings on 35mm prints.

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Death-Bridge Keeper’s OTHER Five Questions (THREE Questions!)

To WHAT,
from what,
is time a bridge?

Of WHO
and WHAT
is that bridge a carrier?

To WHAT
do the people
and things
the bridge carries
across
and back
throw up
a collective
— and insurmountable —
BarRRier???

Born in Boston, Jethro McClellan spent a few of his early years in Taos. In 1981, he relocated to Boulder and began creative writing; in 1991, via both Naropa and Penny Lane (and, two years later, Naropa), he became part of the Boulder poetry scene. In 2018, he took one or two tentative steps toward being a real Poet.

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Shake that moody

Dear Dan: I’m a 30-year-old, Asian American, hetero-flexible cis woman. I’m also newly diagnosed with bipolar II. I’m on medication — the doctor is trying to figure that out — but no talk therapy for right now, as my last therapist wasn’t great and I haven’t managed to find a new one. My question for you is regarding the relationship between bipolar and kink. One of the common symptoms of the manic stage of bipolar is “risky sex.” I equate risk with “likely to blow up one’s personal or professional life” and have always answered “no” to that question when asked by doctors. I’ve had the occasional hookup, but otherwise I’ve consistently had sex in the context of closed, monogamous relationships, i.e., the opposite of risky sex. However, it recently occurred to me that I’m fairly kinky (BDSM, role-play). Nothing I’d consider a varsity-level kink, but what do I know? I have out-there fantasies that are varsity-level, but I’ve never done them. Am I just bipolar and kinky? Are the two related somehow? Should I be concerned that I’ll go into a manic state and start enacting (or trying to enact) some of the varsity-level fantasies in my head?

P.S. I asked my doctor this via e-mail, but I haven’t heard back yet and have no idea how sex-positive he is. So I thought I’d get a second opinion.

P.P.S. I’m currently manic enough that it’s hard for me to edit, so there may be weird/confusing shit in my letter. Sorry for that!

—Kinky And Bipolar

Dear KAB: “I’d like to congratulate KAB for seeking help and for the work she’s doing to get stable,” said Ellen Forney, author of Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life, an award-winning self-help guide to maintaining stability, and the best-selling graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me. “I’d also like to welcome KAB to BIPOLAR! Toot! Toot! Confetti!”

The specific manic-stage symptom you’re concerned about — engaging in super risky sex — is called “hypersexuality,” and it’s what happens when the extremely poor judgment match meets the supercharged libido gas.

“But it’s only ‘hypersexuality’ when it gets in the way of a reasonably well-functioning life,” said Forney. “Picture masturbating all day instead of going to work, or having relationship-wrecking affairs or unprotected sex with strangers.”

If your diagnosis is correct and you have bipolar II and not bipolar I, KAB, you may be less susceptible to out-of-control hypersexuality.

“Strictly speaking, a bipolar II diagnosis means she cycles between ‘hypomania’ (mild mania) and depression,” said Forney, “so her highs aren’t going to be as acute as they would be for someone diagnosed with bipolar I, where hypersexuality can really get dangerous.”

Forney warns that misdiagnoses are not uncommon where bipolar is concerned, so you might want to get your diagnosis confirmed. But your long-standing kinks all by themselves — varsity and otherwise — aren’t necessarily related to your condition, KAB, and so long as they’re safely expressed and explored, you aren’t doing anything unreasonably risky or wrong.

“Kinky sex in itself doesn’t count as symptom-worthy risky sex — no matter what her doctor e-mails back,” said Forney. “Like for anyone else, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with feeling uninhibited enough to pursue varsity-level kinks, so long as they’re not putting her or anyone else in danger. Ultimately, KAB’s goal is to be stable enough to trust her judgment. For now, she might weigh the risks while she’s feeling stable, so she can make some levelheaded decisions about what might or might not be too risky.”

Forney also recommends having a discussion with your partners and friends about what your limits are — a discussion you’ll want to have when you’re not horny or manic or both.

“That way, her partners and friends can help her recognize if she’s crossing her own lines,” said Forney. “And realizing that she’s suddenly tempted to cross her own lines could be a signal to her that she’s getting hypomanic and needs to take steps to stabilize — steps like getting better sleep, adjusting her meds and others I explore in Rock Steady!”

P.S. If your doctor won’t answer your sex questions — or only gives you unhelpful, sex-negative, kink-shaming answers — find yourself a new doctor.

P.P.S. There are letters I have to read three times before I can figure out what the fuck is going on. Your letter was as lucid as it was charming.

P.P.P.S. Therapists across the country are recommending Rock Steady to their patients with mood disorders, and Forney won a Media Partner Award from the National Alliance for Mental Illness for her work on Rock Steady and Marbles. If you haven’t already, KAB, please pick up Forney’s books. You’ll benefit from her insights, her advice and her coping strategies. And thanks to Forney’s art and sense of humor, both books are a delight to read.

Send questions to mail@savagelove.net, follow @fakedansavage on Twitter and visit ITMFA.org.

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Have you heard the news? Poverty is over!

Someone needs to buy a Grassroots USA tour package for the members of Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, so they can at least visit the real world once in their lives.

The three advisors are ivory tower ideologues whose sole professional expertise seems to be twisting reality to fit their boss’s right-wing fantasia. In July, for example, the trio issued a fairy-tale disguised as an official government report on poverty, essentially asserting that our US of A no longer has a poverty problem. Poof, declared these learned ones from on high — the need for food stamps, Medicaid, public housing and other assistance has virtually disappeared in our land. Jobs abound, they lectured, the economy is pumping out great gobs of new wealth, and bluebirds of happiness are spreading joy everywhere.

You can imagine the comfort that this report has brought to the 45 million Americans now living below the poverty line. That line means they’re trying to make ends meet on only $25,000 a year — not per person, but for a family of four. Let’s see any of Trump’s advisers try to live on that before smugly claiming that “poverty is largely over.”

What’s at work here is the political manipulation of statistics to support Trump’s ideological delusion that poor people are losers who’re addicted to safety net programs. As a narcissistic son of privilege, he is out to cut those programs and to impose strict work requirements on families seeking public assistance. Never mind that most recipients of aid already work, subjected to the hardships of poverty by the low wages of their jobs.

But that‘s the real world, and it doesn’t mesh with Trump & Company’s cruel self-deception that basic humane benefits make poverty “too pleasant.” They’re imposing a Dickensian governing ethic that is fundamentally obscene… and unAmerican.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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This is our land

This story, you don’t tell it in the summertime. According to Navajo tradition, some tales are meant to be shared on the warm nights that bleed gently into Utah’s blushed sandstone; other stories are saved for when the purple-gray shadows creep up early on winter afternoons. This story, Davis Filfred explained to me one day in May, the one about Bears Ears — this is a winter story.

