Tamale pistol
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Arriving from the North, the airplane reached Valle de la Ermita, the vast valley that nestles Guatemala City. Looking out the window, I marveled at four volcanoes that guarded the valley’s southwest. The conical colossi stood calm, mythical. Furthest west stood Acatenango, whose peak, though it belonged to la tierra, cohabited with el cielo as it surpassed an elevation of 13,000 feet. Next to Acatenango was Fuego, an active volcano whose typical eruptions only decorate the sky with a small ash plume, but whose eruption in June 2018 reminds us of the mysterious power of volcanoes. Then came Agua, earning this name after its 1541 eruption caused a great flood, though its older name Hunapú, “place of flowers,” continues to be used by the local Kaqchikel Mayans. Closest to the valley was Pacaya, the shortest and most active of the four volcanoes. After a century-long sleep, Pacaya erupted in 1965, during the early years of Guatemala’s armed conflict, as if to protest the war’s course. Although the war is now over, Pacaya has yet to return to dormancy.
More… “Tamales and Pistolas”

Camar Díaz is a social scientist and writer whose work focuses on armed violence in postwar societies. She received her PhD in science and technology studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. To read more of her work on postwar violence in Guatemala, see “La Violencia After War

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Norman Rockwell’s depiction of a bustling small-town journalism office (a nearly extinct species) is being sold by its owner, the National Press Club. More than half a century after the painting was donated by the artist, the organization has decided to sell it in order to fund future endeavors. Oh, the irony. (Washington Post)

In the wake of the 11th mass shooting since President Obama took office, officials and media near Umpqua Community College and across the country have abstained from naming the shooter unless absolutely necessary. Their hope: If his name doesn’t go down in infamy, maybe other would-be copycats won’t follow in his footsteps. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Try to think about yourself in four dimensions. What form does your path through space-time take? The answer may take you all the way to the source of human consciousness. (Nautilus) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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Among the displays of assault rifles at the Mikhail Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk is a small lawnmower Kalashnikov designed to push about the grounds of his summer cottage. It is said that Mikhail Kalashnikov loved to care for his grass. Kalashnikov gave the lawnmower the same sensible qualities he gave the gun that bears his name. The lawnmower is light, simple, cheap to construct and easy to hold — something a child could use.

Kalashnikov didn’t regret inventing the Kalashnikov rifle. “I invented it for the protection of the Motherland,” he said.  Still, he once mused that he would like to have been known as a man who helped farmers and gardeners. “I wanted to invent an engine that could run forever,” Kalashnikov once said. “I could have developed a new train, had I stayed in the railway.” But this was not to be.

Every morning for the past 10 years I have chatted with the retired police chief who sells bus tickets from his truck in a commuter parking lot. Then I board the coach for my trip from Cape Cod to Boston where I teach poetry writing. Ernie is an impressive man, sitting there from 4 a.m. until 9, the window open and his shirt unbuttoned even in winter, when I huddle near his door in a hat and scarf. He advises me on what snow blower to buy, and the proportion of bleach to use when spraying mold off shingles. Growing up in a Queens apartment, and now living a rural life, I welcome his counsel.

Over the years, he’s described his family vacations. In some stories, he’s met an aggressive panhandler in a parking garage, or heard a suspicious knock on his motel door late at night. When he recalls… More…