thanks to dewey nelsonNovember 23rd, 2015
‘The Unicorns’, Allie Westover, Daphne Mortenson, Taylor Alcozer, Ella Jacobs and Skyler Westover played in a parking lot before a Boy Scouts meeting in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Nov. 13. (Allie is 13; the other four girls are 10.) Credit Sarah Rice for The New York Times
By JULIE TURKEWITZ
NY Times Published: NOV. 22, 2015
SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Five girls wearing pink and black shoes and makeshift scout uniforms stood before top Boy Scout brass this month and made an announcement: We want in.
“I want to be a Boy Scout,” Allie Westover, 13, told a panel of men in khaki uniforms weighted by pins and patches. She dropped a scout application in front of them. Then so did her sister, Skyler, and three friends: Ella Jacobs, Daphne Mortenson and Taylor Alcozer.
In a year in which gender roles in traditional American institutions have undergone major changes and challenges, a fight in Northern California over joining the Boy Scouts is among the most recent points of contention. These girls — the latest of many over the decades who have sought to become Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts instead of Brownies and Girl Scouts — say they would rather be camping and tying knots than selling cookies.
And they say shifting attitudes are on their side: Bathrooms are going unisex in deference to transgender people, the Supreme Court has redefined marriage to include same-sex couples, and even the Boy Scouts have softened their stance on gay scouts and scout leaders.
In this liberal-minded community, about two hours north of San Francisco, a group of girls ages 10 and 13 who have named themselves the Unicorns want to formally join the Boy Scouts, the 105-year-old organization that has long considered itself the cradle of American male leadership. None of them want to be boys — they just want to play like them.
“Because we’re girls we can’t participate with boys?” said Ella, 10. “When we get into the real world, we’re going to have to work with other people who are, like, not just girls.”
But they face stiff legal obstacles: Among other factors, Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination by sex, carves out an exception for the Boy Scouts, allowing them to exclude members based on gender.
Indeed, even as the Boy Scouts have brought gay members into the fold, the organization has guarded its boys-only ethos. While allowing girls to participate in some affiliated programs, it keeps them out of the core scouting curriculum that has built a reputation as the most rigorous youth development program in the nation.
“We understand that the values and the lessons of scouting are attractive to the entire family,” the national Boy Scouts organization said in an email to reporters. “However, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are year-round programs for boys and young men.”
The Unicorns began to consider themselves Boy Scouts last fall, after they enrolled in a skills-building course, Learning for Life, that is affiliated with the organization and is offered to boys and girls. Several Unicorns had tried the Girl Scouts but found the experience too sedate: rest time and whispering instead of playing tag and lighting fires.
A spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Northern California disagreed with that assessment. “Outdoor experience has really always been a hallmark of what we do,” said the spokeswoman, Nikki Van Ausdall. “If they want to come back to join us, we’re thrilled to have them.”
Led by Ella’s mother, Danelle Jacobs, 43, the Unicorns moved quickly from the course lessons to more formal Boy Scout activities: earning badges, hiking alongside boy groups and buying uniforms that mimicked those worn by boys.
In the spring, the Unicorns placed second in a major scouting competition called camporee, where they went up against dozens of Boy Scout groups judged for grit and spirit.
“We can do the same things boys can — proven from camporee,” Ella said in an interview at her home. She waved a fistful of ribbons: first place in team building, second in backpacking, third in slingshot. “There’s no really ‘girl things’ or ‘boy things.’”
Her 12-year-old brother, Evan, said he was “very scared” the girls would sweep the competition next year.
But expanding the definition of “Boy Scout” is alarming some parents, who voiced concerns about the prospect of shared tents, the erosion of valuable boys-only time and the possibility that girls — who already outperform boys in many areas — might start to snap up all the leadership positions.
“I have sons,” said Jennifer Masterson, 54, a scout leader in the same region as the Unicorns who said she felt uneasy about the idea of coed scouting. “Would I want a girl sleeping in my son’s tent? No.”
Another Northern California scout leader, Randy Huffman, 56, said he felt similarly uncomfortable. “Maybe their approach should have been to go to the Girl Scouts and say: Instead of painting our nails and clipping our — whatever they do — to do archery and do climbing. Going through that process.”
This fall, at least one person contacted top Boy Scout officials to report that the girls here had invaded campouts and competitions. On Oct. 1, the local Boy Scout council barred the girls from participating in further activities, telling them that they had gone beyond the lessons permitted in the life-skills program and that the organization’s charter made it clear that “Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting and Varsity Scouting are for boys.”
A meeting was called for Nov. 13 to help the Unicorns understand the decision. It was there, at the local Boy Scout headquarters, that the girls confronted leaders and asked to be made full-fledged Boy Scouts.
The response from the men on the panel was swift: They would forward the girls’ requests to the national office, saying they had no local authority to admit them.
“The rules and regulations, the bylaws, don’t allow that,” said Rodney Mangus, 65, one of three top officials in the Boy Scout area that includes Santa Rosa.
Another official, Herb Williams, 79, said he supported the idea of girls in scouting, but only with approval from above. “Without process, without rules and regulation, there’s chaos,” he said.
Allie, one of the Unicorns, responded after the meeting: “I’d like to see them standing up like they did for the gay scouts and the gay leaders.” She noted that several of the officials had been early supporters of gay people in scouting.
The Unicorns are hardly the first girls to try to join the Boy Scouts. Carrie Crosman of Texas and Carla Schwenk of Oregon tried in the 1970s. Marystephanie Constantikes of Oklahoma tried in the 1980s. And Margo Menkes, Katrina Yeaw and seven girls from California tried in the 1990s. None could persuade Boy Scout officials to approve their membership.
“The conflict about admitting girls goes back even further than the conflict over admitting gays,” said Richard Ellis, a professor of politics at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and the author of the book “Judging the Boy Scouts of America.”
The conflict in California coincides with a trend of declining membership in the Boy Scouts for at least a decade. About 2.4 million boys participated in Boy Scout activities in 2014, down from 2.6 million the year before, and some in Santa Rosa cited girl recruitment as a possible solution.
“Those programs have all been written for squirrelly little boys that run around and get crazy,” said Mr. Mangus, the local Boy Scout official, adding that he thought the curriculum would need to be rewritten if girls were admitted.
At the same time, Mr. Mangus said, “the Boy Scouts are not daft about what’s happening in society.” As far as admitting girls in the future, he said, “Who knows?”November 22nd, 2015
21st November – 31st January 2016November 16th, 2015
Magdalena Suarez Frimkess
Untitled #28, 2013
5 x 3 x 3 inches
Curated by Alison M. Gingeras
Through December 23, 2015
By Tim Maly
The Atlantic Published: November 13, 2015
People are always asking Bill Gates if he’s really read all of Vaclav Smil.
Smil is a professor at the University of Manitoba. His bio says he does “interdisciplinary research in the fields of energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy.” He’s a wide-ranging thinker. He’s published 36 books. One is about the Japanese diet. Gates doesn’t recommend it.
Smil has been particularly influential in his work attempting to quantify the energy needs of global civilization, and the likely energy yields of various renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. It’s a dizzyingly comprehensive project. Smil is attempting to put numbers to the human use of energy across all of history (and some of pre-history) to enable meaningful comparisons between various phases of human civilization.
Smil focuses on “energy transitions,” epochal shifts in how people have harnessed and used energy. He thinks with some good high-level analysis, understanding those transitions will help us make more realistic plans for the necessary shift to renewables.
The stakes are clear. The planet is hurtling towards a 2 degrees Celsius rise in average temperatures, and likely beyond. To mitigate climate change, we need to significantly curb global carbon emissions. At the same time, standards of living are tightly correlated to energy consumption (to a point); there are billions of people who’d like to lift themselves out of poverty, and the best known methods available for supplying them with power come from fossil fuels.
Smil is convinced that a transition to renewable energy is inevitable in the long run. But in the short term, he thinks it will take far longer and be much more disruptive than most green-energy proponents would like to admit.
