Astronomical Clock, Prague
Bohemian Master c. 1414
The Pentecost (detail)
I’ve been obsessed with systems in government, and in business, that completely erase our humanity. That could mean an algorithm on Facebook that’s designed to prevent nudity but unwittingly bans one of those most powerful images from the Vietnam War. It means the lengths we’ll go to pretend that our phones are not built from slave labor. Or it could mean the layers of bureaucracy built into a company that allows its owner, now one of the President’s top advisers, to target and harass low-income tenants without sullying his own hands in the process.
We use processes, and algorithms, and complicated org charts to isolate ourselves from those who we hurt. And the system was designed so that we can point the finger at the system when it fails.
As you’ll see in the below must-watch video from Jay Caspian Kang and Vice News, the willful dismissal of our own humanity and common sense lies at the core of U.S. immigration policy.
In many cases, the main excuse for cruelty is that empathy doesn’t scale. How can one create a fair, sensible policy if every heartbreaking story had to be considered on its own merits? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s certainly not blindly deporting a 41-year-old man who was, if not for a minor paperwork screwup, an American citizen.
It’s worth noting this is a case that started during the Obama Administration — and offers further evidence of Obama’s mixed record on immigration. That record is now being overshadowed by President Trump, who is pledging to take these inhumane policies even farther.
Shadows cast by buildings affect the feel and flow of a city, and lack of sunlight can change aspects of daily living, such as rent. In a place like New York City, where there are tall buildings aplenty, the effects are obvious. Quoctrung Bui and Jeremy White for The New York Times mapped the darkness.
The results are based on research from the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University:
Calculating the length and shape of a shadow cast from a simple object can be easily done with pen, paper and some basic math. But architects use a more sophisticated method known as ray tracing; it simulates the effects a ray of light can have on a building and its surroundings. Most analyses of shadows study just a few buildings at a time. What made it an interesting problem for the researchers at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University was how to do it at a scale so you could quickly study whole neighborhoods.
NEWS BRIEF German politicians and lawyers demanded answers Thursday as to why Jaber al-Akbar, the suspect in a plot to bomb a Berlin airport, was able to hang himself to death inside his jail cell.
Police had searched for al-Bakr all weekend, and he was finally captured and turned in by three compatriots, who like al-Bakr were also Syrians who’d recently come to Germany. Al-Bakr was taken to a cell in Leipzig, where he was placed on suicide watch, but was somehow still able to kill himself. His death is a blow to investigators who’d hoped to interrogate him and learn more about his alleged plot to bomb an airport, and if he was instructed to do so by the Islamic State.
When al-Bakr first arrived at the jail, guards checked on him every 15 minutes. That was downgraded to 30 minutes despite no video monitoring of his cell, and even after he was found to have tampered with power sockets, had broken light bulbs, and refused to eat, the BBC reported. A guard found al-Bakr’s body at about 7:45 p.m. local time on Wednesday.
“I’m incredibly shocked and absolutely speechless that something like this could happen,” Hübner said, adding that the prison was aware that Albakr’s risk of suicide had been noted in the log.
Al-Bakr came to Germany from Syria in February 2015. In recent months, he’d come under surveillance by German authorities, and on Friday they raided his home in Chemnitz, where they found explosive material. But al-Bakr had escaped. Police alerted the public and for two days over the weekend they searched for him. Then on Monday morning, a Syrian man showed up at a police station with a cell phone picture of al-Bakr bound in the man’s apartment.
The explosive material officers found at al-Bakr’s home in Chemnitz was the same type used in bombings in Paris and Brussels that killed hundreds of people. Those attacks were claimed by the Islamic State, and if al-Bakr was connected to ISIS, he could have provided crucial information about how the terrorist organization plans attacks on European soil, and how it recruits young men.
This now feels like a David Eggers novel.
Earlier today we wrote about a Reddit thread that was allegedly created by Paul Combetta, the "Oh Shit" guy of Platte River Networks, seeking tech advice on how to "strip out a VIP's (VERY VIP) email address from a bunch of archived emails" (see details here: "Dear FBI, This Is Intent: Hillary's "Oh Shit" Guy Sought Reddit Advice On How To 'Strip VIP's Emails'").
"Ironically," the day before the Reddit thread appeared, the Benghazi Committee reached an agreement with the State Department on the production of email and other records related to their investigation. How weird, right?
Well, it seems as though the Reddit thread is getting some attention on Capitol Hill as well. Earlier, Mark Meadows (R-NC), Chair of the Government Operations subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, told The Hill that committee staff are reviewing the Reddit thread and find the "date of the Reddit post in relationship to the establishment of the Select Committee on Benghazi [to be] troubling."
“The Reddit post issue and its connection to Paul Combetta is currently being reviewed by OGR staff and evaluations are being made as to the authenticity of the post.”
“If it is determined that the request to change email addresses was made by someone so closely aligned with the Secretary's IT operation as Mr. Combetta, then it will certainly prompt additional inquiry. The date of the Reddit post in relationship to the establishment of the Select Committee on Benghazi is also troubling.”
Of course, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the "Oh Shit" guy was granted immunity by the DOJ for cooperating with the FBI's investigation into Hillary's email scandal (see "The "Oh Shit" Guy That Wiped Hillary's Server With BleachBit Was Just Granted Immunity").
Therefore, the only question left to answer is what recourse, if any, Congress and/or the FBI has to nullify Combetta's immunity agreement with the DOJ if he is found to have withheld information and/or committed perjury while being questioned by federal agents?
One woman struck her thyrsus against a rock and a fountain of cool water burbled up. Another drove her fennel in the ground, and where it struck the earth, a spring of wine poured out. Those who wanted milk scratched at the soil with bare fingers.
– Euripides, The Bacchae
THE FIRST EPISODE
The maenad prefers the Cat Food Cafe because the chilli pepper lanterns make her feel at home and the busboy is not bad looking. He slips her bowls of hand-cut tortilla chips while she sits outside with her coffee and Mexican blanket. This week she reads Death in Venice, which is a story filled with so much sun that when she lowers the book to find the boy, sand pours from the spine. If the maenad drops one grain of sand onto this pile every second, it will continue to form a cone because the grains trigger miniature avalanches and the less-secure sand slips to the side or foundation. Like capitalism, she thinks. The busboy approaches with a pot of coffee. She brushes the sand onto her lap.
Nice dress, he says.
She smiles because boys never know the names of clothes. She is wearing a 70s buckskin studded hippie vest-jacket with a leather fringe, which she found on Etsy. The tassels begin just under her shoulder blades; she feels like a stingray.
He stares at her crotch while he pours her coffee. She feels self-conscious because everyone else in California has had more time to tan their legs. Both his forearms are tattooed – the left with a volcano, the right with a two-masted schooner. The maenad knows about schooners because when she was younger she read the diaries of George Vancouver and Archibald Menzies and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra.
Can you sail? she asks.
She lifts a rattlesnake from her purse and winds it through the belt loops of her shorts.
The maenad prefers to read at the cafe because when she works from home she has to go to the kitchen every time her coffee runs out, and every time she goes to the kitchen she has to eat something while the kettle boils, but only pieces of things, like banana chips, half a yogurt, hard breadsticks dipped in honey. Sometimes her roommate, Jolene, practices sun salutations in front of the fridge. She fills her chest with breath then folds forward, lunges, hovers in plank, cobra, downward dog, back to standing. With each salutation, she inches off her yoga mat until she ends up in the middle of the kitchen floor. It reminds the maenad of a millipede, advancing only by the length of her spine.
Tibetan pilgrims climb Mt. Kailash like this, says Jolene as she pushes a chair out of her way. These peripatetic salutations free practitioners from the constraint of the mat.
Cool, says the maenad. I’m going to order pizza if you want one.
In the garden, the fawn kneels under the bird bath and chews his cud. His mother was eaten by a coyote, so the maenad does her best to provide for him. The first time she nursed the fawn at the cafe, a woman complained and they put up signs reading: sorry – no breastfeeding. The busboy shrugged as he taped the sign to the door of the patio. She shrugged back and pointed to her breast pump. Horror passed over his face like he’d stepped on a link of dog shit. The maenad wedged the funnel over her nipple and started pumping. On the collection bottle, she stuck a Post-it that said you sucked one too, and in smaller print, or if you didn’t you probably got ear infections.
THE SECOND EPISODE
She feels self-conscious when she drinks alcohol, because her mother told her red-wine teeth are hereditary, and she fears other effects are hereditary too, like falling asleep in the bathtub, or singing ‘Good King Wenceslas’. Every Christmas, Uncle Dionysus sings‘Good King Wenceslas’ from the head of the table, and when the bottles empty, he offers the stash of blackberry wine he brews downstairs. Her other aunts and uncles exchange glances, and new bottles appear from the liquor store, as if by magic, so Uncle Dionysus doesn’t open his home-brewed wine until Christmas finishes and the family has left. It saddens the maenad to know everyone hates her uncle’s wine. When she visits she asks for a bottle to take home. Growing up, she picked the blackberries. The brambles snagged her hands, but she licked it all off anyway. The wine kit smelled like old books, she loved the brown, medicinal bottles, she loved wading into cold seawater, rinsing her sore hands with salt.
THE THIRD EPISODE
She tried to live with a boy once. He worked as a set decorator in Vancouver and his most recent project was a government commercial for Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. He made an animation with beet-top trees, a cantaloupe hot-air balloon, snap pea surfboard, waves of red cabbage and a carrot sun that sank into a disc of lunar cucumber. Together they peeled the thinning carpet, which the last tenant hadn’t even vacuumed, and ordered cork tiles from an independent retailer offering a 50 per cent discount and free delivery, and she imagined the renovations would be as bright as the vegetable ad – the sun rising, breeze in their hair, cork tiles filling the living room before lunchtime. The tiles never appeared; the independent retailer had gone bankrupt or never existed in the first place, that wasn’t clear, all that was clear was they wouldn’t be getting their $800 back. Meanwhile, they had ripped the first carpet in the process of peeling it back, which was bad luck because their lease had a clause against redecoration that neither of them had noticed. They couldn’t afford a replacement, so they filled the living room with picnic blankets and towels.
The blankets were comfortable; the maenad and the boy sat side by side and ate two-for-one pizzas. The landlord evicted them two weeks later. Then the boy boarded a Greyhound bus to his family in London, Ontario, and the maenad boarded a perpendicular bus to UC San Diego where Jolene was doing an MFA. The maenad and boy still exchange letters, and Jolene acts extra cheerful when an airmail envelope appears through the slot. For example, today she greets the maenad at the door and says, I am making a Buddha bowl for dinner, do you want one?
The maenad slides her gaze to the pile of mail on the breakfast bar. Sure. How was your day?
Eight out of ten.
The maenad fishes the blue-and-red-striped envelope from under a stack of bills. Inside is a postcard of Carmen Sandiego in her red trench, a yellow-ribboned fedora tugged over her eyes.
I don’t get it, says the maenad. Is he Carmen Sandiego or am I?
Jolene withdraws to the sink and rinses the quinoa.
Has he moved somewhere? Am I supposed to guess where he is?
She reads the reverse, which is written in feminine handwriting.
Thank you for your recent donation. We appreciate you thinking of us during the festive season.
The maenad frowns. She checks the return address. Jolene presents a bowl of avocado, yellow beets, sweet potato and quinoa with tahini dressing.
THE FOURTH EPISODE
There is another boy she thinks about, but the left side of her brain knows he’s a shit. He is a folk singer with an elephant tattooed on his chest, which isn’t itself undesirable, but she can tell he is one of those men in their twenties who thinks his misogyny is excused because he hates all people, not just women, and that as a songwriter he has superior insight into the human condition. He wrote a song that began, come here and take off your clothes, which he plagiarized from a poetry blog. Often, when they return from a gig, he says he’s too tired to fuck but he won’t fall asleep if she doesn’t give him a blow job. Blow jobs have never been her favourite feature of sex. It’s not the act itself, but with some partners she finds it demeaning, and she gets annoyed when they assume she thinks it’s unclean, which she doesn’t, but she can think of nicer things to put in her mouth. Not to mention her knees bruise easily, and she never feels confident enough to commit to the gesture – to really stick with it for a while, and shit was that her teeth? She asked Jolene what she thinks about, does she have any tips? Jolene said: I count. It should take between one hundred and fifty to one hundred and seventy five strokes. Two hundred if he’s masturbated that day. The maenad didn’t realize she should count.
THE FIFTH EPISODE
Today Reuben drops by while she sits outside in the garden and draws honey from the earth with the stalk of fennel she has wound with ivy.
I’ve always thought you had penis envy, he says from behind her.
She drips honey from the pinecone that crowns her stalk of fennel. She is thinking about the fawn, who has not returned for a few days. She hopes he’s okay. She could not handle a FernGully situation. She feels drawn to deer as her friends feel drawn to babies at bus stops or cafes, moms in sonic-blue jogging tights. Her friends crouch at strollers and say hello you, hi you, searching the babies’ nearsighted eyes for recognition, beaming at the mothers to say well done, you did it, mine would be cuter. Faces change around babies, but how they change depends on the mom. There’s the woman in sonic-blue jogging tights or a fashionably oversized black shirt, a beagle leashed to her wrist, clutching a cappuccino and a shaggy croissant. But what about the woman driving her stroller through hordes on the bus. She wears white sweatpants, a pink top that inches above her full belly. The tattoo on her hip says lil angel. Some people make room for this woman on the bus, but they don’t beam at her magnificent belly or coo at her children. They avert their eyes. The maenad’s friend Sofía feels self-conscious when she leaves the house with baby Marcos because she’s Hispanic, and people treat her like a ward of the state unless she wears Marc Jacobs sunglasses. This distinction – between young mother and single mother, and how our faces change when we watch babies on buses, and how we feel when we leave the house – is everything the maenad hates. This is what she is thinking when Reuben crouches behind her – not about him, or what he is doing here, complimenting her shapely back. Does he mean her back or backside, she wonders. She is wearing a halter top.
He cups her butt cheeks and says I want to fuck you over the Gerbera daisy. For a moment she thinks, but could an asshole identify a Gerbera daisy?
His phone vibrates. He walks away to read the text message.
In the kitchen, Jolene listens to a podcast on the water shortage in São Paulo while she cooks. The climate scientist says it has not rained in São Paulo because industry has stripped the Amazon rainforest and the clouds of vapour that normally form flying rivers did not gather. The Amazon has been called the Earth’s lungs, and she wonders what happens when you replace the Earth’s lungs with cotton and soybean fields, and if she should stop eating tofu and meat-free hot dogs.
She and Jolene listen respectfully, as you do when you enter the kitchen while your roommate plays a solemn podcast. They loop around each other, gesturing for the salt or the fridge door in perfect wordlessness, like two lovers who do not speak the same language, or who do not require language at all.
Reuben slams the screen door.
Are you eating? he asks.
Jolene glances at him with well-concealed irritation and nudges the spacebar with her elbow. The podcast pauses. The maenad’s principal problem is that Reuben is beautiful. Never has someone so beautiful wanted to bend her over the Gerbera daisy, and it is an experience she clings to, though the left side of her brain says it makes her a poor feminist. If his look were to be summarized in a pithy epithet, it would be Swedish nihilist post-shampoo. He wears ear gauges and often just a tank top. If he could manage to grow facial hair he would be approaching Ben Dahlhaus a.k.a the Swedish Brad Pitt.
I have some mushroom pâté, the maenad says. Bruschetta?
He squints slightly. What are you making? he asks Jolene.
She is chopping an entire head of cabbage.
Kimchi, she says.
What Reuben does not know is that fermented foods signal a woman is combatting or preventing a yeast infection/rebalancing their gut flora. The maenad feels smug in this secret language, which proves that though Reuben is beautiful, he is excluded from their inner cistern of communication.
She touches the small of Jolene’s back to indicate she understands.
I have some kefir in the fridge.
Jolene’s eyebrows edge together, puzzled, but she smiles quickly and crushes a clove of garlic with her palm.
Reuben’s cellphone buzzes on the breakfast bar with a text message from someone named Olivia.
The maenad pretends she didn’t see. Reuben pretends he didn’t see her see.
Gotta bounce, he says. Impromptu jam with the boys.
She avoids his eyes and opens her food cupboard, though she doesn’t feel hungry.
THE SIXTH EPISODE
She was right: Jolene is rebalancing her gut flora. For this reason, she will drink green tea boosters instead of blackberry wine. Such virtuous decision-making is the opposite of what the maenad needs right now, while Reuben plays at a rancho party near Black Mountain, to which she was invited, but Olivia will be there, and if she goes she requires backup, and Jolene wants to stay in. They light Nag Champa incense and sit on the Moroccan floor cushions they bought instead of a couch. Though she normally finds comfort in their living room, tonight it feels like a poorly attended party from the 1970s – all the barefoot women with center parts gone to find better drugs. She pours her uncle’s wine, and Jolene clinks glasses with her. They listen to Modest Mouse, which the maenad only discovered seven years ago because when The Moon & Antarctica came out she was somewhere between Alanis Morissette and Britney Spears, which is a fact no one will admit to, but she knows she was not the only one.
She tells Jolene about the text message from Olivia. Jolene rubs her shoulder and says, are you okay? Can I make you a Buddha bowl?
No thank you.
How about raw gingerbread truffles?
I have gummy bears.
Like so many girls in California, Jolene looks born of the beach, as if twenty-nine years ago she climbed from an abalone shell with salt in her eyelashes, her eyes nacreous green. You’d figure she must bleach her hair, but really she has just wafted between sun and swimming pools her whole life. Instead of a headband, she ties a rayon scarf around her temples. The maenad gets lost in how smooth her forehead is, maybe because she smiles all the time. In love, Jolene has been sentimentalized because of her name, though she could not be further from the rain-singed girl in Spokane, folded in the pocket of Ray Lamontagne’s blue jeans.
In the maenad’s experience, your life can go two ways if you are born beautiful. One way is when beauty dominates how you define yourself – you will attract partners who desire beauty above all, and you will be cagey with those who aspire to other greatnesses, and others will interpret your behaviour as contempt, they will dismiss you as a mega-bitch, which hardens you – first on the inside, then on the out. The second way is when you are impervious or resentful of your beauty. Perhaps you didn’t like girls your age because you preferred to race go-karts with your brother’s friends, perhaps your brother called you stink face or scrotum breath, so you figured you must not be beautiful at all, or how you looked was irrelevant, what was important was knowing where to sock boys so they shut up but won’t permanently scar. Beauty has convicted many of the maenad’s sisters – coupled with virginity, it is a virtue, but with libido or intoxication, beauty proves a woman’s wickedness. See the witch trials, see Jeanne d’Arc, see vases painted by Greeks and Romans of god-drunk celebrants who give suck to fawns and wolf cubs, who rip the horns from a bull’s head and open its pectorals with their dirty hands. Last year she saw a university production of The Bacchae and the maenads were cast as bronze-bummed lesbians who wore suede bikinis and kissed each other with open mouths, breasts bent to the moon, eyes clenched with rapture. How else to describe unbroken women? They are feral and fucking.
I didn’t realize you and Reuben were exclusive, says Jolene.
The maenad looks up from her wine with surprise. She had forgotten herself. She had forgotten Jolene and the Moroccan floor cushions.
Jolene’s eyebrows rise before she can help it. She doesn’t say, oh, or what’s the problem then. She refills the maenad’s wine and pours more green tea from her carafe. A round of lemon flops into the glass and sloshes tea on the rug.
THE SEVENTH EPISODE
That night, outside her window, the deer look like gods to her. They drift over sidewalks and boulevards, bowing now and then to ruffle the grass clippings with their noses. She first found the fawn on a night like this. She and Reuben had eaten a bowl of hazelnuts for dinner because that’s all he had in the house, and then they had sex in the living room even though his roommate was home, which she didn’t realize until she walked naked to the bathroom and heard him Skyping his girlfriend. She returned to the living room, and Reuben said, what are your plans now? even though it was 3 a.m., so her plans were to sleep, with him, in his bed. He said, actually I have an early morning. As she walked home, new shoes in hand because her heels were bleeding, she found the fawn’s mother unzipped on the road. Her globular eyes gazed at the maenad’s toenails, four legs still muscled and clean like she might stagger up and whistle down the road with a phew, close one. The only disfigurement was the red basin gnawed into her gut, her intestine unspooling on the sidewalk. The fawn mewed from the lawn, eyeing the maenad for an explanation. So when he followed her down the street, through her gate, into her backyard, she left him a bowl of water.
She is not sure how she drank an entire bottle of wine already, but that is the situation. She falls asleep thinking about the fawn – his loneliness, whether deer experience grief like humans do. At 2 a.m. she wakes with her forehead squeezed between the wall and flank of her mattress. The pressure soothes her pounding temples. When she frees her head from the crack, the blood flushes her brain in a seasick wave.
THE EIGHTH EPISODE
There is a suburb called Black Mountain Ranch, but that’s not where Reuben’s gig is. The party is two kilometres down a road lined with serrated shrubs that scrape her legs when she passes. She sees no rancho to speak of, if rancho implies a house, but people have gathered around the labial opening of a rock. Inside the cave, a bartender deals bottles of Pacifico and Modelo Especial. She sees Reuben straight away. He leans over a girl she recognizes as Olivia, wearing a crochet halter top that shows the sides of her breasts and pierced belly button. The maenad jostles a path into the cave and orders a shot of tequila. All the guests squeeze toward the beer coolers and DJ, who plays a synthesized beat that swells in the cracked earth above them and threatens to chip the rock. She inhales the hot scent of lime from the bar, bumps from shoulder to shoulder, her sandals stirring the mud with every step, the dust wet with spilled beer. A white cloth drapes the DJ table, the fabric blotted with the oils they carry, which rise off their bodies and cling to the rock. The bartender presents her shot and she licks salt off her wrist and tosses the liquid down her throat and wedges lime into her mouth. She pushes her way back outside the cave where Reuben pins Olivia against the rock with his mouth.
Hi, says the maenad.
They both turn.
My belly button is also pierced, she says to Olivia, whose eyes are green like sludgy newts. But I haven’t worn my piercing in a decade.
Who are you? says Olivia.
Are you drunk? says Reuben.
Aren’t you? says the maenad.
At that moment, the beat mounts to its crescendo; the rock pulses. She articulates the sound with her torso. Her wrists swing around her head and one of them hits Reuben’s chin. The sharp stone on her ring lacerates his jaw. She shuts her eyes. Her knuckle socks something hard. She socks it again. A fist knocks her shoulder. She slams back. She feels the wildness enter her and keeps her eyes shut. She does not need her eyes. Fingers hook around her collar. She latches onto a flag of slippery fabric. She wills her uncle to appear, wills him to come as a bull or serpent or fire-breathing lion. A button spits from her shirt into the air. Her blouse gapes and cool air funnels between her breasts. She opens her eyes and sees the wire that joins her bra cups. She catches Reuben’s hand in her fist and plants her foot on his hip and tears the shirt off his chest.
THE NINTH EPISODE
The next morning, she lies outside on Jolene’s yoga mat with a pitcher of cold green tea. The pain throbs behind her eye sockets like a second, slower heartbeat. She is gathering the will to stand, to salute the sun like her roommate. Jolene says she hasn’t felt hungover since she started yoga.
The maenad rolls onto her hands and knees, then tips back onto her feet, heels pressing into the soft recycled rubber as she straightens her legs. At the top, she clasps her hands and spears her arms upward, offering her chest to the sky. The motion makes her want to throw up, so she hinges forward, strains to touch her toes. From here, she lowers herself into a sinking plank, and can’t remember what to do next – does she arch her back again? Upward dog? She gives it a go. This bend is nicer, she feels the stretch in the tops of her feet. Then she presses up. Her buttocks push the air. Dog-bounds-downward-from-collapsing-tent-pose.
She is surprised she does not want to phone Reuben. She wants to phone the boy she used to live with, instead. Last she heard, he managed the bakery of a supermarket. After the Carmen Sandiego card, she sent him an email that said, This better not mean you got our deposit back and have kept it all to yourself. By the way, I hear they need set decorators in L.A. You could leave your Los Feliz apartment at 10 a.m. and meet me for a late lunch. The boy responded to her email with a bumper sticker that said, California is for Commies, the C in California replaced with a hammer and sickle. She hopes that means he’ll think about it.
Upside-down, she spots the wet nose of the fawn in the daisy bed. His front legs spring onto the bird bath, his muscular tongue lapping the water. She watches him between her hands, sweat prickling her neck, the fawn on two limbs, she on four. It feels okay, this trade, biped to quadruped. She doesn’t mind the clumsiness, the blood rushing her frontal vein, the dirt in her fingernails. Her collapsing tent sits half-on, half-off the yoga mat. Milk seeps into the holes her fingers have dug in the soil. A snake circles her hips. He dabs her sweat with his tongue.
Painting by John Collier, ‘Maenads’ (1886)
Parliament Hill by Shawn Kent
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Chicago, Illinois, USA
The Caterpillar Club is an international association of people who have saved their lives by using a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. It was founded in 1922 by Leslie Irvin, inventor of the first free-fall parachute. The name pays tribute to the silkworm, whose contribution made the canopies possible; the club’s motto is “Life depends on a silken thread.” Famous members include Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and John Glenn.
The Goldfish Club accepts people who have escaped an aircraft by parachuting into water, or who have crashed into water and survived by using a life jacket or other device. The club’s stated goal is “to keep alive the spirit of comradeship arising from the mutual experience of members surviving ‘coming down in the drink’.” It was founded in November 1942 by a British manufacturer of air-sea rescue equipment. Gold reflects the value of life, and fish represent water. “Money, position or power cannot gain a man or woman entry to the exclusive circles of the Goldfish Club,” noted the Australian newspaper Burra Record in 1945. “To become a member one has to float about upon the sea for a considerable period with nothing but a Carley Rubber Float between one and a watery death.”
The Guinea Pig Club, above, was a social club for patients who had undergone experimental reconstructive plastic surgery, generally after receiving burns injuries in aircraft during World War II. It was founded in 1941 by New Zealand plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe and included patients and their surgeons and anaesthetists at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, Sussex. The surgical treatment of burns was in its infancy, and McIndoe wanted to make the patients’ lives as normal as he could. The club continued to meet for 60 years after the war; annual reunions continued until 2007. They had their own theme song, known as “The Guinea Pig Anthem”:
We are McIndoe’s army,
We are his Guinea Pigs.
With dermatomes and pedicles,
Glass eyes, false teeth and wigs.
And when we get our discharge
We’ll shout with all our might:
“Per ardua ad astra”
We’d rather drink than fight.
John Hunter runs the gas works,
Ross Tilley wields the knife.
And if they are not careful
They’ll have your flaming life.
So, Guinea Pigs, stand ready
For all your surgeon’s calls:
And if their hands aren’t steady
They’ll whip off both your ears.
We’ve had some mad Australians,
Some French, some Czechs, some Poles.
We’ve even had some Yankees,
God bless their precious souls.
While as for the Canadians –
Ah! That’s a different thing.
They couldn’t stand our accent
And built a separate Wing.
We are McIndoe’s army …
Energy independence, especially if you don’t particularly like the country you currently depend on, is a very strong motivator for the adoption of renewable energy. Ukraine has recently become a great case in point, after the announcement that it planned to turn part of the uninhabitable zone around the Chernobyl power plant into a large-scale solar farm.
Chernobyl, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of the world, cannot be used for much: farming is impossible, as are most other productive human activities. But there is a lot of sunshine in the area, which can be harvested and marketed using already existent power transmission infrastructure, according to Ukraine’s environment minister Ostap Semerak.
Initial plans envisage the installation of 4 MW in solar capacity in Chernobyl by the end of this year. Semerak said that two investment firms from the U.S. and four energy companies from Canada have already expressed interest in the project.
Solar power is a major part of Ukraine’s renewable ambitions. Last year, the government announced that over US$3 billion will be invested in the development of solar power farms by 2020, as part of efforts to achieve a portion of the 11% for renewables in the country’s energy mix. By the end of this year alone, Ukraine aims to have installed solar capacity of more than 570 MW. As of July 1 the total installed solar capacity in the country was 453 MW. Further plans are to have solar installed capacity of 1 GW, which will cost around $1.1 billion, according to preliminary estimates.
At the moment, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is Ukraine’s largest source of financing in general and is particularly willing to spend on renewable energy, but businesses are also interested in taking part in what can be safely called an energy overhaul.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia are continuing despite the ceasefire that followed the long months of violence in the eastern part of the country, and there are still outbreaks on both sides. These tensions have made it clear once and for all that the two neighbors have a very long way to go to restore their good relations.
In such a context, energy security is a really essential priority for Kiyv, which has over the years proved unable or unwilling to pay for Russian gas deliveries in a manner as timely as Gazprom would have liked. This led to a couple of “gas crises” that put under threat gas deliveries, not just to Ukraine, but to Europe as well.
Ukraine has the best motivation for turning to renewable energy and is working on incentives for the industry to make that happen sooner. It’s offering feed-in tariff premiums to local renewable energy suppliers, which has, according to industry insiders, led to a “new renaissance” in the local renewable energy sector.
As for Chernobyl, it’s always smart to make the best of what you have, and that’s especially true when what you have is a wasteland that cannot be used for literally anything else than harvesting solar energy at least in the next few hundred years.
When you have graphs to draw or statistical concepts to teach, you need your data and you need it now. You can look for a suitable dataset, or you can simulate a result, but that can be annoyingly tedious. DrawMyData by Robert Grant is a simple tool that lets you click an x-y plot to draw points, and then you can just download the the x-y coordinates as a CSV file.
Tools like this always seem kind of frivolous at first, but then you use it a few times and becomes indispensable. [via @albertocairo]
Detail from The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ca. 1562.
If two triangles ABC and abc are oriented so that lines Aa, Bb, and Cc meet at a point, then the pairs of corresponding sides (AB and ab; BC and bc; and AC and ac) will meet in three collinear points.
The converse is also true: If the pairs of corresponding sides intersect in three collinear points, then the lines joining corresponding vertices will meet in a point.
Herat dates back to the Avestan times and was traditionally known for its wine. The city has a number of historic sites. During the Middle Ages Herat became one of the important cities of Khorasan, as it was known as the Pearl of Khorasan.
Recent Iraqi military gains over the Islamic State have dried up oil revenues for the terrorist organization by up to 90 percent, according to a report by Iraqi News on Tuesday.
Security sources from the ministry of oil said ISIS had been smuggling at least 50 vehicles full of oil everyday from oilfields in Qayyarah and Najma. The two sites stand south of Mosul—the largest ISIS stronghold and the third largest city in Iraq by population.
But new offensives against the terrorist organization have reduced the smuggling rate to five vehicles a day. ISIS’ prices for the smuggled oil, which once stood above $6,000 a vehicle, have now been reduced to $2,000.
After ISIS lost control of the Alas and Hamrin oilfields near Tikrit last April, the group’s income declined by an additional $1 million every day.
Yesterday, news broke that ISIS fighters may have been responsible for the deaths of five people in an oilfield located in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk, though the organization has not yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attackers attempted to take down a gas compression station nearby as well, where they planted bombs after killing four guards. The fifth victim was an engineer working at Bas Hassan, a media report read, citing Iraqi and Kurdish sources.
Sources from the Kurdish military forces, the Peshmerga, said that the attack on the gas station was neutralized and that three of the four ISIS terrorists involved in the double hit were killed, one of them managing to blow himself up, causing explosions in oil storage tanks at Bas Hassan. The fourth terrorist escaped.
There have been suggestions that the attackers belonged to a sleeper cell based in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.
ISIS attacks on Kurdish territory have been more rare than elsewhere in Iraq. Yet, the terrorist group is now being driven out of some important strongholds by the Iraqi army (and by the Syrian forces in Syria), cutting its access to oil, on which it is no less dependent than both Baghdad and Erbil.
Just earlier this month, ISIS set five oilfields on fire near Mosul, one of the first major cities that fell to the terrorists back in 2014.
* * *
While on the face of it this is great news, we wonder what ISIS fighters will have to lose from increasing blowback as their cash-strapped leaders blame the infidel for their poverty?
For those investors that have relentlessly defended equity valuations, shunning hard data in favor of the Fed narrative that lower borrowing costs should move discount rates ever closer to 0% and equity valuations therefore ever closer to infinity, might we suggest you turn your heads now because Class 8 truck orders just dropped a huge dose of economic reality that you might want to promptly ignore.
For everyone else, July Class 8 trucks orders were, in a word, abysmal. According to ACT research, Class 8 truck orders for July came in at 10,500 which is down 57% YoY and 19% sequentially compared to June. July marked the 17th consecutive month of YoY declines and the lowest reading since February 2010. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that July orders were 77% lower than the peak shipping month recorded in October 2014.
According to comments made by Dan Ake, VP of Commercial Sales at research firm FTR, to the Wall Street Journal the industry was hit with “several significant order cancellations” which was described as “uncharacteristic” for this time of year. Dan added that the “high cancellations are likely the result of fleets placing large orders at the end of 2015, for delivery a year out.”
Steve Tam, VP at ACT Research, added that:
“Too many trucks [are] chasing too little freight. I think the trucking community had an expectation that [growth] was going to continue. But with 20/20 hindsight, that did not happen. Freight has been very flat for basically the last year. There is anecdotal signs that freight is improving very modestly, but I would liken it to treading water but still below surface at this point.”
As we noted last month in our post entitled, "Domestic Trade Is Disintegrating: Heavy Truck Orders Plunge To Lowest Since 2010," it's hard to fathom how the equity market can continue to shake off hard evidence of deteriorating domestic freight shipments. As can be seen below, data published by the Department of Transportation clearly shows that freight shipments in the United States peaked in December 2014 and have been on the decline since. Given the significant truck order cancellations in July clearly Class 8 truck OEMs don't foresee traffic improving at any point in the near future. That said, data doesn't really matter...until it does, of course.
Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government fire weapons during a battle with Islamic State fighters in Sirte, Libya, July 21. The force is mainly composed of brigades from Misrata, a port city about 250 km (155 miles) north west of Sirte. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
“Every honest researcher I know admits he’s just a professional amateur. He’s doing whatever he’s doing for the first time. That makes him an amateur. He has enough sense to know that he’s going to have a lot of trouble, so that makes him a professional.” — Charles F. Kettering
European officials who are at a loss for what to do with the Middle Eastern and African refugees pouring into Germany and Austria should recall Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Startling as it has been, the tidal wave of desperate and impoverished asylum-seekers who have been arriving in Western Europe is far from unprecedented. Millions of similar victims of violence who were made homeless by World War II paid the same compliment to the free part of the Old World in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Yet within a decade after World War II ended, this great humanitarian upheaval was over, the old continent was rapidly recovering from the catastrophe, and the great majority of the refugees were repatriated or resettled – myself included. The solution to the humanitarian crisis was a historic achievement that is largely attributable to President Harry S. Truman.
While war still raged in Europe and the Pacific, America got ready to help the displaced persons (or DPs, as they came to be known). In November 1943, at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s invitation, representatives of 44 nations met at the White House and established the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), an international agency to plan and coordinate “measures for the relief of victims of war.”
By the time the war ended in 1945, there were an estimated 20 million DPs roaming the European continent. They were a chaotic mix: Jewish survivors of concentration camps; German civilians fleeing their destroyed cities; freed Soviet Red Army prisoners of war; remnants of Ukrainian, Italian, and Hungarian troops who had fought alongside the Wehrmacht; and the countless slave laborers that the Nazis had rounded up in occupied countries and forced to work in armament factories and on huge fortifications along the French coast.
UNRRA was overwhelmed by the deluge of destitute refugees left behind by the advancing Allied armies and the collapsing German Wehrmacht. Though it had distributed $3.7 billion worth of clothing, food, medicine, and tools to the homeless victims of the war, the young organization was not well suited for the scale of need. From 1947 on, care for the DPs was turned over to the International Refugee Organization (IRO), a United Nations agency that was better financed and organized for the task, which grew to a monstrous size.
In the years after the war ended in Europe, UNRRA and IRO helped repatriate about 11 million uprooted people. Millions of refugees managed to return to their homes on their own. Others had no home – at least none that they could return to.
More than 600,000 liberated Jews were brought (legally and illegally) to Palestine by Zionist organizations, where in time they helped establish the state of Israel. Another 250,000 displaced Jews did not wish to go to Palestine. In 1945, they and roughly 600,000 other DPs – mostly Poles and other eastern Europeans who refused to return to their home countries, which had come under communist rule – lived in camps scattered throughout the U.S., British, and French occupation zones in Germany and Austria.
The great majority of these “non-repatriables” wanted to emigrate to the United States. In that, they faced a formidable obstacle: the U.S. Congress, which was dominated by arch-conservatives who considered Jews and Slavs a threat to the Anglo-Saxon character of the United States. “We could solve this ‘DP’ problem all right if we could work out some bill that would keep out the Jews,” Senator William Revercomb of West Virginia told his colleagues in 1948. Senator Alexander Wiley, the Wisconsin Republican who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, took a similar position, calling on the United States to admit only those people with “good blood”: “We don’t want any rats. We’ve got enough of them already.”
Asked to enact “adequate and decent laws” to let refugees in, the 80th U.S. Congress instead produced a bill designed to do the opposite. President Truman would declare the proposal unacceptable, denouncing it as “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Catholic.” It was an early salvo of a political battle that the combative president launched against what he called the “do-nothing” 80th Congress, and would become an issue of Truman’s 1948 reelection campaign.
President Truman began preparing for the showdown in 1945, just two months after taking office. His first step was to ask Earl G. Harrison, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, to investigate the conditions of the DPs and help design “plans … to meet their needs.” Harrison left for Europe in June, and a month later delivered Truman the data he needed.
Harrison found that the “non-repatriables” were living in wooden barracks that the Nazi regime had built for the slave laborers and prisoners of war. “One must raise the question as to how much longer many of these people, particularly those who have over such a long period felt persecution and near starvation, can survive on a diet composed principally of bread and coffee,” Harrison reported. “In many camps, the 2,000 calories [in refugees’ diets] included 1,250 calories of a black, wet and extremely unappetizing bread.” The DPs were demoralized and lacked medicine, clothing, and fuel for the coming winter. “UNRRA,” in Harrison’s opinion, “being neither sufficiently organized or equipped … has not been in position to make any substantial contribution to the situation.”
President Truman promptly wrote to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied armies in Europe, and asked him to do what he could to improve the conditions in the camps. On December 23, 1945, two days before the first postwar Christmas, the president directed U.S. consulates worldwide to give preference to DPs when filling U.S. immigration quotas. The directive, which specified that the “visas should be distributed fairly among persons of all faiths, creeds, and nationalities,” brought to America 40,000 refugees that Congress tried to keep out.
Even with Truman’s fairness directive, immigration quotas still effectively prevented most refugees from entering the United States; to admit more of them, the law needed to be changed. To generate public pressure behind his campaign, Truman asked his liberal allies to join the Citizens Committee on Displaced Persons, a nonsectarian organization founded in 1946. The group – which was chaired by Harrison and included such prominent Americans as Eleanor Roosevelt, labor leader David Dubinsky, department store owner and Chicago Sun publisher Marshall Field III, and civil rights organizer A. Philip Randolph – lobbied for a temporary suspension of restrictive U.S. immigration quotas.
To keep the issue high on the country’s conscience and agenda, Truman unleashed what his biographer, David McCullough, would later describe as the president’s favorite strategy: “attack, attack, attack.” In his 1947 State of the Union Message, Truman informed Congress that he did not “feel that the United States had done its part in the admission of displaced persons,” and called for new immigration bill. Six months later, he sent the legislators a special message reminding them that “we are dealing with a human problem, a world tragedy,” and urging Congress “to pass suitable legislation as speedily as possible.” When Congress adjourned without responding, Truman returned to the subject in another address to Congress in January 1948. In the course of the year, with his reelection campaign in full swing, he denounced the congressional bigotry in rallies from coast to coast.
The duel culminated on June 25, 1948, when Congress, on the last day of its session before recess, presented Truman with an immigration bill that he again considered grossly inadequate. The president responded with one of his most furious salvos against his political opponents. He called the bill “flagrantly discriminatory,” and said that he had signed it “with very great reluctance” and only because otherwise “there would be no legislation on behalf of displaced persons until the next session of the Congress. It was “a close question,” he said, whether the measure was “better or worse than no bill at all.” He went on to acknowledge the proposal’s “good points” – mainly, the recognition of “the principle … that displaced persons should be admitted to the United States,” and a provision for the admission of 200,000 displaced persons, 3,000 orphans, and 2,000 refugees who had fled after the communist coup d’état in Czechoslovakia.
But “the bad points,” Truman thundered in his June 1948 statement, “are numerous [and they] … form a pattern of discrimination and intolerance wholly inconsistent with the American sense of justice.” Specifically, he charged that “the bill discriminates in callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith” by “exclud[ing] Jewish displaced persons, rather than accepting a fair proportion of them along with other faiths.” Further, the bill “excludes many displaced persons of the Catholic faith who deserve admission,” and “contains many restrictive requirements, such as prior assurances of suitable employment and ‘safe and sanitary housing,’ unnecessarily complicated investigation of each applicant, and burdensome reports from individual immigrants.” Drawing to a close, Truman expressed regret “that the Congress saw fit to impose such niggardly conditions,” and put lawmakers on notice that he had signed the bill with the expectation that Congress would take the necessary remedial actions when it reconvened.
That November, Truman, against all expectations, won a victory that not only kept him in office but also put the Democrats in charge of both the House and the Senate. The astonishing victory in part reflected voters’ growing recognition that Truman was right on the immigration issue. One of the convinced Americans was Truman’s general election opponent, Republican New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, who less than a month after the Republican Congress had passed its Displaced Persons Act expressed some reservations about it and called for a “liberalized DP law.”
For all its faults, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 marked the beginning of the end of the non-repatriables’ odyssey. Even before the law was passed, UNRRA and IRO had begun grouping us by nationality and moving us from the drafty shacks to more solid quarters. The transfers, which took place while Europe was still mired in chaos and suffered severe food shortages, did not ease our hunger and discomfort. Winter clothing for the refugees was made so small that I, at five-foot-ten and 125 pounds, could not get into the pants. In 1949, the mess sergeant in our large IRO camp in Ludwigsburg, in southern Germany, reported that one-third of the 2,000-calorie daily rations he was slated to receive for the DPs had been stolen before reaching his kitchen. For many of us, finding Americans to sponsor our emigration to the United States presented a hurdle that, just as Truman predicted, was hard to clear.
But the availability of more than 200,000 U.S. visas encouraged American religious and civic relief organizations to open offices in the DP camps and step up their efforts to help the refugees. In a surprisingly short time, we would be called to new processing centers for interviews. By the fall of 1948, refugees who qualified under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 began boarding U.S. Army transport ships that had brought GIs to Europe to man the new NATO bases.
The first 813 of these refugees left the German port of Bremenhaven on October 21, 1948. The trip to New York was free, the food on board was ample, and the American Red Cross gave each immigrant a welcome-to-the-U.S. gift of six dollars.
My own crossing aboard the USAT General A. W. Greeley was in keeping with the rest of my DP experience. We left in the middle of February 1950, and the sea was so rough that the ship’s propeller spent seemingly one-third of its time out of the water, winds pushed the ship off course, and the normally week-long crossing took eighteen days. Since we had no drugs against sea sickness, most of us ate little or nothing until we reached terra firma. Otherwise, except for a glancing collision with another army transport in the foggy English Channel, the trip was uneventful.
When I was not too seasick, I worked behind the counter of the ship’s commissary, or PX, and helped put out the souvenir edition of the ship’s journal. It may be of some historic interest that the six-dollar gift each refugee received from the Red Cross translated into about 120 candy bars, Cokes, or packs of chewing gum. In the PX, the bestsellers were Hershey bars, Oh Henry! bars, V8 juice, Coca-Cola, and – wonder of wonders – nylon stockings for women. Every time the crazy sea calmed down enough for the PX to open, the store was mobbed by eager customers. By the time we pulled into the New York harbor on the freezing cold morning of March 3, 1950, the commissary’s wares were practically all sold out.
On July 16, 1950, the 81st Congress passed an amendment of 1948 Displaced Persons Act, which, the president said, he signed “with very great pleasure.” The new law authorized a total of 400,744 visas, more than 172,000 of which had been already issued.
With hundreds of refugee-filled U.S. Army transports crossing the Atlantic, the DP camps rapidly emptied, and the last “non-repatriable” displaced persons – a former Polish slave laborer, his wife, and their two children – arrived at New York’s Pier 61 on Sunday, April 13, 1952.
Including the additional immigration authorized in 1953, the United States admitted a total of 600,000-plus World War II displaced persons and refugees whose homes were behind the Iron Curtain. An additional 400,000-plus displaced persons were resettled by Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and other Western countries. By the end of 1955, Europe’s World War II migration crisis was over.
In his memoir, Years of Trial and Hope, President Harry S. Truman wrote, “All my life, I have fought against prejudice and intolerance.” The fight may have to be waged and won again to resolve the plight of the Middle Eastern migrants in Europe.
As an introduction to a series on gun deaths in America, FiveThirtyEight uses a straightforward grid view to show the breakdowns. Each square represents a single gun death, and as you click through, the squares are colored to show various groups. For example, the above represents gun deaths from homicide in blue, about half of which are young men and two-thirds of that subgroup are black.
Sometimes it’s more useful to break the data down to its elements.
The "speed of light" typically means "really fast" but when it's relative to the scale of the universe, maybe not so much. Animator Alphonse Swinehart shows what it might look like to follow a photon from the sun to Jupiter, where the speed of light can sometimes feel really slow.
Watch the 45-minute video below, or you know, set it aside for later and let it run in the background.
In our terrestrial view of things, the speed of light seems incredibly fast. But as soon as you view it against the vast distances of the universe, it's unfortunately very slow. This animation illustrates, in realtime, the journey of a photon of light emitted from the surface of the sun and traveling across a portion of the solar system, from a human perspective.
Sons of Jack “Catch-‘Em-Alive” Abernathy, the youngest U.S. Marshal in history, Louis and Temple Abernathy inherited their father’s self-reliance: In 1910, when they were 10 and 6 years old, they rode on horseback from their Oklahoma ranch to Manhattan to greet Theodore Roosevelt as he returned from Africa. After riding behind Roosevelt’s car in a ticker-tape parade, they drove home in a new car.
The following year, apparently bored, they accepted a $10,000 challenge to ride on horseback from New York to San Francisco in 60 days or less, never eating or sleeping indoors. They missed the deadline by two days but still established a speed record. And in 1913 they rode by motorcycle from Oklahoma to New York City.
The two went on to successful careers in law and oil. “Teach a boy self-reliance from the moment he tumbles out of the cradle, make him keep his traces taut and work well forward in his collar, and 99 times out of a hundred his independence will assert itself before he is 2 years old,” their father told a newspaper after their first trip. “That’s my rule, and if you don’t think I’ve taken the right tack talk to my boys for five minutes and they’ll convince you that they are men in principles even if they are babies in years. God bless ‘em.”