The Curious About Everything Newsletter #26
The most interesting things I read in April 2023.
Welcome back to the Curious About Everything Newsletter! CAE 25, last month’s newsletter, is here if you missed it.
After a few weeks of gains, I lost the improvements I’d made on the spinal CSF leak front, and I’m back to mostly bed-bound. It’s like Groundhog Day over here, what can I say. Thankfully there’s still lots of good things to read from bed.
On my Patreon (where I give more frequent updates and answer reader questions about chronic pain and grief), I shared photos from an ice storm here in Ottawa. Millions were left without power in Ontario and Quebec, and while thankfully I retained mine many in the area did not. I wrote about how my area came together with charging stations, freezer space, and more via my local Buy Nothing group. One of my Patrons also happens to be the US Bureau Chief for The Straits Times, and interviewed me for a piece about the Buy Nothing Movement, which was fun to see published.
The Most Interesting Things I Read This Month
This newsletter is once again possible thanks to the help of my friend Mike, who took my copypasta of links and quotes and formatted them into hyperlinks. (Substack, if you’re reading: it would be great to properly format emails via your app one day soon!)
🌯 A Head Above: How Barbacoa Paved the Way for Barbecue. José R. Ralat on the history of barbacoa in the USA, one that is often misunderstood—and almost always delicious. Texas Monthly
⚰️ End-of-Life Dreams. Interesting, comforting read: 90% of people dream of deceased loved ones as their own deaths approach. Though physicians frequently dismiss these end-of-life dreams, they are often predictive of what’s about to pass. “Sometimes the best medicine is not medicine”, says Kerr, the doctor profiled in this piece, but rather allowing for the connection to people we loved. Per Kerr, it’s rare that any dreams had religious undertones, though many were deeply spiritual. Commonweal
✈️ What Does the Phrase “Slow Travel” Actually Mean? Getting beneath the shiny marketing to share what “slow travel” means to actual travellers, not advertisers; including “tamping down our own built-in, conditioned obsessions with time and allowing the world to move just a little slower” so that we can actually notice it, luxuriate in it, and appreciate what we’re experiencing. Condé Nast Traveler
🧠 New Brain Network Connecting Mind and Body Discovered. Very interesting study about the connection between the brain areas that control movement, and those involved in thinking, planning, and involuntary bodily functions like blood pressure and heartbeat. There’s a literal mind-body linkage, which likely vindicates more than a few people out there. Researchers named the connection the Somato-Cognitive Action Network (SCAN). I’m also reminded of the studies about visualization and how it can affect muscle strength (PDF from 2004, here). With my CSF leak leaving me bed-bound, I sometimes “exercise” using visualization and imagine myself doing planks. Curious to see more about this connection, and I wonder how else this may eventually create changes in the physical body. The Scientist
🔫 Gun Violence Is Actually Worse in Red States. It's Not Even Close. Conservatives sometimes cite NYC and other blue cities as places with increasing violence and a lack of safety but in reality, it's the US South (cities and rural areas alike) where “the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.” Wide-ranging piece that goes into how the history of those regions, not only gun access, are part of why this problem persists today. Politico
🇮🇩 This citizen-run organisation is teaching thousands of Indonesians to fact-check. An Indonesian nonprofit wants to raise the country’s media literacy, and is taking a grassroots approach. “Mafindo,” an acronym for Indonesian Anti-Slander Society, was born out of a 2014 Facebook group, and now relies on a network of thousands of volunteers to carry out its work. The organization is fighting to combat misinformation in the world’s third-largest democracy. Nieman Labs (via Travelfish)
📰 Inside Rupert Murdoch's Succession Drama. Gossip, dramas, and a long-smouldering family feud. If you enjoy Succession and want to peel away some of the Murdoch onion, this piece is for you. It’s written by the biographer of Ailes, so he’s very familiar with the Fox empire. Don’t worry, there are no Succession spoilers in here! Vanity Fair
👯♀️ You'd Be Happier Living Closer To Friends. Why Don't You? What would have to change for you to move closer to the people who nourish you, who support you, who make your life better and easier in so many ways? As a piece in The Atlantic last month noted, many people are prepared to move for a new job, to be with a romantic partner, or even just for an adventure—but not to be with friends. I can’t agree with this more, and it’s how I lived my life for many years. When I moved to Oaxaca, it was not a solitary choice, and having a tight knit group to learn about and enjoy the deliciousness of a new city was part of what made it so great. My friends are scattered around the globe now, but we still joke about a commune where we could spend our older years together. Culture Study