On the optimistic side, you have advocates like Al Gore. In a 2008 speech, Gore said that “enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year,” and called for the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewables by 2018. Smil argues that these kinds of pronouncements ultimately do us a great disservice by drastically overstating the clean energy that’s actually available to harness productively, while understating the work, time, and investment that will be needed to transform our energy infrastructure. Into this debate, steps Gates, Smil’s number-one fan, with a $2 billion pledge to invest in research and development to accelerate the transition to renewables.
Reading Smil is a wild ride. He dances up and down scales, moving from broad global trends to very specific local examples to illustrate his arguments. In Energy: A Beginner’s Guide, a discussion of the energy costs of a human picking an orange up off the floor and putting it on a counter is separated by mere pages from an estimate of the energy expended by an erupting volcano. Soon after, you are learning about the (hilariously inefficient) photosynthesis of plants and comparing the productive capacity of the biosphere with likely constraints on our ability to harness solar power at planetary scale.
To keep up with Smil, let me introduce a few of his basic concepts: To begin, we need to understand what he means when he talks about resources and “prime movers.”
First, the resources. Pretty much all available energy on the earth comes from energy radiated by the sun. Straight sunlight offers heat and light. Some of that is captured by plants, which can in turn be eaten or burned for light and heat. The plant eaters (human or otherwise) can be put to work or eaten. Some of the sunlight evaporates water, which rises into the atmosphere and then falls as rain. Some of this rain lands on very high places and converges as gravity pulls it into streams and rivers that run towards lakes and oceans. The mechanical energy offered by running water is essentially stored sunlight. Meanwhile, differences in temperature because of the uneven distribution of sunlight (owing in part to the shape, tilt, and rotation of the earth) causes air to circulate, meaning winds are stored sunlight too. As are waves (which are driven by winds). And, of course, fossil fuels are reserves of stored sunlight, derived from biological depositions which have been accumulating for millions upon millions of years.
The exceptions to the sunlight rule are: geothermal energy, which comes from the very hot core of the earth (often in the form of volcanoes); tidal energy, which is the result of water interacting with the gravity of the earth, moon, and sun; and nuclear energy, which comes from either forcing together or breaking apart atoms. Some of these resources are renewable, but at the moment, the dominant suppliers of energy to human civilization (the fossil fuels) are not.
Second, there are Smil’s “prime movers,” which he defines as “energy converters able to produce kinetic (mechanical) energy into forms suitable for human use.” For most of the time that there have been humans on earth, the best prime movers have been people. We eat food, we convert the chemical energies stored in plant and animal flesh into muscle power and we use that to do mechanical work.
Some numbers will give a sense of how prime movers have increased in power over the course of history. Remember that orange lifted to a counter? If you expend that effort over a second, that’s 1W (a watt) of work. Smil calculates that the average healthy human can sustain 60W–100W of work throughout a working day. At some point in prehistory, people started yoking domesticated animals (250W–800W depending on the breed). Then came sails, then a few thousand years later, waterwheels (2,000W–4,000W in medieval times) and then a thousand years after that, windmills (1,000W–10,0000W in 1900).
Things really kicked off with the invention of the steam engine in the 1700s—the first prime mover powered by fuels (100,000W in 1800; 3,000,000W in 1900). This was followed by the steam turbine (75,000W in 1890; 25,000,000W in 1914). The prime-mover revolution is rounded out by the internal-combustion engine in the later half of the 1800s and the gas turbine in the 1930s.
Smil is concerned with the series of transitions that have occurred throughout human history, both in terms of resources and prime movers. These transitions are somewhat interrelated, but not completely. For example, you can run a steam turbine off of wood, coal, or nuclear power so a transition between those resources does not necessitate a change in prime movers. On the other hand, you can’t feed an internal-combustion engine with wind or wood. At the moment, all of our best prime movers rely heavily on fossil fuels.
Historically, Smil says, we can trace the transitions of prime movers to generational developments of technology. His favourite example is liquified natural gas. The technique to liquify gas was first discovered in 1852. The road from that invention to a global-scale infrastructure of extraction, refinement, transportation, and use in a true marketplace took 150 years. Smil recounts similar timelines from invention to commercialization for other fuels and prime movers.
Those transitions have also been heavily dependent on the energy infrastructure that came before. The age of steam was not possible without human and animal work to mine the coal and build the machines. Even now, the wind turbines we look to to help us escape fossil fuels are steel towers (you make steel in coal-fired blast furnaces) topped by plastic blades (which comes from petroleum), installed by (gasoline-powered) construction equipment. A wind turbine is a “pure expression of fossil fuels,” said Smil during a 2013 lecture at the Perimeter Institute.
So, while Smil agrees with pretty much everyone else that the next big energy transition is from nonrenewable to renewable resources, he is cautious about the timing. At one level, the change is plainly inevitable. There will come a time when non-renewable resources run out, and Smil says it will be advantageous to transition off of fossil fuels long before then, to avoid climate change.
In this, Smil is no different from countless energy advocates from Greenpeace to Al Gore to T. Boone Pickens. Where he does differ is in his opinion about how quickly it can happen. Where Gore calls for a complete conversion to renewables in 10 years, Smil thinks the transition will take generations.
Smil’s books devoted to this argument are awash in numbers, statistics, estimates, and calculations. I can’t walk you through them all, so checking his math is left as an exercise to the reader. But some sketches of the high-level objections give an impression. In particular, the final chapter of Smil’s Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects reads essentially as a design brief for the problem that Gates is trying to tackle.
The barriers to total conversion—much like the problems that plague our energy infrastructure—are a funny mixture of policy, technology, infrastructure, and physics. For example, the possibility that nuclear power might take up any of the load in the U.S. seems extremely low, given that no new plants have been built since the 1970s. That’s not a physics problem, that’s a policy problem. Infrastructurally speaking, nuclear is not that different from coal or liquified natural gas. Fuels are brought to a site, where they are consumed while giving off enormous amounts of heat that runs a steam turbine which generates electricity. We know how to make nuclear reactors and hook them up to the grid, but Americans just don’t want to do it anymore. And there are good reasons for this! But compare that decision to the one made by France, which went all-in on atomic power and generates about 75 percent of its energy from nuclear reactors.
As far as converting to wind and solar, Smil sees much bigger technological and infrastructural hurdles. A switch to renewables means a transition in terms of both resources and prime movers. The character of renewable resources is fundamentally different from that of fossil fuels. Where fuels are highly dense stores of energy and relatively easy to reliably transport, the renewables are characterized by the highly fickle ebbs and flows of nature. Some days are sunny, others have clouds. Some days are windy, others are quiet, still others are too windy to safely run the mill.
The exception is biofuels, but remember how hilariously inefficient plants are at converting sunlight to biomass? Converting that biomass into fuels adds even more inefficiencies and you end up needing to convert huge swaths of the planet’s surface over to fuel growth. Smil thinks it’s completely unfeasible.
Which brings us to Smil’s last key concept: energy density. Energy density is sometimes used to discuss the capacity of volumes of batteries and fuel. Smil is interested instead in measuring energy per unit of the earth’s surface. He uses the figure as a means to try to compare the various means of producing energy and the demands for using it.
So, to measure the energy density of coal, you look at how much energy you get from burning coal and divide that by how much of the earth’s surface needs to be given over to coal production to get it. Smil’s calculations try to take into account all kinds of complications involved in energy infrastructure. There’s the extraction point (in Smil’s method, an open-pit mine has worse energy density than a hole drilled in the ground), the transportation networks, the space needed by any refineries, the area of land disturbed around these areas, the possibility of damage from spills, etc.
Every fuel transition (wood to coal to oil to gas) has involved moving to higher densities. We have benefited every time from more energy per area of land given over to energy infrastructure. Renewables buck that trend. Once you account for the inefficiency of conversion and the irregularity of generating at full capacity, the energy density of wind or solar installations is far below that of oil and gas. They simply take up a lot of space. Because the best way of mitigating the irregularity in how they generate power is to create interconnected grids, an energy regime based on wind and solar needs to lay a lot of power lines through a lot of jurisdictions and permitting regimes. Physics meets infrastructure, and policy. Renewables are simply more diffuse.
