Published in ATTN:
Hurricane Patricia, which made landfall on the southwest coast of Mexico, is by all accounts a monster storm. Between Thursday and Friday, Patricia swiftly grew from a category one hurricane to a category five tempest, with sustained winds that peaked at 200 miles per hour and gusts of close to 250 miles per hour. When it made landfall the winds had slowed slightly, blowing at 165 miles per hour, according to the New York Times. It’s the strongest and most rapidly intensifying hurricane on record, and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate from Mexico’s Pacific coast as Patricia barreled towards the shore. Could it also be a product of climate change?
While most scientists are hesitant to directly link this particular hurricane to our greenhouse gas emissions, Patricia could still be a preview of the storms that global warming will set the stage for in the years to come. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, “[I]t is likely that greenhouse warming will cause hurricanes in the coming century to be more intense globally and have higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes.”
For National Geographic Daily News
Note: I reported and wrote this story in about four hours.
As the ice storm that pummeled much of the United States on Thursday continues to lock the country in a deep freeze, some areas may be more ready than others to deal with the consequences.
That's because a new index is under development that can be used to categorize expected damage from ice storms, dangerous phenomena that occur when rain freezes on contact with the ground or other surfaces. (Read more about weather and natural disasters.)
Scientists didn't actually kill the world's oldest animal, a clam, just to find out how old it was.
For National Geographic Daily News
Consternation over the death of the world's oldest-recorded animal, a 507-year-old clam nicknamed Ming, has earned marine researchers unhappy headlines worldwide.
But a closer look at the story—"Clam-gate," as the BBC called it—finds the tempest over Ming a bit overblown. (Also see "Clams: Not Just for Chowder.")
News of the clam's death, first noted in 2007, took on a life of its own this week after researchers led by James Scourse, from the United Kingdom's Bangor University, reanalyzed its age and announced the 507-year estimate.
Contrary to news reports, the researchers say they did not kill the elderly clam for the ironic-seeming purpose of finding out its age.
After the eviction of Occupy Santa Cruz last week, some questions loom large: Is this the end of the protest? Without the encampment, will there be further action advancing the movement’s ideals? Have they even figured out, specifically, what those ideals are yet?
The protestors gathered on the courthouse steps after the General Assembly on Sunday expressed little doubt that, although it’s suffered a blow, Occupy Santa Cruz will continue on.
“The camp was for the Occupy protestors to have a 24–hour protest,” Andre Llana says. Given that the purpose of activism was largely diluted toward the end of the camp’s existence, as it turned increasingly away from a platform for protest and into a residence for Santa Cruz’s transient and homeless community, the eviction of the camp may even have done the political focus some good. “All the blowout of the camp did was prove who’s really here for the protest and who’s not,” Llana says. “The camp has been cleared out, but we’re still having General Assemblies. We’re just regrouping,” says protestor Isaac Collins.
Occupy Santa Cruz is now in the same position as most of the other Occupy protests around the country. Kalle Lasn, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Adbusters Magazine and a driving force behind the start of the national movement, told Santa Cruz Weekly that he thinks the protest, rather than fizzling out, is now in its second phase. “Phase one of this movement was very monolithic,” he says. “It was one wonderful occupation without demands, without leaders, and it had a certain magic to it that really worked. Now that’s over and no one really knows what will happen.” But, he continues, “I think it’ll fracture into a myriad of projects of different kinds. I don’t think there’s any clarity of what’s going to happen in the future, but I do think this movement will have long legs.”
One question the movement now faces is to what degree it will focus on physical space. In Santa Cruz in the hours and days following the Dec. 8 sweep of San Lorenzo Park, some protesters turned their energy toward an effort to restore a small vacant lot at Spruce and Pacific into a community garden.
Activist Andy Moscowitz, who’s served as the local protest’s spokesperson, says the biggest thing to come out of Occupy Santa Cruz is “a consciousness as to how we use our space.” But, he adds, “I think the concepts that have come out of the Occupy movement are spreading into people’s awareness and now people are running with them in a million different directions. It’s really diffuse through everything right now.”
Last Friday over the hill, Stanford University took an intellectual approach to the diffuse ideas of the Occupy movement during the “Occupy the Future” event, organized by Stanford professors. Some speakers, like Michele Barry, dean of global health, were specific about directions the Occupy movement could take. “The widening gap between health and equity needs to be upfront and center,” Barry said. “We all need to send a message to Congress when the Affordable Care Act is quietly gutted, as it was a few weeks ago when the House of Representatives took out all of the preventative health care services in the act.”
