From Trump to #MeToo, publishing made headlines in 2018
By HILLEL ITALIE
AP National Writer
Friday, December 14
NEW YORK (AP) — The publishing world made headlines in 2018, and not always by design. A wave of best-sellers offered damaging accounts of Donald Trump’s White House, a million-selling memoir by Michelle Obama had readers longing for the previous administration and a political thriller by former President Bill Clinton had some taking a closer look at a White House scandal from the 1990s. Meanwhile, some of the country’s top writers were called out for sexual harassment and a Dystopian novel written in the 1980s seemed ever more timely.
Here are some highlights:
FIRE AND FURY: It landed in early January and quickly had the country talking and Trump threatening to sue (a way to boost sales that ranks with an Oprah Winfrey endorsement). Michael Wolff’s tale of backbiting and chaos in the Trump administration wasn’t so much a revelation, as a confirmation of what millions had suspected. Reporters questioned some of his facts but the book had at least one real consequence: Former senior advisor Steve Bannon, who didn’t deny speaking with the author and criticizing both the president and Donald Trump Jr., was forced out as executive chairman of the far-right Breitbart News. His old boss called him “Sloppy Steve.”
#METOO: It began in January with a comments thread on the website of School Library Journal: Stories of widespread harassment by some prominent writers for children and young adults, with the alleged harassers first unnamed, then named. Within weeks “Maze Runner” author James Dashner had been dropped by his publisher and “13 Reasons Why” novelist Jay Asher by his agent. Sherman Alexie, whom the American Library Association had just awarded a Carnegie Medal for his memoir “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” declined the prize. And Daniel Handler of “Lemony Snicket” fame withdrew as commencement speaker at Wesleyan University. His replacement was well known to the #MeToo movement: Anita Hill, the woman who testified in 1991 that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had repeatedly harassed her. “Speaking out, despite the hardship,” Hill told the students, “can be self-liberating and can empower others.”
A HIGHER LOYALTY: In a spirit of anger, admiration and curiosity, readers wanted to know why James Comey re-opened the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails less than two weeks before Election Day and what he and Trump had said to each other before Trump fired him in May 2017, just four months into his administration. “This president,” Comey wrote, “is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values.” Only in the Trump era could a memoir by a former FBI director, one little known to the general public before 2016, sell hundreds of thousands of copies. And only in the Trump era would a sitting president refer to a former FBI director as an “untruthful slimeball.”
PASSAGES: Within eight days last spring, two of the country’s most celebrated writers died, Tom Wolfe and Philip Roth. But 2018 also was a year for welcoming new voices. Tara Westover’s “Educated,” a memoir about growing up in an isolated Mormon home, was a best-seller admired by everyone from book critics to former President Barack Obama. Tommy Orange’s novel “There There” was widely acclaimed and the rare work of literary fiction over the past year to succeed commercially. Other notable debuts included Jamel Brinkley’s story collection “A Lucky Man” and Lisa Halliday’s novel “Asymmetry,” which included a character based on a real-life former lover — Philip Roth.
THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING: The million-selling collaboration between Clinton and James Patterson was the novel of the summer, and launched a very different conversation from what the authors had intended. “The President is Missing,” a near-apocalyptic thriller, is a cautionary tale about preventing cyberattacks. But the book also included a chapter about a president facing impeachment — an experience Clinton is uniquely qualified to draw upon — and Clinton responded defensively to questions about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. “This was litigated 20 years ago,” Clinton told NBC’s Craig Melvin. The most notable thing about his answers, wrote New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister, was that “Clinton seemed to be shocked that he would be asked about his behavior in light of #MeToo.”
FEAR: Bob Woodward, a brand name for inside White House politics, seemed to withdraw during the Obama years. His two works on Obama, “The Price of Politics” and “The Last of the President’s Men,” made little impact compared to such early blockbusters as the Watergate-era “All the President’s Men.” And his only book during Obama’s second term was a return to the Nixon years: “The Last of the President’s Men,” about Alexander Butterfield, the White House aide who revealed to the world that Nixon had a taping system in the Oval Office. But Trump is a singular muse for political writers and with “Fear: Inside the Trump White House,” Woodward was fully back in the present. “Fear,” Woodward’s hottest seller in years, read like a more sober version of “Fire and Fury,” another tale of an uncontrollable chief executive and a staff that tries both to contain and encourage him. Trump’s verdict: “The Woodward book is a Joke.”
BECOMING: The initial headlines were about Trump, whom Michelle Obama vowed she would never forgive for promoting the “birther” lie that her husband was born in Kenya. But Obama’s book quickly became among the best-selling political memoirs ever. Reviewers cited the qualities which millions had admired her for — the warmth and humor of her courtship with the future president, her candor in describing their marital struggles and efforts to have children and the care and insight into how Michelle LaVaughn Robinson — a self-described “girl of the South Side” of Chicago — adapted to being the country’s first black first lady.
