Protesters so sick that they couldn’t get arrested

Note: This is a version of my personal newsletter, which I send out via Ghost, the open-source publishing platform. You can see other issues and sign up here.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome), a condition that’s often postviral and similar to what some long Covid sufferers appear to have, can be so debilitating that it leaves those who have it with a sense of desperation. That wasn’t apparent during a recent demonstration, says New York Times columnist Zeynep Tufekci, as sufferers picketed and chanted, some in wheelchairs or using canes, wearing red shirts with slogans like “Still sick, still fighting.” They gave their best shot at civil disobedience, but instead of being arrested, they were largely ignored.

King Tut died long ago, but the debate about his tomb rages on

More than three millennia after Tutankhamun was buried in southern Egypt, and a century after his tomb was discovered, Egyptologists are still squabbling over whom the chamber was built for and what, if anything, lies beyond its walls. At the center of the rumpus is Nicholas Reeves, a former curator at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who believes there are rooms hidden behind the northern and western walls in the treasure-packed burial vault. He says the tomb belonging to King Tut is merely an antechamber to a grander sepulcher for Tutankhamun’s stepmother and predecessor, Nefertiti.

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The Malleus Maleficarum, manual of witch-hunters everywhere

From Scott Alexander’s website Astral Codex Ten: “Did you know you can just buy the Malleus Maleficarum? You can go into a bookstore and say “I would like the legendary manual of witch-hunters everywhere, the one that’s a plot device in dozens of tired fantasy novels”. They will sell it to you and you can read it. I recommend the Montague Summers translation. Not because it’s good (it isn’t), but because it’s by an slightly crazy 1920s Catholic priest every bit as paranoid as his subject matter.”

“The Malleus is traditionally attributed to 15th century theologians/witch-hunters Henry Kramer and James Sprenger, but most modern scholars think Kramer wrote it alone, then added the more famous Sprenger as a co-author for a sales boost. The book has three parts. Part 1 is basically Summa Theologica, except all the questions are about witches. Part 2 is basically the DSM 5, except every condition is witchcraft. Part 3 is a manual for judges presiding over witch trials.”

What we’ve lost as a result of our addiction to lotteries

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One in two American adults buys a lottery ticket at least once a year, one in four buys one at least once a month, and the most avid players buy them at rates that might shock you. Some customers snap up entire rolls, three hundred dollars’ worth of tickets, and others show up in the morning, play until they win something, then come back in the evening and do it again. All of this, repeated every day at grocery stores and liquor stores and mini-marts across the country, renders the lottery a ninety-one-billion-dollar business. “Americans spend more on lottery tickets every year than on cigarettes, coffee, or smartphones,” Cohen writes, “and they spend more on lottery tickets annually than on video streaming services, concert tickets, books, and movie tickets combined.”

A top female gamer talks about the sexism in the industry

Stevie “KillCreek” Case’s dominance in first-person shooters made her gaming’s first female superstar. Her conquest and sharpshooting skills scored her a sponsorship as the industry’s first professional female gamer. After beating legendary Quake developer John Romero at his own game, she started dating him, and became the Pamela Anderson to his Tommy Lee – they were influencers long before the advent of social media. Today, Case is a successful 46-year-old single mother and Silicon Valley executive. Two decades after she left the gaming industry with no explanation, she’s breaking her silence about the abuse she suffered during her KillCreek years because she says that little has changed.

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The New Yorker’s art critic on the art of dying

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Peter Schjeldahl, a poet who was also the longtime art critic for the New Yorker, died recently at the age of 80. He wrote a piece called “The Art of Dying” in 2019, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. “Why me? Why not me?,” he wrote. “Dying is my turn to survey life from its far—now near—shore. Like a camera situated nowhere and taking in every last detail of the pulsating world. God creeps in. Human minds are the universe’s only instruments for reflecting on itself. The fact of our existence suggests a cosmic approval of it. We may be accidents of matter and energy, but we can’t help circling back to the sense of a meaning that is unaccountable by the application of what we know.”

