When wearing a straw hat after September caused a riot

We all know that fashions were different in earlier times, but who knew something as simple as when someone chose to wear a hat could cause a massive riot, leading to dozens of arrests and injuries? That’s what happened in New York City in 1922, during the infamous “Straw Hat” riots, which started when gangs of hooligans began attacking anyone wearing a straw hat, and lasted for more than a week. Why did they start attacking people wearing these hats? Because at the time, it was considered unseemly or even ridiculous to wear such a hat after September 15th. For some reason that year, the ridicule turned to violence. The New York Times reported: “Gangs of young hoodlums ran riot in various parts of the city last night, smashing unseasonable straw hats and trampling them in the street. In some cases, mobs of hundreds of boys and young men terrorized whole blocks.”

How two 19th-century sisters documented nature in their hyper-realistic paintings

From Maria Popova in The Marginalian: “Daughters of the Bombay-born Australian entomologist Alexander Walker Scott, Helena and Harriet were barely out of childhood when they started harmonizing their father’s scientific studies with their shared artistic gift. When the girls were in their teens, the family moved from Sydney to Ash Island, where they filled their days and their minds with activities. The sisters spent twenty years adventuring into nature and documenting their curiosity, in field notebooks and collecting boxes and elaborate paintings. They stayed up at night to observe and illustrate in real time the metamorphoses unfolding in creatures with life-cycles of days — transformations so subtle that the sisters often used the single hair of a paintbrush to render the details.”

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How the Black Death gave rise to British pub culture

From Richard Collett for Atlas Obscura: “In the summer of 1348, the Black Death appeared on the southern shores of England. By the end of 1349, millions lay dead. According to historian Robert Tombs, author of The English and Their History, one of the many repercussions was the rise of pub culture in England. Drinking pre-Black Death was comparably amateurish. Anyone could brew up a batch of ale in their home, and standards and strengths varied wildly. Homebrewed ale was advertised with “an ale stake,” which consisted of a pole covered with some kind of foliage above the door. By the 1370s, though, the Black Death had caused a critical labor shortage. Eventually, this proved a boon for the peasantry of England, who could command higher wages for their work. As a result, households selling leftover ale were replaced by more commercialized, permanent establishments.”

Why this scientist hasn’t had a shower in more than fifteen years

From Dan Lewis: “As of 2019, David Whitlock hadn’t taken a bath or a shower in over 15 years. And, apparently, he doesn’t smell. Whitlock, a chemist, got his start as a never-showerer in 2003 or so when he was on a date with his future girlfriend. She — connecting with his science background — asked him what she probably thought was an innocent question: why do horses roll around in the dirt? Humans tend to avoid doing that; do horses know something we don’t? Whitlock found out that horses rub living bacteria into their skin to protect the flora living there. So he started to collect bacteria from the soil of barns, pigsties, and chicken coops, and separated out the good bacteria from the bad. Then he gathered some of these good bacteria, which neutralize dangerous organisms and hazardous substances on the skin, and made them into a spray that he uses for his daily hygiene.”

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What life is like on the inside as a locked-in patient

Josh Wilbur writes for The Guardian: “Jake Haendel was a hard-partying chef from a sleepy region of Massachusetts. When he was 28, his heroin addiction resulted in catastrophic brain damage and very nearly killed him. In a matter of months, Jake’s existence became reduced to a voice in his head. To outside observers, Jake exhibited no signs of awareness or cognition. “Is he in there?” his wife and father would ask the doctors. No one knew for sure. An electroencephalogram (EEG) of his brain showed disrupted patterns of neural activity, indicating severe cerebral dysfunction. “Jake was pretty much like a houseplant,” his father told me. They had no way of knowing Jake was conscious. In medical terms, he was “locked in”: his senses were intact, but he had no way of communicating.”

