Photo bomb: Comic Doug Benson runs into Bubbles of the Trailer Park Boys

What happens when weed universes collide and stand-up comic Doug Benson runs into Bubbles of the Trailer Park Boys? This awesome photo.

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‘Unacceptable Risk’: Climate change? These filmmakers asked Colorado wildland firefighters

The summer of 1988 seared fire into both of our careers as journalists. Ted was the director of photography at the Jackson Hole News when a complex of drought-driven fires overran Yellowstone National Park. For two months, Ted and an army of journalists brought images of our first national park in flames into every American’s home. Nobody on the ground or watching television had ever seen anything like this before.

Dan was working as a cub reporter at the Sonora Union Democrat in California’s Gold Country, down the road from Yosemite National Park. When a fire broke out in the nearby Stanislaus National Forest, the editor sent Dan out with an admonition: “Don’t come back unless you have pictures of flames.”

That same year, 1988, was a pivotal point for both the science and the politics of climate change. A NASA scientist named James Hansen testified before a Senate committee and told them something most scientists weren’t prepared to say out loud back then: “Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming,” Dr. Hansen said. “It is already happening now.”

Neither Ted nor Dan made a career of covering fires, but Dr. Hansen has had a distinguished career as a prescient scientific maverick. Ted and Dan have spent their journalistic lives documenting humans’ increasingly problematic relationship with the natural world, writing and photographing for print publications like National Geographic, Smithsonian, Newsweek, Time, Rolling Stone, Audubon, and many others. In 2008, we formed The Story Group to respond to the changing media environment with multimedia approaches to storytelling.

More recently, Dan was tapped to be one of the editors of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive look ever at climate change causes and impacts in the United States. While Dan was completing his work with the assessment, The Story Group independently began filming stories that personify the science detailed in the report. They produced two series: One, Americans on the Front Lines of Climate Change, features people from around the country who are already experiencing the impacts of climate change in their daily lives. The second, Scientists on the Front Lines of Climate Change, features chapter authors from the National Climate Assessment speaking about the key messages from their chapters.

Those key messages invariably echoed one of the key findings of the entire report: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” It’s an eerie echo of Dr. Hansen’s words from 1988, but the warnings from the scientific community are being bolstered by the experiences of Americans around the country – and people around the world.

In our journalistic travels, we have witnessed how the climate change impacts in the U.S. are already affecting people’s lives and livelihoods: in farming and ranching communities in Iowa and Texas, struggling with weather extremes that are outside of anybody’s experience or family memory; in the livelihoods of commercial oyster growers in Washington state, who are dealing with the ocean’s continuing acidification; and in the lives of Colorado firefighters who are facing larger, more destructive fires and increasingly unpredictable fire behavior.

As these impacts spread, scientists are increasingly saying out loud what Dr. Hansen testified was happening more than a quarter century ago: the earth is warming, and human activities, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, is driving that change. In turn, glaciers and Arctic ice are melting, sea levels are rising, and weather patterns are being disrupted around the globe, with profound implications for humanity.

This warming is hitting our Colorado home. Here, temperatures have climbed at a rate almost twice the national average since the 1970s. Among other things, this rise has exacerbated the drought conditions we’ve experienced this century, made our forests more susceptible to disease, and dried out forest fuels that have ignited with alarming regularity. We’ve seen it in the beetle kill forests of Grand County, in the disappearing streams in our favorite backcountry haunts, and most visibly, in the record-breaking fires that now have branded their names into all of our minds: Hayman, Fourmile, High Park, Waldo Canyon, and Black Forest.

When we decided to produce Unacceptable Risk, we knew that firefighters were not particularly inclined to get involved in political debates about whether cap and trade was better than a carbon tax, or if renewable energies could reliably compete with fossil fuels for our energy needs. What we hoped, however, was that these wildland firefighters could tell us what it was like to be, literally, on the front lines of climate change.

They could, indeed. When we sat down with the career firefighters who star in this film, they were forthright and articulate, not about any scientific studies they’d read about the human-causes of climate change, but about what they’d personally experienced during their careers. Firefighters hate being hailed as heroes, but we emerged from these interviews with a profound sense of awe, respect, and admiration for these people, who are increasingly being asked to be first responders to a slew of climate-related disasters, including hurricanes, floods, and, of course, wildfires.

When Ted started amassing footage for this film, he was awed by the unpredictable, unstoppable power of these new fires. Even his experiences in Yellowstone didn’t prepare him for seeing video of entire neighborhoods in flames, and firefighters retreating from subdivisions being swallowed by firestorms. In the dispatch tapes he could hear the fear and disbelief of commanders as they tried to keep their crews out of harm’s way — and how helpless they felt facing fire behavior they had never seen.

