Hope, Despair Descend On Quake-Shattered School In Mexico City

Seen from afar, the collapsed section of the Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City is surrounded by volunteers and rescue workers on Wednesday. A wing of the three-story building collapsed into a massive pancake of concrete slabs during Mexico’s deadliest earthquake in years.

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Miguel Tovar/AP

The massive earthquake rattled through Mexico City at 1 p.m. local time Tuesday, razing buildings and rousing thick clouds of dust. As residents left their offices and homes, at least 44 of which sustained severe damage or collapsed entirely, the sun was glaring high in the sky.

It was midday, and the children were still in school.

Roughly 24 hours later, the quake-racked city is still digging through the rubble for signs of survivors — but one school in particular has drawn the desperate attentions of rescue workers. At Enrique Rebsamen, a school attended mostly by elementary-school age children, an entire wing of the three-story structure had fallen in the temblor.

“We ran outside because things started to fall,” one neighbor told Imagen Noticias. “And once we ran out to the patio, to the street, we saw the cloud of dust.”

In a span of minutes, dozens of students and their teachers had been trapped or buried between pancaked sheets of concrete and stone. At least 21 children and four adults died. At least 30 other people remained missing as of early this morning.

Hundreds more swarmed the rubble in the hours after the building’s collapse: rescue workers, soldiers, parents and neighbors. They brought what they had at hand, makeshift instruments found at home and applied to the desperate task of digging for life.

“The houses are being lent as hospitals. We brought shovels, picks, materials for construction. And I’m still here,” one volunteer told Imagen Noticias. “We brought shovels, spikes, first aid material.”

“They were small children. They were from kinder, from elementary school,” she added, her voice breaking as she battled back tears. “I mean, children that couldn’t defend themselves.”

It was not long before photographs and videos emerged on social media, fraught scenes of civilians pulling sobbing children from holes in the rubble.

Dos niños han sido rescatados en la primaria Enrique Rebsamen, en Brujas y División del Norte, Coapa
📹 Alberto Neri pic.twitter.com/0u4TPaOaiQ

— CIUDAD (@reformaciudad) September 19, 2017

In one video posted by Univision, a man hurries toward the caved-in wing of the building, rushing past a group of students huddled in the courtyard outside. At the half-open maw of a crumbled wall, he hears the sounds of children over the screams of the parents outside.

“Come, there are kids here!” he shouts in Spanish to the others gathered outside. “Help!”

And with the aid of several other volunteers, he begins to pull several children from the building, a girl and a boy sobbing. Then he puts the phone down and crawls inside himself.

Siempre hay que aferrarse a la vida… momento donde rescatan niños del Kinder Enrique Rebsamen #Sismo CdMx pic.twitter.com/veg9h4LUob

— Enrique Burgos-Véliz (@enriqueburgosv) September 20, 2017

Scenes such as these played out through the day and continued overnight.

Mexican rescue teams work in the early hours Wednesday, searching for people trapped in the rubble at the Enrique Rebsamen elementary school in Mexico City.

Mario Vazquez/AFP/Getty Images

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The relentless digging would halt every few minutes when rescue workers called for silence to listen for sounds in the rubble. At these times, the whole rescue effort would fall quiet — and volunteers would raise their fists in a sign of recognition and solidarity.

Siguen con rescate en la Enrique Rebsamen, todos guardan silencio… #FuerzaMéxicohttps://t.co/cB9AUNjzWMpic.twitter.com/vQGTL8Isup

— Milenio.com (@Milenio) September 20, 2017

So far, 11 people have been pulled from the rubble alive. And anxious families have held out hope there will be still more rescued: Volunteers say they have heard some sounds coming from the debris, and families say some have received WhatsApp messages from children buried inside, according to NBC News.

As Emily Green reports for NPR, two girls between the ages of 4 and 12 remain trapped beneath the rubble, and everyone but the principal rescue team has been asked to leave the site.

“The devastation was horrible,” says Green, paraphrasing the words of one volunteer. “What he saw doesn’t even fit into his heart, into his soul, it was so terrible.”

NPR intern Jose Olivares contributed to this report.

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These GOP Senators Could Block Republicans' Obamacare Repeal

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has called legislation, which could be Republicans’ last hope to repeal the Affordable Care Act, “a really crappy bill.”

