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A Musical Tribute to a Broadcasting Landmark

In honor of Fresh Air's 10th anniversary as a national show, musician Dave Frishberg performs an original song, commissioned by the show's staff.

03:23

Other segments from the episode on May 18, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 9, 1997: Interview with John Krakauer; Interview with Garry Kasparov; Review of the film "The Fifth Element"; Commentary on the tenth anniversary of "Fresh Air" as a…

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 09, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 050903np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: John Krakauer
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the storm on Mount Everest that killed nine climbers from four expeditions in one day. Three more climbers died by the end of the month. That was the most deaths in any one incident on the world's highest mountain.

Journalist John Krakauer is one of the climbers who survived the storm. He was on assignment for Outside magazine, writing about a new phenomenon -- the guided climb, in which an expedition of high-paying amateurs are led by an experienced guide. The guide on the expedition Krakauer was writing about, Rob Hall, died in the storm.

This was Krakauer's first time on Everest, but he's an experienced climber who has written about the danger and exhilaration of high-risk adventure. Now he has a new book about the Everest disaster called "Into Thin Air."

Krakauer's expedition -- in Krakauer's expedition, four of the six people who made it to the top died. The fifth was severely frost-bitten. Krakauer was the only one who survived without injury.

I spoke with him last May, just a few days after he returned home to Seattle from the climb. I asked him why he thought he survived.

JOHN KRAKAUER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER, REPORTER: I don't know this. I mean, this is something that's haunted me since it happened. I mean, I would like to say that it -- you know, I was more experienced than the other clients or smarter or something.

But I think when it comes down to it, I was just lucky. I've gone over it hundreds of times in my mind. I mean, I -- there's some things I had in my favor, but the people who died, I mean, Rob Hall -- much stronger climber than I am; another guide named Andy Harris.

So I can't tell you. I mean, it's one of those things. Some people -- why some people live and some people die is a mystery that I think will trouble me for some time to come.

GROSS: John, what were the first signs that you saw that a storm was coming?

KRAKAUER: It was on -- when I reached the summit, or shortly thereafter -- you have to remember, that all of this is happening, you know, at 28-, 29,000 feet. You're using bottled oxygen, but that only -- that brings the altitude effectively to maybe 27,000 feet. So you're hypoxic (ph) -- your brain is oxygen starved. And the effect of that is you're just -- it's impossible to think clearly at that altitude.

The whole thing seemed like -- seems like we were under water. I mean, it's sort of dreamy and drugged and in retrospect, things that should have seemed obvious at the time just didn't hit.

And I remember getting to the summit and turning around and seeing clouds rising out of the valley. Since you're up higher than anything else, you're above most of the storm clouds. When you're above the storm clouds, there's a lot of blue sky.

It wasn't until the clouds rose to the our level -- rose to the level of the summit and engulfed us that we realized: oh, the weather's turning bad. I mean, if we'd looked down and were thinking clearly, we could have seen it.

But it wasn't until all of a sudden we're -- the clouds are over us; they've enveloped the mountain. It's a white-out. It's starting to snow -- that people began to realize: oh, this perfect day -- and it started out as a perfect day -- perfect conditions, perfect weather.

That's when we began to realize: oh, we better get down fast.

GROSS: Where were you and what time was it when you had this realization?

KRAKAUER: This was, again -- I reached the summit about one o'clock. I was the -- there were about 30 people, maybe a little less than that -- climbing that day that set out from the camp at the South Call at 26,000 feet.

We started climbing at 11:30 at night, so for the first five, six hours, we're climbing in darkness. Moon rose over Macloo (ph) -- it was beautiful. There was enough light from the half moon, so we could turn off our headlamps and climb just by the light of the moon.

Got to the summit about one in the afternoon. I was the second person. I was up in the front, about one in the afternoon. And that's when the first clouds started moving in.

And most of the, I mean, I remember on the way down, I tagged the summit, turned around, I was running out of oxygen so I was in a hurry. And almost the whole group I passed over the next hour -- they were coming up -- so we were all sort of bunched together, you know, there's 'high fives' along the summit ridge, congratulating each other.

There was no sense that anything was going wrong or was about to turn ugly. And then I moved off by myself. I started moving down. I had the experience to climb by myself, so I didn't wait for the rest of the party. I just started heading down, so I was one of the first people down, and I didn't see -- see the group again until we got back down to our camp at the South Call.

GROSS: So because you were ahead of everybody else, you managed to be ahead of the storm also?

KRAKAUER: Well, the storm caught me. I mean, by, you know -- the storm started -- it didn't start violently. It was just this, you know, snow, clouds moved in -- climbers call it a "white out," where all you can see is cloud.

