Witch Hunts, Satanist Scares and Stranger Danger

Posted in America, Books, Clips, Culture, Parenting, Science on August 20, 2015 by frankbures

WeBelieveChildrenA Q&A with Richard Beck:

In the 1980s there was a panic in America, a moral panic. Satanists and deviants, it was feared, were everywhere, operating secretive sects that targeted children for ritual sexual abuse. The panic spread across the country, to small towns. It destroyed communities in New Jersey, Florida, Texas, and many other places, including Minnesota where in Jordan, just southeast of the Twin Cities, some 23 innocent people were charged by prosecutors for these crimes, charges which were ultimately dismissed. The charges were false. The wild accounts of orgiastic abuse were elicited with leading questions from prosecutors and therapists. In the end, more than 190 people across the country were formally charged in these cases, and 80 were convicted. People like former Attorney General Janet Reno launched their careers off them.

In his new book, “We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s,” Richard Beck, an editor at n+1 magazine, looks at the causes of the panic, the evidence, the trials themselves and their effects.

Read the rest here.

The Lost Girls of South Sudan

Posted in Africa, Clips on August 12, 2015 by frankbures

926345_1_080415CASouthSudangirls_standardFrom the Christian Science Monitor and The Rotarian:

The girls were alone. Their families were dead, or gone, or lost in the broken landscape of southern Sudan. They had nowhere to turn, and no one to turn to. Some lived in the market, others in the cemetery.

When Cathy Groenendijk saw them, she couldn’t help herself. She offered them tea, then some food, then a place to sleep in her guesthouse.

“In the morning, we would sit together and talk about what had happened the night before,” Groenendijk remembers. “And what I heard I could not believe. I could not believe it.”
Recommended: Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.

One girl’s father had died, and after the funeral, she never saw her mother again. She was living on the streets with some other kids when four men started chasing them. The other girls were faster. She fell behind and was caught and raped by all four men. Groenendijk knew a doctor who repaired the physical damage, saving her life.

Another three girls, ages eight, six, and one, lived with their mother, but they all slept in the open. Groenendijk helped them build a tarped shelter, but the hot sun ate it away. One night, a man snuck in and tried to assault one of the girls. After that, Groenendijk let them sleep on her veranda.

Read the rest here.

The Importance of Self-Deception

Posted in Clips, Science on August 2, 2015 by frankbures


From The Rotarian:

One evening, sitting in the back seat of the car, our two girls, ages six and eight, were discussing the show we were on our way to attend. Called The Illusionists, it featured seven of the world’s top magicians. The debate consisted of whether there would be real magic involved, or just tricks.

“When they cut the man in half,” our younger daughter asked, “how do they keep the blood in?” She was convinced there was true magic. Her older sister, a little wiser, wasn’t buying it.

“Easy,” she said. “R-o-b-o-t.” She rolled her eyes at how obvious this was.

During the show, sure enough, we came to the part where a man – standing up, no less – was sawed in half. His torso fell onto a table, while his legs walked offstage. His top half was wheeled around before us, perfectly animate, perfectly alive.

It was clearly not a robot. Yet what it was, none of us could imagine. And even if we could have found out how it worked, I’d almost rather not. Because in a sense, both girls were right: There was real magic and there were tricks. The magic is in wondering how you were tricked. That’s why we go to see performances like the Illusionists’.

Humans are not hard to deceive. If we were, most political careers would be much shorter.

Read the rest here.

Deadly Odyssey: Migrant Journeys

Posted in Africa on May 24, 2015 by frankbures

Wonderful video from Reported.ly:

On Vaccines, Fear and the Islands We Create

Posted in America, Clips, Science on April 30, 2015 by frankbures

cover_MayFrom The Rotarian:

Not long after our first daughter was born, I remember seeing her on the exam table in the doctor’s office, lying on her back, with the white paper crinkling underneath her. She was soft and small and fragile. I remember watching the needle pierce her leg, and feeling a strange mix of guilt and relief. There was a slight delay before her face changed and her scream filled the room. As a father, I cringed.

In 2006, there were rumors about mercury in the injections, and some possible link with autism. My wife and I had heard them. With the anxiety of all new parents, we wanted, more than anything, to keep our daughter from harm. But sorting through the opinions and anecdotes and research was overwhelming. We were torn between fear, belief, and trust.

Fortunately, we had a good doctor whom we did trust, who assured us that the shots didn’t contain mercury and that they posed no risk of autism. We believed her. We were too exhausted to do much more than that. Things might have been harder if we’d felt differently about our doctor, or about Western medicine, or about the world. But we didn’t. We just did our best. Today our daughter is healthy and thriving. For that we’re grateful. Yet a surprising number of new parents in my generation don’t feel the way we did. They don’t believe their doctors. And they haven’t come to see vaccinations as an obvious, logical, low-risk choice.

Read the rest here.

Blue Highway: A journey down the Mississippi

Posted in America, Clips, Travel on April 7, 2015 by frankbures

BHCoverFrom Minnesota Monthly:

Early one morning last summer, JD Fratzke and I met on the banks of the Mississippi River. The light was dim. The water was calm. Fish were making rings on the surface. JD and I had grown up together on this river, further south in Winona. We’d both spent much of our young lives swimming in it, boating on it, and hanging out at parties in its backwaters. Now it was time to follow it.

I had biked down it. I had driven down it. But I had never floated down on its surface. I had the idea of kayaking from Minneapolis to Hastings, a 33-mile trip, which I thought I could make in a day if the river was fast. When I mentioned this to JD, his reaction was instant: He’d always wanted to do the same. He came from a family of hunters and fishermen and spent nearly every weekend growing up on the river. He remembers one morning out fishing with his dad when he turned and asked why they never went to church. His dad looked at him and said, “Don’t you feel like you are in church?”

Rope SwingFor those of us who grew up on the river, it flows through our minds and our lives, even though we can’t spend aimless days on rope swings any more. For his part, JD spends most of his time running his restaurant, the Strip Club Meat & Fish in St. Paul, where he turns dead things into delicacies. For my part, I spend too much time in my office staring at a screen. To both of us, the river feels like a kind of refuge.

Read the rest here.

AWP Minneapolis

Posted in Art, Books, Events on March 24, 2015 by frankbures

imgresBefore long, some 12,000 writers and 2,000 presenters will descend on this town (Minneapolis) for the annual AWP Conference & Bookfair. Officially, it’s the largest literary conference in the country. Unofficially (I’m told) it’s a big party for writers. Whatever it is, the number of panels and speakers is mind-boggling, and I don’t know how anyone could choose between them. Fortunately for me that choice is easier, since I’ll be on two panels, both related to travel writing. Both should make for great conversations on important issues.

The first, is called, “Can Literary Quarterlies Save Travel Writing?” and features some people I’ve known for a while, and others I haven’t: Jim Benning, Tom Swick, Pamela Petro and Sally Shivnan. I’ll be standing in for the moderator, Evan Balkan. I expect we will answer this question definitively.

The other is “Wild v. Into the Wild: X and Y Chromosomes in Travel Writing,” featuring Eva Holland, Brian Kevin and Kelly Ferguson moderating, with a focus on the differences between men’s and women’s travel writing.

If that wasn’t enough, there will also be a travel writing-themed reading called “Notes From the Road” on Saturday at 4pm at Honey, featuring many of the same writers, as well as Leif Peterson, Annie Scott Riley and Doug Mack, who kindly organized the event and who is busy finishing his new book about the U.S. Territories.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 733 other followers