Great things about blizzards

Yep, we’re having a blizzard here in Colorado today. But there are a few really great things about my situation:
– I’m a freelancer, so I’m already hunkered down at work. I didn’t have to debate whether to go in to the office this morning (when it was reasonable to consider leaving the house).
– We’re gear junkies, so we have plenty of gear for dealing with snow–warm clothes, crampons, snowshoes, goggles. I’m considering skiing over to my local pizza place for dinner, if they’re open. Considering the wind, I should probably wear my helmet.
– Yes, cornices are forming on my roof, and the wind is piling snow onto my front walk at an alarming rate. But we have a regular old snow shovel, plus the tiny ones you can carry on a backpack.
– The internet is alive and well, and so is the heat. If things go south with our modern comforts, we have a camp stove.
– Temps are supposed to be back in the 50s this weekend, so I’ll be able to leave the house and drive to the mountains to ski (beyond my pizza place).

– A snow day is a perfect day to stay home and write. If you’re not busy skiing for pizza.

People who push

Last year, my husband took up skiing again after a long absence, and after taking a class with the Colorado Mountain Club, he went out with our friends for a seemingly innocent day at a resort.

“I’m pretty sure Mark and Judy were trying to kill me,” he reported upon his return home, grinning broadly in the way outdoorsy types do upon surviving a challenging day.

This is why we like Mark and Judy.

Last week, we were all in Ouray to ice climb and took a day off from the ice to ski at Telluride. I’m learning how to telemark ski this year; I’ve been downhill skiing exactly eight times to date, and Telluride was number seven. Though I tried to dissuade them, Mark and Judy kindly took a warm-up run on greens with me. We rode a lift together above lodge-sized stone-and-wood ski homes (was one Oprah’s?!?), then we cruised down green runs. Mark gave me tips and I executed some sloppy-and-slow tele turns.

I tried to send our friends off to ski bowls and double-black chutes after this, but instead I was somehow talked into following them to the top of the mountain to take blue runs down to where we’d agreed to meet the rest of the group for lunch.

“But, I can take greens there if I go this way,” I said as pointed at the trail map.

“These blues really aren’t that bad from what I remember,” Judy said.

“Yeah, you can do them,” Mark said, nodding confidently.

They were a little too convincing, and I fell for it and followed them up the mountain.

It was the second time that Judy said, “Really Jenn, this is the worst part,” that I knew it was my turn at attempted homicide-by-sport.

Some people take to skiing easily. I have not. It’s because of my past. You see, I have childhood skiing trauma. It involves tears, Tahoe, and an expensive pink snowsuit. Others–perhaps those who don’t have memories of cold nylon mitts wiping away the snot of humiliation after repeated wipe-outs on the bunny slope–could easily ski blue slopes on the seventh time out. I did not.

The group waited for me at the bottom of each steep section and watched my feeble turns and nervous side-slipping. I grew more and more tired and finally crashed and didn’t get up simply because I needed a rest. My husband skied over to me and asked whether I was okay.

“I’m just completely wasted,” I panted. “Will you guys please just ski down to where we’re having lunch and I’ll meet you there? I’m going to sit here for a minute.”

Eventually, I made it down the hill and to lunch. Judy was smiling nervously as she ushered me to the table.

“Do you hate us?” She asked.

My legs wobbled underneath as I fell into a chair. “I hate you now, but I’ll love you later.”

And I meant it. The later, of course. One of the reasons that we hang out with Judy and Mark is that they push us. There are plenty of people out there who will sit on your couch with you and eat ice cream all evening. I love those friends, too, but when it comes to motivation, I can motivate myself to sit on the sofa. But finding someone who cares enough to try to kill you and your spouse via a sport you’re learning to love? Well, that’s rare.

People who push you should be embraced. People who push you have enough passion to risk your very friendship for the pursuit of something bigger than your ego and your doubt. They push you into empowerment.

I made it down the hill in one piece, and I learned some important survival-skiing skills. So I’m grateful for the push. Besides, it was karma–I’m one of them. I’d pushed one of the women in our Ouray group to try a mixed climb at the ice park the day before.

Bailout Contagion: Rescue Print Media

Print media should ride the fumes of the big three’s inevitable bailout and ask for its own.

The solution to the ongoing woes of writers, editors and photographers everywhere began to coalesce last week as I watched congressional hearings with the CEOs of America’s failing automobile giants. Simultaneously, news flew across Twitter that the Rocky Mountain News is up for sale. On a local media listserve I follow, freelancers for the Rocky and other failing publications sought out advice from veterans who’ve weathered recession before. Today, the Tribune Co. is “Flirting with Bankruptcy” says the NYT.

Are we print journalists any different than the auto workers, or even Wall Street? Like the auto industry, we stuck to an eco-unfriendly model far too long and were short-sighted and late in adopting new technology. Like the financial analysts, we rely on complex yet bullish financing to make ends meet. If any part of the shabby structure fails–like classified ads giving way to Craig’s List–the whole publication is in trouble.

We’re bleeding jobs, too. Journalists have faced job cuts for years as magazines and newspapers have culled their ranks and even outsourced jobs to India. Are we missing any of the bailout credentials? Wait–a free press is an essential component of any democracy. That gives us the ideological and cultural cred we were missing to join in bailout contagion.

