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Beyond adventure porn

Emily Underwood | May 19, 2009 05:49 AM

Adventure sport films can be a lot like pornography. Claiming little-to-no real artistic merit, they are produced explicitly for the excitement of the viewer and the ego-gratification of the performers. They have predictable soundtracks. They provide the chance for adrenaline junkies to sit, slack-jawed, and live vicariously through someone else’s physical abandon. Other adventure sport films achieve a higher level, more like erotica, “... in which the sexual element is regarded as part of the larger aesthetic aspect.” In these documentaries, reckless physical acts are seen as serving some larger point or higher purpose.

At the 2nd Annual 5 Point Film Festival in Carbondale, CO, organizers did their darndest to show a collection of films that went beyond mindless stimulation. Their mission was lofty and commendable: “to inspire adventure of all kinds, to connect generations through shared experience and respect, to engage passion with a conscience, and to educate through film.”

Not surprisingly, the results were mixed. Some of the films stayed comfortably within the realm of adventure porn: “Faster, steeper, higher, deeper.” The maniacal joy in the eyes of extreme backcountry skiers, gnarly climbers and suicidal base jumpers did inspire the thought, Where oh where is my passion?,  but didn’t make any coherent argument about why you should follow your passion to remote slopes in Alaska by helicopter rather than to, say, Prada, and charge thousands to your husband’s credit card. Depending on your taste, both experiences provide deep aesthetic satisfaction. They are both expensive, potentially risky, and make you look fantastic. But do they make you a better person?

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John Sutter's paramour was named Manuiki

Terray Sylvester | May 18, 2009 08:17 AM

Native American sovereignty, trans-Pacific tribal ties, an intriguing new twist to the Gold Rush and centuries-old gossip about John Sutter's love life: all that in a surprising article that recently ran in the Sacramento Bee. It's a must-read for anyone who gets a kick out of learning that western history is more complicated than most of us think.

Here's the lede: a northern California band of Miwok Indians are supporting a bill that would allow native Hawaiians to govern themselves and negotiate for state and federal land. The bill has failed in the past, but now it's backed by Obama. It may not seem surprising that one tribe would support another's bid for sovereignty, but the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians have an extra incentive to celebrate if the bill passes: they're part Hawaiian themselves.

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New Ag-Jobs bill hits Congress

Marty Durlin | May 18, 2009 05:00 AM

As High Country News noted last Fall in a story called Field Day, these days it's hard for growers to find enough agricultural workers to tend and pick their crops. With tougher enforcement on the Mexican border, stiffer penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants, and a cumbersome H-2A guest worker program, many growers are in a pinch.

In Colorado and other Western states, prison laborers have been filling in for immigrant farm workers in the orchards and vineyards.

Now Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) have introduced the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act in both houses of Congress. The bill would mandate a program to legalize immigrant farm workers who have worked in the U.S. for two years. It would also streamline the H-2A guest worker program. 

Similar legislation died in Congress two years ago, as have a string of immigration reform measures. The current bill has bipartisan support in the House, but not in the Senate, where all 16 co-sponsors are Democrats.  Still, both growers and farmworkers support the bill, and it may have a chance of passing, even if more comprehensive immigrant reform legislation cannot be agreed upon. A New York Times editorial called it "a model compromise, mixing pro-business pragmatism with a commitment to protecting workers."

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Jaguars A to Z

Jodi Peterson | May 18, 2009 03:42 AM

For years, HCN contributor Tony Davis has been following -- and writing about -- the Southwest's endangered jaguars. The rare cats are in danger of being wiped out in the U.S. by the border fence that isolates them from their Mexican counterparts (see our story Cat Fight on the Border). Recently, a huge male cat, the oldest known jaguar in this country, was killed when a wolf and bear trapping project went wrong. Davis, an Arizona Daily Star reporter, was on that story when it broke, and now the paper has a Web page with all the latest news about the jaguar.  A great resource for keeping up with the unfolding story of death, ambition ... and lawsuits.

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Poor Lake Powell

Jonathan Thompson | May 15, 2009 04:40 AM

The snow's melting fast here in Western Colorado's mountains, thanks to a sudden surge in temperatures after a cool spring. A lot of dust on the snow is also contributing: The dust diminishes the snow's reflectivity, meaning more of the sun's heat penetrates the snow, meaning the snow melts quickly.

As a result, the streams and rivers around here are muddy, roiling, raging torrents, just as we like them. They join together and gather force here, and dump into the swollen Colorado River about 50 miles away. Ultimately, all that water ends up in Lake Powell, pushing its spare winter levels up significantly. In the last month, alone, the reservoir has risen six feet, and that trend will continue for a little while. That does not mean the notorious bathtub ring that symbolizes protracted drought will disappear -- not even close.

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Dancing to the Tohono O'odham polka

Marty Durlin | May 14, 2009 08:57 AM

Joaquin BrothersPolka is everywhere, including on the Tohono O'odham Nation in southwestern Arizona, where the Joaquin Brothers band -- playing a form of polka music that accompanies the "chicken scratch," a popular dance on the reservations of the Southwest -- has been going for more than 50 years.

"Waila" is taken from "baila," which means dance in Spanish. Blending polka, waltz, tejano, cumbia and Norteno, Waila's roots go back as far as the late 1700s, when European immigrants brought their accordions with them to work on the railroads. When electricity came to the reservations in the 1950s and '60s, the Joaquin Brothers amped it up with electric keyboards and guitars. They also added saxophones.

The band was founded by Angelo Joaquin, who was lured to Los Angeles ("where employment was plentiful") in the 1950s by the federal government's Urban Relocation Program. In Los Angeles, Joaquin formed his first group at the Papago Club, where relocated Tohono O'odham members gathered. Three generations later, the band is going strong and a new PBS documentary entitled "Waila: Making the People Happy" features the Joaquin family playing and telling their story.