It's really hard to make out any features, but, you know, I've been in a thousand storms like that, all experienced climbers have, and as I got lower and lower on the mountain, the winds picked up until, oh, by three, four, five in the afternoon, certainly, by four, they were hurricane force winds -- just roaring, sounding like a Boeing 747 -- strong enough to knock you off your feet.

I worried that -- there was so much snow being deposited by the wind that I worried about avalanches. You know, and this is a bitter cold wind -- hundred below wind chill -- so that any exposed skin -- your cheeks, anything freezes very, very fast.

And that was -- that alarmed me. I mean, I was taking it very seriously by that point, trying not to make a mistake. You know, if your hood falls off, blows off, if it is not buttoned correctly, you're gonna freeze all the skin on your face, so you've gotta be really, really careful. And I was. And I made it down to just about the camp, and paused over an icy section.

At that point, I was caught by one of our guides, Andy Harris of New Zealand, who was in bad shape. He was sort of desperate and rushing down and he passed me. And I saw him walk within 50 feet of the tents, and then the white out closed in. I didn't see him. I assumed he was at the tent and that he'd gone to bed.

And the next morning, I realized that he had never showed up at the tents, and went out to look for him at six in the morning, and spent an hour looking for him. I saw some cramp-on marks in the ice heading over the 4,000 foot-Lotci (ph) face, and I can only assume that he, in the storm and in exhaustion, instead of taking a left turn for the tents, he kept going straight and walked right off the face. His body was never found.

GROSS: So, when you got down to the camp, was the storm really bad at the camp?

KRAKAUER: Oh yeah. It was -- you know, even in the camp, with all your clothes on and your sleeping bag in a tent, I feared for my life. I mean, the tents are -- they're being threatened. You know, they're being battered. You think they're going to blow apart. You're very cold. You don't have -- you've run out of oxygen.

And it's not just -- the oxygen also plays a huge part in keeping you warm. Physiology of -- I mean, you need oxygen to keep warm, so that when the gas turns off and oxygen turns off, your hands get cold, your feet get cold.

So even at camp, it was chaos. You couldn't -- you know, you couldn't talk from one tent to the other. No one knew who'd gotten down and who hadn't. Climbers were coming in in the middle of the night, just finding a tent and piling into it.

There were still, I think, about 10 or 12 climbers out as of midnight. They'd gotten down to the call -- to the area of the tents, but they couldn't find the tents, and they were in desperate shape, just barely hanging on to their lives when one of the guides, Neil Butelman (ph) happened to, a little after midnight, catch a glimpse of the, you know, like a 15-second glimpse of where the tents were, and dashed for the tents with anyone who could walk.

There were still five people left out there who were in such bad shape -- they were just lying on the ice, comatose, unable to help themselves. And another guy, a Russian named Anatoly Bucharev (ph), went back and heroically dragged three of them back. Two, he couldn't bring back, and one of those, Yasco Namba (ph), died that night.

The other, Beck Weathers (ph), a rescue party found him in the morning, and in sort of an act of triage, this rescue party found both Beck and this Japanese woman, and they were both barely alive, but they assumed they were going to die, and they were better off just leaving them there.

So this rescue party decided to leave these two people there, and amazingly, six or eight hours later, Beck Weathers kind of woke up and roused himself, and walked into camp, you know, almost blind. He'd lost a mitten -- one hand was, you know, completely frozen. That's sort of an amazing tale -- how this guy saved himself.

GROSS: My guest is journalist John Krakauer. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back to our interview with John Krakauer, recorded last May, several days after he returned home from the Mount Everest disaster.

When you got back to base camp and realized that some of the other people in your party were not going to make it back, and that they were really trapped in the storm and weren't as capable as you were in getting down, what's the -- I don't know if "etiquette" is the right word here, but what -- you must have felt like, oh, there must be something I could try to do to help them, and yet there's probably nothing that you could possibly do.

I mean, what goes through your mind about the responsibility toward the others who weren't making it?

KRAKAUER: Oh, I've gone through a lot of guilt, and haven't resolved it yet in that, you know, the night after we got back to our tents, if I'd really had my act together -- if any of us had -- you know, we should have, we could have been out there trying to rescue Yasco Namba (ph), this Japanese woman, and Beck and -- who were at the Call and Yasco died there. I mean, you know, she was two or three hundred yards away from camp when she died, and so you ask yourself: why didn't I, upon realizing she wasn't there, go out and search for her or search harder for her?

I mean, there's a -- you know, you have to deal with that a lot. I have to deal with that. It's -- there are things we could have done and didn't do. I mean, at the time, we were so messed up.