Later that night, on stage, facing a ballroom packed with white tablecloths and blue-hued ties on the third floor of Denver’s Hyatt Regency, Filfred inhaled deeply, pressing a glass prism to his nose. The delegate from the Navajo Nation 23rd Council — representing the Aneth, Mexican Water, Red Mesa, Teec Nos Pos and Tólikan chapters — leaned into the podium microphone. “Whenever you get something, we inhale its spirit,” he said. That way it can never be taken away. “That’s how we embrace.” Slowly, he drew another inhale.

Only minutes earlier, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet had hugged Filfred as he’d walked across the stage, prism in hand, through the applause of nearly 1,000 people in the room. Filfred — on behalf of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (BEITC), a multi-tribe advocacy organization lobbying for the protection of land profoundly sacred to many indigenous cultures — was being honored as one of Conservation Colorado’s 2018 “Rebels with a Cause.” Willie Grayeyes, a representative from the grassroots Navajo organization Utah Diné Bikéyah, which had spearheaded BEITC, was the award’s other recipient. It was at this event that I first met and talked with Filfred and Grayeyes. “Because of their hard work,” Sen. Bennet said, introducing the two Navajo men, “President Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument in December of 2016.

“This historic collaboration between indigenous groups and the federal government began to turn the page on centuries of broken promises,” Sen. Bennet continued, “until Donald Trump broke America’s promise once again, deciding illegally, in my opinion, to slash Bears Ears by 85 percent. If this decision stands, it opens the door to attack national monuments not just in Utah, but here in Colorado and all across America. We cannot let that happen. And that’s why your selection,” he gestured to the crowd, “of these honorees tonight is so important.”

Tim Peterson
Davis Filfred, a Navajo delegate, says, “I was given the responsibility by my council to protect this. I will stand firmly and do whatever necessary.”

As Filfred stepped to the podium, the crowd roared, then quickly fell to a hush. It’d been nearly six months since Trump’s highly publicized (and, in the circles that mingled this night at the Hyatt, highly criticized) order to reduce the boundaries of both Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments in southeast Utah, setting in motion the largest rollback of federal land protection in U.S. history.

Designating Bears Ears as a national monument was one of former-President Obama’s last acts in office. Only 23 days before leaving the White House, he’d invoked the Antiquities Act, a political pathway carved in the U.S.’s early, exploratory 1900s that gives presidents the power to bestow extra protections on vulnerable landscapes containing artifacts of historic, scientific or cultural importance.

Obama’s actions were in response to a proactive group of five Native American tribes — Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute and Ute Mountain Ute, now known as the BEITC — who had, for the first time in U.S. history, spent years setting aside deep historic rifts in order to collaborate on the collection of both scientific data and oral histories that could prove to the federal government the everlasting significance of the region in southeast Utah. They wanted to convey Bears Ears’ need for protection, not only contextualized in each culture’s history, which extends back to time immemorial, but in the land’s modern-day significance, too. By the time Obama designated Bears Ears, 26 Native American tribes had voiced their support for the monument, as monuments are more sheltered from looting, resource extraction, human development and recreational activities than other federally owned lands.

But almost a year ago, on Dec. 4, 2017, Trump reversed years of the groundbreaking collaboration between multiple indigenous tribes and the federal government with the stroke of a pen, effectively re-opening the area to such threats. Bears Ears National Monument was split and shrunk into two sections: Indian Creek and Shash Jáa, roughly 201,397 acres in total (15 percent of its original size), divided and separated by a 50-mile-long, 70-mile-wide channel of now-vulnerable land. Grand-Staircase Escalante and its rugged, pristine terrain that was the last area to be mapped in the contiguous U.S. was carved, too, nearly in half, from 1.8 million acres to just over 1 million.

That same December day, however, two other legal steps were taken. In one building, Utah Republican Representative John Curtis proposed to Congress a bill that would set in motion new plans for the management of the Bears Ears area, one that would balance local energy development and constituents’ ranching needs. In another building, the Navajo Nation, Native American Rights Fund (NARF, representing the Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe), and the Ute Indian Tribe jointly filed a lawsuit to defend the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument — marking the first time these Native American tribes have banded together to challenge the federal government, and the first time a presidential act like this is being be challenged in court.

Rudi Tcruz
Willie Grayeyes, a longtime Navajo activist and recent San Juan County commissioner-elect, works tirelessly to bring peace to current and future Native generations.

“I’d say that’s perhaps the most fascinating facet of this issue, because a lot of complex and often painful history exists between some of these tribes,” says Rebecca Robinson, who spent the last three years traveling through and collecting stories from people living and working in the region to write the book Voices from Bears Ears. “[It’s] amazing given recent and past history that they were able to come together and say, ‘Look, we still have some conflicts and we have some painful history, but we have this in common and the only way we’re going to be able to protect the sacred landscape is [if] we band together.’”

Historically, a national monument designation has acted like the first domino in a line of political actions that leads, eventually, to an upgrade to a full-blown national park and even deeper layers of land-use protections. The majority of national parks in southern Utah — Arches, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion — all started as national monuments, according to Mark Squillace, a law professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

But, it seems when the executive baton was passed from Obama to Trump in 2017, traditional public land policy took a dramatic turn off-course. “The Antiquities Act,” Squillace says, “gives the president the authority to reserve national monuments. It doesn’t say anything about his authority to shrink.”

When Trump re-issued his own Dec. 4, 2017 proclamation under the Antiquities Act, it wasn’t a new national park that was kickstarted, but the latest high-profile face-off between the federal government and five sovereign Native American tribes. No one knows where these dominos will lead, or fall.

Bob Wick, courtesy of BLM
Newspaper Rock, on Indian Creek’s southeastern border, holds up to 2,000 years of human-etched petroglyphs.

Time immemorial

Forty miles south of Moab and 12 miles east of U.S. 191, past the wind-worn sandstone arches and dilapidated wooden corrals, a small asphalt parking lot is tucked between steep canyon walls. Signs point to what’s now known as Newspaper Rock, a 200-square-foot slab of Wingate sandstone covered in petroglyphs, or stone etchings, dating back as far as 2,000 years. According to the BLM, the preserved images are from Archaic, Basketmaker, Fremont, Pueblo, Anasazi and Navajo peoples who passed through, possibly stopping at the natural spring that seeps from the sandy rocks nearby.

