Friday, November 9th, 2018


Havana, Ooh Na-Na

You come across plenty of mysteries when you're reading the news. But usually, what looks like a mystery to the average news consumer is completely understood by those who have access to classified intelligence or work in places like the CIA and the Pentagon. That's what makes the story of the unexplained brain injuries that afflicted dozens of American diplomats and spies such a truly mysterious mystery. Even those in the know don't know what happened. Adam Entous and Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker: The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome. "The Americans suffered from headaches, dizziness, and a perplexing range of other symptoms. Later, specialists studied their brains and determined that the injuries resembled concussions, like those suffered by soldiers struck by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there were no signs of impact. One of the specialists said it was as if the victims had a 'concussion without concussion.' Douglas Smith, who oversaw a team that examined the victims at the University of Pennsylvania, said, 'None of us have ever encountered anything like this before.' Experts at the C.I.A. were baffled by what they saw as an alarming new threat, one of the most confounding medical and espionage mysteries to involve American personnel overseas since the Cold War. The affliction didn't have a name, so some of the victims started to refer to it simply as the Thing." (I actually prefer the name The Thing as, at least in my house, Havana Syndrome has long been defined as that feeling you get when your kids put Camila Cabello on repeat for too long.)


Paradise Lost

For the second time in just over a year, people in the Bay Area woke up to find ash covering their driveways and apocalyptic levels of smoke closing schools and canceling events. In short, California is burning. Large areas of the state from Malibu to Chico are being evacuated as a series of incredibly fast moving fires engulf acres of land (along with anything that sits upon them). Thousands of structures have been destroyed and fatalities have been reported. NBC News: 3 blazes destroying homes and forcing massive evacuations.

+ AP: "A wildfire that moved so fast firefighters didn't even try to stop it killed five people, authorities said Friday as the blaze quadrupled in size after leveling much of a Northern California town of nearly 30,000 people." (San Francisco is about 170 miles away from the fire's epicenter. But the entire Bay went from clear skies to being blanketed by smoke, haze, and ash over the course of an hour or two.)

+ Paradise, California: "The whole town's on fire." Here are some devastating photos from the scene.


Weekend Whats

What to Pod: "As Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán goes on trial, VICE News explores his high-stakes case through the stories of people caught up in the drug war in the U.S. and Mexico." A podcast that takes you from the Brooklyn Bridge to El Chapo's hometown in La Tuna. Available on Spotify: Chapo: Kingpin on Trial.

+ What to Doc: During the latest campaign season, there were a lot of musical artists who complained when their songs were being co-opted by politicians (particularly, the president). These controversies are nothing new. And neither is the idea of politicians essentially trying to co-brand themselves with musicians. All this makes it an ideal time to check out Tricky Dick and the Man in Black on Netflix, a documentary about the time Nixon invited Johnny Cash to perform at the White House, and quickly found himself in a ring of fire...

+ What to Book: My wife Gina is the most prolific reader I've ever seen. And every few months, she's shares lists of the best books she's read. Here's the latest collection.


Matt Chance

In the last couple days, we've learned a lot of troubling details about Matt Whitaker, President Trump's interim Attorney General who got the gig after Jeff Sessions was squeezed out. When Trump was asked about his acting AG, "whose past business ties and comments on the Russia investigation and other topics have drawn scrutiny," the president explained: "I don't know Matt Whitaker." (Even the Fox and Friends cast did a spit-take...)

+ As Trump signs a proclamation to deny asylum to many migrants crossing the southern border, The New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer looks at a key part of Jeff Session's legacy: Jeff Sessions Is Out, But His Dark Vision for Immigration Policy Lives On.

+ WSJ: "Taken together, the accounts refute a two-year pattern of denials by Mr. Trump, his legal team and his advisers that he was involved in payoffs to Ms. McDougal and a former adult-film star. They also raise the possibility that the president of the United States violated federal campaign-finance laws." Donald Trump Played Central Role in Hush Payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.


Shots and Prayers

Telemachus Orfanos was one of the survivors of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. A year later, he was at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. And this time he didn't make it out. His mother delivered a pained and powerful message to reporters: "My son was in Las Vegas with a lot of his friends and he came home. He didn't come home last night. I don't want prayers, I don't want thoughts, I want gun control."


Wrestling with Reality

"Somebody has to filter Dan or he's going to get killed. The whole thing of wrestling is to play on the raw emotions of the crowd, but with Dan there's a chance you may have to fight your way out of the building." LA Times: This wrestling villain praises Hillary and invokes Obamacare. Meet the Progressive Liberal, who's body-slamming his way through Trump country. (I still think big time wrestling is the best analogy we have for the Trump era. You know what you're watching isn't true or real, but it's so entertaining, you can't turn away...)


Apartment Complex

"Soon-to-be-published research will show roughly 22 percent of China's urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study." Bloomberg: A Fifth of China's Homes Are Empty. That's 50 Million Apartments. (I'm no macro-economist, but this doesn't sound good...)


Let Them Eat Cheesecake

"I serve on the Henry County zoning board, and so I kept seeing all of these places like Bojangle's, Waffle Houses, dollar stores, and all this going up in our county. And I was like, why can't we get a Cheesecake Factory, or a P.F. Chang's or a Houston's? We have areas that have high incomes, so what's the deal?" CityLab: "The wealthy residents of Eagle's Landing voted Tuesday on whether to secede from the metro Atlanta city of Stockbridge, just after a black mayor and an all-black city council took office." (They lost on election day but still deserve kudos for managing to stand out as being nuts when everything seems nuts.) The Strangest Form of White Flight.


Runner Up

"She's a physically gifted athlete, but it's her head game that sets Dauwalter apart, even in the world of titanium-minded endurance specialists. Soul-crushing landscapes and dog-shit weather don't even count as annoyances to her. Swirling intestines, hallucinations, a sleep-starved brain struggling with basic cognition, quads so swollen they appeared to be swallowing her kneecaps—her response to this sort of agony is to wonder how much farther she can go." Deadspin: Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter Takes On The World's Most Sadistic Endurance Race.

+ This race is put on by the same maniac who created the Barkley Marathons, which is chronicled is this great documentary.


Feel Good Friday

How about if we just get the weekend started with 38 photos of people who do nice things for other people?

+ First-of-its-kind surgery allows child with polio-like illness to walk again.

+ "The decline in CFCs in our atmosphere as a result of those measures now mean the ozone layer is expected to have fully recovered sometime in the 2060s." Ozone layer hole will totally heal within 50 years.

+ Related: The US just elected 9 new scientists to Congress, including an ocean expert, a nurse, and a biochemist.

+ A Boy Has Dished Out More Than 65,000 Doughnuts To Cops To Say Thank You. (Next he's going to have to hand out 65,000 Fitbits...)

+ Even though it's still disturbingly high, the US cigarette smoking rate has reached new low.

+ Love Knows No Species: An Emu and a Donkey Have Fallen For Each Other.