You know, it was all I could do to get into my tent and just try to hang on myself, but in retrospect, you ask yourself: gee, maybe I could have saved her life?

GROSS: But on the other hand, a couple of the leaders of the climb stayed behind to try to save people and died doing it.

KRAKAUER: Right. Yeah, Rob Hall, I'm sure, died because he stayed behind with a climber from Seattle, Doug Hansen (ph), sort of collapsed on the summit ridge and Rob stayed behind with him. I remember there was a radio call at 4:30 from base camp to Rob, in which they suggested, you know, Doug is -- Doug's a goner.

You should leave him and go, and Rob refused to do that. I mean, you know, as a professional guide, he couldn't. Just as a person, he couldn't. And it ended up costing him his life.

Rob held on throughout that night and into the next night. He was talking by radio the whole -- much of that time, and we had considerable hope that he would make it down.

We kept urging him, you know, come down, start down, just start down. And he would imply that he would. He said, OK, I'm packing up. And then, an hour later, he'd get on the radio, and we realized he hadn't left at all.

He'd frostbitten his hands badly. In the upper part of the mountain, there are some technical sections, some ropes you have to descend, and he felt he couldn't safely descend those, so he decided to stay in the hope that some -- a rescue team could come up to get him, but that was, I mean, that was crazy. No one could get up. And sometime in the second night, the radio communications ended and we assume that's when he died.

GROSS: I guess for someone like Rob Hall, there were really no options. I mean, do you think that if he had tried to make it down the mountain, that because of his frostbitten hands, because of the storm, he never would have made it?

KRAKAUER: I think he might have. I think that, in retrospect, that's what he should have done. I mean, even if he'd fallen, and he might have, better to fall than to just stay up there and die. I mean, I don't know. I ask myself, well, what would I have done?

And I like to think I would have headed down no matter what. I mean, as long as you're moving you have a chance. To stay up there, I mean, no one could reach him.

But he made a decision. I mean, again, he's without oxygen. He's run out of oxygen, you know, 24 hours earlier. He's not thinking as clearly as he might. He just kept saying: "I'll be all right. Just send the boys, meaning the Sherpas, send the boys up with a couple thermoses of tea and I'll be fine."

I mean, that's what he kept saying. And we'd say: Rob, man, head down. Just start. Pack up. Go down now. And he would just say: No. Can't do it. Frostbitten hands.

So, you know, you just -- that's part of the problem. Rob had really good judgment, and he would lecture us earlier in the trip about the dangers of Everest and how the need to turn around when the weather looks bad, even if you're close to the summit, and how you shouldn't be foolish.

And he sort of broke a lot of his own rules, and a lot of it probably has to do with being oxygen-starved. And that's all I can think.

GROSS: Did you go to the memorial service?

KRAKAUER: There was one at base camp that we held. There's going to be others coming up. So, yeah, at base camp we had this impromptu memorial for the five climbers from our expeditions who died, and it was kind of a depressing and -- I don't know.

I had trouble with it. I mean, a lot of people stood up there and said, you know, Scott would have wanted us to carry on and let's not get depressed and, you know, think about the good things in life.

And I -- it just seemed like, you know, I don't know, I didn't buy it. I just thought, I got up and talked about Doug Hansen -- and it's this single parent, with two kids now, who don't have a father.

And just sort of said, man, "there's a lot more at stake here than just your own life." I mean, I was, you know, sort of addressing the climbers who had yet to go up, and there are some -- there are some are on the mountain now. And saying: think about Doug before you act rashly.

GROSS: Gee, I hadn't thought of that. So you had -- you thought you had a responsibility to the people who were, first, going to take the risk, and you were trying to talk some of them out of it.

KRAKAUER: Well, I don't know what I was trying to do. I was just depressed and this sort of forced bonhomie, this forced good cheer about, you know "Scott would have wanted us to carry on" and think about "to life" and, you know, "no guts no glory" -- or I don't know.

This sort of -- this good cheer, I just wasn't feeling cheerful. I was feeling severely depressed, and maybe inflicted my depression on others. It didn't go over well. I mean, what I said just sort of -- people kind of murmured and went on to the next guy, so I don't know.

GROSS: We've done several interviews, you and I, and it seems every time we talk, our conversation ends with reflections on high-risk adventure. And I would really like to hear what's going through your mind about that now.

And I just want to say, too, that you're coming off of writing a book about somebody -- a young man who went into the Alaskan wild and died there. Never came out.

So, you chronicled his story -- thought a lot about risk -- and now you've just come back from Mount Everest in which, you know, what, eight people died, and you're one of the ones who survived. So, what are you thinking now about how much risk is worth taking for the adventure of mountain climbing or any other outdoor sport?

