Wildfires Threaten Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Officials have had to close large sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as the area braces for potentially disastrous wildfires raging nearby. Air quality is already at hazardous levels. As the Southeast faces its worst drought in years and winds blow as strong as 70 mph, firefighters are struggling to quell 14 fires near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where some residents have been forced to evacuate. “We’ve had trees coming down, limbs coming down, and the fire is continuing to grow,” one National Park Service spokesperson said Monday. In recent weeks, wildfires have spread across the South, boosted by strong winds in Tennessee, Virginia, and north Carolina. Rain, though, is forecasted for the area in the coming days.
North Dakota Pipeline Protesters Ordered to Evacuate
The governor of North Dakota has ordered an emergency evacuation of all pipeline protesters camping on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land. All demonstrators protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they say goes through sacred Standing Rock Sioux land and could harm water sources, must leave their camps because of dangerous winter weather, Governor Jack Dalrymple said in the order signed Monday. A spokesman for the governor’s office told The West Fargo Pioneer, though, that the state would not forcibly remove people from the land, putting the burden on the federal government. The Corps said Friday that all protesters must leave the land north of the Cannonball River by December 5. The tribe, though, says it still plans to block the pipeline’s construction on reservation lands.
Texas Reports First Local Transmission of Zika Virus
The Zika virus has been transmitted by a mosquito in Texas for the first time, state health officials said Monday. The infected individual lives in Cameron County and has not traveled recently to countries where local transmission of the virus is common and well documented, officials said. She is also not pregnant. The Zika virus is most dangerous to pregnant women, and can cause a condition called microcephaly in babies born to infected women that results in smaller-than-normal heads. Officials say the virus was detected in the woman's urine and not her blood, which means the virus can no longer be spread through mosquito bites. Zika is primarily transmitted through Aedesaegypti mosquitoes, which thrive in warm climates, like in Texas and in South America, where the virus has led to thousands of cases of microcephaly since last year.
San Francisco's Transit System Is Back to Normal After a Ransomware Hack
San Francisco’s transit system returned to normal late Sunday after hackers hijacked its computer network over the weekend and granted tens of thousands of free fares. On Friday, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) payment screens read “OUT OF ORDER” in subway stations across the city. In agents’ booths the screens read: “You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted.” The attackers, who were anonymous, also demanded through their message that Muni pay 100 Bitcoin, or about $73,000, to restore access to its software. The attack did not affect transit service other than rendering Muni’s payment system useless, so for much of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Muni was free. This type of hack is caused by ransomeware, in which hackers encrypt data until the owner pays a requested fee. Ransomware hacks have become increasingly common, and this past year several hospital computer systems were breached in similar attacks. Although Muni service had been restored, Hoodline, a local news site, reported that the hackers responsible claim to have accessed vital agency functions, like payroll, and are still demanding money.
Thousands of protesters demonstrated Monday against the Indian government’s decision to scrap 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee banknotes, the BBC reports. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made the announcement earlier this month, said the move is an effort to fight corruption and to remove fraudulent notes from circulation. He added those still using the denominations would have until the end of the year to deposit them into banks. But critics say the move caused a “financial emergency” by removing 86 percent of the country’s cash overnight. Modi, meanwhile, has called on people to embrace digital, cashless forms of payment. More than 90 percent of India’s transactions are in cash.
German Court Upholds Former Nazi Guard's Conviction
A German federal court on Monday upheld the conviction of a former Nazi guard at the Auschwitz death camp. Oskar Gröning, now 95 years old, was convicted in July 2015 of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews. He appealed the ruling because he said he was only responsible for gathering and sorting valuables at Auschwitz, and was not involved in any crimes. The decision sets a precedent for prosecuting Nazi criminals; the ruling marks the first time an appeals court has determined that helping a concentration camp operate—or as the judge put it, participating in the “machinery of death”—is enough to be convicted, even if prosecutors lack evidence of specific killings. Deutsche Wellereports that the decision could affect several other pending Nazi wartime cases.