Others, like former Assemblymember Sally Lieber, more generally sought to keep the ethos of the movement alive in spite of the loss of the encampments. “It’s not just about occupying a physical space. It’s about occupying the intellectual space, occupying the spiritual space,” she says. “Occupy whatever you find is juicy to you.”
As far as the issues that Occupy Santa Cruz finds juicy, given the action of taking over the vacant building on River Street and a recent letter from the General Assembly to the County Board of Supervisors, the group seems to be developing a focus on foreclosures and evictions. This is an emphasis that Occupy protestor Jay Cambell thinks is likely to continue. “The foreclosed homes aspect is very important,” he says. “This week we’re going to the supervisors and to city council and we’re going to bring some individuals who have some very rich stories. By showing the human side of the foreclosures, we hope to sway some hearts and minds and at least get the issue of improper foreclosures looked at.”
Ultimately, while splinter groups may now decide to take on a variety of issues and approaches, Kalle thinks there is still a cohesive element to the national, if not international, protests that have been sparked by Occupy Wall Street.
“All the young people know that their future doesn’t compute, that their lives are going to be full of political, economic and ecological crisis—that if they don’t stand up, they won’t have a future,” he says. “That’s what keeps the movement together. We don’t need a park to keep it focused.
“I think the fact that you in Santa Cruz are part of millions of young people around the world fighting for a global future is a very powerful idea.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
The Occupy encampment in San Lorenzo Park had obviously thinned out by 5pm on Wednesday, the stated deadline for the eviction notice that police issued on Monday. A couple dozen onlookers stood around the periphery of the camp, some linking arms in solidarity, some shaking their heads in dismay. A few policemen strolled around them—a stark contrast to the scene around 7am this morning, when about 90 police officers in riot gear cleared out the approximately 20 tents and people who had stayed the night. While action escalated this morning, the scene at the camp was generally calm yesterday evening. Most who remained in the center of camp sifted through their possessions with varying degrees of haste, or wandered through the remaining 30-some tents while listlessly picking up trash or just singing and talking.
When asked for comment, one of the more purposeful occupiers brusquely replied, clearly frustrated, “No, I’m busy. You can help pick up trash if you want, but I’m not going to talk. If you’re going to be down here, you have to help out.”
Occupier “Tall Mark,” who said he had been at the camp as a homeless person with nowhere else to stay, stood and watched the scene going on around him. “The threat is to have everything taken away, all the tents and everything, and give tickets, I guess,” he said. He noted that most people had packed up earlier that morning, and that those who were still there were homeless, like him, with no clear place to move to.
“Honey,” who is also homeless, said she joined the camp after she had been sleeping on the beach and had been told to move. “I’m not occupying anything by myself,” she said. “I didn’t even know Occupy was going on,” she heartily laughs, “until I asked what was going on for real.”
A nearby man added, “As homeless, we’re powerless. We just try to stay out of the way, that’s all we try to do. I’ve got a backpack and a sleeping bag and I just go wherever, and lay wherever. We’re gonna keep moving.” He paused, adding “But it sucks, you always gotta keep moving, man. It’s nice to be able to relax.”
Activist Andy Moskowitz stood and solemnly watched. “I camped out regularly, but I’m one of the people fortunate to have other places to sleep,” he said. “I wish I could say the same was true for other people. This has been a place of comfort for those who had not had comfort.”
This morning drama on the scene heightened when the police arrived just after 7am. Dale Eugene Kenville, who was there to watch the scene unfold, said, “They came down in riot gear, closed off the bridge that came down to this area and announced, ‘You have one minute to comply, to get your gear and walk away, or you’re going to jail.’”
The Sentinel reports that officers proceeded to clear out the camp at 7:45am by dismantling tents—including the iconic teepee—and carrying away whatever other sundry posessions were left.
Although most of the people who stayed the night quickly left once police arrived to finalize the eviction, a few people pushed back, ending up in six arrests, according to the Sentinel. Those arrested included both Santa Cruz county residents and transients.
At 10am several people were still gathered around the camp, watching the last of the police’s cleanup effort as they raked up the trash still left on the ground. While some of those gathered were campers trying to figure out their next move, others were there purely for the spectacle.
