Troubling Health Signs in Utah

Cultural and business climates often run parallel to the degree of local reportage and response. The same news event will

A view of Salt Lake area, with the inversion.

get different coverage in Boise than it will in Boston.  The concern over potentially harmful environmental impact, for example, may be less officially worrisome in Utah than elsewhere. So, the following should come as no surprise – just like the increased stillborn rates in Duchesne, Daggett, and Uintah counties – health concerns affecting seniors are troubling yet (in this reporter’s opinion) under-reported:

In specific parts of Utah, there have been observations of an unusually high number of patients with two rare neurological pathologies: glioblastomas and the logopenic variant of primary progression aphasia. The former is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. The latter is similar to Alzeimer’s but attacks the brain’s language c​enter, not the memory.

Glioblastoma as seen in an MRI

According to what I’ve been told, Salt Lake county doctors are seeing an unusually high number of both. Most remarkably, one doctor saw four glioblastoma cases in one week. Of the logopenic variant, he previously diagnosed just two cases in 20 years (elsewhere in the country).

In addition, he recently received a letter from a state board, requiring that Parkinson’s Disease cases be reported as there were concerns of an unusual increase in diagnoses. It is this doctor’s suspicion that this uptick is, in fact, still under-represents the problem. The demographic shift of the aging boomer population has been taken into account.

The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment points out that the political climate for connecting pollutants with illness is particularly unfriendly in Utah.
Nonetheless, at the University of Utah, they’ve recently noted that the state rate of Parkinson’s Syndrome is double the national average. The local rate of patients with glioblastomas is some five times the national average.

Some think even these high rates are under-reported because of the dearth of qualified neurologists in Utah and the political and social climate. Last year, the university established the first in the nation Parkinson’s Registry. Doctors are now being asked to report all PD cases.

Parkinson symptoms

Wild West (Fake) Journalism is Back!

You might think we journalists struggle more than other folks when accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” splash across our virtual desktops.

That’s because the attack is not just on liberal news outlets but on media and the propagation of information in general. It’s an attack on journalism’s basic mission to fairly inform readers.

I may be a reporter but I’m also a reader. And when university research shows that most people think that we journalists are actually enemies of the state, well, let’s just say I can take a hint. (For those of you who are so darn persnickety about sources, I’m referring to the recent Suffolk University poll which shows that two-thirds of Fox News watchers believe that mainstream media is the enemy of the people.),

I’ve seen a lawyer! I’ve seen the light!

Party line! Party on!

Wild West journalism is so much more fun anyway. Remember when frontier reports promised water and farmland aplenty to any Easterner with an ear to bend? Remember when reports of “Gold in Them Thar Hills” was the real, honest-to-god headline on news stands?

Author Timothy Snyder reminded me of Wild West journalism in a recent interview. He said:

“In the descent from a world of factual discourse into a world of emotions and alternative realities, the first step you take… [is to] manufacture lots of stuff that isn’t true. The second step is that you claim that everyone is like this. You spread this kind of cynicism that you shouldn’t really trust anybody…Once that belief spreads we’re then in the world …which is ripe for fascism.”

His book is called “On Tyranny” and he teaches at Yale. But the guy lacks a sense of humor, don’t you think? We need writers and reporters who are more easy-going and have better senses of humor. More and more, I look at my old journalism life and laugh.

I remember, for example, reporting on a large, intense animal cruelty case. Thanks to the coverage, the animal welfare officials investigated. Thanks to the coverage, the county District Attorney prosecuted. Scores of horses, goats, pigs, and other animals were removed from the abusers’ possession and the couple in question was convicted.

Not surprisingly, these folks did not appreciate the coverage and called it untrue and “fake news.”

I see their point of view now. More and more, the truth is just so much trouble. More and more, I prefer the news to reflect my social media newsfeed: sound bites and images that affirm my beliefs. No questioning or contrariness please. Embracing an ideology of doubt? No thanks!

When I was a young mom, I used to love meal times with my three sons. It was a time to bounce around ideas. I tried to extoll the French essayist Joseph Joubert: “The aim of an argument or discussion should be not victory but progress.”

Back then, I said.

— If we only listen to the news that makes us feel good, how do we grow?

— If journalists only write about approved topics with supportive bias, how is the reader (and therefore the greater society) helped?

— If we are not encouraged to ask questions, think critically, and occasionally argue, what’s the point of having a thinking brain and living in a community?

Back then, I thought that as reporters and readers we should be encouraged to dig deep, look for the sources’ angles, and weigh alternative points of view. We should be aware of conflicts of interests and ulterior motives. Abusers, people with something to hide, vested parties all routinely blame the messengers, I thought.

Around the dinner table and around the newsroom, I thought transparency and objectivity were good things. Discourse and shining the mirror back on ourselves? All good!