Doesn’t that make us too big to fail?

Ice climbing is stupid

Ice climbing is pretty stupid.

Non-climbers, I know what you’re thinking: Duh, any idiot can see that it’s a ridiculous sport. Non-climbers lump ice climbing in with other relatively stupid activities, like deep-water scuba diving into a cave with sharks, or pretty much anything Bear Grylls does in your average episode of Man vs. Wild: Now, the last thing you want to do in this situation is get wet or hurt, but I’m going to jump into this raging river of freezing glacial meltwater and dodge sharp boulders to reach the other shore. Once there, I’ll catch a poisonous snake and eat it raw, and bend a tree over a cliff and slide down it to execute a sketchy descent that I don’t really need to risk.

Climbers: You think it’s perfectly normal to climb ice. But ice climbing is stupid, and you’re in denial if you think otherwise.

First off, it’s freaking cold out there. It has to be–no ice to climb without freezing temperatures. Much like skiers, when the thermostat dips below 32, ice climbers rejoice. They dream of climbing and conveniently forget about the crash of sitting motionless (except for chattering teeth) in 20-degree temps while belaying their climbing partners. They forget they’ll have the screaming barfies in their hands and feet when they climb again. No, selective memory dominates, and a good freeze-thaw cycle makes ice climbers itch all over and methodically sharpen ice tools and crampons in preparation for an infusion of their crack.

This sharpening of the already pointy tools of the trade is the next reason why ice climbing is stupid. Your chances of self-inflicted stabbing are high. Despite my best efforts and caution, I poked numerous crampon holes in my gaiters and pants in one short season. While mixed climbing a week or so ago, I dropped an ice tool while holding it directly over my head. Fearing serious bodily harm, I swung out of the way but for some reason instinctively reached out to catch it–and succeeded in grabbing it by the shaft, not the pick. Witnesses were impressed by my reflexes, but this incident could have ended in a puncture wound rather than in cheers. I was lucky.

Reason number three is the obvious problem with ice: ice breaks. Regularly. Ice climbing almost always results in some amount of ice breaking and falling. Dodging falling ice is a sport unto itself, and here in Colorado, where ice climbing is fairly popular and thin smears draw a crowd, there are some losers in the game.

Lastly, I have proof from the insurance industry that ice climbing is stupid. If you’re a rock climber, State Farm probably will insure you. Rock climbing can be relatively safe, and since most rock climbers are fit, educated, and extremely committed to safety, we can get life insurance. During my underwriting interview with the company’s climbing guru, I was passing his questions with flying colors.

“Do you take classes?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Do you do any high-altitude mountaineering?”


“Climb big walls and sleep on a portaledge?”


“Wear a helmet?”


Then he said:

“Okay, here’s where I lose most people. Do you ice climb?”


The stupidity of ice climbing really hit home when we were out with a guide recently and he told us that when rock climbers ask him about ice he says, don’t do it. Later, stretching for a divot in the rock with my ice tool, I complained about being short and he said, “Well, I’d remind you that you’re taller than Lynn Hill, but she’s smart and doesn’t ice climb.” Then, this uber-experienced, safety-obsessed guide proceeded to juggle my ice tools and nearly stab himself when he dropped one.

I gazed at us standing in the snow, freezing, sharp objects everywhere, ice on the ground, all having a blast putting metal to rock and ice and laughing at the juggling antics. For the first time, I realized we all had a screw loose.

(That’s another thing–ice screws for protection? Crazy.)

So if you’re not already an ice climber, please, heed my guide’s warning, don’t do it. It’s stupid. It’s dangerous. The screaming barfies hurt, but not as much as falling ice or ice tools.

But if I’m too late to stop you, I’ll see you out there next weekend with my freshly sharpened tools, hot tea in my backpack, and helmet securely fastened to my stupid head.

New media v. old media back home at ol’ Mizzou

Back at my alma mater, the journalism school‘s faculty and the board of the Columbia Missourian are trying to figure out what the heck to do with a failing community newspaper.

There’s nothing unusual about the situation. Newspapers all over the country are in the same sinking boat and have been for years. Print sales are falling, and classified sales are virtually nonexistent. But there is something unusual about the Missourian: The paper serves as a learning lab for every student in a print or online media sequence in the journalism school. It’s not a student newspaper — it’s a community daily.

(However, one of MU’s student newspapers, the Maneater, covered the story here.)

The board is interested in being financially stable, but because of the Missourian’s place in the j-school curriculum, they also have to meet the needs of the students. So they’re throwing every option out there for consideration, including abandoning the 100-year-old press across the street (Missouri is the country’s oldest journalism school) and going putting all of their eggs in the online basket.

The story broke several weeks ago, but for some reason, just this week the j-school alumni have started discussing the plight of the Missourian on our Yahoo group. Since it’s so personal to all of us who suffered through the crash course in newspaper journalism that the Missourian provides, it’s been the most heated and nuanced discussion I’ve seen about new media.

