The Weekender, January 5, 2018

1) “The Bears Who Came to Town and Would Not Go Away ” (Outside Magazine, 20 minutes, June 2016).

The first bear appeared in town one morning in late August. It was a little after eight, and Nikolai, an elderly pensioner, had just come out to walk his cat.

He joined a neighbor on a wooden bench outside their building, which the residents of Luchegorsk, a town in far eastern Russia, call the Great Wall of China because of its expansive length. The Great Wall stands on the shore of a large man-made lake where water from the town’s thermal power plant flows. In the summer, it’s hard to see much of the lake for the tall green reeds that line the banks. It was from this verdant thicket that the Asian black bear ambled out, loping slowly, as if heading into town for nothing more than a leisurely stroll.

Nikolai and his neighbor stood up and gawked. The bear, seeing them, also stopped and stared. It turned around, walked back, and vanished into the reeds. That’s when the dogs started barking. There are plenty of dogs in Luchegorsk, but Nikolai had never heard them make such a racket. The men turned toward the sound and noticed the bear running down the sidewalk along the side of the building.

“How did he get there? He was just in the reeds!” Nikolai exclaimed. That’s when he realized: “Oh God, it’s a second bear!”

[ . . . ]

That was August 21. Soon there were bear spottings all around Luchegorsk—in the village itself, by the nearby coal mine, at the power plant, around summer homes on the outskirts of town, and eating from dumpsters, vegetable gardens, and the many apiaries located in the surrounding taiga. First there were a few, then a dozen, then many more—the bears were showing up around Luchegorsk at a rate of up to ten per day. They moved in elongated convoys, following each other down the same paths through open fields, like they had all locked onto the same GPS route and the coordinates led straight to Luchegorsk. Bears swam across the lake toward town and beached at the reeds in front of the Great Wall. Residents stood on their balconies to watch tiny heads bobbing in the waves. People found them in basements and gardens and saw them walking down the street.

By the end of the month, the town was besieged.

2) HQ Trivia, an iPhone and, finally, Android trivia app. I first mentioned this in an October installment of the Weekender, calling it “the coolest app I’ve seen in a long, long time.” It’s a live trivia contest you play on your phone. As of this writing, twice a day (3p and 9p ET), you log on are met with a live host asking a dozen trivia questions. Get them all right and you share the prize pool — $2,000 in, yes, real money. (I’ve won about $80 so far.) Get one wrong or don’t answer in time (or drop your phone while trying to answer like I did in October) and you’re out — unless you’ve referred someone else, in which case you get one extra life per game.

Oh yeah, speaking of which, if you sign up, use code DanDotLewis so I get those extra lives.

(Seriously: It’s a ton of fun and transformative. The Internet has made media an on-demand experience; this is the first time I can remember that the Internet has brought us appointment viewing that works.)

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: New Year’s Day — and no Now I Know. Hope you have a great 2018, though.

Tuesday: The Panhandler Who Returned a Treasure. A nice, uplifting story to kick off a new year.

WednesdayTeddy Roosevelt’s Secret. He really liked to box. (That’s not the secret. Well, it’s part of it.)

Thursday: The First First Amendment. The 27th Amendment, referenced in this story, has a great story of its own. Maybe I’ll write that for next week or thereafter.

4) “Finding a Fix” (Mother Jones, 19 minutes, December 2017). A reporter embeds herself with a suburban Maryland police department fighting against the county’s opioid epidemic.


5) “The scammers gaming India’s overcrowded job market” (The Guardian, 17 minutes, January 2017). The subhead: “As competition for jobs among India’s youth intensifies, the offer of a lucrative career in a call center can be difficult to turn down – even if the work turns out to be operating a scam.”

The job was easy, he said. All he had to do was call people in the US from a list, introduce himself as Charles, and tell them they were under federal investigation for tax evasion. One out of 10 people would freak out, he said. At the first hint of panic in their voice, Saluja told them he was going to transfer the call to a different department, where one of his seniors would help them pay their taxes through an online money transfer.

Saluja didn’t like the company’s work culture: the hours were long and the targets unrealistic. He quit the company after three weeks and went back home.

So you were working for a call-centre scam, I suggested to him. “You could say that,” he said. He told me it wasn’t a terrible gig for someone truly in need of a job. He asked me if I had got one yet. I said I hadn’t. Within five minutes of ending the call, I got a message from him with the number of the company’s HR.

6) “The Biggest Distillery You’ve Never Heard of is in Lawrenceburg, Indiana” (Cincinnati Magazine, 19 minutes, August 2016). A profile of a business you probably don’t think about often, at least not in depth.

Have a great weekend!