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Republicans’ complex health care calculations are coming down to simple math.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs 50 of his 52 GOP colleagues to vote for a bill that aims to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act and drastically reshape the Medicaid system. McConnell’s office is planning to bring the bill up for a vote next week.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has made clear that his vote is unattainable on the latest and last-ditch proposal by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to roll back key pillars of Obamacare and convert Medicaid to a capped, block grant system.

“The problem I have with this current bill is it basically keeps the Obamacare spending, keeps the Obamacare taxes—most of them—and then actually just redistributes the money from Democrat states to Republican states,” Paul told NPR’s Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered. “So I don’t think this really fixes the problem, nor does it honor our pledge to repeal Obamacare.”

President Trump voiced his frustration with Paul on Twitter Wednesday morning. “Rand Paul is a friend of mine but he is such a negative force when it comes to fixing healthcare. Graham-Cassidy Bill is GREAT! Ends Ocare!” he tweeted.

Rand Paul is a friend of mine but he is such a negative force when it comes to fixing healthcare. Graham-Cassidy Bill is GREAT! Ends Ocare!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2017

But Paul says there is no amount of minor tweaks to Graham-Cassidy that will change his mind, characterizing it plainly as “a really crappy bill.”

That leaves room for just one additional GOP defection, or the bill will meet the same fate as the previous three failed attempts to dismantle President Obama’s health care law.

The bill’s sponsors are betting that every Republican senator who voted for the last Senate bill in July will vote in favor. The early reception to the latest bill has been generally positive. No Democrats are prepared to support the bill.

The focus remains on three familiar names in the health care debate: Arizona Sen. John McCain, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. All three GOP senators voted against the Senate’s health care bill in July, with McCain casting the decisive vote to derail the legislation.

Here are the undecided senators’ stated concerns with legislation:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

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McCain has taken issue more with the process than the substance of the legislation. He has hammered Republicans for ditching “regular order” and ramming a bill through that has major consequences for tens of millions of Americans and the U.S. economy, without hearings or any input from Democrats. McCain previously indicated he wouldn’t vote for any health care bill that wasn’t the product of “regular order,” but things change. For starters, Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey endorsed Graham-Cassidy this week. McCain has indicated his governor’s opinion would weigh heavily on his vote. The bill is also co-authored by Lindsey Graham, one of McCain’s closest friends and political allies in the Senate.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

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Collins has all but announced she will vote ‘no’ on Graham-Cassidy. She has criticized the process, calling for bipartisan solutions to health care problems, and has taken issue with the proposal that may be worse for Maine than the status quo. She made a point this week to tell reporters that the proposal could be devastating to Maine’s rural hospital system. Unlike many Senate Republicans, there’s no indication Collins’s ‘no’ vote hurt her politically back home. If anything, she was lauded by constituents and local press for her opposition in the face of great party pressure.

Sen.Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

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Murkowski is the most inscrutable of this trio. She has been avoiding reporters and has not weighed in publicly yet on the bill. GOP leaders, the Trump administration, and Graham and Cassidy are working hard to secure Murkowski’s vote. Like Collins, she has deep concerns about what reduced Medicaid spending could mean for her home state, and it’s unique health care needs. Politically, Murkowski also received a wave of positive response back home for her ‘no’ vote over the summer, so the political pressure is different for the independent-minded Murkowski. The absolute necessity of her vote, however, also gives Murkowski a lot of leverage to ask for whatever changes she wants to make to the bill.

Senators are racing up against a Sept. 30 deadline. That is the end of the fiscal year and when special budget rules expire that protect the health care bill from a Democratic filibuster. Until then, Republicans can pass it with 50 votes, plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, instead of the customary 60 votes necessary to overcome objections to a piece of legislation.

If the Senate can pass a bill, it still needs to head to the House for approval. Graham told reporters this week that House Speaker Paul Ryan has given him assurances that the House can pass Graham-Cassidy.

With just days left on the clock, Republicans say they are the closest they have come to date to fulfilling their campaign promises to undo the Affordable Care Act.