“I’ve never seen my tax dollars spent in a better fashion,“ said onlooker Tim South sarcastically. “It was one thing when it started out as the Occupiers out on the courthouse, but when they started putting tents out down here, it was just an excuse for homeless people to have a free place to stay.” With a grimace he added, “I want to know what Occupier is going to refund me, who’s going to reimburse me for my tax dollars cleaning up their crap.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
Smack in between “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” “Small Business Saturday,” on Nov. 26, promotes the locavore’s alternative to America’s holiday shopping spree. American Express created the national event in hopes of shifting consumer spending toward small businesses—you know, the ones President Obama called “the backbone of our nation’s economy” in 2008. There’s plenty of reason for Obama to have made this claim, and thus reason to support small local businesses.According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which was created as part of the Small Business Act in 1953 to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small businesses,” small businesses (officially classified as firms with less than 500 employees) have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years, employ half of all private sector employees and account for 50 percent of the country’s gross national product, excluding that which comes from farming.
Still, despite their economic importance, small businesses don’t have it easy. The economic crisis is hitting small business owners hard: the fraction of total national retail revenue contributed by locally owned businesses fell from 59 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2009.
While it’s not nearly as well known as the other American shopping events, Small Business Saturday is in its second year running, and American Express’s heavy promotion of this year’s event will help make it a success. They have mobilized supporters using social media such as Facebook and Twitter (Facebook is one of the event’s few corporate sponsors). American Express offers media packages for small businesses that want to more actively take part in the event.
Santa Cruz certainly has plenty of compelling shops that should make it easy for locals who want to participate. It’s a chance to get around the neighborhood, buy holiday gifts and maybe even help turn the economy around.
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
_“I’ve been worried about this problem for 10 years . . . long before this crisis. Long, long before Occupy Wall Street. I’ve been very aware of the fact that the economic system doesn’t work the way that I learned it works in school. Once you’ve taken a couple of classes in economics, it’s obvious that [the theory] is very different from what goes on in the real world . . . classical economics is just not valid—the idea of a self-regulating market is invalid. If you look at the mathematics of it, it’s just impossible. I think one of the worse sins we’re committing is continuing to teach the subject as if it were some kind of a valid pattern for the way things work, and that we should therefore make public policy on the basis of what the subject would tell us. When we do, we see how screwed up things get, and right now we’re seeing that it doesn’t work in an incredibly graphic way. We’re not in a good position to reform yet, because we don’t know what the truth is. I think we need to do a heck of a lot more soul-searching so that we can come up with something better.”
_“I didn’t know about the movement until my caregiver told me about it, and then I saw it on the news. I told my friend, ‘I’m down to support that, I’ll definitely march with you guys.’ We’re the ones suffering—people like myself. They’re trying to cut [funding to] a lot of people like myself—paraplegics—and they’re trying to cut our caregivers so they can put our asses in homes. That’s something that got me riled up. Yeah, pretty much.”
_“I’m trying to get more people involved because a lot of people don’t know what’s going on and what this actually supports—making Wall Street and the upper classes take more responsibility for the state of the economy, and exercising our rights to demand them to take that responsibility. I think the most important thing is that people can feel empowered that we do have choices we can exercise—that’s one of the best parts of America. Instead of getting frustrated and complaining that we should do something, we should come together and realize that when we unite we do have a lot of power, that those days aren’t over. The more empowered people feel, the more they will come together and that’s when ideals can manifest. It’s a way to feel heard, to feel supported—that you’re not alone—and that maybe we can do something about it as a group.”
_“I’m a grandmother, so I would like for children to have a home on our planet, and if we don’t stop killing each other [that won’t happen]. I stand with the Women in Black regularly on Friday nights—we stand for peace. I think [Occupy Santa Cruz] is part of what the Women in Black stand for. There is a lot of stuff besides the Occupy rallies going on, but at least this is in 800 cities in the U.S. and Europe and Japan, as far as I understand. If we don’t stop the military involvement we will never make it as a planet. That’s the level on which I stand. . . we are one world and we need to start loving each other.”
_“I want to support change in the election system and change how the whole system is tilted toward the rich. The Supreme Court made a decision to allow corporations to give as much money as they want, so anyone can just buy off votes. Votes should not be bought . . . that’s not democracy. We don’t have democracy here—money runs things. We all had hope that when we voted for Obama we were going to get change. We didn’t get change at all. Now we want real change. I’m sure there are a lot of different ideas about how it can be done, but that’s wonderful . . . [the Occupy movement] is an amazing thing that’s happening all over the world. The people are rising up, and they’re not going to just get tired and go home, it’s gonna get bigger and bigger.”