KRAKAUER: You know, right now, I -- I'm in a -- my head's in a really bad place, and I just think, I mean, you know, I met the kids of Doug Hansen at the airport. I brought back his belongings from Nepal.

GROSS: These are the kids who -- he was a single father and now he's dead and his kids have no parents.

KRAKAUER: Right. Right. And, you know, facing them, facing some of the other families of the deceased. You know, risk -- to look in their eyes, there's no way risk is worth it.

I mean, sure, if you survive and things go well, it's great. There are definite benefits from taking chances. But right now, it just seems crazy and selfish and, you know, can't be condoned.

But having said that, I mean, you know, I look at myself, and I, you know, I feel like sort of one of these, I don't know, powerless to change. I'm compelled to take risks, in the same way that Chris McCandless (ph) was, the subject of this book.

I mean, I -- that book, I explore risk and the impulse to take it and to test yourself. And I don't really understand the impulse, but I understand it enough to know when it's there, it's sort of irresistible.

For some people, it just defines them. It's an integral part of their life. They can't -- it's just something they have to do. And I think I might be one of those people. I think -- I like to think that as I've gotten older, I've gotten smarter and the risk is more sort of, you know, in my head or illusory or I get this same charge without actually taking as much risk.

But this Everest thing has really shaken me up. I mean, this is the first trip I've done where anyone died and I sort of had to look at it -- look at death at close range. And it's -- I don't know, I'll be interested to see what effect it has on me.

I don't think I'll quit climbing. I can tell you, I don't think I'll ever go back to an 8,000 meter peak, to a big Himalayan peak. There's just too much misery, too much death, not enough pleasure.

I mean, the pleasures I get out of climbing aren't all risk. You know, a lot of it is just the pleasure of being in the mountains; of moving on steep ground. I mean, there's a lot of joy in climbing, normally, and this Everest trip -- the ratio of joy and misery was just way too low and, I don't know, I mean, I don't know what I'll do, how I'll change -- how this will change me.

It's way too soon. I haven't -- I just haven't come to grips with much of what happened there. So it will be interesting to see whether I keep taking chances that I've taken in the past.

GROSS: You were on Everest on assignment for Outside magazine. Have you started writing the piece yet?

KRAKAUER: Haven't. And it's going to be hard to write. I'm not -- I've sort of dabbled with it. I have a lot of research to do still -- some -- a lot of phone calls just to try to iron out some details. You know, what happened, talking to other people who were on the trip.

So I don't know -- writing it is going to be difficult. I mean, I'm just, I'm really close to the story. I'm really bent about it. I mean, I don't think you can write a piece under those conditions, so somehow I've got to shake myself out of this funk, get over this fever, and come at it from a different angle.

GROSS: What are you doing to try to shake yourself out of it? Are you just trying to sit still and give everything time?

KRAKAUER: I mean, really, since I got back -- I mean, I was OK for about a day. I sort of had this euphoria where I just walked down on the beach near my house with my wife and kind of just kicked back, drank a lot.

And then since then, I sort of -- this fever came on and I've just been kind of depressed and spent yesterday in bed. I mean, I'm really, I mean I guess I've just got to give it a couple days and try to get it out of my system.

But I, you know, I haven't been myself. I've been kind of acting weird and, I don't know, I'll try. If I don't get out of it in a couple days, I'll try something different.

GROSS: Have you been dreaming about the climb?

KRAKAUER: Yeah, I've had a lot of -- almost every night, I have nightmares about it involving, you know, sometimes just, kind of thing, waking up out of breath, gasping, and starts -- I keep seeing Andy Harris wandering off into the mists.

I mean, yeah, I'm troubled by this. This is something -- I'm usually pretty well-grounded, pretty centered, and this whole experience has really knocked my equilibrium off, so, you know, I don't have a clue yet how to get it back.

GROSS: John Krakauer, recorded last May, shortly after he returned home from Mount Everest. He's just completed a book about the disaster called "Into Thin Air."

In the second half of our how, we'll phone him to see how he's recovered.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: John Krakauer
High: Mountain climber and writer Jon Krakauer was with the group of climbers who were climbing Mt. Everest May 10-11, 1996 when a storm hit. Eight climbers were killed. Jon Krakauer was covering the climb for Outside Magazine. Terry talked with him last year right after he returned home from the climb.
Spec: Sports; Mountain Climbing; Asia; Nepal; Mt. Everest; Deaths; Disasters
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: John Krakauer
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 09, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 050902np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Krakauer Now
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We just heard an interview with John Krakauer recorded several days after he survived the storm on Mount Everest that killed nine climbers in one day.

