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‘I would take a bullet for the kids’: Teachers face a daunting new role

Tue, 2018-02-20 06:53

TAMARAC, Fla. — The shooting was all over, but the emotional reckoning had just begun, and so on Saturday the teachers of Broward County in Florida packed their union hall to discuss what it meant to have become the nation's human shields.

"Last night I told my wife I would take a bullet for the kids," said Robert Parish, a teacher at an elementary school just miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where a former student killed 17 people, including at least three faculty members who found themselves in the line of fire.

Since the attack on Wednesday, said Parish, "I think about it all the time."

Across the country, teachers are grappling with how their roles have expanded, from educator and counselor to bodyguard and protector. They wonder if their classrooms are properly equipped, if they would recognize the signs of a dangerous student and, most of all, if they are prepared to jump in front of a bullet.

In the past few days, teachers wrote to Congress, urging bans on assault weapons, and to state lawmakers, seeking permission to carry firearms to school. They attended local protests and reviewed safety plans with students. And in the evenings, they spoke with friends and family about an excruciating reality — that teachers, who once seemed mostly removed from the life-or-death risks faced by the ranks of police officers and firefighters, might now be vulnerable.

"I visualized what it would look like, and it made me sick," said Catherine Collett, 28, a sixth-grade teacher in Northern Virginia who has spent recent days running through a thousand violent scenarios. "Could I empty out the cabinet and throw out the shelves and put kids in the cabinets? Is my better chance just barricading the doors? Can I move furniture that fast? Do I ask my kids to help me?"

Many teachers said even contemplating such worries felt far from what they had once imagined their challenges would be. As if the mounting pressures of test scores and email messages to parents and bus duty and hall duty and new certifications and all those meetings were not enough. But the death toll has piled up — staff killed in shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and now at Stoneman Douglas in Florida — and is forcing a shift in how teachers view their responsibilities

"When I started teaching I thought I was just coming in to teach," said José Luis Vilson, 36, a middle school math teacher in New York City. Now he has come to view himself as a first responder, too, and added that instruction on topics such as conflict resolution and first aid would be useful.

Bo Greene, 56, a calculus and statistics teacher in Bar Harbor, Maine, said the planning for dangerous situations had increased and grown more specific in the past year, even in her quiet school district. All of it feels jarring after decades in education, she added.

"I never had any of this," Greene said. "We had the basic fire drills."

Nowhere was the conversation among teachers more intense than in Broward County, where Stoneman Douglas is one of more than 300 schools, and Nikolas Cruz, charged in the shooting, had been among the district's 270,000 students.

Laurel Holland, who was Cruz's 11th-grade English teacher at Stoneman Douglas, said teachers in big public schools cannot possibly be expected to look into every student's background to know if they have long been troubled. The year that she taught Cruz, she had more than 150 students, she said.

"There's not enough time," she said.

In the case of Cruz, she said, it was clear something was wrong. "He didn't work and play well with others," she said. "I was frightened."

Holland eventually reported him to the administration, and he was removed from her class after one semester.

Inside the crowded union building on Saturday, educators held hands and shouted "Union strong!" before getting down to business.

How, they asked, were they going to stop the next one?

For hours they spoke of the golf clubs and baseball bats they would like to keep in their classrooms, of the bulletproof vests they wish they had, of the challenges of removing mass killers from their midst.

"I'm curious to know, out of the people here, how many Nikolases they have at their school?" said Elizabeth Sundin, 48, a teacher's assistant. "Because I have one at our school."

Outside, in the balmy Florida night, Parish, 51, of Broadview Elementary, was wrestling with the question of the class door. When an armed attacker begins to prowl, and a student is left in the hall, "Do I let the kid in, and maybe the gunman behind her?" he said. "Or do I not let them in and save the whole class? That's a decision I can't make."

Inside, under the glare of fluorescent lights, Bruce Klasner, 61, of Everglades High was wondering why the district had not created a text message system that could send instructions in the event of an attack.

"I teach the Holocaust," he shouted at the rows of exhausted teachers. "I taught them," he said of his students, "about a man by the name of Janusz Korczak who walked into the gas chambers with his children because he refused to leave them. And after this happened my kids are sitting outside saying, 'Mr. K, would you give your life for me?'"

Klasner said he would — of course. "I said, 'Did you even have to ask?'"

In a corner, Andrea Suarez, 35, of Westpine Middle School was worried about her own students, who have special needs and often make loud noises, meaning it is almost impossible to hide them.

These days, she said her plan for responding to a shooting involves corralling the children into a closet, occupying them with snacks, and positioning herself in front of the closet door with a pair of sharp scissors.

"I've been having a lot of difficulty sleeping," said Suarez, whose four children have been urging her to leave the profession. "I keep hearing kids screaming and gunshots in my head."

Jess Bidgood contributed reporting from Boston, Patricia Mazzei from New York, Neil Reisner from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Kitty Bennett from St. Petersburg, Fla.

Sea lions have made a magnificent comeback, and they want their beaches back

Tue, 2018-02-20 06:03

Sea lions have made a magnificent comeback, and they want their beaches back

Just a few decades ago, the California sea lion seemed on the verge of becoming an endangered species. It was 1964, and hunting and fishing had caused the breeding population off the West Coast to shrink to just 35,000.

How times have changed. After the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 made it illegal to kill or harass sea lions, their ranks steadily grew – and grew, and grew. Now, according to recent estimates by the National Marine Fisheries Service, California sea lions number in the hundreds of thousands, making them comfortably within the range of what experts call the "optimal sustainable population."

It's as good a success story as a species can hope for. But there's a hitch: A robust population of barking sea lions is not particularly easy for people to live with.

"The reality is that the people who wrote the Marine Mammal Protection Act could never have imagined the situation we have now," said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist with the service and a co-author of the new sea lion status report. "Suddenly, they're now in the system, and they're competing with people for the same resources."

Those resources include fish, but also seaside recreational areas. In December, a popular San Francisco swimming cove temporarily closed after three incidents involving sea lions that took a bite out of swimmers. The cove reopened in late December, and by early January, a fourth swimmer had been sent to the emergency room with a heavily bleeding bite.

Last May, a crowd of tourists oohed and awed as a sea lion swam near Steveston Fisherman's Wharf near Vancouver, British Columbia – until the animal lurched, snagged a little girl by the hem of her flower-print dress and pulled her into the water. The incident prompted port officials to renew warnings against approaching the marine mammals, which can weigh upward of 800 pounds and measure seven feet in length. But the same dock was crowded with around 100 onlookers two days later.

Perhaps no place typifies dysfunctional human-sea lion coexistence like the San Diego community of La Jolla. Several years ago, the city erected a fence to keep people off the coastal bluffs where a growing population of sea lions and an entourage of sea birds congregated. Soon a buildup of marine mammal and avian excrement started to waft through the neighborhood. One group of residents, known as the Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement, sued the city, arguing that the fence allowed sea lions and their stink to prosper, negatively affecting tourism and property values. The lawsuit said that champion boxer Floyd Mayweather – who has been knocked down just once in his career – checked out of a nearby hotel 15 minutes after he arrived due to the smell. Score a KO for the sea lions.

A court disagreed, saying the fence could not be blamed for the growth in local sea lions and their stench. The city installed a gate in 2014, which gave people access to the bluffs and helped deter sea lions from congregating – temporarily, anyway. Then the animals started hauling up on shore in similar numbers as before. Soon people were snapping selfies with sea lions, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to erect signs reminding visitors that getting too close to these animals is not only illegal, but that it can cause them stress.

Conflicts like these aren't easy to solve, and Melin suggested that's not likely to change soon. "Those sorts of issues . . . are going to continue to plague us, partially because sea lions are a coastal species, and they really are pretty adaptable to humans," she said.

The good news, Melin said, is that the same things that make sea lions troublesome neighbors – their shoreside loafing, for example – make them excellent research subjects.

"Most marine mammals are incredibly difficult to study. They're underwater something like 90 percent of the time," Melin said.

Sea lions, on the other hand, come ashore to rest and pup, and they do so in fairly accessible areas. Their presence has allowed scientists to take stock of the population and measure its response to environmental changes. And what they're seeing suggests the sea lion boomtime might not last.

For instance, sea current shifts and warmer surface waters during El Niño years often drive prey fish away from the California coast. When that happens, sea lions must swim farther and dive deeper to fill their bellies, a trend that can be measured in the declining number of pups born in such years, as well as in lower survival rates among those that are born. El Niños also tend to bring toxic algal blooms. Mussels eat the algae and absorb tiny bits of poison, which then works its way up the food chain and into mussel-eating sea lions, sometimes causing dementia, seizures and paralysis.

Because of all this, Melin and her co-authors project that sea lion growth could grind to a halt if global warming causes sea surface temperatures to rise just one degree Celsius, they wrote; at two degrees, the population will begin to decline by 7 percent a year. This means it wouldn't take much to push the species back to the edge.

"We saw that with the Steller sea lion," Melin said of a northern Pacific species that has experienced a rapid, and not fully understood, decline. "It only took five years for it to go from what everyone thought was a good healthy sea lion population to one that's now listed as endangered. That's why you can never take your eye off the ball."

For what it's worth, keeping sea lions around isn't just good for sea lions. It could also be good for us.

The animals can fall victim to a nasty, sexually transmitted cancer that is associated with a herpes virus. Scientists think that studying this disease, which can melt a sea lion's spinal column, may yield valuable insights into human cancers that are also associated with viruses.

"A lot of people that do research in cancer use lab animal models, and they control all the parameters as much as they can," said Alissa Deming, a virologist who is the Geoffrey C. Hughes research fellow at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., where researchers study cancer in stranded sea lions. "It's not really reflective of how cancer develops in real life."

Sea lions, on the other hand, are out in the real world looking for food, being exposed to pollutants, getting stressed out by predators, and just doing their thing – yes, often on beaches people consider theirs.

Russian bot army pounced on Twitter after Florida school shooting

Tue, 2018-02-20 05:55

SAN FRANCISCO — One hour after news broke about the school shooting in Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate.

The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting. Earlier on Wednesday, before the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many of those accounts had been focused on the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this," said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns. "The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically."