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Kishi Bashi With Strings On Mountain Stage

Eclectic pop maestro Kishi Bashi makes his front-and-center debut on Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va. A classically trained strings player raised in Virginia, Karou Ishibashi transformed into indie musician Kishi Bashi playing with the seminal alt-rock band of Montreal and touring as violinist for Regina Spektor and Sondre Lerche. Since stepping out solo in 2012, Bashi has transformed into a mad pop scientist, giving life to earworms by looping together Eastern sounds, Philip Glass improvisations and ’70s prog rock inspiration (and, in this set, a new take on the Talking Heads). As Mountain Stage guest host Joni Deutsch puts it, “Kishi Bashi is bridging the divide between classical and mainstream music…and making it wonderfully accessible.”

Kishi Bashi’s latest release is Sonderlust, out now on Joyful Noise Recordings. For this recording, he is joined by Michael Savino and Daniel Brunner, along with local strings work from Molly Page, Kimberly Graham, Patrick Forsyth and Bernard Di Gregorio.


  • “Manchester”
  • “Bittersweet Genesis for Him and Her”
  • “Say Yeah”
  • “Can’t Let Go, Juno”
  • “This Must be the Place”

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Fed's Unwinding Of Crisis Programs Expected To Push Up Interest Rates Very Gradually

Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen has the process of unwinding the central bank’s massive bond holdings will be gradual.

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The Federal Reserve on Wednesday said it will hold short-term interest rates steady for the time being. But the central bank said that in October it will begin to unwind the extraordinary stimulus it used to battle the Great Recession.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the process will be gradual. But over the long run, the plan will put upward pressure on consumer interest rates, including for car loans and mortgages.

The Fed has already signaled the economy is strong enough to absorb higher short-term rates. It has raised them four times since the end of 2016. Wednesday’s move to unwind its massive bond holdings is yet another sign of the Fed’s confidence in the economy.

In November 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, former Fed Vice Chair Alan Blinder says, the central bank had already exhausted its main tool to fight recessions. “[Fed Chair] Ben Bernanke and company were then literally at a crossroads,” he says.

The Fed had reduced its benchmark interest rate to near zero, Blinder says. It could decide to say that’s all we can do and “give up and hope for the best,” or start inventing new instruments, he says.

Fed officials chose the second alternative and came up with something called quantitative easing. It entailed buying huge amounts, ultimately $1.7 trillion, of mortgage-backed securities, the very financial instruments that helped trigger the crisis. That helped stabilize the market for those securities and revive the housing market.

Over a series of three quantitative easing programs, the Fed also bought close to $2 trillion in Treasury bonds. That helped put more downward pressure on interest rates that supported borrowing and helped boost the economy. The program pushed the Fed’s balance sheet from just under $1 trillion to $4.5 trillion in bonds and other securities.

On Wednesday, the Fed said it will begin to unwind that stimulus very gradually. In October, it will begin allowing about $4 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities and $6 billion of Treasury bonds to mature without re-investing the proceeds. That will reduce the Fed’s holdings by $10 billion. The Fed said it will not sell bonds or securities in the marketplace to avoid flooding and de-stabilizing the financial markets.

The Fed will gradually increase the amount of bonds it allows to mature. However, it will take years for the Fed to reach the level it sees as appropriate for the size of its balance sheet.

Over the long haul, the unwinding will put upward pressure on interest rates. But, Blinder says he doubts consumer interest rates will be affected at all in the short term.

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Why The Race To Oust ISIS From Deir Ez-Zor In Syria May Present New Dangers

Smoke rises from buildings in the area of Bughayliyah, on the northern outskirts of Deir ez-Zor on Sept. 13, as Syrian forces advance during their ongoing battle against ISIS.

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Syrian government troops and allied militias are locked in a race against rebels backed by the United States for control of Deir ez-Zor, an oil-rich province that will give whoever governs it greater influence in the country’s wider civil war.

Government soldiers and supporting militias have now crossed the Euphrates River, which had served as an informal dividing line between them and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they waged separate offensives against ISIS in the area.

The move has brought regime troops within miles of the U.S.-backed forces and puts two sides on a potential collision path that reveals the deep complexities and unresolved questions over who will rule in a post-ISIS Syria, pitting the U.S.-backed forces against Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian forces.