Now, thankfully, I’ve been liberated from the fray. If I was back at the table with my boys and they said something like “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me” I would scold them for not thinking about the math. You know – If A = B and B = C, then A = C. C’mon folks, learn it with me!

  • Discussion is Argument.
  • Argument is Verbal Combat.
  • Verbal Combat is Combat.
  • Combat is War.
  • War is bad.

We need more love in this world!

Some folks might say I’m slipping from Synder’s “fact-based discourse into an alternative reality promulgated mostly by emotions.”

But love is emotions, right? And even journalists want to be loved.

 

“Landmarks” by Robert MacFarlane is a book to reread

We regularly recommend books on NickerNews (another site in the family of Cayyuse Crest Communications). Why not here?

This first installment comes on finishing one of the most impressive non-fiction books I’ve read in years: Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane.

Robert MacFarlane

Robert MacFarlane

Landmarks is full of those moments one has an engaged reader: Ah-ha moments and passages that you immediately have to read again, not because they confound you but because they lift you to a deeper place of understanding and appreciation. Those are passages where I turn down the top corner of the page. My copy of Landmarks must have three dozen turn-downs or more.

MacFarlane refers to and pays homage to many American essayists, including Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, and John Muir. His book is a celebration of language, time in nature and wilderness, and a deeply thoughtful conversation about the junction of those elements.

Although focused on the how the English are losing nature-centric words specific to the British Isles (peat, fog, mist, etc), he even writes of Keith Basso’s work with the Apache of western Arizona:

“The Apache understand how powerfully language constructs the human relation to place, and as such they possess, Basso writes, ‘a modest capacity for wonder and delight at the large tasks that small words can be made to perform.’ In their imagination geography and history are consubstantial. Placeless events are inconceivable, in that everything that happens must

A worn, saddlebagged copy of Landmarks

A worn, saddlebagged copy of Landmarks

happen somewhere.”

Other books to consider, with leanings toward books of the western U.S.:

Hole in the Sky: A Memoir, by William Kittredge

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, by Wallace Stegner

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey

All the West that Remains, by David Gessner. Read a three-part interview with Gessner here.

Where Rivers Change Directions, by Mark Spragg

Send us your favorites!

Open Letter to Bikers Everywhere

The recent opinion piece in High Country News sparked a viral amount of dialogue on that magazine’s site and on other platforms that picked up the piece, like Adventure Journal. It begged a follow-up on improving understanding for all who use multi-use trails.

yield-trail-sign-tempeBelieve it or not, bikers and hikers must yield to horse riders on many trails. This rule isn’t some snooty, “we were here first” deal. It’s just common sense. It’s much easier for hikers and bikers to yield to horses than the other way around.

Horses are prey animals. Bikes approach like predators, quickly and silently. Even the best-trained horses can spook, bolt, or jump sideways when they encounter bikers or hikers with big packs.
The results can be harmful to all. Think of a moose-vehicle collision. Now, take away the vehicle.

To avoid collisions and flared tempers, take these simple steps:

Download a pdf and share it with your local bike shop.

•    Announce yourself: Once you see horse and rider, let them know you’re approaching as soon as you can. No yelling necessary, just a friendly “Hey, how are you?” will do.
Mountain-Bikes600
•    Slow down or stop: Ask the rider if she’d like you to stop and step off or if slowing down and passing is okay.

•    Keep talking: Being friendly and communicative isn’t just nice manners, it lets the horse know you are a person, not a predator.

•    Anticipate around corners: Avoid tearing around blind angles. There could be large, dangerous animals around the bend! If you can’t slow down, make noise to alert possible trail riders.

•    Take the low road: If you’re on a grade and are trying to move past a horse rider, take the downhill side.

trail-clipart-TRAIL6Horse riders are not victims here. Nor are they guilt-free when it comes to trail conflict. Let’s recognize our contributions to the problem:

  • Be a polite advocate. As we noticed in the comments on Adventure Journal, mountain bikers have plenty of stories of rude, entitled horse riders. Don’t be one of them. Remember, you get more with honey than vinegar.
  • Also, if it’s been rainy, stay off trails where horses can do serious damage. It can take a long time to renew and repair trails that have been trashed when horses move up and down them in wet conditions.
  • Got a horse who’s spooky around bikes? Practice. Expose your horse to bikes in a more predictable environment. Make it a positive experience.
  • Assume the worst. Don’t put yourself or your horse in a position where things can go sideways. If you see or know of mountain bikes presence, set yourself up for a safe encounter. If this means hustling off the trail, so be it.

Have fun sharing the trail!

