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Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine to Launch Female-Centric Podcast Network

Reese Witherspoon and her Hello Sunshine production company are entering the VOD space.

The actress and her company are teaming with AT&T’s DirecTV Now and U-Verse with a Hello Sunshine subscription channel. The platform will launch July 17 with Witherspoon’s first unscripted series, Shine On With Reese, followed by decluttering docuseries Master the Mess on Sept. 4.

The AT&T collaboration extends the company’s partnership with Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, which was launched in November 2016 with backing from the Chernin Group and AT&T’s Otter Media portfolio.

“AT&T was one of our first partners in the quest to bring female-centric storytelling to the forefront and we are especially proud of how these original series push that mission ahead,” Hello Sunshine CEO Sarah Harden said. “We’re looking forward to working with AT&T to develop more opportunities for women to see themselves and their stories reflected in entertainment.”

Hello Sunshine will run on channel 1112 on DirecTV and 1530 on U-verse. DirecTV Now subscribers will get their first three months for $10 a month (with the promo code SUNSHINE3). After three months, the channel will cost $35 a month. In success, Harden noted scripted originals could be created specifically for the VOD platform but Hello Sunshine originals like Big Little Lies and Hulu’s forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere will not be included. Content that debuts on the Hello Sunshine VOD channel will remain exclusive to that platform for the time being, though the company is open to striking deals for second run repeats. Movies on the platform will depend on what is available that month on the cable networks.

“I am thrilled to have such like-minded, creative collaborators at AT&T to help Hello Sunshine pursue our mission of elevating and showcasing the voices of women that we have such admiration and respect for,” Witherspoon said. “I am so excited for the world to experience the stories from our partnership with AT&T, which are set to be equal parts entertaining, inspiring, thought-provoking and unabashedly real.

On top of the two unscripted series, the platform will offer original shortform content and select film library titles.

“Providing an empowering platform for diverse voices is a priority for us,” said Valerie Vargas, senior vp advertising and creative services at AT&T. “Our work with Hello Sunshine gives stories about women the spotlight they deserve, which inspires our viewers and drives authentic conversation.”

Shine On With Reese celebrates women who have created their own paths to success. Dolly Parton, Ava DuVernay, Pink, poet Cleo Wade, Sprinkles founder Candace Nelson and Spanx founder Sara Blakely, author/activist Glennon Doyle and athlete/author Abby Wamback, America Ferrara, Kacey Musgraves and First Captain, UMSA at Westpoint Simone Askew will be featured.

Shine On With Reese is about experiencing with Reese the stories of exceptional artists, entrepreneurs and leaders who happen to be women, and reveals how their personal journeys are unique yet relatable,” said Charlotte Koh, head of digital media and programming at Hello Sunshine. “It epitomizes our goal of telling unexpected stories from interesting women’s perspectives.”

Meanwhile, Master the Mess will feature The Home Edit decluttering gurus Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin in a series that blends comedy with organization.

The Hello Sunshine VOD channel follows a similar deal AT&T struck with Taylor Swift in which a subscription was required to access exclusive behind-the-scenes content from the pop star.

Additionally, Hello Sunshine and AT&T are teaming with Dreaming Tree Foundation for a July 30-Aug. 6 filmmaker camp for young women in Los Angeles in which they hope to build a roster of aspiring filmmakers. Twenty girls will be hosted for an immersive two-week program in which they will work with Witherspoon and industry experts to create content for the Hello Sunshine VOD platform.

For Witherspoon, the VOD platform arrives as Hello Sunshine has become a go-to supplier for premium scripted originals. The company has season two of HBO’s Big Little Lies in the works, Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere, in which Witherspoon co-stars opposite Kerry Washington, and three shows at Apple, including a morning show drama in which she plays opposite Jennifer Aniston.

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A Dwindling Catch Has Alaskans Uneasy

Red salmon, a summertime pleasure that feeds residents through the winter, has failed to show up this season in most rivers.

ANCHORAGE — After just a few hours of letting the current comb through his net in the Copper River, Shane Cummings knew that something wasn’t right.

Dr. Cummings, a sports medicine specialist, had driven 250 miles east of Anchorage with a seasoned fishing party, including a few men who had gone to the river every summer since the 1960s. They motored between sandbars to a familiar spot, and slid the wide hoops of their nets into the steel-colored water.

In a good year, they could pull 70 or 80 red salmon from the river, which they would later brine in sugar and salt and bathe in alder smoke, their Little Chief smokers puffing in their driveways. They would carry Ziplocs of fish to the neighbors and set long tables in their backyards, pulling fillet after fillet off the grill.

But as the hours passed on this day in early June, nobody on the river netted a red, or even saw one. “It wasn’t usual at all,” Dr. Cummings said.

Like many people around the world in an era of climate change and pollution, Alaskans have seen startling disruptions in the fisheries that sustain them — in this case, the salmon that return to rivers in warmer months to spawn after feeding in the open sea. In the last decade or so, king salmon — large, muscular fish prized for their mild flavor and oil-rich flesh — have been smaller, and their numbers have fallen well below expectations.

People here have more or less adapted to their disappearance somewhat, by catching other fish. But the loss of red salmon is something different. Smaller than king salmon, with a saltier flavor and flesh as bright as raspberry jam, red salmon are what high summer in Alaska tastes like.

The fish normally drive the rhythm of the short, intense season here, buoying the state’s economy and filling home freezers in cities and rural villages. They are plentiful, inexpensive and easy for amateurs to catch in quantity. When the first fish from the Copper River appear on a restaurant menu, summer has begun.

This summer, though, has turned into one of the worst for red-salmon fishing that anyone here can remember.

By late July, the usual end of the red-salmon season, the number that had returned from the sea was half of last year’s total in all but one of the state’s red-salmon fishing regions, said Garrett Evridge, an economist with McDowell Group, an Anchorage research and consulting firm, who follows fishing trends. The Copper River, a celebrated, glacier-fed fishing ground, had its smallest red-salmon run in 38 years, as did other rivers across Alaska, state officials said.