Nicholas Heras, a Middle East fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, warned that navigating this situation will be complicated.

“It’s going to take a significant diplomatic and de-confliction gymnastics for the U.S. military and the Russian military to get their local partners in line so that you don’t see conflict between Assad’s forces and Iran’s proxy militias and the [U.S.-backed] SDF,” he said.

The United States has repeatedly said it is present in Syria only to fight ISIS, and not to get involved in the country’s wider civil war. It had sought to keep its operations in areas separate from those of Assad — who Washington considers a war criminal — and his Russian and Iranian allies.

But last week, as the Syrian regime broke an ISIS siege on Deir ez-Zor city and vowed to sweep the jihadists from the rest of the province, U.S. Central Command endorsed a decision by the SDF – men trained, supplied and backed by the Pentagon – to launch their own offensives in the province.

In a statement, it praised the fighters who would take part as a “battle-tested” and “proven partner force in the Coalition’s fight to defeat ISIS.”

This force, made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters, swept in from the northeast, taking hundreds of miles of desert terrain as they stormed down toward the lusher eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

The Damascus regime, which has vowed to retake the whole of Syria (even if it’s unlikely to be militarily capable of doing so) was apoplectic at the SDF’s decision to fight ISIS this area. Pro-government media accused the U.S., through the SDF, of illegally occupying parts of Syria.

The Syrian army pressed on fast. Video footage filmed by pro-government sources showed soldiers crossing the river at night in rubber boats. Later pictures circulated on Twitter of pontoon bridges being set up and regime tanks rumbling across to the east side of the river, coming within only a few miles of the SDF positions.

In crossing to the east bank of the Euphrates river, the regime has also come closer to the oil fields that make up much of Syria’s oil reserves. These fields have been under ISIS control since 2014, generating vast revenues for the jihadist group.

And they will be a powerful economic driver for whoever seizes them after the extremists are pushed out — as will Al-Bukamal, a town further to the southeast that marks the border crossing with Iraq.

Iran has deployed militias to help the regime retake this area from ISIS. Controlling this border would allow it to reopen a route from Tehran through Iraq, to supply Hezbollah and other proxy militias in Syria and Lebanon.

But even more importantly, says Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, an analyst at the Middle East Forum, this would be a major economic boost for Damascus. It would allow the Assad regime not to rely on bankrolling by its Russian and Iranian allies.

“I think the main point of this wider eastern offensive is to open trade routes [to Iraq] and to give the regime an economic boosting that can strengthen its hold for the long run,” said Tamimi.

Whoever takes this economically important area, analysts agree, will have a greater say in the post-ISIS carve-up of Syria. It is an important bargaining chip at the negotiating table with the many different players of the country’s civil war.

Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S. coalition, said he was aware of the strategic value of this terrain, but said that was not part of the U.S. military’s calculations in Syria.

“What I have said before still holds,” he said. The U.S.-led coalition “is not in the land-grabbing business.”

He said moving against ISIS in Deir ez-Zor province at the same time as the Syrian regime made sense at an “operational level” because it had allowed them to strike ISIS when the jihadists were already preoccupied with fighting the Syrian military.

But the leader of the SDF’s Deir ez-Zor military council, who goes by the pseudonym Ahmed Abu Khawla, was far blunter in explaining the group’s objectives.

“We want to defeat ISIS, and then liberate not only the oil fields but all the land factories and people,” he said.

Abu Khawla, who fought against the Syrian regime in the civil war before ISIS rose in Syria, and who hails from a powerful tribe in the area, said this would place the province is back in the hands of “its rightful owners.”

As the U.S.-backed offensive in Raqqa progresses, ISIS is said to be on the back foot. Many of the leaders are said to have fled to al-Mayadin, a town in Deir ez-Zor. There are unconfirmed stories of panicked jihadist group members starting forced conscriptions in the towns they control.

But the war is far from over. The group is said to be consolidating its strongest fighters around the oil fields and Al-Bukamal – the areas it cannot afford to lose.

As the U.S.-backed forces and pro-regime troops close in on these areas, it’s becoming ever harder to fight separate offensives.

The U.S.-led coalition and the Russians warn each other of their planned assaults against ISIS using a “de-confliction hotline” that is meant to prevent accidental fire on each other.