The Missourian has been ahead of its time in going online, creating a citizen journalism project, offering a downloadable PDF version of the daily print version, mobile news and multimedia storytelling. Will it also be an early adopter of the next way to be a newspaper — to eliminate the paper? It’s hard to say just yet, beause this isn’t about the fate of a newspaper. It’s about where journalism education is right now and where it will go next.

Up next, the best of the alumni arguments.

You signed up for this

As promised, here’s part two of why the media scrutiny of Sarah Palin is perfectly normal.

When you run for public office in this country, you are fair game in the eyes of the media. The American people are electing you to a position of power. You are meant to represent the voice and will of the people. You will oversee our tax dollars and enforce or create our laws.

So if you’re running for office, we the people want to know a little bit about you.

Someone has to learn all about you and disseminate that information to the public, because if we don’t know who we’re voting for, then we no longer live in a democracy. The handlers for politicians aren’t going to give you the whole story, because they’re working for the politicians to make them look their best. The pundits pick and choose what information they disseminate based on an agenda; they answer to their base.

Now, a lot of people aren’t going to believe this, and it is a bit shocking, so I hope you’re sitting down: The media works for and answers to YOU.

Yeah yeah, we can argue about corporate ownership of the major news organizations, someone can chime in with a quip about Rupert Murdoch and skewer the “media elite,” and don’t even get me started on how the mainstream media covers celebrities. I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a perfect system.

However, when you boil it down to the basics, the whole point of the profession of journalism is to serve the public by giving them the truth.

So is the press picking on Sarah Palin, or anyone else involved with the election? No. She chose to accept the nomination and knew the consequences. Like every politician before her, she has chosen to enter a profession that puts her and her family in the spotlight. And the press, as the only nongovernmental check on power, is simply doing its job and investigating a person who chose this path.

If you don’t like it, then you shouldn’t have signed up for this.

Going Green, the American Way

Australians are picking up on a way of getting things done that we here in the U.S. know rather well. From Australia’s Business Day:

“Companies could face class actions from shareholders unless the companies adequately report the risks that climate change poses to their businesses.

While climate change-related litigation has been confined to planning in Australia, class actions against regulatory authorities have been taken up in the US.”

That’s right — sue. The Great Barrier Reef isn’t going to save itself, mates. (At least, not for a very long time.) Stockholders, your companies aren’t going to stop polluting just because you ask them to, or because of some expensive regulations, or because the CEO thought the Outback looked so beautiful in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that he thought, hey, let’s protect it! (Choose your own Australian cliche and insert here.)

Litigation. It’s the American Way.

The redundancy of environmental Buddhism

What is the difference between an ecobuddhist and a regular ol’ Buddhist?

Yesterday I discovered, which conveys environmental messages in slightly different packaging. Here’s a quote from an interview with Dudjom Rinpoche on the site:

“Well, then it seems renewable energy is possible, but the negative forces who seek to continue excessive use of fossil fuels are still too strong. It would be very difficult to change all these things at once.  If we want to climb upstairs, we have to go step by step. If we build a house, first we lay foundations, and that takes time.  Scientists and others should work together to progressively establish the benefit of new, harmonious energy sources.  We have to make real effort to achieve the benefits of renewable energy. It is probably not possible to change everybody’s attitude immediately. But I think, cooperative, progressive efforts can lead to better results in the future.”

When Dudjom Rinpoche says “negative forces,” I hear the NRDC saying “the oil industry.”

When I spotted this site, I thought, pshaw, aren’t all Buddhists environmentalists, anyway? Buddhism asks adherents to take responsibility for their minds, their worlds–it’s not a leap to environmentalism from there.

Well, I was wrong. According to a U.S. religious landscape survey at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, not all Buddhists are environmentalists. A mere 75 percent of U.S. Buddhists said “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.”

I guess they’re worried about that other 25 percent.

Condensed scrutiny

This might seem smack-your-head obvious, but in all of the defenses I’ve read of the media elite‘s “attacks” on Sarah Palin, no one has came out and stated the obvious. Before the announcement that she would be McCain’s running mate, no one in the lower 48 (what they like to call “outside” in Alaska) had ever heard of her, therefore: She has to undergo the same scrutiny as everyone else all at once, rather than spread out over months of primaries or a decades-long career in national politics.

Is this really that hard to understand?

Journalists don’t get together and say, hey! Let’s pick on this VP candidate none of us know! That’s not how it works. Journalists ask questions. Lots of them. Who is she? What does she stand for? What is her record? Why is she on this ticket? Where is Wasilla? The public, our stakeholders, didn’t know the answers to these questions.  So journalists had to ask and answer.

Everyone else has been scrutinized already. No one really knew Obama before, either, but the press has had a year to analyze, dig, dig more, scrutinize, interview, dig — you get my point. Hillary Clinton even used this as a talking point during her campaign; everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the dirt on her.

When you enter the national stage with a flash and a bang, that’s how you’ll enter the fourth estate, too. The press isn’t picking on Sarah Palin. The press is doing its job as quickly as possible to bridge that knowledge gap. Now, stay tuned for part two: why choosing to run for elected government office in this country makes you 100 percent fair game to be scrutinized by the media. (Hint: It’s called democracy.)