The Curious About Everything Newsletter #20
The best things I read in October.
Welcome back to Curious About Everything. CAE 19, last month’s newsletter, is here if you missed it.
No personal updates section this month, as I’ve been chugging along here in Ottawa without any big changes. It’s gotten colder, the leaves are magnificent, I voted in my first municipal election (yay!), and I am trying to write in the slender window left for productivity after I use my “uptime” to get basic tasks done around the apartment.
I relish the peace and quiet of living with no noise other than the gentle hum of an air purifier. My building’s Super came in the other day to fix something and looked around incredulously, asking, “wait, don’t you watch TV?” after seeing none in here. I really don’t! I use an iPad occasionally to watch shows, but mostly I read—which is why this is a curation newsletter—and inhale the delicious silence. Despite living in the middle of a city, this apartment is a very quiet spot, and with my health conditions that is perfect for my brain.
It’s a humbling thing to digest what ‘enough ‘ means with chronic spinal, immune, and neurological conditions. I’ll be writing more about this, but in a society that idolizes productivity, it takes continuous reminding that ‘enough’ for me may not be the norm. Uncoupling productivity with societal and personal worth is not an intuitive process when you’ve spent your life thus far braiding them together. But that is the journey for anyone who suddenly finds themselves in a much less able-bodied place. I’m fortunate that my work was already online, and I could continue writing when possible and have the groundwork in place for a Patreon community that covers the bills. Always a work in progress, all of us.
The Best Things I Read This Month
Society and Politics
🚫 A very long (22k+ words) entry on common misconceptions and rumours in society that are widely accepted as fact. Examples: Rice does not cause birds to die by inflating their stomachs until they burst; ‘'Xmas’ did not originate as a secular plan to ‘take the Christ out of Christmas’; no kids have been poisoned via fruit given during Halloween; and much more. Wikipedia
Eight refugees to the United States share the items they brought with them from their former countries, to remind them of home. Goats and Soda
🇺🇦 “Ukrainian resistance is a model. If we believe that democracy will be brought to us by structural factors, then we will get more fascism, more genocide, more imperialism. But we do not have to believe that. We can believe instead that democracy is always a struggle, but that the struggle is worth it.” As Ukraine goes, so goes the world. This (audio format with a transcript) post is an lesson on fascism, genocide, colonialism—and renewed democracy. Especially critical as the midterms loom in the USA. Timothy Snyder
🇮🇷 Iran has been gripped by protests since the abominable death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police last month. From Saturday (yesterday): Iran's Guards head warns protesters: 'Today is last day of riots'. A roundup of powerful political art about the protests here. And, with protests mounting, officials turn to Beijing-backed tech companies to build a surveillance state. CTV News; Moss and Fog; JHU; Tehran Bureau
🇨🇳 “So long a topic of conversation and speculation, [it] now appears to be a reality. A critical point has been reached. The old world-economic system of Chimerica is being swept away, and something new will take its place.” On the decoupling between China and the West. Noahpinion
🖊️ On the self-imposed torture of writing. It sounds overly dramatic, and yet many writers would see themselves in this Helen Garner piece. Griffith Review
You have to believe, against the scornful trumpeting of your intellect, in the miraculous ability of form to create itself out of chaos. You have to hold the line through all the wretched days, months, even years that you spend not writing – doing anything but write: ‘wasting time’, indulging in displacement activities, wandering about pointlessly, biting people’s heads off, seething with anxiety and self-reproach. You have to believe that you’re preparing the ground for something to manifest out of the darkness, to present itself, to be born. Having already gone through this process countless times does not help. You forget, every single time, that it’s coming at you. The anxiety, the self-reproach are always total, unremitting, inescapable. You have to submit to it, allow yourself to suffer it, right to the end.
🔥 A running list of John Fetterman’s “best burns” on social media, via slideshow, in his crucial senate bid against Dr. Oz. Jezebel
😚 Why are there so many rom-coms these days? Because we’re all in crisis, and the “warm and fuzzy” distraction helps us feel better. (How does that explain the success of Love is Blind, though? Maybe we also feel distracted by interpersonal drama.) Refinery29
📺 At first Sesame Street didn’t contain muppets, but research showed that kids paid more attention when muppets were present. Oscar the Grouch was crafted to represent the more challenging encounters that kids experience in daily life. This, and more, in this great piece about how Sesame Street came to be. Jim Carroll’s Blog
♿ After becoming paralyzed in 2009, Beka Anardi never thought about working again—until the pandemic hit. As millions of people began working remotely, she realized she could resume her career as a recruiter. Bloomberg Mag | Open access archive link here.
The Natural World
👃 A nose-picking lemur sparked scientific inquiry, which led to a study that found 12 other primate species that picked their noses, as well as an analysis of existing studies about the behaviour. Apparently, there are both pros and cons of doing so, including that at least one study suggested that picking your nose and eating it may be healthy for teeth, as people who picked their nose reported fewer cavities. TIL? BBC News
🌱 How do trees survive in cities, and what do they dream of? Sananda Mukhopadhyaya on what it may feel like to be a tree squished into a concrete jungle. The Soup (Note: this month’s thumbnail art is from this article, by artist Sankalpa Raychaudhury)
🌳 Speaking of trees, this site lets you “escape into nature wherever you are”, by tuning into the sounds of forests all over the world, submitted by the people who live there. Tree.fm
📸 The Guardian curates photography awards, always a feast for the eyes: The 2022 Comedy Wildlife Photography Award finalists, The Siena International Photo Award winners, the Ocean Photographer of the Year winners.
🦦 Fabulous: a history of otters in art. Hyperallergic
🎶 How bird song changed during the pandemic. Atlas Obscura
🐀 Team Rats! How these smart rodents have been trained to helped sniff out 150,000 explosives across seven countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. Experience Mag
🐦 A young bar-tailed godwit (it’s a bird, not an insult) seems to have set a record for migratory birds by flying a jaw-dropping 13,560 kilometers (8,435 miles) from Alaska to Tasmania. NPR
🧊 As climate change threatens to upend the planet’s icy kingdom, we're writing ghost stories in real time. The Ghosts of Antarctica Will Haunt the End of the World. CNET
Health and Wellness
💀 Fascinating: an international team of scientists who analyzed centuries-old DNA from victims and survivors of the Black Death pandemic identified key genetic differences that determined who lived and who died, as well as how those parts of our immune systems have subsequently evolved. In today’s world, those parts are linked with autoimmune diseases. More here. Science Daily; The Guardian
🖼️ Doctors in Belgium are prescribing (free) museum visits, in a 6- month trial project to see if the visits helps improve mental health. Smithsonian Mag
🦠 Like some others, I am still isolating to try and avoid Covid. This is in part because my immune system dysfunction puts me at higher risk for post-covid complications, but also because the coughing alone risks re-opening my leak to the point where I may not be able to live independently any more. I would be devastated to lose my hard-fought independence. Summarizing some of the research and articles about Covid I read this month:
- On Long covid: “My life has totally changed.” Input on long covid from readers around the world. A mild covid infection led to this author’s long battle with long covid, and his plea that in the face of overwhelming evidence that LC is severe and common—and that you don’t need to be high risk like me to get it—there needs to more of a warning to the general population. “We are now well past the point of plausible deniability.” On post-covid POTS in athletes. The Guardian; San Francisco Chronicle; ESPN
- On risks post covid: Increased risk of 44 different neuro disorders, including Alzheimer's, 1 year post-infection. The largest study on severe stroke and Covid found that even moderate COVID-19 infection increased risk of death in younger, healthier stroke patients. A large UK study found arterial and venous blood clot risks (heart attack/stroke/DVTs etc) are far higher than expected after Covid. (Study here). WBUR/NPR; Newswise; Japan Times; Circulation Journal
- Ending with some Ed: Ed yong took a 6-month, well-deserved sabbatical after writing this piece. As always, he is excellent at synthesizing huge swaths of information into important articles. “Calling the pandemic “over” is like calling a fight “finished” because your opponent is punching you in the ribs instead of the face”, he notes in this piece. America’s individualist bent is organized around treating sick people at great, wasteful expense, instead of preventing communities from falling sick in the first place. And as Covid mutates to be more infectious (without the West using mitigation measures), more and more people will be getting sick long-term. It’s already keeping millions out of work. The Atlantic; CNBC
👪 When parents cast a child into the role of mediator, friend and carer, the wounds are profound. Psychologist Nivida Chandra on how adults can undo the harm of being parentified as children. Aeon Mag
😴 Why does thinking hard make us feel so tired? Turns out that difficult tasks can lead to a build-up of glutamate in the brain, affecting cognition. Nature
🔉 A long, interactive, excellent article all about how sound works. I wish I’d had access to something like this when I was taking physics classes in high school! Better late than never. Bartosz Ciechanowski
🤖 What does DALL-E2 generate when asked to provide the most popular Halloween candy of each US state? A lot of amazingness. AI Weirdness
🐦 Two pieces about Elon Musk buying Twitter that have been making the rounds: Welcome to Hell, Elon (that lede, damn), and By Buying Twitter, Elon Musk Has Created His Own Hilarious Nightmare. The Verge; The Intercept
#️⃣ “To be online is to be exposed.” How the frenzied loop of living your life online (constantly posting content about you) can erode not only your privacy, but also your sense of self. I rarely post, and the algorithms have punished me for it, but the thought of live-updating everything feels like an exhausting burden I never want to take on. WIRED Mag
🛌 I’ve used brown noise to sleep for many years, and it seems to have become popular popular on TikTok, and thus is all over the news. My brain does not like white noise, but I find brown noise comforting. Maybe you will too? If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad: I use a free app, Soundly Sleeping, to put it on at night. Outside Online
Quick links 🔗
A map of all the places Anthony Bourdain ate at around the world. Anthony Bourdain World Map
From secret menus to cost-saving app hacks, our desire to go beyond the menu is making restaurant workers’ lives hell. Eater
Why does IKEA make it so difficult to shop at an IKEA store? This piece about IKEA’s “crimes against cartography” answers the question. London Reconnections
Is the NBA Ready for Victor Wembanyama? The Ringer
If, like me, you find it difficult to watch video, this is the best website I’ve used to automatically summarize the content, with timestamps. Summarize Tech
Want to find out what font a text snippet is, but don’t know how? What The Font to the rescue. My Fonts
Why the Great Canadian Baking Show is a “pile of wet dough” compared to the original GBBO. The Walrus
Can’t figure out where to move in the USA? This interactive site helps by having you input different filters (mountains, coasts, other preferences) and spitting out some options.
A complete directory of all goat rental companies in the world. Hire Goats
Books of the month
📖 My friend, mentor, and all around incredible woman Naomi Duguid has come out with a new book, all about salt. As with her other, James Beard award-winning books, this is part food anthropology, part recipe — and all great. Book: The Miracle of Salt: Recipes and Techniques to Preserve, Ferment, and Transform Your Food.
📖 I’ve not met Toula, but I follow her writing, and we’ve chatted occasionally about the state of Quebec politics. Her new book explores what it means to belong when immigrating to a new place (in her book, Quebec). Book: We, The Others.
That’s it for this month! More in late November.