But last Saturday, the U.S.-led coalition said Russian warplanes had bombed SDF positions. Russia said it had only carried out strikes against ISIS, and that it had used the normal channels to communicate its planned attack.

The de-confliction lines are often rather ad hoc, said Heras of the Center for a New American Security. In Al-Bukamal and other key areas in Deir ez-Zor, areas the Assad regime forces and the SDF can fight in, the lines have not been fully drawn out.

So, said Heras, the race is on between the two sides to simply be the first to stake their claim to strategically vital areas. It sometimes can take as little as “20 guys with a video camera” from one side to race to a patch of land and say, “Hey, de-confliction, we are here now,” he said.

“There is the propaganda conflict here — a war of who can lay claim to land even if they haven’t won it fully militarily,” said Heras.

Whoever wins this race, he said, can use the spoils “to influence the broader Syrian war.”

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Editing Embryo DNA Yields Clues About Early Human Development

Kathy Niakan, a developmental biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, used the CRISPR gene editing technique to find out how a gene affects the growth of human embryos.

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Courtesy of The Francis Crick Institute

For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA in human embryos to make a fundamental discovery about the earliest days of human development.

By modifying a key gene in very early-stage embryos, the researchers demonstrated that a gene plays a crucial role in making sure embryos develop normally, the scientists say.

The finding might someday lead to new ways for doctors to help infertile couples have children, and could aid future efforts to use embryonic stem cells to treat incurable diseases, the researchers say.

The work also provides the first direct evidence that manipulating DNA in human embryos can yield insights into how a single cell becomes a complex human. That has been the major justification for allowing scientists to change human DNA in ways that could be passed town to future generations, a step that had long been considered off limits because of fears about safety and opening the door to “designer babies.”

A human embryo is injected with edited DNA in a laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute in London.

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Dr. Kathy Niakan/Nature

“This proof of principle lays out a framework for future investigations that could transform our understanding of human biology,” the researchers write in reporting their findings in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

That statement was seconded by other scientists.

“It opens up a new area of research,” says Dietrich Egli, a Columbia University biologist who studies stem cells and was not involved in the study. “Understanding early human embryonic development is of great importance, and gene-editing is a powerful tool to answer questions that will ultimately improve human health.”

But the research is renewing a long, intense debate about whether it’s ethical to make changes in the genes in eggs, sperm or very early embryos that would be passed down to succeeding generations. While using gene editing for basic research about human development may be useful, critics worry it could lead to attempts to create genetically modified babies.

“The concerns are that we would be opening the door to fertility clinics vying to offer gene-editing to make future children taller or stronger or whatever they wanted to market,” says Marcy Darnovsky, who heads the Center for Genetics and Society, a genetics watchdog group. “That could put us into a situation where some children were perceived to be biologically superior to other children.

The study comes just weeks after another team of scientists reported the group had for the first time edited the DNA in human embryos to correct a genetic defect that causes a heart disorder.

The new research was led by Kathy Niakan, a developmental biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London. Niakan’s team used a powerful gene-editing technique known as CRISPR to disable a gene that produces a protein known as OCT4. The procedure was performed in 41 embryos donated by women undergoing treatment for infertility.

In the study, more than 80 percent of the embryos with the disabled gene failed to develop into a blastocyst, a ball of 200 cells that is the stage when embryos are usually implanted into the womb during in vitro fertilization (IVF). Many cases of infertility occur because embryos fail to reach this stage.

“That tells us that OCT4 is really important for the development of a human blastocyst,” Niakan told reporters during a briefing.

“By understanding the key genes that are involved in the development of the blastocyst, this can really inform our understanding of this important, critical window of human development,” Niakan says.

The experiments also show that the gene is involved in forming the cells that eventually become the placenta, the organ that nourishes a developing embryo in the womb, the researchers reported.

In addition, OCT4 helps embryonic stem cells specialize into various tissues, which could help scientists figure out how to turn stem cells into replacement cells, tissues and perhaps entire organs to treat diseases, Niakan says.

Niakan says her research is aimed at understanding basic human biology.

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Courtesy of The Francis Crick Institute

In an unexpected finding, the researchers discovered the gene functions differently in human embryos than in mouse embryos. That shows the need for experiments on human embryos and not just animal embryos, the scientists say.

“This is opening up the possibility of using a really powerful, precise genetics tool to understand gene function,” Niakan says. “We would have never gained this insight had we not really studied the function of this gene in human embryos.”

Jennifer Doudna, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who led efforts to develop CRISPR, agrees.

“One of the most fundamental aspects of becoming human is, how do egg and sperm cells combine to form embryos that develop into a person?” Doudna says. “So understanding the genetic basis for that is, in my view, one of the fundamental aspects of developmental biology — or all of biology in a way.”

In 2015, Chinese scientists sparked an uproar when they reported attempts to use CRISPR to edit human embryos. And in 2016, the British government approved editing of human embryos for research purposes.

With the British government’s approval, Niakan began her experiments. Scientists in Sweden have begun similar research.

In February, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine concluded that editing DNA in humans could be permissible in certain circumstances. That has critics like Darnovsky worried.

“In a world already plagued by distressing levels of inequality, that seems like a very bad idea,” Darnovsky says. “We don’t want to add ideas that some people are biologically better and some people are biologically inferior to others. That is an idea that has led to horrific abuses throughout history.”

But Niakan defends the work, saying she is only interested in making fundamental discoveries about basic human biology.

“As with any technology, as with any tool, it can be used for a variety of different purposes,” Niakan says. “We’re choosing to use it to uncover critical roles of genes in development that can increase our knowledge about how human embryos develop.”

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Iowa's Supreme Court Hears Dispute Over $75 Speeding Ticket

Marla Leaf received a speeding ticket after driving on Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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A dispute over a $75 speeding ticket has climbed through the levels of Iowa’s court system, reaching the lofty heights of the Iowa Supreme Court for oral arguments.

Marla Leaf got a speeding ticket because a camera allegedly caught her driving 68 mph in a 55 mph zone on an interstate freeway through the city of Cedar Rapids in February 2015.

It’s not typical for the state’s top court to hear small-claims cases. In her case against the city of Cedar Rapids, Leaf argues that the her constitutional rights and state law were violated because the city delegated police powers to a private company that maintains the speed cameras.

Opponents of automated traffic enforcement may view such cameras as “unduly intrusive, unfair and simply amounting to sophisticated speed traps designed to raise funds for cash-strapped municipalities by ensnaring unsuspected car owners in a municipal bureaucracy under the circumstances where most busy people find it preferable to shut up and pay rather than to scream and to fight,” Leaf’s attorney, James Larew, told the justices on Wednesday.

He said his clients “refuse to be stilled.” Leaf’s case has been joined with another that involves similar issues.

At various levels of Iowa’s court system over more than two years, Leaf has said that she believes she was not speeding, especially because of slippery road conditions that day. The cameras are triggered if they record speeds of more than 12 miles over the speed limit.

Leaf’s case argues that it is unlawful to give the authority to assess speeding — something it says is police work — to the private camera company, Gatso.

Can the assessment of a municipal violation be done, Larew asked, “by the police department appointing a friend of theirs to serve as a hearing officer?”

Lower Iowa courts have been satisfied that the system is constitutional because it is the police department — and not the private company — that ultimately makes the decision to issue a speeding ticket.

“There is never a citation issued that does not get reviewed and approved by a police officer,” Gatso attorney Paul Burns told the justices. According to court documents, Gatso receives $25 per citation.

Larew also argued that there is no valid safety reason for the camera system on Interstate 380 — also the site of alleged speeding violations by the other parties to the case. He said the cameras don’t issue tickets to semi-trucks and government vehicles, calling the discrepancy arbitrary and a violation of equal protection.

The camera system works by focusing on back license plates, which government vehicles do not have in Iowa. Patricia Kropf, an attorney for the city, told the court that the excluded vehicles are “just not in the database that we need to use to do this in a cost-effective manner.”

Burns also claimed that photographs taken of front license plates would potentially pose privacy concerns because the faces of passengers in the vehicle might be included.

Larew also challenged whether it is constitutional for the City of Grand Rapids to assess fines for speed on federal interstate highways.