Navajo people refer to the slab as Tse’ Hane, “rock that tells a story,” and it serves as a sort-of entryway to Indian Creek, the northernmost pod of the new, divided Bears Ears National Monument. A six-toed foot and a bighorn sheep are etched next to a wheel; a hunter on a horse treads next to a slithering snake. From Newspaper Rock, continue eight more miles north, turn left on a graveled road, and head to a cliff band deep in the valley that modern-day rock climbers refer to as “Sparks Wall.” Another reminder of the area’s history stands in an 800-year-old, multi-story cliff dwelling that’s camouflaged hundreds of feet up from the basin floor; wooden ceiling beams remain intact; pottery shards have been pooled; red pictographs line a wall. In 2016, Obama noted over 100,000 unique sites of historic, cultural and scientific importance, including prehistoric fossils and early human migratory clues, exist within the monument’s original boundaries.

“You have a huge experience of human history out here,” says Lyle Balenquah, a Hopi archeologist and river guide who has watched dozens of seasons come and go in the Bears Ears region. For the past 20 years, Balenquah has been helping the National Park Service (NPS) interpret cultural and paleontological sites and promote indigenous perspectives of U.S. land. Reducing protection of the area will compromise new and old artifacts and fossils, he worries, as only about 5 percent of the region has been properly surveyed thus far. “We’re talking 12,000 years [of history] or more here, and it’s all important.”

The name Bears Ears comes from twin buttes that rise from the sage-speckled floor of Cedar Mesa, located in the new monument’s southernmost pod, Shash Jáa. From as far as 60 miles away, south or east, one can see the two distinctive buttes rise, looking like a bear about to poke its head up from the horizon. In recent reporting, the area around the Bears Ears Buttes have been described as a Native American version of Eden — their birthplace of humanity. Today the Ute people still graze livestock, hunt and gather in the region. Navajo people still perform prayers and sacred ceremonies. Hopi and Zuni tribes look to this land as evidence of their migration stories and medicinal traditions. As BEITC states on its website, “Protection of the Bears Ears region from irresponsible off-roading and the depletion of irreplaceable cultural resources is important to maintain the cultural connections of many Native peoples.”

Hunter-gatherers first visited the Bears Ears area about 10,000 years ago, but only 2,000 years ago did Native American tribes start to settle more permanently. Indian Creek was the southern limit of the Fremont culture and the northern limit of the Anasazi and Ancestral Puebloans. In the space stretching between awe-inspiring buttes and free-standing sandstone towers, clans grew corn, squash and beans. After a peak around the year 1200, the early residents steadily declined, leaving behind an abundance of rock art, dwellings, pottery, mokie steps and other evidence of their inhabitance. After that, Navajo groups started to appear, but it seems only to have been on a seasonal or temporary basis. Since then, their traditions have held this landscape as sacred, and it was in these deep maze-like canyons and remote mesas that many Navajos sought shelter from both Kit Caron’s brutal occupation of Navajo lands and the U.S. Army’s forced relocation to reservations on the New Mexico and Oklahoma borders. In 1818, Navajo war chief Manuelito was born near the Bears Ears buttes, and he later rallied and focused Navajo resistance to the “Long Walk,” another forced relocation effort. It was Manuelito who eventually helped secure the 1868 treaty — the first official acknowledgment of Native American tribal sovereignty — that allowed the Navajo to return to some of their homelands, now the current reservation.

It wasn’t until 1859 that Anglo settlers started to seriously explore the region, mostly looking for ways to monetize the rugged land — promptly upsetting what had been, up until then, a relatively natural order of being. At that point, most of the land east of the Mississippi had been settled and developed, but Utah remained relatively unaltered by Anglos, as it remained a part of Mexico until 1848. Due to conflicts with the early Mormon settlers over issues like polygamy and the separation between church and state, U.S. law didn’t take effect in the area until 1869, making Utah the last place in the continental U.S. where the “public” land out of which they’d forced the Native Americans was opened to private ownership. San Juan County, stretching about the size of New Jersey from Lake Powell to the Four Corners borders, was finally organized in 1880.

As Utah was granted statehood in 1896, the federal government still owned a vast majority of its land. So, people in Washington D.C. organized what they called “trust lands” to support state institutions, such as public schools, by leasing and selling off resources and extraction rights on the land. By the early 1900s, San Juan County was largely an agricultural patchwork of fruit orchards and vegetable farms, most of the land still being leased from the federal government. In 1905, the Denver and Rio Grande railroad reached San Juan County, and it became a major shipping point for sheep and cattle.

It wasn’t until 1950 that things really started to change. Oil and gas extraction had finally come the county and brought in thousands of people, increasing the population 763 percent in just 10 years, according to San Juan County records. The New York Times reports Utah has generated more than $1.7 billion in revenue to support its public schools from the trust lands, “mostly by selling off mineral rights and allowing private companies to extract oil or gas.”

Today, less than 6 percent of San Juan County’s 5,514 square miles is privately owned, and as of 2017, San Juan is the poorest county in Utah. So, when conservative Utah state representatives and some locals heard that 110,000 acres of these trust lands would be included in Obama’s original Bears Ears National Monument, eliminating potential resource sales and shrinking their livelihood, it was time for them to head to the federal government with a plea, too.

Bob Wick, courtesy of BLM

Meanwhile, across the country

On the southern side of Independence Avenue, across the street from the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C., tribal leaders and select San Juan County officials filed into the main committee hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building on the morning of Jan. 30, 2018 — seven weeks after Trump’s reduction order. They were convening for the second time to discuss the bill Utah Republican Representative John Curtis had proposed to the House Committee on Natural Resources on the same day as Trump’s proclamation. The bill would officially terminate Obama’s proclamation, arguing it was massive federal overreach, and enact a new pathway for the management plans of the two reduced monument-islands, appealing to local ranching and energy needs.

It was the Committee’s second hearing on the bill — a rare occurrence — but objections had been raised during the first hearing, held on Jan. 9, when only one five-minute window of testimony was allocated to the five tribes, whereas three five-minute windows were reserved for Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Koch brother-supported lobbyist Matthew Anderson, and Suzette Morris, a Ute Mountain Ute woman who opposes the Bears Ears National Monument campaign.

At both January hearings, tribal leaders made it clear they oppose Rep. Curtis’ bill. Several lamented they weren’t consulted about the new management plans, and that the name “Shash Jáa” — Navajo for “Bears Ears” — was not only deceptive, but also intrinsically insulting. Years earlier, BEITC had collectively decided upon use of the English translation of “Bears Ears” in order to promote unity among the tribes.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye testified at the second hearing. “In addition to providing a misleading bill name to suggest that the Navajo Nation supports the bill, [it] also misleadingly states that its purpose is to ‘create the first tribally managed national monument,’” he said, according to the Sierra Club. “In fact, the miniature monuments created by the bill would be managed by appointees of Trump made in consultation with the Utah congressional delegation and would be composed of only a fraction of tribal members. Incredibly, no tribe would have any input on the tribal members appointed to the management councils, and those individuals would not be required to be elected or appointed representatives of the five tribes’ governments. This bill’s ‘tribal management’ is tribal in name only.”