“It’s totally out of everyone’s wheelhouse,” said Stormy Haught, the state’s biologist for Prince William Sound and the Copper River area. “I had calls — ‘Really? The reds aren’t running? Are you sure the sonar is even working?’ It was very unexpected for the general public.”

State wildlife managers closed river after river to fishing in July so enough salmon could reach their spawning grounds. From commercial boats to restaurant kitchens to backyard barbecues, people are uneasy.

“It’s like you prepared your house for company and they never showed up,” said Steph Johnson, who manages Bear Tooth Theatrepub, a busy restaurant in Anchorage.

Scientists, who haven’t had time to study the problem, are cautious about naming causes. But many suspect it has to do with a recent period of warmer ocean temperatures.

Fishing has its natural ups and downs, and this year is not as dire as it feels to some, Mr. Evridge said. Over all, Alaska’s commercial red-salmon catch was just above the five-year average at the end of July, thanks to record catches this summer in one area: Bristol Bay, the world’s largest wild red-salmon fishery, in Southwest Alaska. That fishery is far from the state’s population base, however, and most of its catch is shipped out of state and around the world.

For restaurants and cooks outside Alaska, the main impact of this year’s red-salmon disruption has been an increase in prices. Here in Alaska, though, the effects have rippled into daily routines and livelihoods.

In the waters off Kodiak Island in July, commercial fishermen pulled in nets full of jellyfish and little else. College students used to making summer money as deckhands had to phone their parents for plane fares home. Officials in small communities that rely on tax revenue from commercial fishing are looking hard at their budgets.

In the rural Aleut fishing village of Chignik, the fishing fleet, the town’s economic lifeblood, has sat idle, as have the locals who smoke and freeze fish throughout the winter instead of buying expensive groceries that have to be shipped in. The village may need food aid to weather the cold months.

“It’s just like everybody is in total shock,” said Elliot Lind, a lifelong commercial fisherman who at 70 is one of the village elders. “Nobody can afford to buy gas on their four-wheelers. It’s going to be a hard winter for a lot of people.”

Home cooks who are used to catching their own fish stand in front of grocery store counters, calculating the price of dinner. Many, like Christine Taylor, a mother of two who manages inventory for the Nordstrom store in Anchorage, have found that price to be too high.

“That’s a good chunk of my family’s recipes,” she said. “It weighs on your mind. Is this how it’s going to be?”

Reeling From the ‘Year Without a Sam’s Club,’ Alaskans Wonder: What’s Next?

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Monica Laakso, a bar manager married to a utility lineman, saw her monthly food bill jump by $200. The Fairbanks Senior Center had to eliminate cookie treats from its Meals on Wheels program. And Benny Lin, owner of the Pagoda Restaurant, got a shock when the price of salt tripled just about overnight.

Sam’s Club, the discount bulk retailer, closed down more than 60 of its stores this year, from Baton Rouge to Cincinnati, and much of America shrugged it off in the midst of an economic boom. But in Alaska, and especially in Fairbanks, Sam’s exit was a thunderclap and a symbol of an anxious new economic chapter for the state.

“What comes next?” said Christina Wright, who runs a business, Cakes by Christina, from her Fairbanks home and saw the price of ingredients increase by 30 percent. In a place where huge distances and a tough climate make buying in bulk essential, the departure of Sam’s meant people suddenly were dependent on traditional grocery stores with higher prices.

Stretching back to Alaska’s days as a territory and through its boom years of oil production, the powerful mythology of this state has been that open-ended opportunity came with the vast landscape and traditions of limited government.

But the Year Without a Sam’s, as some people are calling it, has exposed new rifts in the identity Alaska has cultivated, as the economy has sunk amid a drop in oil prices and production. Unemployment, at 7.1 percent, is the highest in the nation. Even the state’s secret demographic weapon — its romantic appeal as a place to start afresh — seems to have ebbed, with more people moving out over the last five years than moving in, for the first time since at least World War II.

“It’s kind of like a gang tackle at the Seahawks game and then somebody piles on,” Joe Morelli, the chief executive at Seafood Producers Cooperative. Mr. Morelli said a 25 percent tariff on seafood exports to China could rip through his company’s biggest growth market — black cod. (Love for Seattle’s professional football team, the Seahawks, is part of Alaskan life, too. Though the team plays 1,500 miles from Fairbanks, it’s the closest thing to a home team for a state spread over an area four times the size of California.) “The last thing Alaska needs right now is another hit,” Mr. Morelli said.

Alaska’s 740,000 residents have found that outside forces are leaving their mark on a place that thrives on self-determination. The state has reeled as decisions came from the board of Walmart, Sam’s owner, from tariff policymakers in Washington and Beijing on matters that threaten the nation’s biggest commercial fishing fleet, and from the big oil companies that have shed thousands of jobs. Alaska remains a place of ambition and hope, but many residents seem unsure what the next chapter will look like, and who will write it.

For all the storm clouds, Alaska is nowhere near economic collapse. The $65 billion Permanent Fund, a savings account built from taxes collected on oil, was bolstered as oil prices boomed during the Great Recession, even as the rest of the nation suffered; it still spits out annual dividends to residents. The United States Air Force is promising to move thousands of troops and their families to the Fairbanks area starting next year, with a buildup of the F-35 jet program. Oil prices have risen from their lows, a crucial boost to the state budget. Amazon, delivering almost anything almost anywhere, has eased the pain of Sam’s departure for some.

And Costco, a competitor to Sam’s Club, has told residents it will move into Sam’s old space in Fairbanks later this year.

Still, the effects of the Sam’s demise have lingered, especially in remote villages that are off the road system reachable only by air or water. There, bulk-buying runs to Sam’s to fill larders and freezers, and stock the shelves of village stores, were part of life.