She’s the only woman working in a remote oil-drilling camp. This is her story

When Cindy Marchello walks onto an all-male oilfield fracking site, if you don’t notice her, you’ll likely hear her voice. “What are you looking at?” she’ll yell at a male worker if he stares at her for longer than she likes, “I’m old enough to be your mom!” If that doesn’t work, she’ll ask, “What’s your wife’s name?” while hacking up a wad of saliva and spitting it at him. If the man keeps looking, she’ll threaten to throw rocks. Marchello is a short, 56-year-old grandmother with wispy blond and gray hair, pale skin with rosy cheeks, and a curvy figure. She once visited a dusty well-drilling site surrounded by cornfields and heard a man’s voice hollering over the loudspeaker: “Woman on location, woman on location.”

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How Mayan ruins wound up on the banks of the Hudson

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In the mid-1800s, travelers moving up and down the Hudson River would have been witness to an abnormal sight: Mayan ruins and artifacts a thousand miles north of where they should be. Some of the settlers in that area seem to have felt something of an inferiority complex toward the antiquities of Europe, and one of those was John Cruger, who owned an island on the Hudson that now carries his name. In 1840, while in Honduras, he purchased the land containing the ruined city of Copan for $50, and took casts of the collapsed buildings and sent them north. They were assembled in New York, and Cruger would show them off to his guests by taking midnight boat rides.

Deepfakes of celebrities are showing up in ads

Last year, Russian telecommunications company MegaFon released a commercial in which a simulacrum of Hollywood legend Bruce Willis helps defuse a bomb. Just last week, Elon Musk seemed to star in a marketing video from real-estate investment startup reAlpha Tech Corp. And last month a promotional video for machine-learning firm Paperspace Co. showed talking semblances of the actors Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio. None of these celebrities ever spent a moment filming these campaigns. In the cases of Messrs. Musk, Cruise and DiCaprio, they never even agreed to endorse the companies in question.

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First map of the night sky hidden in ancient parchment

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Hidden beneath Christian texts, scholars have discovered what seems to be part of the long-lost star catalogue of the astronomer Hipparchus — believed to be the earliest known attempt to map the entire sky. Scholars have been searching for Hipparchus’s catalogue for centuries. James Evans, a historian of astronomy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, describes the find as “rare” and “remarkable”. Evans says it proves that Hipparchus, often considered the greatest astronomer of ancient Greece, really did map the heavens centuries before other known attempts. It also illuminates a crucial moment in the birth of science, when astronomers shifted from simply describing the patterns they saw in the sky to measuring and predicting them.

How a child’s chronic pain and a nurse’s misdiagnosis tore a family apart

Beata and Jack Kowalski told the hospital that their daughter Maya suffered from a neurological disorder called complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS. They said that she was acutely sensitive to stimuli of all kinds and that disabling pain radiated through her legs and feet, requiring the use of a wheelchair. When a nurse attempted to conduct an ultrasound, her mother insisted that the only way Maya could tolerate the contact was if she received an infusion of ketamine. Hansen agreed that it was strange for Beata to demand medication before allowing a test. A parent being uncooperative or failing to heed a medical professional’s suggestions is considered a red flag for neglect, and so a hospital staffer filed a formal notice with the state. And thus began a torturous odyssey that would tear the Kowalski family apart.

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He won $30 million playing the lottery, and then he lost everything

One June morning in 2017, an Albanian American real-estate broker named Viktor Gjonaj parked outside a strip mall in Sterling Heights, a small suburb on the outskirts of Detroit. He hurried into the claim office of the Michigan Lottery. Gjonaj, who is 6 foot 5, loomed over the front desk and announced that he had won the Daily 4 lottery draw, worth $5,000. But Gjonaj did not have one winning ticket. He had 500. Skeptical lottery officials checked his tickets carefully. Each was genuine and contained the four winning numbers, but it was extremely unusual for someone to play the same numbers 500 times in one day. There were other red flags. Most people who present themselves at lottery claim centers are ecstatic, yet this winner waited for his prizes with the impatience of someone picking up dry cleaning.