One of the most divisive issues in the nation is how to handle guns, pitting Second Amendment advocates against proponents of gun control. And the messages from these automated accounts, or bots, were designed to widen the divide and make compromise even more difficult.

Any news event — no matter how tragic — has become fodder to spread inflammatory messages in what is believed to be a far-reaching Russian disinformation campaign. The disinformation comes in various forms: conspiracy videos on YouTube, fake interest groups on Facebook, and armies of bot accounts that can hijack a discussion on Twitter.

Those automated Twitter accounts have been closely tracked by researchers. Last year, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, in conjunction with the German Marshall Fund, a public policy research group in Washington, created a website that tracks hundreds of Twitter accounts of human users and suspected bots that they have linked to a Russian influence campaign.

[How unwitting Americans encountered Russian operatives online]

The researchers zeroed in on Twitter accounts posting information that was in step with material coming from well-known Russian propaganda outlets. To spot an automated bot, they looked for certain signs, like an extremely high volume of posts or content that conspicuously matched hundreds of other accounts.

The researchers said they had watched as the bots began posting about the Parkland shooting shortly after it happened.

Amplified by bot swarms, Russian-linked Twitter accounts tried to foment discord before and after the election. Hundreds of accounts promoted false stories about Hillary Clinton and spread articles based on leaked emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have, to varying degrees, announced new measures to eliminate bot accounts, and have hired more moderators to help them weed out disinformation on their platforms.

But since the election, the Russian-linked bots have rallied around other divisive issues, often ones that President Donald Trump has tweeted about. They promoted Twitter hashtags like #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee after some National Football League players started kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

The automated Twitter accounts helped popularize the #releasethememo hashtag, which referred to a secret House Republican memorandum that suggested the FBI and the Justice Department abused their authority to obtain a warrant to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser. The debate over the memo widened a schism between the White House and its own law enforcement agencies.

The bots are "going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration," said Karen North, a social media professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "It just heightens that frustration and anger."

Intelligence officials in the United States have warned that malicious actors will try to spread disinformation ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. In testimony to Congress last year and in private meetings with lawmakers, social media companies promised that they will do better in 2018 than they did in 2016.

But the Twitter campaign around the Parkland shooting is an example of how Russian operatives are still at it.

"We've had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter future attacks, but I believe, unfortunately, we still don't have a comprehensive plan," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said during a hearing this month on global threats to the United States. "What we're seeing is a continuous assault by Russia to target and undermine our democratic institutions, and they're going to keep coming at us."

When the Russian bots jumped on the hashtag #Parklandshooting — initially created to spread news of the shooting — they quickly stoked tensions. Exploiting the issue of mental illness in the gun control debate, they propagated the notion that Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman, was a mentally ill "lone killer." They also claimed that he had searched for Arabic phrases on Google before the shooting. Simultaneously, the bots started other hashtags, like #ar15, for the semi-automatic rifle used in the shooting, and #NRA.

The bots' behavior follows a pattern, said Morgan, one of the researchers who worked with the German Marshall Fund to create Hamilton 68, the website that monitors Russian bot and fake Twitter activity. The bots target a contentious issue like race relations or guns. They stir the pot, often animating both sides and creating public doubt in institutions like the police or media. Any issue associated with extremist views is a ripe target.

The goal is to push fringe ideas into the "slightly more mainstream," Morgan said. If well-known people retweet the bot messages or simply link to a website the bots are promoting, the messages gain an edge of legitimacy.

An indictment made public on Friday by Mueller as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the election mentioned a Russian Twitter feed, @TEN_GOP, which posed as a Tennessee Republican account and attracted more than 100,000 followers. Messages from this account, now deleted, were retweeted by the president's sons and close advisers including Kellyanne Conway and Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

The indictment also described how fraudulent Russian accounts on Twitter tried to push real Americans into action. The indictment said the fake Twitter account @March_for_Trump had organized political rallies for Trump in New York before the election, including a "March for Trump" rally on June 25, 2016, and a "Down With Hillary" gathering on July 23, 2016.

By Friday morning, the bots that pushed the original tweets around the Parkland shooting had moved on to the hashtag #falseflag — a term used by conspiracy theorists to refer to a secret government operation that is carried out to look like something else — with a conspiracy theory that the shooting had never happened.

By Monday, the bots had new targets: the Daytona 500 auto race in Daytona Beach, Florida, and news about William Holleeder, a man facing trial in the Netherlands for his suspected role in six gangland killings. It is unclear why.

Trump accuser keeps telling her story, hoping someone will finally listen

Tue, 2018-02-20 05:45

She believed her best chance to be heard was through sheer repetition, so Rachel Crooks took her seat at the dining table and prepared to tell the story again. She was used to difficult audiences, to skeptics and Internet trolls who flooded her Facebook page with threats, but this was a generous crowd: a dozen women, all friends of her aunt, gathered for a casual dinner party on a Friday night. The hostess turned off the music, clanked a fork against her wineglass and gestured to Crooks. "Would you mind telling us about the famous incident?" she asked. "Not the sound-bite version, but the real version."

"The real version," Crooks said, nodding back. She took a sip of water and folded a napkin onto her lap.

"It all happened at Trump Tower," she said. "I had just moved to New York, and I was working as a secretary for another company in the building. That's where he forced himself on me."

Crooks, 35, had been publicly reliving this story for much of the past two years, ever since she first described it in an email to the New York Times several months before the 2016 election.

"I don't know if people will really care about this or if this will matter at all," she had written then, and after Donald Trump's election she had repeated her story at the Women's March, on the "Today" show and at a news conference organized by women's rights attorney Gloria Allred. Crooks had spoken to people dressed in #MeToo sweatshirts and to her rural neighbors whose yards were decorated with Trump signs. Early this month, she launched a campaign to become a Democratic state representative in Ohio, in part so she could share her story more widely with voters across the state.

And yet, after dozens of retellings, she still wasn't sure: Did people really care? Did it matter at all?

Despite her story, and the similar stories of more than a dozen other women, nothing had changed. Trump, who had denied all of the accusations, was still president of the United States, and Crooks was still circling back to the same moments on Jan. 11, 2006, that had come to define so much about her life.

"He was waiting for the elevator outside our office when I got up the nerve to introduce myself," she said now, remembering that day when she was 22 years old and Trump was 59. "It's not like I was trying to upset the apple cart. I don't know. Maybe I was being naive."

The hostess shook her head and then reached for Crooks' hand. "You did absolutely nothing wrong," she said.

"Thank you," Crooks said, even though she sometimes still wondered. She reached for her water glass and lifted it up into the air to use as a prop.

"He took hold of my hand and held me in place like this," she said, squeezing the sides of the water glass, shaking it gently from side to side. "He started kissing me on one cheek, then the other cheek. He was talking to me in between kisses, asking where I was from, or if I wanted to be a model. He wouldn't let go of my hand, and then he went right in and started kissing me on the lips."

She shook the water glass one final time and set it down. "It felt like a long kiss," she said. "The whole thing probably lasted two minutes, maybe less."

"Like you were another piece of his property," the hostess said.

"And with those orange lips!" another woman said.

Everyone at the table began to talk at the same time about Trump, and Crooks pushed her chair back and nodded along. She understood by now that for everyone else this was a story about the president – about what he had or hadn't done during those two minutes, and what that said about his morality and the character of the country that voted him into office. But the story Crooks was still trying to understand was her own, about what those two minutes had meant for her.

The hostess clinked her glass again to quiet the room. "Sorry, but can we go back to the kiss for a second?"

"Sure," Crooks said, and then she started to tell it again.

There were 19 women in all who made public accusations of sexual misconduct, or "The Nineteen," as they had come to be known on T-shirts and bumper stickers. Most had come forward with their stories after Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, and the experiences they described having with him spanned five decades. They claimed Trump had "acted like a creepy uncle," or "squeezed my butt," or "eyed me like meat," or "stuck his hand up under my skirt," or "groped with octopus hands," or "pushed me against a wall," or "thrust his genitals," or "forced his tongue into my mouth" or "offered $10,000 for everything."

In response, Trump had called the accusations against him "total fabrications" based on "political motives" to destroy his campaign and then his presidency.

"Nothing ever happened with any of these women," Trump tweeted once. "Totally made up nonsense to steal the election. Nobody has more respect for women than me!"

One woman accused Trump of assaulting her in the middle of a commercial flight after they met as seatmates in the 1970s. Another said it happened in a conference room during the middle of a job interview. Another, a journalist for People magazine, said Trump forced his tongue into her mouth as they finished an interview for a feature story about his marriage to Melania. The list of accusers included a reality-TV host, a runner-up on "The Apprentice," a yoga instructor, an adult-film star and several women who had competed in Trump's beauty pageants: a Miss New Hampshire, Miss Washington, Miss Arizona and Miss Finland.

And then there was Crooks, who had never been on reality TV, never drank alcohol, never met anyone famous until she moved from her childhood home in Green Springs to New York City in the summer of 2005. Nobody else in three generations of her family had ever seen the appeal in leaving Green Springs, population 1,300, but nobody else was quite like her: striking and self-assured at 6 feet tall; all-state in basketball, volleyball and track; the high school salutatorian and "Most Likely to Succeed."

[Trump accusers: 'Heartbreaking' to see him elected despite sexual misconduct]

She wanted to backpack across Europe, earn her doctorate, work in high-end fashion and live in a skyscraper that looked out over something other than an endless grid of brown-and-green soybean fields. "New York is where you can make things happen," she had written to a friend back then, and a few weeks after graduating from college she persuaded her high school boyfriend, Clint Hackenburg, to move with her.

They rented a room in a cheap group house way out in Bay Ridge, and she took the first job she could find on Craigslist to pay rent, at an investment firm in Trump Tower called Bayrock. Her secretarial tasks were to make coffee, water the two office palm trees, polish the gold-trimmed mirrors, straighten the tassels on the Oriental rug at the entryway and sit at a mahogany welcome desk to greet visitors who came through the glass front doors.