🍽 Inside Superiority Burger: The Buzziest Restaurant in America. This profile of a hardcore-punk drummer turned food fanatic is one of the best food pieces I read this year. It traces the life of Brooks Headley from his musical roots, to executive pastry chef at the four-star Italian restaurant Del Posto, to James Beard Award and his subsequent decision to abandon “those lofty heights” to sling veggie burgers instead. Incredible feature writing by Brett Martin. GQ Magazine
🤧 Our worsening seasonal allergies. I’ve gotten lots and lots of complaints about allergies in my inbox this year. Why are so many people feeling it worse? It turns out that worse allergies, too, are due to climate change. It turns out that carbon dioxide, released in heavy quantities due to fossil fuel extraction and burning, also serves an important role in pollinating plants. It helps them grow bigger and faster, flower more, and produce more pollen per flower. With more pollen comes worse allergic reactions. Greaaat. The Week
🇲🇽 The Covert Mission To Solve A Mexican Journalist's Murder. Tragic, gripping read about the violence against journalists in Mexico. Worth your time. Archive link here, if you get stuck. The New Yorker
💋 The Class Politics Of Instagram Face. “Instagram Face”, unlike prior hush-hush beauty standards, is highly reproducible—not only because costs are lower, but because we have a stream of before-and-afters hurtling us toward a beauty singularity where many people just look the same. Tablet
🌎 Fire and Ice. Are the rising number of wildfires and the melting ice in the Arctic related? This interactive, powerful piece shows us how those two issues connect, and what it means for our planet. “The planet’s ice is fundamentally tethered to weather patterns that stretch across the globe. Scientists are finding that as the climate changes, that connection could be helping fuel disasters.” NPR
🇵🇰 The Amazing Story of How Philly Cheesesteaks Became Huge In Lahore, Pakistan. Sometime in the fall of 2021, a man from Philadelphia came to meet Mazhar Hussain, a chef based in Lahore, Pakistan. Hussain was shown a video of a dish he hadn’t seen before: a hearty sandwich, with generous fillings of meat and cheese. Hussain was asked if he could replicate it. He did, and it became a hit. Hussain added his own spin: the meat is marinated with local red chili powder and tikka masala spice. His Philly’s Steak Sandwich spot became a hit — now one of several cheesesteak restaurants in Lahore. Philly Mag
📸 Why We Can't Leave Celebrities Alone. “I think being a celebrity sounds genuinely and profoundly miserable; there’s a reason I willingly gave up the perks of intense public exposure a couple years ago. But our media literacy needs work if we think it’s actually possible to leave celebrities alone. If the culture surrounding fame strikes us as immoral, we’d be wiser to take aim at fame itself.” Haley Nahman on the “perpetual tussle” between celebrities and gossip. Maybe Baby
🤳 No Good Alone. Speaking of alone: is the popularity of “lifestyle porn” these days causing people to be lonelier than they need because of excessive boundary-setting? This piece asks if the advice to focus primarily on yourself is the right advice for our times. While it’s true that the process of “becoming yourself” shouldn’t be a to-do list, I don’t personally find that the predominant vibe of the moment is that healing happens alone, or that therapy is a prerequisite to social interactions (both of which are asserted in the piece). But there’s no question that mental health has become very commodified. Internet Princess
🦠 Long COVID Is Being Erased - Again. Ed Yong, always a must-read, this time writing about the current wave of attempts to downplay long Covid. The denial is less outright by governments (though conspiracies denying it do exist), and more along the lines of “oh yes, it’s real—but it’s no big deal”. Except, it is a big deal. I’ve seen it in friends who are dealing with long Covid, some hospitalized several times, all with their lives changed, and in the many readers who’ve written in with the same. They are just the tip of the iceberg. Per Yong, it’s “a substantial and ongoing crisis that still demands our attention”. People seem to happily turn a blind eye to the risks and economic effects of mass infection, unless they too are suffering. The Atlantic
🪱 The conserved endocannabinoid anandamide modulates olfactory sensitivity to induce hedonic feeding in C. elegans. WORMS—THEY’RE JUST LIKE US! A worm commonly used in laboratory studies apparently gets the munchies just like humans do when exposed to cannabis. The study got the worms high by giving them “an endocannabinoid bath” (sounds cozy to me). So what does this mean? It points to what Nature calls “the deep evolutionary origin of cannabinoid receptors”. Worms join rats and humans in getting the munchies. Nature’s summary of the study is here. Current Biology; Nature
🦢 No, the King doesn't own all the swans in Britain. There is a pervasive myth that the British Crown owns all of the swans in the country. This is not true, but also not completely false. This piece aims to help us all understand King Charles III’s exact relationship with all those swans. Weird Medieval Guys
🦭 You Won't Believe How Elephant Seals Sleep Underwater. Excuse the dramatic headline, but honestly it is pretty unbelievable! The elephant seal’s “sleeping dive” involves them corkscrewing for 10 minute intervals while descending hundreds of feet. Pretty amazing. Gizmodo.