“Every person I know, in every village, had a Sam’s card,” said Larry Bredeman, who lives about four hours up a partly gravel road from Fairbanks, and said that almost everything he wore and ate came from Sam’s.

Mr. Bredeman, 67, and his brother in law, Ray Woods, have now made two trips — about 1,000 miles round trip by car — to pick up supplies in Anchorage from a Costco there, including hundreds of pounds of dog food for Mr. Woods’s 17-dog sled-racing team.

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An Alaska man revealed a secret in his suicide message, sparking a small town’s ‘Me Too’ moment

Rick Martin used his last words to share a painful secret.

The 60-year-old man from Haines, Alaska, was suffering from an incurable liver disease. But before he took his own life in March, Martin recorded videos on his cellphone. In one clip, he claimed he had been sexually abused decades earlier by local luminary Karl Ward.

For 22 years, Ward worked in the town’s school system, rising from teacher to superintendent until his retirement in 1976. Although he had been dead since the 1990s, his presence still clung to the small fishing town 80 miles northwest of Juneau. The high school where Martin’s wife worked had a plaque celebrating the former superintendent’s career.

“For the record, this goes back a long ways and probably a lot of the boys remember this,” Martin said in his message, the Chilkat Valley News reported. “I had to keep my mouth shut about that.”

After Martin’s final message, four other former students came forward with their own stories about alleged misconduct by Ward, according to the Valley News, pushing a town with fewer than 2,000 residents to confront a possible pattern of sexual exploitation by an eminent authority figure.

“I love my town,” Martin’s widow, Rene, told KHNS. “I love the people who live here. We will not keep secrets. We will not live in the dark.”

Local law enforcement say they have no reason to doubt the allegations, but no further investigation is planned, according to the Associated Press. The alleged incidents fit into a larger pattern across the state. Alaska’s rate of sex crimes is three times the national average, the Anchorage Daily News has reported, with the child sexual assault rate six times the national figure.

Ward spent his career around children.

Originally from Philadelphia, according to the Valley News, Ward landed in Haines in 1947 working for the National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, an outreach group of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He also worked at the Haines House, a facility for orphaned Native American children.

In 1954, Ward began teaching at Haines High School, rising to principal in 1957 and superintendent in 1967. He also served as a Boy Scout leader, fostered four boys and worked as a scorekeeper with the local youth basketball team. He died in 1997.

“He brings in kids that are already torn out of their home that really have no voice,” Haines Borough Police Chief Heath Scott told the paper. “He was probably given a certain level of trust when he came in with the Presbyterian Mission and the Haines House and he goes into the public school system, and that level of trust just continued. He operated in the shadows based on that level of trust.”

Rick Martin grew up in Haines and graduated from the high school in 1975. Years later, when both he and his wife worked at the school, Martin told her about his run-in with Ward.

“He told me that it really bothered him to go by the Karl Ward plaque, because he knew that Karl Ward was just a real creepy guy,” Rene, now the high school’s principal, told KHNS. “I said ‘well what do you mean by that?’ And at that time he told me that Karl Ward had tried to grab his penis. And he ran away and went and told his dad, who was Native. And his dad was like ‘okay you’re not really hurt.’ We’re Native and he’s the white superintendent. So you know, we just have to move on.”

After her husband’s suicide, Rene Martin disclosed that his allegations were on a video. The Chilkat Valley News began tracking down former students to corroborate the abuse. Four former students — Craig Loomis, Robert Brouillette, Nick Kokotovich and Roger Schnabel — eventually agreed to talk publicly about Ward’s advances. They told stories that were remarkably similar — Ward would invite students over to his house, give them alcohol and touch them.

“I don’t want to mention any other names, but I’m sure there’s probably more than a couple,” Loomis told the Valley News. “I should have said something 30 or 40 years ago. Whoever’s been suffering, we don’t know what their life would have been if we would have said something.”

Haines has responded positively to the painful story, Borough Manager Debra Schnabel explained to KHNS.

“That’s one of the things that’s so right about Rene Martin being willing to come forward,” Schnabel said. “It’s not to make a sensational story. But it’s to tell people, this is one person’s story. And if it’s happened to you, then it’s our story.”

Ward’s widow, Doris, lives in an assisted-living facility in the town. She declined to speak to the Associated Press. According to the facility’s nurse administrator, she is “in shock and she’s in mourning for the life she thought she had.”

The gym sign honoring Ward at the high school — the same sign that reminded Rick Martin about his alleged abuse decades ago — has been taken down.

“We had to take it down for me to be able to go back to school, quite honestly,” his widow told KHNS.

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2 experienced climbers believed dead on Alaska mountain

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two experienced mountain climbers trying to tackle a new route in Alaska were presumed dead after climbing ropes that matched their gear were found in a crevasse, authorities said Wednesday.

George “Ryan” Johnson, 34, of Juneau, and Marc-Andre Leclerc, 25, of Squamish, British Columbia, were reported missing after they failed to return from a climb March 7 on a seven-peaked mountain not far from Alaska’s capital city.

Rescuers had to wait until Tuesday for the weather to clear to fly to Mendenhall Towers, a mountain that rises nearly 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) over the Juneau Ice Field, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Juneau.

They found an intact anchor rope at the top of an ice chute on one peak and saw two climbing ropes in a crevasse midway down the same peak.Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers, said it wasn’t clear what went wrong because no one saw what happened.

“We know they made it to the top. We know they set anchor,” she said. “Whether they were taken out by an avalanche, whether their rope failed — I mean, anything could happen.”

Officials won’t be able to recover the bodies right away because of avalanche danger. Johnson and Leclerc had been flown to the mountain and planned to ski out to an area to be picked up.

Leclerc was considered a gifted climber. Outside magazine called him “one of the best young alpinists in the world,” and his biography on the website of a sponsor, Canadian outdoor equipment company Arc’Teryx, says he completed several ascents in Canada and Patagonia.

