Why did she take her son and try to live off the grid during a Colorado winter?

From Outside magazine: “Talon Vance, 13, lived in an apartment complex in suburban Colorado Springs with his mom and Aunt. Other relatives lived nearby. Typically, he spent much of the week with his father, half brother, half sister, and grandparents, all of whom lived together not far away in a different town. All of that would change in August 2022: Talon’s mother, Rebecca Vance, had hatched a plan to disappear from Colorado Springs and go permanently off-grid. Christine said to their stepsister that they would be heading into the wilderness to live off the grid. Rebecca had spent much of the pandemic glued to her computer, growing increasingly obsessed with conspiracy theories and the end of the world. She feared vaccines, technology, and the power of global elites, and thought the only escape was to get far away.”

She spent a week rescuing food from the trash and here’s what she ate

From the NYT: “A childhood memory, from the family table in Mumbai, still plays on a loop in my mind: “Don’t waste your food,” my mother would admonish daily. “Too many starving children everywhere,” my father would chime in. Decades later, now living in New York City, I still can’t toss those leftovers. At least not like some of my friends do, with cool nonchalance, or like restaurants and shops regularly do when they’ve prepared too much. So, I decided to try Too Good To Go, one of several apps that connect eaters with unsold restaurant food. It claims to have 155,000 businesses, like restaurants and markets, that offer surplus meals, often discounted, to about 85 million users.”

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He claimed part of Antarctica and then set up his own nation

From Big Think: “Seven countries each have staked a claim to a slice of Antarctica, but all those claims have been frozen by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. Together, those claims cover most of the continent at the bottom of the world — except Marie Byrd Land, which is the largest unclaimed territory in the world. At least, it was until 2001, when naval intelligence specialist Travis McHenry said he found a loophole in the Antarctic Treaty: While it prohibits countries from laying claim to parts of Antarctica, it says nothing about individuals. So, McHenry proclaimed himself consul-general of this freezing no man’s land. In 2004, McHenry upgraded the territory to a grand duchy and renamed it Westarctica, and crowned himself Grand Duke Travis I.”

Inside the biggest art fraud in history

From the Smithsonian: “Norval Morrisseau was certain. “I did not paint the attached 23 acrylics on canvas,” he wrote to his Toronto gallery representative, who had sent him color photocopies of works that had recently sold at auction. Morrisseau, then in his late 60s and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was the most important artist in the modern history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples—the “Picasso of the North.” By 2001, Morrisseau paintings routinely fetched thousands of dollars on the market. The works he now denied having painted were no exception. The auctioneer had advertised them as being from Morrisseau’s hand and claimed that he had no reason to doubt their authenticity—he had already sold 800 of them without a single buyer’s complaint.”

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Indictment of Florida journalist raises troubling questions

In May of 2023, agents from the FBI showed up at Tim Burke’s home in Tampa and seized several computers, hard drives, his cellphone, and other equipment that he uses as a freelance journalist. As I wrote for CJR, the reasons for the seizure were unknown at the time, because the affidavit the FBI used to justify the search was sealed. (It was later partially unsealed so Burke could see it for the purposes of his defense but has not been made public.) In an interview with me in 2023, Mark Rasch—Burke’s lawyer, and a former prosecutor with the Department of Justice—said the government seemed to believe that Burke somehow gained unauthorized access to a server and downloaded content he didn’t have explicit permission to access or copy. The problem, Rasch said, is that this description would also cover a wide range of normal journalistic activity.

Last week, Burke was indicted by a grand jury in Florida on fourteen charges, including conspiracy, accessing a protected computer without authorization, and intercepting or disclosing wire, oral, or electronic communications. The indictment accuses Burke and an unnamed person, referred to in the indictment as CONSPIRATOR 2, of using “compromised credentials” to gain unauthorized access to protected computers and then “scouring” those machines before ultimately “stealing electronic items and information deemed desirable,” in addition to intercepting and disclosing the contents of electronic video communications.

What reportedly triggered the initial investigation into Burke was the leak of behind-the-scenes footage of an interview conducted by Tucker Carlson, then a Fox News host, in which Kanye West, the musician now known as Ye, made some anti-Semitic remarks. That footage was among the video streams that Burke downloaded from a server normally used by broadcasters to distribute streams of their shows to affiliates and other outlets. As Rasch explained to me in 2023, many broadcasters livestream continuously, and these streams are in high definition and encrypted. However, many also use third-party services to distribute low-definition, unencrypted feeds.

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

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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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