The Curious About Everything Newsletter #27
The most interesting things I read in May 2023.
Welcome back to the Curious About Everything Newsletter! CAE 26, last month’s newsletter, is here if you missed it.
The Most Interesting Things I Read This Month
This section’s links here are once again formatted thanks to the help of my friend Mike, since the Substack app doesn’t allow people to add hyperlinks just yet.
Because I’m stuck in bed most of the time — which means extra reading reading time — this is a longer newsletter than usual. That may be good or bad for you, depending on the state of your inbox, but to err on the side of caution I’ve added a “start here” section of top reads this month. So if you’ve only got time for a few reads, these are the ones I found the most compelling this month.
Despite the length here, there’s still overflow. I’ll be sharing those links over on my Patreon.
Also! I’m raising money for the Spinal CSF Leak Foundation via their annual DuraDash, a 2 week activity event where I’ll be slowly walking to hit this year’s goal—and raise funds in the process. If you’re interested in supporting spinal CSF leak research, you can read more here.
Start here this month:
🎰 The Last Gamble of Tokyo Joe. Unbelievable story, with truly wonderful writing, about a Japanese-American man who became a mob boss in Chicago. Worth every minute of your time. Chicago Magazine
📺 Generation Connie. I loved this story so very much, about how Asian-American newscaster Connie Chung became a vehicle for many other families’ hopes and dreams—and a sense of belonging that was in short supply. New York Times (archive access here.)
🧠 Anxiety. “Looking at everyone surf through life made me feel like I was simply not trying hard enough.” Written and illustrated take on decisions, the heaviness our brains can place on our shoulders, and more. Wonderful, even if you don’t have anxiety yourself. I only stumbled on this newsletter during the past month and have now subscribed. Steinberg Draws Cartoons
From the piece:
😡 I took anger management classes. Here’s what they get wrong about the world. “Anger does not take place in a void. It is largely a moral emotion, most frequently triggered by perceived injustice, and profoundly important for social change.” Excellent, profoundly messy read (that ending!). The Guardian
🍣 How two friends spanked L.A.'s sushi revolution - and changed the way America eats. When these two men sat down for dinner in Tokyo one night in 1965, they had no idea that they were about to change the way Americans ate—and change their own lives in the process. Los Angeles Times
🩺 I'm A Doctor Who Almost Died Because My Own Doctors Refused To Do This 1 Basic Thing. Absolutely infuriating. This man’s life is now limited, and it changed considerably because his concerns were not taken seriously at the hospital after a routine colonoscopy. (Guarantee he didn’t chose this headline, his editors did!) Huffington Post
🎤 Mommy Bought the Tractor. Eurovision is over for this year, but this piece attempts to summarize its gloriousness: “It exists in a suspended plane where it is simultaneously a joke and deadly serious. Countries gain reputations, make names for themselves, and earnestly vie for personal, professional, and national success. […] It shouldn’t work, but it does.” Highly enjoyable read from Justin Ling. Bug-eyed and Shameless
🧏♀️ Fake sign language is spreading on TikTok. Deaf people are worried. (Archive link here.) I had no idea this was happening, and there are dangerous consequences to co-opting sign language incorrectly. Washington Post
🍸 Russia Has a Vodka Addiction. So Does Vladimir Putin - But Not the Same Way. “You can’t understand Russia without understanding the connection between booze and political power.” A political science professor writes about the history of Russian leadership and its creation of a vodka empire. Politico
🤕 In The Brain, Scientists Find New Clues to Treating Chronic Pain. (Gift access link here) Researchers used a device implanted in the brain to record, for the first time, objective signs of chronic pain. “Chronic pain is actually its own separate disease that is not simply an extension of pain in general,” said one of the study authors. When participants felt chronic pain, the devices recorded activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, but a different region of the brain was active when they experienced pain from touching a hot object. Validating to many here, no doubt. The Wall Street Journal.
🔗 And a quick link for this top section: A list of inventors killed by their own inventions.
The rest of the most interesting things I read this month:
♿️ Paralysed man walks using device that reconnects brain with muscles. This is a big deal, but especially so because the patient is 10 years plus post-injury. The treatment was possible due to a wireless “digital bridge” that connects the brain and spine. The Guardian.