Krakauer has written a new book about the disaster called "Into Thin Air." We phoned him yesterday, and asked if he was still depressed and having nightmares.

JOHN KRAKAUER, AUTHOR, "INTO THIN AIR: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF THE MT. EVEREST DISASTER": Well, the nightmares -- still, I dreamed about Everest last night, but they're different. They're not the sitting bolt upright in a cold sweat in the middle of the night kind of thing. They're just kind of frustration dreams, and they're not good.

The depression, you know, I'm not -- I'm not over this, and I don't really expect to. It's different. I mean, I don't -- I can't really tell because I'm in the middle of this book tour so I don't have any free time where I'm not thinking about it or being asked hard questions about it.

So it's kind of changed, and there's still -- I just haven't had time to process it yet, and I expect, you know, I think that having written a book will eventually help, but it hasn't yet. And, that was a -- some people died who were close to me, and I don't -- wouldn't expect to get over that quickly, so I'm just kind of, you know, trying to be patient and hang in there.

GROSS: You did a lot of research before writing a book, talking to other people about their perspective on the story -- other people who were there on Everest. Did it change your perspective on the climb or on what went wrong?

KRAKAUER: Oh, it -- you know, it gave me a better understanding, but there wasn't any, you know, smoking gun that turned up. This isn't -- you know, this tragedy I don't think should be viewed as some sort of scandal -- trying to find out the villain and who's to blame for this, because all of us who were up there are culpable to some degree, and it, you know, and the tragedy has its roots in sort of ordinary human failings and hubris and sort of striving maybe too far.

And that's what caused it. And I, you know, I learned various details. The most -- I learned some really trouble thing about something I'd got really wrong in the magazine article about one of my friends, one of Rob Hall's guides, Andy Harris who -- I'd reported that he'd -- I thought I'd seen him come to the high camp and return safely, and then he hadn't showed up. And I reported that I thought he had walked off this 4,000 foot precipice.

And I based that report on having seen him. You know, he'd sat down next to me and talked to me. Well, it turns out, the person I had that conversation with wasn't Andy Harris at all. I discovered this out in my research after the article was written.

And I'd confused Andy for a guy who looked nothing like him, sounded nothing like him, and to this day, if I hadn't proven it to myself, I would swear that was Andy Harris who I was talking to. I can still picture the ice-covered face and hear the sound of his voice. And that's -- that really, you know, disturbed me and upset me.

It was actually one of the motivations I had for writing this book, to set the record straight, and I did correct that error.

GROSS: When we talked a year ago, you were -- you were pretty down on the idea of high-risk adventure.

KRAKAUER: Right.

GROSS: Well, what about now?

KRAKAUER: Well, you know, I came back from Everest really doubting climbing, thinking that maybe it was just a bad thing. You know, this is something that's at the center of my life. It really is the glue that's held my life together. And so that was kind of upsetting.

And since then, I was offered an assignment by National Geographic to go to Antarctica for two months, to climb. And I accepted it because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity with some of the best climbers in the world.

So I went, and I was really nervous before I went, whether I'd let my partners down or whether I'd just freak out and couldn't climb. But it was actually a really good thing, and I -- climbing was spectacular. It was low-altitude, technical climbing, very, very steep rock walls in this amazing landscape and it was uneventful.

So, it sort of reaffirmed my belief that climbing -- you know, climbing doesn't have to be terrible. It's still -- you know, that's the paradox, you're -- climbing is a really, really rewarding activity precisely because the hazards are real.

It matters what you do up there. You have to pay attention. It's, you know, it's life and death. And that makes it really rewarding when it works out, but when it doesn't, there's no way to defend it and there's no way to explain it. It just seems like horrible.

So, I don't know. I mean, I still -- I'm unable -- I guess I'm not proud of the fact that I still climb, but I still do. I certainly will not be going back to Everest or any other high-altitude mountain. I mean, that's -- that was -- I was way out of my league on Everest and I'm -- you know, I'm not going back there.

GROSS: Who isn't out of their league there? Apparently, one of the Sherpa guides fell to his death on Everest this week.

KRAKAUER: Yeah, a Sherpa guiding for a Malaysian nat -- big Malaysian team, and one of the guys I wrote about in the book, Mal Duff (ph), the leader of a very experienced Himalayan climber, leader of a British expedition died a week and a half ago at base camp in his sleep. So, yeah, Everest, high altitude, above 26,000 feet, and to my mind, it's a lot like playing Russian roulette.

In ordinary climbing, the hazards are apparent. It's steep. It looks scary and really dangerous, but a large degree, it all -- the hazards hinge on your own skill and strength and judgment. You can control whether you're going to survive or not.

