The Olympics were hit by an anti-gay panic in the 1930s

From Defector: “On the morning of Aug. 5, 1936, Helen Stephens was supposed to be on top of the world. The day before, she had won the Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter dash. She’d defeated her longtime rival, a Polish sprinter named Stella Walsh. Then, it all fell apart. That morning, a Polish newspaper, the Warsaw-based Kurier Poranny, published a curious accusation: Stephens, the paper alleged, was not really a woman at all. “It is scandalous that the Americans entered a man in the women’s competition,” the paper plainly stated. The accusation should have been dismissed outright, the ravings of a sportswriter frustrated by the defeat of one of his country’s stars. But at the Nazi-run Berlin Olympics, the story had juice. At a press conference, a European journalist asked: “Are you really a woman? Are you a man running in women’s races?”

For Jock Sutherland, being hailed as the world’s best surfer was just one phase in an unlikely life

From the New Yorker: “Jock Sutherland surfs unusually well for a man of seventy-five. Surfing well at his age is unusual, full stop. But he has spent his whole life, nearly, in this wave-rich corner of Oahu. We paddled out through a gantlet of blue-gray lava rocks. I tried to mimic Sutherland’s every move—he had been navigating this tiny, swirling channel since the nineteen-fifties. There were a dozen people out, and every one of them greeted Jock as he paddled past: little shakas and fist bumps with old regulars. This spot, where the waves range greatly in quality and intensity, is known as Jocko’s. In the mid-sixties, he made his move on surfing’s main stage, riding enormous waves with rare, almost playful aplomb. He rode the Banzai Pipeline, the world’s most famous, most photogenic, and, at that time, most dangerous wave. He rose swiftly through the Surfer poll, and in 1969 was No. 1—the consensus best surfer in the world.”

Off to war in a plywood box: The glidermen of World War II

From Warfare History: “One of the problems was how to get the maximum number of troops on the ground before the defenders could adequately react, and, second, how to provide them with heavy weapons such as artillery, antiaircraft weapons, transport, and engineer equipment once they got to, or close to, their landing zone. The answer to both problems was the glider, not only for resupply of weapons, equipment, and ammunition, but as a means to get a lot of people on the ground quickly and together, fully equipped and ready to fight. Once loose from the tug, you could land a glider in a pasture, a field of wheat, even a marsh. There was no landing gear to worry about; you could jettison the tricycle undercarriage at need and land the glider on its belly, some rudimentary skids taking up some of the shock. You could build them as big as a tug could tow them.”

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A lifetime of love for the charismatic narwhal, the unicorn of the sea

Unicorn of the Sea: Narwhal Facts | Stories | WWF

From Knowable: “Martin Nweeia is a modern Renaissance man. He has a degree in English and biology, a working dental practice, and a side interest in zoology and anthropology; he has composed for documentary films and has become an expert on narwhals — the mysterious, one-toothed “unicorns of the sea.” The male narwhal typically hosts a roughly eight-foot-long, single exterior tusk, whose function has been a mystery for centuries. Nweeia has obtained many grants to investigate the narwhal and, in more than 20 trips to the Arctic, he has compiled ambitious logs of Indigenous knowledge about the tusk, conducted in-depth studies on the material it is composed of, and attached heart and brain monitors to narwhals to try to determine what they can sense through the protrusion. Nweeia lectures at Harvard’s School of Dental Medicine and holds a global fellow position at the Polar Institute at the Wilson Center.”

How did the first humans on the Canary Islands survive a thousand years of isolation?

Our ultimate guide to walking in the Canary Islands | The Natural Adventure

From “More than 1000 years ago, a young man stood on the northern shore of the island now known as El Hierro. Across the wave-swept Atlantic Ocean, he could see the silhouettes of other islands, but for him, those islands were as unreachable as the Moon. His ancestors here had farmed wheat, but he and his contemporaries grew only barley and raised livestock such as goats. His genes held evidence that his parents were closely related, like many of the roughly 1000 people on the island, who had not mingled with outsiders for centuries. Yet the first Canarians, who arrived from North Africa roughly 1800 years ago, survived and even thrived on this arid, windswept archipelago for more than a thousand years. They numbered in the tens of thousands when Europeans first started arriving at the start of the 14th century.”

A family discovered a rare Tyrannasaurus Rex fossil in North Dakota

From the New York Times: “In the summer of 2022, two boys hiking with their father and a 9-year-old cousin in the North Dakota badlands came across some large bones poking out of a rock. They had no idea what to make of them. The father took some photos and sent them to a paleontologist friend. Later, the relatives learned they’d made a staggering discovery: They’d stumbled upon a rare juvenile skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Part of the fossil, which measures about 32 inches, is believed to be the tibia, or shin bone, of a 10-foot-tall, 3,500-pound dinosaur that scientists are calling Teen Rex. Only a few such fossils have been discovered worldwide, according to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The specimen is also the most complete T. rex the museum has ever collected, it said. The paleontologist who identified the fossil said the boys had made an “incredible dinosaur discovery that advances science.”

Get an espresso from the tap with this gizmo

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as “serendipity engines,” such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg’s Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis’s Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton’s The Browser, Clive Thompson’s Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy’s Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova’s The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me at mathew @ mathewingram dot com

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