“Sadly, we have lost two really great climbers and I lost a son I am very proud of,” Leclerc’s father, Serge, wrote on Facebook. “Thank you for the support during this difficult time. My heart is so broken … Part of me is gone with him.”

Treya Klassen, a close friend of Serge Leclerc, said last week that the younger Leclerc had his eye on climbing Mendenhall Towers for a decade.

An online version of Alpinist magazine said Johnson knew the mountain. He had scaled Mendenhall Towers multiple times and received an American Alpine Club grant earlier this year to climb the 13,832-foot (4,216-meter) Mount Hayes in the Alaska Range, according to the Juneau Empire newspaper.

Online fundraising pages have been set up for both men. The page for Johnson said the money will be used to pay for search efforts and to support his 2-year-old son.

Leclerc’s family said donations will help his partner as she and other family members grieve.

Lawmakers in the Alaska House of Representatives held a moment of silence for the climbers Wednesday.


This story has been corrected to show that the climbers are missing from the Juneau Ice Field, not Mendenhall.


Company seeks approval to mine near Alaskan salmon fishery

A mining company announced on Thursday that it is proceeding with plans to build an Alaskan gold and copper mine, which critics say threatens to pollute the home of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon population.

Northern Dynasty Minerals said it would file on Friday to begin the permit process to develop the controversial project, known as Pebble Mine.

The move was made possible after Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt removed special protections that were placed on the Bristol Bay watershed during the Obama administration. Canadian-based Northern Dynasty, parent company of Pebble Limited Partnership, acknowledged it was the withdrawal of the EPA’s protection under the Clean Water Act that has allowed the mine permit process to move forward.

Initial plans for the gold and copper mine to be built in the Bristol Bay watershed were extremely controversial, resulting in a yearslong environmental study by the EPA.

In 2014, after three years of peer-reviewed study, the Obama administration’s EPA invoked a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act to place major restrictions on a mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. The decision came after scientists found that a mine “would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources” in some areas of the bay. “All of these losses would be irreversible,” the agency said.

But just months after being sworn in as Donald Trump’s director of the EPA, Pruitt reversed the special protections imposed under Obama. CNN reported in September that the reversal took place within hours after Pruitt met with Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, and without consultation from the EPA scientists who worked on the Bristol Bay environmental review.

The area is regarded as one of the world’s most important salmon fisheries, producing nearly half the world’s annual sockeye salmon catch. Its ecological resources support 4,000-year-old indigenous cultures, as well as about 14,000 full- and part-time jobs, according to the EPA’s 2014 report.

Now that Pruitt has rescinded the special plan to protect the area, Pebble has announced that on Friday it will submit plans to mine there to the US Army Corps of Engineers. The mine proposal will still have to pass a rigorous EPA and Army Corps of Engineers permitting process to move ahead.

“We are very pleased to move the Pebble Project forward to the next important phase by initiating the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) permitting process this year, as we committed to do,” Collier said in today’s news release.
According to the release, the new proposed mine will be smaller than originally planned, will operate outside a fragile Upper Talarik watershed to lessen impact on local salmon fisheries, and will explore the use of a ferry system to minimize the construction of roads across rivers and streams.

“The project design we’re taking into permitting includes a substantially reduced development footprint and meaningful new environmental safeguards that respond directly to the priorities and concerns we’ve heard from stakeholders in Alaska,” Collier added in the release. “Not only are we confident that Pebble as currently envisaged will secure development permits from federal, state and local regulatory agencies, we are confident it will coexist with the world class fisheries of Bristol Bay and earn the support of the people of the region and the state.”

Several environmental groups, Alaskan fisheries organizations, and some native tribes have opposed any plans to develop Pebble Mine, fearing even a reduced version could have significant impact on the sockeye salmon population. The current plan would affect 5.7 square miles of Alaskan wilderness and require more than 65 miles of new roadway, according to Pebble Limited Partnership.

Joel Reynolds, western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of its Campaign to Stop the Pebble Mine, said in a statement that the group still opposes the project.

“There is simply no way to ensure protection of the world’s greatest wild salmon ecosystem — producing 60 million fish this year alone — from contamination caused by a toxic open pit copper and gold mine in its pristine headwaters,” Reynolds said. “For as long as it takes, we will fight to defend this eternal food source from what EPA scientists have already concluded is unavoidable and potentially catastrophic harm.”

The expected application filing Friday will put in motion a permitting process expected to take months. The US Army Corps of Engineers Regional Regulatory Program Director, Sheila Newman, told CNN that while the Corps has yet to see the actual proposal, the scope of the project means that it will “most likely require a full environmental impact study,” which would include publishing the proposal for public review.

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High-speed internet to bring big change in remote Alaska

The effect on far-northern Alaska — where many rely on a subsistence lifestyle for food — could be dramatic: No more classroom computers crashing during lessons, software taking an entire day to download, movies buffering for hours, and sophisticated medical equipment sitting partially unused.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Jeff Kowunna used his drone to record this year’s celebration of another successful bowhead whaling harvest for one of the oldest Alaska Native settlements.

The video from the three-day event in remote Point Hope, at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, showed whaling captains sharing the flippers with residents, traditional drumming and dancing, and the ever-popular blanket toss, where villagers use seal skins to heave each other into the air.

But Kowunna’s plan to share this unique slice of Inupiat culture online was thwarted by the area’s notoriously slow satellite connection.

This month, the 34-year-old whale hunter is ready to try again. His community of 700 and several other isolated Alaska towns are getting a commodity much of the U.S. has long taken for granted: high-speed internet.

“I’ve been counting the days,” Kowunna said of the broadband he hopes will help him connect more immediately with the world with posts from gatherings like the June whaling feast, or Qagruk, while updating folks who have moved away. “I think it’s going to be a lot smoother sailing as far as streaming to the web.”

