She pretended her girls were Inuit and stole a fortune

From Toronto Life magazine: “Amira and Nadya Gill were well-known on campus. The ambitious twins seemed to excel at everything they did. Amira was pursuing her master’s in civil engineering, and she was a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces. Nadya, a former NCAA soccer player, juggled her duties as an assistant coach for the women’s soccer team with law school, and she was an associate editor for the Queen’s Law Journal, and a board member for the school’s student law society. Throughout their studies, they won a number of awards and scholarships. And everyone knew they were Indigenous, a status they wore with pride. But then some holes started appearing in their stories.”

He died in a Jewish ghetto. How did his art end up on a bench in San Francisco?

From the SF Standard: “Jermaine Joseph, a city employee for the Port of San Francisco, was doing his maintenance rounds at Crane Cove Park on a sunny morning in May 2022 when he spotted something unusual: nearly 50 abandoned pieces of art arranged on a cement bench. “It was really strategically set out in a nice pattern,” he said. “And looking at the frames and the paper, you could tell someone put a lot of time into them.” Joseph knew the artworks had not been there for long—no morning dew had collected on them. But there was no evidence of an owner anywhere on-site. Thirty-eight of the 48 pieces—which included drawings, prints and paintings crafted with an obviously skilled hand—had variations of the name Ary Arcadie Lochakov.”

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Why do so many medical entities use the wrong symbol?

A guy posted a tweet about a mural on a medical building that shows someone who presumably represents medicine fending off death, while holding a staff with wings at the top and two snakes wrapped around it. Pretty normal, right? Except that the staff with wings and two snakes has nothing to do with medicine at all — it’s called a “caduceus” and it’s associated with Hermes the messenger (or Mercury, if you are Roman instead of Greek), who is associated with commerce and other things. What this medical god should be holding is the rod of Asclepius, which has no wings and only one snake.

Despite this, lots of medical iconography, especially in the US, uses the caduceus instead of the rod of Asclepius. The US Marine Service started using it in 1857, and in 1902, it came to represent the US Army Medical Service and the US Public Health Service, which adopted it in 1881. Why did they choose the wrong one? Probably because it looks more impressive. After all, it’s got wings. And two snakes instead of just one. Way cooler 🙂

There are also theories that the two-snake rod became popular as a symbol representing medicine because early medications used mercury, and from there it became associated with pharmaceutical side of medicine, and then later was used to represent all of medicine. But some medical professionals don’t like to use the two-snake staff because it is primarily associated with commerce, rather than with the healing arts in general.

After her son was beheaded she met one of his killers

From The Guardian: “The last time Diane Foley spoke to her son Jim was in November 2012, when he called her at work in New Hampshire. Foley, a nurse practitioner at the clinic where her husband, John, was a doctor, was relieved to hear her son’s voice. A few months earlier, Jim had left the US for Syria to work as a freelance videographer. That decision, coming less than a year after he’d been kidnapped and detained for six weeks while reporting in Libya, horrified his family. A few weeks later, he was kidnapped by Islamic State. Eighteen months after that, Jim was beheaded by a masked terrorist, the video uploaded to social media and seen with horror all around the world. She never heard his voice again.”

A family dinner with my wife and girlfriend

From the New York Times: “Last Thanksgiving I was seated at the head of the dining room table with my family gathered around, enjoying our traditional feast. My sons, 18 and 20, piled their plates high. My mother worked her way through smaller portions and a glass of wine. And I held the hand of my love, who was seated next to me with tears in her eyes as she looked across the table at a woman, her contemporary, who was eating with the help of a caregiver. That woman is my wife, Bridget, aged 59. Before Alzheimer’s devoured Bridget’s neurons along with her essence, Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday. That evening was the first time she and my new partner ate at the same table.”