The transition from intimate involvement in the monument’s first rendition to a complete absence in consulting on the second was unsettling, and tribal leaders accused San Juan County and the Department of the Interior (DOI) of cherry picking Native voices that supported their own views and objectives — a practice not unfamiliar in U.S.-tribal politics.

“How would you like it if Russia or France went around the United States government to negotiate with private citizens?” Tony Small, vice chairman of the Ute Business Committee, asked the committee at the Jan. 30 hearing. “This is an attack on our sovereignty and violates the government-to-government relationship with the Indian tribes.”

Tribes are fiercely proud of their sovereignty, which was negotiated over many painful decades after more than a century of persecution. Pat Gonzales-Rogers, the executive director of BEITC, explains, “The basis of the government-to-government relationship is the elected leadership of tribal government speaks to the elected leadership of the federal government.”

Thus, when U.S. policy relates to tribes, what is supposed to happen is direct negotiation between the U.S. government and Native tribal government, which should respect both nations’ self-determination and rights. The states tribes may inhabit should theoretically stay on the sidelines. What is happening in Bears Ears “does not seem to be within any kind of fairness, nor does it meet any parameters of what the legal instruction is specific to this,” says Gonzales-Rogers.

In February, Rep. Curtis admitted to constituents in San Juan County that his bill was likely dead, but he was planning to alter it and eventually present it again. A few weeks later, in March, internal agency documents procured and published by the New York Times revealed Utah’s interests in manipulating Bears Ears boundaries had been stirring as early as March 2017, a month before Trump had publicly announced Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke would commence a sweeping review of national monuments.

Emails revealed Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s office had sent an email to a senior official in the DOI in March 2017 that contained a PDF map depicting “a boundary change for the southeast portion of the Bears Ears monument. … Adopting this map would ‘resolve all known mineral conflicts,’” the email states, referring to oil and gas sites on the land. The map was incorporated almost exactly into Trump’s order.

Gonzales-Rogers says, “To have such a differential role to the state of Utah … really kind of bypasses through political conscription the duty [the federal government] owes back to the tribes. … I would think they would have a better dexterity and granular kind of understanding of Indian law and policy.”

Many wonder if Trump’s order was much more than a favor to Sen. Hatch for his support during the 2016 presidential campaign. “They targeted those two monuments (Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante) for a very specific reason, that being Orrin Hatch and the Utah delegation really had Trump’s ear,” Robinson, author of Voices from Bears Ears, says. “I don’t think [Trump] had any particular stake in this issue.”

“Bears Ears was an easy target for him,” CU Law Professor Squillace says. “Not a lot of thought that went into this.”

Thus, when Utah representatives ignored the leagues of tribal claims and lobbied Trump to null the relationship BEITC had built with the federal government, and instead pursued their own plans for manipulating and managing the Bears Ears region without Native American consultation or consent, it was clear the state was reinforcing Trump’s new line of public land policy. The path leads in a direction against which the tribes have been actively lobbying for years: toward more resource extraction and unregulated use of their sacred homeland.

Bob Wick, courtesy of BLM

Challenging Trump

“You’re talking about the heart of the Navajo people in terms of the spiritual, psychological, physiological, social, [and] the environment,” Grayeyes says as he pours me a glass of water, settling in to tell a story. He grew up on Navajo Mountain herding sheep with his grandmother, and in the early 2010s, when he was appointed as chair of the newly formed Navajo conservation organization, Utah Diné Bikéyah, he helped orchestrate the first-ever Native-directed surveys to capture what relationships between Navajo elders and medicine people still existed with the Bears Ears land. Increased signs of looting, desecration and other environmental threats in the region had put Navajo leadership on high alert in recent years, and the singular ranger that the BLM provided was not enough to protect the tens of thousands of rich archaeological and paleontological sites in the region. “We gathered all the raw data and analyzed it, and it came out that the interest was still there, still in the hearts and minds of the Navajo people,” he says. “We are still trying to tell [the state and federal government], yes, this Bears Ears region was and still is our church.”

He tells me about the effect seeing artifacts like ceremonial drums in exhibits or on displays can have on a Native person. “Just like mass shootings in Texas, and elsewhere, you think: Why? Why? That type of question is never answered.

“The concern that I have,” continues Grayeyes, also referring to the history of Native American persecution, “is that these conditions, these traumas are still there — spiritual trauma, psychological trauma, social trauma, environmental trauma. … Grave robbery, desecration of you name it, those were uncalled for, and to set those things straight is to have those things properly brought back, in terms of healing ceremonies. Then you could make it right. That way people of our generation would be in peace, you would say.”

This 800-year-old cliff dwelling is one of as many as 100,000 artifacts lying within the original 2016 boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. Critics of Trump’s reduction order fear sites like these could be subject to more looting and destruction.

Utah Diné Bikéyah brought its findings, objectives and goals to the commissioners of San Juan County, the district where Bears Ears lies, in 2013, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. “We had a battle going round and round for a couple years,” Grayeyes says. So, the organization enlisted the help of the Hopi, Zuni, Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes to approach Obama directly — exercising their government-to-government relationships with the federal government as sovereign tribal nations. Obama’s original monument was the first-ever jointly managed national monument involving direct input from Native Americans.

“This is our land,” Filfred tells me. “I know there’s a lot of energy people that just want to get in there. And we’re saying no. We want this place protected as it is. So the future generation can come and see here, and that’s where I come in, and I was given the responsibility by my council to protect this. I will stand firmly and do whatever necessary.”

The lawsuits filed by the tribes in the U.S. District Court for Washington D.C. against Trump’s actions on Dec. 4, 2017, were consolidated into two cases: one addressing Bears Ears and one addressing Grand-Staircase Escalante. By the first week of February 2018, however, NARF reported the revoked lands “were opened to ‘entry, location, selection, sale’ and ‘disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing’ and ‘location, entry and patent under mining laws.’”

And mining claims in the area have indeed been filed, Squillace says, though he can’t point to any particular activity that’s going on that compromises the protection of the lands in the original monument. “One of the biggest concerns is that, under the general mining law, people might go in with off-road vehicles and try to service their mining claims.”

Coalitions of nationwide environmentalists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts have both heavily supported tribal efforts and spearheaded their own resistance to Trump’s actions, too, with major companies like Patagonia advocating for public involvement across the country, even suing Trump themselves.

After the tribes filed their lawsuits against Trump, the administration asked to transfer them to a Utah court, but, arguing that the cases affect more than one state’s residents and have nationwide importance, the tribes filed a motion to keep them in Washington D.C. It wasn’t until Sept. 24, 2018 that presiding Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled both cases would stay in D.C., “and that the Department of the Interior must alert the tribes at least 48 hours before they allow any ground disturbing activities on the disputed lands,” NARF reports, stating this was a win for the Native groups.

