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Wet California winter is a boon for skiers and water supply. But it brings a threat: Wildfires.

By Scott Wilson
Wet California winter is a boon for skiers and water supply. But it brings a threat: Wildfires.
Firefighters initiate and work a controlled burn in the Inyo National Forest area of Mammoth Lakes in California on June 3, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. - This early June morning is Boyd Shepler's birthday, No. 66, and he is spending it in a classic California way: a few hours of skiing in a snowflake-filled morning, then a round of golf in the dry afternoon sun.

The snow here in the Sierra Nevada is epic, packed into a base that is more than double the historic average for early summer. Here on Mammoth Mountain, the ski lifts will be running into August. At lower altitudes, a spring of atmospheric rivers and hard rain has filled the state's once-languishing reservoirs.

"The coverage at the top is as good as I have seen it in 30 years," said Shepler, stoked after skiing Hangman's Hollow in June for the first time in years before trading his waterproof pants for a pair of shorts and flip-flops. "We live for these summers up here."

But the bounty of California's have-it-both-ways climate has evolved into a can't-win challenge, something former governor Jerry Brown called the "new abnormal."

Awash in precious snow and water that will help meet the demands of the state's 40 million residents, the wetness also is forcing California to confront an even greater threat of wildfire. The soaking spring nourishing the Jeffrey pines and sagebrush is giving way to a desert dry as soaring heat scorches the new growth into blankets of kindling.

At least eight wildfires already have flared during the past week to the north and west of here, and the Bay Area is hitting record-high temperatures for early June. The utility company responsible for the state's deadliest fire, which reduced the town of Paradise to ash last year, has begun pre-emptively shutting down power to tens of thousands of customers in fire-prone areas.

The shift to climate extremes also highlights years of inadequate forest management that has turned places such as the Inyo National Forest, which surrounds this mountain resort, into overgrown stands of fuel. Forest managers here are setting "controlled" fires months earlier than usual, and they have adopted plans that will allow vast stretches of state forest to burn if wildfires begin naturally.

"We've gotten really good at putting out fires under all circumstances, except for extreme weather conditions," said Alan Taylor, a Pennsylvania State University professor of geology and ecology who has found that the historic link between wet winters followed by mild fire seasons no longer exists. "And that is how they are burning in California now."

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has blamed irresponsible forest management for California's severe wildfires, which have followed wet springs. He has failed to mention that more than half the forest land in the state is under federal control.

But Trump's push for more aggressive fuel-clearing measures - including controlled burns often opposed by the public and in conflict with state air quality regulations - is a rare point of agreement between those who manage the forests and his administration.

The U.S. Forest Service has been ordered to increase by threefold the amount of fire fuel it clears each year through controlled burns and "thinning," the more selective cutting down of trees. The agency also has been told to step up timber production, a policy that has traditionally bothered environmentalists.

California, too, has strengthened its approach.

Brown, a Democrat, allocated $1 billion from the state's carbon-tax revenue to the lead fire agency, CalFire, for the purpose of managing forests to prevent fires rather than simply fighting them. His successor, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, has continued that approach.

"Sometimes California feels like this entirely different country than the United States, and people love to disparage the state, sometimes for good reason," said Malcolm North, a forest service scientist who runs a lab at the University of California at Davis. "But this is an issue in the West that we are not going to fix without a financial commitment, and California is making that financial commitment."

The long-term goal is to return California forests to their conditions before 1850, when decades of European settlement culminated with the rapid population increase that accompanied the Gold Rush. What that means: Forests with far fewer trees.

The success of modern, aggressive fire suppression techniques has meant that forests, which once burned naturally, have for decades been prevented from doing so, leaving dangerous consequences.

About 10 percent, or 500,000 acres, of Sierra forest now under federal management burned each year before 1850. Forest scientists say that is roughly the natural fuel quota that should be eliminated annually.

But, in those same forests today, managers are clearing just 33,000 acres of fuel each year. The result is that forests dry out faster because, as North puts it, "there are too many straws in the ground." The fires burn hotter and longer.

"We're not even close, we're off by an order of magnitude, and you cannot just thin your way out of the problem," he said of meeting adequate fuel-clearing quotas. "We're behind the eight ball on this and we should use every tool we have."

- - -

The Inyo National Forest's 1.9 million acres include the Sierra's pine forests, steep canyons, expansive calderas and the highest peak in the Lower 48 states, Mount Whitney. There is no timber industry here in what is a rain shadow formed by the surrounding range.

"We are basically a forest on top of a desert," said Eric Vane, the U.S. Forest Service's vegetation planning manager for the northern Inyo.

Vane is 32 years old, a Michigan native, who has worked here for three years. Before that he was in Stanislaus National Forest to the north where, unlike in the Inyo, a commercial timber industry thrived.

Inyo's challenges are different - from its climate to its trees to its closer contact with a public that doesn't always weigh the long-term goals of forest management against short-term challenges and inconveniences of controlled burns.

Outside Vane's U.S. Forest Service office, a carved wooden Smokey Bear displayed a green sign one recent morning declaring fire danger "low."

There are patches of snow on the ground at 7,800 feet, the peaks above coated in white. But the clear air is dry and the sun hot when the windblown clouds reveal it.

"It changes so fast right now," Vane said. "This combination of dryness and heat just sucks the moisture out of the plants. We'll go from Smokey saying 'low' to 'extreme' very quickly."

The Inyo is made up primarily of Jeffrey pine, a tree that has adapted to fire. Its bark is thick and reddish, and on those that existed before the Gold Rush, its horizontal branches begin far up the trunk. The trees shed their lower branches to prevent flames from climbing into their crowns.

Some stands here are a tangle of old and young pines, pale sage and bitter brush covering the small patches of ground between them. This is unnatural, the bunching too close together to allow for healthy growth or the right allocation of water for all these straws.

"You read accounts from the mid-1800s, and people were taking horse and buggy through here," Vane said, pointing at a stand so dense a hiker would have a hard time passing.

But, as the dirt road climbs and dips through the forest, signs of the last fire appear. Charred trunks, cut down by the forest service after the blaze, lie in haphazard piles.

In 2016, the Owens River Fire charred nearly 5,500 acres, about 700 of which burned here along the steep roadside. This was a "high-intensity" event because the flames reached into the tree canopy, spreading quickly through high branches rather than across the ground.

Over the next rise, a patch of blackened forest fills the valley before climbing along the canyon's far wall toward the top of Bald Mountain. The trees here are black spikes, branchless.

"This was an area that had not seen fire in a hundred years, so all these dense patches were primed to burn at high-severity," Vane said. "The way this burned was an abnormality compared to how it would have a century ago."