🚫 Success Requires Saying No, Here's How The Experts Do It. Successful people say no to 90% of things asked of them, but they often do so in a way that is effective but respectful. Unlike the adage “no is a complete sentence”, these rejections usually give details, and also make it clear to the asker that the “no” is not personal. This short piece gives a script, and steps, for saying no in such a polite way. Friday Forward
🧢 The long, strange history of the baseball cap. For a long time, baseball teams didn’t even wear these caps, nor did the general public. This piece traces the evolution of this now ubiquitous fashion item to its current staple spot. MLB
👑 For the Succession fans, and with the finale this eve: Goodbye, ‘Succession’: A Pre-Finale Ode to the Great Show of Our Time Variety Mag
🦴 The Closest Living Relative Of The First Animal Has Finally Been Found. Comb jellies, or ctenophores, are the closest living relative to the first animal, meaning that early animals were surprisingly complex with a functioning nervous system. “We have to rethink the function and the structure of the early ancestor of animals. It wasn’t like a simple sponge,” says evolutionary biologist Paulyn Cartwright. Scientific American
🌵Kate Bowler on Shame, Productivity and Living with Chronic Pain. “I would rather do everything by myself and hide my problems. But I haven't been able to live like that for over a decade now. All my problems are obvious. All my problems are expensive. Every single week, I spend at least 15 hours doing awful health stuff. […] I'm a part-time job.” Very relatable for my situation, but probably many of you. It’s a podcast but you can toggle to read the transcript if that’s preferable. Death, Sex & Money
🎙 Tina Turner Was Open About Her Abuse. Now, Her Legacy Is Saving Survivors. By sharing her of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Tina gave a voice to other victims wanting to speak out. RIP, Tina. Rolling Stone
📢 Twenty Years Ago Today: Barbra Streisand Sued A Photographer And The Streisand Effect Was Born. Mike Masnick came up with the term “Streisand Effect” two decades ago, and the name stuck. (It refers to attempts to hide, remove, or censor information, where those attempts instead lead to more awareness of that information.) Short article. Techdirt
🤳Cheesier, Saucier and Drowning in Caviar: How TikTok took over the menu. Restaurants are onto the social-media-as-discovery-engine aspect of dining these days, and (sadly) have started to adapt their menus to bring in those views, e.g. “The more action that can happen in front of them, the better.” Maybe I’m a grump, but … sigh. Grub Street
🤖 I Asked ChatGPT To Control My Life, and It Immediately Fell Apart. ChatGPT gets complete control over a journalist's life, from personal to work needs. What could go wrong? Vice
🇹🇲'Mind-boggling' methane emissions from Turkmenistan revealed. Methane leaks from two of Turkmenistan’s fossil fuel fields caused more global heating last year than all the UK’s carbon emissions that same year, according to new satellite data. The Guardian
💊 Is reducing the activation of microglia a viable treatment strategy for long COVID and myalgic encephalomyelitis? Quite a few friends are finding success with LDN for long Covid, ME/CFS, or chronic spinal CSF leaks. I first heard of it via Maria Bustillos’ profile of using it for MS in 2016, but when I tried it then I had to stop due to the insomnia, which even at super low doses never went away (even after months). A compelling argument for more widespread use with Long Covid. Long COVID Research Breakdown
🤑 Who Is Leonard Leo's Mysterious Dark Money King? Another awful, but important story, a long, deep dive into what a US senator called “the secretive democracy-killing creepshow we are up against.” The New Republic
🍄 Can psychedelics cure depression? Is there a clinical case for psychedelic drugs? Professor David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist, has spent his career trying to demonstrate that there is—and that, beyond their recreational powers, drugs such as psilocybin can effectively treat depression. Some of his advocacy has landed him in controversy: in 2009, he was dismissed from a governmental advisory position for his arguments about drug harms. But over the last decade, as more pharmaceutical companies and even the NHS look to psychedelic treatments, he appears to have been vindicated. UnHerd
🧑🍳 The Top Chef Oral History: “How Is This Going Off The Rails On Day One?” An oral history of Top Chef, one of the few shows I watched when I was still lawyering. Padma, Tom, Gail and other insiders reflect on how the Bravo show, which began with a last minute host change and one “massive French-chef hissy fit,” transcended the reality TV genre to change food media and the restaurant landscape in the US. Hollywood Reporter
