My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a weird book. I liked it, some parts of it quite a bit, but it's a weird book. I think I started out with the wrong expectations; I'd just read a YA book, and the cover of this one looks like a YA novel. It's also told from the perspective of someone who believes her plastic dragons can talk to her, so initially I thought I was going to be reading a YA fantasy novel.
Pretty quickly, though, the book veers into adult territory; the protagonist Sarah is actually in her thirties, and there's a fair amount of sexual content, including mentions of child prostitution, although none of it is graphic or detailed, just alluded to.
This is set in some sort of possibly dystopic future, but we don't get a lot of details about the world because everything comes from Sarah's very limited POV. That's actually one of my favorite parts about the book--the way the author lets little details about the world slip through (everybody uses some kind of credit system, hovercars are a thing, etc) without really explaining anything.
Another part I really like is that Sarah can speak to inanimate objects. At the beginning of the story, the reader thinks she's hallucinating and then gradually comes to realize that she truly can hear her plastic dragons and other objects speak. I also like that Sarah falls in with a group of marginalized people who have banded together to protect each other and live together in what sounds to me like an abandoned chemical plant. Their society is based on the Jungle Book, and is very cool if also very disturbing in many ways.
So, pros: very cool world building, very interesting protagonist, very interesting plot.
Cons: mentions of child rape and child prostitution, consent issues, really bizarre (dated?) understanding of autism (the story begins with Sarah in an institution, and she's believed to be autistic because she was mute as a child and now can only communicate in quotations from stories that she's memorized)
Recommend with reservations.
View all my reviews
Updated on July 24 at 6:33 p.m. ET
Of all the issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, none is more sensitive than the status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital. But the delicate status quo surrounding the holy city has been threatened in recent weeks following the installation of new security measures at the entrance of the Old City’s holy compound, culminating in the biggest crisis the site has seen in years.
It started with metal detectors. Two days after a July 14th incident in which two Israeli policeman were fatally shot by three Palestinian citizens of Israel outside the compound—known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews—Israel installed new security cameras and metal detectors at its entrances. Though metal detectors have long been used at the compound’s entrances for non-Muslims, they’ve never been used at the entrances for Muslims worshippers.
The installation of the metal detectors prompted immediate backlash from Palestinian leaders, who characterized the move as a violation of sovereignty rather than one aimed at security. It also resulted in widespread protests throughout the city, with thousands of people opting to pray on the streets surrounding the Old City rather than pass through the metal detectors to get to Al Aqsa mosque, which stands on the compound’s site. Some of the protests turned violent, with clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities resulting in hundreds of injuries and the deaths of at least three Palestinians.
The violence hasn’t been confined to Jerusalem. On Friday, three Israelis were killed in a stabbing attack in the West Bank settlement of Halamish. The assailant, a 20-year-old Palestinian, wrote in a Facebook post he was motivated by the ongoing conflict over access to Al Aqsa. In Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the compound and with whom Israel has a peace treaty, two Jordanians were fatally shot Sunday at the heavily guarded Israeli embassy in Amman after one of the men stabbed an Israeli security guard. Though Jordanian authorities sought to question the embassy guard, Israel had denied Amman’s request, citing diplomatic immunity.
“The accusation from the broader Muslim world in general is that Israel is changing the status quo on the third holiest site in Islam, something that hasn't been done, broadly speaking, since gaining control over Jerusalem in 1967,” Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told me. Since the capture and annexation of East Jerusalem following the 1967 war (a move that has never been internationally recognized), Israel has allowed the Waqf, an Islamic trust, to administer the site in coordination with Jordan. By unilaterally installing metal detectors and imposing restrictions on access to the holy site, Palestinian and Muslim leaders say Israel is violating long-standing agreements over how the site should be governed. The Arab League, which announced it will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo this week to address the situation, accused Israel of attempting “to impose a new reality on the Holy city,” adding that “Jerusalem is a red line that Muslims and Arabs cannot allow to be crossed.”
Though members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition doubled down on the installation of the metal detectors as being in both the country’s national and security interest, opposition leaders criticized the decision as running counter to recommendations by both the IDF, Israel’s military, and the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency. “The State of Israel fell into the trap laid for them by the terrorists to change our conflict with the Palestinians to a religious conflict between Islam and us,” Omer Bar-Lev, a Israeli parliamentarian of the center-left Zionist Union party, said.
But perhaps the most significant reaction thus far has been Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to suspend ties with Israel, including the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation. “They don’t have the right to place the [metal detectors] at the gates to the Al Aqsa mosque, because sovereignty over the blessed Al Aqsa mosque is our right,” Abbas said Sunday, adding: “This decision we took to stop all kinds of coordination, whether security or otherwise, is not easy at all. But [the Israelis] have to act and know that they are the ones who will inevitably lose, because we are doing a very important duty in protecting our security and theirs.”
