From my piece in the New York Observer today:
For the past month, on an isolated sand spit on the north coast of Long Island Sound, just a few hundred feet from Connecticut's largest city, work crews have been demolishing the remains of a once vibrant summer vacation community. As it was gradually abandoned over the past 15 years, the Long Beach West section of the Stratford Peninsula, off Bridgeport's eastern edge, with its dozens of cottages, outbuilding and docks, had become a ghost town, a ramshackle and frequently vandalized memorial to long-forgotten summers. But in the month before the backhoes and bulldozers arrived to scrape the peninsula clean and restore it to its natural state, a group of Brooklyn artists, seeing an opportunity for creation amid the dilapidation, took up residence on the peninsula in a transient artists' commune and repurposed the detritus to their own ends: large-scale sculptures, massive murals and collages, elaborate installations of found objects.
Though the article is mostly focused on the artists' story, the story of the penninsula's heyday, its downfall, and its ongoing reclamation is perhaps even more interesting. You can read more about the demolition and the stimulus dollars that funded it here and here (pdf); see more about the local bird populations at Audobon Connecticut; read a Times story about the final eviction of cottage owners here; see some old-time photos of the place here; read about the Trust for Public Land, a partner in the reclamtion project, here; learn about the neighboring Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge here; and read about overall efforts to rejuvenate the Long Island Sound in Audubon Magazine here.
On Tuesday night at Cooper Union, PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) put on an event titled "State of Emergency: Censorship by Bullet", a series of readings by well-known writers and a panel discussion with Mexican journalists, addressing the dire state of journalism in Mexico, where, according to CPJ, 22 journalists have been murdered since 2006. The night led off with Paul Auster reading a translation of the widely quoted editorial (translation here) published in El Diario de Juarez on September 18 that asked the narcotraficantes, "What do you want from us?"
"You are currently the de facto authorities in this city. ... Tell us what you expect from us as a newspaper?"
While some interpreted the editorial as a capitulation, it seems to me like more of cry for help from a paper that had seen two of its journalists killed in the past two years, including photographer Luis Carlos Santiago, who was murdered two days before the editorial ran. Instead of practicing implicit self-censorship in the interest of self-preservation, as every other border paper does, El Diario decided to make an explicit point about the plight of both the city and Mexican journalists generally. One of the panel participants was Rocio Gallegos, a reporter for El Diario, who started by giving the audience some background on the daily violence in her city. "It is the scene of a war," she said. Asked about reporting in a de facto war zone, Gallegos responded:
There is the feeling that things are breaking down. However journalists in Ciudad Juarez still go out and do their job, because the freedom of expression is something the community still demands. And while the community has a voice, a journalist will be there to record it.
The panel discussion, with the Mexican journalists speaking through a translator, was by far the most interesting part of the evening. One recurring theme: the feeling among Mexicans that the US has failed to accept enough responsibility for our role in this drug war. After all, they said, it's our demand for narcotics--especially cocaine--that draws the drugs North and our loose firearms laws and gun-culture that enable the gun violence to the South. They were calling for cooperation, though, not passing the buck. As Mexican TV journalist Carmen Aristegui put it, "The Mexican government has failed in government's most basic responsibility: keeping its citizens safe and free from fear."
For those who missed the event, you can listen to it here, and I'd recommend the recent CPJ report Silence or Death in Mexico's Press. It's pretty shocking stuff. For more reporting from the frontlines of the border drug war, check the indispensable Blog del Narco (the English translation's a little wonky, but you'll get the idea).
If anyone needed further affirmation that New York's state legislature is, uh, dysfunctional, a new report from the state inspector general should do the trick. The report focuses on the bidding process for the rights to develop NYC's first casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens (seen above in a shot from earlier this year) and concludes, as summarized by the New York Times, that the process was "a chaotic and ultimately doomed process that was without formal rules or objective criteria, and was awash in 'unrestrained political considerations,' lobbyists and targeted campaign contributions." So that's not good.
Always one of the biggest events on the BASE-jumping calendar, Bridge Day at New River Gorge in West Virginia drew 363 jumpers this year for the 31st installment of this annual gathering. More than 100,000 spectators showed up, as well, according to the West Virginia Gazette. In a sport with few safe, legal venues in the US, and even fewer opportunities to perform in front of a crowd, the once a year chance to jump the New River Gorge Bridge has become an annual rite of passage. Check out some video here and look closely at the second jump for a trick known as "the sprinkler," courtesy of Miles Daisher and Othar Lawrence of the Red Bull Air Force.