The new service is part of a planned international fiber-optic system from Anchorage-based wholesaler Quintillion that eventually will connect London and Tokyo via the Arctic. It’s the result of several factors, representative say, including technical advances, private investors willing to bet on the system, and a warming Arctic environment that opened up a limited construction season, allowing crews to bury hundreds of miles of subsea cable off Alaska’s upper coast.

“Clearly, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, the situation with the ice in that part of the world would have made the progress much more difficult to accomplish,” Quintillion spokesman Tim Woolston said.

The effect on far-northern Alaska — where many rely on a subsistence lifestyle for food — could be dramatic: No more classroom computers crashing during lessons, software taking an entire day to download, movies buffering for hours, and sophisticated medical equipment sitting partially unused.

“A project like this is critical,” said Mike Romano with NTCA-the Rural Broadband Association, which represents 850 small telecom and broadband service providers in the U.S. and Canada. Connecting rural communities remains a significant broadband challenge because of the higher cost of delivering service far from metropolitan hubs.

Alaska’s 1,400-mile (2,250-kilometer) portion of the international project includes a land trunk line between Fairbanks and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields that went live in the spring. Quintillion has not released plans or a timetable for the larger project and will not say how much has been spent so far in the private venture. New York private equity firm Cooper Investment Partners is anchoring the financing.

Ship crews finished installing the last Alaska segment of subsea cable in October, and the network became available to telecom providers Dec. 1.

The improved service won’t be cheap, said Jens Laipenieks, CEO of Artic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative, which serves three of the affected communities. Laipenieks expects the cost to drop when the final two phases are built and more wholesale tenants join the system.

Still, commodities always cost more in the Arctic, where a gallon of milk can carry a $10 price tag because everything has to be flown or shipped up. Fiber-optic is no exception, but the expense has not dampened enthusiasm, according to utility officials.

“That’s just the reality of being in an ultra-rural market,” Laipenieks said. “But the technology will never be the limiting factor again.”

Not everyone is sold on the new link. In Utqiagvik, America’s northernmost town, Inupiat whaling captain Gordon Brower balks at exposing his culture to unnecessary criticism — from anti-whaling activists, for example.

“It’s unnecessary because we’re only just trying to provide food,” Brower said. “We don’t have Walmart in the backyard over here.”

In Point Hope, Inupiat artist and traditional skin-boat maker Henry Koonook worries people will be more distracted by the online world than they already are. Koonook himself has nothing to do with computers, even to connect with prospective buyers.

“That little box — what they call a laptop and iPhones — is ruining our people,” he said. “It’s helping them with their education and stuff like that, but they’re drifting away from the culture and traditions, and it’s going fast.”

Others have big plans for tapping into the faster and more reliable service.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native corporation and minority investor in the Quintillion project, is developing an online store featuring artwork by its shareholders, a tourism platform for its eight villages and a repository of stories and videos featuring Inupiat elders.

“It’s just limitless what we can do now,” said Cheryl Stine, its chief administrative officer.

The North Slope Borough, where Point Hope and Utqiagvik are located, is developing a cultural website through its history, language and culture office. The site will be called Puiguitkaat, Inupiaq for “things that should never be forgotten,” according to Kathy Ahgeak, who heads the office.

“We have a wealth of traditional knowledge, ancient knowledge,” Ahgeak said. “We want our children to know just how far back our heritage goes.”

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More than half of rural counties don’t have a hospital where women can give birth

At Meadows Regional Medical Center in rural Vidalia, Ga., the number of babies born each year has more than doubled over the last 15 years — increasing from about 400 births in 2000 to more than 800 in recent years, according to the hospital’s chief executive Alan Kent.

It might sound like a significant baby boom for the community of nearly 11,000 people. Instead, Kent says the uptick is a symptom of a phenomenon that is playing out in rural areas nationwide: The hospitals around Meadows Regional have either winked out of existence or canceled their obstetrics services over the years. The medical center now keeps a strategy map of its primary service area, which extends in each direction about 30 to 40 miles, Kent said.

“Most of the rural hospitals around us, at one time or another delivered babies over the last eight to nine years. Two hospitals have closed. The three remaining hospitals that had maternity wards ceased their women’s services and stopped delivering babies,” Kent said. “We’re seeing an increase in women who deliver with no prenatal care.”

A new study in the journal Health Affairs quantifies the trend. In 2004, 45 percent of rural counties lacked a hospital with obstetrics services. About one in 10 rural counties lost those services over the next decade, and by 2014, 54 percent of communities lacked those services. That leaves 2.4 million women of childbearing age living in counties without hospitals that deliver babies.

There are already a slew of well-known health disparities between rural women and those who live in urban settings. Women from rural areas are more likely to report having fair or poor health, be obese, smoke cigarettes, commit suicide and have cervical cancer than their urban counterparts. But the recent trend could exacerbate disparities in reproductive health, too. One recent study found that rural areas had made far fewer gains in improving infant mortality compared with the rest of the country.

“A lot of discussion has been focusing on the closures of rural hospitals entirely,” said Peiyin Hung, a postdoctoral associate at Yale School of Public Health, who led the study. “We found that even among surviving hospitals in rural communities, a lot of obstetric services in these areas are disappearing.”

What was concerning to Hung was that the most geographically isolated communities were more likely to not have had obstetrics services to begin with — and were more likely to lose them over the decade they studied. There were also patterns of inequality: Rural counties that had lower median incomes and higher percentages of African American women of reproductive age were also more likely to not have hospitals with maternity wards.

The reduction in obstetrics services stems from many factors. When hospitals are struggling financially, as many rural hospitals are, obstetrics services are often first on the chopping board because they generally don’t generate a lot of money, Kent said. In some communities, there may be such a low volume of births that there is simply not enough care to support an obstetrician. The lifestyle of an obstetrician in a remote area might also be a hard one, if the doctor is permanently on call as the only doctor who delivers babies.

Megan Evans, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, has been working with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to push forward a solution to some of the workforce issues. Through a federal program called the National Health Service Corps, medical students can have their school paid for as long as they commit to practicing in an underserved community for a given period of time.