MARGARET ATWOOD: The Canadian author didn’t need to publish any new fiction to make news in 2018. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” released more than 30 years ago and dramatized in an acclaimed Hulu series, continued to rank with George Orwell’s “1984” as a defining dystopian text for the current time. Questions from readers about the imagined country of Gilead, a brutal patriarchy that didn’t seem very fictional, were so persistent that Atwood finally changed her mind about writing a sequel and announced that “The Testaments” would come out in 2019.
For more on the the biggest moments of 2018, visit: https://apnews.com/2018-TheYearinReview
Authorities: Wave of hoax bomb threats made across US
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
Friday, December 14
NEW YORK (AP) — A wave of bomb threats emailed Thursday to hundreds of schools, businesses and government buildings across the U.S. triggered searches, evacuations and fear — but there were no signs of explosives, and authorities said the scare appeared to be a crude extortion attempt.
Law enforcement agencies across the country dismissed the threats, saying they were meant to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money and were not considered credible.
Some of the emails had the subject line: “Think Twice.” They were sent from a spoofed email address. The sender claimed to have had an associate plant a small bomb in the recipient’s building and that the only way to stop him from setting it off was by making an online payment of $20,000 in Bitcoin.
“We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city,” the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit tweeted. “These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time.”
Other law enforcement agencies also dismissed the threats, which were written in a choppy style reminiscent of the Nigerian prince email scam.
The Palm Beach County, Florida, sheriff’s office and the Boise, Idaho, police said they had no reason to believe that threats made to locations in those areas were credible. One of the emails wound up in a spam filter, Boise Police Chief William Bones said.
The FBI said it is assisting law enforcement agencies that are dealing with the threats.
“As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety,” the FBI said in a statement.
Thursday’s scare came less than two months after prominent Democratic officials and CNN’s Manhattan offices were targeted with package bombs. The suspect in that case, Cesar Sayoc, is in jail while awaiting trial.
In 2015, an emailed bomb threat prompted different reactions from the nation’s two largest public school systems. The Los Angeles school system closed down under threat of a mass attack, but New York City officials quickly saw it as a hoax.
In the wake of Thursday’s emails, some schools across the country closed early and others were evacuated or placed on lockdown. Authorities said a threat emailed to a school in Troy, Missouri, about 55 miles (88 kilometers) northeast of St. Louis, was sent from Russia.
The bomb threats also prompted evacuations at city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the offices of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a suburban Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.
“Organizations nationwide, both public and private, have reported receiving emailed bomb threats today,” Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shannon Banner said. “They are not targeted toward any one specific sector.”
Penn State University notified students via a text alert about threats to a half-dozen buildings and an airport on its main campus in State College, Pennsylvania. In an update, the school said the threat appeared to be part of a “national hoax.”
Officials at Columbine High School in Colorado were dealing Thursday with a bomb threat of a different sort. Students were being kept inside for the rest of the school day after someone called in a bomb threat against the school.
The Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office said the caller claimed to have placed explosive devices in the school and to be hiding outside with a gun.
Sheriff’s spokesman Mike Taplin said nothing was found at Columbine, where 12 students and a teacher were killed by two students in 1999.
Two dozen other Colorado schools were also temporarily placed on lockout, meaning their doors were locked but classes continued normally, as the threat was investigated.
Associated Press writers contributing to this report include: Colleen Slevin in Denver, Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Saman Creel and Don Babwin in Chicago, Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Missouri, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina, David Fischer in Miami, Michael Balsamo and Eric Tucker in Washington.
Follow Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
How wireless recharging works – and doesn’t, yet
December 14, 2018
Author: Shashank Priya, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Pennsylvania State University
Disclosure statement: Shashank Priya receives funding from federal agencies such as NSF, DARPA and ARO for conducting basic science research.
Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Though the days of hardwired wall-mounted phones are ending and wireless internet connections are common at home and on the go, people are still dependent on cords to charge their mobile devices. My research, and that of others in the field, is working toward the vision of removing power cords by recharging batteries wirelessly.
Pioneering electrical engineer Nikola Tesla first imagined transmitting electricity through the air without wires in the 1890s. The principle is similar to how a radio signal gets from the radio station to your receiver – electricity is converted into electromagnetic waves that, when they arrive at their destination, are converted back into electrical signals. A wireless charging system would, though, have to transmit and receive much more energy than a radio signal.
To date, a major problem has been how little power is able to cross even short distances of a few centimeters between transmitter and receiver. Commercially available wireless chargers require users to place their phones directly on a charging pad; lifting them up, like when answering a phone call, stops the charging. While researchers and industry engineers are developing plans for transferring power over longer distances, it’s not yet possible to recharge an electric car simply by parking it above a charging pad in the pavement of a highway rest area or home garage.
Further progress could be significant: Think about a patient who never needed to have his pacemaker battery replaced or a road system that could charge electric vehicles as they drive. Smoke detectors might never again need their batteries replaced; installing a new lamp in a home could be as easy as hanging a picture – and finding the nearest electrical outlet would no longer be a worry.
Getting alignment just right
The connection between a power transmitter and a receiver is crucial to how much electricity can move from one to the other. Ideally – and most efficiently – the frequency the power is transmitted at would match a natural resonant frequency of the receiver. It’s sort of like when trucks go by your house: Some of them vibrate at the right frequency to rattle your windows, but other trucks slip past with barely a sound.
