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Breaking the News Cycle

Lean Into a Croissant Doughnut

Brief updates to news stories that have slipped off the front page. This week: schoolgirls in Nigeria, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, Josh Hartnett’s career, and more.

Scott Daniel Ellison, Village, 2014. Copyright © Scott Daniel Ellison, courtesy ClampArt, New York City.


Breaking Story: Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, marked 150 days since the Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. The incident prompted outrage on the ground in Nigeria as well as here and abroad, with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls as its rallying cry.

Current Status: Dispiriting. Although the US, the UK, China, and France all pitched in to aid the Nigerian government in their search, none have reported any major advances.

What’s more, the country’s president Goodluck Jonathan, much criticized for his apparent passivity in the face of a national tragedy, has made no visible action either to locate or rescue the remaining captives—despite the fact that Boko Haram’s leader has made repeated attempts to negotiate for their release.

In the second week of September, government supporters launched a campaign for Jonathan’s reelection using the slogan #BringBackGoodluck2015. Jonathan, quick to condemn the motto as “offensive and repugnant…a highly insensitive parody,” has since banned the signs. No news on the girls.


Rape Kit Backlog

Breaking Story: In February 2013, Congress passed the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting (SAFER) Act that required states to disclose the quantity of untested kits for the first time. The numbers astounded many. According to the Dept. of Justice, approximately 400,000 rape kits, which contain DNA evidence collected during intensive physical and gynecological exams, have yet to be tested.

Current Status: Logjam, 3.5 months and counting. Earlier this year, the government seemed, incredibly, to be on track to accomplish something when the House approved an appropriations bill allocating $41 million of the 2015 budge to processing said kits.

I should not have been so sanguine: This summer, a group of Republicans, led by Kentucky’s Senator Mitch McConnell, stalled the bill in the Senate by trying to add several unrelated amendments to the proposed legislation. The bill continues to languish, even as state agencies, such as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, uncover more unsettling statistics about the negligence of specific police departments with regard to rape kit processing.


Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Revolution

Breaking Story: A year and a half ago, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg simultaneously released her book Lean In and founded an eponymous nonprofit with the goal of revolutionizing the lives of professional women worldwide via “Lean In Circles,” akin to the consciousness raising groups of second-wave feminism.

Current Status: Unrealized. Although many articles have vaguely referenced the “Lean In movement,” and the phrase itself has become shorthand for a specific kind of feminist thinking, the organized social movement Sandberg seemed set on creating has yet to materialize.

According to the foundation, 14,000 Lean In Circles have been established around the world, and yet they remain largely invisible, even to me, as both an avid reader of articles about “women’s issues” and a member of the target demographic.

I doubt that Sandberg, whose message emphasizes the importance of claiming credit for one’s own work, intended to foment her own velvet revolution, without a discernible progenitor. And yet the openness of the movement (the FAQ on the foundation’s website reads, “Your Circle is yours”) seems to hinder its potency. A movement cannot be built on the desire to reach as many consumers as possible.


The Cronut

Breaking Story: In 2013, the cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid invented by Dominique Ansel, became, according to Ansel’s website, “the most virally talked about dessert item in history.” It also became one of the most difficult to acquire: Eager foodies woke up before 6 a.m. to snag one of the 200 pastries baked fresh each morning, while others chose to pay upward of $100 for one of the vaunted treats on the black market.

With his thick square-framed glasses and facial hair, Josh Hartnett now looks disappointingly normal, like one of the Brooklyn hipsters I met while working in publishing.

Current Status: Semantic saturation. In the intervening months, the craze for the trademarked Cronut, for which demand continues to outstrip supply, has spawned a series of lookalikes: the crodo, the dossant, and even the wonut (waffle-doughnut).

In August 2014, the trickle-down effect was completed when Jack in the Box, a California-based fast food chain, released the “croissant donut.”

Like all artists launched to fame based on a single piece of work, Ansel hopes another of his creations, which have ranged from chocolate chip cookie shot glasses to canned sundaes, will gain traction. His latest invention, a peanut butter pretzel in the shape of a lobster tail, has earned the media’s attention primarily for its suggestive shape, rather than its delicate taste.


Josh Hartnett’s Career

Breaking Story: Josh Hartnett’s hunky good looks and nonchalant bearing helped launch him to easy fame as an actor and heartthrob. After quickly earning starring roles in blockbusters like Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, and The Virgin Suicides, Hartnett was approached to play Clark Kent in Superman—a role he refused before falling off the map.

Current Status: On the upswing. Where did he go? The answer was simple: Worn out by Hollywood and fame, Hartnett went home, to Minnesota. A year and a half into his homecoming, during which he even reconnected with his high-school girlfriend, Hartnett started taking roles in small independent films that came and went without much notice.

This past year, after shooting the first season of the Showtime horror series Penny Dreadful, Hartnett seems to have made a conscious effort to re-launch himself as a public figure, taking interviews and appearing now and again in paparazzi photographs (“the former teen heartthrob looked laid back but still stylish”) with his British girlfriend, an actress-model named Tamsin Egerton.

With his thick square-framed glasses and facial hair, Hartnett now looks disappointingly normal, like one of the Brooklyn hipsters I met while working in publishing.



Breaking Story: Heartbleed, a major flaw in a widely used encrypting agent on OpenSSL that compromises secure data, was disclosed earlier this year, prompting mass password-changing hysteria.

Current Status: Unresolved threat. If you changed your passwords after reading about Heartbleed you probably thought your information was safe. You were wrong: Since Heartbleed targeted organizations, not individuals, you and I, as discrete users, are powerless to protect our own privacy. We must rely instead upon the organization’s ability to detect vulnerabilities and patch their systems.

A recent study conducted by IBM found that 250,000 servers remain unpatched and potentially susceptible to attacks, “making Heartbleed an ongoing, critical threat.” Put it next to global warming on the list of “Things I Can Worry About, But Am Powerless to Change.”


Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

Breaking Story: Six months ago, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared—so far without a trace—over the Indian Ocean.

Current Status: Nearly beyond hope. Engine flameout; pilot hijacking; terrorist hijacking; island landing; shot down; plucked from the sky by a mysterious, unknown weapon: While theories regarding the disappearance of Flight 370 abound (some more outlandish than others), answers remain scarce.

Ships and divers have combed over 4.5 million square kilometers of sea, but they have yet to find the smallest trace—a shred of clothing, a slick of oil, a metal fragment—of the 135-ton plane or the 239 people on board. The mystery is compounded by the fact that airplanes this large never entirely submerge: They contain parts that are too buoyant to sink—which means, if the plane did crash into the ocean, pieces of it must be floating around somewhere out there.

A deep-water search in an area the size of West Virginia, where investigators have reason to believe the plane went down, is scheduled to begin in late September.


Fukishma: The Aftermath Is Still an “Aftermath”

Breaking Story: Three and a half years ago, an earthquake-tsunami triggered the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, displacing thousands.

Current Status: Limbo. Approximately 89,000 evacuees still live in temporary housing that was built to last only two years. Most of the displaced will need to remain in the temporary units until 2015, when the government plans to complete its first development projects, and nearly half will be forced to stay even further past the housing’s “expiration date,” as local governments continue to negotiate with landowners for plots on which to build permanent housing.

Others might never return to their hometowns: Fukushima’s mayor has recently agreed to build a temporary storage site for the contaminated topsoil and debris—now piled in black garbage bags in makeshift storage areas along the road—near the incapacitated power plant. For many of Fukushima’s former residents, the decision has appeared to be an official indication that their relocations will be permanent.

Although all of Japan’s operable reactors were shut down following the Fukushima meltdown, two reactors at the Sendai power plant on a southern island have just been certified safe to restart: The cycle of “man versus nature” begins again.