At the same time, energy consumers are becoming more concentrated. Economies of scale bring higher-intensity manufacturing to smaller areas, and people are becoming increasingly concentrated in denser and denser cities.
“Mass adoption of renewable energies would thus necessitate a fundamental reshaping of modern energy infrastructures,” Smil writes. We’d go from harvesting energy from concentrated sources and diffusing it outwards, to gathering energy from diffuse sources and concentrating it inwards towards relatively few centers. This is, fundamentally, a very different way of organizing how we use land.
This is not impossible, and in the long run it is probably inevitable. But we underestimate the effort required and changes that will be necessary at our peril. The switch from wood to coal ushered in industrialization which completely upended social-structures and human relationships all over the world. The rise of oil transformed geo-politics, turning some countries into energy superpowers overnight. No one knows how deeply our society might be transformed by the transition to renewables. Or whether we’ll be able to do it fast enough.
Thanks to Jonathan MaghenNovember 13th, 2015
Peter Callas, Untitled (mq413), 2014
wood fired stoneware
11 x 8 x 5 inches
Highland Park Museum of Ceramic Art (HPMCA)
Organized by Tyler Waxman
Opening Reception: Sunday, November 15th, 4-7PMNovember 13th, 2015
15 November – 19 December 2015
Sunday, 15 November 1-4pm
BY CATHY HORYN
BOF Published: NOVEMBER 6, 2015
In March, Raf Simons agreed to spend the following several months, on and off, discussing life at Dior with esteemed writer and critic Cathy Horyn, for System magazine. Their conversations — the last of which took place two days after Dior’s Spring/Summer 2016 ready-to-wear show in October — revealed the designer coming to terms with the ever-increasing demands of heading up one of fashion’s most monumental institutions, and the need to conjure up newness more and more frequently.
Days after Horyn and Simons last spoke came the announcement that the Belgian designer had chosen to leave the house of Dior, citing “personal reasons.” In this exclusive excerpt of their conversation, Simons speaks about the changing pace of fashion and provides an intimate portrait of a man questioning his situation, his life and his future.
PARIS, France — The day after the Dior Fall ready-to-wear show, Raf and I meet for lunch at a restaurant near Avenue Montaigne. He has had some sleep, but not enough to counteract the pace of the previous few days. The show was held in a modernistic tent in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre, with more than 1,000 guests. The standout was the tailoring, in particular the lean, dropped-shoulder coats, worn at times over boldly printed bodysuits or a minidress. What the collection lacked in classic Dior romance, it made up for in modern ease. And the coats would have no equal during the Fall season.
“You know, we did this collection in three weeks,” he tells me, not defending the show but, rather, stating the reality that now faces high-fashion houses. “Tokyo was also done in three weeks. Actually everything is done in three weeks, maximum five. And when I think back to the first couture show for Dior, in July 2012, I was concerned because we only had eight weeks.”
He smiles. “And now we never have time like that. And you know? It’s clearly possible to do it, if I have my ideas together. The machine is there. Of course, we have to push really hard. It’s not like we think the ideas and mushrooms come out of the ground.”
Some months ago Raf mentioned that he wanted to create a new studio structure at Dior, so I ask him about that.
“When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process,” he explains. “Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important. When you try an idea, you look at it and think, Hmm, let’s put it away for a week and think about it later. But that’s never possible when you have only one team working on all the collections.”
“Also,” he goes on, “what people forget is that when you do a runway show, it eats time away from your schedule. Just the prep time before a show is six or seven days, especially when you are showing abroad.”
“So you’re constantly creating,” I say, “with no time.”
“But I have no problem with the continuous creative process,” he says. ‘Because it’s the reason I’m in this world. It’s always happening. I just did a show yesterday. Just now, while waiting in the car, I sent four or five ideas to myself by text message, so I don’t forget them. They are always coming.”
“Like what? Tell me one.”
He shrugs. “Stupid things. I was just thinking about this kind of very masculine tailoring you see in the navy. It can be stupid things, like a certain button. But I’ve been doing this my whole life. The problem is when you have only one design team and six collections, there is no more thinking time. And I don’t want to do collections where I’m not thinking. In this system, Pieter [Mulier, Simons’ right hand] and I can’t sit together and brainstorm — no time. I have a schedule every day that begins at 10 in the morning and runs through the day, and every, every minute is filled. From 10.10am to 10.30am, it’s shoes, let’s say. From 10.30 to 11.15, it’s jewellery. Everything is timed — the whole week. If there’s a delay in a meeting, the whole day is fucked up.”
He looks at me intently. “What are you going to do? Walk out of the office at 8 o’clock at night? No, of course not. So you stay there until midnight. That’s the life. So we created two design teams. Each group has a person in charge, and these people are fantastic. If Team A is working on cruise, then Team B is working on July couture. Then Team A will start working on the Fall ready-to-wear show. So each group does one couture show and one ready-to-wear show.”
“How many people on a team?”
“Purely designers? About seven or eight.”
After some direction from Raf, a team will begin gathering research — mood boards, books. He and Pieter will then choose things they feel are worth developing. At Jil Sander, I recall, he used to sit with his team brainstorming ideas.
“I did that very often,” he says. “And when the shows were running, I would sit with the whole creative team at a big table and have a dialogue. ‘What have you seen?’ ‘What do you find modern? Old?’ At first everyone would sit there with their mouths full of teeth and a rat face, but after a while they loved it. It became a real dialogue. And I liked it very much.”
“But can you do that at Dior?”
“Not at all,” he replies, shaking his head. “Sometimes I do it with Pieter and maybe the heads of the teams. But the groups are too big here. There is also something else. At Dior, the moment you say, ‘This is an interesting thing to try,’ things go very, very fast.”
In other words, the efficiency of Dior’s ateliers, not to mention the expertise of its 75 seamstresses and tailors, helps to move the design process along, which makes everyone involved more proficient, but leaves little time or room for second options.
We have finished our lunch and Raf is heading back to his office on the Avenue Montaigne. “So, in spite of the incredible pressures, your system seems to work?” I ask.
He nods. “Technically speaking, it works. Does it work for me emotionally? No, because I’m not the kind of person who likes to do things so fast. I think if I had more time, I would reject more things, and bring other ideas or concepts in. But that’s also not necessarily better. Sometimes you can work things to death when you take too much time.”
“People are used to processing information much more quickly now, thanks to technology,” I say. “Also, shows are about communicating to large audiences, often via social media. In any age, isn’t the point to master the changes around you?”
“Maybe,” he says, and with a laugh adds, “Fashion became pop. I can’t make up my mind if that’s a good or a bad thing. The only thing I know is that it used to be elitist. And I don’t know if one should be ashamed or not to admit that maybe it was nicer when it was more elitist, not for everybody. Now high fashion is for everybody.”
A few weeks later I hear from Raf again. It is a Friday evening (his time), and he is with his driver travelling from Antwerp to Paris. Sheepishly, he reveals that he was leaving the next day to spend the weekend at Disneyland Paris with his boyfriend. Hearing my snort, he chuckles and says, “I actually like that kind of thing, believe it or not.”
I don’t, but decide to leave it. During his first two years at Dior, Raf rarely took breaks. He would work non-stop for four or five weeks, running up to Antwerp to check on his own business, and then he’d be back in the grind of Paris — and complaining that he didn’t have a normal life. So the news that he had done something about it was positive. He said he had been spending weekends with his boyfriend’s large family in the south of France, exploring villages and just hanging out.
Somehow we get into a discussion about the ‘State of Fashion’ — the noise, the crowded multiplex of brands, the rise of bluntly commercial clothes. Where is it all going?
I tell him I think the question is a waste of time. Raf remains silent, so I continue.