The future of certain speeding cameras is up in the air across the state, The Gazette newspaper writes:

“In March 2015, the Iowa [Department of Transportation] ordered 10 of 34 camera locations on primary highways and interstates around the state turned off, and another three moved or modified, stating they didn’t improve the safety of the highway system. After losing an appeal to the Iowa DOT director, the cities of Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine — three of six cities in Iowa with traffic cameras on state highways or interstates under Iowa DOT control — sued in June 2015 to keep the cameras on.”

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Novel 'Forest Dark' And Dog Book 'Afterglow' Consider The Meaning Of Life

Forest Dark

Fall is when the publishing industry gets serious, when it leaves beach books in the sand and turns to weightier topics. And what could be weightier than the greatest question of all: the meaning of life. Two new books — one a novel; one a (sort of) memoir — tackle that ultimate question through experimental forms of writing.

I know, I know: “Experimental writing” is surely one of the least enticing literary terms. But don’t be put off, because both of these odd new books offer something special, something that more “broken in” forms of writing can’t provide.

Nicole Krauss doesn’t need to be oversold: Her novels have garnered plenty of awards and she enjoys a celebrity off the page. (She and her ex-husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, were once Brooklyn’s reigning literary couple).

Like Foer — whose recent novel, Here I Am, was about a disintegrating marriage — Krauss partly draws on their divorce as material for her new novel, Forest Dark. The title derives from Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark/for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

Krauss’ marriage-breakdown plot features the self-conscious device of a first-person narrator named Nicole who impulsively leaves her husband in Brooklyn to travel to Israel and write a novel set in the anonymity of the Tel Aviv Hilton.

Forest Dark, in fact, includes a grim black-and-white photo spread of the concrete Brutalist expanse of that hotel. As the fictional Nicole explains:

In our own ways, [my husband and I] had each come to understand that we had lost faith in our marriage. And yet we didn’t know how to act on this understanding, as one does not know how to act on the understanding, for example, that the afterlife does not exist.

Simultaneously, another character, a wealthy lawyer in his late 60s named Jules Epstein, feels increasingly untethered from his life. After his own elderly parents die, he ends his long marriage, gives away most of his money and, like Nicole, winds up in Israel. There, he comes under the sway of a charismatic rabbi and disappears in the desert. Epstein’s story is retrospective: He’s presumed dead when the novel opens.

The two separate plotlines about these two questers — Nicole and Epstein —ultimately intersect, but that’s the only predictable aspect of this scramble of a novel. There are digressions here into Franz Kafka, René Descartes, Sigmund Freud, fairy tales and film. Sections of the novel are walled off from each another, as disconnected as that row-after-row of rooms in the Tel Aviv Hilton.

Readers should just go along for the choppy ride, because the pleasure of Krauss’ writing isn’t located in the story. Instead, it’s the wayward precision of her language that draws us into the desert, “the forest dark” and other contemplative places where illumination occurs.

As poet, writer and provocateur Eileen Myles tells us, no other creatures are better acquainted with the rewards of aimless wandering than dogs. Myles, who prefers the gender neutral pronoun “they,” had such an errant companion for over 16 years — a pit bull named Rosie. Their new memoir, Afterglow, is about life and afterlife with Rosie.

I swore I was done with dog books: Ever since Marley & Me was published in 2005, the litter of literary tributes to beloved bow-wows has become so vast and formulaic that a universal spaying of the genre is called for. But Afterglow is a mutt elegy in a million.

Myles mixes up more conventional memories of Rosie with fantasy scenes, photos and Gertrude Stein-like poems on subjects like Rosie’s plaid dog bed and her cone of shame. There are also reflections here on time and gender.

Through all this weirdness, Myles gets at something no other dog book I’ve read has gotten at quite this distinctly: The sense of wordless connection and spiritual expansion you feel when you love and are loved by a creature who’s not human. At one point Myles writes directly to Rosie:

I now have around my waist a little dead dog. To think of walking you every day for almost seventeen years. To think of lifting you continually in that last year. … But still I’m carrying that little dead dog. The new fat around my hips and waist is kind of you and how we don’t go on our walks anymore.

Myles, like Krauss, takes chances with form: Sometimes they flop into incomprehensibility; but, overall, Afterglow works. It’s raw and affecting, and in its wild snuffling way, utterly original.

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