The severity of the state's recent fire seasons, which have been longer and more intense than any in memory, prompted officials to update forest-management plans. The one for Inyo had not been revised since 1988.

At the state level, all 175 fire districts have done the same. Among the most significant measures adopted in some of the revised plans is the designation of large tracks of forest as "let it burn" zones. In the three districts in the Sierras, the designation encompasses between 150,000 and 300,000 acres of forest that would be allowed to burn if a wildfire were to begin.

Cinematic storm clouds blow in quickly, casting the approach to the Bald Mountain summit in shadow. A light snow dusts the roadside, heated only minutes before by a summer sun. Then hail begins to pelt the windshield. Nearing the summit, it turns to balls of ice and snow that pound down and make the summit unreachable.

Minutes later, and a thousand feet lower, the sun is out.

"I've never seen it like that before," Vane said. "I guess we decided to show you all the weather we have on one day."

- - -

The readings are promising - light wind, blowing away from town, and humidity above 50%. Conditions auspicious enough to start a fire and, with much planning and dozens of well-trained men and women, control it.

On this June day, the forest service is going to burn 120 acres of the Inyo National Forest, an operation that would commonly wait until fall. But fire season seems to start - if it ends at all - earlier each year here.

"We want to keep this fire on the ground - scorch height, but no higher," Jason Wingard, the burn boss, told his crew in the preignition briefing.

"What are we stressing most here?" asked Bren Townsend, a "holding team" leader assigned to keep the fire within its parameters.

"The wind," Wingard answered.

The planning for even a burn of this modest size is painstaking and politically fraught. One mistake, one wind shift, could turn a tool for wildfire prevention into a wildfire itself.

As a result, these burns are tiny bites of a very large apple. California air quality rules limit prescribed burns to 200 acres a day, and even after extending the window for these operations, the goal for the year here is about 3,000 acres.

The crew breaks into groups - holding, ignition, water. Those who will be starting the fire with drip torches, each containing a mix of diesel and gasoline, huddle around the team leader who is sketching the contours of the slope in front of them in the dirt.

The strategy is to bring the fire down the hill, against the wind, and into the flats. The sage and bitter brush is the primary target, not the larger trees that, at least here, are spaced far enough apart to indicate a healthy forest.

Soon a half dozen men and women are crisscrossing the hill, setting fires. The lines are organized, close together, and the boundaries defined by "black lines" that prevent flames from jumping "out of the box."

The work is slow. Stumps take special care, as do piles of bone-dry trees cut down in previous thinning operations. The smell of man-made fuel - hauled up hills in 50-pound jerrycans - is strong. So is the flat heat from nearby, chest-high walls of flame.

The burn will take all day. But the weather holds and after several hours Wingard is pleased with the fire's course.

"It's going about as well as it could be going," he said.

- - -

Tusks is the indoor-outdoor bar at the foot of Mammoth Mountain, a deck of picnic tables and a fire pit unlit on a recent summer afternoon.

It is the perfect vantage to watch the skiers and snowboarders delight in a June bonanza, launching from end-of-run jumps, skidding wildly into lift lines, and pounding upstairs for a beer after a few hours of traversing the cornice.

To Liam Corrigan, the snow is simply a boon. He jumped in his car in Orange, Calif., one recent morning and drove hundreds of miles north, reaching the slopes here before noon.

"The farther you go up the mountain, the better it is," said Corrigan, 23, who works at the REI in his Orange County town.

Light snow, then a thin rain begins to fall. Three shirtless guys reach the bottom of the slope with a noisy stop, a pair of resting kids drinking hot chocolate giggling at the spectacle.

"I'm from the East Coast, and I'm skiing in June," Corrigan said. "Believe me, I have nothing to complain about."

10 new TV shows to watch this summer, not one of them about a throne

By Hank Stuever
10 new TV shows to watch this summer, not one of them about a throne
Wolfgang Petersen's classic 1981 film,

After all those warnings that a chill was coming, there's still a noticeable void of summer TV offerings, in the wake of "Game of Thrones'" conclusion. We'll have to consider this summer a rebuilding season, as the networks, cable channels and streaming services hold off on unrolling any big-tent premieres just yet.

But not to worry - it's not so desolate that you'll be forced to, like, read a book or go outside. I've picked 10 shows that premiere between now and Labor Day that, I hope, will keep us occupied and enlightened (perhaps even entertained) until we collectively fall head over heels for that next big thing. (All times EDT)

- "Perpetual Grace," LTD

(Sundays at 10 p.m. on Epix; premiered June 2)

A languid yet artfully envisioned 10-episode drama for viewers who are most at home in remote locations (in this case, rural New Mexico) with neo-noir characters who act and speak as if they belong in a never-made Coen brothers film. (That, or they're all future clients of Saul Goodman.) "Westworld's" Jimmi Simpson stars as a guilt-ridden drifter who gets conned into a life-insurance scheme that involves kidnapping a church pastor and his wife (Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver) and faking their deaths, only to learn the hard way that the pair are master criminals themselves. Luis Guzman co-stars as a Mexican sheriff who agrees to help with the plan and - because it seems like just the kind of TV show he'd wind up in - "Lost's" Terry O'Quinn plays a Texas ranger working the situation from another angle. "Perpetual Grace LTD" is created by Steve Conrad, whose quirky Amazon espionage puzzler "Patriot" won admirers for its slow-simmered, reverse-engineered plots and extra-dry humor. Here it's even dryer.

- "Das Boot"

(Hulu, Monday, June 17)

Wolfgang Petersen's classic (and classically claustrophobic) 1981 film about a Nazi U-boat gets a sequel of sorts in this stern but satisfying eight-episode, German-made TV series. It's 1942 and the newly manufactured U-612 is getting ready to launch out the French port of La Rochelle, with an untested captain (Rick Okon), who has qualms about living up to his late father's legend, and a young radio technician (Leonard Schleicher), who is ordered to join the sub's 40-man crew as a last-minute replacement. Problem is, the kid had secret plans with the French Resistance and must now rely on his big sister ("Phantom Thread's" Vicky Krieps) to keep an important rendezvous in his place, even though she's being closely watched by an inspector. Both the movie and the series are drawn from Lothar-Günther Buchheim's 1973 novel - allowing "Das Boot" to broaden its action well beyond the U-boat. Will I be shot on sight if I say it lends the story more depth?

