What I remember from Anne Frank’s birthday party

From a memoir by Anne Frank’s childhood friend Hannah Pick-Goslar, excerpted in Time magazine: “One morning in early June 1942, I was standing on the street whistling our usual whistle under the window of Anne’s apartment. Anne was running a bit late and I was anxious to get started on our walk. I whistled again, more urgently this time, but mid-whistle I stopped and smiled, as I saw Anne flying out of the door. She pressed an envelope into my hands with my name on it. “What’s this?” I asked, as we started walking quickly towards school. She smiled and watched me open it. An invitation to her 13th birthday party on Sunday, just two days after her actual birthday on June 12.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks with Danny DeVito about life and death

From Interview magazine: “A few days after an in-depth conversation with Danny DeVito in his Bel-Air home, Arnold Schwarzenegger finds himself in a Culver City studio, puffing on a Cuban cigar while getting his portrait taken. The occasion is the launch of FUBAR, a family-friendly Netflix spy series that marks the legendary movie star’s first leading role on TV. While he extols the virtues of weightlifting and charms some of the girls on set, the 75-year-old former governor can’t quite shake the conversation with his Twins costar. “Did the interview make sense?” he asks. “There were so many questions about my upbringing… I don’t think we’ve ever talked about all that kind of stuff.”

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The band that got paid for not making any sound at all

From Dan Lewis: “You’ve almost certainly never heard of the band Vulfpeck. They’re a Los Angeles-based funk band. It’s hard to make a living releasing songs (or any media) to a small audience, since Spotify pays about $0.007 per song play to independent artists. So if your song gets 100,000 plays in a year? That’ll earn $700 or about two bucks a day. But in the early part of 2014, Vulfpeck came up with a plan, starting with a brand new album. The album, called Sleepify, is ten songs in total and each song is just over 30 seconds. And each track is silent. The band realized that Spotify paid out that seven-tenths of a cent every time a listener played one of the band’s songs, so long as the listener played at least 30 seconds of the song. The song itself didn’t matter.”

What it’s like to have synesthesia, where numbers and letters are different colours

From Meera Khare at Open Mind magazine: “My consciousness is a constant stream of color. Whether I’m reading, texting a friend, or doing math homework, every letter or number I see comes swathed in its own characteristic hue. My 7’s are forest green, L’s are orange, and both A’s and 4’s are hot pink. Growing up, I did not realize my experience was atypical until I read A Mango Shaped Space. The book tells the story of 13-year old Mia Winchell, who experiences synesthesia, a mingling of the senses. The book described my experience perfectly except for one thing – my colors were different. Since then, I’ve wondered what gives every synesthete their own unique associations; why does the K look lavender to me, but blue for someone else? (Editorial note: This one interested me in particular because my wife has synesthesia)

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Meta ramps up threats to block access to the news

In 2021, the Australian government proposed a law called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which forced large tech companies such as Google and Meta to negotiate payment deals with news publishers. In response, Meta not only blocked users in Australia from seeing news content on Facebook but prevented them from posting links to any news stories, regardless of where they were published. The platform also blocked pages belonging to hospitals and emergency services, which Meta described as a mistake but insiders alleged was a deliberate negotiating tactic. Fast forward two years, and Meta says that it is now prepared to block news in Canada in response to a bill in that country that is based on Australia’s bargaining code. (I wrote about the bill back in March.) Although Meta is not currently blocking all news from its platform in Canada, it is blocking access for what it described as a small percentage of users—and if the law is passed, the company said that it intends to “end the availability of news content in Canada permanently.”

In a statement earlier this month, Meta described Canada’s bill, which is called the Online News Act, as “fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work [and] the value we provide news publishers.” In a more in-depth statement last fall, Marc Dinsdale, the company’s head of media partnerships in Canada, said that the bill is unacceptable, in part, because it “misrepresents the relationship between platforms and news publishers.” The legislation is based on the presumption that Meta unfairly benefits from its relationship with publishers, Dinsdale wrote, “when in fact the reverse is true.” Meta says that its internal data shows that posts with links to news articles make up less than three percent of what people see in their Facebook news feeds, and that the majority of links to news content are posted by the publishers themselves.

Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada, said that users will be included in the current news-blocking test on a random basis, and will only be informed that they are blocked from sharing news if they try to post a link to a news story. According to a report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the number of news publishers whose content will be affected by the test will not be made public, with inclusion in the test also randomized. “We believe that news has a real social value,” Curran told the Canadian Press news agency. “The problem is that it doesn’t have much of an economic value to Meta. So we are being asked to compensate news publishers for material that has no economic value to us.” In the past, Meta said that it cared about funding journalism. As I noted in a recent piece for CJR, it seems to have changed its mind.

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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Why Mythbusters destroyed the tapes of one episode

Michael Walsh writes for Nerdist: “At Silicon Valley Comic Con in 2016, Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage was asked by a fan about the biggest behind-the-scenes disaster the show ever had. Savage didn’t share some lighthearted tale about an argument or fight the cast had, but instead told the frightening story about how they were investigating a material and its supposed explosive properties. According to Savage, what they found out was so explosive that they actually destroyed the footage of what they made and everyone involved agreed never to discuss it again. It was so dangerous that Savage contacted DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to warn them about the material.”