Think you know who invented the toaster? You may have been taken in by the Great Toaster Hoax

From Marco Silva at the BBC: “For more than a decade, a prankster spun a web of deception about the inventor of the electric toaster. His lies fooled newspapers, teachers and officials. Then a teenager flagged up something that everyone else had missed. “I read through Wikipedia a lot when I’m bored in class,” says Adam, aged 15, who studies photography and ICT at a school in Kent. One day last July, one of his teachers mentioned the online encyclopaedia’s entry about Alan MacMasters, who it said was a Scottish scientist from the late 1800s and had invented “the first electric bread toaster”. At the top of the page was a picture of a man with a pronounced quiff and long sideburns, gazing contemplatively into the distance – apparently a relic of the 19th Century, the photograph appeared to have been torn at the bottom. But Adam was suspicious. “It didn’t look like a normal photo,” he tells me. “It looked like it was edited.”

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What the embrace of ChatGPT says about modern life

via Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter:

“The way I see it, the jaw-dropping speed of generative AI’s embrace is essentially a large-scale acknowledgement that modern life is sort of miserable and that most people don’t actually care if anything works anymore. Which is, honestly, fair. Our lives are full of tasks that no one wants to do that offer little reward for doing them well. The systems we live, work, and create inside of are simply too large to comprehend or really care about. I mean, at this point, pretty much everyone I know in an office job that isn’t in media is using ChatGPT at work basically all of the time. But as more companies push to integrate themselves into AI platforms, it’s also revealing that they don’t really care either. The institutions and industries responsible for these systems we all hate don’t want to maintain them either. And we know this because there is simply no way you can say you care about something if you replace it with AI. You can’t say you care about audio production if you replace voice actors. You can’t say you care about food service if you replace drive-thru workers. You can’t say you care about advertising if you replace copywriters. What you care about is speed, scale, and, if this stuff works correctly, money.”

My friend tree

A poem by Lorine Niedecker, via Matthew Ogle’s Pome

My friend tree

I sawed you down

but I must attend

an older friend

the sun

Three abandoned children and a 40-year mystery

From Giles Tremlett at The Guardian: “On 22 April 1984, a sandy-haired, ringleted two-year-old girl named Elvira was driven with her brothers, Ricard and Ramón, aged four and five, to a grand railway terminus in Barcelona. The children, dressed in designer clothes, rode in a white Mercedes-Benz driven by their father’s French friend Denis. He parked near the modernist Estación de Francia and walked them into the hangar-like hall, which had shiny, patterned marble floors and was topped by two glass domes. Once there, he told the children to wait while he bought sweets. The three siblings waited, but Denis did not return. Eventually, Elvira started crying. A railway worker asked what was wrong and Ramón, who spoke French and Spanish, explained. The police were called, but when they asked the children their parents’ names, they did not know. Nor could the children give their own surnames, or say where they lived – except that, until recently, it had been Paris.”

How Edgar Allen Poe pranked New York City, and inspired Jules Verne

From Rebecca Romney at Mental Floss: “On April 13, 1844, a special extra of the New York Sun announced: “ASTOUNDING NEWS! … THE ATLANTIC CROSSED IN THREE DAYS! SIGNAL TRIUMPH OF MR. MONCK MASON’S FLYING MACHINE!!!” According to the article, a balloon heading from England toward Paris had been blown off-course and landed safely near Charleston, South Carolina. The “report” was submitted by a journalist who was also a well-known short-story writer: Edgar Allan Poe. There was just one problem. He had made the whole thing up. “The Balloon Hoax,” as it later became known, was Poe’s idea of a calling card. He had just moved to Manhattan. What better way to announce you’ve arrived than to prank an entire city?”

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The Messenger is a news startup, but it feels like a blast from the past

In February, Axios reported that Jimmy Finkelstein, a former co-owner of The Hill and the Hollywood Reporter, had raised significant financing for a new media startup called The Messenger, which, Axios reported, had to that point “tried to avoid the spotlight, hiring dozens of executives and raising tens of millions of dollars mostly in secret.” Finkelstein also put some of his own money into the startup, Axios reported, having sold The Hill to Nexstar for a hundred and thirty million dollars; The Messenger’s early hires, meanwhile, included Dan Wakeford, an entertainment journalist and former editor in chief of People, and Neetzan Zimmerman, who was credited with boosting The Hill‘s social traffic and engagement.