- "The Lavender Scare"

(Check local PBS listings)

There's plenty of gay pride this summer surrounding the Stonewall uprising's 50th anniversary, but Josh Howard's compelling one-hour documentary "The Lavender Scare" (based on David K. Johnson's book) examines an earlier outrage from the 1950s, when the U.S. government began purging its federal employee ranks of any man or woman suspected of being homosexual. The policy, approved by President Dwight Eisenhower, was rooted in the ugly idea that gay men and lesbians could be easily blackmailed and turned into communist spies - paranoia in full effect. (Confronted by postal inspectors of a blurry picture of himself in drag, one employee snarkily offered to pose for a better shot.) The purge inspired a nascent gay rights movement, spearheaded by a strong-willed employee of the U.S. Army's Map Service named Frank Kameny (his letters are voiced here by actor David Hyde Pierce). A ban on security clearances for gay workers remained in effect until (hold onto your hats, kiddies) 1995.

- "What Just Happened??!"

(Fox at 9:30 p.m., Sunday, June 30)

Fox wasn't quite ready to share episodes yet, but I'm going to at least enthusiastically endorse the concept: A spoof (if a belated one) of those inane, live after-shows such as AMC's "Talking Dead," where guests excitedly deconstruct what just happened on the previous episode of their favorite, direly complex drama - in this case, a show called "The Flare." Fred Savage plays himself as the host of the show (and huge fanboy of "The Flare's" source material, a nonexistent novel by nonexistent author T.J. Whitford called "The Moon Is the Sun at Night," which is a post-apocalyptic tale about a small town and the aftermath of a solar event). Comedian Taylor Tomlinson joins Savage as co-host, and Best Coast will appear as the show's house band. The whole thing hinges, of course, on "clips" from "The Flare" (whose "cast" includes "Scandal's" Guillermo Díaz and "UnReal's" Shiri Appleby) and the degree to which Savage and company are willing to make fun of modern fandom.

- "The Loudest Voice"

(Showtime at 10 p.m., Sunday, June 30)

Russell Crowe stars in this seven-part miniseries as the late Roger Ailes, the Fox News impresario whom history will record as reshaping American politics and the way conservative voters receive information. (See accompanying review.)

- "I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter"

(HBO at 8 p.m., Tuesday, July 9 and Wednesday, July 10)

Filmmaker Erin Lee Carr has become the go-to documentarian of some of the stickiest legal conundrums in the 2010s - such as the case of the cop who fantasized in chat rooms about cannibalizing his wife. The two-night "I Love You, Now Die" chronicles the trial of Michelle Carter, a young Massachusetts woman accused of urging her boyfriend to kill himself through persistent texts and calls. (They had only met in person a handful of times.) How responsible is she for his death? Carr relies on interviews, testimony and text-message transcripts to create a narrative tension that transcends the case's sensationalism. Her work once again asks how modern communication can capitalize on some of our darkest personality disorders. Even if you know how it ends, you can't help but be riveted (and heartbroken) by what happened and why - and what it could mean for the consequences of what we say to one another online.

- "South Side"

(Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 24)

When someone says they're making a show about life on Chicago's South Side, the words "Comedy Central" may not leap to mind - but that's just the problem that "South Side," written by Bashir Salahuddin ("GLOW") and Diallo Riddle ("Marlon"), seeks to solve: Can't a notoriously violent neighborhood - so often described in hellish terms - also be funny as hell? Loosely organized around the dreams of recent community college grads Simon James (Sultan Salahuddin) and Kareem "K" Odom (Kareme Young), the series follows them through one hustle after another, seen through their jobs delivering (and repossessing) household goods from the interest-gouging Rent-T-Own. ("If you want both endtables to match each other, that's gonna be extra," a sales associate tells a customer.) The show is produced by and stars people who know this world intimately; rather than turn a blind eye to poverty and violence, "South Side" follows the tradition of history's great humorists to find laughter amid the chaos.

- "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

(Hulu, Wednesday, July 31)

This anthology series's resemblance to the 1994 British rom-com is so slight that they also could have called it "Return to Notting Hill" or "More Love Actually" and not been any more or less off the mark. It's too soon to get super picky about the unfinished peek I've watched of this show (created by Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton) about four American friends who are all 30 - three of whom settled in London after college. "Game of Thrones'" Nathalie Emmanuel stars as Maya, a political strategist for a philandering New York senator. After a disastrous revelation, Maya hops the pond to attend the rawther proper wedding of her friend Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse) to investment banker Kash (Nikesh Patel), where complications - unrequited love in all directions, paternity secrets, etc. - accompany some second thoughts at the altar. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" could use more polish and panache, especially if it wants to please those who vicariously adore upper-class British love stories.

- "BH90210"

(Fox at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 7)

Every summer needs its own "Sharknado"-like TV event, where the rules of standard criticism (and viewer discernment) need not apply. Fox's six-episode "BH90210," which is currently in production, more than fills that order, as original cast members (Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, Gabrielle Carteris, Jason Priestley, Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering - everyone but Luke Perry, who died earlier this year) return to play "heightened versions" of themselves: actors who have been convinced to come back and resume the roles that made them super-famous nearly 30 years ago. I don't think the word "meta" works anymore, since we all know it when we see it. What else will we see? The network has said this show-within-a-show will be a drama about what happens when actors of a certain age have to bury old conflicts as they attempt to launch a reboot. May the bridges they've burned light the way, as Perry's Dylan would have said.

- "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance"

(Netflix, Friday, Aug. 30)

Although it landed with a bit of a thud when it was released at the end of 1982 (I recall heaps of discounted "Dark Crystal" merch going unsold at Christmastime, midway between the "E.T." craze and our first Ewok sighting), Jim Henson and Frank Oz's serious-toned fantasy quietly found and retained generations of loyal fans in the years since. This prequel series, subtitled "Age of Resistance," takes advantage of four decades of technological advancements in movie magic, blending puppetry with CGI to give the planet Thra and its inhabitants a more dazzling look. The plot involves three elflike Gelflings from different clans (voiced by Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nathalie Emmanuel) who start a revolution against the reptilianlike rulers known as the Skeksis. I know, I know: The what and the hunh? That's what people said when they first watched "Game of Thrones." This won't rival that, but it's a good reminder that the fantasy genre is about taking a step toward something unfamiliar and then letting it take you away.

A frozen trek on a vanishing frontier

By Sarah Kaplan
A frozen trek on a vanishing frontier
Ian Raphael practices data gathering techniques beyond Utqiagvik, Alaska. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount.

UTQIAGVIK, Alaska - The scientists walk across a frozen Arctic Ocean, dark specks in a sea of white. Pale clouds loom low over the bundled figures. The wind sends ice crystals skidding and swirling around them, erasing their footprints.

Behind a large ice ridge, the group shelters from the subzero cold and 25 mph gusts to set up their experiment. They are learning to map an area's topography by shooting lasers across the ice and snow. But even their machines seem disoriented by the whiteout conditions: The lasers bounce off whirling snowflakes before striking their targets.