Dylann Roof Can Represent Himself at His Death-Penalty Trial
A federal judge in South Carolina ruled Monday that Dylann Roof, who is charged in the killing of nine black churchgoers last year, can represent himself in his death-penalty trial. Judge Richard Gergel of the Federal District Court in Charleston, speaking directly to Roof, called the decision “strategically unwise” but that “it is a decision you have the right to make." Roof made the last-minute request Monday morning as jury selection in his case was set to begin. Roof is accused of shooting and killing nine people at Emanuel AME church in June 2015. Federal authorities say he targeted the individuals because they were black. Roof offered to plead guilty last week in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors refused the deal. If Roof does represent himself, it will allow the self-avowed white supremacist to interview witnesses and family members called to testify.
At least 11 people were injured in an attack at the Ohio State University Monday morning. The suspect was shot and killed by police. Nine people sustained stab wounds wounds. One person is in critical condition. Earlier, OSU said there’s an active shooter on campus, and urged students to shelter in place—but it’s unclear if a gun was used in the attacks.
Buckeye Alert: Active Shooter on campus. Run Hide Fight. Watts Hall. 19th and College.
Japanese Amusement Park Shuts Down Its Ice Rink Filled With Thousands of Frozen Fish
A Japanese theme park was closed Sunday after widespread complaints about its new ice-skating rink, an attraction that featured thousands of dead fish frozen in ice. The rink in the southwest city of Kitakyushu opened two weeks ago and advertised its “Freezing Port” as a world first. It featured about 5,000 dead mackerel, sprats, crabs, and other fish bought from a local market entombed in the ice, some with their mouths open. CNN reported that a Facebook ad for the park featured photos of the frozen fish with caption: “I am d... d... drowning, s ... s... suffocating" (the post has since been deleted). Space World’s manager told CNN the park would unfreeze the fish and hold an “appropriate religious service"; then reuse them as fertilizer.
Syrian Government Troops Take a Key Rebel-Held Part of Aleppo
Syrian government troops have captured Sakhour, a district in the rebel-controlled portion of Aleppo, effectively dividing the city in two, according to state media and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. Russian state-run news sources say the government now controls 40 percent of eastern Aleppo, the last major rebel stronghold; the BBC puts that figures at about one-third. The development is a boost to President Bashar al-Assad, who with the help of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, now appears more firmly in charge of Syria than at any point since the civil war began more than five years ago. About 250,000 civilians live in rebel-held eastern Aleppo; the Syrian government’s assault on the divided city has been criticized by human-rights groups who have called it a war crime.
President-elect Donald Trump is expected to reveal more members of his Cabinet this week. Among those positions likely to be announced is secretary of state. Mitt Romney—the former Massachusetts governor, 2012 GOP presidential nominee, and leading Republican critic of Trump—is said to be a contender, though Kellyanne Conway, a Trump adviser, appeared to dismiss that idea on ABC. Separately, responding to efforts by Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, to seek a recount in several states Trump won, the president-elect, in a series of tweets, suggested—with no evidence—that voter fraud had denied him the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, is leading by about 2 million votes. As my colleague Adam Serwer noted this morning: “The source of Trump’s claim that ‘millions’ of votes were cast illegally appears to be a report from the conspiracy theory website InfoWars, itself based on a tweet from an anti-vote fraud activist who provided no evidence for his claim.” Separately, Trump said Monday: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”
Paul Nuttall has been elected the new leader of the U.K. Independence Party. He takes over from Nigel Farage, who had stepped in as interim leader after Diane James, the previous winner, quit the post after 18 days on the job. Nuttall, 39, was UKIP’s deputy leader. He defeated Suzanne Evans, a former deputy chair of the party, and John Rees-Evans. “We must hold the government’s feet to the fire on leaving the EU,” Nuttall said after his victory. “Brexit must mean Brexit.” Although UKIP wasn’t an official part of the “Leave” campaign, the far-right party championed the U.K.’s exit from the EU.
Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, was first detected in Botswana and South Africa earlier this month, and very little is known about it so far. But the variant is moving fast. South Africa, the country that initially flagged Omicron to WHO this week, has experienced a surge of new cases—some reportedly in people who were previously infected or vaccinated—and the virus has already spilled across international borders into places such as Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel, and the United Kingdom. Several nations are now selectively shutting down travel to impede further spread. For instance, on Monday, the United States will start restricting travel from Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
People with scant illusions about Trump are volunteering to help him execute one of his Big Lies.
If Donald Trump had been supported only by people who affirmatively liked him, his attack on American democracy would never have gotten as far as it did.