She found the work mindless and demeaning, but all around her was the promise of New York. There was Oprah Winfrey, filming a TV show next to the two-story Christmas wreath in the main lobby. There was George Clooney, strolling past the office. There was Trump, an occasional business partner with Bayrock, standing right outside the glass doors every few days with his bodyguard as he waited for the elevator to take him back to his $100 million penthouse on the 66th floor. She remembered that sometimes he looked in and smiled at her. At least once she thought she saw him wave.

"If you're working in that building, you've got to at least meet him," Hackenburg told her, and after five months Crooks finally got up from her desk and went out to say hello. It was early in the morning, and the office was mostly empty. She walked toward Trump, who she remembers was standing by himself in the small waiting area near the elevators. She held out her hand, intent on introducing herself not as a fan or as a secretary but as a business partner.

"Mr. Trump, I wanted to say hi, since our companies do a little work together," she remembered telling him that day, and then, before she understood what was happening, she remembered Trump becoming the second man ever to kiss her.

"Fiction," was what Trump's campaign called her story when Crooks first told it publicly in 2016. "It is absurd to think that one of the most recognizable business leaders on the planet with a strong record of empowering women in his companies would do the things alleged," the campaign said.

But Crooks' version of that day was prompting more and more questions in her mind. Why did she sometimes feel as if he was still holding her in place? Why had she spent so much of the past decade recoiling from that moment – back behind the receptionist desk, back inside of her head, back home to the certainty and simplicity of small-town Ohio?

It was just a dreadful kiss, or at least that's what she kept trying to tell herself to quiet the confusion that had grown out of that moment, turning into shame, hardening into anxiety and insecurity until nearly a decade later, when she first started to read about other women whose accusations sounded so much like her own. Kissed at a party. Kissed in a dance club. Kissed during a business meeting. Kissed while attending a Mother's Day brunch at Mar-a-Largo.

"For the first time, I started to think it wasn't my fault for being clueless and naive, or for something I did wrong in seeming that way to him," Crooks said in one of her first public statements about Trump in 2016. Maybe together with the other accusers their stories had power, Crooks thought. Maybe, if the accusations alone weren't enough to hold Trump accountable for his behavior, the women could force the country to pay attention with better messaging and greater theatrics.

Late in 2017, Crooks agreed to join several accusers for television interviews and news conferences in New York. "A call to action," the invitation read, because their goal was to demand a congressional investigation into Trump's alleged sexual misconduct. Crooks wrote herself some reminders for effective public speaking: "Use detail and repetition." "Make it personal." "Focus on solutions."

She volunteered to speak first, squared her shoulders and then turned to face the cameras with the poise of the athlete she had been.

"By now all of you are probably familiar with my story," she said before beginning it again. The 24th floor. His lips coming toward hers. His hands holding her in place until the elevator arrived to take him upstairs. "Feelings of self-doubt and insignificance," she said.

"I know there are many worse forms of sexual harassment, but doesn't this still speak to character?" she said. "I don't want money. I don't need a lawsuit. I just want people to listen. How many women have to come forward? What will it take to get a response?"

The response that came was waiting every day on Crooks' computer, so one morning back home in Ohio she woke up and walked downstairs to her laptop. The front door was locked, the shades were drawn, and she sat next to the dog she had recently bought with hopes that a pet might help reduce her anxiety. She navigated to Facebook. "Good morning, Rachel!" read a greeting at the top of her page, and then she clicked open her messages.

"Very unbelievable story," read the first. "Try and get rich some other way."

"You ignorant, attention seeking cow."

"Nobody would touch you, especially not Trump. You look like a boy. A gun to your head would be good for our nation."

She had tried changing the privacy settings on her Facebook page and logging off Twitter, but there was no way to barricade herself from so much hostility. It came into her email inbox at the tiny college in Ohio where she worked as a recruiter of international students. It came when she walked her dog around the block or took her nephews trick-or-treating.

"So many stares and weird comments that give me social anxiety," was how she explained it once to a friend, because now each interaction required a series of calculations.

Two thirds of people in Seneca County had voted for Trump. Ninety-four percent of Trump supporters told pollsters that their views were "not impacted" by the sexual harassment allegations against him. So Crooks wondered: Did the majority of her friends, co-workers and neighbors think she was lying? Or, even worse in her mind, did they believe her but simply not care?

"An honest, timeless, values-first community" was how one tourism slogan described Seneca County, and Crooks had always believed those things to be true. Her father had worked 39 years as a mechanic at Whirlpool and then retired with a decent pension. Her sister was raising four children in the same converted house where Crooks had grown up. Everybody in town knew her family – four generations of Crookses clustered within a few square blocks – so a local newspaper had interviewed community members about Crooks's allegations against Trump.

"A fine, wholesome young girl," her high school volleyball coach told the paper, and that seemed to Crooks like the most Ohio compliment of all. But then the story ended and the comments began, and Crooks kept reading because she knew some of the commenters, too.

"I'm a friend of the family. She's lying."

"If he was going to make a move on a woman, it wouldn't be her!"

"We know Trump has class, so why would he waste his time on some average chick like this?"

In her "values-first" community, it now felt to Crooks as if politics had become a fissure that was always deepening, the facts distorted by both sides, until even her own family no longer agreed on what or whom to believe. Her parents and sister supported her, even if they disliked talking about politics. Her grandmother, a staunch conservative, hugged Crooks after reading the original article about Trump's harassment in the New York Times but then sometimes talked admiringly about Trump. Another of her relatives was often posting laudatory stories about the president on Facebook and dismissing many of the attacks against him as purely political, until one day Crooks decided to email her.

"Your candidate of choice kissed me without my consent," Crooks wrote, and then she began to wonder whether there was some way to tell her story, or some piece of evidence, that could change herrelative's mind. During one news conference, she had asked Trump to release the security videotapes from the 24th floor that day, but he never responded. She had not heard from him, or anyone representing him, since she came home from New York. "What can I ever do to prove this happened and that it impacted my life?" she said.

Maybe the proof was the email she had sent to her mother, from the Bayrock office in New York, at 1:27 that afternoon in 2006: "Hey Ma, my day started off rough. . .had a weird incident with Mr. Trump."

Or the email she sent a few hours later to her sister at 3:05 p.m.: "I must just appear to be some dumb girl that he can take advantage of. . .ugh!"

Or the email she sent a few days after that to another relative: "Ah yes, the Donald kiss . . . very creepy man, let me tell you!"

Or the recorded conversation between Trump and Billy Bush on an "Access Hollywood" bus late in 2005, months before Crooks says she met Trump by the elevators: "You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

"By all means, have your opinions," Crooks wrote to her relative instead, because more and more she believed no version of her story could bridge the widening divide.

"It makes me ill, to be quite honest with you . . . when my own family members not only vote for but publicly defend this person," she wrote. "For my own sanity, I will not engage you further on this."

And then there was one of her other relatives, her aunt, Barbara Radebaugh, who was often encouraging her niece to engage and to fight. "Keep speaking your truth!" Radebaugh wrote to her, and she invited Crooks to Columbus in late January to participate in the second annual Women's March.

The two of them had traveled together from Ohio to the inaugural march in Washington on a bus with several dozen strangers, and now many of those women gathered again in Columbus for a small reunion a few hours before the march.

"What a transformative, empowering year," Radebaugh said to the group, because one of the women from that bus ride had become a Democratic fundraiser, another had started volunteering for reproductive rights, another had joined the board of the local Pride parade, and two more were running for seats in the Ohio House of Representatives. Crooks had yet to officially launch her campaign, but Mary Relotto had already raised $20,000, knocked on thousands of doors and filed all of her paperwork. She was scheduled to give a kickoff speech in Columbus, and now she asked Crooks whether she would be willing to share her story about Trump during the march.

"You are an inspiration to me," Relotto told her. "I want to champion you, to champion each other. Your voice and your story in this is huge."

"Thank you," Crooks said. "I don't always feel that way, but -"

"It's huge. So let me ask you: Do you want to engage with the people?"

"I don't know. This feels more like your moment."

"Thank you, but the people need to see a face. You have a powerful story. It's up to you how far you want to take it. What do you want to do?"

It was the same question Crooks' sister had asked over the phone that morning in 2006, minutes after Trump got onto his elevator and Crooks retreated back to an empty office at Bayrock to call home.

"What do you want to do?" her sister had asked, and together they had gone through the options. Report the harassment to building security guards who wore Trump's name on their uniforms? Tell her managers at Bayrock, where Trump was a key business partner? Confide in Bayrock's founder, Tevfik Arif, a personal friend of Trump and his wife, Melania?

The only thing she could think to do instead of reporting it was go quietly back to her desk for the afternoon and then back to the rental house to tell Hackenburg. Maybe she had done something to encourage Trump, she said. Maybe she wasn't coming across as smart, serious or professional. "Her self-confidence was absolutely rocked," Hackenburg said.

She didn't think of it as a tragedy. She had gone on to graduate school in Ohio, bought a home close to her family, in the nearby town of Tiffin, and begun a career that allowed her to travel around the world, but she also believed some small part of her had never come back from New York. "It was one of the first real failures or defeats of my life, where the world wasn't what I hoped it was going to be, and I started to really doubt myself," she said.

For several years she had barely told anybody about Trump, because she assumed nothing would come of her story. Now she had spent 18 months repeating it and proving herself right.

"I am not sure I've changed one person's mind," she said.

But what choice did she have, except to let it go silent as if it never happened at all? She didn't want to retreat anymore from that moment, to cycle back into self-doubt. So she would go on television. She would speak at the news conferences. She would deal with the hate mail. She would run for office. She would repeat her story over and over whenever she was asked, even now, to a few women in Columbus marching alongside her in the snow.

"It happened right by the elevators," she said, beginning the story again, even if she was telling it mostly for herself.

Gap of $6.6B in state pension funding draws lawmakers’ concern

Tue, 2018-02-20 05:26

JUNEAU — Some state senators are expressing concern about the projected shortfall in funding Alaska's public employee pensions.

But those who manage the pension funds say the shortfall will likely remain manageable.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof said it may be necessary to reduce retiree benefits in the future. She spoke during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on pensions on Feb. 14.

"To simply say, 'Make the payments,' that crowds out public safety, education, among other things, as we're seeing in our budget challenges that we have now," von Imhof said.