It's yet another problem they must solve before the fall, when these scientists and several hundred others will launch the largest Arctic research expedition in history: a 12-month, $134 million, 17-nation effort to document climate change in the fastest-warming part of the globe.

Home base will be a massive German icebreaker, though the ship will spend only a few weeks under its own power. After reaching a remote part of the Siberian Arctic, the crew will cut the engine and wait for water to freeze around the vessel, entrapping it.

Then the ship - and everyone on it - will be adrift, at the mercy of the ice.

- - -

What the scientists discover during their year in the frozen north will help them forecast the future of the entire planet. As Arctic ice vanishes, many scientists expect the steady stream of air that pushes weather across the Northern Hemisphere to wobble, producing periods of punishing cold, brutal heat waves and disastrous floods.

That's already happening. The polar vortex that gripped the Midwest this winter, the fires in California and lingering hurricanes such as Sandy and Florence are all thought to be domino effects of this instability. Unless humans take drastic action, Earth is on track to exceed the threshold for dangerous warming in a little over a decade, the U.N. has said. These scientists are racing against the changing planet to understand what's happening - and what is yet to come.

Struggling on the sea ice off Alaska during their training this April, they get a taste of how tough the task will be. They are steeling themselves for what awaits at the pole: profound isolation and protracted darkness, laborious experiments, cold that can plunge to 45 degrees below zero. There are countless ways the Arctic might thwart and threaten them at every turn.

"But if we can do this right," says Melinda Webster, a sea ice expert at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "it's going to give us a huge leap forward in our understanding of Earth and how it's changing."

Shoulders scrunched, beards of frost forming on their balaclavas, she and her colleagues continue to collect what information they can. They have no choice but to keep going, Webster says. The world attempts an expedition of this size, expense and risk only "once in a generation."

And hers might be the last generation that can.

- - -

If all goes according to plan, the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) will begin on Sept. 20 - when the icebreaker RV Polarstern sets out in search of an ice floe to which it can pin its fate.

The ship will spend the next 12 months following that single floe through the central Arctic and across the North Pole - a 387-foot drifting research station inhabited by a rotating cast of some 300 meteorologists, biologists, oceanographers and ice experts.

"We have so many questions that we can only get answers to there," says Webster, 33, who is part of MOSAiC's sea ice team. "Finally, this is our one shot to do that."

Nearly every northern nation is in on the project. Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute, a polar research center, is providing the Polarstern and leading the expedition. Russia, China and Sweden have all contributed resupply vessels. Japanese experts have built flux chambers to measure carbon that moves from the sea ice to the atmosphere, and a Swiss team has developed an apparatus for sampling snow. The National Science Foundation and other U.S. agencies are contributing more than $25 million in grants, equipment and logistical support, making this one of the most expensive Arctic expeditions the NSF has ever funded.

About 60 people will be living and working on the Polarstern at any given moment; most have signed up for two-month stints, though a few may be onboard for half the year or more. Virtually their only link to the rest of the world will be the ships and aircraft scheduled to arrive every 60 days - winter blizzards and stormy seas permitting - to switch out passengers and restock food and fuel.

Simply getting to the Polarstern can take as long as a month; participants joke that it's easier to reach the International Space Station, 250 miles above the surface of the Earth.

- - -

The researchers will have no internet or phone service. They will work seven days a week, with free time granted only at the discretion of their research coordinators. Those on duty from December to February will never see the sun.

This is the only way to truly understand the far north, organizers say. There is no land here for a permanent research station, no open water to sail through. The Arctic demands to be studied on its own terms.

But the drift strategy has perils. Choose the wrong ice floe, and the scientists could end up in Russian waters, where outsiders can't collect data without special permits. Or the ice could carry them far to the west, beyond the reach of rescue missions should anything go awry.

Analyses of ice paths from previous years suggest that the ideal floe lies about 335 miles east of the North Pole. By the end of a year, it should deliver the Polarstern to open water somewhere between Greenland and the Svalbard archipelago.

A successful transpolar drift - one that didn't kill nearly everyone onboard - has been achieved just twice before in history: first by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, in 1893, and a decade ago by the small crew of a privately owned sailing ship called the Tara. The Polarstern will be the first modern research vessel to spend an entire year at the northernmost place on the planet.

No voyage has been as urgent, says Dartmouth geophysicist Don Perovich, who will sail with Webster on MOSAiC's June-to-July leg.

The 68-year-old researcher, a tall man with expressive eyebrows and an easy smile, first came to the Arctic in the 1970s. Then, the persistent cold at the top of the world was like the keystone in an arch: It helped stabilize Earth's entire climate system.

By 2011, when Perovich met Webster on a shipborne experiment, climate change had reduced the summertime Arctic's frozen area by half. Today, watching a visualization of the annual growth and melt of the sea ice, Perovich says, can feel like watching a heartbeat - one that gets fainter and fainter every year.

On MOSAiC, he and Webster will be studying the consequences of this loss. They know that as reflective ice gives way to dark open ocean, the water absorbs more sunlight, which accelerates warming and melts the ice even faster.

But there are other forces at play, ones that scientists have only begun to understand.

Azure melt ponds form on the ocean's frozen surface; like skylights, they let sunshine filter through the thinner ice and reach the water below.

Clouds rise from the open ocean, acting as both an umbrella and a blanket, and researchers aren't sure whether they're reflecting more heat or trapping it.

Algae cling to the bottom of the sea ice, inhaling and exhaling dissolved gases whose effects researchers can only guess at.

These are the mysteries facing MOSAiC, the questions it will take a full year and 300 scientists to begin to answer.

"This is a community puzzle," Perovich said. "And we all have a little piece."

- - -

In a brightly lit classroom at the Barrow Arctic Research Center in Utqiagvik (oot-ki-ahg-vik), three dozen MOSAiC participants get their introduction to the voyage ahead.

"What is your biggest concern out in the field?" asks Araina Danner, health and safety coordinator for the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. (UIC), an Alaska Native organization that hosted the week-long training.

"Hypothermia," offers biologist Carin Ashjian. In the back of the room, someone else mumbles, "bears."

Danner nods. Polar bears are the largest land predator - bigger and more aggressive even than grizzlies.

She shows the trainees what to do if a bear threatens, standing with her arms extended and feet firmly braced. They mimic her, sheepish.

"See?" she says. "We're acting bigger, acting confident, staying together. [The bear] will be like, 'Hmm, not today.' " The group laughs.

Bears are no joke, not on MOSAiC. The project's 99-page implementation plan calls for the Polarstern to be encircled by nearly three miles of electric fence. The safe zone will be patrolled by a cadre of armed lookouts from 9 to 5 each day.

The researchers exchange looks, some anxious, most exhilarated. No matter their field, they are all adventurers, eager to test themselves against one of the planet's harshest environments.