On Everest, you lose that control. It's at -- you know, it's at the whim of the elements and high-altitude diseases strike quickly and they can strike the best climbers in the world as well as the worst.

So, you know, the statistics don't lie. For every four people who have summited Everest, one has died. Right now, as we speak, climbers are assembling for their summit pushes.

They've done their acclimatization. They're just waiting for a break in the weather. The weather's bad right now, but on May -- sometime between May 10 and 12, there's likely to be another huge crowd all going to the summit -- going to the summit at the same time.

And among those people are -- many people who were there last year, some guides and other climbers, David Brashears (ph), who led the IMAX expedition, Ed Wiesters (ph), Pete Athens (ph) -- names that, you know, were part of the events last year.

Many people who participated in the rescue, and they're there this year, and I'm -- you know, I'm anxious for them. I'm very anxious, probably, maybe even more than I need to be, but I can't help that. I'm following things closely.

GROSS: Do you feel you've become a different kind of climber since Everest? Do you approach climbing differently?

KRAKAUER: Well, I've only done one serious climbing trip, and I sure...

GROSS: The Antarctica trip?

KRAKAUER: Yeah, and it was nothing like the climb on Everest. It was amazing, you know, spending four or five nights on this overhanging rock wall. But I certainly was kind of -- yeah, I wasn't, I didn't climb particularly confidently. I was kind of freaked out and it took me a while to get used to it.

Yeah, I look at climbing differently. I mean, I always thought I understood the risks, but I didn't really. I mean, it's one thing to appreciate that you can get killed on some abstract intellectual level, but to have come out of something like what happened on Everest, you know, I look at things pretty differently now.

You know, and climbing's funny because a lot of it is sort of learning how to deal with fear and sort of block out fear at the appropriate moments, and that's somewhat harder now. But -- and you know, I just, I'm real nervous that another, I'm going to -- going to witness some other accident, and I worry that that might -- I mean, then I, I have a hard enough time doing it now, and if that happens, I don't know what.

I mean, climbing's important to me. I don't -- I can't explain it. I mean, it's just, it fills a hole that nothing else does, and gives my life some sort of shape, and it's all selfish and doesn't do anybody else any good, but it generally doesn't do anyone else much harm either, or it didn't until Everest. So, I don't know. I mean, this is stuff, you know, I'm gonna wrestle with for a little bit, I suppose.

GROSS: Well John, thanks for letting us check in with you, and good luck with the book and your future climbing, if you continue to climb.

KRAKAUER: Thanks, it's a pleasure talking with you.

GROSS: John Krakauer has written a new book about the disaster on Mount Everest called "Into Thin Air."

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: John Krakauer
High: We put in a call to John Krakauer to see how he is a year after the Everest expedition. He now has a book about the climb, "Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster."
Spec: Asia; Nepal; Sports; Mountain Climbing; Disasters; Deaths; Mt. Everest
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Krakauer Now
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 09, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 050903np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Garry Kasparov
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov is matching wits with a computer named Deep Blue. Last year, Kasparov scored a triumph for the human ego when he won his match with the IBM computer.

But Deep Blue's programmers studied that match and have since improved the computer. It's running on a faster system, evaluating twice as many chess positions per second than last year. Now, four games into the rematch, Kasparov and Deep Blue are tied. The last two games are tomorrow and Sunday.

I spoke with Kasparov last fall, and asked him about the computer's approach to chess.

GARRY KASPAROV, WORLD CHESS CHAMPION: Deep Blue was never designed as a chess computer. In fact, Deep Blue emerged from IBM research on parallel processors, and they recognized by mid-'80s, well late '80s, that chess could give them unique opportunity to try to solve this very important problem in the computing industry, which is to force parallel processors talk to each other without wasting a lot of energy by just doubling the same result.

Deep Blue's way of playing -- Deep Blue's style, if you call it -- it's quite simple and primitive. You know, it calculates, calculates, and calculates.

It's a brute force of calculation, but we faced a phenomenon when quantity was translated into a real quality gem because suddenly we discovered that on these numbers -- and Deep Blue could make per average 100 million positions per second, which is a big number, even for the beginners, for chess fans, or for just some -- for the general public and for professional players.

With these numbers, I realized that Deep Blue was able to solve some positional problems, because it saw so deep and it could avoid some short-term positional mistakes.

I'm not talking, of course, about tactics, you know, it's so sharp and so precise. And now, they are working very hard to get some chess knowledge into the machine to make this machine more fit for a real chess challenge.

And in fact, we'll face very soon super powerful version of Deep Blue, and next May when I play it again, it will be not be easy at all.

GROSS: And how does computer logic differ from human logic in playing chess?