🗑️ Surprising Creatures Lurk In The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In the Pacific Ocean, floating “rafts” made of garbage are home to a cross-section of both coastal and marine animals. Since plastic lasts for ages (sigh), it’s provided a home to species for a long time, longer than researchers have seen previously when those species attached to vegetation or pumice, both of which eventually dissolved. While fascinating, the garbage homes risk that invasive species will spread, too. “We’re essentially creating new communities in the open ocean,” says marine ecologist Linsey Haram. Scientific American
🏀 The $1 million shot that changed sports contests forever. What a story! In 1993, an incredible three-quarter court shot won a Bulls fan Don Calhoun $1 million, but he couldn’t get paid—at least not without Michael Jordan’s help. Calhoun only finally got his money because Bulls players pressured the team to pay it out since their insurance was using red tape to deny. ESPN
🇨🇦 Poor Cyber Defences Are Damaging Canada's Economy. Cyberattacks may seem like relatively minor inconveniences to the average consumer, but the reality is that those attacks have a significant, broad cost for countries as a whole. Centre For International Governance Innovation
🏦 Ottawa wants to automatically file taxes for low-income Canadians — and perhaps eventually for everyone. Also on the Canada front: I didn’t realize Canada was among the first countries to start a pay-as-you-earn model, where taxes were taken out of paychecks directly. For self-employed people like me this, new plan wouldn’t likely work, but it would be great to make taxes as easy as they are in NZ or Australia, for example. CBC News
💁🏻♀️ Is There A Life After Influencing? Interesting piece about an influencer turned ‘normal job’ employee: “‘I could just show up to work and do work,’ Ms. Tilghman said. After she was done, she could leave. She didn’t have to be a brand. There’s no comments section at an office job.” Pre-CSF leak, my former work travel/food writing wasn’t based on influencing in the way Tilghman shares (I didn’t have sponsored posts or take press trips, and just wrote what I wanted to), yet it was still hard to avoid the feeling of immense pressure that I wasn’t doing enough. I can see how it would feel like relief to make an exit, though now that she’s offering workshops on how to take that exit, she’s potentially getting caught back up in the cycle again. Archive link for those who can’t access, here. New York Times
🕰️ The Time Thief Who Stole 106 Clocks In A Daring Heist. Quite the read! A mysterious theft, befuddled investigators, a romance that spanned decades and outlasted a prison sentence, and two bequeathments of valuable timepieces —among them a pocket watch commissioned for Marie Antoinette. Smithsonian Magazine
🏳️⚧️ Leaked Emails Reveal Just How Powerful The Anti-Trans Movement Has Become. Playing the long, hate-filled game. Vice
🌋🌊 More than 19,000 undersea volcanoes discovered. With only a quarter of the sea floor mapped but satellites detecting more than 43,000 seamounts overall, there’s a lot we haven’t seen from the deep sea. But a new seamount catalogue mapped by sonar is a big leap forward, helping better understand currents and protect biodiversity. (Full new seamount catalogue here, here.) Science.org; Earth and Space Science Journal
♟️ Why teens are suddenly obsessed with chess? The kids are playing chess! But why? And why now? This article posits it may be a mix TikTok, YouTube, The Queen’s Gambit, and a…certain cheating scandal that made the news, among other things. Polygon
🇸🇳 Senegal gas deal drives locals to desperation, prostitution. When a gas rig arrived off the coast of Saint-Louis, Senegal, residents were promised jobs and diversification of the economy. Instead, residents say, the rig has brought more poverty and desperation. AP
🧪 A new peptide may hold potential as an Alzheimer's treatment. Wow. A promising new peptide (a short chain of amino acids linked by peptide bonds) for Alzheimer’s, created specifically for this study. “When the researchers treated mice with a peptide that blocks the hyperactive version of an enzyme called CDK5, they found dramatic reductions in neurodegeneration and DNA damage in the brain. These mice also showed improvements in their ability to perform tasks such as learning to navigate a water maze.” Excited to see where this goes. MIT News