“I actually think that what you do and what Karl does at Chanel makes the only sense. You focus on the problems you have in front of you. How to make your studios work more efficiently? How to produce six shows a year and make them vital? You answer those questions. To me, this makes the most sense. The journalists don’t know what to do with that larger question anyway. And I don’t want to waste my time with it. Consumers also don’t care.
“You know,” I say, “there is no more regular print edition of Women’s Wear Daily. After more than 100 years the newspaper is finished.”
“Wow, I hadn’t heard that,” Raf replies. “My god.” He seems to mull this over and then says, “I’ve been talking to Sterling [artist Sterling Ruby] a lot about some of these things. Can ideas only work within existing systems? That’s what I wonder. I’m in a very well-defined system, obviously. But are there other situations or places where this might not be true? For example, Sterling and I took a lot of emotional satisfaction from the collaboration we did together.” In autumn 2013, the two friends created a one-off collection that reflected their separate ideas about fashion and art, and also the ideas they have in common.
“I think it worked because it was so unconnected to anything we had ever done before,” he continues, “even though it still involved fashion and art. In a way, it was not the same as doing one of many, many collections, or one of many, many art exhibitions.”
“It was an exhilarating show,” I say. “So free in its thinking.”
“But can an approach like that exist by itself, and survive?”
“No, it can’t survive,” I say. “It’s absolutely contrary to the existing fashion system, which wants stuff it can repeat again and again.”
Raf pauses and, after a moment, says, “Everything is so easily accessible, and because of that you don’t make a lot of effort anymore. When we were young, you had to make up your mind to investigate something — because it took time. You really had to search and dig deep. Now if something interests you, one second later, you can have it. And also one second later you also drop it.”
Raf suddenly lets out a grunt. “You should see us here. We left Antwerp two hours ago and were supposed to arrive in Paris at 8.30 tonight. But we’re in a traffic jam, and won’t arrive until 9.50. I’m supposed to meet someone for dinner.
“This is the feeling I have all the time,” he continues, clearly exasperated. “There’s never enough time. You get a tension. I know how to pull out from this in my personal life. We go and look at nature for three hours. It’s heaven. We go to a bakery and buy a bag of stuff and lie in the grass. Sublime. But how to do that in the context of your professional life? You buy a house and you start doing pottery or something?”
“Don’t do pottery, Raf,” I say.
Thanks to Diego HadisNovember 11th, 2015
Euro Beech hardwood, steel, aluminum rivets, acrylic
8″ x 8″ x 22″
Opening Reception: Sunday November 8, 2015. 3 – 4:30PM
Through December 10, 2015November 5th, 2015
Shelters made for penguins on Middle Island. The sheepdog strategy is now being tried elsewhere in Victoria, in hopes of protecting other indigenous species from nonnative predators. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times
By AUSTIN RAMZY
NY Times Published: NOV. 3, 2015
“Massacred,” read the banner headline in the local newspaper — just the single word, as if describing an act of war. Below it was a photo of dead penguins and other birds, the latest casualties in Australia’s long history of imported species’ decimating native wildlife.
Foxes killed 180 penguins in that particular episode, in October 2004. But the toll on Middle Island, off Victoria State in southern Australia, kept rising. By 2005, the small island’s penguin population, which had once numbered 800, was below 10.
Today, their numbers are back in the triple digits, and much of the credit has gone to a local chicken farmer known as Swampy Marsh and his strong-willed sheepdogs.
“The powers that be wouldn’t listen to me until it got down to six penguins,” said Mr. Marsh, whose long-unused birth name is Allan. “They were desperate.”
The farmer’s simple solution — deploy a particularly territorial breed of sheepdog to scare the foxes away — became local legend and, in September, the subject of an Australian film, “Oddball,” which fictionalized the story and made a lovable hero of one of the dogs. The strategy is now being tried elsewhere in Victoria, in hopes of protecting other indigenous species from non-native predators.
Dozens of Australian mammal species have gone extinct since European settlers began arriving in the late 18th century, bringing cats, foxes and other predators new to the ecosystem. A recently announced plan to cull millions of feral cats, which the government says prey on more than 100 threatened species, drew new attention to the problem while infuriating some celebrity advocates of animal rights.
Little penguins, the smallest penguin species, were once common along Australia’s southern coast. But when red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century, they found the tiny, flightless birds to be easy prey. (So did cats and dogs.) The penguins’ colonies on the mainland began disappearing, which is why most are now found on islands.
Middle Island, near the city of Warrnambool in Victoria, was home to a deafening population of the birds until the late 1990s and early 2000s, when tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation began to make the small, uninhabited island accessible from the shore. Foxes made their way there, and the birds offered little resistance.
Mr. Marsh, who lives in Warrnambool, said he knew how to reverse that trend as soon as he heard about it. A farmer of free-range chicken, he had spent many long nights with a rifle trying to keep foxes away from his chooks, as Australians call chickens. It was in the middle of one of those nights that a better solution came to him.
“It was three o’clock in the morning, and the neighbors had a damn dog, you could hear it barking,” he said. “I was a bit slow off the mark. It took a few nights for me to realize it was barking at what I was trying to shoot.”
A little penguin, the name of the smallest penguin species, on Middle Island. The island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times
Soon, he had acquired his own Maremma sheepdog puppy. Named for the region northwest of Rome where they originated, the dogs were bred to protect and live among livestock. They develop a keen sense of territory and are vigilant against intruders, though amiable toward familiar people and animals.
The farm’s first Maremma, Ben, took quickly to his new task, scaring one of the intruders away from the farm and into a road. “It got squashed,” Mr. Marsh said. “It was fox pizza.”
When the plight of Middle Island’s penguins became news, Mr. Marsh suggested that Maremma dogs could protect the birds — which, he reasoned, are simply “chooks in dinner suits.”
For a class assignment, David Williams, a university student who worked on Mr. Marsh’s farm, wrote up a proposal for deploying the dogs on the island, and later submitted a more formal version to the state environmental agency. But even as the penguin population kept dwindling, the approval process dragged on as the plan was vetted by overlapping government entities. “There was a lot of talking,” Mr. Williams said.
Finally, in 2006, the first Maremma was put to work: Oddball, a daughter of Ben (and the name of the new film). Since then, Middle Island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a fox, said Mr. Williams, who now works for Zoos Victoria, the operator of three zoos in the state.
Maremma dogs are self-reliant; they can be left to defend a patch of land for long periods of time with a supply of food and water that they know not to wolf down right away. During the summer, when foxes pose the greatest danger to Middle Island’s penguins because of tidal patterns that form sandbars, the dogs can stay on the island for several days in a row, watching over the birds from a raised walkway.
Training them for the job involves introducing them to the penguin’s distinct odor. “Penguins don’t smell particularly nice,” said Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services for the Warrnambool City Council. “They look cute and cuddly, but they smell like dead fish.” Gradually, the dogs are taught to treat the penguins like any other kind of livestock, to be defended and not harmed.
Despite their decline in mainland Australia, little penguins are not considered threatened or endangered. But the success of the Middle Island program is significant not just for its small population of little penguins, but also for the potential to replicate the model with species more at risk.
Zoos Victoria is now trying to use Maremma dogs to reintroduce to the wild the eastern barred bandicoot, a small marsupial not seen outside captivity since 2002. Several previous attempts have failed, but Zoos Victoria, which has pledged to prevent the extinction of any terrestrial vertebrate in Victoria, hopes the dogs will make a difference.
A five-year trial is underway, with Mr. Williams training two puppies at an open-range zoo in Werribee, a Melbourne suburb. The puppies will learn to bond with sheep, which will also be present at the three trial sites, and with bandicoots, which are shy, nocturnal creatures, said Kimberley Polkinghorne, communications manager for the Werribee zoo.
“This trial draws on the success of the Middle Island project,” Ms. Polkinghorne said. “We are very excited about its potential to not just help bandicoots but other threatened species as well.”