Any journalist hopes that their work will have an impact, and we certainly are no different. From the first fires we covered at the beginning of our careers until now, we’ve tried to communicate about the intricate relationship that humans have with the planet that sustains us. That relationship has become increasingly tenuous. We hope that with this film, we can add the voices of these firefighters – truly on the front lines of climate change – to the growing call to action for all of us to help alter the alarming course we’ve set. As the National Climate Assessment concludes, “there is still time to act to limit the amount of change and the extent of damaging impacts.”

*The film premieres Tuesday, February 24, in Boulder. There will be a town hall discussion with the filmmakers, firefighters, a climate scientist and a public policy expert after the screening. A reception will follow at the Dairy Center McMahon Gallery. The Story Group is based in Boulder. Reserve your ticket here.

[Fire photo via Unacceptable Risk, the movie.]

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N.Y. rabbis are open to certifying marijuana-infused edibles as kosher

Today’s lead of the day in the New York Post goes a little something like this: “The burning bush is about to be joined by the burning kush.” Well done, Bruce Golding. As much as we hate pot puns and weed wordplays at The Cannabist, we give that one an A+. And now the news that lead was referring to: At least one company in Colorado is in discussions with rabbis in New York to eventually sell pot-infused edibles that are certified kosher, the New York Post reported this morning. It wouldn’t be the actual marijuana that would require kosher certification, according to Ean Seeb, who owns Colorado pot shop Denver Relief.

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Chart: New study says marijuana is 114 times less deadly than alcohol

Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use. Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.

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Washington DC officials set to allow legal marijuana, home grows Feb. 26

The nation’s capital will become the first place east of the Mississippi River with legal recreational marijuana after a voter-approved initiative takes effect this week.

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‘Straight Outta Compton’: This video of Barney rapping N.W.A. is glorious

Dare we call this video of Barney the dinosaur rapping along with gangsta rap heroes N.W.A. “glorious”? Yes, we do. It’s simple editing, but this stitch-together is so very awesome because of the subject matter: Children’s television champ Barney the purple dinosaur and Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren.

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Wiretap: Weed, just so very much safer than tobacco and alcohol

This may not surprise you, but a new study finds that pot is much, much safer than alcohol or tobacco. In fact, the study — published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature — shows that, given typical use, pot is 117 times safer than alcohol. The study does not say that pot is completely safe, but of all the drugs it studied, pot was the only one that posed a low mortality risk. Via the Washington Post.

There are only a few days to go, but Vox says Mitch McConnell may have finally figured a way out of the shutdown mess. Politico has a one-word explanation for McConnell’s escape route — punt.

Here’s a plot twist: Colorado Springs NAACP chapter president Henry Allen Jr. isn’t buying the story: The man arrested for leaving an incendiary device outside the building that houses a barbershop and offices that include a local chapter of the NAACP says he was targeting an accountant… who has been dead for years? It keeps getting crazier down there. Via the Gazette. 

Bill O’Reilly doubles down in defending his version of his Falklands reporting. And he warns a New York Times reporter to be careful with his reporting. If not, O’Reilly said, “I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat.”

Meanwhile, Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologizes for embellishing his record. Via the New York Times.

“If I don’t get caught on the 16th Street Mall for a year, they’ll let me go back,” homeless 21-year-old Lucas Alejos said. “If I do, I’ll go to jail for a hundred days.” He’s one of wha may be hundreds who have been banned from the popular Denver downtown destination. Local law enforcement say it’s a way to cut down on shoplifting, drug dealing and general troublemaking. Civil rights advocates say the measure criminalizes homelessness. Via the Denver Post.

Fifteen of fifty-five officers in the Durango Police Department have flown the coop over the last 15 months, citing low morale and poor communication. City Manager Ron LeBlanc says he knows nothing about it. Via the Durango Herald.

He’s not Elizabeth Warren, but Jim Webb may be the best option for Democrats looking for a primary election challenger to Hillary Clinton. Via the National Journal.

MSNBC is moving away from “left-wing TV.” Could that really be true? The Atlantic explains that, if true, it’s not about politics, but about economics.

Tech and pot goes together like bees and honey (if honey is a $700 million industry). Via the Daily Camera.

If you can stand one more piece about the Oscars, try this: New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane says the last thing the Oscars needed was its white night.

[Photo via West Midlands Police.]

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Littwin: Forever running against Obama

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Rudy Giuliani was collaborating with the enemy (by which I mean, of course, Hillary Clinton).