Instead, at almost every turn, Trump was helped by people who had little liking for him as a human being or politician, but assessed that he could be useful for purposes of their own. The latest example: the suddenly red-hot media campaign to endorse Trump’s fantasy that he was the victim of a “Russia hoax.”
The usual suspects in the pro-Trump media ecosystem will of course endorse and repeat everything Trump says, no matter how outlandish. But it’s not pro-Trumpers who are leading the latest round of Trump-Russia denialism. This newest round of excuse-making is being sounded from more respectable quarters, in many cases by people distinguished as Trump critics. With Trump out of office—at least for the time being—they now feel free to subordinate their past concerns about him to other private quarrels with the FBI or mainstream media institutions. On high-subscription Substacks, on popular podcasts, even from within prestige media institutions, people with scant illusions about Trump the man and president are nonetheless volunteering to help him execute one of his Big Lies.
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is a mainstay of basic cable—and a rallying cry for a country that is losing touch with itself.
In 2007, in one of the first episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri visited Patrick’s Roadhouse, a railway-station-turned-restaurant in Santa Monica, California. The diner’s chef, Silvio Moreira, walked Fieri through the preparation of one of Patrick’s most notable dishes, the Rockefeller—a burger topped with mushrooms, sour cream, jack cheese, and … caviar. Fieri, looking playfully trepidatious, lifted the burger with both hands, said a fake prayer, and did what he would proceed to do thousands of times on the show: He took an enormous bite. And then he fell silent. “Wooow,” he commented, finally, shooting Moreira a what-have-you-done-to-me look.
“Different, huh?” Moreira said, grinning. “Yeah,” Fieri replied. The show’s camera discreetly cut away to the next scene.
Instead of using his acquittal to promote vigorous discussion, many administrators sent out statements decrying the verdict.
At universities, the recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse should be an opportunity to study a divisive case that sparked complex debates about issues as varied as self-defense laws, guns, race, riots, the rights of defendants, prosecutorial missteps, media bias, and more. If administrators were doing their jobs, faculty and students would freely air a wide variety of viewpoints and have opportunities to better understand one another’s diverse perspectives. Instead, many administrators are preemptively imposing their preferred narratives.
The Rittenhouse saga began in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, amid rioting that followed the police shooting of a Black man. Rittenhouse, then 17, armed himself with an AR-15-style rifle and walked into the chaos, claiming that he intended to protect the community. He wound up shooting three men, killing two. Last week, a Wisconsin jury found him not guilty of murder, crediting his claim that, at the moment he fired, he feared for his life and acted in self-defense. This, many analysts argued, was a plausible conclusion to draw from Wisconsin law and video footage and testimony presented at trial.
The preponderance of the evidence suggests that social media is causing real damage to adolescents.
Social media gets blamed for many of America’s ills, including the polarization of our politics and the erosion of truth itself. But proving that harms have occurred to all of society is hard. Far easier to show is the damage to a specific class of people: adolescent girls, whose rates of depression, anxiety, and self-injury surged in the early 2010s, as social-media platforms proliferated and expanded. Much more than for boys, adolescence typically heightens girls’ self-consciousness about their changing body and amplifies insecurities about where they fit in their social network. Social media—particularly Instagram, which displaces other forms of interaction among teens, puts the size of their friend group on public display, and subjects their physical appearance to the hard metrics of likes and comment counts—takes the worst parts of middle school and glossy women’s magazines and intensifies them.
Every year thousands of Americans die on the roads. Individuals take the blame for systemic problems.
More than 20,000 people died on American roadways from January to June, the highest total for the first half of any year since 2006. U.S. road fatalities have risen by more than 10 percent over the past decade, even as they have fallen across most of the developed world. In the European Union, whose population is one-third larger than America’s, traffic deaths dropped by 36 percent between 2010 and 2020, to 18,800. That downward trend is no accident: European regulators have pushed carmakers to build vehicles that are safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and governments regularly adjust road designs after a crash to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.
But in the United States, the responsibility for road safety largely falls on the individual sitting behind the wheel, or riding a bike, or crossing the street. American transportation departments, law-enforcement agencies, and news outlets frequently maintain that most crashes—indeed, 94 percent of them, according to the most widely circulated statistic—are solely due to human error. Blaming the bad decisions of road users implies that nobody else could have prevented them. That enables car companies to deflect attention from their decisions to add heft and height to the SUVs and trucks that make up an ever-larger portion of vehicle sales, and it allows traffic engineers to escape scrutiny for dangerous street designs.
