TIME The Brief

BEES! 20 Million Bees Swarm Highway

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Thursday, May 22:

  • Thailand’s military seizes control of the government, announcing a coup they had previously been denying.
  • A California woman captive for 10 years is free after she used Facebook to contact her sister.
  • Facebook will soon know what you watch on TV. A new optional feature uses mobile device microphones to tag the shows you watch and the songs you listen to.
  • Bees! A truck carrying 20 million bees overturns in Delaware, creating a huge highway swarm.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

TIME Crime

Kidnapped California Woman Escapes After 10 Years in Captivity

Her 41-year-old alleged captor has been arrested and faces kidnapping and rape charges

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET

A 25-year-old missing California woman escaped from nearly a decade of captivity after contacting the police Tuesday, leading to the arrest of the man who allegedly kidnapped her.

Police in Santa Ana, California, arrested Isidro Garcia, 41, Tuesday. He faces charges of kidnapping for rape, committing a lewd act with a minor and false imprisonment.

According to an account given by the unidentified woman to the police, Garcia was living with the 15-year-old girl’s mother when he started sexually assaulting her in June 2004. Garcia allegedly kidnapped and drugged the girl after assaulting the mother in August 2004.

The victim says she was first imprisoned in a house in Compton then moved to different locations in the years that followed. Garcia allegedly obtained fake identity documents for the girl and secured employment for both of them in a night cleaning service “so he could keep a close eye on the victim,” police say. The girl said Garcia told her that her family had given up looking for her and threatened that if she called police they would be deported. In 2007, the victim said, Garcia forced her to marry him. They had a child in 2012.

Police say the victim gained the courage to contact police after communicating with her sister on Facebook.

The case comes a year to the month after three women were freed after years of captivity in a house in Cleveland. The man who imprisoned them, Ariel Castro, died while in custody of a possible suicide.

TIME Environment

California Approves Expansion of Toxic Dump

Residents of nearby Kettleman Hills say the hazardous waste has led to birth defects

Updated 7:47 p.m. ET

California officials said Wednesday the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste dump will be allowed to grow by 50%, much to the irritation of a nearby community where residents say the dump has caused birth defects.

Officials approved expansion of the site by 5 million cubic yards, or about 50%. The dump is situated off Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Los Angeles near the small community of Kettleman City. Critics of the site say at least 11 birth defects in children from the community are the result of toxic waste from the dump but officials from the state and the company that operates the facility say there’s no evidence to support that link.

Kettleman Hills is one of just two dumps in California to accept hazardous waste and the largest in the West.

In a statement to TIME, Russ Edmonson, spokesperson for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, disputed the claim that the dump expansion would lead to health problems.

“Our permit conditions are the most stringent possible,” he said. “They include enhanced air monitoring to verify compliance with the law, improved on-site controls to manage any spill that might occur, rigorous reporting requirements that focus the facility on preventing any releases of hazardous waste, public outreach requirements that mandate the facility meet yearly with the community to discuss compliance and other issues of community concern, and compliance with the California’s stringent 2017 truck emission standards which will require that any truck bringing in hazardous waste meet that standard three years before it becomes effective for the rest of the state.”

Edmonson added that unannounced inspections of the site will be increased from once per year to quarterly.

TIME bicycles

Mountain Biking’s Beginnings: Fat Tires, Broken Hubs and the Grateful Dead

Mountain biking took root in the fertile counterculture of the 1970s

Long before there were gutter bunnies, baby heads or WOMBATS, there were cyclists eager to push the limits of what their equipment and bodies could take.

It began with a group of sporty iconoclasts, wheeling down the hills of northern California, creating a rough-and-tumble style of biking to match their unconventional personalities. They made it up as they went along, modifying their bikes to manage the terrain and enjoying themselves in all the ways that adventurous youth did in that era.

Watch UC Fig. 1‘s video about the early days of mountain biking. Narrated by UC San Diego’s Sarah McCullough, who wrote her PhD thesis on the topic, it tells the history of the sport, the “renegades (including the women) who started it, remade the bikes and helped create a new leisure industry. And it wasn’t just about bikes and terrain in those days, ideas and music played an important part, including a benefit performance by the band that personified the counter-culture.

“[P]eople were creating the kind of world they wanted to live in,” McCullough says. “A world with trails that created a flow through the mountains, paths they could follow fast, without braking.”

If you want to learn more, check out work from off-road pioneers like William Savage (Klunkerz), and Charlie Kelly (Fat Tire Flyer, due out later this year).

