Weekly Review — June 4, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Tension in Turkey, storm-chasing tragedy in Oklahoma, and auf Wiedersehen to Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

Cupid (July 1876)In Istanbul’s Taksim Square, police fired water cannons and tear-gas canisters at demonstrators protesting plans by the government of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convert the last major public green space in the city into replica Ottoman-era army barracks. More than 1,000 people were injured and more than 1,700 arrested as tens of thousands joined in protests in at least 67 cities over the weekend, fueled by discontent over what critics described as Erdogan’s increasingly repressive and antisecularist rule. “For the past year,” said an Istanbul shopkeeper, “it has felt like I run a shelter for gas-raid victims.” Erdogan proposed to construct a mosque in Taksim Square, one man was killed by police gunfire and another by a taxi, volunteers offered free meatballs to anyone who helped clean up, CNN Türk aired the penguin documentary Spy in the Huddle, and Syria warned its citizens against traveling to Turkey. “We call upon Erdogan to show wisdom,” said Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Russia criticized the European Union for allowing its embargo on arms sales to Syria to expire, thereby leaving member states free to arm opposition forces, and prepared to ship an S-300 missile-defense system to the Syrian government. “We think this delivery is a stabilizing factor,” said Russia’s deputy foreign minister, “and that such steps in many ways restrain some hotheads.” The primary Syrian opposition coalition announced that it would boycott a proposed U.N. peace conference amid arguments over procedural matters, opposition forces clashed with Hezbollah inside Lebanon, and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad warned that the fighting might spread to the Golan Heights region of Israel.[11][12][13][14][15] Yiddish scholars objected to the final round of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was won by a 13-year-old from Queens, New York, who spelled the name of a traditional type of dumpling “k-n-a-i-d-e-l” in accordance with Webster’s Third New International Dictionary rather than their preferred spelling, “k-n-e-y-d-l.” “K-n-a-d-e-l,” said a Yiddish speaker at a Bronx seniors center. “K-n-a-w-d-l-e,” said a man at a nearby table. “There’s no real spelling of the word,” said the owner of a Manhattan deli that sells T-shirts reading “kneidel.”[16]

Twelve days after a tornado killed 24 people in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, the region was again hit by tornados and flash floods, this time killing 18, including three professional storm chasers. “Oklahoma is considered the Mecca of storm chasing,” said Tim Samaras in an interview conducted just prior to his death. “We know ahead of time when we chase in Oklahoma, there’s going to be a traffic jam.”[17][18][19] Torrential rain forced the evacuation of thousands of homes in Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany, and the first German census since the country’s 1990 reunification revealed that it has 1.5 million fewer people than previously believed.[20][21] A Texas veteran accused of sending letters laced with ricin to U.S. president Barack Obama, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Bloomberg’s gun-control lobbying group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, reportedly told police he was being framed by his estranged wife.[22][23] The U.S. Army began court-martial proceedings against Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst accused of providing 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks in the knowledge that Al Qaeda would be able to access them, and Moktar Belmoktar, who planned the January attack on a gas plant near Amenas, Algeria, was revealed to have left Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb after receiving a letter from his superiors admonishing him for “backbiting, name-calling, and sneering” and enumerating 30 other complaints against him. “We ask our good brother,” they wrote, “why do you only turn on your phone with the emirate when you need it?”[24][25][26][27] Members of the far-right English Defense League were chased through the streets of London by women dressed as badgers.[28]

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At least 119 workers were killed in a series of fires and explosions at a poultry plant in Mishazi, China; Australia confirmed that Chinese hackers had stolen the schematics for its new $600 million spy headquarters; and a species of florescent pink slugs was discovered on Australia’s Mount Kaputar. “People tend to focus on the cute and cuddly bird and mammal species,” said a park ranger. “I’m a big believer in invertebrates.”[29][30][31] In Albuquerque, a drunk driver who crashed his SUV while having sex was discovered behind a cactus with his shorts inside out.[32] Federal prosecutors revealed that a client of an online currency exchange accused of laundering over $6 billion had registered under the username Russia Hackers, and that an undercover agent had successfully created an account under the name Joe Bogus for the purpose of “cocaine.”[33] Washington State police were desensitizing drug-sniffing dogs to marijuana, Florida authorities lassoed and tasered an escaped llama named Scooter, and police in Madras detained three goats accused of vandalizing a patrol vehicle, while nine goats remained at large.[34][35][36] A change to a state law eliminated the longest word in the German language, Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (beef labeling monitoring assessment assignment law), and the word galocher was added to the Petit Robert dictionary, formally giving the French a verb for French kissing. “It never stopped us,” said a Robert employee, “from doing it.”[37][38]

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This Is Running for Your Life: Essays

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Combustion Engines·

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On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people.

