The Weekender, October 16, 2016

1) “Breaking 43 Years of Silence, the Last FBI Burglar Tells the Story of Her Years in the Underground ” (The Nation, 24 minutes, October 2014). In 1971, the “Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI ,” which Wikipedia describes as a “leftist activist group ,” broke into an FBI office, stole a bunch of classified documents, and then mailed many of those documents to members of the media. The burglars spent the next few decades on the lam. But in 2014, many came forward, prompting Judi Feingold to do the same.

The last time the burglars were together, shortly after the burglary, they had made two promises to each other: that they would take the secret of the burglary to their graves and that they would not associate with each other. They feared that if they continued to associate, the arrest of one might lead to the arrest of others. The seven who continued living as they had before the burglary were silent about what they had done, but they made no attempt to hide or escape.

Throughout the decades since the Media [the name of the town the FBI office was in] burglary, Feingold kept the pledge the burglars made to each other never to reveal they were the Media burglars. She always assumed no one in the group would break that promise. She never uttered a word about the burglary to anyone.

That’s why she was shocked—angered, even sickened at first—in January when she discovered, by chance, that the other members of the group recently had publicly told the story of how and why they decided in 1971 to risk their freedom for many years to break into an FBI office in search of evidence of whether the FBI was engaged in efforts to suppress dissent.

2) My other site: AwesomeClaus — curated gift ideas for $20 or less. Stuff like a Mario-themed pipe mug, a desktop punching bag, an emergency clown nose, sriracha popcorn, and pictured below, unicorn meat. Highly recommended, which I can say with confidence because it’s my website. (And yes, there are some dead links there — if you see any, let me know.)


3) “How One 19-Year-Old Illinois Man Is Distorting National Polling Averages” (New York Times, 7 minutes, October 2016). This is crazy: one person is apparently screwing up the results of a Presidential poll, the pollsters know it, and they can’t really do anything about it without destroying their whole model. The link explains the story better than I could do it justice here.

4) “The Secrets Behind Your Flowers” (Smithsonian, 12 minutes, July 2011).

In 1967 David Cheever, a graduate student in horticulture at Colorado State University, wrote a term paper titled “Bogotá, Colombia as a Cut-Flower Exporter for World Markets.” The paper suggested that the savanna near Colombia’s capital was an ideal place to grow flowers to sell in the United States. The savanna is a high plain fanning out from the Andean foothills, about 8,700 feet above sea level and 320 miles north of the Equator, and close to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Those circumstances, Cheever wrote, create a pleasant climate with little temperature variation and consistent light, about 12 hours per day year-round—ideal for a crop that must always be available. A former lakebed, the savanna also has dense, clay-rich soil and networks of wetlands, tributaries and waterfalls left after the lake receded 100,000 years ago. And, Cheever noted, Bogotá was just a three-hour flight from Miami—closer to East Coast customers than California, the center of the U.S. flower industry.

[ . . . ]

It’s not often that a global industry springs from a school assignment, but Cheever’s paper and business efforts started an economic revolution in Colombia. A few other growers had exported flowers to the United States, but [Cheever’s company] Floramérica turned it into a big business. Within five years of  Floramérica’s debut at least ten more flower-growing companies were operating on the savanna, exporting some $16 million in cut flowers to the United States. By 1991, the World Bank reported, the industry was “a textbook story of how a market economy works.” Today, the country is the world’s second-largest exporter of cut flowers, after the Netherlands, shipping more than $1 billion in blooms. Colombia now commands about 70 percent of the U.S. market; if you buy a bouquet in a supermarket, big-box store or airport kiosk, it probably came from the Bogotá savanna.

5) “The Stradivarius Affair” (Vanity Fair, 22 minutes, November 2014). The alternative title (the one you’ll see in your browser tab) is better than the real one; it’s “Why a Street Criminal Stole a Multi-Million-Dollar Violin.” The sub-head: “It isn’t every day that a street criminal—a high-school dropout with two felony convictions—is accused of stealing a centuries-old violin worth as much as $6 million. But nothing about the heist of the Lipinski Stradivarius, which galvanized the music world last winter, was normal, or even logical.”

6) “The Missing 11th of the Month” (, 9 minutes, December 2015.) Okay, this one is complicated, so bear with me. In November of 2015, Randall Munroe published a web comic at his site, xkcd (which is awesome and you should buy his books) about the frequency of calendar dates mentioned in all sorts of books. Some dates — January 1st, December 25th, July 4th — are obviously very popular; others, such as February 29th, are very rarely mentioned. Makes sense.

But Munroe also noticed that the 11th of every month, with the exception of 9/11 for books published after 2001, were also very rare. (If you hover your mouse over the comic, it says (“In months other than September, the 11th is mentioned substantially less often than any other date. It’s been that way since long before 9/11 and I have no idea why. “) This article explores why the 11th of the Month is missing from a lot of books. The answer is pretty neat, and I won’t ruin it for you.

Have a great weekend!