😎 Your IQ isn't 160. No one's is. On our faulty culture of genius. (Stephen Hawking: when asked in a 2004 interview with the NYT what his IQ is, Hawking replied, “I have no idea. People who boast about their IQ are losers.”) Erik Hoel
💥 Astronomers capture largest cosmic explosion ever witnessed. Astronomers have observed the most energetic explosion ever: a fireball that is 100x the size of the Solar System (!) and 2 trillion times brighter than the Sun (!!!), which by the way has already existed for 3 years. BBC News
🍞 A 3,000-year-old bakery - still covered in flour - unearthed in Armenia, photos show. The News Tribune
🗣️The best things we learn in therapy. Some good phrases to remember when times are tough, such as: “You deserve someone who didn’t have to lose you to realize how amazing you are”. (Link is to a newsletter) Girls' Night In
🚗 How to Survive a Car Crash in 10 Easy Steps. A journalist navigates a world forever changed by her traumatic brain injury. Longreads
💵 How El Chapo's sons built a fentanyl empire poisoning America. Once dismissed as “narco brats” flaunting fast cars, pet tigers and a golden AK-47 on social media, the brothers have emerged as key figures in the violent Sinaloa Cartel, security officials say. Reuters
🎧 “It Was Lightning in a Bottle”. An Oral History of MTV News. “In the late 1980s, a group of grumpy music journalism vets and fresh-faced 20-somethings came together for a radical media experiment: the launch of a cable news division programmed for, and largely run by American youth.” 36 years later, MTV stars reminisce about the golden years of pre-internet media work Hollywood Reporter.
🍰 How Much Is a Smidgen? The history of measuring a dollop or a pinch. Lapham's Quarterly
💉After weight loss, Alzheimer's may be next frontier for drugs like Ozempic. The hope is that improving glucose utilisation and tamping down inflammation in the entire body, including the brain, could slow progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Yahoo News
🦜 What It Takes To See 10,000 Bird Species. Why must everything be a competition? Outside Online
🗺 Kevin Kelly on Advice, Travel and Tech. Tyler asks the questions Kevin Kelly may have shied away from in his latest book / life advice, and as always sets the stage for thoughtful replies from the people he interviews. Conversations with Tyler
📼 The Search for the Lost 'Jeopardy!' Tapes Is Over. The Mystery Behind Them Endures. Another great Claire McNear piece: in 1986, Barbara Lowe Vollick won five games of ‘Jeopardy!’ in a row. Her episodes were then taken out of circulation. What followed was a nearly 40-year hunt for the missing tapes—and a quest to find out what really happened between the show and one of its most enigmatic champions. The Ringer
🐝 Hive Mind. A thoughtful essay about a woman who takes up beekeeping as the pandemic takes hold; contrasts between the buzzing of the bees and the online world abound. Loved the way she describes what she learned about how bees behave. Texas Highways
🚺 The Right's Assault on Divorce Will Put More Women At Risk. “What if Roe was just an opening salvo in the war against women’s autonomy? We often think of Roe’s fall as the culmination of decades of conservative lobbying, but what if it was just the first step?” See also this PDF: Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Stress; this paper estimates a 20% decline in women’s suicide rates once no-fault divorce was allowed in California. Vanity Fair
💀 Burst of brain activity during dying could explain life passing before your eyes. Follow up to the dreams of loved ones before dying: in dying patients, there is also a burst of brain activity, a new study shows, which could explain why people report feeling their lives flash before their eyes. Medical News Today
📫 I Get No Mail and It's Glorious. How to cut back on unnecessary snail mail. A rare piece that isn’t about junk email! Ironic Sans
👩🦳 How menopause reshapes the brain. A few species of whale are the only animals known to undergo a natural menopause like humans. Most species remain capable of reproducing until they die. “Menopause is a human thing,” says Teresa Milner, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “That’s why it’s difficult to study.” (Not sure I buy it, but ok.) Nature
🫀High-fat diet 'turns up the thermostat' on atherosclerosis. Researchers found that on a high-fat high-cholesterol diet, the cells that line the small intestine churn out reactive phospholipids that makes the intestinal lining more susceptible to invasion by the bacteria that live in the gut. Apparently genetically engineered tomatoes may save the day? “We created transgenic tomatoes in our lab that mimic the good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein,” Arnab Chattopadhyay, project scientist at UCLA and lead author of the study, said. The tomatoes, when added to a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, help lower cholesterol and triglycerides and also lower the inflammatory derivatives of the phospholipids. EurekAlert!