On Middle Island, Oddball’s successors, Eudy and Tula (their names come from the word Eudyptula, the little penguin’s genus), are still keeping foxes away but, at 8 years old, are nearing retirement. Local groups managing the project recently raised more than $18,000 online to buy and train two new Maremma pups. The fund-raising effort got a lift from the film, a box-office success in Australia. “Oddball” depicts its hero as a mischievous beast that stays one step ahead of the local dogcatcher before finding redemption by saving the penguins.
Oddball herself, now 14, is retired and lives under Mr. Marsh’s house. “She comes out when she wants to,” he said. “She doesn’t do personal appearances.”November 5th, 2015
Opening Reception November 7, 2015
Through December 19, 2015
BY DANA GOODYEAR
The New Yorker May 4,2015
There is a place in the California desert where a pipe pokes out from a berm made of broken concrete and delivers freshwater to a dying sea. I stood there recently, on a beach of crumbled barnacles, and watched it gush. The sea was the dull blue of a cataract, surrounded by small volcanoes, bubbling mud pots, and ragged, blank mountains used for bombing practice by the Navy and the Marines. The air smelled sweet and vaguely spoiled, like a dog that has got into something on a hot day. When the wind blew, it veiled the mountains in dust and sent puckered waves to meet the frothy white flow from the pipe. The sea, which is called the Salton Sea, is fifteen times bigger than the island of Manhattan and no deeper in most places than a swimming pool. Since 1924, it has been designated as an agricultural sump. In spite of being hyper-saline, and growing saltier all the time, the sea provides habitat to some four hundred and thirty species of birds, some of them endangered, and is one of the last significant wetlands remaining on the migratory path between Alaska and Central America.
In early April, the governor of California ordered the state to conserve a million and a half acre-feet of water in the next nine months, a drastic response to an intensifying four-year drought that has devastated small communities in the north, decimated groundwater supplies in the Central Valley, and made the cities fear for the future. To achieve this savings, Californians are starting to forgo some of the givens of life in modern America: long showers, frequent laundering, toilet-flushing, gardening, golf. It can be hard to visualize a quantity of water. An acre-foot is what it takes to cover an acre to the depth of twelve inches: some three hundred and twenty-five thousand gallons. A million acre-feet is about what the city of Los Angeles uses in two years. A million acre-feet, give or take, is also how much runs off to the Salton Sea each year from the farms of the surrounding Imperial Valley. Salty, spent, and full of selenium and phosphates, the excess water flows down to the sea, where, two hundred and thirty feet below sea level, it evaporates under a blistering sun.
With the state turning brown, the eye is drawn to the bright-green place with the enormous wading pool. A hundred and thirty-five miles east of San Diego, the Imperial Valley has a population of a hundred and eighty thousand, and about five hundred thousand acres of farmland. It was settled as an agricultural area in the early twentieth century, and holds senior rights to water from the Colorado River. California’s share of the river was divided in accordance with the doctrine of prior appropriation: whoever first put the water to “beneficial use” could continue to claim it, so long as they did not waste. Of the 4.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water that California is normally entitled to each year, the Imperial Irrigation District’s allowance is 3.1 million. Alfalfa is the most widely planted crop, followed by Bermuda grass and Sudan grass, and flood irrigation is typical. A third of the hay is exported to China and to places lacking the land or the water to grow grass—the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Japan—where it feeds dairy cows and the cattle that produce Kobe beef.
In 2003, in the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer in United States history, San Diego County made a deal with the Imperial Valley to buy as much as two hundred thousand acre-feet a year. San Diego County has a growing metropolis, a population of three million, a substantial biotech industry, and virtually no natural water supply. By 2021, the transfer will account for a quarter of its water. The deal gives Imperial billions of dollars to spend on improving efficiency on its farms and in its irrigation infrastructure, which in some places is primitive.
The transfer, mutually beneficial and environmentally necessary, changes the Imperial Valley’s relationship to water, bringing it more in line with the realities of long-term drought in a state of thirty-nine million people. There is just one catch. Between the needs of the city and the farmers sits the Salton Sea, which conservation will destroy. “The sea is the linchpin between Colorado River water and urban Southern California,” Michael Cohen, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, a water-policy think tank, says. Without the inflows, the sea, already shrinking, will recede dramatically, exposing miles of lake bed loaded with a hundred years’ worth of contaminants. Much of the wildlife will disappear—poisoned, starved, or driven off. The consequences for people around the region could be dire, too. Before irrigation, the valley was plagued by violent dust storms. With the water gone, the lake bed could emit as much as a hundred tons of fine, caustic dust a day, leading to respiratory illness in the healthy and representing an acute hazard for people with compromised immune systems. No one knows how far that dust can travel on the wind. Mary Nichols, the state’s top air-quality official, says, “The nightmare scenario is the pictures we’ve all seen of the Dust Bowl that contributed to the formation of California in the first place.”
Last year, when Axel Rodriguez was four, he started coughing, a weird cough that sounded like a drum, deep and percussive, and scratchy, as though something inside his chest were trying to claw its way out. The cough would go away for a few days, only to come back stronger.
Axel’s mother, Michelle Valdez, is twenty-four, with straight, dark waist-length hair and, behind studious glasses, eyes made up like Cleopatra. She told me recently that the problem had started in August, when the family moved into a new house, a pale-yellow stucco rental in Calexico, about thirty miles south of the Salton Sea. “The houses in this area catch a lot of dirt,” she said—from the cars on the heavily trafficked road nearby, from the grass that the landlord insists on mowing, from neighboring Mexicali, the polluted city of a million just across the Mexican border, and, most of all, she said, from the farm fields throughout the valley. “We are in a hole here,” she said. “All the nasty stuff just sits in it.”
In September, the cough came and didn’t let up for two weeks. “Morning, afternoon, evening, it was cough, cough, cough,” Valdez said. Axel missed school, and his throat got so swollen that he could barely eat. He became a regular at the emergency room. Valdez and her husband, Antonio Marron, plied Axel with cough syrups, drops, Claritin—they’d been told he had allergies—and when those didn’t work they contemplated taking him to Mexicali for an herbal cure. “I was very desperate,” Valdez said. The medicines were also putting pressure on their finances. At the time, Marron was making about two hundred dollars a week working at Best Buy; Valdez stayed home, taking care of Axel and his sister, Ana, who is three.
One windy, cold morning in September, Axel told his mother that his chest hurt and he couldn’t breathe. Marron covered Axel’s face with a blanket and took him to the emergency room again. His lungs were swollen and full of mucus. This time, Marron was told what the family had already begun to suspect: Axel had asthma. At the hospital that day, they met a nurse, Aide Fulton, who runs the Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program. She began to educate them about how to manage a chronic condition in an environment seemingly designed to aggravate it.
Around the same time, Valdez had an episode herself, a tightening in her chest that felt as if someone were squeezing her with a belt. She went to the hospital, and learned that she’d lost a quarter of the capacity of her right lung. The diagnosis was chronic obstructed pulmonary disease, a condition associated with lifelong smoking. Valdez, who is not a smoker, has a genetic predisposition to C.O.P.D., but this was her first experience of it. She said, “I told my husband, ‘I never had an attack until you brought me here!’ ” Not that Marron has been spared. His current job, installing alarm systems, has him in and out of doors all day, and he recently came down with an infection in his lungs.
The valley is eighty per cent Latino and mostly poor. It also has the state’s highest rate of asthma-related hospitalization for children. The Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program is the only free asthma-education program in the county, and it operates on an average budget of a hundred and forty-six thousand dollars a year. Fulton told me that in the past few years there has been an increase in referrals from the towns adjacent to the Salton Sea. (At one school, in the seaside town of Calipatria, sixty-five children are ill.) “We already have an unmet need,” she said. “What are we going to do when the Salton Sea dries out?” She is thinking of her clients, and she is thinking of herself. Her husband has asthma, her oldest daughter has asthma, and, after twenty-five years in the valley, she has it, too. “The issue of the sea is a bomb,” she said. “It’s a monster coming to get us all.”