Gavin Noyes

On Nov. 16, Utah Diné Bikéyah reported over 200,000 public comments were submitted to the BLM during the public comment period on potential new management plans, asking the agency to halt the Bears Ears planning process. Three days later, a coalition of 11 state attorneys general filed an amicus brief supporting the tribes and environmental groups in their lawsuits, stating Trump’s actions not only inaccurately interpret the Antiquities Act, but also harm states by disrupting partnerships with the federal government to preserve and protect precious archeological, historic and scientific resources.

The Justice Department, however, has stated the law and history are on Trump’s side. “The Antiquities Act does not give presidents unlimited power to put land in national monuments. The monuments must be confined to the smallest area compatible with protecting cultural resources.”

Trump isn’t the first president to reduce a national monument’s boundaries, but it’s been half a century since the last shrinkage. During World War I, President Wilson cut the state of Washington’s Mount Olympus National Monument in half, allegedly to source spruce tree timber to build wartime ships, but its boundaries were later reinstated and the monument was converted into Olympic National Park. While the Antiquities Act is clear in how to proclaim national monuments, Squillace explains it’s silent on how to reduce or revoke them, leaving the future litigation of Trump’s actions in uncharted waters.

Trump is, however, the first president to be challenged for this type of action. “In this case we’re arguing that the delegation [of power] is limited,” says Squillace. “It’s a delegation of authority just to reserve lands, not to take them away. If Congress doesn’t like the decisions that the president makes, Congress can of course reverse those decisions or modify the decisions that are made, but Congress has never basically taken away any significant monument that was declared by a president.

“It’s hard to know exactly what’s going to happen in any litigation,” he continues, “really anything can happen. But I think [there’s] a pretty strong case to make these decisions by Trump illegal.”

Bob Wick, courtesy of BLM

‘Now… we wait’

Amid history’s bleak track record for Native American rights — as the lawsuits fall on the heels of confrontations over the Dakota Access Pipeline, Keystone XL and protections in the Bering Sea — there is hope among Native Americans and environmental groups that policy involving their ancestral lands may again change course.

“I view this as an opportunity for young Native people to be involved, not just for the sake of it, but to actually create an insertion point of succession and planning of what Native leadership is,” BEITC’s Gonsalez-Rogers says. “Whatever we do … we hold these positions for someone else. They don’t mean anything to us unless we are passing it down. That is, for me, what a lot of the work of Bears Ears is doing: preserving this place and mindset for a generation and a generation after that.”

Voices from Bears Ears author Robinson says she’s seen some optimism on the national front, too. “I think they may have set a really good precedent and created a template for other tribes to protect their ancestral lands,” she says. “Out of all of this mess, what’s most promising is that we see a real ripple effect [that can] change the conservation movement and elevate the voices of historically underrepresented groups who really are the First Peoples of the planet.”

Now that the lawsuit will stay in D.C., all that’s left to do is wait and continue advocacy work on the ground in Utah, says Gonsalez-Rogers. The Trump administration is moving forward with creating new management plans without the cooperation of any tribal leaders, as they’ve all refused to work with the federal government until there’s a court ruling. Cooperating agencies that have elected to be involved in the planning process include San Juan County, Monticello and Blanding cities, the State of Utah, School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the State of Utah and federal agencies, including the Forest Service, NPS and BLM.

In the meantime, unity among the tribes and grassroots organizations continues to grow. In a historic November election, Grayeyes was elected as the second Navajo on the three-person San Juan County Commission. “For the first time, Navajos, who hold a slight majority in the county, will see that reflected in their governing bodies,” the Navajo Times reports. “The San Juan County Board of Education also emerged from the election with a Native majority.”

As Grayeyes prepares for his years ahead in public office, he’s looking forward to uplifting Native voices in all state matters, not just in the context of Bears Ears.

“So different are the Native American perspectives on resources, natural resources. How they understand them, how they interpret them, is totally different from how dominant society, the federal government, state government, county government interprets them. So that is the reason why we continue to stay involved and hopefully the lawsuits that we placed to reinstill or reinstate the initial proclamation would be realized sometime soon down the road,” Grayeyes says.

“So is it rightful for a sitting president to unilaterally quash a standing, established proclamation or policy? That is the question to this day.”

The post This is our land appeared first on Boulder Weekly.



Time to re-evaluate Saudi relationship

Mister Bone Saw. That’s what many people around the world are calling Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince

Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS). Growing evidence from various sources, including the CIA, indicate that he ordered the assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It seems that Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was tortured and strangled to death by a hit squad of 15 Saudi government operatives. One of them was a medical examiner who brought a bone saw to dismember the body.

An unnamed State Department official told ABC News that the U.S. government knows who is responsible. “The idea that it goes all the way to the top (in Saudi Arabia) is blindingly obvious,” the State Department official told the TV network. “There’s overwhelming consensus that the leadership is involved — no one is debating it within the government.”

Not exactly. Donald Trump, who happens to be president, is debating it. Trump admits that MBS might be responsible but argues that America shouldn’t alienate the Saudi regime too much because he says it’s spending $110 billion on U.S. weapons, which Trump has variously claimed will generate 450,000, 500,000 or 600,000 American jobs.

According to a report by William Hartung of the Center for International Policy, a Washington D.C. think-tank, these figures are vastly exaggerated. Actually, the State Department puts the total at $14.5 billion, and that many of the potential jobs created would be in Saudi Arabia itself.

Hartung argues that Saudi Arabia needs the U.S. much more than we need them. Trump has claimed that other arms suppliers like Russia or China will quickly take any business turned down by the U.S. But Hartung says that Saudi armed forces are so dependent on U.S. hardware it would be very onerous for them to change suppliers selling totally incompatible equipment.

“The preponderance of U.S. equipment used by Saudi forces also makes it difficult for another supplier like Russia or China to replace the United States as a major supplier to Riyadh,” Hartung’s report says. “It would take decades for the Kingdom to wean itself from dependence on U.S. equipment, training and support, and new equipment might not be easily interoperable with U.S.-supplied systems.”

So we could easily pressure the Saudis about human rights. But Trump isn’t interested. He has a simple message devoid of the usual high-minded presidential talk of democracy and justice — if you help American capitalists make a lot of money, you can do whatever you want.

Minnesota’s newly elected Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar remarked, “Once again, our president proves that you can’t buy a moral compass. Saudi Arabia proves that you can, on the other hand, buy a president.” Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said, “Being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’” Even some Republicans expressed dismay. Tennesee’s GOP Senator Bob Corker grumbled, “I never thought I’d see the day when a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Khashoggi started out as a member of the Saudi elite but became a critic and moved to Washington, D.C. He became a permanent resident of the U.S. and a regular Washington Post columnist. In his last column, which was published posthumously, he emphasized the need for a free press and the free exchange of ideas in the Arab world.