Rice Ridge was what is known as a mega-fire, a recently coined term for blazes that cover more than 100,000 acres. The West has always known forest fires, of course, but for much of the past century, they rarely got any bigger than 10,000 acres. No more. In 1988, a 250,000-acre anomaly, Canyon Creek, burned for months, roaring across a forty-mile stretch of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness in a single night. A few decades on, that anomaly is becoming the norm. Rice Ridge, for its part, swept through 160,000 acres.

At this scale, the firefighting operation is run by an incident management team, a group of about thirty specialists drawn from a mix of state and federal agencies and trained in fields ranging from aviation to weather forecasting and accounting to public information. The management teams are ranked according to experience and ability, from type 3 (the least skilled) to type 1 (the most). The fiercest fires are assigned to type 1s. Teams take the name of their incident commander, the field general, and some of those names become recognizable, even illustrious, in the wildfire-fighting community. One such name is that of Greg Poncin, who is to fire commanders what Wyatt Earp was to federal marshals.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak fire (detail) © Laura Verhaeghe
Rebirth of a Nation·

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Donald Trump’s presidency signals a profound but inchoate realignment of American politics. On the one hand, his administration may represent the consolidation of minority control by a Republican-dominated Senate under the leadership of a president who came to office after losing the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. Such an imbalance of power could lead to a second civil war—indeed, the nation’s first and only great fraternal conflagration was sparked off in part for precisely this reason. On the other hand, Trump’s reign may be merely an interregnum, in which the old white power structure of the Republican Party is dying and a new oppositional coalition struggles to be born.

Illustration by Taylor Callery (detail)
Blood Money·

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Over the past three years, the city of South Tucson, Arizona, a largely Latino enclave nestled inside metropolitan Tucson, came close to abolishing its fire and police departments. It did sell off the library and cut back fire-truck crews from four to three people—whereupon two thirds of the fire department quit—and slashed the police force to just sixteen employees. “We’re a small city, just one square mile, surrounded by a larger city,” the finance director, Lourdes Aguirre, explained to me. “We have small-town dollars and big-city problems.”

Illustration by John Ritter (detail)
The Tragedy of Ted Cruz·

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When I saw Ted Cruz speak, in early August, it was at Underwood’s Cafeteria in Brownwood. He was on a weeklong swing through rural central Texas, hitting small towns and military bases that ensured him friendly, if not always entirely enthusiastic, crowds. In Brownwood, some in the audience of two hundred were still nibbling on peach cobbler as Cruz began with an anecdote about his win in a charity basketball game against ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. They rewarded him with smug chuckles when he pointed out that “Hollywood celebrities” would be hurting over the defeat “for the next fifty years.” His pitch for votes was still an off-the-rack Tea Party platform, complete with warnings about the menace of creeping progressivism, delivered at a slightly mechanical pace but with lots of punch. The woman next to me remarked, “This is the fire in the gut! Like he had the first time!” referring to Cruz’s successful long-shot run in the 2011 Texas Republican Senate primary. And it’s true—the speech was exactly like one Cruz would have delivered in 2011, right down to one specific detail: he never mentioned Donald Trump by name.

Cruz recited almost verbatim the same things Trump lists as the administration’s accomplishments: the new tax legislation, reduced African-American unemployment, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. But, in a mirror image of those in the #Resistance who refuse to ennoble Trump with the title “president,” Cruz only called him that.

Photograph of Ted Cruz © Ben Helton (detail)
Wrong Object·

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e is a nondescript man.

I’d never used that adjective about a client. Not until this one. My seventeenth. He’d requested an evening time and came Tuesdays at six-thirty. For months he didn’t tell me what he did.

The first session I said what I often said to begin: How can I help you?

I still think of what I do as a helping profession. And I liked the way the phrase echoed down my years; in my first job I’d been a salesgirl at a department store counter.

I want to work on my marriage, he said. I’m the problem.

His complaint was familiar. But I preferred a self-critical patient to a blamer.

It’s me, he said. My wife is a thoroughly good person.

Yawn, I thought, but said, Tell me more.

I don’t feel what I should for her.

What do you feel?

Photograph © Joseph S. Giacalone (detail)

Average life span, in years, of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon:


Researchers in California succeeded in teaching genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to communicate using a new chemical “language”; the research aims at turning cells into tiny robots.

Theresa May’s Brexit proposal was rejected; Trump suggested raking to prevent forest fires; Jair Bolsonaro insulted Cuban doctors working in Brazil

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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