_When I originally came down to Santa Cruz, about three weeks ago, I was sleeping in my car because my friends and I didn’t really have very much money and there was nowhere to camp. It’s pretty much illegal to sleep anywhere here—you get arrested or ticketed and things like that. And parking’s ridiculous, too—you’ve got to get up every couple of hours just to feed the meter so you don’t get ticketed for that, too. Anyway, I met a guy named Dreamcatcher—we were talking about camping and he said there was a protest going on over here. I wanted to come see what it was about because I kind of enjoy protesting things—as long as it’s something worth protesting. So I came down here, found out what it’s about, and I’ve been here ever since, 24/7. We’ve got a really nice system going on here.
_I was already homeless and sleeping here before the protestors came, so it was kind of a natural thing to do for me to get involved. I was here with a lot of my friends, who were homeless too. We’ve had a very interesting integration time with the Occupy people. I helped get things organized a bit—I’ve been here for five years, so I kind of know what’s going on. I have all kinds of outlets for resources, because I’ve used them all. Whenever anybody asks how to get something I know where to tell them to go. There’s really nothing that you can’t get, appropriately. I came here with nothing but the clothes on my back. Now I have a nice tent that was given to me, a brand new sleeping bag that was given to me, an air mattress that was given to me, a guitar—just by making contact with people. I’ve been doing the right things for the right people, just genuinely, and boy do they come back with nice surprises. And the police and legislatures in this town are just really bending over backwards for us—I know the difference. We’ve got the resources of the world here—we’ve got bathroom facilities . . . oh my gosh, I don’t even want to say what we did before.
_It’s now obvious that the Occupy Wall Street movement has captured the public eye. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the nationwide movement filled 10 percent of the overall big media newshole Oct. 10-16, up from 7 percent the previous week and from just 2 percent the week before that. With coverage during that time in outlets from the Santa Cruz Sentinel to the Huffington Post, Occupy Santa Cruz proves no exception to the national trend. But is the media getting it right?
“In general, the mainstream media has had a very difficult time framing Occupy for the same reason that detractors have found it easy to criticize us: the movement is novel and very unlike any previous protest movement,” says Andy Moskowitz, a member of Occupy Santa Cruz’s media working group. “It’s hard, for this reason, to write a traditional hook, a traditional 600–word newspaper story or 120–second television brief. And it’s hard to see what we’re about until you approach us at street level.” Thya Shea, another member of the media working group, adds, “There’s been a lot of generalizations because people aren’t able to peg it down. People don’t know how to report on it. I don’t think [these generalizations] accurately depict what we’re doing.”
Like the protests that took place in Egypt and Israel earlier this year, and on which some say Occupy Wall Street was originally based, Occupy Santa Cruz has heavily relied upon alternative forms of media to get the word out in the way the members of movement themselves see fit—an approach that has proven quite successful. “Within the first four days that the Facebook page was up, there were like 750 likes,” Shea says. “Ten days later was [our first] General Assembly and 300 people showed up, advertised purely through Facebook. I remember saying [before the General Assembly], ‘We’ll see what a like on Facebook means in person . . . whether people actually get off of their couches for it,’ and in this community, they did.” The page now has over 5,000 likes. “I visit the Facebook page like 900 times a day,” laughs David Schlesinger, another member of the media working group.
The media working group is still brainstorming ways to broadcast their message. They’re hoping to create “a more democratic newsmedia” on their website, occupysantacruz.org. “We’re trying to allow people to directly voice their opinion . . . we’d like our publication to not just represent the General Assemblies, but also the diversity of the people [that attend them],” Moscowitz says. He explains that it’s a difficult task because “a lot of people have a lot of things they’d like to say about Occupy Santa Cruz, but we can’t publish everything having it look like it represents the group [as a whole].” They thus plan to accept “community reporting” through a contact form on the site, letting individuals send in essays, photos or videos. “Our occupation is far less about the Federal Reserve than it is about us,” says Moscowitz. “It’s our connections, it’s our process, it’s our working groups, it’s our shared meals and campouts that make this movement newsworthy and revolutionary.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
_Luis Benitez paused when he saw me coming down and leaned into the axe planted in the snow above him.
“Hey Sam, how’re you feeling?”
“Good . . . tired,” I replied, my voice weak.
“I’ll bet you are,” he said, and laughed. “Why don’t you go back to base camp, get yourself a coke, go to college, find a hot boyfriend—how ‘bout a junior—and forget this scene for a while,” he said.
That was one of the first conversations I had coming down from the top of Everest in 2007. Benitez, an experienced guide, was headed up for his group’s own summit bid, what would be his sixth summit of the peak. After our meeting he continued on to the top of the world, but once he got there, instead of the usual euphoria he felt something less pleasant.