It would take an amendment to the state constitution to reduce benefits. The Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted the constitution to protect both pensions and retiree health benefits from cuts.

The pension systems currently have $25 billion in assets. That leaves a gap of $6.6 billion between what the state has in pension assets and the projected future cost.

That gap could grow. Consultants have advised the state to expect lower investment returns in the future.

Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon said the Legislature should consider paying more into the fund in the coming years.

"That $6 billion is going to eat us alive over the next 10 years, if we don't try to knock it down while we still have cash reserves," MacKinnon said.

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said it's premature to raise the possibility of a constitutional amendment to cut benefits.

"I just want to make sure that we don't fire off an alarm that has the people of Alaska believing our system is about to implode, when in fact, if we maintain it properly in the future, I think we avert that situation," Micciche said.

Gov. Bill Walker proposed paying $263 million into the pension system in the budget that starts in July. That's $80 million more than the current budget. Since 2006, new public workers have a different retirement system and don't receive defined-benefit pensions. Instead, they receive a defined-contribution system.

This article was republished with permission from KTOO.

Folds sweeps U12 races at Alyeska Cup ski series

Mon, 2018-02-19 20:37

Charlie Folds, skiing in the Under-12 age group, won four races in two days of racing at the annual Alyeska Cup race series in Girdwood.

He won two slaloms on Monday to go along with victories in two giant slaloms Sunday.

Overall winners in Monday's slaloms were Ben Neuberger and Sophie Neuberger in the first race, and Joseph Stala and Abigail Kragt in the second race. All four are U-14 skiers who are racing for more than victories in the race series. Also at stake are berths in regional and tri-divisional championships.

Sunday's giant slalom races produced four different winners – Stahla and Finnegan Donley for the boys and Georgia Lantz and Ava Schweiger for the girls.

The Alyeska Cup, sponsored by Anchorage Fracture and Orthopedic Clinic, continues on Wednesday and Thursday with super-G races.

The series, which started last week, has drawn racers from the Alyeska Ski Club, the Hilltop Alpine Race Team, the Hillberg Youth Ski Team and the Juneau Ski Club.

Sunday giant slalom No. 1


U12 — 1) Allard, Madison, Alyeska Ski Club (ASC), 1:25.33; 2) Boshell, Lili, ASC, 1:27.21; 3) Woodward, Lola, ASC, 1:32.05; 4) Hartman, Taylor, ASC, 1:33.95; 5) Anderson, Kea, ASC, 1:34.33.

U14 — 1) Lantz, Georgia, ASC, 1:17.15; 2) Wilson, Sydney, ASC, 1:21.00; 3) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:21.70; 4) Allard, Brooke-Lynne, ASC, 1:22.17; 5) Langland, Annika, ASC, 1:26.26.

Overall — 1) Lantz, Georgia, ASC, 1:17.15; 2) Wilson, Sydney, ASC, 1:21.00; 3) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:21.70; 4) Allard, Brooke-Lynne, ASC, 1:22.17; 5) Allard, Madison, Alyeska Ski Club (ASC), 1:25.33.


U12 — 1) Folds, Charlie, ASC, 1:29.12; 2) Engstrom, Carson, ASC, 1:30.02; 3) Langlie, Porter, ASC, 1:30.07; 4) Sullivan, Gabriel, ASC, 1:30.96; 5) Autrey, Dylan, ASC, 1:31.63.

U14 — 1) Donley, Finnigan, ASC, 1:15.96; 2) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:17.89; 3) Johnsen, Max, ASC, 1:18.37; 4) Ferucci, Daniel, ASC, 1:19.96; 5) Deschamps, Ryder, ASC, 1:20.71.

Overall — 1) Donley, Finnigan, ASC, 1:15.96; 2) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:17.89; 3) Johnsen, Max, ASC, 1:18.37; 4) Ferucci, Daniel, ASC, 1:19.96; 5) Deschamps, Ryder, ASC, 1:20.71.

Sunday giant slalom No. 2


U12 — 1) Allard, Madison, ASC, 1:32.90; 2) Austerman, Ava, ASC, 1:34.62; 3) Boshell, Lili, ASC, 1:35.03; 4) Woodward, Lola, ASC, 1:40.06; 5) Anderson, Kea, ASC, 1:42.46.

U14 — 1) Schweiger, Ava, ASC, 1:21.61; 2) Lantz, Georgia, ASC, 1:22.52; 3) Neuberger, Sophie, ASC, 1:25.35; 4) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:26.13; 5) Wilson, Sydney, ASC, 1:27.29.

Overall — 1) Schweiger, Ava, ASC, 1:21.61; 2) Lantz, Georgia, ASC, 1:22.52; 3) Neuberger, Sophie, ASC, 1:25.35; 4) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:26.13; 5) Wilson, Sydney, ASC, 1:27.29.


U12 — 1) Folds, Charlie, ASC, 1:33.95; 2) Langlie, Porter, ASC, 1:34.70; 3) Murphy, Jaxon, ASC, 1:34.72; 4) Sullivan, Gabriel, ASC, 1:38.40; 5) Autrey, Dylan, ASC, 1:41.27.

U14 — 1) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:22.12; 2) Ferucci, Daniel, ASC, 1:22.74; 3) Donley, Finnigan, ASC, 1:23.59; 4) Reinbold, James, ASC, 1:26.72; 5) Bergstedt, Gunner, ASC, 1:27.92.

Overall — 1) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:22.12; 2) Ferucci, Daniel, ASC, 1:22.74; 3) Donley, Finnigan, ASC, 1:23.59; 4) Reinbold, James, ASC, 1:26.72; 5) Bergstedt, Gunner, ASC, 1:27.92.

Monday slalom No. 1


U12 — 1) Boshell, Lili, Alyeska Ski Club (ASC), 1:12.37; 2) Allard, Madison, ASC, 1:12.39; 3) Austerman, Ava, ASC, 1:13.24; 4) Murphy, Ava, ASC, 1:17.30; 5) Johnsen, Eden, ASC, 1:19.94.

U14 — 1) Neuberger, Sophie, ASC, 1:01.71; 2) Lantz, Georgia, ASC, 1:03.36; 3) Allard, Brooke-Lynne, ASC, 1:04.74; 4) Gamez, Megan, Hilltop Alpine Race Team (HART), 1:05.81; 5) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:07.03.

Overall — 1) Neuberger, Sophie, ASC, 1:01.71; 2) Lantz, Georgia, ASC, 1:03.36; 3) Allard, Brooke-Lynne, ASC, 1:04.74; 4) Gamez, Megan, Hilltop Alpine Race Team (HART), 1:05.81; 5) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:07.03.


U12 — 1) Folds, Charlie, ASC, 1:15.09; 2) Langlie, Porter, ASC, 1:17.61; 3) Sullivan, Gabriel, ASC, 1:20.46; 4) Murphy, Jaxon, ASC, 1:21.02; 5) Autrey, Dylan, 1:24.97.

U14 — 1) Neuberger, Ben, ASC, 1:04.61; 2) Hymas, Karsten, ASC, 1:04.89; 3) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:05.40; 4) Von Wichman, George, ASC, 1:06.25; 5) Lentfer, Sloan, ASC, 1:11.23; 5) Hand, Carson, ASC, 1:11.23.

Overall –1) Neuberger, Ben, ASC, 1:04.61; 2) Hymas, Karsten, ASC, 1:04.89; 3) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:05.40; 4) Von Wichman, George, ASC, 1:06.25; 5) Lentfer, Sloan, ASC, 1:11.23; 5) Hand, Carson, ASC, 1:11.23.
Monday slalom No. 2


U12 — 1) Allard, Madison, ASC, 1:30.24; 2) Austerman, Ava, ASC, 1:30.79; 3) Lentfer, Brook, ASC, 1:37.89; 4) Rogers, Emma, ASC, 1:40.50; 5) Hartman, Taylor, ASC, 1:40.83.

U14 — 1) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:27.01; 2) Gries, Alyssa, ASC, 1:27.37; 3) Allard, Brooke-Lynne, ASC, 1:28.55; 4) Lukes, Lucy, ASC, 1:30.11; 5) Schweiger, Ava, ASC, 1:30.26.

Overall — 1) Kragt, Abigail, ASC, 1:27.01; 2) Gries, Alyssa, ASC, 1:27.37; 3) Allard, Brooke-Lynne, ASC, 1:28.55; 4) Lukes, Lucy, ASC, 1:30.11; 5) Allard, Madison, ASC, 1:30.24.


U12 — 1) Folds, Charlie, ASC, 1:29.23; 2) Sullivan, Gabriel, ASC, 1:31.02; 3) Langlie, Porter, ASC, 1:31.26; 4) Murphy, Jaxon, ASC, 1:38.65; 5) Autrey, Dylan, ASC, 1:39.20.

U14 — 1) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:18.61; 2) Neuberger, Ben, ASC, 1:18.98; 3) Ferucci, Daniel, ASC, 1:20.07; 4) Reinbold, James, ASC, 1:26.48; 5) Carl, Maxwell, Hillberg Youth Ski Team (HYST), 1:29.18.

Overall — 1) Stahla, Joseph, ASC, 1:18.61; 2) Neuberger, Ben, ASC, 1:18.98; 3) Ferucci, Daniel, ASC, 1:20.07; 4) Reinbold, James, ASC, 1:26.48; 5) Carl, Maxwell, Hillberg Youth Ski Team (HYST), 1:29.18.

Ruthy Hebard’s NCAA-record field goal streak ends at 33

Mon, 2018-02-19 20:27

Ruthy Hebard of Fairbanks extended her NCAA record for consecutive field goals to 33 Monday before finally missing a shot.

Hebard, a 6-foot-4 sophomore for the Oregon Ducks, broke the record Friday, when her streak hit 30. She made her first three shots Monday against UCLA before missing her fourth attempt in the Pac-12 game in Eugene, Oregon.

The streak spanned four games and two weeks. It began when she hit her final six shots in a win over Washington. She went 12 for 12 in two straight games, wins over Washington State and USC.

She broke the women's record of 28 straight set by Utah State's Myndee Kay Larsen in 1998. The men's record is 30 straight, set in 2016 by Yale's Brandon Sherrod.