⚠️ 'The Godfather of A.I.' Leaves Google and Warns of Danger Ahead. Hinton now looks back and says, “I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn't done it, somebody else would have.” New York Times (See also: Geoffrey Hinton tells us why he's now scared of the tech he helped build. MIT Technology Review.)
🎶 The Epic Return of Lucinda Williams “A future without music—her life, her comfort, the core of her identity since she was twelve—was no future at all. But “if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life with Lucinda,” her tour manager and close friend Travis Stephens says, “it’s to never f **king underestimate Lucinda.” After a stroke left her partially paralyzed, singer/songwriter Williams is back at it once again. Garden & Gun
🌏 TikTok creators use AI to rewrite history. “By imagining a different history for the Philippines, I hope to contribute to this ongoing conversation about the legacy of colonialism and the possibilities for a more just future.” A.I. again, this time used to re-create history in ways it never happened, a new TikTok trend. Rest of world
😭 How Instagram and Facebook became marketplaces for child sex trafficking. Interviews with 70+ sources describe how both platforms have become major areas of child trafficking, and can often be slow to remove content. The Guardian
🏡 The Ugly Truth Behind “We Buy Ugly Houses” A ProPublica investigation based on court documents, property records, company training materials and interviews with 48 former franchise owners and dozens of homeowners who have sold to its franchises, found many HomeVestors franchisees used deception and targeted the elderly, infirm and those so close to poverty that they feared homelessness would be a consequence of selling. (“Pain is always a form of motivation,” HomeVestors’ training manual reads. “Once you find the Seller’s pain, you have a much better chance of buying the house.”) Yikes. Quite a read. ProPublica
💸 I placed my first wager when I was 10. I've gambled more than $1 million since. Noah Vineberg’s essay about his sports betting, and the dangers and desperation that come along with it. Maclean's
🐙 Can the liquid motion of the octopus radicalise our ideas about time? “Could we learn to move through time as an octopus moves through space?” Fascinating piece on how the octopus invites us to think in ways that remove boundaries between present and future, allowing us to see ourselves as a dot on a tapestry instead of a fixed ending point. Aeon
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🔗 Quick links 🔗
Apparently CAE is a sea mapping fan club, for good reason. The newest wonder: a full-sized digital scan of the Titanic, built using deep-sea mapping, provides a 3D view of the ship as if the water was drained away from the wreck.
Some good news, for a change: Amazon deforestation down 40% from the same period last year, a win for new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who campaigned in part about this issue.
NEW GECKO JUST DROPPED! It’s a parachuting gecko, found in Northeastern India. Cutie, too:
Following up from last month’s soda-guzzling bear is this month’s cupcake-obsessed bear who broke into a bakery in Connecticut.
The orcas are onto us, and want revenge. (I don’t blame them).
Single people should be valued since Jesus himself was single, the Church of England says.
Fast Company’s 2023 World Changing Ideas list.
13 of the most-banned books from 2022. What a deeply depressing trend in the United States. See also: SexEd doesn’t groom kids, it helps protect them; sexual literacy is what can help prevent grooming.
Your penis link of the month: a man from Dildo, Newfoundland (yes it’s a real place), finds a phallic-shaped iceberg; internet rejoices.
Most sports bars don’t show women’s sports on TV, so one woman used her life savings to open a bar that only plays women’s sports—and it brought in almost $1 million in 8 months.
This month’s featured artist is Claire Scully, who illustrated the octopus article mentioned above in this newsletter.
That’s it for May reads! Hope to see you next month.