“I felt pretty disillusioned,” he told me over the phone a few days ago as he walked his dogs around his Colorado neighborhood.
Benitez’s discomfiture stemmed from an event that had occurred about seven months before, while we were both on Cho Oyu, the 26,906-foot Himalayan giant 19 miles west of Everest. While I was high up on the mountain making my summit bid, Benitez was back at base camp, where he witnessed a tragic event unfold, an event recounted in the film Tibet: Murder in the Snow, which will screen Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Del Mar and feature a post-film discussion with Benitez. The film features first-hand footage taken by Romanian mountaineer Sergiu Matei.
On Sept. 30, 2006, Benitez and about 100 other mountaineers heard gunshots coming from the Nangpa La, a 19,050-foot-high mountain pass between Tibet and Nepal visible from camp. Still used for commercial trade, it and other passes like it historically provided the gateway for Tibetans into Nepal, allowing for the settlement of the well-known Sherpa communities in Nepal’s high Himalaya. It has now become known as the “poor person’s refugee gate.”
“Many wealthy Tibetans can buy their way out of the country,” Benitez says. “But [poorer] Tibetans can’t do that . . . their only choice is something like this pass—they can’t afford bribes, they can’t afford permissions.”
The Chinese border patrol had opened fire on about 70 Tibetans who were making an attempt to flee by way of the pass. Even with crude weaponry and aim, they managed to lodge a fatal bullet into the back of Kelsang Namtso, a 17-year-old nun hoping to escape into India in order to freely practice her religion and realize her dream of meeting the Dalai Lama.
I didn’t hear about the incident until I returned to base camp, and even then I only heard a few scattered details. “There was a body on the pass, but don’t worry, it’s been cleaned up now,” I was told. It was only after I returned to the states that I realized the irony that while I, a 17-year-old Westerner, stood on the top of a mountain under which, by some Buddhist legends, the instructions on how to save the world from chaos are buried, Chinese officials prodded the lifeless body of a 17-year-old nun who had made a desperate attempt for a better life, taking photos with her body and the summit in the background.
The event created a rift in the mountaineering community. Some of the guides, people from the Western world running a business for Western clients, didn’t want the information to get out for fear they wouldn’t be able to get permits to return the next year. The Chinese government, they reasoned, would have no reason to let climbers into the country in the future if it meant having witnesses who would report on incidents such as this one.
Benitez says he was appalled when he learned that no one else planned to report the shooting. After he wrote an anonymous article for the website http://www.explorersweb.com, a couple of other guides found out and, Benitez says, “came down on my head for speaking out. It was a cussing and screaming match.” Then they told him that the Chinese government had his name, that he’d better get out of there.
After Benitez was safely home, British journalist Jonathan Green picked up his story. “He told me that if we did the story, you’d have to name names [of who tried to cover it up], you’d have to call the whole thing out. I knew if I did it was going to change my career. I felt that something was broken [in the mountaineering community], so I chose to collaborate on the article.”
According to Benitez, the release of the event had the feared effect: it caused permitting and logistics to become much more difficult on Cho Oyu. He says the release of Green’s article in Men’s Journal, which denounced the climbers who chose to remain silent about the event, also fractured the mountaineering community—not just about whether to continue to fuel “summit fever,” the term invoked when mountaineers seemingly put their own glory ahead of helping their fellow man—but also over what would be the best course of action for the greatest number of people in Tibet.
“I get it,” Benitez says, “we provide work and revenue to Sherpas and the Tibetans. It’s a loss of income to them. It affects their livelihood. But to me, the bottom line for it all was a question of human rights.”
The net effect of publicizing the event is unclear. Benitez says the Chinese government “still calls it normal border management to this day.” What’s more, China built a new garrison port to catch refugees going over the pass. Attempts to get the incident recognized as a crime against humanity were stalled because it “was not a genocide,” says Benitez.
But Benitez says filling in the knowledge void about China’s relationship with Tibet is still important. He equates the average Chinese person’s level of knowledge about the treatment of Tibetans to what residents of the 13 colonies were told about the Native Americans. “They’re told [by the government] that they’re bringing infrastructure, health care, religion—isn’t it great?” Benitez says. “They don’t hear about border shootings or mass killings due to religion. It’s all perspective.
“This is the first time in 50 years that Westerners have seen and spoken out about it. It’s a sticky subject for climbing and human rights because we don’t know what to do with it.”
Originally Published in the Santa Cruz Weekly: