Wikinews:Briefs/August 2, 2010

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Today on Wikinews : As California attempts to get the Crown Fire under control, floods in Pakistan leave at least 800 dead; after 100 days, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill still threatens the Gulf coast; Chelsea Clinton gets married and, in history, one of the giants of American literature dies in 1988.

Today is Monday, August 02, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and this is Wikinews.


Over the weekend,

the Crown Fire, which has burned through 13,980 acres in the High Desert of Southern California since Thursday, was, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department at 82% containment Saturday evening.

On Friday, over 2,000 residents of Leona Valley, Ana Verde, and Rancho Vista were given mandatory evacuation orders as the sky was blanketed with thick orange pyrocumulus clouds and falling ash, making the air hard to breathe. However, by late Friday night, all existing evacuation orders were lifted and 500 residents of Rancho Vista were told to "shelter in place" until further notice. Yet despite the absence of mandatory evacuation orders, over 2,000 houses, 60 commercial buildings, and 100 outbuildings are still under threat.

At the height of the fire, 1,700 firefighters from all over California were battling the flames, although as of 12:00 pm Saturday afternoon, it has been reduced to around 1,350 personnel. Three firefighters have been injured battling the fire, although all injuries are minor. One sheriff deputy was also hospitalized for smoke inhalation but has since been released. The fire has so far destroyed one house and three mobile homes, damaging the roof of another and burning car garages, horse stables, and other outbuildings.

As dry conditions threaten the residents of California,

The worst flooding in 80 years in Pakistan has left at least 800 people dead, and affected over a million more. The floods were caused by heavy monsoon rains and have destroyed homes in the country, especially in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department said that twelve inches of rain fell over a 36 hour period. Sohail Rahman, reporting for Al Jazeera from Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, said that Islamabad experienced a "deluge of water" flowing south from Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. He went on to say that "floods have really affected the infrastructure in and around the province. The people in the affected areas were quite critical in the first 24 hours, saying that the authorities were not doing enough."

Rescue operations have been hampered by the weather; while seventeen helicopters are operating, with more to come, they cannot operate in all areas due to the weather, and just 48 boats are available for use by rescue crews.

Last Wednesday, the bad weather was also to blame for a passenger plane crash which killed all 152 on board. Four days later, on Saturday,

investigators found the black box and flight data recorder of Airblue Flight 202 that crashed into the Margalla Hills of Pakistan's capital city.

Junaid Amin, the head of Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority, told CNN that the recorders will be sent to either Germany or France, which have the necessary resources to analyze the data. Such an investigation could take months to complete, however.

The black box records communication data and technical information such as speed and altitude, as well as conversations in the airplane cockpit. It could thus help investigators determine why the plane crashed.

Another air disaster, this time in Alaska, took place on Sunday when

a cargo plane crashed into a mountain in Alaska's Denali National Park, killing around three people and sparking a small wildfire after the aircraft disintegrated and burst into flames. According to the National Park Service, the plane crashed into the southern slope of Mount Healy, and the crash was just 200 yards away from Denali's only road.

Though it is estimated that three people died in the crash, it has been hard to determine exactly how many died as, according to park spokeswoman Kris Fister, "the plane pretty much disintegrated,". The explosion from the crash sparked a small wildfire that firefighters contained within two acres (one hectare.)

Though George Clare, a man from Las Vegas who witnessed the crash, thought the plane looked like a military aircraft, US military officials have stated that none of their planes were involved. Clare has said that the plane was "... a military khaki green kind of color. It was propellor-driven. It was a fixed wing aircraft and it had kind of a flat underbelly."

Jeff Kowalczyk, an EMT hiking through the 6,075,107 acre park with his wife, a nurse, said that he saw the plane positioned almost upside-down as it crashed. The crash was only a few hundred yards from where he was watching, and he also said "the whole experience was really surreal."

The crash came just four days after another major airplane crash that happened in the vicinity, when a military cargo plane crashed a minute after taking off at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. The crash killed four people onboard who were training for an airshow.

Last Wednesday marked the 100th day since the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and although the leaking well was recently capped, the estimated three million or more barrels of oil already in the Gulf of Mexico are still causing trouble for many residents of the Gulf coast.

There are still many unanswered questions about the long-term impact of the spill, including how it has affected the environment and natural habitats of the Gulf as well as whether residents of the area will be able to return to their jobs and livelihoods now that the leak has been capped. US government officials say that, even after the oil well is permanently sealed, workers will still have a lot to do, including the removal of around 20 million feet of containment boom. "I would characterize this as the first 100 days. There's a lot of work in front of us," said Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft of the US Coast Guard.