The man who wants to make a do-it-yourself euthanasia machine

In a workshop in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Philip Nitschke—“Dr. Death” or “the Elon Musk of assisted suicide” to some—is overseeing the last few rounds of testing on his new Sarco machine before shipping it to Switzerland, where he says its first user is waiting. This is the third prototype that Nitschke’s nonprofit, Exit International, has 3D-printed and wired up. Number one has been exhibited in Germany and Poland. “Number two was a disaster,” he says. Now he’s ironed out the manufacturing errors and is ready to launch: “This is the one that will be used.” A coffin-size pod with Star Trek stylings, the Sarco is the culmination of Nitschke’s 25-year campaign to “demedicalize death” through technology. Sealed inside the machine, a person who has chosen to die must answer three questions: Who are you? Where are you? And do you know what will happen when you press that button?  Here’s what will happen: The Sarco will fill with nitrogen gas. Its occupant will pass out in less than a minute and die by asphyxiation in around five.

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The weird science behind what we call “glitter”

Each December, surrounded by wonderlands of white paper snowflakes, bright red winterberries, and forests of green conifers reclaiming their ancestral territory from inside the nation’s living rooms and hotel lobbies, children and adults delight to see the true harbinger of the holidays: aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate. Aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate settles over store windows like dazzling frost. It flashes like hot, molten gold across the nail plates of young women. It sparkles like pure precision-cut starlight on an ornament of a North American brown bear driving a car towing a camper van. Indeed, in Clement Clarke Moore’s seminal Christmas Eve poem, the eyes of Saint Nicholas himself are said to twinkle like aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate.

An updated history of a viral Internet video

In July, Defector published a story about an ancient internet video called “Basketball (so funny you’ll pee your pants).avi,” based on extensive archival research and interviews with the people involved. The video was filmed at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Penn., in the mid-90s, during a basketball game against Delco Christian. It features a Shipley player heaving the ball across the length of the court, where it collides with a small child. Footage of the freak accident was submitted to America’s Funniest Home Videos, and eventually made its way across Web 1.0 video sites and peer-to-peer networks. It is one of the earliest viral videos on the internet. But recently, the story got a lot more complicated all of a sudden.

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The Wire pledges transparency as it reviews its Meta coverage

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

Last week, The Wire—an independent news outlet based in India—reported that Amit Malviya, the social-media manager for India’s ruling BJP party, was able to remove images from Instagram without having to go through the normal moderation channels. As evidence, The Wire published an internal Instagram report that appeared to corroborate its reporting, with timestamps for when the images were removed, and a note that the usual moderation process wasn’t required because they were flagged by Malviya. When Meta, the parent company of both Instagram and Facebook, denied that this was possible, The Wire published a second story, including a screenshot of what it said was an email from Andy Stone, a spokesman for Meta. In the email, Stone seemed upset about the leak of the original report, and asked his staff to put the journalists who published The Wire‘s initial story on a watchlist.

In a response to that story, Guy Rosen, chief information security officer at Meta, wrote that the email from Stone also appeared to have been fabricated. The Wire then published a third story, in which it described the technical method it used to verify the email, and included a video showing the process. The story also had screenshots of emails sent by two unnamed internet security experts, who said they had reviewed a copy of the Stone email and the process The Wire used to verify it, and they were convinced that it was genuine. Some reporters, however, noted that the emails from the experts were dated in 2021, not 2022. Devesh Kumar, the Wire reporter who handled the verification story, said this was a simple mistake due to a glitch in his operating system.

in an interview with Platformer, Casey Newton’s technology newsletter, Jahnavi Sen, deputy editor of The Wire, said someone from the site met with one of the original sources for the report about Instagram, and that this source verified their identity by providing a number of documents, including their work badge and pay slips. Kumar told Platformer that when The Wire approached its original source about the Instagram takedowns, the source send a copy of the internal report within 20 minutes. When The Wire reached out to a different source, they said they didn’t know anything about the Instagram report, but “they had insight into the discussions happening internally. Seven minutes later, the source responded with the email allegedly from Stone.”

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