In March, Finkelstein participated in a splashy profile in the New York Times and said that his new site would open with a hundred and seventy five journalists, then grow to a total of five hundred and fifty by next year, with revenue of more than a hundred million dollars. On the editorial side, according to the Times, Finkelstein planned to foster “an alternative to a national news media that he says has come under the sway of partisan influences.”

The Messenger’s claims that it would chart a new, unbiased path were greeted with some skepticism in the media industry, as with his growth estimates. Actually, some skepticism is a massive understatement. The New York Post, citing “industry insiders,” wrote that The Messenger risked becoming a “money pit helmed by old-school executives with delusional ambitions.” Max Tani, a media reporter at Semafor, wrote that he couldn’t figure out how the site would achieve the kinds of numbers Finkelstein had in mind, given that it would be “for a general-interest news website in a tough ad market on the diminished, post-Facebook web.”

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

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How to survive a car crash in 10 easy steps

From Anne Lagamayo in Longreads: “Remember when you were advised to stay at least six feet away from people, or else risk getting COVID? Then possibly dying? That four-hour car ride on the final leg of your trip, then, was both a foolish and fitting thing to do. Because it’s on this drive from the coast of Oregon to Bend that your car slips on the snow and crashes into the highway barrier. You find out later that that day was the first heavy snowfall of the season, and you’re in one of many car accidents around town. You have photos of this carnage and general mayhem and, much later — after all this is more or less over — gleefully show them to people who ask, while watching kind of sadistically as they squirm and wince and gravely tell you they’re glad you’re alive.”

Her illness fooled celebs. The truth may be even darker

From Jamie Bartlett and Ruth Mayer at the BBC: “On 10 August 2015, crowds of fans cheered and waved as two members of pop band One Direction posed for photos outside a fundraising ball at London’s Natural History Museum. But inside, the real stars were a group of very ill children – dressed up in gowns and suits, some accompanied by their carers, others midway through chemotherapy. For Megan and her mother Jean, this “Cinderella Ball” was another chance to raise money for their fast-growing charity, Believe in Magic. The guests also knew that Megan – who was just 20 – had organised the ball while very publicly battling a brain tumour of her own. But behind the ball gowns, there was a secret involving one of the medical profession’s most mysterious syndromes.”

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Martin Luther King’s criticism of Malcolm X was a fraud

From Gillian Brockell at the Washington Post: “Jonathan Eig was deep in the Duke University archives researching his new biography of Martin Luther King Jr. when he made an alarming discovery: King’s harshest and most famous criticism of Malcolm X, in which he accused his fellow civil rights leader of “fiery, demagogic oratory,” appears to have been fabricated. “I think its historic reverberations are huge,” Eig told The Washington Post. “We’ve been teaching people for decades, for generations, that King had this harsh criticism of Malcolm X, and it’s just not true.” The quote came from a January 1965 Playboy interview with author Alex Haley, a then-43-year-old Black journalist, and was the longest published interview King ever did, but the entire quote was fabricated.

Brazilian authorities seize a wildlife influencer’s pet capybara

From Matheus Andrade for Rest of World: “Wild animals are not pets,” posted Brazil’s environmental watchdog, Ibama, on social media after what appeared to be a standard confiscation. This, however, was not just any wild animal. On April 27, Ibama had taken Filó — a capybara from the Brazilian Amazon — from wildlife influencer Agenor Tupinambá. The development led to an uproar on social media. Tupinambá’s following on Instagram and TikTok blew up as supporters rallied to the cause of #FreeFiló. The influencer’s Instagram followers have grown from 10,000 at the end of last year to 2.2 million now; his TikTok following has nearly doubled to 1.9 million.  “I am deeply sorry for what is happening,” Tupinambá said in a viral post. “Only I know the pain I am feeling. I chose to be a guardian, not a criminal.”

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