To the water-minded, the Salton Sea represents a loss of control. For thousands of years, the Colorado River periodically flooded the basin, forming a huge body of water known as Lake Cahuilla, where Native Americans fished and camped. Dry, the land belonged to the Colorado Desert. It was an intimidating wasteland, but it gave people ideas. By the turn of the twentieth century, a company of engineers and real-estate promoters had succeeded in diverting the Colorado into a dry riverbed that once fed Lake Cahuilla. With irrigation, according to a contemporaneous account, the “great expanse of burning waste” was allowed to “blossom into a garden of incomparable beauty and richness to give homes to thousands and sustenance to millions.” The rubric of the valley’s first newspaper was “Water Is King—Here Is Its Kingdom.”
The engineering of the canals and gates, however, was inadequate. Whenever a head gate silted up, a cut was made around it. In 1905, the Colorado overwhelmed one of the cuts and poured full force into the desert, destroying railways and towns. By the time the river was contained again, two years later, there was a huge lake in the basin, and no way to get it out.
As agriculture expanded in the valley, more and more water flowed to the basin. Rich in fertilizers, the water created an algae forest, which in turn fed a tilapia population that was a hundred million strong in the late nineties. Seabirds fish there—white and brown pelicans and double-crested cormorants. There are egrets, ibis, ducks and geese, stilts, dowitchers, and avocets; at one point, three and a half million eared grebes were counted. Yuma clapper rails, which are endangered, browse the freshwater marshes created by the farm ditches and the canals.
By the nineteen-sixties, the Salton Sea had become a recreational area, attracting more visitors than Yosemite. The California Department of Fish and Game introduced sport-fishing species like corvina, sargo, and croaker. Tourism flourished, and with it marinas, angling operations, and yacht clubs. Speedboat regattas were held on the sea; people water-skied. An hour from Palm Springs, the sea even drew celebrities. Desi Arnaz came for the golf, and Frank Sinatra hung out at a boat-racing spot called Date Palm Beach.
But the shoreline was unstable, constantly revised depending on the amount of water coming from the Colorado to the farms. Floods in the seventies and eighties inundated many of the properties closest to the sea, causing widespread abandonment. Now, as the water diminishes, the ruins of the heyday are being revealed. Next to the North Shore Beach Yacht Club, which was wrecked by a flood and then rebuilt as a community center, the husk of an old bait shop sits in the shade of a fat date palm. The docks are gone, and the water is distant; pelicans sit on the stranded pylons.
The people who refused to be flushed out or who have reoccupied the shore live an existence so marginal and peculiar that the filmmaker John Waters narrated a documentary about them. Their home, he says, is “where utopia and the apocalypse meet to dance a dirty tango.” These people are waiting for something that will never come: enough water to bring the good times back.
In a small coastal town called Bombay Beach, I stopped at a cinder-block market with bars on the door, looking for something to drink. The town is made up mostly of trailers, which become more dilapidated the closer you get to the beach. In some parts of town, there is no water and no electricity, and the dwellings are lean-tos made from cardboard and plywood. “It’s the third flipping world!” a woman working at the market told me. She was in her early fifties, with a tattoo of a chain-link fence and a purple rose around her wrist. She invited me to come back that night to hear her band, Heat Hell and Winter, play fifties covers at the Ski Inn, next door; back in the day, supposedly, you could water-ski right up to the bar. But she warned me to stay away from the beach. “It’s spooky after dark,” she said. While we were talking, her husband came up to the counter. (He is Heat, she is Hell. Winter, he said, was at home taking a nap.) He knew just how to fix the water problem. Why not build a pipeline through the mountains and pump in water from the San Diego Bay?
Driving through the farmland of the Imperial Valley inspires awe and indignation. Like a jungle, it seethes: yellow-green Sudan grass; rough, inky sugar beets; alfalfa as bright as a banker’s shade; mixed lettuces that grade from light green to violet. “You could not paint a picture that is a better color,” Kay Pricola, the executive director of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, says. “We are dependent on the water. We exist because of the water.” The unplanted land is grayish, crusted, flocked with crystalline white salt, like a Christmas attraction in a Southern California mall.
There are four hundred and fifty farmers in the Imperial Valley, some of them descendants of the pioneers and many of them quite prosperous. In addition to the forage crops, they grow much of the winter produce eaten in this country. It is hot in the valley, up to a hundred and twenty degrees in the summer months. The farmers tend to travel. Their wives may prefer to spend summers in La Jolla. Half the land is tenant-farmed; in some cases, the owners live elsewhere. “It functions as a plantation,” a local activist told me. Larry Cox, a prominent valley farmer who is the president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau, disputes the characterization. He says that treating farmland as an investment is more like owning an office building in San Diego and hiring someone else to run it.
I asked Al Kalin, a man in his mid-sixties who has farmed by the sea his whole life, what it felt like to have access to a precious resource in such great quantities. He squinted at me. “It’s like you have a big gold mine,” he said. “Who’s going to try to come and take it away from you next?”
For most of the farmers, cheap water is a birthright, and they are loath to part with it at any price. But by the late nineties the situation in the Imperial Valley had begun to look absurd. Historically, California had used more than its allotted 4.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado. With growing populations, Arizona and Nevada now wanted their water for themselves. But California’s cities were growing, too. Rural, sparsely populated Imperial County evidently had more than enough, however. In order to bring California back down to 4.4 million, Imperial was going to have to share its water with the urban coast.
The 2003 agreement with San Diego was part of a larger deal called the Quantification Settlement Agreement, which also included the transfer of as much as a hundred and three thousand acre-feet to Coachella. The valley stood to benefit handsomely. The deal provided payments to the Imperial Irrigation District (this year, the rate is six hundred and twenty-four dollars per acre-foot), a windfall that would be used partly to improve irrigation systems: installing drip lines and pump-back systems, lining canals and building automated gates. Knowing the chaos that would be caused by a dried-out sea, the architects of the transfer planned for “mitigation water,” achieved by fallowing farmland, to be added to the sea. Landowners with dormant fields would be compensated for each acre-foot of water that they didn’t use.
Still, the farmers were offended. Bruce Kuhn, who was the president of the irrigation-district board at the time, described the sentiment in the agricultural community as “How dare you?” He said, “Their grandfathers farmed with all the water they needed. Their fathers farmed with all the water they needed. I’m not saying they were spoiled, they just weren’t used to being told there were going to be limits.” Some pointed out that more efficient methods wouldn’t entirely eliminate the need for flood irrigation, which flushes the salts that accumulate around roots and eventually kill the soil. Outsiders, Kalin told me, have little appreciation of the reasons behind the valley’s farming practices.
As the deal was being negotiated, the federal government applied pressure. At one point, it scrutinized Imperial’s water use, determined that it was not, in fact, beneficial, and suggested cutting the allotment. The community was enraged. According to “Unquenchable,” a book about water policy in America, a member of the county board of supervisors called it “the great water rape.” Nonetheless, the transfer passed, by one vote. Kuhn voted yes, and lost the next election, as well as lifelong friends and business for his levelling company. (He is back on the board now.)
The state had agreed to devise and fund a restoration plan, and the mitigation water bought some time. In 2007, it released a proposal that envisioned a large wetland at the southern end and, at the northern end, a saltwater lake where people and birds could fish. In between, where the playa was exposed, emissions could be controlled with chemicals or irrigated salt bush. The plan estimated the cost of restoration at nearly nine billion dollars, but the mechanism for financing it was left vague.
By the terms of the agreement with San Diego, the mitigation water expires at the end of 2017; without it, according to projections, the sea will begin to decline precipitously. “We have an ‘Oh, shit’ deadline with 2017,” Keali’i Bright, the deputy secretary of legislative affairs at the California Natural Resources Agency, told me. The nine-billion-dollar plan was unrealistic, he said. “It paralyzes us from action.” Instead, the state is spending thirty million dollars for what it calls “no regrets” projects at the sea. Last week, California also moved to form the Salton Sea Task Force, whose goal is to devise a new strategy, and fast. The first step is a meeting next month to “discuss options for governance that provide stable partnerships between the state and stakeholders.”