“The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events,” Khashoggi wrote. “More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices.

“We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education,” he said. “Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

In a column in September, Khashoggi urged the crown prince to end the horrific war in Yemen, which was started in March 2015 by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The bombing campaign by the coalition is responsible for most of the deaths. Many thousands of civilians have been killed and many more have become homeless. 85,000 children are estimated to have died from malnutrition and disease since the war began.

Many millions of people are on the brink of a famine, which the United Nations says would be the worst in more than 100 years. The Saudi-led coalition is using starvation as a weapon. A report by Martha Mundy of the World Peace Foundation says that the coalition’s bombers constantly target agricultural land and fishing sites, dairy farms, food processing factories, and markets where food is sold.

The United States is deeply involved in this war — providing bombs the coalition is using, refueling their planes before they drop those bombs, and assisting with intelligence.

The war has strengthened Islamic terrorists. A 2016 State Department report found that the conflict between Saudi-led forces and the Houthi insurgents had helped Al Qaeda and the Islamic State’s Yemen branch “deepen their inroads across much of the country.”

After Khashoggi’s murder, questions are being raised about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia from figures across the political spectrum. It’s about time.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

The post Time to re-evaluate Saudi relationship appeared first on Boulder Weekly.



Profiles in brew: Jeff Joslin of Left Hand Brewing Company

For Jeff Joslin, a career in craft beer didn’t come with an aha moment.

“It was more an organic love for beer,” he says.

No one walks the same path, and chatting with Joslin, brewhouse manager at Left Hand Brewing Company, you get the impression that his career in beer is more a product of perspiration than inspiration; one that started with a well-rounded liberal arts education.

“But,” Joslin says with a smile, ”like every English major out there, I started bartending after college.”

Tending bar did the trick for a while, but Joslin knew it wasn’t going to last. As he approached 30, he needed a change.

“[I] knew a guy whose brother was in the beer industry in Portland and everything sounded like that would be a good fit,” Joslin recounts. “[Brewing is] hands-on, it requires creativity, you have to be able to think critically, solve problems; it’s a physical job, but it also requires mental aptitude.”

It also requires cleaning, a lot of cleaning. Luckily for Joslin, his attitude was ready-made for the position.

“All the cleaning is very Zen,” Joslin says. “If you’re really going to make a life out of it, you kind of have to be comfortable and accept that. … I enjoy the simplicity of the physical aspect of that.”

It worked. After three years with Rogue Ales in Ashland, Oregon, Joslin relocated to Left Hand to work as one of its brewers. That was five years ago. Now as brewhouse manager, Joslin oversees the hot side of production for Left Hand’s 60–65,000 barrels of beer per year.

“I oversee recipes and batch logs and processes through the brewhouse,” Joslin explains. “When it goes to the cellar, it becomes the cellar manager’s responsibility, and together we oversee the entire brew staff.

“All brewers here work both in brewhouse and cellar, unlike a lot of other places, where either you’re only a cellarer or only a brewer,” Joslin continues. “We’ve experimented with both models, and all the brewers, unanimously, prefer the variety.”

That’s not the only area where Left Hand allows for overlap; recipe creation is just as collaborative.

“No one gets into craft beer because they want to make someone else’s beer,” Joslin explains. “They want to own something.”

And with their seven-barrel pilot system, every department at Left Hand has a chance to create something new.

“We’ve done over 100 beers through there,” Joslin says. “We use it for recipe development, and we use it as a creative outlet.”

According to Joslin, Left Hand’s sales team will try their hand at creating a beer in December, with the tasting room staff getting a crack at it in January. Both will be on tap in the tasting room in due time.

With 25 years of good beer under its belt, the employee-owned Left Hand looks to 25 more. Lucky for us drinkers, it’s stacked with beer geeks like Joslin.

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Boulder County’s reported ‘80 percent’ farm failure rate doesn’t tell the full story

When the hail came, it was from the west and it was without warning. The June sky darkened, a cool breeze picked up and very suddenly, to Michael Moss’ horror, sheets of quarter- and dime-sized hail began to thrash his farmland, tearing apart his vegetable crops, mowing into them like machine gun fire. Huddled with his farmhands in the wash station, he watched, helplessly as the fruits of their labor, his livelihood, was mangled and destroyed by the power of Mother Nature.

The squall was over in just 20 minutes. And when it was, Moss had lost almost three acres of vegetables. Eggplants, tomatoes and peppers lay battered and broken beneath a thick blanket of hail pebbles.

“There’s really not anything you can do,” Moss says. “You just have to be resilient and be ready to roll with the punches.”

Moss owns and operates Kilt Farm in Boulder County. He’s a kilt-wearing, God-fearing farmer from Florida, with a passion for growing wholesome, organic food and living close to the land. And he had a rough summer, a rough year, really. It’s one from which it is going to take a long time to recuperate.

“It took a lot of assessing the damage,” he says. “I’m going to have to refinance some debts and work really hard for years to recover from that [hailstorm].”

If it weren’t for Moss’ resilience, the fact that he operates properties spread over several miles, and the support of his hardworking wife, that 20-minute hailstorm could have very easily been the end for Kilt Farm.

And, it wouldn’t be uncommon in these parts.

Farming in Boulder County is hard — for a lot of reasons outside of natural hazards like hail or drought. Organic market farm producers face a lot of variables and challenges that are out of their control and have nothing to do with competency, skill level or experience. And that all contributes to the county’s somewhat notorious farm failure rate of 80 percent.

That failure rate was first reported in 2016, fostering doubt among some in the community and calling into question Boulder County’s $1 million organic food farming program. But it’s also a somewhat conflated statistic — and one that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Blake Cooper, the agricultural resource manager for Boulder County, says that the farm failure figure, while technically correct, is somewhat exaggerated. The math behind the high percentage failure rate is right, says Cooper, but only if you count individuals, and not the groups of individuals that were farming together as a unit on a single property.

“We had several farms that were, for lack of a better term, a collective or a co-operative, where we had multiple tenants on a single small property,” describes Cooper.

Several years ago, the Boulder County extension agent from Colorado State University, Adrian Card, held a handful of seminars encouraging small farmers to band together, to form these grow co-operatives where they could all farm on a single plot of County open space land. This idea caught on, and several groups of farmers got together and approached the County for access to property.

In theory, it seemed like an elegant way to increase the amount of local food being grown in the area, and, at the same time, support numerous start-up farmers without having to divide and sub-divide Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Park (OSMP) properties.

In practice, however, things proved more complicated than anticipated.

“If you take a 20-acre property and divided it up into 40 little parts, that all sounds good until you figure out something like there’s only one water delivery source,” Cooper explains. “And how are those 40 farmers going to allocate that? Who gets water on what day? And who doesn’t get to water their crops?”