They are also scientists, acutely aware of the connections between this remote region and the places where most people live. Their chief pursuit is data. That's what will let them make sense of a landscape that few others have even seen. That's how they'll feed the models that predict the consequences of warming around the globe.

The success of the mission hinges on collaboration. Because MOSAiC will last longer than any individual researcher's stint, each participant must grasp at least the basics of every problem the expedition will probe.

The mood is serious as the trainees head out onto the ice. There is a lot to learn. Atmospheric scientists are being taught to dig snow pits. Microbiologists are training to identify ice types. Everyone has to figure out how to ride a snowmobile without falling off.

Daniel Watkins, an atmospheric scientist and University of Oregon graduate student who has never before conducted fieldwork, learns what it takes to collect data he's always seen as simple numbers on a screen in computer models of Earth's climate.

The massive drill used to cut ice cores is taller than he is. It growls and shudders violently as he tries to press it into the ice.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," yells his instructor, Jeff Bowman, a biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

They are standing on a lagoon protected by the curve of Point Barrow, the northernmost spur of Alaska, where the frozen sea is nearly as flat and featureless as a skating rink. Above them, thin cirrus clouds streak a robin's egg sky.

Watkins stops the drill.

"Don't leave it in," Bowman says, quickly. If the bit stays in the drill hole, water might refreeze around it, trapping the instrument.

Rachel Lekanoff, a graduate student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, helps them heave the drill upward. After Bowman demonstrates how to better brace themselves, they resume their work. It's another 20 minutes before water finally burbles up around the drill - a sign they've reached the sea.

Gently, they pull the three-foot cylinder of ice onto the snow. To some scientists on MOSAiC, cores like this can contain a treasure trove of information about the saltiness of the ocean water, the temperature of the air above, even the microscopic organisms that dwell in tiny, briny air bubbles in the ice.

Watkins examines the product of an hour's work. "That was hard," he says.

On the expedition, researchers will have to collect as many as 30 of these cores in a day.

- - -

The Arctic is melting so quickly that an experiment like MOSAiC may not be possible for much longer.

For the drifting plan to work, the scientists need to lodge the Polarstern in a piece of "multiyear" ice - the thick, resilient sea ice that persists until the end of the northern summer. But, Webster says, "It's getting more difficult to find ice that's stable year-round."

During the NSF training in Utqiagvik, Webster leads a snowmobile trip to a towering ridge of multiyear ice a few miles offshore. The young scientist brims with energy; while the other researchers trudge through the snow, she bounds.

This is "the old Arctic," she explains, gesturing toward blocks of frozen seawater as big as minivans and blue as the sky. The ice has the rounded, worn appearance of an ancient mountain range - a legacy of the cycles of crushing and melting it has already endured.

Such thick multiyear ice has held this landscape together since time immemorial. In summer, it serves as a protective blanket, reflecting two-thirds of the sun's rays back into space and helping to keep the Arctic cool. In autumn, it subdues the waves whipped up by storms, preventing them from pummeling communities on the coast. It traps the ocean's heat in winter, and in the spring, it provides a solid, stable platform from which polar bears and people can hunt for food.

Back on the ice for the first time since earning her PhD three years ago, Webster smiles at her surroundings. A rime of feathery, frozen crystals catches the sunlight and glitters like fairy dust. The scattered slabs of ice resemble strange, stark sculptures.

"Beautiful, beautiful," Webster says. "Doing this work in this environment does make you feel a little more alive."

More than 95% of the Arctic's oldest, thickest sea ice - the kind that sticks around for four years or more - has been lost since 1980. And, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the frozen seascape is 500,000 square miles smaller than the average since 1981. Overall Arctic sea ice levels in April, the month of the training, have never been this low.

And there, just to the north of Webster's ridge lies "the new Arctic": an expanse of fragile first-year ice that probably won't last the summer. Past that lies the open ocean, already a dark smear on the horizon, creeping closer every day.

Depending how the summer plays out, by the time MOSAiC sails the Arctic could contain less ice than at any time in recorded history. Late one night, in the sparse common room of their cramped dormitory, Perovich and Webster mull the changes to come.

Webster marvels that she will never know the Arctic that her mentor experienced as a young researcher. And who could say what kind of world she would share with her own future students?

"I'm always rooting for the ice," Perovich says.

But they both know the feedback loop between lost ice cover and warming water makes it more difficult for melted areas to refreeze. By the middle of this century, maybe sooner, scientists expect that no multiyear ice will be able to survive the endless day of the polar summer.

Then, for part of the year, the Arctic could be practically ice free.

Perovich says he thinks the summer ice "will stick around as long as I do." He nods to his younger colleague. "I don't know about you."

Webster pulls her knees toward her chest. Her expression is sober as she ponders the Arctic's future - and her own.

"I can't actually imagine what that would be like," she says.

"It's easy to imagine; you just erase all the ice," Perovich says. "What's hard to imagine is what all the ramifications would be."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Ethnic identity issues knock out heavyweight boxing champ

By ruben navarrette jr.
Ethnic identity issues knock out heavyweight boxing champ

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, June 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Navarrette clients only)

WRITETHRU: 4th to last graf, adding sentence to end: "He even hopes to represent Mexico in the 2020 Olympics."

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

SAN DIEGO -- It's not smart to pick a fight with the heavyweight champion of the world. But I'll take my chances.

Because 29-year-old Andy Ruiz Jr. is a young Mexican American who needs a reality check -- and a map.

Being Mexican American is (BEG ITAL)muy(END ITAL) complicated. At times, I feel like simply an American of Mexican descent. Other times, I feel like a Mexican living in America.

When that happens, my wife corrects me. Born in Guadalajara, she came here legally as a child and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. She is the (BEG ITAL)real(END ITAL) Mexican living in America.

I grew up in a small, overwhelmingly Mexican American town in Central California where -- as recently as the 1980s -- all the top jobs were held by white people. I referred to myself -- however imprecisely -- as "Mexican," because that's how others referred to me and people like me. There was the "Mexican" part of town, etc. We were "Mexican" in the same shorthand that makes my Boston friends "Irish." No one assumes they were born in Dublin.

Like the rest of the estimated 30 million Mexican Americans in the U.S., I'm too Mexican to be American and too American to be Mexican.

In the second camp, you'll find those Mexicans south of the border who disparage their distant compadres as "pochos" -- i.e., white-washed Mexicans.

In the first, you'll find the reader who recently wrote: "[Given] your very obvious love of Mexicans and ur defense of their actions, PLEASE PLEASE leave the USA you dislike and go live in Mexico. You will be happy and so will we!!!"