But the way the communities are defined isn’t specific to the type of care in shortage, and she and others would like to see communities defined by categories, such as maternity care shortage.

Right now, an underserved community might have no pediatricians but several obstetricians. More narrowly defining categories of need could help young physicians have the biggest impact. A bill to identify areas of maternity care need passed the House and has been introduced in the Senate.

But she acknowledged that other barriers exist: Many young physicians may not want to relocate to remote rural areas where they may feel isolated, not have many mentors or could be the only obstetrician at the hospital.

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In Grief, Try Personal Rituals

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” writes Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking. “We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind.”

We cannot know, she says, when we lose the person we love—as she lost her husband John Gregory Dunne 11 years ago—“the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”The tragedy of such grief is that the loss of a loved one is irreversible. It is total and final.

Even so, while some of the grief-stricken remain depressed for long periods of time—developing what’s called “complicated grief”—most people move on. They eventually settle into their old routines or develop new ones. Their lives recover a semblance of order. Sad though they may continue to be, they are no longer held hostage by the chaos of their emotions. They are resilient.

George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University and author of The Other Side of Sadness, has studied grief for over 20 years. Among his most provocative findings is that 50 to 60 percent of mourners show no symptoms of grief one month following the loss. Some even overcome the grief within days.

What drives these people forward? What holds the others back? And why do some mourners recover from grief quickly—much more quickly—than others? Psychologists who study these questions note that there is no single factor that predicts who copes well and who does not. Many variables, from your personality to your social world to your levels of stress before the loss, play distinct roles.

A new study, though, hints at an answer. There is a specific way many people can, no matter what their circumstances may be, transcend despair and distress.

Researchers Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School wanted to know how people cope with extreme loss. In the study, published in February in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, they found that some mourners are more emotionally resilient than others, and those who overcome their grief more quickly all have something very important in common. Following the loss, they performed what the researchers refer to as “rituals” in the study. But these were not your typical rituals.

When many people think of mourning rituals, they think of public displays of bereavement such as funerals, wearing black for a certain period of time, or religious customs like “sitting shiva” in Judaism (a period of seven days when the bereaved are visited by guests). Though the substance of these rituals may vary—Catholic Latinos view crying as a sign of respect at funerals while Tibetan Buddhists see it as a disruption—public mourning rituals occur across nearly all cultures.

Norton, the lead author of the study, first became interested in this line of research after reading Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering. The book details the public mourning rituals, often tied to clothing, of Confederate widows during the Civil War.

“Reading it, I thought maybe there is something here,” he told me, “that helps them cope in a meaningful way.”

To determine what that “something” was, Norton and Gino asked 76 research participantsin their first study to write about a significant loss they experienced, like the end of a relationship or the death of someone they love. They also asked the participants to explain how they coped with the loss and to describe any rituals they did.

The researchers were surprised by the results. Many of the rituals reported were not the public ones that inspired Norton. Rather, they were private rituals. Only 15 percent of the described rituals had a social element (and just 5 percent were religious). By far, most of the rituals people did were personal and performed alone.

For example, one person, following a breakup, performed this ritual: “I returned alone to the location of the breakup each month on the anniversary of the breakup to help cope with my loss and think things over.” Another person gathered all of the pictures they took as a couple during their relationship and “then destroyed them into small pieces (even the ones I really liked!), and then burnt them in the park where we first kissed.”

The mourning rituals were especially moving. One woman who lost her mother would “play the song by Natalie Cole ‘I miss you like crazy’ and cry every time I heard it and thought of my mom.”

A man whose wife passed away wrote: “In these fifteen years I have been going to hairdressers to cut my hair every first Saturday of the month as we used to do together.” Another lady, whose husband died, said she still washes his car each week as he had done when he was alive.

These private rituals are very sad. One would expect that performing them—and writing about them—would make mourners more depressed by reminding them of who and what they have lost. But that’s not what happens, as the researchers discovered in a follow-up study.

Next, Norton and Gino invited 247 people into their lab to reflect on the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. To induce grief in the subjects, the social psychologists asked them to write in detail about the loss and describe the emotions and thoughts they experienced at the time it occurred. Then, the researchers divided the group in two: a ritual and a no-ritual condition. Those in the first condition were asked to write about a ritual they performed following the loss. Here, as in the previous study, many people reported private, personal, and emotionally-moving rituals that connected them to the memory of their lost loves in a deep and powerful way.

After the writing exercise was over, the researchers measured the grief of the participants in both conditions. As one would expect, people in both groups became sad doing the exercise, but the people who wrote about rituals were less sad. They reported significantly less grief than those who did not write about rituals. Those in the ritual group, for example, were less inclined to endorse statements (from a standard scale used to measure grief) such as “I feel that life is empty without this person,” “Memories of this person upset me,” and “I feel stunned or dazed over what happened.”

In these experiments, Norton and Gino prompted people to simply write about a major loss and coping ritual. But thinking about a ritual is different from actually doing one after a loss. In their next experiment, the researchers brought 109 people into the lab and made them experience a real loss.

They divided the participants into groups of 9 to 15 people and told them that one person in each group would randomly win $200. They then made the subjects feel attached to the money by asking them to write an essay about why they wanted to win the money and how they would spend it. The person who actually won the lottery then left the room, while the remaining people were assigned to do one of two tasks. Either they drew how they felt (the control condition) or they performed a ritual. In the ritual condition, the people were instructed to draw how they felt on a piece of paper for two minutes, then sprinkle salt over the drawing, then rip the drawing into pieces, and then count to 10 in their heads five times.

After the experiment, Norton and Gino measured levels of grief in both groups. Though losing a lottery is a far cry from losing a loved one, rituals helped here, too. Those who did the ritual reported less grief than the no-ritual group. Even people who said that they don’t think rituals work benefitted from doing the ritual: They didn’t feel as bad about not winning the money.