The co-operative model becomes a logistical impossibility, he says. And one that, in several instances, resulted in these groups of farmers going out of business, together on the same plot of land like sailors going down with a ship.

“Suffice it to say, the groups did not persist for very long and the properties were generally turned over to the best of the survivors,” Cooper says. Survivors like Michael Moss, who outlasted the other farmers with whom he was sharing land, and eventually took over the property after they’d gone under in order to expand Kilt Farm.

“So, in a sense it did accomplish the goal of getting some start-ups actually in the game,” says Cooper.

But it also gave rise to the infamous 80 percent farm failure rate.

That’s important to recognize because many farmers, like Alice Starek, who owns and operates The Golden Hoof farm with her husband, Karel, thinks that people attributed that number, wrongly, to farmer incompetence and inability, as if that 80 percent failure rate indicated a deficiency of quality farmers in the area.

“I don’t think lack of farming knowledge is the limiting factor, overall,” she says. According to her, the root causes are environmental, economic and systemic. Many of the farmers who went under were capable, experienced and entrepreneurial, Starek says.

Some, like Moss, faced severe weather challenges that crippled their businesses — one unlucky hail storm and a farmer’s entire margin of profit might go on the chopping block. Drought and flood also pose equally catastrophic threats to farmers here. And since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t offer crop insurance for most organic produce farming, severe and unpredictable weather can make or break these farms.

Amelia Ann Photography
The 80 percent farm failure rate isn’t about competency — Boulder’s farmers just have a lot of cards stacked against them, says Alice Starek of The Golden Hoof farm.

Economic factors like the cost of living and cost of labor also play huge roles in the success of market farmers in Boulder County. Living in the area is not cheap, and farmers who want to compensate their farmhands fairly are faced with some tight budget margins.

“The need to hire and keep and house farm labor is almost becoming a cost-prohibitive barrier to success,” says Cooper. It is a problem that farmers here feel acutely — particularly during hardship.

It can be difficult to find employees that will stick with you, agrees Moss. “It’s hard to compete against Discount Tire or a fast food restaurant that’s paying way more than we can really afford to pay.”

And, without OSMP leasing land to market farmers, there would be almost no way for them to afford agricultural land on their own in Boulder County, where the average price for purchasing a farm is $1.9 million.

That’s simply unrealistic for market farmers, who often exist on a financial razor’s edge.

In fact, most market farmers in Boulder County are stretched so thin that they have no other choice but to supplement their farming income with side hustles and outside earnings.

“Many exemplary farms become nonprofits associated with educational outreach and derive income from classes and donations because the margins are so low for food,” Starek says. “The typical business model for selling local food has you maybe showing a profit in five years if everything goes well — and that profit will likely be well below a living wage.”

Some farmers grow Christmas trees, some grow medicinal hemp, horse hay or decorative pumpkins; others operate restaurants, catering businesses or sell potted plants. According to the USDA, 82 percent of U.S. farm household income comes from this kind of off-farm work. It’s the only way market farmers can afford to run their farm and sustain their families at the same time. 

And, systemically speaking, the market space for farm-grown organic produce is extremely narrow. Sure, farmers’ markets are great places to buy some fresh, locally grown organic produce during the summer. But in reality, a small percentage of food consumed in Boulder County is produced locally. The niche these producers are filling is slim — and, without a cultural paradigm shift around food and farming, it’s unlikely that it’s getting wider any time soon.

With so many factors playing into the failure of a Boulder County farm, the touted 80 percent failure rate paints the picture in far-too-broad of brush strokes. It is not all (or even mostly) about competency — Boulder’s farmers just have a lot of cards stacked against them.

“You can say whatever you want about experience levels and that kind of thing,” agrees Cooper. “But for the most part, the individuals that haven’t made it have been because of factors that were beyond their control.”

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Astrology 11/29/18

ARIES

March 21-April 19: Every year the bird known as the Arctic tern experiences two summers and enjoys more daylight than any other animal. That’s because it regularly makes a long-distance journey from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again. Let’s designate this hardy traveler as your inspirational creature for the next 11 months. May it help animate you to experiment with brave jaunts that broaden and deepen your views of the world. I don’t necessarily mean you should literally do the equivalent of circumnavigating the planet. Your expansive adventures might take place mostly in inner realms or closer to home.

TAURUS

April 20-May 20: When the American Civil War began in 1861, the United States fractured. Four years later, the union was technically restored when the northern states defeated the southern states. At that time, African American slavery became illegal everywhere for the first time since the country’s birth decades earlier. But there was a catch. The southern states soon enacted laws that mandated racial segregation and ensured that African Americans continued to suffer systematic disadvantages. Is there a comparable issue in your personal life? Did you at sometime in the past try to fix an untenable situation only to have it sneak back in a less severe but still debilitating form? The coming weeks will be an excellent time to finish the reforms; to enforce a thorough and permanent correction.

GEMINI

May 21-June 20: Does an elusive giant creature with a long neck inhabit the waters of Loch Ness in northern Scotland? Alleged sightings have been reported since 1933. Most scientists dismiss the possibility that “Nessie” actually exists, but there are photos, films and videos that provide tantalizing evidence. A government-funded Scottish organization has prepared contingency plans just in case the beast does make an unambiguous appearance. In that spirit, and in accordance with astrological omens, I recommend that you prepare yourself for the arrival in your life of intriguing anomalies and fun mysteries. Like Nessie, they’re nothing to worry about, but you’ll be better able to deal gracefully with them if you’re not totally taken by surprise.

CANCER

June 21-July 22: Does moss really “eat” rocks, as Cancerian author Elizabeth Gilbert attests in her novel The Signature of All Things? Marine chemist Martin Johnson says yes. Moss really does break down and release elements in solid stone. Gilbert adds, “Given enough time, a colony of moss can turn a cliff into gravel, and turn that gravel into topsoil.” Furthermore, this hardy plant can grow virtually everywhere: in the tropics and frozen wastes, on tree bark and roofing slate, on sloth fur and snail shells. I propose that we make moss your personal symbol of power for now, Cancerian. Be as indomitable, resourceful and resilient as moss.

LEO

July 23-Aug. 22: Let’s shout out a big “THANKS!” and “HALLELUJAH!” to the enzymes in our bodies. These catalytic proteins do an amazing job of converting the food we eat into available energy. Without them, our cells would take forever to turn any particular meal into the power we need to walk, talk and think. I bring this marvel to your attention, Leo, because now is a favorable time to look for and locate metaphorical equivalents of enzymes: influences and resources that will aid and expedite your ability to live the life you want to live.

VIRGO

Aug. 23-Sept. 22: “Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground,” writes author Judith Thurman. I’m guessing you will experience this feeling in the coming weeks. What does it mean if you do? It may be your deep psyche’s way of nudging you to find an energizing new sanctuary. Or perhaps it means you should search for fresh ways to feel peaceful and well-grounded. Maybe it’s a prod to push you outside your existing comfort zone so you can expand your comfort zone.