The Israeli government hasn’t shown signs of yielding to Abbas’s ultimatum, but Rumley said they may not have to. “Security coordination is vital for Abbas, in many ways his fate is tied to it,” he said. “Once the situation dies down and stabilizes I expect coordination to resume quietly.” But coordination could also resume another way. According to a report by the Times of Israel Monday, an emerging deal between Israeli and Jordanian officials could result in Israel removing the metal detectors in exchange for Jordan allowing the Israeli guard involved in the embassy shooting to return to Israel. Emmanuel Nahshon, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman, has since confirmed the country’s Jordanian embassy staff returned to Israel. Hours later, Israeli officials announced they would remove the metal detectors, though no mention was made of the security cameras.
Walter Zielke Ruesch, also known as "Zoohky," made a name for himself in the West End of Winnipeg by being a helpful and kind individual. He was known to fix things that had been broken and thrown away, such as bicycles, stereos, and toys. Once fixed, he would donate the items to families that needed them.
In addition to assisting the people of the West End, he also took in and cared for many of the neighbourhood’s stray cats. Zoohky's bike was an important part of his life, he was never seen without it (no matter the weather).
After Zoohky’s death, the community wanted to honour the impact he had, and in 2003 this mural was painted. Initially, the bicycle wasn't included in the portrait, and several residents requested that Zoohky's bike be added to more accurately reflect his character. The paper in Zoohky's hand in the mural is an original poem that he wrote, entitled "Blue Danube." It was published in a local newspaper and was a source of pride for Zoohky.
The building on which this mural is painted was once named after the man who stars in the piece of art on its wall. Formerly called the Zoohky Memorial Hall, it is now a church.
WARNING: This poem contains historical atrocities which many readers may find disturbing. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features the Holocaust, acts of genocide, the Schutzstaffel, mass murder, loss of families, yellow stars, ghettos, a gay man and a straight woman getting married and raising a family together, some awkward family dynamics, gay-related bashing, unplanned (but welcome) lesbian pregnancy, and other challenges. But the good guys mostly win. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. It is not a plot-relevant part of extant storylines, just an interesting piece of Terramagne history.
( Read more... )
I have three Diamond albums. Two of them - Beautiful Noise and I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight - are from the late seventies, early eighties; they're good albums (I love "Dry Your Eyes" in particular) but they're not the Diamond I grew up with. The third is The Neil Diamond Collection, mostly from the early seventies, and it has some great stuff ("Sweet Caroline", "Holly Holy", "Brother Love's Travellin' Salvation Show"), but it's also not the Diamond I grew up with. It does have one song from that era, "Cherry Cherry", but - no. That song was written for and by someone a decade younger, and hearing it sung live, by the older Diamond, complete with grunting... just no.
The songs that introduced me to Diamond were on one album, belonging to one of my sisters. (I have no way of knowing which; they themselves sometimes disagree on the issue.) It was very early, mid-sixties Diamond: "Kentucky Woman", "Red Red Wine", "You Got to Me", "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon", "Solitary Man"... Yeah, some of them have probably been visited by one of the Suck Fairies (probably the Sexism Fairy), but that's what teen heart-throb albums were like back then, and I still remember them fondly. One of these days I'll have to get the CD.
 I can't decide whether the period goes inside the parenthesis or outside, when the parenthetical is a sentence and a half long. My rule of thumb - if the parenthetical is entirely part of the sentence, then outside; if it's a sentence, or more than one, in its own right, then inside - doesn't handle fractions well. Probably parentheses should be avoided then, but quod scripsi scripsi. :grmph:
Some general stuff about my tastes: For written works, explicit sex (slash, het, or femslash) is okay, non-explicit sex is okay, no sex is okay, but any sex should be in believable language for the source, and there should be more to the story than just PWP. If you choose to write a sex scene, I prefer those that focus on emotions and perceptions rather than on the mechanics of what goes where, and I am rather vanilla in my preferences where kink is concerned: mouths, hands, genitals, toys, all are fine, but I'm not into BSDM or bloodplay or watersports or anything that might get a special tag. Gen is a-okay with me too. For art, I prefer R-rated art to NC17-rated art, and I'm totally happy with lower-rated art.