Hebard finished Monday's game with 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting and led Oregon with 11 rebounds to help the 8th-ranked Ducks defeat the 10th-ranked Bruins 101-94 in overtime.

American Brita Sigourney earns bronze on final run of freestyle skiing halfpipe

Mon, 2018-02-19 20:27

BONGPYEONG, South Korea – Up and up she went, shooting up the halfpipe's 25-foot wall, launching into the sky, spinning and twisting in a mid-air ballet that's barely a blur to the naked eye. She did this six times, and when Brita Sigourney finally fell to Earth, she had somehow – after years of persevering – landed right on the Pyeongchang Olympic podium.

Thad and Julie Sigourney knew exactly what it meant. They had spent years going to freestyle skiing halfpipe competitions, trying not to avert their eyes. They had watched their daughter land so many times not on a podium but on a hospital bed. What did it take to reach the Olympics? Only eight surgeries – broken bones and torn ligaments from her ankle to her collarbone and just about everywhere in between.

What do you say when you're a parent with a daughter who thrives off the adrenaline so much she might as well have a frequent customer punch-card to her neighborhood surgeon?

"I bit my tongue until blood came out of the corner of my mouth," Thad Sigourney said.

It was hard not to think of all this Tuesday at Phoenix Snow Park, where the 28-year-old from Carmel, California, with a body that has been patched and repaired several times over, took bronze in the women's halfpipe competition. Her impressive final run vaulted her from fourth place to third, giving the Americans their 11th medal of these Olympics.

For Sigourney, Tuesday marked the apex of a long journey in her sport. She turned in a sixth-place finish four years ago at the Sochi Games and had no guarantees of returning to the Olympic stage.

"I think I wanted it more this time. At my first Olympics, I just didn't know what to expect and I was just so happy to be there," she said. "But this time I really wanted it. To see me pull it off – I don't know, I'm still in shock. I didn't know I could do that."

Her top performance at the world championships was a sixth-place finish, and that came way back in 2011. Her best finishes at the Winter X Games included a pair of silvers. Her second one came just last month in Aspen, Colorado, a full seven years since her first second-place finish there.

"I've been working on the mental game all year, and it's definitely paid off," said Sigourney, who entered Monday's finals with the third-best score from qualifying, 90.60. "Just having a lot of confidence has helped me over the past few events."

She will happily accept this Pyeongchang medal, but she doesn't need a mantle full of awards to know how far she has come. Her medical charts tell the story: Sigourney has broken her collarbone, torn an anterior cruciate ligament, busted her pelvis, broke her knee cap and torn a ligament in her thumb.

"It definitely helps to have an Olympic medal to prove everything I've overcome was worth it," she said. "All those surgeries were worth it. It was worth it to keep fighting, and all that rehab and physical therapy I've done was worth it."

But why stick with it? Hers is a sport where you don't launch into the air unless you have a purpose. Sigourney didn't want to just stick with the sport – she wanted to keep pushing it forward.

"She was so determined," Julie Sigourney said. "It made me crazy. 'To progress the sport' – if I ever heard that again, I was just going to scream."

Sigourney was back on the sport's biggest stage Tuesday, with one more chance to help raise the bar.

She came out of the gates strong in Tuesday's three-round finals, posting the opening round's third-best score, an 89.80. That stood as her top mark until the final run, which she started in fourth place. Annalisa Drew, her American teammate, had just earned a 90.80, temporarily putting her in position for a medal.

Sigourney needed a big run and left nothing to chance, going higher and bigger and impressing the judges enough to earn a 91.60 and knock her teammate off the podium. The two Americans embraced right after before the judges decided which would take home a medal.

"We love each other and want each other to do so well," Sigourney said, "so obviously it's kind of an uncomfortable spot."

Canada's Cassie Sharpe posted the day's top score of 95.80 to win gold, while France's Marie Martinod, the 33-year-old who took silver four years ago in Sochi, again finished in second with a score of 92.60.

While Drew had to settle for a fourth-place finish, fellow American Maddie Bowman finished last out of the 11 competitors who skied in the finals. Bowman, who won gold four years ago when the women's halfpipe debuted at the Olympics, took a tumble late in each of her three finals runs. On the last, she appeared to hit the back of her head on the ground and momentarily laid there still. She had to be helped up by medical personnel, eventually rising to her feet and skiing out of the pipe on her own.

When it was all over, Sigourney found her parents in the crowd. The U.S. flag was still draped over her shoulders and when they hugged, the whole family was enveloped in it.

"It's hard to be a parent. I'd rather be a connected friend or a spectator," Thad Sigourney said of attending the high-risk, high-reward competitions. "Being a parent is pretty tough on mom and dad at times."

At the same time – on magical days like Tuesday – it couldn't possibly be more worth it.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, February 20, 2018

Mon, 2018-02-19 20:03

Incoming tax is better than using Permanent Fund
I feel using the Permanent Fund earnings to fund government is like stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. No wonder the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
A much fairer system and better for the economy would be to pay out a larger dividend and establish a simple income tax based on a percentage of a person's federal income tax. Although none of us likes taxes this would accomplish at least three things: first, Alaskan taxpayers would complain to legislators about excessive spending; second, out-of-state workers would pay for their privilege to work in Alaska; and, finally, the poor would have more money to buy essentials.
— Don Corey

Congress should support an open internet
In recent weeks, I've had countless conversations with friends and peers about net neutrality. What's clear to me is that our state and country need a permanent solution on this issue — and Sen. Murkowski has a big part to play in ensuring that real, bipartisan legislation. Virtually everyone on all sides of the debate supports core net neutrality principles: no throttling, blocking or unfair discrimination against lawful internet traffic.
Fellow Alaskans: Please understand that "Title II" and "net neutrality" are not the same thing. Obama's Title II utility-style regulation of net neutrality relied on a framework that was developed in the 1930s for the voice telephone system. Over 80 years later, it's high time to accept that changes to these archaic regulations make sense. Broadband providers have not wavered in their commitment to an open internet. Congress should act to protect this open internet with permanent legislation, rather than a short-term fix like overturning the recent CRA.
— Amy Oney

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to

Olympic notebook: Former Seawolf already earned Olympic metal. Now he wants a medal.

Mon, 2018-02-19 19:00

Dave Duncan, a three-time Olympian whose career included four years on the UAA alpine ski team, likes to joke about his first Winter Olympics.

He went to the 2010 Vancouver Games as a medal contender in the new sport of skicross, but a training accident ended his Olympics prematurely and he left without gold, silver or bronze.

But he didn't leave empty-handed.

"The medal I won was titanium," Duncan joked this week from Pyeongchang, South Korea.

A titanium plate and nine screws to be precise, hardware that was needed after Duncan broke his collarbone.

Duncan, 35, will compete in men's skicross on Tuesday (Wednesday in South Korea). He placed 26th in Sochi and is coming off a sixth-place finish in a December World Cup race in Switzerland. In a career that dates back to 2007, Duncan has earned seven World Cup podium finishes and two X Games medals.

How much longer he'll remain in the sport is uncertain right now, because his sole focus is performing well in Pyeongchang.

"The goal is still the same as every other time – to be my best and hopefully walk away with a podium," Duncan said.

"What's next gets looked at after the 21st (the day after his competition). Everything has been leading up to this moment."

Duncan, who grew up in London, Ontario, and lives in Whistler, British Columbia, skied slalom and giant slalom for UAA from 2002-06. He was the team MVP twice and a Chancellor's List scholar twice and graduated with a degree in aviation.

He stayed in Alaska for about a year after he graduated to work for a heli-ski business. He considered joining Canada's armed forces and becoming a helicopter pilot, but then he discovered the burgeoning sport of skicross. By 2007, Duncan had earned a spot on Canada's national team.

He's been a full-time skicross racer ever since.

"I have an appreciation for it more at my age," he said. "I've got friends I've grown up with my entire life and they've gone the more normal way, and I feel incredibly grateful that I found a sport and made it to a level that's allowed me to do this for this long and maybe even longer."

Duncan still has friends in Alaska and makes it back every other summer to reunite with a rugby team he played with while he was in Anchorage.

"Alaska still holds a special place in my heart," he said.

Duncan often says coming to UAA to ski was one of the best decisions he's ever made. It made him a better skier, it introduced him to aviation, and it's where he met his wife.

"Skiing's treated me very well," Duncan said.

Seawolves on ice

One former UAA hockey player is headed to the quarterfinals and another faces a knockout game in the men's hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics.

Mat Robinson, who played at UAA from 2005-09, will play in the quarterfinals with Canada. The Canadians on Wednesday will face the winner of a knockout game between Finland and South Korea.

Luka Vidmar, who played at UAA from 2007-11, is a member of the Slovenia team that shocked the United States early in the tournament. Slovenia faces Norway in an elimination game that will decide who advances to a quarterfinal game against Olympic Athletes from Russia.

In three preliminary games, Robinson, a defenseman, was scoreless but has seen a lot of action, playing more than 20 minutes in each game. Besides the win over South Korea, Canada beat Switzerland 5-1 and lost to the Czech Republic 3-2 in a shootout.

Vidmar scored one assist in Slovenia's three preliminary games, getting the helper in the upset of the United States. In its other games, Slovenia lost 8-2 to OAR and beat Slovakia 3-2 in a shootout.

Mirai Nagasu’s Alaska link

When Mirai Nagasu made history by becoming the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics, a coach with deep Alaska roots was among those cheering and guiding her.

Juneau-born Drew Meekins, a coach and choreographer for the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado, is part of Nagasu's crew in Pyeongchang.

Meekins, 32, is the grandson of Russ Meekins Sr., a member of the first Alaska Legislature who homesteaded with his wife Adele in what is now Mountain View. They arrived in Alaska in 1946 and spent the rest of their lives here.

He's the son of Russ Meekins Jr., who served in the legislature from 1973-82, and Nancy Harvey, who moved from Alaska to Massachusetts when Drew was still a youngster.

Meekins won a World Junior Championship in pairs with Julia Vlassov in 2006 and later became a competitive and professional dancer. He's coaching two Olympic athletes in Pyeongchang — Nagasu and Vincent Zhou, who finished sixth in men's singles.