TIME Environment

How I Almost Got to Decide the Next XPRIZE

XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis
XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis takes the stage at Visioneering Donald Norris for XPRIZE

Some of the smartest and most influential people gathered in outside L.A. this weekend to brainstorm the next great innovation contest

Pro-tip: if you’re trying to pitch a winning concept for an XPRIZE contest, get NY1 news anchor Pat Kiernan on your team. I’m pretty sure Kiernan’s presence — and his smooth, TV-honed baritone on stage — was the main reason why the idea designed by Pat, myself and TIME’s Siobhan O’Connor made it to the finals here at XPRIZE Visioneering. We didn’t win — in what I would describe as grand larceny, we lost out to a contest focused around developing forbidden sources of energy. But for three journalists with pretty much zero experience in the digital innovation field, I’d say we did pretty well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was in sunny Palos Verdes in southern California for XPRIZE Visioneering. It’s a now annual summit that brings together some of the smartest and most influential people in the world — and a few journalists like myself — to brainstorm what could become the next multi-million dollar XPRIZE concept. XPRIZE was founded in 1995 by the engineer, entrepreneur and relentlessly positive futurist Peter Diamandis, to incubate prize-driven contests meant to inspire innovation. The first XPRIZE is still the most famous — the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered $10 million to the first privately-financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 62 miles (100 km) into space twice within two weeks.

It took 26 teams investing more than $100 million dollars for eight years before the prize was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which completed their flights in the custom-built SpaceShipOne. Private space travel was a dream before Diamandis established the XPRIZE — today, the industry is worth more than $2 billion, as entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his SpaceX company successfully put satellites in orbit without NASA’s help. “It used to be only governments and big companies that could play on a scale like this,” Diamandis has told me before. “But times have changed and accelerated in the direction where agents of change are small entrepreneurs who are enabled by new technologies to do extraordinary things.”

As you might be able to tell from the buzzwords, XPRIZE is extremely Silicon Valley. The contests the foundation has formulated unleash digitally-empowered entrepreneurs on some of the very problems where the government has failed, like ocean health and oil spills. Diamandis himself isn’t shy about the scale of his ambitions. “This is where we imagine the future and create the future,” he told the audience at the opening of the Visioneering conference. “We’re living in a world where you can solve ideas and not just complain about them.” It’s a vision where doing good also means doing well, where an intractable problem like child poverty isn’t a failure of global will, but a market failure. Those who can innovate successful solutions won’t just help the world, they’ll be helping themselves — starting with the multi-million dollar checks that come with an XPRIZE win.

But such contests actually aren’t new. Before centralized government and corporate R&D boomed in the post-WWII era, one of the best ways to encourage innovation was through a prize contest. Some group or person — the government or an individual tycoon — would set out a challenge with a cash reward. The British government did this back in 1714 with the Longitude Prize, to be awarded to the first person who could develop a way for a seagoing ship to measure longitude. The prize was won not by a navigator or ship’s captain — the class of experts who had been trying and failing to discover a solution — but by a clock maker named John Harrison. The 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927 in order to win a contest established by a hotelier named Raymond Orteig. (It was the Orteig Prize that directly inspired the Ansari XPRIZE for space travel.) Lindbergh took home the $25,o00 winnings — and everlasting global fame — but more importantly, the prize kicked off global air travel, seeding an industry of vastly greater value. “Within 18 months of the contest, air passenger traffic had gone up 30 times,” says Chris Frangione, the vice president of prize development at XPRIZE. “This is why prizes are so powerful — they leverage resources.”

The point of the Visioneering conference was to brainstorm the next contest. No one thought small. Bill Gross, the CEO of Idealab, urged the audience to try to solve Beijing’s killer air pollution problem. Shaifali Puri, the executive director for global innovation at Nike, told us to aim for a “moon shot for girls,” to find a way to ensure that tens of millions of girls around the world received the education and protection they needed to flourish. Ratan Tata, one of India’s richest men, said we should focus on the malnutrition and housing woes that still hold back the developing world. “It’s not just tech and it’s not just start-up companies,” he said. “It’s making a difference for disadvantaged people.”

To do that, we needed ideas, and we slotted ourselves into different tracks for brainstorm sessions. I took the future of cities on the first day, where New York University’s Paul Romer, who told us that “cities are where the action is.” We were broken into groups and asked to devise, bit by bit, a new contest that could produce an innovation that would improve life in cities, for the poor and for the rich. Once we’d completed that task — a process that used a lot of Post-It notes and whiteboard space — we pitched our ideas to the larger group, and voted on which one would move to the next stage. I should have known that my group’s idea — loosely centered around finding a way to provide infinite water to urban households — might be in trouble when we began debating whether to play Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during the pitch. (Our title: “What a Watterful World.” I know.) We did not advance.