As 2017 approaches, the Imperial Irrigation District is increasingly impatient, and is using San Diego’s need of the water as a cudgel. Predictably, the relationship between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego Water Authority has the barely subdued tension of an arranged marriage. (Al Kalin, who has a mischievous sense of humor, told me that he likes to annoy people by wearing a S.D.W.A. cap to Imperial Irrigation District meetings.) In the fall, the irrigation district petitioned the state to honor its obligation to the Salton Sea. The petition sets in motion a process that, I.I.D. leaders suggested to me, could result in their accusing California of breaking its contract—thereby nullifying the transfer. No restoration by 2017, no water for San Diego.
The San Diego Water Authority has taken pains to present the problems at the Salton Sea as far outside the scope of the water transfer. But it is a delicate balance. Kevin Kelley, the general manager of I.I.D., told me, “San Diego has a real needle to thread. If you’re saying the transfers aren’t contributing to the decline of the Salton Sea, and you’re at all costs choosing ag-to-urban water transfers over public health, I can see where they’d be nervous.” Others find it disingenuous to link the restoration and the transfer. One water expert told me, “You were using water inefficiently. It was your obligation to clean up the inefficiency. It would be unfair for I.I.D. to hold the transfer hostage.”
When I visited the San Diego Water Authority, a strenuously Xeriscaped building on the outskirts of the city, the general manager, Maureen Stapleton, described the partnership cautiously. “They have water that has a value, and we have money and we exchange,” she said. “They need money to conserve and improve their system, and we need their water. It’s an excellent matching of needs.” As for conditions at the sea, she said, “We can’t support and don’t believe it’s appropriate to be pointing to the Quantification Settlement Agreement.”
We talked a bit about the history of the Salton Sea. Dan Denham, her associate, who focusses on Colorado River water, mentioned how remunerative farming is for landowners in the Imperial Valley.
“The one per cent are very rich,” he said.
“Oh, I think it’s more than one per cent,” Stapleton replied, dropping her guard for a second.
Denham said, “Well, most of them live here.” Suddenly, we were in treacherous territory, possibly offensive to the in-laws. The farmers so piqued about giving up their water to San Diego were in fact San Diegans?
Stapleton glanced sharply at Denham, and, when she thought I wasn’t looking, mouthed the word “careful.”
San Diego, of course, has a huge amount to lose. If the scenario at the Salton Sea seems like doomsday, imagine the San Diego of the near future, deprived of a quarter of its water in the middle of a megadrought.
Every so often, the sea burps, emitting invisible clouds of noxious hydrogen sulfide that can travel as far as Los Angeles. These “turnover” events can kill millions of fish, suddenly enveloping them in the murky, anoxic waters from the bottom of the sea. “If you had a fish tank at home and unplugged the filter and the oxygenator and everything just kind of died, it would turn into this soup,” Chris Schoneman, a biologist who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, told me. “That’s the hydrogen sulfide.”
The quality of the water is directly linked to the quantity. Salt and selenium, which occur naturally in the Colorado River, concentrate through evaporation. The less water there is in the sea, the higher these concentrations will get. Salinity has already killed off most of the fish except for tilapia, and soon the sea will be too salty for them, too. Without restoration, Michael Cohen, the Pacific Institute researcher, says, at the end of 2017 the effects of the transfer will hit the sea, reducing the volume by more than sixty per cent, and tripling its salinity in the next decade. Ecologically, he said, these changes will send the sea “over the cliff.”
In the absence of fish, brine flies and water boatmen will proliferate, and the fish-eating birds will disappear. Selenium, which causes embryonic deformities, will further impair the already endangered Yuma-clapper-rail population. By the end of the century, there will be no invertebrates left, so no birds of any kind. Salt-tolerant algae and bacteria—the pinks and oranges of a vivid sunset—will be the primary life form. In “Hazard’s Toll,” a report that Cohen and a colleague published in September, he calculates that the price for letting the sea collapse—for damages to human health, property values, and agricultural productivity—could be as high as seventy billion dollars.
At the refuge, Schoneman is watching the sea devolve at an alarming rate. Snags—dead trees from flooded farms—that served as great-blue-heron nesting habitat a year ago are now marooned on newly exposed beach. Without the water, what’s to stop a raccoon from climbing the tree and stealing the chicks? Several years ago, while conducting an aerial waterfowl survey, Schoneman and his colleague Tom Anderson noticed that an area next to the refuge, called Red Hill Bay, was drying up. They compared the photographs from one year to the next. “Ugh,” Schoneman said. “That kind of kicked us in the head.”
At Red Hill Bay, Schoneman and Anderson saw an opportunity for the birds. They applied to the state for a grant to build a complex that will mix the hyper-saline seawater with farm runoff and provide a habitat for shorebirds and waders. The project will break ground this year, and it can be expanded if more money materializes.
A few weeks ago, they drove me out to see the dehydrated bay. We climbed a hill and looked out over a khaki-colored plain, glittering with salt crystals. Schoneman pointed toward the bright-green farm fields that lay beyond the plain. “It’s over a mile that way to where the shoreline was ten years ago,” he said.
A short distance down the coast was another feature of the landscape due for renaming: Mullet Island, a small dormant volcano that was partly subsumed when the canal breach formed the Salton Sea, and which once housed a night club called Hell’s Kitchen. (The owner is said to have introduced flamingos to the Salton Sea, and there is still one pair left.) Lately, Mullet Island was a nesting ground for double-crested cormorants, but as of now it is not an island at all, just a steep hill with a water view and no birds.
Early one morning, Anderson took me out to see it. Bruce Wilcox, an ecologist who works for the irrigation district, joined us. On a barnacle beach not far from the refuge, we boarded a flat-bottomed boat propelled by an enormous fan. The boat, which was developed for navigating the Everglades, allows Anderson to glide over barely submerged farm equipment and other obstacles. We put on earphones and stopped talking for a bit. The boat zipped past a line of avocets, marbled godwits, and white pelicans, standing knee-deep and staring out to sea. A flock of cormorants, as angular as Escher drawings, spun through the sky.
At the base of Mullet Island, we got out and walked around. “Not too long ago, this was underwater,” Wilcox said. The playa was soft and fine, like cake flour, crusted over in places, bad to breathe. There was a tumbleweed, and a pile of bird bones. Wilcox said that he was working on a plan to run some water back around the base, so the birds could safely nest again—another try at beating back the desert.
Returning to the shore, through flurries of birds, I saw a few little splashes I thought might be tilapia. I was thinking about something Anderson had said: “This year, next year, or in ten years, the tilapia won’t be able to survive.” The next foraging area is a hundred and twenty miles away, in Mexico. How many of the birds would make it that far without eating?
Looking at the sea can turn the mind poetical. This is the landscape after people, you think. This is the landscape toward the end of the fish, in the last years of the birds, at the beginning of the dust.
Graciela Ruiz, who works at the Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program, wants parents to know: Chihuahuas do not cure asthma. (There is a persistent myth that the dogs absorb the illness; when a family dog dies, the afflicted child is supposed to recover.) This is one of the first things Ruiz told Michelle Valdez, when she made a home visit shortly after Axel got his diagnosis and saw Valdez’s Chihuahua, Elvira, sitting on the couch. “I know that!” Valdez told her.
But there was a long list of things that Valdez didn’t know, and she credits Ruiz with helping her make the house tolerable for Axel. Now she cleans the floor with vinegar (bleach triggered his attacks), avoids lighting candles, and limits herself to a single house plant. She got rid of her rugs, except for a four-by-six mat in front of the TV, covered the couch with bedsheets, and hung heavy curtains to block the dust from sneaking in through the windows. It was a compromise—it keeps her home at constant dusk—and an imperfect one. Valdez ran her finger across the sill and held it up: a clump of gray lint was stuck to her fingertip. “I cleaned this three days ago,” she said.