Kevin Fedarko Interview, Part I

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride. We’re cross-posting from our sister site, ColoradoOutsider.com
fed6
ColoradoOutsider: Wilderness and being outside are your topics. You’re recording, experiencing, and trying to be mindful. How does that work for you? Like on this recent trek, walking the Grand Canyon (on assignment for National Geographic), were you “on” all the time?

Kevin Fedarko: In that context, I’m always on. I’m very cognizant of the fact that everything that happens is grist for the mill. I think it’s really essential to record as much as possible, in situ, to get it down in the moment.
That’s a huge challenge during a trip like that because I’m always so exhausted. You can’t take notes while you’re walking. It’s just impossible. And I was so exhausted in camp at night that all I wanted to do was go to sleep. So I carry a tape recorder right on my backpack, on a strap. I found it was amazingly efficient.
Pete (photographer and videographer Pete McBride} was constantly recording as well. Much as I’d love to be in Zen poet mode or whatever, and not worry about being a journalist, this is my material, what’s happening. Also, to get down thoughts is really important even if it’s in a really rough moment.

COO: My kids and I have an ongoing argument on whether taking pictures takes away from the moment or adds to the moment, adds to one’s ability to be in the moment. When you’re on assignment, does that make your recall and memories sharper? Or does it put blinders on, because you might not recall what you didn’t record?

KF: For me it does make them sharper because I’m forced into a level of engagement that goes beyond having fun or registering its beauty and then moving on. When you’re forced to record, you’re forced to articulate your thoughts. That pulls you in. Some might say it’s a false engagement because it’s an intellectual engagement. I’m sure you could go down that road and have a long PhD thesis on that. But for me, it does heighten the experience. It imbues it with a coherence and meaning that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

It’s also less enjoyable. I can’t coast through it. Even when I’m trying to do that, I’m often pulled back in by some sort of insight or observation. My tape recordings may be just five seconds long or so. They are just impressions.

COO: Key words or snapshots?

KF: Absolutely. For instance, the way the pebbles at the bottom of a slot canyon are all different colors because the floor of a slot canyon collects all the different layers of rock and they are literally all jumbled together. Each represents a different place in time. Some are 2.5 million years old and some are 1.7 billion years old. So you have time jumbled together in rock, represented in color. That would be an example of an impression.

COO: But you don’t have time to fine-tune it as a wordsmith. You table that bit.

KF: Right. It seems to me it’s most important to record it. I can then think about the words later.

Read Part II, in which Fedarko discusses the specter of Grand Canyon development.

Read Part III

Kevin Fedarko Interview, Part II

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride. We’re cross-posting from our sister site, ColoradoOutsider.com

Read Part I

COO: You’re really self-deprecating. Not just as a public speaker but as an oarsman (Fedarko manned the boat which carried the latrines during his boating stints on the Colorado River). Are you really that bad?

KF: No, I can’t resist a good joke on myself. The basic parameters of that story are true. I was a very bad oarsman. I’m still not great. And I did become the permanent poo boat guy. But I also knew that it was a great story. It’s kind of hilarious. And I knew that it would teach me something. Had I focused more on being an oarsman, I would have gotten better. I would have proven myself over time and acquired those skills. But I made a conscious decision not to because ultimately I’m a writer. I’m not a dory boatman. I had to decide that one avenue was more valuable than the other.

COO: And you’re not a bad presenter either. Your presentation was polished and thoughtful. Did you have help?

KF: I haven’t had any coaching. I have done it dozens of times. It is kind of polished. But I am really awkward when I start. It takes me a good 10 minutes to get going. That’s who I am: someone who’s very uncomfortable being up there, who’s stumbling over himself, who’s not a natural. Someone once told me that the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that an extrovert derives energy from being around people and an introvert has energy sucked out of them. I’m definitely the latter.

COO: How do you divide your time now? Over the last few months?

KF: The last several months have been sort of insane. Pete and I have been trying to complete this walk and then write the story immediately. It’s been kind of like two trains colliding. I have also just completed a ghost-writing project. You’re also catching me at a moment where I don’t think I’ve ever been more exhausted. There is no balance in my life at the moment.

But starting June, I have nothing for two months. I have a pile of books I want to read. Nothing else.

COO: Are you happy with your daily, monthly, yearly life? With your accolades and whatnot?

KF: I think you’re laboring under the misimpression that there is all this acclaim. Sam Carter interviewed me for a radio interview and asked ‘What’s it like to be famous?’ I’m like, ‘Dude…’

COO: But book tours and racing around southwestern Colorado is not sitting in a lonely, dark room, typing away.

KF: It’s not as if the phone is ringing off the hook and people are calling all the time, asking me to speak.

COO: At the Cortez library, you showed a video of the specter of Grand Canyon development. Looking ahead to the generations to follow, are you depressed, optimistic?