In the aisles of Anchorage groceries, Kim Sunée collects flavors of Korea

Mon, 2018-02-19 17:55

On a recent morning at New Central Market, an Asian grocery on Anchorage's Northern Lights Boulevard, Kim Sunée pinched a piece of a palm-sized, green perilla leaf and slipped it between her teeth.

Its herbaceous flavor — part mint, part tarragon, part anise—might be as common in Korea as the flavor of basil is in the United States. Though Sunée was born in Korea, perilla's taste has only recently become familiar.

Sunée, a recipe columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, was adopted at age 3 by an American family who raised her in New Orleans. She came to Anchorage in 2011 to join the man she'd later marry, a few years after she'd written her best-selling memoir, "Trail of Crumbs," a coming-of-age story that deals with identity and food, and explores her connection to Korea.

Her most recent cookbook, "Everyday Korean," covers some of the same ground, this time through an exploration of flavors and cooking with co-author Seung Hee Lee, who was raised in Korea. It came out in November.

"I'm an enthusiastic cook," Sunée said. "But I'm learning just as the reader is learning."

Part of that learning has been exploring Anchorage's many ethnic groceries. Koreans are one of the larger Asian groups in Anchorage, numbering as many as 7,000, according to community estimates. Building a pantry of ingredients for Korean cooking is surprisingly easy here, she said.

At New Central Market, she picked up a tub of gochujang, a fermented red pepper paste. Its flavor is savory, deep and spicy, she said. Gochujang is the backbone of many Korean dishes in the cookbook, including salmon and a number of sauces.

"It's as familiar to Koreans as ketchup is to Americans," she said.

She wandered by the freezer section, pointing out the Korean rice cakes, or tteok, small, starchy dumplings used in soup and tossed with sauces in the book. And the beef pre-cut for kalbi, or short ribs.

"If you buy like five or six basic ingredients, you can cook almost every recipe in the book," she said.

The shopping list: soy sauce (if you can find Korean-style, all the better), quality sesame oil, rice vinegar, short grain rice, sesame seeds, gochujang, and gochugaru, Korean-style red pepper flakes.

Sunée, who also writes a food blog, met her co-author, Lee, when she was on a book tour in 2008 for the Korean language version of "Trail of Crumbs," she said. Lee was assigned to be her interpreter just before Lee headed to a nutrition Ph.D program at Johns Hopkins University. They connected right away by traveling around, eating together.

"Being with her, it was a lot easier to talk to the people," Sunée said. "I tried things I would never try on my own like boiled silk worms, which actually tasted like hay or straw, it wasn't that bad."

Lee, who now works as an adjunct professor of nutrition at Georgia State University and an epidemiologist with Centers for Disease Control, grew up cooking with grandmother in Cheongju, South Korea, two hours south of Seoul, Lee said. Sunée enlisted her to be a guide as she learned about traditional Korean cooking.

"Learning about the food of my birth country is always something that I wanted to do," Sunée said. "I felt disingenuous, in a way, just me doing it."

Sunée — whose first cookbook, "A Mouthful of Stars," a collection of international recipes, came out in 2014 — helped adapt and riff on Lee's traditional recipes, with the idea of making them accessible to wide American audience.

Among "Everyday Korean's" re-envisioned dishes are Korean chilaquiles, gochujang-cured pork belly, chicken wings with gochujang ketchup and perilla-leaf pesto.

The book's recipe for kimchi stays true to tradition as a matter of principle, said Lee, reached by phone in Atlanta.  With the fermented food trend, kimchi is having a break-out moment in mainstream food culture, but for Koreans, improper preparation — like using sriracha and not actually fermenting — is deeply upsetting, she said.

"You can put kimchi on a hamburger or a hot dog, you can do whatever you want with it, but you have to make it right," she said.

As she worked on the book, Sunée noticed the ways that Korean cuisine fits with how Alaskans eat. Korean cooking relies on a number of vegetables that grow well in Alaska, like carrots, radishes, cabbage, snow apples and potatoes, she said.

"All of our root vegetables are amazing," she said.

Koreans also view food in a way that echoes Alaska's subsistence-influenced culture of food sharing, she said.

"Korean food is about sharing, it's very bountiful," she said. "No matter your income level, there is always the bowl of rice and all these side dishes."

Lee and Sunée talked a lot about food memories and how that shapes a sense of connection to culture. During their book-writing process, Lee was in Anchorage, making some traditional New Year's meatballs or jeon. They smelled like New Year's, she told Sunée, just like turkey in America smells Thanksgiving.

"I was communicating with her in the language we both knew, which is food. And I think she really craved learning about her heritage in that way," Lee said.

Taking in that aroma in the kitchen made Sunée think of her birth family, somewhere in Korea, whom she may never find, she said.

"That's why I wanted to write the book with all these tastes and flavors," she said. "That may be the only thing concrete I have from there."

Try some of Kim Sunée’s Korean-influenced recipes:

[Bacon mac and cheese gets a Korean twist]

[Think you're salmon averse? Wait till you try these spicy salmon lettuce wraps]

Prop. 1 would interfere with Anchorage students’ focus on learning; vote no

Mon, 2018-02-19 17:40

I was fortunate to work for 38 years in the Anchorage School District, including 12 years serving as superintendent, and it was my privilege to work for the success of all Anchorage students. Working in some of our nation's most diverse schools, Anchorage educators strive every day to make sure no student falls through the cracks. Though I am now retired, I continue to believe in that mission. Every single student matters.

That is why I feel compelled to speak out against Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that would fail some of our most vulnerable students. Across the country, educators have seen how policies like Proposition 1 harm transgender students. When transgender students cannot access the facilities that match their gender identity, they frequently become victims of verbal and physical harassment, which cascades into a host of other negative consequences. Instead of focusing on their education, these students worry about where and when they can use a restroom without incident. Some will avoid using the restroom for the whole school day, which goes hand in hand with dehydration, urinary tract infections and kidney problems, and as many parents of transgender children will tell you, policies like Proposition 1 take the largest toll on their child's mental health.

The non-discrimination law has now been on the books for two years, and it has served our students well. It has allowed our educators to work with individual students and solve problems on a case-by-case basis. Proposition 1 would take that flexibility away from our students and educators. The current law acknowledges that different students have unique needs. Proposition 1 papers over those differences with policy that is ineffective and harmful. In my opinion, it is far more worthwhile for educators to work with individual students than to stand guard outside bathrooms checking birth certificates.

I know some parents continue to feel concerned about the non-discrimination law, and that all parents want the best for their children. I understand those concerns. But legitimate concerns should not legitimize falsehoods. It is not true that the current law allows men to simply dress up as women to enter women's restrooms. It is not true that the current law makes it more permissible for someone to harass anyone in public facilities. The debate over Proposition 1 too often glosses over real individuals, I suspect because many Anchorage residents have not interacted with transgender people in a meaningful way. For transgender students and their parents, this debate is not about hypotheticals.

We as a society set aside the first 18 years of a child's life to devote to learning. Of course, our students learn outside the classroom as well, but we still mandate the classroom time to ensure that they grapple with ideas and questions that go well beyond their lived experience. We train our students to view the world with curiosity and to absorb as much as possible. How easily we lose that mindset! With more years under our belts, we trust ourselves wholeheartedly, and our own lived experience increasingly defines the parameters of our understanding. But I would argue this: No matter how old or wise we become, there will remain experiences and concepts that we cannot fully fathom, because we have not lived them ourselves. This ballot initiative singles out a group of people who, in one respect, experience something that most residents of Anchorage do not: they are transgender. They are also tall, short, funny, awkward, outgoing, athletic, introverted and trying to figure it all out like everyone else. And they are our students. It is our job to listen to them.

Carol Comeau is former superintendent of Anchorage schools. 

Publishers of Anchorage Daily News will buy 3 Morris publications in Alaska

Mon, 2018-02-19 16:07

The company that owns the Anchorage Daily News is purchasing three Alaska publications from Morris Communications Inc., the companies announced Monday.

The Binkley Company is buying the weekly Alaska Journal of Commerce, the weekly Chugiak-Eagle River Star and the monthly Alaskan Equipment Trader, the Binkley Company and Morris said in a joint statement. The sale is scheduled to close Feb. 23.

No immediate changes in the publications are planned, said Daily News co-publisher Ryan Binkley.

"These three papers occupy important spaces in the Alaska media landscape," Binkley said in the statement. "We are excited by the opportunity to add new areas of coverage and new audiences, and to realize the efficiencies that are possible when smaller newspapers are part of a larger group."

Last year, other Morris newspapers in Alaska — the Juneau Empire, the Peninsula Clarion and Homer News — were sold to the national group GateHouse Media, along with nine other Morris newspapers nationwide.

The Binkley Company bought the Daily News, Alaska's largest newspaper and news website, last year after the company filed for bankruptcy protection under its previous owner, Alice Rogoff. Last fall, the Daily News reduced staff and outsourced printing of the newspaper to contain costs.

Photos: Best of February 2018

Mon, 2018-02-19 15:11

Anchorage Daily News photographers and contributors capture slices of life from the Anchorage area and across Alaska in February 2018.

Former Iditarod champion John Baker has pulled out of this year’s race

Mon, 2018-02-19 14:25

Former Iditarod champion John Baker has pulled out of this year's race.

The Kotzebue musher said Monday he never planned to compete in the 2018 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but signed up and paid the $4,000 entry fee because he wanted to support the event as controversy swirled around four-time champion Dallas Seavey and his dogs' failed drug tests.

"The Iditarod has been really good to me and I didn't want to appear like I was boycotting, so I signed up," Baker, 55, said in a phone interview.

Baker officially withdrew from the 2018 Iditarod on Saturday, two weeks before the start of the 1,000 mile race to Nome.

Baker said that for months he has wanted to announce his withdrawal from the race and his decision to focus on his growing business. But the timing grew complicated, he said.

First, Seavey was fighting the Iditarod Board over its handling of the drug test results. Seavey called for a majority of the Board to resign, including Baker's brother, Andy, the Board president. Later, a group of mushers also demanded Andy Baker immediately step down.

