On being grateful

When I was a teenager and complained about something — the food, the weather, being bored — my mother (like many other parents, I suspect) had a response at the ready: “You should be thankful!” she would say — “there are…” and then she would fill in whatever was required — people starving in Africa, people with muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, people who couldn’t see or hear or walk, people in prison, etc. Of course, none of this made me feel any better, because I was a callow youth and arrogant enough to think that I deserved whatever I thought I was in need of (better food, more interesting surroundings, etc.) “I’m not going to suddenly feel better because someone I don’t know is worse off!” I remember yelling.

Now that I am older and wiser (definitely the first, and theoretically the latter) I have discovered a better way to feel gratitude for what I have, and that is to periodically lose it and then get it back. The first thing that made me come to this realization was when I got nasal polyps (benign) a few years ago, and as a result gradually lost the ability to breathe through my nose almost entirely. Have you ever thought about breathing through your nose? Probably not. It’s just something you do, you don’t think about it. By the way, did you know that most people only breathe through one nostril at a time, and it alternates automatically without you noticing? I didn’t either, until recently.

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First they vanished into the bush and then it got weird

From Slate: “The waves were already crashing over the Toyota’s hood when they found it. It was a blustery September Sunday in 2021, and the Hilux pickup sat far down the gray sand in a remote cove on the wild west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The truck was parked below the high-tide line, facing the sea, and was nearly swamped by the waves. The men couldn’t help but notice empty child seats strapped into the back. The disappearances were just the beginning of an ordeal that has not yet ended—a case that has only grown stranger and more ominous in the two and a half years since, prompting pleas from family, increasing public astonishment, online speculation, a shocking crime, and a community’s closing ranks around one of its own.”

Her Highness Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi is forced to couch-surf

From Town & Country: “As they say in Italian, “Finita la commedia”: The farce has come to an end; the party is over. Or so it seemed in April 2023, when a squadron of carabinieri arrived at the Villa Aurora, a crumbling mansion in the center of the Eternal City with the world’s only known Caravaggio ceiling painting. Their mission that day: escort off the premises its 74-year-old chatelaine, none other than the San Antonio–born Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, née Carpenter, the former model, actress, and real estate agent who had refused to leave the property amid a bitter inheritance dispute with her three stepsons.”

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Why a cave in Missouri holds more than a billion pounds of cheese

From Deseret.com: “Why is there 1.4 billion pounds of cheese stored in a cave in Missouri? It started in the 1970s, during former President Jimmy Carter’s era and his promise of giving farmers a break. He wanted to raise the price of milk, but the government couldn’t just buy milk and store it, so it started to buy as much cheese as people wanted to sell. Then farmers were producing way too much cheese, raising the question: What should the government do with all the cheddar? To tackle this, former President Ronald Reagan started food assistance programs to distribute 30 million pounds of cheese. In the 1990s, the government also started making deals with fast-food restaurants to help sell the surplus.”

A crucial component for microchips is a byproduct of the food additive MSG

From MIT: “In microchips, a material is placed between the chip and the structure beneath it in order to keep the signals from getting crossed; this material, called dielectric film, is produced in sheets that are as thin as white blood cells. For 30 years, a single Japanese company called Ajinomoto has made billions producing this particular film, and has more than 90% of the market. If you recognize the name Ajinomoto, you’re probably surprised to hear it plays such a critical role: the company is better known as the world’s leading supplier of MSG seasoning powder. In the 1990s, it discovered that a by-product of MSG made a great insulator, and it has enjoyed a near monopoly ever since.”

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Harvard expert in honesty accused of plagiarism

From Science.org: “Harvard University honesty researcher Francesca Gino, whose work has come under fire for suspected data falsification, may also have plagiarized passages in some of her high-profile publications. A book chapter co-authored by Gino, who was found by a 2023 Harvard Business School (HBS) investigation to have committed research misconduct, contains numerous passages of text with striking similarities to 10 earlier sources. The sources include published papers and student theses, according to an analysis shared with Science by University of Montreal psychologist Erinn Acland. Science has confirmed Acland’s findings and identified at least 15 additional passages of borrowed text in Gino’s two books.”

The Brazilian special-forces unit that is fighting to save the Amazon

A G.E.F. member wearing fatigues and walking away from a burning mining camp.

From The New Yorker: “The men—fighters with combat gear and assault rifles—belonged to a tiny special-forces unit known as the Specialized Inspection Group, or G.E.F. Their leader and co-founder was Felipe Finger, a wiry man in his forties with a salt-and-pepper beard. Finger trained in forestry engineering, and his unit works under the Brazilian ministry for the environment. But he has spent much of his adult life in armed operations to protect the wilderness, and he talks like a soldier, with frequent references to operations and objectives and neutralizing threats. The current mission was known to national authorities as Operation Freedom. Finger and his men called it Operation Xapirí, from a Yanomami word for nature spirits.”

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He stole someone’s identity and used it for 35 years

From The Gazette: A former University of Iowa Hospital employee pleaded guilty to living under another man’s identity since 1988, which caused the other man to be falsely imprisoned for identity theft and sent to a mental hospital. Matthew David Keirans, 58, was convicted of one count of false statement to a National Credit Union Administration insured institution — punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison — and one count of aggravated identity theft — punishable by up to two years in federal prison. Keirans worked as a systems architect in the hospital’s IT department from 2013 to 2023, when he was terminated for misconduct related to the identity theft.”

A six hundred year old blueprint for weathering climate change

From The Atlantic: “Beginning in the 13th century, the Northern Hemisphere experienced a very dramatic climatic shift. First came drought, then a period of cold, volatile weather known as the Little Ice Age. In its depths, the annual average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere may have been 5 degrees colder than in the preceding Medieval Warm Period. It snowed in Alabama and South Texas. Famine killed perhaps 1 million people around the world. But native North Americans and Western Europeans responded very differently to the changes. Western Europeans doubled down on their preexisting ways of living, whereas Native North Americans devised whole new economic, social, and political structures to fit the changing climate.”

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