Authorities will use submarines to assess damage underwater, while teams on the ground assess the shoreline. While removing oil from beaches is expected to be fairly straightforward, cleaning the marshlands will be particularly difficult, as boats are needed to maneuver through small channels and workers are unable to stand on solid ground. At least 638 miles (1,027 kilometres) of the Gulf coast have been hit by the oil.

The government is focusing on both cleaning sensitive coastal regions and looking for underwater oil plumes, but is also probing into what may have been the largest accidental oil spill. The US Justice Department, as well as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, are all investigating what contributed to the disaster. The Washington Post reported one team is looking into whether a close relationship between BP and government regulators played a role in the spill. The Post also said that Deepwater Horizon operator Transocean as well as oil services group Halliburton were being investigated.

BP officials say that they will try to perform the "static kill" process on Monday, a process which involves pumping a thick mixture of mud and cement down into the cap currently stopping the leak. At the end of next week, one of two relief wells currently being drilled should reach the leaking well, and officials will then know if the static kill has worked. It is hoped that this "bottom kill" operation will be able to permanently seal the damaged well.

Even though BP is close to sealing the oil reservoir, it still faces legal battles, economic struggles, and internal changes. On Tuesday, BP announced Tony Hayward would step down from his position as the company's chief executive. His replacement, American Bob Dudley, will be the first non-British CEO of the company.

On Thursday, lawyers met at a Boise, Idaho hearing to determine how around 200 various lawsuits against BP will play out. Depending on whether the suits can be consolidated, BP could be facing years of legal disputes. BP, Transocean, and Halliburton had already blamed each other for the disaster during a May hearing before the US Senate. Federal regulatory officials were criticized for allegedly taking bribes and not thoroughly inspecting the oil rig.

The company also reported a quarterly loss of US$16.9 billion and said it has allocated US$32.2 billion to pay for the spill. BP has a US$20 billion fund to help make up for the massive losses of the Gulf fishing, oil, and tourism industries and will pay damages for each of the millions of barrels of oil lost in the disaster.

BP says that it is the "responsible party" for cleaning up the spill because it owned the leaking well and had leased the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, but claims that it is not responsible for the entire spill.

The overall economic picture for the United Sates was just as gloomy as

the US government announced on Friday that economic growth in the US has slowed to 2.4% in the second quarter as the economy struggles with high unemployment and the aftermath of the worst recession since the 1930's.

This slower rate compares with a newly revised number of 3.7% for Q1, and 5% in Q4 of last year. Economists had been expecting economic growth of 2.5% for Q2.

For this year's second quarter, the Bureau of Economic Analysis' report on the economy carried more disappointing news. Consumer spending growth in the North American country slowed from 1.99% in Q1 to just 1.6%. Also, businesses and retailers stocked shelves at a slower pace, and America's trade deficit, the largest in the world, widened as the country imported more goods.

The US Commerce Department also revised some of their estimated economic growth statistics. The Department revised their estimate of Q1 economic growth from 2.7% to 3.7%, and also revised their estimate of the severity of the 2007–2009 recession from a real-GDP contraction of 2.5% to an new figure of 2.8%.

There were some economic bright spots in Q2. State and local governments, who have been cutting spending for months, spent 1.3% more than in Q1. Residential investment grew 27.9% from -12.3% in Q1. Nonresidential building investment rose for the first time in two years, and disposable personal incomes rose 4.4%, though it appears that people are not spending it.

One of US President Obama's plans to improve the US economy has been a focus on alternative energy and so on Friday,

the President test drove a Chevrolet Volt during a visit to a General Motors plant in Michigan. The visit was part of a larger trip to the Detroit area to discuss the progress of Obama's bailout of the auto industry earlier in his administration.

As the president toured the factory, managers invited him to test drive the Volt, which will soon be manufactured there. After consulting reluctant top aides and Secret Service personnel, Obama accepted. "I hope it has an air bag," said press secretary Robert Gibbs. Obama hopped into the car with assembly manager Teri Quigley, buckled his seat belt, and crept forward about ten feet (three meters). As he got out he remarked that the ride was "pretty smooth".

Obama visited the Detroit area to defend his controversial decision to invest US$50 billion in the failing auto industry last year. "It's estimated we would have lost another million jobs had we not stepped in," said Obama. Instead, job growth totaled 50,000 workers this year, the largest since 1999. Obama warns, though, that recovery is not yet complete.

This was the second time Obama drove a car since early 2007, when as a presidential candidate he requested Secret Service protection. The first was a Dodge Charger, which he drove a few months ago at a Secret Service training facility.

As American consumers gear up to go green in their new automobiles, the US's leading professional stock car series stayed green despite threating rain clouds on Sunday giving

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle his first win of the season after leading thirty laps during the 2010 Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. The victory kept him in the top twelve points position, but he was still 428 points behind Kevin Harvick.