🦜18 parrots were taught to make video calls to other parrots via Facebook messenger, and liked it. They exhibited more play, preening, and generally sociable behaviour as a result. In total, they made 147 calls to each other. The videos are viewable via the open access study here, if you wanted them. I feel for these lonely parrots. They, too, deserve to live near friends. The Guardian
🌳 Beatrix Potter's Naturalist Notes. Beautiful illustrations of mushrooms from author Beatrix Potter, who not only loved animals (she wrote the Peter Rabbit books!) but the natural world as a whole. Noted
🤒 Why do some people get UTIs over and over? A new report holds clues. Many women with recurrent urinary tract infections are told it’s stress or anxiety, and not actual symptoms—or that they need hygiene changes. A new study vindicates a percentage of these patients, and finds that changes in urinary tract cells and DNA may be the actual reason for susceptibility to repeat UTIs. Goats and Soda
🐙 How octopuses taste with their arms. Octopuses have an unusual way of enjoying their meals: chemical receptors on the suckers of their tentacles allow them to taste by touching. Scientists found tube-shaped structures on the tentacle’s surface that bind to greasy molecules found in their food, on the seafloor, and on their own eggs. The diversity of those structures might allow an octopus to work out what it’s tasting quickly, even without sending the information to its brain. Nature
🇺🇦 Sketches from Ukraine. “North of Kyiv, construction cranes were everywhere. If Ukraine is not the most resilient and defiant nation currently on Earth, please show me what is.” David Eggers' notes from Ukraine. The Believer
🎶 “Blurred Lines,” Harbinger of Doom. The song Blurred Lines is a “poisonous time capsule”, and endures as an ambassador for almost all “disheartening pop-cultural trends” of the past decade. Pitchfork
🚛 Highway star. What it’s like to be a female trucker. N+1
👁️ Chasing Rainbows. Andy Baio’s interactive explainer on colourblindness. I’m not colourblind, but it was really fascinating to see the world as if I were, even just with a few snapshots in time. You can slide from left to right and back on the images, allowing you to view the world as if you were colourblind. The Verge
Thanks for reading ♥ Subscribe to receive next month’s Curious About Everything—it’s free!
🔗 Quick links 🔗
Charles Brooks takes photographs of the insides of musical instruments, and makes them look like buildings and tunnels. Wondrous!
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope accidentally discovered a possible runaway supermassive black hole that creates a trail of newborn stars.
A lost dog treks 150 miles across Alaskan sea ice before he's reunited with his family. I’m a consistent sucker for a lost dog reunion story.
TIL that Colorado is not a rectangle. Instead, it has 697 (!) sides.
Black bear breaks into vehicle and guzzles 69 cans of soft drinks — but notably ignores all the diet soda, which it left in the car.
“The scrotum: A comparison of men's and women's aesthetic assessments.” Your groin study of the month.
Plants do not suffer in silence, but make “airborne sounds” at ultrasonic levels when thirsty or stressed (and animals can likely hear them). Eek.
New fun from Neal.fun to cleanse the screaming plants thoughts: Space Elevator.
An energy-saving coating of paint that needs no pigments and keeps the surface beneath it 30 degrees cooler is the lightest paint in the world.
The Maldives are 99% water, so why can so few teenagers swim?
A mother playing Candy Crush didn’t realize that she was in a $250,000 tournament, but she's killing It.
I’ve made a bunch of friends take the Food Disgust Test this month, and the results are always entertaining. (Screenshots of the pie graph abound)
A map of the 2023 US allergy capitals. If the climate change / pollen piece wasn’t enough for you: here’s a map of the top 20 allergenic places to live in the USA. (PDF)
The Chilean Abalone is the “International Mollusc Of The Year” for 2023. I love that this competition exists.
This month’s featured image is by the NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, which mapped out the 4776m tall Pao Pao Seamount (right, below) in sonar as part of the seamount study mentioned in this newsletter.
That’s it for April. Hope to see you next month!