Clinton is the all-but-certain Democratic candidate for president, but hardly anyone on the Republican side is laying a glove on her. The media is all over the Clinton Foundation for taking money — apparently legal, but perhaps not altogether ethical, money — from foreign countries while Hillary Clinton has presumably been preparing to run for president.

And, meanwhile, the headline story continues to be that Republicans are all over Barack Obama, who can’t run again, for supposedly not loving America enough, or at all.

Haven’t we gotten past this? Quick answer: Uh, no.

They won’t be running against Obama but they can’t stop running against Obama. The fringe attack lines are still going mainstream. They come from Rep. Mike Coffman and America’s ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

If it all seems so 2012 — back when people like Mike Coffman were saying of Obama “that in his heart, he’s not an American” and Newt Gingrich was on his “Kenyan, anti-colonial” kick — that just means you haven’t been paying attention. It’s 2008, 2012, 2015 and every year in between. Obama paranoia is a constant in our political world. If it’s not a birth certificate, it’s his religion or — you can actually hear this from GOP Rep. Scott Perry on YouTube — it’s his collaboration with the “enemy of freedom” (by which I don’t mean, of course, Hillary Clinton).

The latest round began, as we all know, with Giuliani, once America’s Mayor and now, sadly, a Donald Trump wannabe. If only Rudy could get his own TV show.

It was Giuliani who told a meeting of rich Americans that Obama didn’t love America, whatever that means. I grew up in the era of love-it-or-leave-it bumper stickers — which didn’t make much sense even then — and now for years a significant percentage of Republicans have been stuck on the idea that Obama doesn’t love/won’t leave and can’t accept either.

No one would have paid attention to Giuliani except that Scott Walker, the hot new thing in GOP presidential politics, was also at the dinner. And Walker chose to say nothing to refute the Rudyness or to defend Obama’s patriotism.

Actually, saying nothing might have been his best course. It’s when Walker started answering questions about saying nothing that he got himself in trouble. The right answer for a Republican candidate — see: Marco Rubio, as one example — was that, of course, Obama loves America, but it’s his policies that are questionable.

Walker said, “I’m not going to comment on whether, what the president thinks or not. . . . I’ll tell you I love America, and I think there are plenty of people, Democrat, Republican, independent and everyone in between, who love this country.”

That was just the beginning. In a follow-up interview, the Washington Post asked Walker if he believed Obama when he said he was a Christian, and Walker said “I don’t know,” leading to the obvious question: Which answer is the more dangerous kind of pandering? I’ll go with America-hater, but it’s a close call.

None of this may hurt Walker in the GOP primaries, but the reason the Wisconsin governor suddenly got so hot is that he’s seen as a hard-nosed conservative who seemed able to also talk to moderates. And worse still, every conceivable GOP candidate is now being asked whether Obama loves America, and whatever the right response, it’s clearly the wrong question to have to answer.

American presidents pretty much all love America. It’s part of the job description. It’s harder to define exactly what loving America is — I’m guessing that Rudy and I see the whole thing differently, and not just because he’s a Yankees fan — but Giuliani goes so far as to accuse Obama of not loving actual Americans, including American voters who elected him twice.

In Rudy’s words, ones that will haunt him forever: “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

I’m sure Walker didn’t agree with Giuliani. I don’t know if Giuliani agreed with Giuliani. It’s just as clear, though, that Walker didn’t quite know how to say so, which suggests a larger problem.

Demonizing your opponent — from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama — is the modern product of red-blue, cable-TV-news, Internet-driven choosing up of sides. It’s not enough to question policies. We have to question motives. And so, from the fringes, Clinton killed Vince Foster and Bush blew up the World Trade Center. But Obama is different because, in his case, the fringes have gone mainstream. It’s from Mike Coffman. It’s from America’s ex-Mayor.

And when the why-is-this-so question is inevitably asked, the inevitable answers divide us even more. As Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote the other day, can you really not love America when your vice-president is literally America-loving Joe Biden?

Obama will be president for nearly two more years, and you don’t have to be Karl Rove to figure out that the best strategy for any Republican candidate will be to tie Hillary Clinton to Obama whenever possible. Except for now, of course, when Walker helped Giuliani make defending Obama all too easy.

[Photo by Barry Hackner.]

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TV’s Giuliana Rancic is in hot water after saying Zendaya ‘smells like weed’

Fashion pundit Giuliana Rancic is in hot water after saying Disney actress/pop singer Zendaya “smells like patchouli oil or weed.”

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Alaska gets ready for legal marijuana starting Feb. 24

Alaska is set to become the third state with legal marijuana: Smoking, growing and possessing weed becomes legal in America’s wildest state Tuesday, thanks to a voter initiative aimed at clearing away 40 years of conflicting laws and court rulings.

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