Columnists aren't paid to be happy. I can't figure out whom I despise more -- the arrogant white racists in the United States who look down on people like me, or the arrogant rich and elitist Mexicans south of the border who look down on people like me.

A lifetime of therapy comes rushing back to me now, thanks to Ruiz. The son of Mexican immigrants made history on June 1 when he knocked out Anthony Joshua of Great Britain at Madison Square Garden to become the first Mexican American heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

As a fellow Mexican American, Ruiz makes me proud. Just like African Americans were proud of Joe Louis, or Italian Americans idolized Rocky Marciano.

Yet, since winning the title, Ruiz has mangled the cultural divide between Mexicans and Mexican Americans. He insists that he is "Mexican" even though he was born and raised in Imperial, California -- on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Geography says he's wrong. I admit, Ruiz has a claim to the motherland. As a teenager, when he ran with the wrong crowd and got in trouble, his father sent him to live with relatives in Mexico.

I guess Andy Ruiz Sr. thought there were too many "bad hombres" in the United States who were not the "best" influence on his son -- although some were probably "good people."

Later, Andy Jr. represented Mexico in qualifying tournaments for both Junior Olympics and the Olympics.

Ruiz obviously connects with Mexico in a way that I don't. But this doesn't make him "Mexican." The map doesn't lie.

Still, when I and others referred to him as "Mexican American" and not "Mexican," the champ jabbed back.

"Everyone who thinks I'm not Mexican simply because I was born in the United States is wrong," he told ESPN. "I'm always fighting for the Imperial Valley and Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. ... My mom and dad are from Mexicali, and I feel more Mexican than others who were born in Mexico. Because I fought for my race and for Mexico."

Slow your roll, (BEG ITAL)ese(END ITAL). If Mexico had fought to provide opportunities to your parents, they might have stayed there.

Mexican Americans are always getting robbed. What the Americans don't take, the Mexicans will.

Sure enough, Ruiz recently went to Mexico and gave President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador his golden gloves and a replica of his championship belt. He even hopes to represent Mexico in the 2020 Olympics.

Speaking of therapy, this guy thinks he's more "Mexican" than people born in Mexico? Wait until my wife hears that one.

Ruiz can call himself whatever he wants. But that doesn't change who he is. He owes America -- and his fellow Mexican Americans -- more respect.

I'm still proud of Ruiz, but I'm also worried. Throughout his life, he seems to have gone to Mexico to find himself. Yet, somewhere along the way, he got lost.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Shanahan's departure comes at a moment of significant military risk

By david ignatius
Shanahan's departure comes at a moment of significant military risk

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, June 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- President Trump has a credibility problem at a time when his confrontation with Iran is moving toward a dangerous test.

"There is no capital in the bank" in terms of trust with major European and Asian allies, said one former senior defense official. "We've managed to isolate ourselves, rather than Iran. This is a strategy-free zone."

Adding to the sense of vertigo surrounding U.S. defense policy was the withdrawal Tuesday of Patrick Shanahan as Trump's selection for defense secretary. The nominal reason was a nearly decade-old domestic abuse case involving Shanahan's son and ex-wife, but the larger issue was Trump's waffling support of the acting secretary, whom he kept dangling for five months before announcing a lukewarm nomination last month that was never actually submitted to the Senate.

Shanahan's departure will increase uncertainty at the Pentagon at a moment of significant potential military risk. Allied jitters are likely to expand, too, with Monday's announcement that the U.S. is sending 1,000 additional troops to the Persian Gulf.

Global skepticism about Trump's Iran policy, more broadly, was so intense last week that some key allies initially demurred when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tehran of attacking two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Foreign capitals seemed more scared of the threat posed by Trump than Iran to peace and stability in the Gulf. Those doubts appeared to be easing slightly Tuesday, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was "strong evidence" of an Iranian role in the tanker attacks.

But there's still a vast a trust gap, abroad and at home. A president who has repeatedly insulted major allies and denounced U.S. intelligence agencies is finding that his words have devalued what should be America's best weapons for containing Iran. Incredibly, given Iranian intransigence and meddling in the region, many traditional friends of America view Washington as the problem these days.

The Iran crisis had deepened further Monday as Tehran announced that in 10 days it would exceed the limits on uranium enrichment set by the 2015 nuclear agreement. Trump's ability to enforce those limits through diplomacy is virtually nil, because the U.S. withdrew from the agreement last year when Iran was in full compliance.

The administration's strategy (so to speak) has been to assume European nations would cajole Iran to keep abiding by the agreement, even as the administration shredded the pact and imposed punishing sanctions to obtain a new, tougher deal. Against Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign, Iran has begun moving since early May toward maximum resistance, including deniable attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf, perhaps hoping to scare the Europeans into demanding concessions from Trump.

Trump's Iran credibility problem stems partly from the fact that he has been pushing for a confrontation since before becoming president, without ever articulating a clear strategy for an endgame, short of regime change or war.

The roots of Trump's Iran fixation go back at last three years and feature some players who later became prominent in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign's solicitation of Russian help in the 2016 election. It's worth reviewing this history briefly, to explain why so many allies are fearful about a march toward war with Iran.

The intermediary who organized early discussions with the Trump team about taking a harder stand against Iran was George Nader, a Lebanese American who advised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, who with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, favored a much tougher U.S. policy against Tehran.

The key discussions about stiffening pressure against Iran came in December 2016, after Trump's election, in a meeting at the Four Seasons in New York. Attending that conversation, in addition to Nader, were Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, soon to become national security adviser, chief strategist and senior adviser, respectively, in the Trump White House. (The meeting was described to me by a source close to one of the participants.)

Trump moved to fulfill his campaign rhetoric about discarding the nuclear agreement soon after taking office. This breach was opposed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and European allies. Trump ignored these warnings and announced U.S. withdrawal in May 2018. Months after the withdrawal, intelligence officials testified Iran was complying with the deal.

Trump sought to calm war fever on Tuesday by telling Time magazine that last week's tanker attacks were "very minor" and that it was a "question mark" whether he would take military action to protect other tankers.

The real question mark in foreign capitals these days is what Trump's Iran policy really is.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Wings still flying over Haiti

By kathleen parker
Wings still flying over Haiti

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, June 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- Jonathan Nash Glynn -- artist, pilot and philanthropist -- never envisioned himself as a missionary, but, absent religion, that's what he has become in recent years.

"I'm a secular Jew from Jersey," he laughs, as we catch up by phone on the past eight years. "You don't see many of those down there."

"Down there" is Haiti, where Glynn is building his second school for children who have nothing. He is probably as unlikely as anyone to be a builder of schools, but in 2010, he had one of those Road to Damascus moments (if I may) as he and his dachshund, Lily, were flying toward Miami for a family visit.