Public mourning rituals have a clear purpose. By gathering people together around the bereaved, they help mourners strengthen their bonds and reenter the social world after a major loss. But private rituals do no such thing. They seem to serve no practical function. They seem almost pointless.

Speaking of the widow who washed her husband’s car each week, Norton points out, “She didn’t drive the car. There was no reason to wash the car. Yet you could see clearly how it’s such an emotionally meaningful thing for her.” Why are these private rituals effective? How do they help mourners cope?

One of the most common responses to loss is feeling like the world is out of control. Day to day, most people go about their lives thinking they are in command. They decide what they do, whom they see, and where they go. And death—a familiar part of life in the past, when diseases were untreatable and public parks were cemeteries—is now remote, for the most part unseen, and often unthought of. So the sudden death of a loved one can shock and stun. The bereaved can be overcome by a helplessness that is otherwise foreign to their lives. As Didion writes in The Year of Magical Thinking: “Everything’s going along as usual and then all shit breaks loose.”

When Norton and Gino probed deeper into the emotional and mental lives of their research subjects, they found that rituals help people overcome grief by counteracting the turbulence and chaos that follows loss. Rituals, which are deliberately-controlled gestures, trigger a very specific feeling in mourners—the feeling of being in control of their lives. After people did a ritual or wrote about doing one, they were more likely to report thinking that “things were in check” and less likely to feel “helpless,” “powerless,” and “out of control.”

Didion’s husband died the evening of December 30, 2003, just as the two of them were about to sit down to dinner. He was having a drink when a massive heart attack killed him probably within minutes. “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends,” she writes. The paramedics arrived at their apartment at 9:20 p.m.; Dunne was rushed to the hospital at 10:05 p.m.; he was pronounced dead at 10:18 p.m.

What stands out in her account of that evening is what she did when she returned home that night alone. She ritualistically sorted through the items that were in the pockets of the pants he was wearing when he died: “I remember combining the cash that had been in his pocket with the cash in my own bag, smoothing the bills, taking special care to interleaf twenties with twenties, tens with tens, fives and ones with fives and ones. I remember thinking as I did this that he would see that I was handling things.” To Didion, the sorting of bills was symbolic. Deliberately done, it was meant to help restore the broken order of her world, to reveal she was in control and “handling things.”

Dr. Johnson points out that “for sorrow there is no remedy provided by nature; it is often occasioned by accidents irreparable, and dwells upon objects that have lost or changed their existence; it requires what it cannot hope, that the laws of the universe should be repealed; that the dead should return, or the past should be recalled.”

Those who are grieving cannot raise the dead or change the laws of nature. But by performing their own private rituals, the bereaved can regain their footing in a world that has become a little emptier than it was before.

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What America Is Losing as Its Small Towns Struggle

Seventy-five years ago, The Atlantic published an essay by a man named Arthur Morgan. The essay, “The Community—The Seed Bed of Society,” appeared in the February 1942 issue, and was later expanded into a book called The Small Community: Foundation of Democratic Life. Both the essay and the book were arguments on behalf of communities, especially small towns, which Morgan believed had been abandoned by modernity to become “an orphan in an unfriendly world … despised, neglected, exploited, and robbed.”

The social good of such places, Morgan insisted, was being “dissolved, diluted, and submerged by modern technology, commercialism, mass production, propaganda, and centralized government.” While many big-city residents might not worry about the fate of small towns, Morgan believed they should because the “controlling factors of civilization are not art, business, science, government. These are its fruits. The roots of civilization are elemental traits—good will, neighborliness, fair play, courage, tolerance, open-minded inquiry, patience.” These traits are best transmitted from one generation to the next in small communities, he argued, from where they are then spread throughout entire societies. To erode small-town culture was to erode the culture of the nation.

At a time when many small towns are in crisis—facing economic decline, drug addiction, despair—when economists and pundits recommend giving up on small towns, telling their populations to abandon their homes to find economic opportunity elsewhere, Morgan’s 75-year-old plea remains a trenchant warning. Some modern-day sociologists and historians, while not buying everything Morgan said and wrote about small towns, agree with his main point: Such places are vital threads in America’s fabric.

Even in his time, Morgan was sometimes accused of being a utopian dreamer, but he was also practically minded. He was a civil engineer who, after a peripatetic early life, came to care deeply about promoting community. He opened a business in Dayton, Ohio, where he had helped establish the Miami River Conservancy District to prevent flooding. Antioch College, located nearby in the village of Yellow Springs, appointed him to the board of trustees, and he became president of the school in 1920. There he created one of the first systems of “cooperative education,” a program in which students learned in traditional academic settings part-time, and worked in businesses and industries part-time.

After the passage of the law that created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Morgan to become the agency’s first chief. The TVA had a mandate to construct dams, turn unusable, flood-prone areas into productive farms or business sites, and produce and sell power, among other things. That would mean building and improving communities, too. For Morgan, the TVA presented a chance to do on a large scale what he’d been trying to do at Antioch and Yellow Springs: plan communities that would promote prosperity and social harmony. The TVA wasn’t really about dams and energy production at all, Morgan said, but “a designed and planned social and economic order.”

But Morgan frustrated FDR and other New Dealers. He wasn’t aggressive enough with the private power industry, they said, and he kept promoting a small “craft” economy rather than major industry. Amid the friction, Morgan picked arguments with other TVA directors, and in response, FDR fired him in 1938. He returned to Yellow Springs. His vision of creating ideal small communities remained, and he agitated for them the rest of his life, mainly through Community Service, Inc. (now called the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, a charity that focuses on land restoration, sustainable agriculture, and small economies). Morgan was suspicious of big business, but was also a free-enterprise idealist. His model communities, he knew, would thrive only if they had sound economies based on smaller, regional industries, agriculture, and crafts. “Modern ‘free initiative,’” he wrote of unrestrained capitalism, “such as has prevailed in England and America, through great concentration of economic power has robbed the average man of much of his freedom, but has failed to retain a sense of mutual regard and responsibility.”