A few minutes earlier, when I arrived at the house, Axel had bounded toward me and excitedly described a recent domestic tragedy. His bunny had eaten some of Elvira’s food and died. Lanky and loose, he waved a smartphone at me and said, “My game!,” before disappearing into the kitchen and the blue glow of a Spider-Man cartoon.
“Whenever somebody comes over, he just starts talking,” Valdez said. “He likes to be around people—anyone who’s not his mom, his sister, or his dad.” He has limited opportunities to socialize right now. Because of his asthma, he can’t go to the park anymore. Of the past thirty school days, he has missed ten. Valdez has said no to karate and no to soccer. The phone and a tablet she got him are supposed to stop him from getting lonely in the dim rooms. “We’re just stuck in the house, practically every day, because he gets so sick when we go out,” she said.
Ana, the three-year-old, came over to where Valdez and I were sitting on the couch. With a top knot and purposeful brows, she proffered a doll and a painted wooden cross. She, too, wanted a playmate. Axel, Valdez said, has stopped playing with her, and begun hitting her instead.
“We started seeing a lot of changes in him,” she said. “He got a little gray. Sort of like a Grinch personality. Sometimes I would hug him and he’d say, ‘I don’t want you to hug me, I want to go out.’ ” When he threw a fork at her, she took him to Behavioral Health. Now he has another diagnosis: oppositional defiant disorder.
Axel has an inhaler, a nebulizer, and steroids; Valdez, ever watchful, can often avert the fits that used to send them to the emergency room. She is still very protective—so worried he will stop breathing in the night that she sleeps beside him, while Ana shares a room with her husband. But Ruiz told her that with medication and proper care Axel will outgrow the worst of his symptoms, and Valdez is hopeful. She has relaxed just enough to focus her concern on Ana. “I’m so scared she’s getting it,” she said. “Every time she runs, she starts coughing.” Valdez would like to move to San Diego. Whenever they visit there, Axel plays and runs and seems just fine. In the meantime, she told me, the family is moving to a different house, in a cleaner part of town.
Valdez struck me as an extremely engaged and motivated observer of her environment. I asked her what she knew about the Salton Sea. It rang a faint bell. She said that her husband had recently told her it was drying up. She shrugged. Perhaps for her, as for so many others, it was just too big to contemplate. She was a mother thinking about improving her children’s lives, but in a larger sense she was a climate refugee. As the water moves around in California, pulling out of agricultural areas and leaving them desolate, there will be more like her. The water goes where the people are, and the rest of the people follow. Whatever happens at the sea, Valdez said, “hopefully by then we’re not going to be here.”October 29th, 2015
Jacob Lawrence, “Watchmaker” (1946). currently on view in “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957,” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
BY LOUIS MENAND
THE NEW YORKER PUBLISHED:OCTOBER 27, 2015
One thing to keep in mind if you visit (and, if you are in Boston, you should visit) the Institute of Contemporary Art’s huge exhibition “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957”—more than two hundred and sixty works by almost a hundred artists, curated by Helen Molesworth, the biggest show the I.C.A. has ever mounted—is that Black Mountain College was not an artists’ community or a writers’ colony, or even an art school. It was a college.
A very small college. Black Mountain was launched in the Depression, and for twenty-four years it led a hand-to-mouth existence in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside Asheville, North Carolina. In a good year, enrollment was sixty. When at last the money dried up, the college shut its doors. But to the extent that finances permitted, and depending on who was available to teach, it offered a full liberal education. Students could take courses in science, mathematics, history, economics, languages, and literature.
What made Black Mountain different from other colleges was that the center of the curriculum was art-making. Students studied pretty much whatever they wanted, but everyone was supposed to take a class in some kind of artistic practice—painting, weaving, sculpture, pottery, poetry, architecture, design, dance, music, photography. The goal was not to produce painters, poets, and architects. It was to produce citizens.
Black Mountain was founded by a renegade classics professor named John Andrew Rice, who had been kicked out of Rollins College, in Florida. Rice believed that making something is a different learning experience from remembering something. A lot of education is reception. You listen to an expert explain a subject to you, and then you repeat back what you heard to show that you learned it. Teachers push students to engage actively with the material, but it’s easy to be passive, to absorb the information and check off the box.
Rice thought that this made for bad social habits. Democracy is about making choices, and people need to take ownership of their choices. We don’t want to vote the way someone else tells us to. We want to vote based on beliefs we have chosen for ourselves. Making art is making choices. Art-making is practice democracy.
Rice did not think of art-making as therapy or self-expression. He thought of it as mental training. As anyone who has tried to write a poem knows, the discipline in art-making is exercised from within rather than without. You quickly realize that it’s your own laziness, ignorance, and sloppiness, not somebody else’s bad advice, that are getting in your way. No one can write your poem for you. You have to figure out a way to write it yourself. You have to make a something where there was a nothing.
A lot of Rice’s ideas came from the educational philosophy of John Dewey (although the idea that true learning has to come from within goes back to Plato), and Rice was lucky to find an art teacher who had read Dewey and who thought the same way. This was Josef Albers. Albers had not been so lucky. He was an original member of the Bauhaus school, but when Hitler came to power, in 1933, the Bauhaus closed down rather than accept Nazi professors. Albers’s wife, Anni, was from a prominent Jewish family, and they were understandably anxious to get out of Germany. Rice heard about them from the architect Philip Johnson, and he sent a telegram to Albers inviting him and his wife to come teach at Black Mountain. The reply read: “I speak not one word English.” (Albers had read his Dewey in translation.) Rice told him to come anyway. Albers eventually did learn English, and he and Anni, an accomplished and creative weaver, established the mode of art instruction at Black Mountain. Everything would be hands-on, collaborative, materials-based, and experimental.
Bauhaus was all about abolishing distinctions between craft, or design, and fine art, and Black Mountain was one of the places where this aesthetic entered the world of American art. (Another was the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, where Andy Warhol went to college.) Albers’s most famous (although probably not his favorite) student at Black Mountain was Robert Rauschenberg, and Rauschenberg is the presiding spirit at the I.C.A. exhibition. Although goofier than most Black Mountain art—there is an earnestness about a lot of the work; this was schoolwork, after all—putting an automobile tire around a stuffed goat is the essence of Black Mountain practice.
Black Mountain College was a holistic learning environment. Teachers and students worked together; people who came to teach (and who stayed—not everyone found the work conditions to their liking) sat in on one another’s classes and ended up learning as much as the students. When a new building needed to be constructed, students and teachers built it themselves, just as, at the old Dewey School, at the University of Chicago, the children grew their own food and cooked their own meals.
It seems as though half the midcentury American avant-garde came through Black Mountain in one capacity or the other. The I.C.A. exhibition includes works by (besides Rauschenberg and the Alberses) Ruth Asawa, John Cage, John Chamberlain, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Shoji Hamada, Lou Harrison, Ray Johnson, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Charles Olson, Ben Shahn, David Tudor, and Cy Twombly. Black Mountain produced art of almost every kind.
Did it also produce good citizens? That’s an educational outcome everyone embraces but that’s hard to measure. In the case of Black Mountain, the sample size is miniscule, and most students left before graduating. There is also the self-selection issue. People who choose to attend progressive colleges are already progressive-minded, just as people who want a liberal education are usually already liberal (meaning interested in knowledge for its own sake), and people who prefer vocational or pre-professional education are already headed down those roads. College choice tends to confirm prior effects of socialization. But why keep those things separate? Knowing and doing are two sides of the same activity, which is adapting to our environment. That was Dewey’s point.
People who teach in the traditional liberal-arts fields today are sometimes aghast at the avidity with which undergraduates flock to courses in tech fields, like computer science. Maybe those students see dollar signs in coding. Why shouldn’t they? Right now, tech is where value is being created, as they say. But maybe students are also excited to take courses in which knowing and making are part of the same learning process. Those tech courses are hands-on, collaborative, materials-based (well, virtual materials), and experimental—a digital Black Mountain curriculum. The other liberal-arts fields might take notice. Arts practice should be part of everyone’s education, not just in preschool.October 27th, 2015
October 27th, 2015