Maryland license plates now direct people to an online casino in the Philippines

From Jason Koebler at Vice: “Roughly 800,000 Maryland drivers with license plates designed to commemorate the War of 1812 are now inadvertently advertising a website for an online casino based in the Philippines. In 2012, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, Maryland redesigned its standard license plate to read “MARYLAND WAR OF 1812.” The license plates, which were the default between 2012 and 2016, have the URL www.starspangled200.org printed at the bottom. Sometime within the last year, www.starspangled200.org stopped telling people about how Marylander Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” after watching British ships bombard Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 and started instead redirecting to a site called globeinternational.info, in which a blinking, bikini-clad woman advertises “Philippines Best Betting Site, Deposit 100 Receive 250.”

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A catatonic who woke after 20 years could change psychiatry

Richard Sima writes for the Washington Post: “The young woman was catatonic—unmoving, unblinking and unknowing where or who she was. Her name was April Burrell. Before she became a patient, April had been an outgoing, straight-A student majoring in accounting at the University of Maryland. But after a traumatic event when she was 21, April suddenly developed psychosis and became lost in a constant state of visual and auditory hallucinations. The former high school valedictorian could no longer communicate, bathe or take care of herself, and was diagnosed with a severe form of schizophrenia. Then recently, doctors discovered that she also had lupus, an underlying and treatable autoimmune condition that was attacking her brain. After months of targeted treatments and more than two decades trapped in her mind — April woke up.”

Was mass hysteria behind the mysterious case of 227 middle school students fainting?

From Lillian Perlmutter for Insider: “On September 23, 2022, 12-year-old Esmeralda walked out of the girls’ bathroom at her middle school in Tapachula, Mexico, and fainted. Her best friend Diala came out behind her and also fainted. Over the next hour, nine other girls and one boy at the Federal 1 public secondary school would spontaneously collapse in their classrooms, in the bathroom, and in the school’s courtyard. Another 22 students would report other unusual symptoms like vomiting and headaches. Esmeralda’s mom, Gladys, got a text message from her niece, Esmeralda’s cousin, telling her to come to the school immediately. She found Esmeralda lying on the pavement in the school’s central courtyard, unable to speak or stand. Diala was slumped beside her.”

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Clockmaker with bad eyes

A poem by C.D. Wright, via Matthew Ogle’s Pome

I close the shop at six. Welcome wind,
weekend with two suns, night with a travel book, the dog-eared sheets of a bed
I will not see again.

I not of time, lost in time
learned from watches—
a second is a killing thing.

Live your life. Your eyes go. Take your body out for walks along the waters
of a cold and loco planet.

Love whatever flows. Cooking smoke, woman’s blood, tears. Do you hear what I’m telling you?

When Alec Baldwin tried to take down a Nobel-winning lab

Robert Crease writes for the MIT Press: “In the summer of 1997, an environmental activist and sport fishing boat captain named Bill Smith called actor Alec Baldwin. He wanted to meet him at a diner in Amagansett, where Baldwin had a house, to talk about the nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory. Smith was absolutely convinced that Brookhaven was contaminating the Peconic River and killing people. After the meeting, Baldwin wrote a letter to the East Hampton Star: “Shut down B.N.L.’s reactors immediately,” he demanded, for citizens have the right to “live free from a reckless toxifying government energy policy.” No matter that the High Flux Beam Reactor was unrelated to energy policy and devoted to materials research and medical isotope production. That summer, Baldwin helped crystallize an organization called Standing for Truth About Radiation.”

The horseshoe crab isn’t a crab, its blood is blue, and it predates the dinosaurs

From the Smithsonian Biological Institute: “Scientists have discovered fossils of ancient ancestors of the horseshoe crab that lived 445 million years ago; dinosaurs first appeared about 200 million years later. Horseshoe crabs are arthropods, but they are more closely related to scorpions and spiders, and are the only living members of the Xiphosura order. Unlike human blood, which is red because it contains the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin, horseshoe crab blood is blue, because it has a different oxygen protein called hemocyanin. In addition to being blue, horseshoe crab blood contains a unique enzyme that causes it to coagulate when exposed to bacterial endotoxins, and so it is used by biomedical companies to test medicines, vaccines, implants for toxins.”

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Can the shingles vaccine prevent dementia?

From Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution:”A new paper provides good evidence that the shingles vaccine can prevent dementia, which strongly suggests that some forms of dementia are caused by the varicella zoster virus, the virus that on initial infection causes chickenpox. The data come from Wales where the herpes zoster vaccine first became available on September 1 2013 and was rolled out by age. At that time, however, it was decided that the vaccine would only be available to people born on or after September 2 1933. The cutoff date for vaccine eligibility means that people born within a week of one another have very different vaccine uptakes. Individuals who were just young enough to be vaccinated are less likely to get dementia compared to the individuals who were slightly too old to be vaccinated, especially among women.”

There is evidence that Mormon leader Brigham Young helped cover up a massacre

From Caroline Fraser at the New York Review of Books: “On September 11, 1857, one hundred and twenty men, women, and children—members of a wagon train party traveling west from Arkansas—were slaughtered in a valley in southwestern Utah, an event now known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Until the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the events of September 11, 2001, the Mountain Meadows Massacre stood as one of the worst mass murders of civilians in US history. the Mountain Meadows Massacre has been part of a long and purposeful campaign orchestrated by the institution whose leaders provoked and whose members largely carried out the massacre: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which  organized a cover-up of its culpability that continues to this day.”

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