Then recently, John Baker found himself in PETA's crosshairs after one of his former employees, Rick Townsend, accused him of abusing dogs, claims which the Anchorage Daily News has been unable to corroborate and which Baker flatly denies.

Baker said he is simply not competing in the 2018 Iditarod because he's busy with the consulting business he owns with his fiance and fellow musher, Katherine Keith. It's positive news, Baker said, and he's passionate about the job: Helping rural communities get money for the projects they need, and helping manage the construction work.

"It has really taken off," Baker said of the business, Remote Solutions. "When we first started, I was working a couple hours a week, meeting with communities. Now, there's not enough time in the day."

Baker has competed in the Iditarod 22 times since 1996, winning nearly $603,000 in prize money. In 2011, he placed first, ending Lance Mackey's string of four victories and securing the first Iditarod win by an Inupiaq musher.

"I tried for 16 years to win the Iditarod, and when I won the Iditarod I was surprised what a big deal it became — not necessarily for myself, but for the State of Alaska and the smaller communities," Baker said. "There was so much pride."

Baker has a kennel of about 60 dogs in the Northwest Alaska community of Kotzebue.

Earlier this month, Townsend's claim that Baker abused his dogs surfaced online. Baker denies ever abusing any of his dogs. The accusations prompted a news release from PETA, calling for law enforcement to investigate Baker's kennel. Kotzebue police said Monday that the investigation is ongoing.

The Daily News has not been able to corroborate any of the employees' claims. Handlers who worked at the kennel at the same time said they didn't see any abuse.

Photographs Townsend sent ADN as evidence of the abuse turned out to be fraudulent and taken not at Baker's kennel, but from unrelated internet postings.

"I don't spend any time thinking about that," Baker said of the abuse allegations. "I don't care what he says about me."

Townsend, also faces felony theft charges in Kotzebue related to his time with Baker. He says he was unfairly accused; Baker said Townsend stole from him. There is currently a warrant out for Townsend's arrest, said acting Kotzebue Police Chief Greg Russell.

Baker said he has no plans to return to the Iditarod anytime soon. He said he will continue to focus on his business and is treating the entry fee as a donation to the race organization.

"They've done a lot for me," he said. "The event is just a really, really special event. It pulls us all together as Alaskans."

Baker's fiance will still compete in this year's Iditarod with their kennel's main racing team.

"John Baker has been a big part of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on and off the trail since 1996," Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman said in a statement Monday.

"We'll definitely miss John out on the trail this year, but know that Kotzebue will be well represented by his partner, Katherine Keith, as she'll have best team from the Baker kennel."

Baker said he hopes to follow this year's Iditarod as a spectator, traveling to some checkpoints.

Reporter Zaz Hollander contributed to this story.

Carrs-Safeway set to occupy Sears space in Midtown Anchorage mall

Mon, 2018-02-19 14:20

A Carrs-Safeway grocery store is set to move into the space where Sears is located in Midtown Anchorage, the company that owns the property confirmed Monday.

Carrs-Safeway signed a lease in December to occupy about 65,500 square feet of space in The Mall at Sears, New York City-based Seritage Growth Properties said in an emailed statement. Sears is set to close in April.

Retail chain Guitar Center also signed a lease in September for about 16,500 square feet of the Sears space.

"We are pleased to have two highly productive retailers join our planned redevelopment of the Sears store," the statement said.

Seritage owns the property where Sears and Nordstrom Rack are located.

Both Carrs-Safeway and Guitar Center will open in mid-2019, a spokesman for Seritage said in an email.

The location — just across Seward Highway from a Fred Meyer store — will mark a return for Carrs-Safeway to The Mall at Sears, where it closed a location on the opposite side of the mall just a few years ago.

More changes are coming to the mall.

"Our plan involves bringing additional best-in-class retailers to the property, which will be enhanced through facade improvements and site upgrades," Seritage's statement said.

[Anchorage Sears store will close permanently in April]

A consulting firm told attendees at a Midtown Community Council meeting last week about the plans, the council's president said.

Al Tamagni said a representative from Dowl gave a presentation about Carrs-Safeway's plans. Dowl is working with Seritage.

"They showed some of the location where Sears is at now, where Carrs-Safeway is going to be moving into there," Tamagni said. "And they're going to be doing some work on the outside."

When asked via email about the plans for the new Carrs-Safeway, a company spokeswoman based in Washington state said she could not answer questions at this time.

"Unfortunately we cannot comment just yet," wrote Tairsa Worman.

The Guitar Center at the mall will be the California-based chain's first store in Alaska.

The Mall at Sears is also set to be renamed, marketing director Linda Boggs told the Anchorage Daily News in January.

Warning signs ignored again

Mon, 2018-02-19 13:07

Reaction to the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and many more wounded begins at the wrong end. It's not about passing more gun laws, which people intent on breaking existing laws will not obey; rather it is about heeding warning signs and doing something before it is too late.

In the case of 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with premeditated murder, the signs were like a flashing red light. Former classmates offered a profile in danger to the media. They called Cruz, who had been expelled from the school for disciplinary reasons, a "loner" and "weird."

In a YouTube video by someone named Nikolas Cruz there is this comment: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." Law enforcement reportedly flagged the comment last September and YouTube removed it.

With all of these previews of coming destruction, why wasn't any action taken? Could Cruz have been helped? He was reportedly receiving "mental counseling," but clearly it was not enough to prevent this tragedy. Cruz is reportedly an orphan, but was there no one close to him who might have been helpful to him?

[Laws we once had on the books could have prevented the Florida school shooting]

We are constantly told by law enforcement, "If you see something, say something." With Cruz there was plenty to see and also plenty to say. Did anyone speak up? The Florida campus reportedly had an armed officer onsite, though this officer never encountered Cruz during the shooting. Could there have been a quicker response? Could anyone have acted pre-emptively to force Cruz to get some help? Could he have been committed to a mental health facility for his own protection, and for the protection of others?

Metal detectors, armed guards and security passes for students, staff and teachers have all been proposed and in some cases tried as ways to discourage shooters from entering schools where unarmed students are trapped like fish in a barrel. School shooters and terrorists (and this was an act of terror no matter the motive) look for soft targets and there are few targets softer than a school full of kids.

Lawmakers in Florida and in Congress need to consider legislation that would give mental health professionals a way to intervene in cases of disturbed individuals who need psychological help, but aren't getting it. For those who seem most dangerous — like Cruz — perhaps laws could be enacted that would forcibly commit them to treatment, thereby cutting down on the number of mass shootings.

Social workers can intervene on behalf of young children they believe are being abused or neglected. In extreme cases, they can even remove the child from its home if the child is in need of protection. Could something like this be done with the mentally disturbed, without violating their constitutional rights? Don't we have the constitutional right to live free of the threat of mass shootings? Shouldn't the rights of the innocent be paramount?

To paraphrase a certain commercial about identity theft, no law can prevent all mass murder, or someone acquiring a gun, legally or illegally (Cruz's AR-15 was apparently legally acquired), but the mayor of Broward County, Florida, Beam Furr, told the Miami Herald the shooting could have been prevented. "We missed the signs," said Furr, a former teacher, adding, "We should have seen some of the signs."

The signs were there for everyone to see. The problem with this shooting, as well as all the others, was the refusal to act. Action just might have prevented this tragedy.

Jim Bridwell, free-spirited climber who pioneered routes in Yosemite and the Alaska Range, dies at 73

Mon, 2018-02-19 12:07

We lost a legend today. Obituary: Jim “The Bird” Bridwell (1944-2018) #climbing

— Climbing Mag (@ClimbingMag) February 16, 2018

Jim Bridwell, a paisley-clad climber who pioneered new routes up some of the world's most formidable rock faces, including the prow of El Capitan – a granite monolith in California's Yosemite Valley that rises twice the height of the Empire State Building – died Feb. 16 at a hospital in Palm Desert, California. He was 73.

He had liver and kidney failure from hepatitis C, his wife, Peggy Bridwell, told the Associated Press.

Bridwell made historic climbs in the Alaska Range near Denali and in the Andes of Patagonia, and in 1982 was part of an expedition that became the first to circumvent Mount Everest, trekking 300 miles around the mountain and over some of its 20,000-foot sister peaks.

"Combining his brand of forward-thinking rock climbing with his zest for alpinism, Bridwell quickly made first ascents of the Northwest Face of Kichatna Spire (1979) and the East Face of the Moose's Tooth (1981), both in Alaska," Rock and Ice magazine said.

But in a five-decade climbing career, he was most closely associated with Yosemite National Park, where in the 1970s he led a group of renegade climbers that dropped acid while bouldering, filched food from the park cafeteria and idolized the strength of Bruce Lee and the psychedelic rock of Jimi Hendrix. They called themselves the Stonemasters. A more fitting name, climber Lynn Hill once joked, might have been the "stoned masters."

While Bridwell and his circle blazed through prodigious amounts of low-grade marijuana, they also established themselves as some of the world's most intrepid climbers, devising new routes – and setting new speed records – on the rock domes and spires that have made Yosemite the Mecca of American climbing.

Bridwell notched 100 first ascents in the national park and was 30 when he performed his signature climb, scaling the so-called Nose of El Capitan with his friends John Long and Billy Westbay. The 2,900-foot ascent was once considered impossible, and even when it was first scaled, in a siege-style expedition led by Warren Harding in 1958, the climb took 47 days.

Bridwell and his partners, complementing their store of ropes, nuts, pitons and water with about five packs of cigarettes, completed the ascent in 15 hours, smoke breaks included.

"Friends greeted us outside the Mountain Room Bar with a heroes welcome," Bridwell later wrote. "Soon, I had more drinks in hand than I could juggle. My fondest memory occurred the following day when [Harding] . . . gave me his warm congratulations. I thanked him and hobbled toward the cafeteria for some stolen coffee."

The climb marked the first time El Capitan's Nose had been ascended in less than a day. The achievement has long since been surpassed – last year, climber Alex Honnold scaled the rock in about four hours without the use of ropes – but became an indelible moment in the history of American climbing, immortalized in a photo of Bridwell and his partners standing at the base of the mountain.