This was his fifteenth career victory; his previous win came sixty-four races ago in 2008 at Dover International Speedway.

Tony Stewart finished in the second position, ahead of Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick in third and fourth, respectively. Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Martin Truex, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top ten positions. The race had a total of five cautions and twenty-three lead changes among nine different drivers. Jimmie Johnson led the most laps by leading ninety-six.

In the point standings, Harvick and Gordon remained in the first and second position, and Hamlin maintained the third position as Johnson kept fourth. Burton, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Stewart followed in the top eight points positions. Matt Kenseth fell to the ninth position, as Edwards remained in tenth. Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top twelve, and are currently in the Chase.

On Monday, the Ministry of Defence announced that two UK troops died in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as the result of two isolated occurrences yesterday. Small arms fire killed one soldier, who came from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards in the Lashkargah District.

The other individual, who was working as a Royal Marine within 40 Commando, was in the Sangin District when the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED) occurred. The families of the deceased have now been notified.

Including these new deaths, the total number of UK military deaths in Afghanistan has rose to 327. The UK has been active in Afghanistan since October 2001. Task Force Helmand spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Southall spoke of the soldier's "selfless courage and sacrifice". He commented: "Commanding his men, he was killed in action by small arms fire whilst providing security to the Afghan people." Southall also stated about the Marine: "He gave his life whilst seeking to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. His sacrifice will not be forgotten."

Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of former US president William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton and current US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, wed long-time boyfriend and investment banker Marc Mezvinsky on Saturday evening. The ceremony occurred in Rhinebeck, New York amidst a flurry of secrecy and speculation surrounding the event.

Not much was known about the wedding, and those involved in the event did not say anything to the media. An estimated 500 guests were at the ceremony, which took place at Astor Courts, a large Beaux Arts estate built for John Jacob Astor IV over 100 years ago. The secluded mansion is situated on 50 acres (20.2 hectares) of land in the small town of Rhinebeck. A no-fly zone was established over the estate.

The guest list was the subject of much speculation, but notable figures Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, and John Major reportedly did not attend the festivities. Madeleine Albright, Steve Bing, Warren Buffet, and Kobe Bryant were rumored to have been seen at the wedding.

The marriage ceremony was led by Rabbi James Ponet and the Reverend William Shillady. Mezvinsky, who is Jewish, wore a tallit (prayer shawl) and a yarmulke. Clinton is a Methodist. A Clinton family friend read the poem "The Life That I Have", by Leo Marks. Chelsea Clinton wore a strapless dress designed by Vera Wang. She had been spotted by Women's Wear Daily at Wang's New York showroom earlier last week, and Wang was reportedly seen in Rhinebeck as well.

The town of Rhinebeck was the subject of much public interest on Saturday. Photographers, journalists, and ordinary citizens lined the streets to get a peek at the celebrities attending the wedding. Many stores had signs saying something similar to "Congratulations Marc & Chelsea." Residents temporarily displaced by the wedding were even given bottles of wine for the inconvenience.

30-year-old Chelsea Clinton and 32-year-old Marc Mezvinsky first met in Washington, D.C. while teenagers, and both later attended Stanford University. Now living in New York, Mezvinsky works at G3 Capital as an investment banker, while Clinton recently earned her master's degree in public health at Columbia University. Mezvinsky is the son of the now-divorced Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky and Ed Mezvinsky, friends of the Clinton family.

Although thought to cost several million dollars, a Clinton family friend claimed that the event would carry a price tag of less than US$1 million.

Canadian pop and R&B singer Justin Bieber has announced that he will publish a memoir. Titled Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever: My Story, the hardcover book features several photos and will cover the sixteen-year-old's "journey to superstardom".

The book is scheduled to be sold for US$21.99 starting on October 22. Along with a planned biopic and a biographical comic book titled Fame: Justin Bieber, the memoir is to form Bieber's three-part biography.

On this day in history (19:28)

The opening to a compilation titled "Where I'm Calling From" bears a quote written by Milan Kundera from his novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". The quote reads "We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come." In other words, things are clear in retrospect, but not as they are happening.

It is no mistake then that this quote opens the beginning to a collection of short stories by Rayomd Carver, who died on this day in history in 1988. Carver, who was only 50 when he died, described himself as "inclined toward brevity and intensity"; his writing focused on the blue-collar experience, and was clearly reflective of his own life; a life of alcoholism and recovery and most importantly, the theme of communication - or, more accurately, the inability and struggle to communicate with ourselves and each other.