I have made some prompts and suggestions, but feel free to take things in whatever direction you like and/or include characters I haven't mentioned. I like: historical/worldbuildy detail, scenery porn, non-explicitly-detailed sex, ghost stories, supernatural elements, what-if AUs, original characters. My favorite tropes are time travel, bodyswap, and afterlife stories, though I'm perfectly happy with an entirely canonical scenario. In general I'm not a fan of AU that completely changes the setting, but if you have a brilliant idea, go for it; I would prefer "interesting" to "mundane" AUs, e.g., in SPAAAACE yes, coffeeshop no. (Coffeeshop in SPAAAACE, okay!). Except as noted, I would like happy endings and no major character death (unless it's canonical and results in ghost-fic).
For fic, I generally prefer plot (as in, things happening; doesn't have to be elaborate or long – as contrasted with character studies), past tense (either first person or third person – I don't like second person), and lots of dialogue. But these are preferences, not hard DNWs, and if you have a brilliant idea that requires second person or present tense, go ahead. My only hard preferences are for conventional pronouns, capitalization, and punctuation.
For art, I am happier with AU than in fic. I am totally fine with simple portraits, though if you want to show characters interacting, I have a soft spot for art in which one character is doing something typical-but-alarming, and the other is rolling his or her eyes, or reacting with horror, or getting ready to douse them with a bucket of water, or whatever. I like line drawings as well as full color. Stylistically, I love interesting and experimental compositions, unusual perspectives, emphasis on textures such as hair and clothing, and scenery porn (Mountains! Trees! Cliffs with water crashing on them! Brooding ruins of an ancient castle!)
( This is a placeholder and will be edited to add specific fandom likes and prompts. )
We had a bad thunderstorm, with much wind, the last night of the heat warning, and I suspect that wind was the final blow to an already weakened system. This morning I noticed my trash bin (about 4'x1'x1') had fallen over; there was only one bagful of garbage in it. The recycling bin, of the same size and right next to it, was still upright. It was also about half full. (I seem to generate recyclables more quickly than I do garbage.)
It was an experience that involved FAR larger crowds than anticipated (thanks to new security measures getting in on weekends now involve a lot of waiting), quite a bit of running, and getting out of the movie with less than an hour to spare before closing. As we've invested in a British Museum membership each, we didn't have to pay for the exhibition, and decided to go in, have a relatively quick look around, and then return early in the morning at some point. (In the meantime we bought the exhibit DVD and watched it in preparation, learning an incredible amount of new things about Hokusai in particular and the ukiyo-e artworld in general.)
We made it back this Saturday, when we had registered for a lecture on woodblock printing in the 21st century at 1.30pm, leaving us plenty of time to enjoy the exhibition and the rest of the museum. We woke up before 7am to make sure we'd make it down to London shortly after the museum opened, and when we got there it was gloriously free of crowds. We made a beeline for the exhibition which had pre-opened for members only, and spent a good two hours just... taking it all in.
It's a fantastic exhibition. The British Museum made this little video introduction, which I quite like:
And there was so much to see! I'll divide it into two parts: Hokusai prints (courtesy of the British Museum), and my photos from the trip.
( Hokusai's art )
And from the sublime to just my Galaxy 7S snapshots...
( London trip )
A pastel flower-shaped building rises from the ground, its pink petals stretching upward against its blue walls. The larger-than-life lotus looms above the end of a reflection pool in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It's a sacred spot, one teeming with a spiritual energy that aims to transcend the boundaries of the world’s many religions.
The Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) is a temple dedicated to interfaith understanding and the light within all faiths. The building’s unique design and inspiration stem from the vision of Sri Swami Satchidananda, a prominent yogi who brought Integral Yoga to the West and devoted his life to fostering worldwide religious harmony.
The shrine was dedicated in 1986. It's a place for reflection and meditation, where people of all backgrounds and beliefs are welcome. Inside the temple, neon lights highlight the individual altars representing and honoring the different world faiths and spiritual paths.
Many aspects of the building’s design have spiritual symbols. While arriving at LOTUS visitors must drive on the left side of the road, which is supposed to reflect the need to leave behind habitual patterns. The outside of the temple takes the shape of a lotus flower, a sacred symbol in eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Its measurements center around the number 108, which is sacred in numerology.
LOTUS is located in Yogaville, a spiritual community near Buckingham, Virginia. Visitors can pop in for a day visit or stay for longer stints at the ashram.
In medieval Europe, sharing a juicy piece of gossip could earn the speaker a punishment of wearing a humiliation mask, created just for this crime. A similar fate awaited men who told lascivious jokes, and those who interfered in other people’s business.
A physical equivalent of social media shaming several centuries before Facebook and Twitter, the masks were fashioned out of iron and had exaggerated features representing each specific social misconduct. The “gossip” mask has long ears and glasses, to hear and see and everything, and an even longer tongue to show that the wearer was likely to spread the information quickly and indiscreetly.