Some derided Morgan as being stuck in the 19th century. In some ways, he was. A few of his predictions were outdated before he wrote them. For example, even as interstate commerce expanded, he declared that “we probably shall not ship apples in quantity from the state of Washington to rural Ohio when Ohio can raise equally good fruit. Neither will heavy unspecialized equipment, such as cast iron stoves, be shipped from Ohio to the state of Washington.” Those predictions were plainly wrong. Other beliefs of Morgan’s are less likely to be forgiven in the present day: He also endorsed eugenics as a solution for recalcitrant criminality.

But while Morgan may have been off on some topics, he was sharp and forward-thinking on others. For one, he recognized that racial prejudice would haunt the United States until the country guaranteed equal rights for all. And, separately, some modern scholars think he had the right idea about the value of small places as lagoons that feed society’s ocean. “I think that the scale of life does permit kids to feel that they can be engaged in the community in ways that are pretty powerful for them later on in life,” says Steven Conn, an urban and intellectual historian at the Miami University of Ohio (who happens to live in Yellow Springs).

The Rutgers University sociologist Patrick Carr, the author, with Maria Kefalas, of Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America, agrees with Conn. “Our work looked at the mechanism of mentorship and nurturing you have in small towns,” he explains. “In fact, most young people we spoke with talked about how in a place like [the town they studied] ‘we kind of feel you are part of something bigger than yourself.’”

Angela McMillan Howell, an anthropologist and sociologist at Morgan State University, and the author of Raised Up Down Yonder: Growing Up Black in Rural Alabama, tells a similar story. In the small Alabama town she wrote about, “there was this heightened level of community engagement.” Since everybody belonged to one of two black churches, youngsters of different economic backgrounds got to know doctors, lawyers, and other prominent people. Many attended a local Rosenwald school, one of a string of schools founded by Booker T. Washington and Sears and Roebuck’s president, Julius Rosenwald, to bring excellent educational opportunities to African American children in the South. “There is a sense of being a big fish in small pond,” Howell says.

There, as well as in the places Conn and Carr are familiar with, some young people moved on to universities and bigger towns and cities, carrying community values with them, adding to the talent pool of the nation’s urban economies, just as Morgan suggested. (Dwight Eisenhower, to name just one example, was raised in Abilene, Kansas, with a population under 5,000 when he was boy.) Ideally, after a time away, some would return to their towns to assume leadership positions there.

Many did, once. Not so much now. Small towns have always risked losing young people for good, but especially after the Great Recession, the American economy has conspired against returners. Economic and agricultural concentration, declining industries, and lower wages aren’t giving younger people much reason to go home. Many small towns are becoming older, poorer, less educated. In Howell’s Alabama town, people stopped returning as the economy, partly based on papermaking and chicken processing, shifted. The Rosenwald school closed for lack of students.

Conn, Howell, and Carr agree that whatever Morgan’s flaws as prognosticator or would-be economist, he was right to fret about the future of such communities. Everyone else should too, Carr insists, because small towns have always been an essential part of America. Small towns and rural areas send a disproportionate number of their children into the military. America’s food is grown around small towns. And as was made clear last year, smaller towns, acting together, can do a lot to elect a president. “In certain parts of the country those towns functioned as the glue that held everybody together,” Conn says.

Morgan, who warned against parochialism, was himself a little parochial when it came to cities. But it’s not an either-or proposition. Cities also contain cohesive, functioning communities. Both Conn and Howell stressed that the supposed dichotomy of “real America” versus the decadent metros—is, and always was, a canard.

“My mom was reared in Baltimore City, in a segregated neighborhood,” Howell recalls. “She was part of a strong social structure, with church, family nearby, all the other community supports you have in a small town. It was like a small structure dropped into a big city.” Her mother went on to become a civil-rights leader. Similar stories could be told of “communities within cities” across the country, from the gay community in New York’s West Village in the 1970s to the Polish community in Chicago before and after World War II.

Cities of course have advantages of their own. They permit a productive collision of ideas that is hard to replicate in less-dense areas, and they serve a psychological use too: Conn paraphrased the architect Louis Kahn by saying that a city is a “place where a young boy can walk down the street and imagine all the things he might become.” Conn added, “Maybe if we begin to recognize these aspects of each of these places in the other we can square the circle a little.”

To Conn, the more important distinction is the one that separates both cities and small towns from certain colorless suburbs. “There is a sense of place that is at risk of being lost,” he believes; the true antithesis to small community might not be the big city at all, but “a kind of alienated suburb that is really the alternative to life in a small town or an urban neighborhood.” He adds, “We are a nation of Walmart shoppers” quickly becoming a nation of Amazon shoppers.

Despite the fact that America has become an increasingly urban nation, however, Carr is optimistic about efforts to support the nation’s smaller places. There’s been a recognition, he says, that communities must adapt or die. After his book, Hollowing Out the Middle, was published, Carr heard from a number of people from different regions, who were trying a variety of rejuvenation tactics. For example, a career academy in Iowa had begun providing training for high-school students, both college-prep and vocational. Elsewhere, educational and civic jurisdictions were pooling resources and asking employers for input about their needs.

But if such initiatives are to succeed, Conn suggests, they’ll have to listen to Arthur Morgan and stay open-minded. Immigrants can boost local economies; small towns should welcome them, not oppose them. Government is not the enemy of small towns, but many in small towns have grown to distrust government at all levels: The TVA, a giant federal project, was largely a success, and so was rural electrification, another federal project. Today, many small towns rely heavily on state and federal money to keep their economies afloat. Resentment of cities, especially the often mistaken impression that cities soak up all the government spending, is counterproductive. Even Morgan recognized that “the village was too small a unit to fulfill the destinies of human society.” The United States needs its cities. But it need its small towns and rural areas, too.

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