Great books tell stories. Here’s our pick of vivid and insightful new releases for better understanding America, world events, history, science, and theology
Dispatches Quick Takes
In April, Iran slashed state fuel subsidies. Ever since, Iranian citizens unaccustomed to paying high prices for gasoline have been searching for alternative means of transportation. According to a report in Iran’s Persian-language newspaper Khordad, the scramble for substitutes has led Iranians back to an ancient source of locomotion: donkeys. Iranian villagers are parking their motorcycles and paying about $20 for a good donkey and making plans to keep them year-round. The shift to donkeys is good for the animals too. In the past, villagers customarily abandoned their donkeys to cut costs over the winter.
A 15-year-old Belgian boy racked up a bill of more than $46,000 on his grandfather’s credit card by purchasing in-game items on an iPad app. The unnamed boy’s mother says he got the credit card when his mother needed his help downloading digital books to her device. The boy then linked the credit card his mother had borrowed to his own iTunes account. According to an Oct. 3 account in the Dutch newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the boy was playing the popular Game of War: Fire Age game, which is free to play but allows users to spend real money to advance further in the game.
Now we are six
A British boy has become the youngest-ever certified computer specialist after passing the Microsoft Certified Professional exam in October, one month shy of his sixth birthday. Ayan Qureshi took an interest in computers at 3 years old after watching his computer technician father work on software and hardware at home. “I found whatever I was telling him, the next day he’d remember everything I said, so I started to feed him more information,” father Asim Qureshi explained to the BBC. The Coventry boy spent five months preparing for the exam and said the hardest part was not the technical knowledge but understanding the language complexities of the questions.
Hydroelectric dams pose quite the quandary for salmon. The fish need to swim upstream to spawn. And dams, which are becoming more common in the rivers salmon frequent, make that difficult. Enter the salmon cannon, an invention of Whooshh Innovations of Bellevue, Wash. Company CEO Vince Bryan III said his company is in final testing for a device that sucks up salmon from rivers and fires them at 22 mph upstream and over a dam. According to Bryan, the fish, which are unharmed by the 120-foot transport tube, only spend a few seconds out of water. Officially called the Whooshh Transport Conduit, the device works similarly to a pneumatic tube. Bryan said he expects the first tube to be installed on a Washington river in 2015.
Word of mouth
After more than two days in the pulpit, Pastor Zach Zehnder of a Mount Dora, Fla., church has set a world record for longest speech marathon. The 31-year-old pastor of theCross church delivered a 53-hour, 18-minute sermon with the help of 200 pages of notes and more than 600 PowerPoint slides that began on Friday, Nov. 7, and ended at 12:18 p.m. on Sunday. The church parlayed the world record effort into $90,000-worth of donations to a local drug treatment program. To fulfill the Guinness requirements, Zehnder took only rare bathroom breaks and needed at least 10 people in attendance at all times. The church organized congregants at all hours to hear Zehnder’s sermon that spanned Genesis to Revelation. The long-winded pastor actually surpassed the record Sunday morning, but needed nearly five additional hours to wrap up his sermon.
Police in Carver, Mass., are asking citizens to be on the lookout for vandals with vegetables. Responding to a Nov. 11 emergency call of projectiles hitting cars, Officer Dennis Rizzuto arrived on the scene. But when he arrived, a high-velocity ear of corn fired by an unknown assailant crashed through his windshield. The previous day, police received similar reports. No arrests have been made, and no one has been injured in the attacks.
After more than 30 years at the bottom of a landfill, a set of widely panned Atari game cartridges have finally found a market. In 1983, seeking to rid itself of excess video game stock, Atari delivered between 10 and 20 truckloads of game cartridges to a landfill in Alamogordo, N.M., where the unsold product was buried and encased in concrete. But few took that historical account seriously until documentary filmmakers unearthed from the landfill a cache of cartridges in April, including the infamous E.T. game that insiders often blamed for being so bad it caused Atari’s demise. By mid-November, the city of Alamogordo had raked in more than $37,000 from multiple eBay listings of the games.
If Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant gets her way, the city’s homeless may soon be surfing the internet. Sawant, who bills herself as a socialist, announced she intended to press for a portion of the $100,000 in the city’s budget earmarked for serving homeless encampments to be devoted to providing broadband Wi-Fi to Seattle’s tent cities. According to Sawant, if the homeless residents of Seattle’s tent city encampment had Wi-Fi, they could look for jobs or proper housing. The proposal passed an initial city council vote on Nov. 17 and could be passed Nov. 24.
Roadkill to table
The author of Montana’s controversial roadkill permit legislation says the law is a great success. During last year’s legislative session, state Rep. Steve Lavin ushered through a bill that made it legal for residents to take home and cook roadkill. Since the law went into effect in November 2013, the state has issued more than 800 roadkill permits. “I’m elated,” Lavin told the Missoulian. “I’ve heard a lot of positive comments about it.” According to data collected by the state fish and wildlife service, dead whitetail deer accounted for a majority of the issued roadkill permits.