But that experience was useful for the next day’s session, on disaster prediction and response. The seismologist Lucy Jones — whom Los Angeles residents know as the “Earthquake Lady” for her ubiquity on TV every time a temblor strikes Southern California — told us the unsettling fact that the next big quake that strikes the San Andreas Fault could essentially cut off water to L.A. for months. We were broken into groups again, and tasked with designing a contest that would help cities prepare and bounce back from the next big natural disaster.

I roped in Siobhan, who had come to Visioneering as my guest, and NY1’s Kiernan, who had also come as a guest and who had only landed in L.A. that morning. None of us were disaster experts, unless you can count living through Superstorm Sandy in New York City. But between the three of us — though sleep-deprived and inexperienced — we managed to come up with a pretty decent idea. We’d called it Web in a Box: to win our proposed contest, a team would have to design a piece of technology capable of providing backup internet service on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis in the event of a sustained blackout following a disaster. Our rationale was that the Internet is now the most important communication hub we have, as vital a resource in the aftermath of disaster as food and water — and not just because you can’t tweet about a disaster if you can’t get online.

We honed our pitch and made it through the initial stages, where the entire Visioneering conference is brought together to vote on different ideas. We were even one of the five pitches that went up against each other in the finals on Saturday night—but no fault of Pat’s, we eventually went down in defeat, as the entire conference cast their votes in what felt a bit like a high school election contested by very rich and powerful people. The winner was a contest that offered $20 million to anyone who could prove an effective, entirely new form of energy. Ambitious, but I still say we were robbed. (We also came out behind a contest that offered prize money to develop a water cleaning system capable of filtering out the microscopic amounts of prescription drugs that are now found in our drinking water. This pitch memorably featured the actress Patricia Arquette asking the audience if they’d taken Viagra that day.)

The winning Visioneering idea won’t automatically become the subject of the next contest, but it will get automatic consideration by the foundation’s board as they decide the subject of the next XPRIZE. The winners also received a trophy created by a 3D printer, which might be the most XPRIZE thing that happened all weekend. We live in a strange age where we seem beset by enormous problems that seem to have no realistic solution: climate change, global inequality, the Alzheimer’s epidemic. As a society, we seem helpless in the face of those ills, gridlocked before looming catastrophe. Sometimes it’s hard to share Diamandis’s relentless optimism. And yet, he’s not wrong: the spread of information technology and education has made it possible as never before for anyone to put forward their solutions — and to be heard. “There is no problem that can’t be solved,” Diamandis said at the close of the conference. “We are heading towards an extraordinary world.” That’s a prize we can all share.

TIME Disaster

2 Arrested in Calif. on Arson Charges While Wildfires Rage

About 125,000 people have evacuated their homes in the area, where numerous fires have raged for days

Police in Escondido, California have arrested two people on arson-related charges as wildfires burn throughout San Diego County this week.

Police arrested 19-year-old Isaiah Silva and an unnamed 17-year-old Thursday after acting on a tip from a citizen who reported chasing two people setting off a brushfire. Officials believe the teenagers set at least two small fires, but it’s not clear if they were directly connected to the larger fires in the region.

Roughly 125,000 people in San Diego County have been sent notices to evacuate their homes due to the wildfires, Reuters reports. The fires are being fueled by a combination of drought, scorching heat and blustering winds.

Authorities have largely contained some fires as of Friday morning, while others are continuing to burn.

TIME Education

California Wants to Limit Full-Contact Drills in High School Football

The state assembly has passed a bill through to the state senate that would limit full-contact football drills in high schools in response to parents' concerns about the risks associated with concussions, like early-onset dementia long-term brain damage

California’s state assembly on Thursday passed legislation to limit full-contact drills in high school football, in a response to parental concerns about the risks of concussions leading to long-term brain damage and early-onset dementia.

The bill has the support of the California Interscholastic Federation and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and has caught the attention of the White House, which on Thursday announced plans for a May 29 conference on concussions and youth sport safety.

If passed in the state senate, the bill will limit practices involving game-speed tackling to twice-weekly 90-minute sessions, and ban such drills completely in the offseason.

[AP]

TIME fire

I Fight Wildfires. This Is What It’s Really Like

California wild fire
A firefighter on structure defense duty watches flames in San Marcos, San Diego county on May 14, 2014. Stuart Palley—EPA

As fires continue to rage through San Diego County, causing evacuations to thousands of homes, San Mateo fire captain Matt Turturici talks about his 24 years as a blaze combatant, and how urban sprawl has made the landscape a more dangerous place

I’ve been a firefighter in California for 24 years. I started my career up north where wildfires like the ones now burning in Carlsbad in San Diego County are not uncommon. As more people have moved into interface areas — where the edges of forests and grasslands meet urban sprawl — wildfires have gotten more dangerous. Before, fires used to just burn and die out in the wilderness. Now many homes simply become kindling. Fire can’t distinguish between the two. This is what fighting them is like.