This weekend is the start of bowhunting season for deer in southern New York State, and though shotgun season in doesn't open until November 20th (full schedule here), this seemed as good a time as any to remind everyone to be safe. To reinforce the point, this story from the Bismarck Tribune about the start of North Dakota's pheasant season--though geographically and otherwise off the point--should do the trick:
North Dakota’s pheasant season opened Saturday and not without incident. Six hunters were shot accidentally during the opening weekend, five hit by shotgun blasts and the sixth hit by a .22 caliber bullet when a hunter was unloading a pistol and it discharged, hitting his partner.
Not without incident, indeed. So whether you're hunting or just out for a foliage-peeping stroll, wear some blaze orange gear or, better yet, avoid likely hunting spots. And to the hunters: happy hunting.
[Via Field and Stream]
Back in June, I wrote about the ever-mounting grandiosity of anti-whaling blowhard Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. However noble the goal (stopping whaling), it seemed clear that the constant presence of camera crews filming the Animal Planet series "Whale Wars" had exacerbated Watson's already dangerous egomania. In the wake of two collisions with Japanese whalers and the subsequent sinking of one of the Sea Shepherd boats, the Ady Gil, it seemed that Watson, whom I have met and interviewed, was mostly concerned with manufacturing drama for his television show.
Now Pete Bethune, the Kiwi skipper of the Ady Gil, has come forward with a series of Facebook posts and a confessional video accusing Watson of doing just that. Here's the video:
Bethune, who's been kicked out of Sea Shepherd, has a number of bones to pick with Watson, whom he calls "morally bankrupt", but the real bombshell, dropped just before the 2-minute mark of the video, is his claim that Watson ordered him to sink what was, at that point, a salvageable ship:
I was given an instruction from Paul Watson via Chuck Swift to deliberately sink the Ady Gil. This would allow the Bob Barker to go on chasing the whaling fleet, which was a good thing, but i believe it was also done to garner sympathy with the public and to create better TV." [Emphasis added]
It's clear that Bethune and Watson had a falling out after the sinking of the Ady Gil--during the five months that Bethune spent in a Japanese prison on charges stemming from the incident--and that the tension between the two has been building in the months since. Watson's response was typically brusque, calling the scuttling accusations "silly," threatening legal action for defamation, and accusing Bethune of selling him out to the Japanese prosecutors. For Bethune's part, he claims to want only to set the record straight. "Sea Shepherd is better than this," he says in the video, "and we shouldn't be lying just because it makes good TV or good drama or gets media coverage."
Having interviewed both men previously, I'd take Bethune's word over Watson's any day. (According to the New Zealand Herald, Ady Gil, the American businessman and Sea Shepherd donor who paid for the scuttled boat, has taken Bethune's side as well.) But Watson's certainly the louder and more media-savvy of the two, so I would expect to hear more from his side in the coming weeks. Hard to say how it will shake out, but as Andrew Revkin put it on the New York Times' Dot Earth blog, "If Bethune’s allegations hold up, whatever remains of Watson’s credibility should fast fade."
In the wake of news coverage this week of the horrific wave of toxic red sludge flooding western Hungary and heading towards the Danube, some interesting comments have begun popping up on news sites covering the debacle. This was one of the first comments posted below a piece on Salon.com: "The threat of a catastrophe like that ... is the reason that people oppose the Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay watershed."
For those unfamiliar with the finer points of the initial plans for the proposed Pebble Mine, the commenter went on to quote information from mine opponents citing the need to construct "colossal earthen dams that are supposed to hold back some 10 billion tons of mining waste -- despite being built in a known earthquake zone." He or she went on, quoting the website of the anti-Pebble Renewable Resources Coalition:
The one earthen dam would be 740 feet high and 4.3 miles long. The other dam would be 700 feet high and 2.9 miles long. The larger dam would be higher than the Hoover Dam or the Grand Coulee Dam which are of course made of concrete.
These figures come from the initial plan filed by the mining company exploring the site in 2006, and though the final mine plan will look quite a bit different, the commenter has a point: the mine will generate massive amounts of potentially toxic tailings that will need to be stored on-site in perpetuity, likely in a tailings pond held back by large earthen dams. Sound familiar?
Last week, I had the chance to go out on the Hudson River for a sunset sail aboard a J-24 with my friend Bill Bahen, founder of Hudson River Community Sailing, an amazing resource for New Yorkers looking to log a little time on the water. And though fall's approaching, it's not too late to take a lesson, so check out their website for more info. New York's often a pretty inward-focused city, so looking back on the skyline from amid the Hudson's chop while dodging ferries and harnessing some post-hurricaine wind was a perspective shifter. Highly recommended.