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How to create literature by George Saunders

George Saunders is an author — his books include Tenth of December (a Finalist for the National Book Award) and Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize — and a professor in the creative writing program at Syracuse University. He writes a Substack newsletter called Story Club, and this comes from one of his responses to a would-be author’s letter:

“Even a person raised alone, fed by a machine, out in a cave somewhere, exists in this atmosphere of pressure – because that pressure is intrinsic to the human mind.  The mind makes the pressure, the tension, the longing, the hope. We want this thing, we get it…and then we want more.  We always feel slightly off, somehow. We find ourselves at peace but not the right kind of peace. And so on. This is what drama is, really: it comes out of the truth that nothing is ever enough for us, that every human situation (even a quiet one, even a happy one, even a deeply contented one) always teeters on the brink of change, because of the restlessness of the mind. And that right there is the stuff of literature.” 

An ancient bacterium was awakened by an industrial accident

From The Economist: “New species are generally found rather than awakened. And they are typically discovered in remote places like rainforests or Antarctic plateaus. But not so a species of bacterium described in a paper just published in Extremophiles. The bug is new to science, but it is not new to Earth. In fact the microbe may have been slumbering for millions of years before being awakened. It lives below Lake Peigneur in southern Louisiana, which in 1980 had a salt mine and an oil-drilling rig run by Texaco. Then the two operations came together accidentally—and spectacularly, when the oil rig’s drill penetrated the third level of the salt mine, creating a drain in the lake’s floor.”

Magic Alex, the Greek TV repairman who convinced the Beatles he was a genius

The Enduring Mystery of "Magic Alex" - CultureSonar

From Wikipedia: “The 23-year-old Yannis Alexis Mardas first arrived in England on a student visa in 1965, and moved into a flat on Bentinck Street, where he first met John Lennon. He found work as a television repairman, but also exhibited light-based artwork at the Indica Gallery, where he impressed Lennon with the Nothing Box: a small plastic box with randomly blinking lights that Lennon would stare at for hours while under the influence of LSD. Lennon later introduced Mardis as his “new guru,” calling him “Magic Alex,” and he told the Beatles he was working on a number of inventions, including a flying saucer. He became one of the first employees of the newly formed Apple Corps, earning £800 a week and receiving 10% of any profits from his inventions.”

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She was taken in 1947 and no one knows why

From Strange Company: “On April 9, 1947, the town of Woodward, Oklahoma was slammed by a tornado. Hutchinson Croft was a successful sheep farmer who lived with his wife Cleta and their two children, Joan and Geri. The tornado flattened their home, killing Cleta, but four-year-old Joan and eight-year-old Geri were only slightly hurt and were brought to Woodward’s hospital. Later that night, as the Croft girls lay together on a cot, two men wearing khaki Army-style clothing came into the hospital basement announcing that they had come for Joan. The men told hospital staff that they were friends of the Croft family, and were taking Joan to Oklahoma City Hospital. But she never got there.”

This World War II plan would have buried soldiers alive in a cave on Gibraltar

From Now I Know: “The British Army dug a maze of defensive tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar during the Second World War, and part of that maze was something called the “Stay Behind Cave,” a two-story bunker. The first floor was a room with bare rock walls and a wooden floor, and up the stairs were two more rooms — a bathroom and a radio transmitting station. The plan was for six British soldiers stationed at Gibraltar to brick themselves into the Stay Behind Cave if Germany were to take over the Rock. The Cave was outfitted with enough supplies to last a year; after that, the soldiers were expected to bury each other in the floor — unless the army could save them beforehand.”

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Walt Disney blamed himself for his mother’s death

From Vintage News: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs marked a turning point for Walt Disney. It was his first full-length cel-animated feature film, and it was astonishingly successful. The movie took in an unheard-of $1.5 million. Flush with success, Walt and his brother Roy bought their parents a house in North Hollywood, and Elias and Flora moved from Oregon. When Flora complained about a weird smell coming out of the furnace, Walt had repairmen come by to fix it, but they were apparently unsuccessful. Their housekeeper came in the next morning and found his mother and father unconscious and pulled them out on the front lawn. His father survived but Flora did not.”

