Bill Gates pays a visit to the West

ASPEN – Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg and Bill and Melinda Gates gathered in Sun Valley for the recent Allen & Co. conference. The big financial players joined approximately 300 others, all of whom have a stake in media of various sorts.

The Sun Valley festival is the oldest such conference, and it is open to only the select few. Reporters are kept on a short leash and allowed to interview only those business executives who chose to share themselves.

Sometimes, big deals are quietly struck at the conference. Last year, for example, a conversation that led to the Comcast acquisition of NBC University occurred at the conference. But none of that came out for six months.

But John Malone, a Denver-based cable magnate, did share with an Associated Press reporter his belief that he had missed an opportunity to acquire newspapers a year ago. He seems to think that they’ll make a comeback of sorts.

During Bill Gates’ visit to the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, the media mogul commented on the need to control health-care costs. Those and other costs are eroding the ability of middle-class Americans to gain higher education. He called for the nation to more closely examine the benefits of costly end-of-life medical care. He questioned if “spending $1 million on the last three months” of a person’s life makes sense when the same amount can keep 10 teachers employed.

“That’s called the death panel, and you’re not supposed to have that discussion,” Gates said. He questioned why America’s health-care system has so many specialists as compared to general practitioners. That leaves little financial incentive to keep people healthy with preventative care.

Gates also talked about China and India, predicting that they will take their place on the world stage as innovators. He sees this as good.

“They represent 20 percent of the global population, and they are on their way to using 20 percent of the world’s energy and having 20 percent of the ideas and having 20 percent of the military budget. I mean, it’s outrageous they should do this,” he said, tongue in cheek.

Another speaker, financial historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, declared that the United States as an empire is “on the edge of chaos.” As did Gates, he took aim at Medicare and Social Security. He also predicted that China will overtake the United States as the world’s economic superpower – likely even before 2027, as had been predicted by Goldman Sachs.

“Most empires collapse fast,” Ferguson said. “They’re complex systems. They exist on the edge of chaos. It doesn’t take much to tip them over, and when they tip over, they fall apart really quickly.”


DDT found in high alpine lakes

REVELSTOKE, B.C. –Dangerously high levels of DDT have been detected in the seldom-visited high alpine lakes of Mount Revelstoke National Park. How did the chemical get there? Nobody really knows, although scientists say they have theories.

TheRevelstoke Times Review explains that Health Canada advised that fish caught in the high lakes not be eaten because the fish contain up to 16 times more DDT than the agency recommends.

Only a dozen or so fishing permits were issued for the high lakes last year, indicating the advisory won’t affect that many people. But the issue does hit close to home, as the community has been considering a ban on what are called “cosmetic” herbicides and pesticides applied to achieve aesthetic landscaping goals.

Parks Canada, the administrator of the national park, has two theories that might explain the DDT presence. One theory holds that the DDT was deposited in the 1960s when it was used as an insecticide. It does not readily break down and can remain in the environment for a century.

A second theory sees more distant, even global sources. The theory holds that DDT can evaporate along with water and then be redeposited elsewhere. But if a lake remains frozen well into July, as is the case in Mount Revelstoke National Park, then the water in which the DDT is found has little opportunity for evap- oration and deposition elsewhere.

DDT was banned in Canada in 1972 because, among other reasons, it weakens the egg shells of raptors.The Revelstoke area has osprey and bald eagles.

Sarah Boyle, a conservation biologist with Parks Canada, told theTimes Review that this case illustrates why Revelstoke and other communities should carefully evaluate scientific evidence about long-term effects of chemicals such as Roundup.

“I think that is a really good example of what happens when we use persistent chemicals in the environment (without knowing) how long they last and what the legacy effects are. And I don’t think it’s worth the ecological or human health risks,” she said.


Lab seeks experimental forest status

CRESTED BUTTE – Managers of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory want the national forest surrounding Crested Butte to be designated as an experimental forest.

The U.S. Forest Service has 80 such designated experimental forests, including one near the ski town of Winter Park. There, at the Fraser Experimental Forest, scientists for decades have conducted experiments in water matters. For example, how much does runoff increase if trees have been cut down?

At the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, university researchers from California to Maryland return every summer to further their work while enjoying cool summer nights.

One of the experiments, now more than a decade in duration, has been to replicate how warmer temperatures predicted by climate-change models will change the vegetation. The results show that sagebrush will eventually replace the Van Gogh-like pastiche of summer wildflowers.

Researchers for years have fretted about what they perceive to be too much human intrusion into their natural laboratory, which is located at the ghost town of Gothic, about 5 miles from the ski slopes of Crested Butte. TheCrested Butte News reports that exactly how this proposed designation would further the aim of research is not clear. Such a designation would not affect existing users or further restrict transportation.


Vail bans marijuana dispensaries

VAIL – The Vail Town Council has decided to ban medical marijuana dispensaries because, in the words of Mayor Dick Cleveland, they do not belong in a family resort environment.

Cleveland said that less than 1 percent of people in Eagle County, where Vail is located, are marijuana cardholders – and not all of them are in Vail. If people already leave the town for such necessities, such as buying underwear at Wal-Mart, they can also go elsewhere to buy marijuana. “This should not be seen as a referendum on medical marijuana (in general),” he said. “That’s not what this is about.”

One council member, Margaret Rogers, dissented, pointing to estimates that officials in Boulder expect to reap $250,000 in sales taxes from sale of marijuana there.


Whistler economy on the chilly side

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler has had a T-shirt economy, if not necessarily T-shirt weather, early in the summer.

The weather is more easily explained. Coolish temperatures from whatPique Newsmagazine had called “June-uary” continued into the July 4th weekend. This has led to readjustments on the ski mountain. With a lingering snowpack, the ski area operator was renting snowshoes and offering tubing.

Dave Brownlie, the chief operating officer for Intrawest, saw a glint of silver in the cold-weather clouds. “A lot of our summer visitors have never experienced snow before, so the ability to get up and into the snow was a great experience for them,” he said.

But Whistler has also seen a slow-down in the economy. “Instead of the $200 bottle of wine, people might buy a $50 bottle,” Brownlie said. “Or instead of the expensive memento, they’ll buy a T-shirt. There’s still a bit of caution out there, and people are still downsizing a bit.”

– Allen Best