When life feels this precarious, it’s only natural to roll the dice on just about everything.
Gambling has become one of the defining pleasures of our time, the perfect accompaniment to an era of high-risk, rigged economies and a looming sense of collapse. Once there was Las Vegas; now there’s a Las Vegas in every phone.
You can bet on almost anything today. Elections. Literary prizes. If you have a feeling that, say, Lapuan Virkiä is going to beat Porin Pesakarhut in the women’s Superpesis, the top professional pesäpallo league in Finland, you can put your money where your mouth is. During the pandemic, as casinos and racetracks closed, you could wager on the evening’s forecast in real time, or on the upcoming winter snowfall. There was serious action on the highest daily temperatures of major American cities. Then there are the ads. If you watch sports regularly, you probably feel, as I do, that the games have become interruptions in a more or less constant barrage of wagering promotion. Gambling is swallowing sports.
The traumas of the past year have left some people wrestling with an awful question: Am I still a good person?
Throughout the pandemic, people have had to make impossibly tough decisions. Kathleen Turner, a 52-year-old intensive-care nurse in San Francisco, has been haunted by hers. Since COVID-19 patients started overwhelming her hospital last spring, she has had to give patients sedatives knowing they would likely have lasting negative health consequences, and systematically deny relatives a chance to say goodbye to dying loved ones. Last year, Turner was following guidelines when she told a woman that she could not visit her dying mother—on Mother’s Day. “I upheld the rule on the piece of paper,” she told me. “But in terms of what would a good person do? It’s not that.” Collectively, these experiences have fundamentally shaken her sense of morality. “Am I really a good person? There’s that seed of doubt,” she said.
About one in five health-care workers has left their job since the pandemic started. This is their story—and the story of those left behind.
The moment that broke Cassie Alexander came nine months into the pandemic. As an intensive-care-unit nurse of 14 years, Alexander had seen plenty of “Hellraiser stuff,” she told me. But when COVID-19 hit her Bay Area hospital, she witnessed “death on a scale I had never seen before.”
Last December, at the height of the winter surge, she cared for a patient who had caught the coronavirus after being pressured into a Thanksgiving dinner. Their lungs were so ruined that only a hand-pumped ventilation bag could supply enough oxygen. Alexander squeezed the bag every two seconds for 40 minutes straight to give the family time to say goodbye. Her hands cramped and blistered as the family screamed and prayed. When one of them said that a miracle might happen, Alexander found herself thinking, I am the miracle. I’m the only person keeping your loved one alive. (Cassie Alexander is a pseudonym that she has used when writing a book about these experiences. I agreed to use that pseudonym here.)
His work was strongest when it lingered in the pain of knowing that no ever after lasts long.
Back in 2020, I might’ve imagined the end of the pandemic being something like that gum commercial: everyone together, vaccinated, picking the same time to come safely and communally out of lockdown and get back to the way things were before, so grateful to be alive we practically leapt into each other’s arms as soon as we got the chance. That is not, of course, the way things have gone in 2021. But the closest I’ve felt to that gum-commercial feeling came from being in the audience at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on a recent Monday night, an experience I’ve played and replayed in my head since learning that Stephen Sondheim died suddenly on Friday at 91.
November 15 was the re-opening night for Sondheim’s Company, which had abruptly ceased previews in mid-March of 2020. This production, directed by Marianne Elliott, had previously run in London, and it makes the formerly male protagonist of the show, Bobby, a female Bobbie instead. My colleague Sophie Gilbert has aptly described Elliott’s reimagining of the musical as “a kind of 21st-century Lewis Carroll fever dream.” Bobbie becomes our latter-day Alice, a disoriented but intrepid navigator trying to make sense of the strangeness of contemporary bourgeois life. In that way, it is sort of a perfect show for right now, when a lot of us feel a bit like observers trying to relocate our place as participants in the world. It’s much better living it than looking at it, Bobbie’s friends say. They’re talking about love and marriage, but the line takes on a more expansive meaning in the midst of a pandemic. In the audience, it was hard not to feel elated to be living.