We call fires like these campaign fires. Usually they have a name and are well established by the time a request for aid comes from the California Office of Emergency Services. Often the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, runs the response. It’s not necessarily the fact that there’s one big fire in Carlsbad or near Yosemite or Los Angeles County. When state resources get drawn down from fighting multiple fires, that’s when they start tapping into local resources. Cal Fire will request your help as a strike team, which consists of five fire engines with four firefighters each, a battalion chief and an aide, who is usually training to become a chief. Cal Fire crews typically work 24-hour shifts on the fire line and come back off the line for 24 hours. Then they start again.

The amount of preparation that goes into organizing and deploying strike teams is equivalent to fighting a war. You arrive at base camp, check in and are assigned to a division. You’re told: This is the radio channel you’re working on, this is where the fire is moving, this is what the wind and weather are doing, and these are the objectives for your engine company — for example, defend the houses on this block. Sometimes you have to do structural triage; you have to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Nobody wants to walk away from a house that’s burning, and we typically don’t.

As the fire approaches, it can become surreal because of the way the smoke filters sunlight. It feels like you’re on a different planet. It can be eerie. The wall of flames can reach 20 to 150 ft. depending on what’s burning and move very quickly. When the fire’s moving, it can sound like a freight train. When you’re in a situation where houses are really starting to get hit, you can hear tires exploding or propane tanks blowing off. Especially seeing the results afterward, seeing stuff burned to white ash when there’s no remnant of what was there before, can be strange. It’s like Chernobyl; it’s just gone.

You also find yourself at the mercy of the weather. One wind shift and you’re in trouble, potentially. Campaign fires often create their own weather, so you have to pay attention to the clouds if you can see them. You have to know where the wind normally blows compared with how much the wind is blowing that day. Your situational awareness has to be acute. You’re responsible for your guys; a critical error can get them in trouble. You’re constantly asking yourself: Are you in a good spot? Can we get out of here? If we can’t get out of here, where can we regroup? If you’ve come off the line and come back on, knowing how destructive a fire has already been can also put you on edge.

Then there’s the fire shelter. That’s the most dire situation you can find yourself in. It’s the decision. It’s pushing the button. It’s pulling the pin. It’s what you choose when you have no other options. And it’s not even a guarantee of safety. You have to scratch yourself out a wide spot and the shelter has to be deployed in less than a minute. You deploy it so your feet are pointed toward where the fire is coming. Everyone is in body contact with one another. It can get very quiet among the crew in that moment. You ride it out together.

Fighting fires like these has changed over the years. There’ve been changes to our equipment. There’ve been changes to operations. And there’ve been advances in using computers to forecast fire travel and position ground and aircraft support, which is crucial. Technology will always try to keep up, but there’s a tremendous human element. Ultimately, technology can help, but it can’t think for the guys on the ground.

Turturici is a fire captain in the city of San Mateo, Calif. He was deployed to the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite.

TIME weather

Entire State of California Facing Worst Drought Since Tracking Began

California Drought
Cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014. Marcio Jose Sanchez—AP

The entire state of California is suffering the most intense drought since the federal government began monitoring drought levels in 2000. Wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, in an “unprecedented” intensity, climatologist Mark Svoboda said

The entire state of California is facing a “severe” drought or worse for the first time since tracking began in 2000, according to the federal U.S. Drought Monitor.

The level of drought in the state, where wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, is “unprecedented” over the past decade and a half, climatologist Mark Svoboda, from the National Drought Mitigation Center, which runs the monitor based out of Nebraska, told USA Today.

Nearly a quarter of the state is facing an “exceptional” drought, the worst possible categorization, including the entire Bay Area. Another half of the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, is in the midst of an “extreme” drought, while the remainder of the state is in the midst of a “severe” drought, the third most dire category.

[USA Today]

TIME The Brief

Thousands Evacuated as Calif. Wildfires Rage

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Thursday, May 15:

  • Wildfires are burning in Southern California, destroying 30 homes and forcing thousands to evacuate.
  • The Daily Mail released audio of Sterling criticizing Barack Obama and threatening to go to the Supreme Court in order to keep the Clippers.
  • Fast food workers across the world are striking for higher wages.
  • A cat saves the day, fighting off a viscous dog that was attacking a four-year-old boy.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

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