Directed by Quechan Daniel Golding, the film follows the Joaquins from the reservation to Carnegie Hall, where they performed in 1994. "I wanted people to see a side of Native America not normally portrayed -- one that is a true representation of the Native spirit, fun," says Golding.

Curious? You can hear the Joaquin Brothers play such tunes as "Hohokam Polka" at Canyon Records.

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Get to know the locals

Terray Sylvester | May 14, 2009 06:17 AM

Encana has a bit of a reputation for looking out for wildlife. Though predictably, it's an ambiguous  one. High Country News has covered the oil and gas company's efforts to trade habitat restoration dollars for sweetheart lease deals, and its practice of padding drill sites to minimize vegetation impacts. Those moves may not add up to much more than a "perfumed pig" -- as Wyoming Governor Freudenthal once put it -- but still, the company's latest effort in the general area of wildlife awareness piqued my interest. Recently, Encana teamed up with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to produce a DVD titled: "Wildlife in Colorado: what you should know." The 15-minute reel will be shown to oil and gas workers before they're dispatched to the field, and I was curious to see what it would cover. During an average day on the job what can a worker do, I wondered, to reduce the impacts of such an important, and such a dirty, industry?

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Gratuitous displays of ignorance

Emily Underwood | May 12, 2009 11:35 AM


Yesterday morning I got sucked into a vortex of reader comments on several articles about Native American issues. One story by NPR echoed our January feature story by Andrea Appleton, "Blood Quantum," describing the controversy over what percentage of Indian blood is required to enroll in a tribe. The second, from the Great Falls Tribune,  described the Little Shell tribe's struggle for official recognition and its accompanying benefits. The third,  from The Missoulian, reported Congress' second attempt to formulate an official apology to Native peoples for their treatment by the U.S. government.

All three articles inspired lively discussions. Some of the comments were well reasoned and thought-provoking. The majority were un-researched and inflammatory. Reading them reminded me of trying to hold a conversation with someone high or crazy -- if you're not careful you'll start doubting your own sanity. Anyone who reads much online news and participates in or reads discussion boards will recognize this kind of comment, written in response to the Missoulian article about the proposed U.S. apology. This is one of the milder, more coherent examples.

"NoFreeSpeec" writes: 

"And who's going to give me an appology for being white and labled a racist everyday of the week, my ancestors where in europe being persecuted back when all of this was supposedly happening to the indaians and now I'm getting lumped in and held responsible...It's like taking my money away to pay for something my friend's great grandfather MIGHT have done, and MIGHT have even done in good cause because someone had killed his family...Maybe we should just send all these minority groups off to fight wars to 'presever of freedom" seeing how they are the only ones who get to keep it, because I sure don't, I open my mouth and I'm called a racist. NO wonder no one trusts our government anymore."

And so on. 

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Western Imagery

Ed Quillen | May 11, 2009 10:42 AM

    When we look out our windows, do we always see the real West out there, or do we often perceive what photographers have taught us to to see?
    The question comes up with an exhibit of 120 photographs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Called "Into the Sunset, Photography's Image of the American West," it runs through June 8.
    According to MoMA's  website, the photos "illustrate photography's role in popularizing ideas of the sublime landscape, Manifest Destiny, and the 'land of opportunity,' as well as describing a more complex vision of the West, one that addresses cultural dislocation, environmental devastation, and failed social aspiration."
    Not that I'm likely to see the exhibit, but you see a dozen of the photos, along with some thought-provoking commentary by Sara Boxer, at  Slate, an on-line magazine.
    It's well worth an on-line visit where you'll learn that "You may be the victim of a great Western fantasy," since photography "has done more than anything to construct our vision of the West."
    My own attitude about photography and the West developed when I was reviewing a book of gorgeous mountain landscape photos, and it struck me that these were to the real mountains as Playmate photos were to real women. Real women have stretch marks and moles; Playmates don't. Real mountains have road cuts and power lines and mine dumps; Coffee-Table Book Mountains don't.
    In both cases, a photographer seems to be promoting a fantasy, and perhaps it has ever been so in the West.


Notes from el Mundo Nuevo

Michael Wolcott | May 11, 2009 02:30 AM

We are not talking about border policy here. This is about Planet Desert.

The hungers grow. Fewer crumbs reach the global economy’s bottom-dwellers, so they abandon the slums and failing campos to take their best shots at something more. For this, they must be hunted. I am in the Altar Valley to look at the tracks.

The Altar Valley south of Tucson is one of those places where Latin America and the United States have stopped remembering their own names. “The border” has become an inadequate term for such Homeland Security hotspots. They are el mundo nuevo, the new world.

Here on this militarized edge, with its checkposts and spy towers and aerial surveillance, much is revealed. Old notions crumble. The might of the U.S. security state is rendered irrelevant by poor people in sneakers. The shrill debate over immigration is drowned out—by helicopter traffic and by the silence of mourning. Instead there are mere facts: a $500 million-dollar wall and triple-digit temperatures; human desperation licking at finite resources; cartels, coyotes, and luckless poor people dying on the rocks.

It is late March, just before the killing heat arrives. The truck bounces along in 4-wheel-drive. The woman at the wheel is with a gringo humanitarian group that puts out plastic jugs of water on the migrant trails. The jugs are dated, and bear messages scrawled in Spanish with black markers: “Good Luck Amigo!” and “Be Strong!" The jugs are often found empty, slashed with knives.

Twenty miles to the west, across the valley, sunrise flares pink on a huge stump of old volcanic rock called Baboquivari Peak. A few miles to the south, the Las Guijas Mountains are sprayed with dusty gold. The woman says there is a place in the Las Guijas that I must see. 

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