KASPAROV: I think the biggest difference between human player and computer is flexibility. Because when we play chess, we cannot calculate everything to the very end. We have to make selection of the move based on some very subjective factors.

We have to evaluate the position. We have to look three, four, five moves ahead, as far as we can. And to find out from our perspectives what could be the net result of different route we're going to take.

There are many, many factors that we have to take into account, but I know, and all my human opponents, they know that these factors, even some of them are dominant, in many positions, can lose their importance.

That's why we can easily reshuffle these factors, these priorities, and we are evaluating position of using our intuition rather than the pure mathematical calculation.

Now, when computer is doing the same exercise, and it just calculates a line and goes to the end of the line and has to evaluate the final position, computer has a set of priorities built up by the programmers.

And this is a fixed set of priorities, that's important to understand. It's if, number one priority is the pawn structure, and number two is the position of the king, I mean, safety of the king.

It will always be number one and number two. Even if these factors are less important in a very special position that could arise in the middle of the complicated line.

That's why computer is not able to reshuffle these priorities and the moment you realize the way machine thinks, the way machine makes decisions, machine is very vulnerable to your strategy because I can change my strategy. I can shift from one strategic route to another. Machine is not capable of doing so.

Also during the match, the six games match, programmers -- they don't have any time to change these priorities. That's why it will take them two, three, four, five months in the lab when they can learn the lessons of the previous match and then to change the machine to set up new priorities.

But, you know, at the end of the day, the flexibility is a big, big problem for the machine.

GROSS: Did you feel like you were representing mankind against machine? And that if you lost, it would be a defeat for mankind? And if you won, a triumph for the human being?

KASPAROV: I don't think we can talk about a triumph, because the machines are getting better and better. That's why, even if...

GROSS: The battle's not over yet.

KASPAROV: Yeah, exactly, if it's triumph, it's very temporarily. But defeat could be quite disastrous, and that's why the pressure on my shoulders, the psychological pressure was much higher than normal chess event.

Because when I play world championship match I can lose my title, which is important for myself; it's important for my relatives and my friends; some time, it's important for chess.

But playing machine, I represent a very, very -- I wouldn't say the whole mankind, but definitely many, many people that believe that humans' integrity and human superiority was in danger.

GROSS: OK, so here you have all the psychological pressure on you, even more pressure than when you're defending your title against another person, and yet you can't psych out a machine in the way you can psych out an opponent. You can't look at the machine and expect to intimidate them with your look. You can't analyze the computer's face, and see where are their vulnerabilities today.

KASPAROV: Yeah, you're absolutely right. You know, any outside psychological factors working against me because machine doesn't tire, machine doesn't care about the weather, about noisy public, about the press -- about any other factor factor will work against me because I'm a human being and I'm exposed to some disturbances during the event.

But, as I said already, machine is not flexible and, again, the moment I know the characteristics of my opponent, I feel very comfortable -- very confident because I know this opponent now, it's like an open book for me. When I have human opponent, I will never enjoy the same privilege.

The question is whether I'll be able, in next May, to do the same within the first two games, manages to get all information from these games, to analyze that, and to make a new portrait of my opponent. Because the disadvantage of the first match and also the second one, that I do not have access to any game played by Deep Blue. That's why, you know, I have to prepare myself for that opponent without any available information.

GROSS: Now, what do you do in a chess match to keep up your concentration and to prevent frustration or any other emotion from interfering with your game?

KASPAROV: No, it's absolutely impossible to keep frustration out of you for the whole match. I do my best, but even in a match against Deep Blue, I was frustrated a couple of times, and in game four, for instance, when there was a crack in the computer and just it didn't work for about 15 minutes -- and just while they lost a signal, and whatsoever.

And I was very nervous. It's obvious frustration, and then I immediately made one mistake, another mistake, and I was very, very close losing. My, luckily, my position was quite good before it happened, that's why I was able to defend that, but, it was very, very unpleasant and I felt pretty bad. And I learned that whatsoever, I have to keep my concentration just more what's going around.

It's doable, yes, to be quiet -- if you can concentrate on your opponent. I try to imagine that it's an opponent with some qualities. You know, it could be human being; it could be machine. But it's just an opponent, and this opponent has such and such and such characteristics, and then it's I have to take this or that strategical route to play the game because that would be the best and the most annoying for my opponent.

And trying to isolate myself from the nature, physical nature, of the opponent, that helps.