LIBRA

Sept. 23-Oct. 22: Venice, Italy, consists of 118 small islands that rise from a shallow lagoon. A network of 443 bridges keeps them all connected. But Venice isn’t the world champion of bridges. The American city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds that title, with 446. I nominate these two places to be your inspirational symbols in the coming weeks. It’s time for you build new metaphorical bridges and take good care of your existing metaphorical bridges.

SCORPIO

Oct. 23-Nov. 21: To aid and support your navigation through this pragmatic phase of your astrological cycle, I have gathered counsel from three productive pragmatists. First is author Helen Keller. She said she wanted to accomplish great and noble things, but her “chief duty” was “to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” Second, author George Orwell believed that “to see what is in front of one’s nose” requires never-ending diligence. Finally, author Pearl S. Buck testified that she didn’t wait around until she was in the right mood before beginning her work. Instead, she invoked her willpower to summon the necessary motivation.

SAGITTARIUS

Nov. 22-Dec. 21: Blackjack is a card game popular in gambling casinos. In the eternal struggle to improve the odds of winning big money, some blackjack players work in teams. One teammate secretly counts the cards as they’re dealt and assesses what cards are likely to come up next. Another teammate gets subtle signals from his card-counting buddy and makes the bets. A casino in Windsor, Ontario pressed charges against one blackjack team, complaining that this tactic was deceptive and dishonest. But the court decided in the team’s favor, ruling that the players weren’t cheating but simply using smart strategy. In the spirit of these blackjack teams, Sagittarius, and in accordance with astrological omens, I urge you to better your odds in a “game” of your choice by using strategy that is almost as good as cheating but isn’t actually cheating.

CAPRICORN

Dec. 22-Jan. 19: What has become of the metaphorical seeds you planted during the weeks after your last birthday? Have your intentions flourished? Have your dreams blossomed? Have your talents matured? Have your naive questions evolved into more penetrating questions? Be honest and kind as you answer these inquiries. Be thoughtful and big-hearted as you take inventory of your ability to follow through on your promises to yourself. If people are quizzical about how much attention you’re giving yourself as you take stock, inform them that your astrologer has told you that December is Love Yourself Better Month.

AQUARIUS

Jan. 20-Feb. 18: If you want to play the drinking game called Possum, you and your friends climb up into a tree with a case of beer and start drinking. As time goes by, people get so hammered they fall out of the tree. The winner is the last one left in the tree. I hope you won’t engage in this form of recreation anytime soon — nor in any other activity that even vaguely resembles it. The coming weeks should be a time of calling on favors, claiming your rewards, collecting your blessings and graduating to the next level. I trust your policy will be: no trivial pursuits, no wasted efforts, no silly stunts.

PISCES

Feb. 19-March 20: In his song “Happy Talk,” Academy Award-winning lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II offered this advice: “You gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” Where do you stand in this regard, Pisces? Do you in fact have a vivid, clearly defined dream? And have you developed a strategy for making that dream come true? The coming weeks will be an excellent time to home in on what you really want and hone your scheme for manifesting it. (P.S. Keep in mind Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s idea: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”)

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Colorado Christian University’s junk social science

The Marijuana Moment website last Monday live-streamed the New Jersey Assembly’s joint senate/house committee hearing on the recreational marijuana legalization bill that’s been hanging fire for a year.

I logged in just in time to hear an opponent of the bill claim that marijuana legalization in Colorado has been a disaster, and that for every dollar gained in tax revenue Coloradans spent about $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization.

It was the second time in as many weeks that I heard someone cite that number. The first time it was William Bennett, who was Reagan’s Education Secretary and George H. W. Bush’s Drug Czar. He did it on a Fox News program.

Colorado collected $247.4 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2017 (more if you count local taxes), so the claim that negative consequences of pot legalization have cost Coloradans $4.50 for every tax dollar collected works out to more than $1.1 billion in 2017 alone. That seems implausible on its face.

So where in God’s name does this dark arithmetic come from? From Colorado Christian University, it turns out.

The school has an associated think tank called the Centennial Institute. Its director, Jeff Hunt, has been waging a one-man jihad (or crusade if you prefer) against marijuana for years. Lately he’s been functioning as a Mini-Me for Kevin Sabet, the director of the anti-legalization organization SAM (Smart About Marijuana) and self-declared “quarterback” of the anti-marijuana movement.

Recently the Centennial Institute commissioned a study titled “The economic and social costs of legalized marijuana.”

The study, which was carried out for the Institute by a research firm named QREM, is a dog’s dinner of statistical scraps that run the gamut from misleading to dishonest, irrelevant and embarrassing.

The assertion that “for every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spend approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization” is the first sentence of the study’s executive summary.

In order to arrive at this conclusion, the study’s authors had to tote up all the supposed costs of legalization they could think of, including some that are pretty silly. Like the $54.8 million cost of stoners’ “physical inactivity” due to marijuana turning them into couch potatoes.

Other “costs” are not so silly, but are much more dishonest. Like the alleged $423.4 million in lost income over a lifetime of the kids who dropped out of high school in 2017 supposedly due to their marijuana use. The latter figure is the single largest “cost” in the study’s laundry list.

The way these numbers were calculated is questionable, to say the least, but the study has a more fundamental flaw than squishy arithmetic.

The figures, even if accurate, represent the economic and social costs of marijuana use in 2017. But the study’s supposed purpose is to identify the economic and social costs attributable to marijuana legalization, which are different than the overall costs (real, imaginary or theoretical) of marijuana use generally.

Marijuana use in Colorado didn’t begin when pot became legally available at the beginning of 2014. Coloradans used marijuana illegally for decades before then, and it’s reasonable to assume that if pot was producing stoner sloths and stoner school dropouts in 2017, it was also producing them prior to legalization.

And that means that the only economic and social costs that can be attributed to legalization are those that occurred incrementally after marijuana became commercially available at the beginning of 2014.

But in most cases the Institute’s study doesn’t include cost estimates for the years prior to the beginning of legal sales, so it’s not possible to calculate what costs, if any, are attributable to legalization.

The Centennial Institute might be able to argue plausibly that it has identified some of the economic and social costs associated with marijuana use — legal and illegal — assuming you’re ready to suspend disbelief long enough to accept its social cost estimates, but it has not identified cost increases (or decreases) that can be attributed to legalization.

The kindest thing that can be said about Colorado Christian’s study is that it’s junk social science. Pot prohibitionists have been producing fake studies that purport to show how awful marijuana is since marijuana prohibition began in 1937. Colorado Christian University’s study is in keeping with this contemptible tradition.

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