How South America got conned into a concert tour by the fake Beatles

From the BBC: “Early in 1964, as Beatlemania swept the world, newspaper headlines announced that The Beatles would be travelling to South America later that year. Millions awaited their arrival with bated breath – and in July, when four young moptops descended into Buenos Aires Airport, it seemed that teenage dreams were about to come true. The Beatles were actually nowhere near Argentina at the time. The British group were back home in London, on a rare rest stop between concerts and recording. But without their knowledge, four young guys from Florida named Tom, Vic, Bill and Dave had taken their place. Previously a bar band called The Ardells, the quartet were now ‘The American Beetles’, or sometimes just ‘The Beetles’ for short.”

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Can Julian Assange appeal his extradition to the US? A British court will decide

In 2019, Ecuadorean authorities allowed British police to enter the country’s embassy in London and arrest Julian Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, who had been living there for more than seven years. Ecuador granted asylum to Assange in 2012 on the grounds of political persecution, but reportedly grew irritated by his behavior. Since then, Assange has been incarcerated at Belmarsh prison and fighting attempts by the US Justice Department to extradite him to face close to twenty charges, including under the Espionage Act, related to his solicitation and publication of classified documents in 2010. In 2022, Priti Patel, then Britain’s home secretary, signed an extradition order. This week, the UK’s High Court held a two-day hearing to determine whether Assange will be allowed to appeal against it. While his personal freedom is clearly at stake, the case could also have significant repercussions for press freedom, too.

Patel’s was actually the second extradition order: in 2019, Sajid Javid, her predecessor, signed a similar one. Assange’s lawyers argued at the time that he could not be extradited to the US because he had been charged with political offenses (a 2003 treaty between the UK and US doesn’t allow prisoners to be extradited for these), and also that being incarcerated in a US prison could endanger Assange’s mental health and increase his risk of suicide. In 2021, a judge blocked this attempt at extradition based on the mental health argument—though the order was later reinstated after US authorities promised that he would be well treated. Assange’s lawyers say that if he is convicted, he could face up to a hundred and seventy-five years in prison in the US. The British court is expected to hand down a decision on Assange’s request for an appeal next month.

According to The Guardian, at the beginning of a hearing in Assange’s case on Tuesday, lawyers representing him told the court that he would not be attending the proceedings in person because he is unwell, but that he was expected to appear on a video link from Belmarsh. (In the end, he did not.) Kevin Gosztola, a journalist covering the case, said that Assange’s team told reporters that he had broken a rib due to excessive coughing. Other journalists in attendance suggested that the court did not seem to want to make it easy for the press to report on the case. Stefania Maurizi, a veteran Italian journalist, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that she and other reporters who tried to watch the hearing were forced to sit in a small Victorian gallery, from which they could barely hear the proceedings.

Note: This was originally written as the daily newsletter for the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer

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Was he wrongfully convicted for killing his daughter?

From Esquire: “At around 7:00 a.m. on June 16, 1998, Barton McNeil, a thirty-nine-year-old divorced father, woke up on the couch after a muggy, stormy night. It was the beginning of one of those long summers in Bloomington, Illinois, the air so heavy you could chew it. McNeil traipsed to the bathroom and called out to wake Christina in the bedroom next door. It was time to get up and get dressed. She didn’t stir. So he took a shower, then checked his email again, and finally crept into the bedroom. There she lay, wrapped in the swirl of her flower-patterned sheets, a copy of Go, Dog. Go! beside her. Her eyes were open, her skin clammy and the color of slate.McNeil froze. His stomach churned. Panic took the wind out of his lungs.He scrambled for the phone and dialed 911.”

The Vatican classified the capybara as a fish so believers could eat it during Lent

A majestic capybara, posing on the grass in a very un-fishlike manner.

From IFLScience: “During the middle ages, eating the meat of certain animals was not allowed during Lent, the period commemorating when Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, according to the Bible. After the colonization of the Americas by European settlers, clergymen in Venezuela wrote to the Vatican to ask if this new creature – which spends a lot of time in the water, has webbed feet and reportedly has a fishy taste – could be classified as a fish, so that they could continue to eat it during the period of Lent. Those are 40 days of eating adorable rodents that you just can’t get back. The Vatican granted their request in 1784, and the rodent was given the status of fish. “

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