Carver came from humble beginnings. He was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, a mill town along the Columbia River, and grew up in Yakima, Washington. His father, a skilled sawmill worker from Arkansas, was a fisherman and a heavy drinker and his mother worked on and off as a waitress and retail clerk.

As a child, he busied himself reading Mickey Spillane crime novels and, being an active hunter and fisherman, sports and outdoor recreation magazines. After high school, at the age of 19 in June 1957, he worked in the sawmill with his father and married Maryann Burk, who was 16 at the time. Their daughter, Christine La Rae, was born in December the same year.

When Carver was 20, he supported his family by working as a janitor, sawmill laborer, delivery man, and library assistant while Maryann worked as a waitress, salesperson, administrative assistant, and high school English teacher.

The family then moved to California where Maryann's mother lived and Carver soon became interested in writing. While attending a creative-writing course, he met the novelist John Gardner who would become his mentor and ultimately had a major influence on Carver's life and career.

By 1963, after attending Chico State University and Humboldt State College, Carver had earned his BA and began to publish and edit in the University literary magazine Toyon. In 1968, while working as a night custodian he published his first book of poetry titled Near Klamath with the guidance of poet Dennis Schmitz. For three years he held a job as a textbook editor for Science Research Associates but was fired in 1970 for his inappropriate writing style, however at this piont his writing career began to take off.

Carver's writing style and themes are often identified with Ernest Hemingway and Anton Chekhov with minimalism being generally seen as one of the hallmarks of Carver's work. This style grew from Gardner's advice for Carver to use fifteen words instead of twenty-five and more dramatically, when Carver was being edited by the famed Esquire magazine editor Gordon Lish to use five in place of fifteen. However, objecting to the "surgical amputation and transplantation" of Lish's heavy editing, Carver eventually broke with him.

His style has also been described as Dirty realism, which connected him with a group of writers in the 1970s and 1980s that included Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff -- two writers Carver was closely acquainted with -- as well as Ann Beattie and Jayne Anne Phillips. With the exception of Beattie, who wrote about upper-middle class people, these were writers who focused on sadness and loss in the everyday lives of ordinary people -- often lower-middle class or isolated and marginalized people -- who represent Henry David Thoreau's idea of living lives of "quiet desperation."

Carver's focus on short stories and poems was "that the story [or poem] can be written and read in one sitting." This was not simply a preference but, particularly at the beginning of his career, a practical consideration as he juggled writing with work and family.

During his years of working different jobs, rearing children, and trying to write, Carver started to drink heavily. By his own admission, eventually he more or less gave up writing and took to full-time drinking. In the fall semester of 1973, Carver was a teacher in the Iowa Writers' Workshop with John Cheever, but Carver stated that they did less teaching than drinking and almost no writing. The next year, after leaving Iowa City, Cheever went to a treatment center to attempt to overcome his alcoholism, but Carver continued drinking for three years. After being hospitalized three times (between June 1976 and February or March 1977), Carver began his 'second life' and stopped drinking on June 2, 1977, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.

By 1984, Carver was nominated for his second National Book Award for his collection of short stories titled Cathedral, a story Carver saw as a watershed in his career in its shift towards a more optimistic and confidently poetic style.

It is within this collection that Carver's theme of communication and human connectedness is most apparent. In the story titled "A Small, Good Thing", Carver writes about a family who have just lost their child after being hit by a car in a minor accident. In the story, he writes "[Ann]", the boy's mother, "gazed out into the parking lot and then turned around and looked back at the front of the hospital. She began shaking her head. "No, no," she said. "I can't leave him here, no." She heard herself say that and though how unfair it was that the only words that came out were the sort of words used on TV shows where people were stunned by violent or sudden deaths. She wanted her words to be her own."

In Cathedral, "A Small, Good Thing" is printed near the halfway point of the collection, yet the final story, the titular "Cathedral", resolves this inability for characters to communicate. In the story, the main character is asked to draw a cathedral for an old blind man who has no concept of a cathedral, a task he is reluctant to do, but in the process of moving the pen across the paper as the old, blind man holds onto the main characters pen hand, he experiences a brief moment of revelation which he can only describe as "It's really something".

Much like the main character, Carver had experienced a real breakthrough, and by this point he was considered one of the major figures in American literature. However, in 1988, only 6 weeks after marrying his second wife, Tess Gallagher, herself a writer, he died of lung cancer at only 50 years old.

Yet Carver believed he would have died of alcoholism at the age of 40 if he hadn't found a way to stop drinking. When he knew the cancer would kill him, he wrote a poem about that bonus of 10 years, called "Gravy."

So, while me may not know how to make sense of our lives as we live them, we can at least appreciate them in the short time we all have.


And those are the top headlines for Monday, August 02, 2010

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