For wireless charging, a key challenge is making sure that the transmitter and receiver are lined up properly. If they’re not, their frequencies might not match up exactly, dropping the amount of power transferred significantly – or even to zero.
Our research group is working on developing electronic components of chargers that can be adjusted – like tuning a radio – until the resonance frequencies match up. Systems that can be tuned – or, better yet, that can notice on their own when the transmitters and receivers aren’t exactly aligned, and tune themselves automatically – will be much more efficient.
For instance, if an electric car parks on top of a battery charger, ideally, the power receiver and transmitter would line up perfectly, in position to resonate at the same frequency. If the driver parked at an angle, though, or too far forward or back, the transmission won’t be as efficient. In that case, the device senses that power isn’t transferring as well as expected, and can adjust the components to vary the frequency of the transmission to do better.
Our work will align with other research at other universities, developing fast-charging batteries and high-power control electronics to improve efficiency and power density for rapid charging. It’ll take time for all that work to bear fruit that makes it to commercial markets, but a truly cordless future is coming.
Jon Richfield, logged in via Facebook: Important subject, but I am not sure what the upshot will be.
But (my knowledge of electricity is abysmal) I cannot forget seeing as a schoolboy, a demonstration that an electrician gave, in warning us about being careful with apparently harmless setups. We were on a farm, in sunny weather, some tens of metres away from a low tension overhead powerline (perhaps 1000V, 50HzAC?) and he took out a plain, insulated wire a couple of metres long, with a 220V lamp in a socket in the middle.
He grounded one end and held the other end up in the air like an aerial, and the filament immediately glowed visibly in daylight. His demonstration was directed at caution, not power supply, but was interesting none the less.
I also heard it as an urban legend at about that time, that between the world wars, in some regions in Germany, a number of people used the same principle to draw power from powerlines using the same principles without contact (or of course paying) and that the effect on the power delivery became sufficiently serious to be a problem to the suppliers and their revenue.
Would that seem plausible? Would either observation be relevant to charging devices?
From the Editors of E – The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: It seems to me the single biggest potential “environmental” problem we could face—even bigger than global warming or a nuclear war—is a comet or asteroid striking the Earth. Do we currently track these space rocks and if so, how? And do we have any hope of deflecting them if they are headed right for us? — James McClintock, Austin, TX
Environmental advocates don’t normally consider interstellar rocks to be their discipline, per se, but it is true that such an event could cause considerable environmental damage and even threaten the very existence of life on Earth. Indeed, when a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid struck the Earth some 66 million years ago, it wiped out three-quarters of the planet’s plant and animal species (including the dinosaurs) and caused damage to the environment that lasted centuries.
Humans weren’t around to witness the effects of that cataclysm, of course, but we do know that a large impact today could trigger massive firestorms, mudflows, earthquakes and tsunamis as well as acid rain, ozone depletion and rapid greenhouse warming—not to mention an “impact winter” whereby pulverized rock dust and other debris would blanket the skies and block the transmission of sunlight, effectively stopping photosynthesis around the globe. A big enough strike could effectively wipe out life on Earth.
NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) is charged with providing timely and accurate communications on these threatening space rocks—including issuing warnings about potential impacts—and leading the coordination of federal response planning. Currently PDCO uses a combination of existing satellite and telescope technologies to track comets and asteroids but is currently developing a new space-based infrared telescope dubbed “NEOCam” (short for Near-Earth Object Camera) specifically for the purpose of surveying the solar system for large space rocks (larger than 140 meters across). But the project is far from a front-burner concern for NASA right now, and proponents are hoping Congress will earmark funds specifically to complete its development in the short term.
Meanwhile, the California-based B612 Foundation is focusing on detection of smaller asteroids. “The real gap is the 100 times as many asteroids smaller than 140 meters but still large enough to destroy things on the ground,” reports Ed Lu, the co-founder of B612. His team is currently working on a network of five to 10 telescope-equipped satellites to track these smaller space rocks and provide early warning services.
But just because we’re able to detect and track asteroids doesn’t mean we can deflect them. According to expert witness testimony at a 2013 Congressional hearing on the topic, NASA would need five years’ lead time—and a commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars—to be able to intercept an asteroid.
Despite this warning, we’ve made no progress in the intervening years. A June 2018 report from the Cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council warns that America remains unprepared for an asteroid impact event and urges the federal government to fund efforts to get ready for what astronomers say is inevitable at some point in the future. That said, unlike other environmental problems besetting us, there isn’t anything individuals can do to protect the planet from asteroid or comet strikes—except to urge their representatives in Congress to support legislation that funds programs and technologies designed to detect and deflect those incoming civilization busters.
CONTACTS: “Environmental Damage from Asteroid and Comet Impacts,” users.tpg.com.au/users/tps-seti/climate.htm; PDCO, nasa.gov/planetarydefense; B612 Foundation, b612foundation.org.
EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. To donate, visit www.earthtalk.org. Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.