A number of these shame masks or schandmaske, intended to publicly humiliate the people perpetrating these acts, are on display at the Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg, Germany.
From social shaming tools to more physically torturous devices, the museum chronicles the brutal history of over 1,000 years of crime and punishment in Germany and other parts of Europe. The painful private collection curated by a German publisher in the late-19th century was first housed, quite appropriately, in the tower of a castle hotel, and it took on the shape of a more expansive museum under the guidance of an artist couple. It moved into its current location, a former administrative building, in 1977 and displays over 50,000 objects relating to law and order as it was enforced and structured in the medieval era and thereafter.
During those grim times, professional misdemeanors, too, were not excused. For baking bread loaves that were too small or light, bakers were locked into a cage and dunked repeatedly into water and off-key musicians were spotlighted with a shame flute fastened around their necks.
An entire section is dedicated to the treatment of women, and to the terrible witch-hunt which took place in the Bavarian region in the 17th century. The beauty of the delicate carvings on a choke pear, a device with petal-like divisions, is swiftly overshadowed by its terrifying purpose—it was inserted into orifices of the human body, particularly for women, and slowly turned so that each leaf expanded, causing immense pressure, and the victim quickly admitted to his or her crime. More torture devices cruelly designed to extract confessions, true or false, from suspected criminals line the walls of this museum.
The more procedural aspects of the legal system in the form of documents and trade exhibits are also on display and but the overwhelming tone is gruesome and chilling.
Wadi Bani Awf stretches across the Hajjar Mountains, roughly between Nizwa and Rustaq. One of the largest valleys in Oman, it is dotted with picturesque villages, ruins, and natural wonders.
One part of the valley, known as Snake Canyon, has been called Oman’s largest natural water park. Much of the valley's length is through pools that can be jumped into from the high rocks or simply waded through, and there are several waterfalls and natural waterslides. This is an outdoor adventurer's dream playground.
Throughout Wadi Bani Awf, there are places where the colorful rock has been so worn down by rushing waters that it is incredibly smooth, and slippery even when dry. The cliffs on either side are extremely high and at times so narrow that a hiker can touch both sides at once.
There is also a “Little” Snake Canyon, probably the narrowest part of the valley. This slim canyon features a 200-foot-long pool, which can get quite cold since the sun has trouble reaching through the narrow canyon opening.
The four female Canada Lynx kittens, at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, have been named and officially moved into their Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit on July 19.
The fuzzy headed litter was a ZooBorns feature back in mid-June: “Meet Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Canada Lynx Kittens”. They have been with their mother in an off-exhibit area since their birth on May 6, and now the kittens and ten-year-old mom, Migina, will join dad, Kajika (also ten-years-old) in the main exhibit.
Keepers reported that the litter “howdied” with dad Kajika multiple times prior to being moved on-exhibit. The Zoo defines “howdied” as: a process where they can see and smell each other with a mesh barrier in between them. The kittens and Kajika were said to be curious about each other and vocalized back and forth. They have also sniffed each other’s paws and rubbed up against the mesh. Zookeepers said these were all good signs that the Lynx family was ready to be together in their public exhibit.
Because Lynx are often called “ghost cats”, due to their nearly-noiseless nature (thanks to heavily-padded paws and light frames), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo employees recently voted to name the kittens based on famous Colorado ghost towns. The kittens have been named: Adelaide (Lake County), Norrie (Pitkin County), Frisco (Summit County), and Aspen (as in the famous tree).
The Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a North American mammal of the cat family, Felidae. It ranges across Canada and into Alaska as well as some parts of the northern United States and extending down the Rocky Mountains to Colorado, where they were reintroduced in the 1990s.
Gestation lasts around 64 days. Young are usually born in May or early June. Before birth, the female prepares a maternal den, usually in very thick brush, and typically inside thickets of shrubs or trees or woody debris.
Litters contain one to four kittens, and tend to be much larger when the food supply is abundant.
Canada Lynx kittens weigh from 175 to 235 g (6.2 to 8.3 oz) at birth, and initially have greyish fur with black markings. They are blind and helpless for the first fourteen days, and weaned at twelve weeks. When their eyes open, they are a bright blue color, but as they mature, the eyes become a brown-hazel color.
Kittens leave the den after about five weeks, and begin hunting between seven and nine months of age. They leave the mother at around ten months, as the next breeding season begins, but do not reach the full adult size until around two years old.
The Canada Lynx is often trapped for its fur, and has also declined in many areas due to habitat loss. However, the IUCN currently classifies them as “Least Concern”.
They called it the black song. For the humpback whales of eastern Australia, it was irresistibly catchy.