"They seem to exude cockiness – gods sneering down on mere mortals," Honnold wrote in his book "Alone on the Wall."

"Cigarettes dangle from Bridwell's and Long's mouths. They're dressed like hippies, in loosefitting vests and shirts, but they could just as well pass for Hell's Angels."

Bridwell sometimes wrangled with park rangers, who sought to stymie the all-things-go culture of his climber commune at Yosemite's Camp Four. (The camp sometimes seemed blessed from above; in 1977, some of the climbers salvaged several thousand pounds of marijuana from a plane that crashed in a nearby lake.)

Still, the Park Service commissioned Bridwell in 1967 to establish Yosemite's search-and-rescue team, according to journalist and climber Daniel Duane's book "El Capitan: Historic Feats and Radical Routes." (Given Bridwell's disdain for bureaucracy and authority, it was "not the wisest policy decision we ever made," one Yosemite superintendent later said.)

Jim Bridwell. Obituary of a legend.

— Rock and Run (@RockandRun) February 19, 2018

Bridwell sometimes rappelled hundreds of feet to aid mountaineers who found themselves injured or trapped at high altitudes, and was himself no stranger to alpine disasters. Near the end of one of his most celebrated climbs, a 1979 ascent of the Argentine-Chilean peak Cerro Torre, a sling broke while he was coming down the mountain. Bridwell suffered several broken ribs, a chipped elbow, a bruised hip and a "rearranged" mind, he later wrote, from a fall that dropped him 130 feet before he was caught by his rope.

Bridwell's risk-taking style led some fellow climbers to label him reckless, and reportedly contributed to his being left out of major American expeditions to the Himalayas in the 1980s. In his mind, however, the hazards of injury and even death were part of what made scaling a mountain worthwhile in the first place.

"Adventure and excitement are the two things missing from civilization," he told the magazine Palm Springs Life in 2015, from retirement in southern California. "Danger keeps you on your toes. You'll never feel as alive as when death is over your shoulder."

He was born in San Antonio on July 29, 1944, the son of a pilot who was shot down while serving in World War II. His parents divorced and remarried three separate times, according to Rolling Stone, and Bridwell said he found in climbing a refuge from the larger world.

"In Yosemite I felt comfortable and accepted for the first time in my life," he told the magazine. "I immediately grew up there. I think it's one of the reasons I've stayed with climbing so long."

He said an affection for birds of prey also fueled his interest in mountaineering, resulting in a nickname, the Bird, that he became known by after he arrived at Yosemite in about 1964. By then, he had dropped out of what is now San Jose State University and become a self-described "draft dodger."

Bridwell supported his wife and their son, Layton Bridwell (named for the late climber Layton Kor), through occasional work as a ski instructor and stunt cameraman on climbing films. He also lectured and led mountaineering demonstrations, including for Navy SEALs, that covered part of the cost of his international expeditions.

It was on one such trip, a 1980 traverse of Borneo, that Bridwell may have contracted the disease that eventually killed him, his wife told the AP. He received a tattoo from a tribe of reputed headhunters, as well as a severe stomach ailment that Bridwell initially believed was cancer.

Rather, it was "a tapeworm the size of a black mamba," his climbing partner Long later wrote. Amid a "titanic bender," a resigned Bridwell eventually purged the parasite from his body.

"Legend has it that the Bird was instantly restored to his former hale self," Long continued. "Fetching the adder by the neck, he dispatched it, diced it into a frying pan, and offered it to Camp Four passersby. When challenged to sample a morsel himself, the Bird replied, 'No thanks. I'm a vegetarian.' "

Alaska Democrats recommend 3 for vacant House seat representing Bethel area

Mon, 2018-02-19 11:44

Southwest Alaska Democrats have recommended three candidates — including two former Bethel mayors — to replace Zach Fansler, the former Democratic state House member who resigned after a woman accused him of slapping her in his hotel room.

Two of the candidates, announced Monday, are Alaska Native women. One is Tiffany Zulkosky, an executive at the Bethel-based Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. and a former Bethel mayor.

The other is Yvonne Jackson, who runs job training programs at the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, a nonprofit tribal consortium.

Raymond "Thor" Williams is the third candidate. He's also a former Bethel mayor and has worked as a case manager fighting opioid abuse for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp.

The person ultimately appointed by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker will, for the rest of the year, represent House District 38 — a big swath of Southwest Alaska centered on the Kuskokwim River. The district includes the regional hub of Bethel and more than two dozen villages.

Its House seat has been vacant since Feb. 12, when Fansler resigned after a Juneau woman said he slapped her twice in his hotel room.

If Walker sticks to longstanding political tradition, he'll pick Fansler's replacement from the three candidates recommended by Democrats. But state law allows him to pick any registered Democrat from Fansler's district.

Walker earlier this year replaced another former House member, Dean Westlake of Kotzebue, with a man who wasn't among local Democrats' original recommendations.

Walker also tried to ignore Republicans' recommendations when he named a replacement for former Wasilla GOP Sen. Mike Dunleavy. But Senate Republicans, who must confirm Walker's appointment by a majority vote, rejected the governor's choice, and Dunleavy's old seat remains vacant.

German Olympians drink a lot of beer (nonalcoholic) and win a lot of gold medals

Mon, 2018-02-19 09:50

When Simon Schempp, a biathlete on the German Olympic team, was training for the Pyeongchang Games, he often capped a hard day on the trail with a bottle of nonalcoholic beer. He enjoys the taste of beer like most Germans, who drink more of it per capita than the people of almost any other nation. But he drank the nonalcoholic variety for more than just the flavor.

"It's a really good drink directly after training or after competition," said Schempp, who won a silver medal in the 15-kilometer mass start event Sunday.

Schempp's sober assessment is popular in Germany. While most people see nonalcoholic beer as a responsible replacement for regular beer, Germans often drink it in place of sports drinks after exercise. Beer or Gatorade? No contest.

Johannes Scherr, doctor for the German Olympic ski team, said nearly all of his athletes drink nonalcoholic beer during training. And the Bavarian brewery Krombacher has supplied 3,500 liters (about 1,000 gallons) of nonalcoholic beer to the athletes' village so German athletes can enjoy it during competitions at the Pyeongchang Games, where Germany is tied for the most gold medals.

German beer companies originally marketed nonalcoholic beer as the "car driver's beer" after it was invented in East Germany in 1973. Seven years ago, Scherr, who also teaches sports medicine at the Technical University of Munich, noticed that beer companies were beginning to pitch their nonalcoholic products to health-conscious consumers.

"A lot of companies tried to associate beer, especially nonalcoholic beer, and sports," he said. "But there wasn't any scientific background behind it."

Scherr conducted a double-blind study in which he gave runners in the 2009 Munich Marathon nonalcoholic beer every day for three weeks before and two weeks after the race. These runners suffered significantly less inflammation and fewer upper respiratory infections after the race than runners who had been given a placebo.

"This was pretty surprising to us," said Scherr, who published the results in the peer-reviewed journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

If nonalcoholic beer helped athletes recover more quickly from grueling workouts, then it could allow them to train harder. Scherr credits the nonalcoholic beer's salubrious effects to its high concentration of polyphenols, immune-boosting chemicals from the plants with which its brewed.

"After that, we really had the proof: It's really healthy and not only a marketing gag," said Holger Eichele, chief executive of the German Brewers Association. From 2011 to 2016, German consumption of nonalcoholic beer grew 43 percent even as overall beer consumption declined, according to Euromonitor International. New brewing techniques helped to diversify and improve the flavor, and now there are more than 400 nonalcoholic beers on the market in Germany. Germans drink more nonalcoholic beer than any nation, except Iran.

"It tastes good, and it's good for the body," Linus Strasser, an Alpine skier from Munich, said Sunday after finishing his second run in the men's giant slalom. "Alcohol-free wheat beer, for example, is extremely healthy. It's isotonic. That's why it's good for us sports guys."

Many breweries market their nonalcoholic beers explicitly as sports drinks. The Bavarian brewery Erdinger, for instance, calls its nonalcoholic wheat beer "the isotonic thirst quencher for athletes" and advertises it with the motto, "100% Performance. 100% Regeneration." Heineken promotes its nonalcoholic beer Heineken 0.0 with lines like, "There is no limit to what the human body can achieve," and recently struck a deal to sell Heineken 0.0 in the vending machines at McFit Fitness, Germany's largest chain of gyms. At most major German marathons, nonalcoholic beer is available to runners at the finish line. Erdinger handed out 30,000 bottles at the Berlin Marathon last year.

Sales have been helped by the fact that traditional sports beverages, like Gatorade, are not particularly popular in Germany. Nonalcoholic beer has a lower sugar content compared with many sports drinks, and Germans drank three times as much nonalcoholic beer as they did sports drinks in 2016.

Moritz Geisreiter, a German speedskater, said he drank nonalcoholic beer from the grocery store before switching to a specialized sports beverage designed by a nutritionist. "It's a nice solution for someone who doesn't want to pay dozens of euros a week for a nutrition drink," he said last week at the Olympic skating oval in Gangneung, South Korea.

Scherr doesn't prescribe nonalcoholic beer to the German Olympic skiers. Most of them are Bavarian and drink it on their own. He usually recommends that athletes drink a nonalcoholic beer after exercise, but a 2016 study by Chilean researchers in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients also found that nonalcoholic beer before a workout helped soccer players stay hydrated compared to regular beer and water. Scherr also believes it benefits most endurance athletes and may be less helpful in sprint or strength-based competitions, where inflammation is less of a problem.

Despite its demonstrated benefits, nonalcoholic beer has been slower to catch on with athletes from other countries. When Ethiopian runner Guye Adola finished second at last year's Berlin Marathon, setting the record for the fastest-ever marathon debut, he did not take a sip from the enormous mug of Erdinger nonalcoholic beer that was handed to him when he finished.

"I was scared that it might contain alcohol and I didn't want to add to my fatigue," he said in an email. "In our country, we don't have such stuff at the finish line."

Of course, at the finish line, after months of training, many German athletes crave something with a kick — which is why Krombacher also shipped 11,000 liters of regular beer to South Korea.

"Sometimes an alcoholic beer can also be good," Strasser said with a smile.