GROSS: Garry Kasparov, recorded last fall. This weekend, he'll play the last two games in his rematch with Deep Blue.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Garry Kasparov
High: World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov. Last year in Philadelphia in a well publicized match, Kasparov beat IBM's Deep Blue, which was considered the most competitive chess computer to date. He is currently in the midst of another match with an enhanced version of Deep Blue. The match is a draw at 2-2 with two more games scheduled this weekend.
Spec: Chess; Games; Computers; Sports; IBM; Deep Blue
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Garry Kasparov
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 09, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 050904np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Fifth Element
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:54

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Hollywood rolls out the summer blockbuster season today with a high-tech, sci-fi action comedy starring Bruce Willis. Jon Powers has a review of "The Fifth Element."

JON POWERS, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: A few years ago, I asked a well-known European director whether he'd ever thought of working in Hollywood. He said yes, but then added that he'd never do it because he knew it wouldn't work out. "It's easy to make a movie in America," he said. "What's hard is to make an American movie."

Which brings us to The Fifth Element -- a goofy new science fiction film by the French director Luc Besson. The movie takes place in a 23rd century where people sped around in jet-powered cars and space stations have become pleasure factories like Vegas.

There's one big problem, though: evil aliens are heading toward Earth with plans of destroying life itself. The one thing that can stop them is a set of four stones, each representing one of the Greek elements, plus a mysterious fifth element, able would unleash the cosmic power of the other four.

This fifth element turns out to be Lilu (ph), a punky outer-space babe played by Mila Jovavich (ph), one of the rare models who's able to act and look beautiful at the same time. Lilu needs to get the other four elements before they're snatched by a wicked tycoon named Zord (ph), played by Gary Oldman, whose southern drawl is as thick as a man gargling grits.

Luckily, Lilu meets up with Corbin Dallas (ph), a retired soldier who now drives a taxi. This is the film's star, Bruce Willis, who's decked out in yellow hair and his trademark smirk.

Corbin becomes Lilu's protector from the moment she literally drops into his cab. And though she doesn't speak in recognizable words, a weird romance starts to develop, beginning with Corbin startles her awake by kissing her as she sleeps.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, FILM, "THE FIFTH ELEMENT")

BRUCE WILLIS, ACTOR: Hey, lady. Wake up. You're right. You're right. I shouldn't a done that. I shouldn't a done that. I was wrong to kiss you, but (unintelligible).

MILA JOVAVICH, ACTRESS: (unintelligible)

WILLIS: You're right. You're right.

JOVAVICH: (unintelligible)

WILLIS: I thought you might remember me from the cab. Remember? Remember? Badda boom? Big badda boom?

JOVAVICH: (unintelligible)

WILLIS: Boom -- big badda boom in the cab here, look, like, I drive a cab, this is me. Corbin Dallas. Corbin, you understand? Here, you take it. Go ahead. You can call me when you learn how to speak English. Hmm? Just kidding. Kidding.

POWERS: Over in Europe, Luc Besson, who's best known here for "La Femme Nikita," is a superstar director, sort of a gallic Steven Spielberg. He's nothing if not a crowd-pleaser and he stuffs The Fifth Element with amusing things. He gives us hot-tempered mercenaries with the heads of dogs and sly monologues on the social benefits of mass destruction.

He wins Gary Oldman's funniest performance in ages, and serves up an extended schtick involving a black drag queen, played by Chris Tucker, whose exuberant shamelessness eventually makes you laugh.

He offers us an African-American president of Earth who speaks in the dialect of a home boy, and he dwells on the witty costumes of designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, whose clothes suit the year 2259 at least as well as they do 1997.

All these goodies, plus the loony lavishness of Besson's conception of the future, kept me amused through most of the film. And yet at the heart of the movie, something feels terribly off. The trouble is that for all its Hollywood grandiosity, this isn't really an American movie. It's a European copy of an American movie.

Although the producers are trumpeting the digital effects, The Fifth Element looks unintentionally cheap and tatty. Next to movies like "Batman," "Brazil," or "Bladerunner," it seems like a big slab of Euro-cheese.

Worst still, the movie lacks the giddy snap of American pop culture. Pictures like "Star Wars" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark" jack us up with their energy and carry us along almost bodily. They hit everything: jokes; stunts; sentimental high notes right on the emotional button. They're as precisely tooled as the locks at Fort Knox.

Besson's cockeyed film is not. It's slow, digressive, and strangely bloated. So caveat emptor all you fans of Bruce Willis and exploding high-rises. The Fifth Element is being marketed as a big summer blockbuster, but it's essentially a jokey little art film with a case of elephantiasis.

GROSS: Jon Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Dateline: Jon Powers; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Film critic Jon Powers reviews "The Fifth Element," the futuristic film starring Bruce Willis.
Spec: Movie Industry; Science; The Fifth Element
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: The Fifth Element
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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