Partway there, he heard of the 7.0 earthquake that had all but destroyed Haiti and decided to change course. Briefly stopping in Miami to drop off Lily, Glynn filled his single-engine Cessna with medical supplies and headed into the heart of darkest despair.

"I come from a family of doctors, so it was natural for me to take medical supplies," he explains. Once there, however, Glynn was overwhelmed by the raw human horror -- limbs being amputated with construction saws -- and the immeasurable need. Because of his small plane, Glynn was able to more easily reach people in places that larger planes couldn't. For about 19 days, he ferried doctors and supplies in and out of Haiti.

Amid the maelstrom, he wondered what more he could do. But, how do you salvage civilization from scraps of debris and people immobilized by pain and hunger? How do you create a future from an apocalyptic past? Glynn says he knew he couldn't save Haiti, but he thought he might be able to save one child.

He would build a school.

Within three months of the devastating temblor, the first classroom of what is today the Heart School in Port-au-Prince opened to about 25 children. Adding one classroom each year since, the school now boasts 178 students and 25 faculty members. At the current pace, the first graduates should receive their diplomas in 2024.

"I think they're going to go to college," says Glynn, with a mixture of pride and awe.

I previously wrote about Glynn in March 2011 after a chance meeting in Sag Harbor, New York, where he told me of his mission. When I recently received an email about an art auction to raise money for a second school, I decided to give him a call.

My first question: (BEG ITAL)How do you keep going?(END ITAL)

He doesn't hesitate: "I live in a beautiful place and I have wonderful friends. But the real world doesn't make sense unless I have my finger in it."

But he concedes that sometimes he falters.

"It's hot, it's difficult and it's not safe -- and I'm getting older," said the 67-year-old, half seriously. He jokes that when he dies, his body will have to be reduced to some sort of molten material thanks to all his replacement parts.

If Port-au-Prince posed dangers from vandals and thieves, his new venture is challenging in other ways. Remotely located in the mountains, the town of Ranquitte can't be reached by road once the rainy season begins. Whatever the season -- and because there are no overnight accommodations -- Glynn has to fly in and out the same day, his tarmac a stretch of grass. The closest school is 30 miles away.

After three years in Ranquitte, using land donated by a local woman, Glynn and his team have produced four classrooms scheduled to open for school in September. That's when Glynn reaps his reward -- the beaming faces of children in clean, blue uniforms who can't wait to get to their school, to hold a book and, best of all, to eat two meals -- all at a cost of just $1.50 per day per child. The school also provides free medical care.

The un-fun part of Glynn's nonprofit work is fundraising, hence the upcoming art auction. Glynn has collected a few big-name supporters, including Donna Karan, and hopes that others will lend their support.

Today must seem a century and a dream ago since that solo flight Glynn and the late Lily took in 2010. How, I ask, did a painter and sculptor know how to do all of that?

"By making a million mistakes," he says. "It's all sort of a miracle, if you want to know the truth."

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

On Russia collusion, Trump is right and George Stephanopoulos is wrong

By marc a. thiessen
On Russia collusion, Trump is right and George Stephanopoulos is wrong

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, June 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- In an extraordinary interview, President Trump and ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos repeatedly sparred over whether special counsel Robert Mueller had cleared Trump of collusion with Russia. "Are you trying to say now that there was collusion even though he said there was no collusion?" Trump asked Stephanopoulos while riding in his limousine. "He didn't say that," Stephanopoulos replied. Later, Trump again asserted, "He said there was no collusion. George, read the report." Stephanopoulos answered, "He said he explicitly didn't look at collusion ... He said there was insufficient evidence that said there was a conspiracy. I read every page."

Trump is right, and Stephanopolous is wrong: Mueller did clear the president of colluding with Russia.

First, Trump is using the word "collusion" because the media repeatedly used it during the investigation. As Mueller points out in his report, "the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation" (including, I would add, by Stephanopolous on ABC). There's a reason for that. "Collusion" is plain English for what most Trump critics alleged: that he worked with Russia to steal the 2016 election.

Mueller declared that since "collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code," he instead focused on the word "coordination." "We addressed the factual question whether members of the Trump Campaign 'coordinat[ed]' -- a term that appears in the appointment order -- with Russian election interference activities," Mueller wrote, adding that "we understood coordination to require an agreement -- tacit or express -- between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference. We applied the term coordination in that sense when stating in the report that the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

So, yes, Trump would be more precise to say that Mueller found that there was "no coordination" rather than "no collusion." But to any normal viewer without a law degree, the meaning is the same. As Mueller made clear, "In this investigation, the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference." Trump was 100 percent correct when he told Stephanopoulos, "There was no crime. There was no Russia collusion. There was no Russia, I'll put it in your language, conspiracy, which is even better than collusion. You know, the word 'collusion' is a softer word than 'conspiracy.'" No crime, no collusion, no conspiracy -- however you want to phrase it, the result is the same: He didn't do it. Period.

And when Stephanopoulos says that the Mueller report found only that "there was insufficient evidence" of a conspiracy with Russia, he is, knowingly or not, helping the Trump-Russia truthers who exploit the word "insufficient" to continue arguing that the president hasn't been cleared. They insist -- the Mueller report notwithstanding -- that it is still possible that Trump was working with the Russians. No, given the scope of Mueller's investigation, it's not possible.

The fact is Mueller led a team of 19 lawyers, who were in turn supported by 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and other professional staff. His team reviewed more than 1.4 million pages of documents provided by the White House and Trump's campaign and spent countless hours interviewing senior White House officials. As Attorney General William Barr pointed out, they "issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses." If, after all that, they did not find evidence sufficient to establish that Trump conspired with Russia, then Trump is right to say he has been cleared.

In our democracy, we are considered innocent until proven guilty. If a prosecutor not only fails to prove you guilty, but after a lengthy investigation, determines that he cannot even establish that a crime has been committed, then guess what? You've been cleared. Denying this is deeply irresponsible. To suggest otherwise about anyone, including the president, is unfair and goes against American values.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Gloria Vanderbilt jeans made me feel good about myself

By michelle singletary
Gloria Vanderbilt jeans made me feel good about myself

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, June 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Singletary clients only)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- If you're low-income, you're not supposed to want -- and you're certainly not supposed to buy -- anything considered a luxury.

And yet the poor do buy pricy items and clothing, because they often need something to combat bruised self-esteem.

In the early 1980s, I was living off my summer-internship earnings and the tiny part-time salary I made as a receptionist at my University of Maryland dorm. I was fortunate to have a full academic scholarship that covered tuition, room and board, but I still required income for necessities.

My grandmother, who was my guardian, did the best she could to help me financially, but her funds were limited with three of my siblings still living at home. So, it was up to me to buy whatever I needed or wanted for school, including all my clothes.