Back in the mid-1990s, those whales were singing a completely different tune—a melody known to researchers (for arbitrary reasons) as the pink song. But in 1995, a small number of humpbacks from the west of the continent made it over to the east, bringing a foreign tune with them. That tune—the black song—was a viral hit. Within three years, it completely replaced the pink one, which has never been heard again. It then dominated the humpback charts for another couple of years. It was remixed, creating the gray song. And it too was eventually ousted by another tune.
Michael Noad from the University of Queensland discovered these musical revolutions in 2000 by analyzing recordings of signing humpbacks, captured with underwater microphones dangled off the side of boats. These recordings revealed that during the time when the pink and black songs were vying for dominance, most humpbacks sang either one or the other. But a minority—just three out of 112—sang hybrid tunes, mixing leitmotifs from both the outgoing melody and the incipient one.
Noad’s former student Ellen Garland has also discovered another of these rare hybrid singers. And they, she thinks, provide important clues about how these beautiful animals learn and tweak their mesmeric melodies.
Today, the songs of humpbacks are famous. They fill the halls of spas and they’ve been satirized by Pixar. But fifty years ago, they were largely unknown. That changed in 1968, when scientist Katy Payne and her then-husband Roger took a trip to Bermuda and met a Navy engineer who had been inadvertently recording the whales. “Tears flowed from our cheeks,” Payne later told NPR about the first time she heard the recordings. “We were just completely transfixed and amazed because the sounds are so beautiful, so powerful—so variable.”
The Paynes showed that the calls have a structure that strongly resembles human songs, that they change dramatically and irreversibly over time, and that they even contain repeated elements akin to human rhymes. Roger also released some of his own recordings in an album that became a surprising smash-hit, helping to spark the Save the Whales movement and ultimately leading to a ban on whaling.
It’s only male humpbacks who sing, and they only do so during the breeding season. “We aren’t sure whether it is for attracting mates or repelling rivals but it has something to do with mating,” says Ellen Garland. The songs are hierarchical. Single sounds—units—are grouped into phrases, which are repeated to form themes, which are delivered in a specific order to create a song.
At any given time, all the males in a population sing the same song, but those songs also change. Like jazz musicians, males riff off the classics, making small tweaks as they go. And occasionally, they throw the current song out the window and take up a completely new one—revolution, rather than mere evolution. “We think that the males change their songs to be a bit different to other whales around them, and be more attractive to the ladies,” says Garland. “This is then reeled in by the need to conform, which is the same as with humans. In our society, when a new fashion appears, a few savvy people embrace it and everyone else quickly follows.”
In 2011, Garland and Noad showed that these revolutions take place very quickly, and across entire oceans. Like “cultural ripples,” songs that arise in one end of the Pacific can spread to the other within a few years, “This is incredibly quick,” says Garland, “as whales need to learn all the intricacies of the new song.”
To understand more about how this process happens, Garland and her team analyzed recordings that caught humpbacks in the act of switching songs. These mash-ups, where the whales were blending both old and new melodies, were so rare that the team had only recorded five in over 20 years of fieldwork—and one was too poor in quality to use.
Still, the other four hybrids revealed a clear pattern: The humpbacks were combining themes from both old and new songs, but leaving each individual theme largely untouched. Sometimes, they sang a transitional phrase to bridge the gap between the two segments. Sometimes, they melded one song into another at places that were musically similar, like the world’s largest deejays.
To the team, this suggests that whale don’t learn their songs as a whole (which makes sense, given that they can last for up to 30 minutes). Instead, a male humpback will progressively learn a new song by memorizing its themes and combining them with older ones. This is called “chunking” and it’s how human children learn languages and songbirds learn songs. Perhaps something similar is going on in the brains of all these species.
But Eduardo Mercado III from the University of Buffalo notes that it’s not clear from the recordings if the whales are genuinely learning new material, or simply flubbing their lines. “There is no way to really know,” he says, “but I definitely agree that humpback whales are an important species to study in terms of trying to understand vocal learning. We humans are the only terrestrial mammals that do anything remotely similar to singing humpback whales.”
There are other similar examples in the ocean, though. In sperm whales and killer whales, different clans have their own specific dialects, which individuals learn from those around them. “The evidence is clear that cetaceans show some of the most sophisticated cultural behavior outside of humans,” Garland says.
A 10th migrant has died after being smuggled over the weekend to San Antonio inside a tractor-trailer truck with no air conditioning as temperatures touched the 100s. On Monday, the truck’s driver appeared in federal court and was reportedly told he faced the death penalty.
James M. Bradley Jr., the driver, faced federal charges of illegally transporting immigrants for financial gain, resulting in death. He waived his right to remain silent, according to The New York Times, and told investigators he was unaware the truck was full of people. He said he was only delivering it to a new owner, and that when he stopped in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, he “heard banging and shaking in the trailer.” Thirty-eight people were found inside the vehicle. Bradley also acknowledged he knew the air-conditioning unit in the trailer didn’t work.
This incident is the worst of its kind in the U.S. since 2003. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus called it “horrific.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott called it a “heartbreaking tragedy.” Many of those inside the vehicle are still in the hospital, recovering from severe heat stroke.
Police responded to a call from a Walmart worker at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. The employee had been checking the parking lot and was asked for water by a migrant who’d somehow escaped the trailer. When police arrived, they found dozens of migrants in the back, eight of them already dead. It’s not known how long the migrants were trapped inside, but video surveillance showed several vehicles pull up and unload groups of migrants during the night.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said many of the migrants were “hot to the touch.” Their heart rates were above 130 beats per minute and an emergency responder said most suffered from heat exhaustion. At extreme temperatures like this, vital organs in the body begin to shut down. The brain swells, and Hood said it’s likely many of the migrants will suffer irreversible brain damage. Authorities have not released the identities of the victims, or their countries of origin. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is leading the investigation, said most of the migrants were in their 20s and 30s; four were teenagers. Authorities said that as many as 100 migrants could have been squeezed into the trailer at one point.
San Antonio is about 150 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and is a frequent stopover for smugglers. Migrants typically cross the border on foot in small groups and are then taken by smugglers to stash houses. From here they’re sometimes loaded into large tractor-trailers to avoid immigration checkpoints as they travel north. Then, in places like San Antonio, they’re divided into smaller units depending on what part of the country they’re headed for.
The worst mass migrant deaths in recent history occurred about 100 miles away. In 2003 a dairy-truck driver carried a group of migrants to Houston, but forgot to turn on the truck’s air-conditioning unit; temperatures inside reached 173 degrees. Nineteen migrants died of dehydration and suffocation. That driver, Tyrone M. Williams, was sentenced to 34 years in prison. Another 13 people in the smuggling ring were also indicted.
Although deaths from smuggling have long been a concern, what has changed recently is the number of deaths and where they occur. As migration along the southern border has fluctuated depending on factors such as the U.S. economy and enforcement, the average number of deaths has risen. In the Arizona desert, stronger enforcement has pushed migrant smugglers to increasingly more dangerous routes, leading to a spike in deaths per 10,000 apprehensions in the state’s busiest immigration corridor. That pattern has kept even though the majority of migration has shifted from Arizona to Texas, which last year accounted for two-thirds of the 322 migrant deaths along the border.
In the past, these types of deaths opened conversations about how to both enforce the border and protect migrant safety, but that may not occur in the present political environment. Immigration skeptics blamed weak enforcement and sanctuary cities for drawing migrants to the U.S. Immigrant-rights advocates, meanwhile, blamed increased enforcement for making smuggling routes more dangerous.
Melissa I.M. Torres, the director of the Human Trafficking Research Portfolio at the University of Texas at Austin, told me there aren’t easy ways to prevent this type of incident from happening again. “We can’t just say this is what happens and they know the risk they were taking,” Torres said. “They might have the risks, it doesn’t mean they deserve what happened to them.”
It’s not clear what will happen with the migrants in the hospital. Some have been claimed by Mexico, and some by Guatemala. Investigators are working to find their families, and it’s not clear if they’ll be deported or allowed to remain in the U.S. while federal agents investigate.
Got up early to make the trek to Skowhegan and Steve's eye doctor. Matters have stabilized, on that front, so -- yay! stabilization!
Came home via the post office -- whereby hangs a tale, which I will now tell to you.
My Formal White Tiger pen was listed as Out for Delivery by the USPS on Saturday, but did not arrive. It is not, I will note here, Completely Unusual for the Saturday delivery-person to fail deliver packages. She simply leaves them for the regular weekday guy, because -- I have no idea. Packages hard, I guess.
So, this morning, I looked back to the site to see if indeed my pen was listed as "out for delivery" with the guy who actually does his job, but found instead a note that delivery had been attempted on Saturday, late afternoon, but nobody was home, so a note was left.
Which was...pure, unadulterated mud. First, we were home all day Saturday. Second, we got our mail 'way early, as we tend to do on Saturday. Three, nobody from the post office came by the house during the late afternoon. Four, no note was left. Five, it wouldn't have mattered if there was anyone at home anyway, because the package didn't require a signature.
I called the post office and explained the situation. As it happened, the allegation that a note had been left meant that the package was not out for delivery, but was waiting at the post office, until I called with instructions. Which I would have never known -- because no note -- if I hadn't looked at the website and discovered this, um, deceit.
So, anyway, Deirdre, who was on the desk when I called, was as helpful as one woman could possibly be. She listened to the problem, said she would go find the package now, if I would let her put me on hold. It took her twelve minutes to find it, but find it she did, and, at my instruction put it at the front desk so when I came to pick it up, it would be easy for whoever was then on to find.
That part went according to plan.
So! Eye doctor, post office, grocery store, and so to home, eagerly anticipating the meal Steve had started in the slow cooker before we left home, except!
There had been a minor power outage while we were gone. Too short for the generator to take note of and kick in, but more than long enough to reboot the slow cooker, which started a count-down-to-cooking, which meant that?
Yes -- you in the back? Yes; thank you. Exactly that.
Dinner wasn't ready when we got home, starving.
Today's dinner plans were therefore amended to hot dogs on French onion rolls, and leftover macaroni/veggie salad. We'll have today's dinner tomorrow.
Speaking of the weather...today at the Cat Farm and Confusion Factory it is 64F and raining. The plants I put in yesterday are significantly perkier than they were at planting, so I'd say that timing was just about right.
As I mentioned in another venue, yesterday's writing session produced! a True Epiphany (or as a friend says, with a bow in the direction of his spellchecker -- an Apostrophe). Epiphanies often require a lot of frogging, rearranging of scenes, re-assessing motivations, and just what seems to be a whole lot of backward motion when all instincts are screaming, "I have to make words, dammit!"
Experience teaches us that True Epiphanies almost always deliver a stronger, better story, if the writer is willing to bite her tongue and do the work. Also, if the writer decides not to do the work? The Epiphany has a way of forcing its point, later, when the amount of necessary frogging leaps from a few pages to a hundred, and sleepless nights and alcohol abuse enter the equation.
So, I've got some unwriting to do today -- not much, happily, because we caught this in plenty too much time. I may even get a start on rewriting.
And the roads, they roll.
Oh, and the new pen is gorgeous. I'm really going to enjoy having it with me at Confluence.
Here, have a picture of both fountain pens, all snug in their traveling wallet:
Poem: "Boston Pride"
Moment of Silence: Maryam Mirzakhani
Effects of Father Loss
Listen to the Trees
Gender in Comics
There is currently a poll for Poetry Fishbowl themes in late 2017. Vote for your favorites. I'll sort the most popular ones into a schedule tomorrow so I can post the advance announcement for the August fishbowl.
Poetry in Microfunding:
"A Hope and a Promise" belongs to Polychrome Heroics. Aidan and Mrs. Ozenne talk more about Saraphina as she interacts with another toddler. "The Inner Transition" belongs to Polychrome Heroics: Berettaflies. Valor's Widow finds out what Stylet has in his backpack. "The Order of Their Stars" belongs to An Army of One. Astin takes V shopping.
Weather has been sweltering and intermittently rainy here. Currently blooming: dandelions, marigolds, petunias, lantana, million bells, snapdragons, zinnias, firecracker plant, white and red clover, morning glories, spiderwort, echinacea, blackberry lilies, yellow coneflowers, Queen Anne's lace, frost asters, cup plant, black-eyed Susan, torenia. Corn ears are thickening. I picked blackberries yesterday. Jalapenos are getting bigger.
In trying to fend off suspicion of collusion with the Kremlin, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner have recently provided the public with two very interesting documents. Shoving responsibility for any outreach onto the Russian side, the two men have given us with a partial account of Russian methods in approaching the Trump camp in 2016.
If the accounts are true—and, given that their accounts have changed in the past, these latest accounts could change too—then, taken together, the Trump Jr. emails and Kushner’s statement show a Russian side that is experimenting with ways of getting the Trump team’s attention. They show a side that really is, as one former Obama administration official told me, “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick.”
According to the emails Trump Jr. released two weeks ago, some Russians who insist they were acting in a private capacity tried approaching the campaign through Rob Goldstone, the British tabloid journalist turned music promoter, and through the Agalarov family, themselves builders and aspiring pop culture icons who had forged a tie to the Trumps through the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the Agalarovs had “very high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton and that it “is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin [Agalarov].” They, in turn, seem to have sent Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who is close to Yury Chaika, the Russian prosecutor general, or, as Goldstone refers to him, “the Crown prosecutor of Russia.”
Kushner’s statement describes his ignorance of the people involved in the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that resulted—he even says he asked his assistant to make a fake phone call to him, to rescue him from a meeting he and other participants have claimed was about adoptions. But the statement is telling in that it outlines even more approaches, ways the Russians seemed to be poking around for openings. There was the formal meeting with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the reception for Trump’s April 2016 foreign policy speech. Kushner says the encounter “lasted less than a minute”—which other witnesses confirm—and that Kislyak suggested lunch at the embassy, which Kushner says he didn’t take him up on.
Then there was a more aggressive approach, an email from someone using the name Guccifer400, who Kushner says tried to extort the Trump campaign to the tune of 52 bitcoin for not publishing Trump’s tax return. It’s unclear if this was a Russian attempt, or just a highway robber riffing on Guccifer, the publisher of stolen Democratic National Committee documents who American intelligence believe is a front for a Russian government hacker.
After the election, Vladimir Putin reached out directly to the Trump camp to congratulate them on their victory, and Kislyak again asked for a meeting, which took place on December 1, 2016. It is in this meeting, according to Kushner, that the president’s son-in-law asked the Russian if there were “an existing communication channel at his embassy” through which “Russian generals” could supply the Trump transition team with information on Syria. This seems to be a confirmation of the Post’s May story that Kislyak radioed back to Moscow, saying Kushner was looking for a back channel; both the Post story and Kushner’s statement say such a channel was never set up, though Kushner denied it would have constituted a “secret back channel” as the Post described it.
Indeed, the Russians clearly thought the meeting went well, because a week later, according to Kushner, the Russian embassy requested another audience with the Trump team. “I declined,” Kushner wrote in his statement of this request, as well as of the embassy probing for another time Kushner could meet Kislyak. The third poke in this series was the Russians requesting a meeting with Kushner’s assistant. “In order to avoid offending the Ambassador,” Kushner writes, “I agreed.” Kislyak met with Kushner’s assistant on December 12, 2016.
Apparently, this meeting went well, too, but was also an opportunity to find another opening, with Kushner’s assistant reporting back that Kislyak—who, in my personal experience, is not a shy man—wanted yet another meeting. This time it would be with Sergey Gorkov, head of Vneshekonombank (VEB), the Russian state development bank that was, among other things, responsible for building up Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. According to Kushner, Kislyak said Gorkov was “a banker and someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.” Kushner says, “I agreed to meet Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the president, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days.”
Gorkov is a particularly suspect figure. Before spending the last 10 years working in key roles in Russian state banks, Gorkov briefly lived in exile in London. He had spent a decade working for Mikhail Khodorkovsky at his oil company Yukos, before Putin jailed Khodorkovsky for 10 years in 2003 and dismantled the company, selling the biggest chunks to his friend Igor Sechin. Many other Yukos executives were jailed, including Gorkov’s subordinate, who served eight years of a 15-year sentence; many more, like Gorkov, were forced to flee the country to avoid a similar fate. But Gorkov somehow managed to return both to the country and to top positions in state jobs. “How he was able to escape prosecution in the YUKOS case is the biggest mystery of the whole case,” one of Gorkov’s colleagues told Russian Forbes. The speculation is that he cut a deal with the Kremlin, thanks in part to his ties to the FSB (he went to the KGB academy).
The meeting between Kushner and Gorkov has drawn particular scrutiny because VEB, Gorkov’s bank, is subject to U.S. sanctions for its role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has also been tied to espionage before. In 2015, one of the bank’s New York employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was arrested and charged with being a spy and gathering information for Russia’s clandestine service, or SVR. (Buryakov, who pleaded guilty in 2016 and was deported, was charged by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired in March.)
Kushner’s description of the meeting is doubly strange, and, if accurate, shows Gorkov to be a deft operator, skilled at getting his hooks into his subject. He gave Kushner two gifts: “a piece of art from Nvogorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus,” and “a bag of dirt from the same village.” Though Kushner’s grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, were indeed from Belarus, it seems Kushner may have misremembered the name of the village: Nvogorod seems like a misspelling of Novgorod, one of two ancient cities in Russia by that name. In either case, it seems Gorkov did his research on Kushner—and wanted to show it. He also wanted Kushner to be aware of his stature, bragging to him “that he was friendly with President Putin.” (Kushner says that they didn’t discuss sanctions or “specific policies” and did not speak again.)
Though we are still missing big pieces of the puzzle, and though Kushner and Trump Jr. have proven themselves to be unreliable narrators when it comes to the extent of their involvement with the Russians, these two documents together give us a hint of how Russians went about trying to establish a connection with the Trumps, whom they were heavily advertising on state television as the way to restart U.S.-Russian relations. The emails and public statement describe a search, a process of poking and testing, of trying to find a pressure point or an opening. This is consistent with the intelligence on the Russians’ election-meddling effort, which has been described as a multi-pronged and opportunistic one. “The Russians had a line of, say, 1,000 ways to attack,” an intelligence official told me recently. “They don’t need all of them to get through. Just a few are enough.”