KF: I’m not a father and I don’t think I know enough about young people to either be inspired or depressed. Around them, I find myself experiencing a bit of both. I worry that people don’t read. I worry that kids spend most of their time indoors.

COO: I noticed that most people at your talk were our age. (We’re both around 50 years old.)

KF: You’re right. But there are times when I run into young people and I think they’re amazing. There’s an organization called Grand Canyon Youth. The whole mission is to put young people on the river. They’re incredible.

People my age have been worrying about the superficiality and general cluelessness of young people since probably the age of rock art. I think some of these worries are a bit manufactured.

Read Part I

Read Part III

Kevin Fedarko, Part III

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
fed6We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride.

Read Part I

Read Part II

COO: This is your first book. When it came to the story of the Emerald Mile, did it call to you? Did people around you say ‘this story is book-worthy, you gotta do it!’ Or was there any compulsion, like, ‘at this time in my life, I gotta write a book’?

KF: It might have been a bit of the latter. A book represented where I wanted to get with writing. Not so much because a book is longer, but with a book, you get to focus on one thing. Not writing about something, then moving on. Even writing for a monthly magazine, you parachute in with a set of ideas. You emerge from a two-week process with something to say about it. That became dissatisfying for me over time. I really wanted to dive much more deeply. I think I’ve always wanted that.

This story took an enormous amount of time to coalesce in my head. I couldn’t figure out: what was the story? where was the center? what did it involve?

At first, it didn’t even occur to me that there were two stories, one at the dam and one on the river. So all that stuff got worked out in the very messy process of writing a proposal and trying to write the book.

It was chaotic and messy and lacked anything remotely approaching clarity.

COO: After the proposal, did it evolve again? Or did the folks in New York respect your vision?

KF: This was my first rodeo with book publishing. It doesn’t always work this way. I wound up with an agent who was very hands-on. She helped me shape the proposal. It was 20,000 words. She was part of the process.

The proposal is like a sales document. It’s not the book. It’s not like you can take it, like a balloon and blow it up into a 110,000-word document. I needed to throw that away and start from scratch again.

COO: Right. The sales document is how the book will fit into the publishing world and supersede all the other books out there. And why now is the time for it to be published.

fed7KF: By the way, The Emerald Mile was not a bestseller at the beginning. I talked with Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad and there’s a DirtBag Diaries podcast that describes the whole thing.

[Simon & Schuster debuted the book in March, 2013. The release coincided with a long-running dispute between the publishing company and Barnes & Noble that climaxed with the bookseller refusing to sell any books by S & S rookie authors. For The Emerald Mile, “the marketing feel apart. It was a downward spiral that ends with the death of a book,” said Fedarko, who responded to the debacle by relentlessly touring the western states, doing book signings, sleeping in the back of his truck, “living like a river guide”, and cultivating his own following.] Listen to the podcast here.

Some people have criticized The Emerald Mile and it did get me thinking. It might be going to far to say I appreciated it, but it’s been useful and valuable.

COO: Yeah, readers tend to be unhappy if the book wasn’t what they expected. Not that it was a bad book, but book reviews tend to be 2 stars when the sales pitch wasn’t the same as the goods.

KF: It’s so interesting you say that because the single biggest criticism has been that it wasn’t enough about the journey and it was false advertising. It has to do with the subtitle. A certain type of reader has felt he’s been sold a bill of goods…I was

Fedarko speaks at Durango High School. Courtesy Durango Herald

Fedarko speaks at Durango High School. Courtesy Durango Herald

explaining the criticism to kids at Durango High School because I thought it might resonate.

Here’s a book that starts with two chapters, these kind of sexy things happen. But the next thing you know, you’re in the 1500’s with Spanish conquistadors and then you’re thrown 70 pages of environmental history before you even start to connect things. Certain readers felt that was unfair. It goes back to the subtitle. I would have really liked the subtitle to get away from what it is now and towards what’s more essential.

One of my favorite critiques: a guy wrote on some blog that The Emerald Mile was a terrible book and how there are only three chapters that deal with the speed run. His advice to readers, particularly kayakers, was to buy the book, rip out 75 percent of it, keep the last three chapters, and then throw that in the trash, too.

Isn’t that great?

COO: Well, at least one boater is reading the whole thing. My son.

KF: The idea that young people are reading it is great. Durango High School adopted the book. That’s the most amazing thing that’s happened.

COO: I’m sure the teachers chose it for the very reasons critics have panned it – the research, the history, and environmental issues.

KF: Right. They’re using it as a sort of base camp. They go to a power plant. They go to Glen Canyon Dam. They go on a camping trip. They’re on the Animas. Their adoption of the book is the single most gratifying thing that has happened in connection with the book.

Read Part I

Read Part II

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