Understanding my financial limitations, I generally stayed away from buying popular brand-name items. But there was one thing I desired -- one designer brand I longed to have. I wanted Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. However, for the price of one pair of the trendy denims, I could buy several articles of clothing at a discount store. That was the responsible thing to do.

Then one day I decided I had to get the jeans with the gold-stitched swan in front and Vanderbilt's signature on the back pocket.

Vanderbilt's passing this week made me reflect on why it mattered so much for me to get that pair of jeans.

"What is most puzzling to economists and decision theorists is that it is often those earning the least that spend the greatest fraction of their income on conspicuous consumption," researchers wrote in a 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

To solve the puzzle, the researchers conducted four studies in an effort to explore the motivating factors that lead to high-status consumption decisions. Here's what they found.

-- Individuals conspicuously consume to signal their wealth.

-- Status items feed ego.

-- Luxury purchases nurse psychological wounds.

-- Low self-worth drives the willingness to spend on high-status goods.

I knew Vanderbilt's story. Her wealthy aunt had fought the heiress's mother for custody and won. It was an epic and nasty court battle that resulted in the media calling Vanderbilt the "poor little rich girl."

"I had no relationship with her at all," Vanderbilt said of her mother in a 2016 interview with her son, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. "I felt no connection at all."

I saw in Vanderbilt's ordeal a little of my own life history. I, too, was estranged from my mother, who abandoned me at age 4 to be raised by my low-income grandmother, Big Mama.

I've longed for the kind of natural mother love that makes you feel secure. You could call me the "poor little poor girl."

In the commercials for her jeans, Vanderbilt just seemed to want women to feel comfortable in clothing that could fit like a glove -- no matter their shape or size. I wanted that feeling in my jeans and life.

My grandmother had taught me that what you wear is not the measure of who you are. "It makes no sense to pay more money for a pair of jeans just because somebody's name is on it," Big Mama would say. "The only one who's going to get rich is the person whose name is on your behind. And that makes you the ass."

But when I got to college, my self-esteem was threatened. Working at the front desk at my all-female dorm, I became depressed watching so many fathers and mothers pick up their daughters to take them out to dinner and then drop them off after a shopping spree. I didn't get such visits.

I wanted to soothe my soul with a pair of chic jeans.

But, "inflating our egos through consumption, while helpful in the short-term, is an untenable long-term solution that only exacerbates the cycle of consumption and consumer debt," the researchers wrote.

Although those Gloria Vanderbilt jeans made me feel good about myself, it wasn't a pattern of behavior that I could afford to repeat.

"If the desire to repair self-worth is one of the impetuses for status consumption, then providing individuals alternate means to restore their self-worth should alleviate this need," the researchers concluded.

I realized that completing my college degree and working in journalism gave me a purpose that I couldn't purchase in a store. I also found self-worth in my community service and church.

I loved those jeans. And while I don't regret buying them, I've tried not to let my emotions dictate what I buy. High-status consumption just isn't worth your financial security.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's mental gymnastics are incomprehensible

By dana milbank
Trump's mental gymnastics are incomprehensible

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- Only a man who is, like, really smart could perform mental gymnastics at the level President Trump has attained over the past few days.

On Saturday, Trump declared that The New York Times committed a "virtual act of Treason" by reporting on a U.S. cyber campaign against Russia.

Mere seconds later, he proclaimed that the supposedly treasonous report was "ALSO, NOT TRUE!"

Thus, in Trump's telling, did the journalists commit the capital offense of … divulging false state secrets?

During his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, meanwhile, Trump denied that internal Trump campaign polling showed him trailing: "Those polls don't exist."

Trump then fired his campaign pollsters for leaking … the supposedly nonexistent polls. (This was similar to Trump calling Bob Woodward a writer of "fiction" while simultaneously venting at his aides for "leaking" this supposed fiction to Woodward.)

During the ABC interview, Trump also said that if he received dirt on his opponent from a foreign country, he would accept it without calling the FBI -- and that his FBI director was "wrong" to say the FBI should know of such offers. Soon thereafter, Trump told "Fox & Friends" a contrary view: "Of course" he would tell the FBI.

This followed by a few days Trump's claim that "I had nothing to do with Russia helping me get elected." Minutes later, he delivered a second opinion: "Russia did not help me get elected."

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Trump's ability to function is a matter of much dispute, but if the ability to hold opposing thoughts in mind is a measure of intelligence, Trump is a very stable genius indeed. Nobody contradicts himself as forcefully, fluently and frequently.

Last December, Trump declared that "we have defeated ISIS." The very next day he said that Russia, Iran and others "will have to fight ISIS" without us.

In recent weeks, Trump has said Robert Mueller conducted his probe in an honorable way and his findings offered full vindication and exoneration. During roughly the same period, Trump has also promoted the contrary idea that Mueller's report is "total bullshit," not to mention "fabricated" and "pure, political garbage."

Last month, Trump pronounced China's Huawei "very dangerous" as a military and security threat; in the next sentence, he said this dangerous threat should be included in a trade deal.

Trump earlier this year declared an emergency on the border because of a migration "crisis"; the same day, he said, "I didn't need to do this" -- and, two months earlier, he had boasted that the "border is tight."

In January, Trump proclaimed, in all caps, "MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL." Exactly 11 minutes later, he complained that the border wall was in jeopardy because Democrats provided "NOTHING" to pay for it.

Trump's ability to, er, evolve has been well documented. The Washington Post Fact Checker long ago dubbed Trump "the king of flip-flops." Stephen Colbert hosted a Trump vs. Trump debate.

But while most politicians (and most people) can change their minds over time, what truly distinguishes Trump's intellect is his ability to believe -- or at least express -- two entirely contradictory thoughts at roughly the same time:

You have to take the children away when you prosecute their parents for illegal immigration; ergo, anybody with a heart would keep families together.

The world's biggest problem is nuclear proliferation; therefore, Japan and South Korea should prepare to defend themselves with nuclear weapons.

Trump has one of the "greatest memories of all time"; accordingly, he could not recall the answer to Mueller's questions at least 37 times.

In January 2018, he told a bipartisan group of lawmakers he would sign any immigration deal they sent him. The next day, he said he would not sign such a bill without funding for his wall.

In February 2018, Trump proposed comprehensive legislation with gun-safety measures, saying "it would be nice if we could add everything onto it." Twenty minutes later, he said he supported a piecemeal approach.

In June 2018, he tweeted an all-caps call: "HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL." Three days later, he tweeted: "I never pushed the Republicans in the House to vote for the Immigration Bill."

How does he do it? My second-rate intelligence can't figure it out.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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