Weekly Review — April 25, 2018, 6:40 pm

Weekly Review

A naked man kills four people at a Waffle House, a wildfire spreads across Oklahoma, and NASA launches a satellite to search for new planets

In a Waffle House parking lot in Nashville, Tennessee, a man who was described by a witness as “naked except for a jacket” exited his vehicle and began firing an assault rifle, killing four people and wounding at least seven.[1][2] Nashville’s mayor called for stricter gun-control laws, and Tennessee lawmakers voted to cut $250,000 from their budget for Memphis because the city removed Confederate monuments. “Bad actions,” said a state lawmaker, lead to “bad consequences.”[3][4] A three-judge panel stopped the Justice Department from withholding money from sanctuary cities, saying the department wrongly used “the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement”; the US Supreme Court said that a federal law allowing the government to deport noncitizens who are found guilty of committing a “crime of violence” was too vague; and it was reported that since October, more than 700 children at the US border have been separated from adults claiming to be their parents.[5][6][7] Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state and the former head of the White House’s voter fraud commission, was held in contempt of court for not following an order to register voters.[8]

The Democratic National Committee filed suit against Russia, WikiLeaks, and US president Donald Trump, accusing the three parties of colluding with one another to help Trump win the 2016 election; former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani joined Trump’s legal team and said he hoped to end a special counsel investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia in “maybe a couple of weeks”; US attorney general Jeff Sessions reportedly told the White House that he would resign if Trump fired the deputy attorney general, who is overseeing the special counsel investigation; and declassified memos written by former FBI director James Comey, whom Trump fired, revealed that Trump believed one of his former national security advisers, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia, had “judgment issues.”[9][10][11][12] South Korea said that upcoming talks with North Korea may lead to a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War; and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that his country will stop testing its nuclear weapons.[13][14] NASA launched a planet-hunting satellite.[15]

A fan blade in the engine of a Southwest Airlines plane broke off midflight and sliced open the cabin, killing one passenger.[16] Researchers announced that climate change caused the collapse of 29 percent of reefs off the coast of Australia.[17] A wildfire in Oklahoma spread to more than 283,000 acres of land and produced 70-foot flame walls.[18] A Washington, D.C., lawmaker who claimed that a rich Jewish family controlled the weather ignored a reporter’s question about why he ended his visit to the Holocaust museum early; and, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the German music industry’s award for best hip-hop album was given to a duo who have rapped about being “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners” and created a video in which a London banker creates evil in the world while wearing a Star of David.[19][20] It was reported that bull sharks are mating closer to the shore.[21]

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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
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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.

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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.”

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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)
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H

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?

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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.

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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)

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