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.”
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.”
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
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.”
From Strange Company: “On April 9, 1947, the town of Woodward, Oklahoma was slammed by a tornado. Hutchinson Croft was a successful sheep farmer who lived with his wife Cleta and their two children, Joan and Geri. The tornado flattened their home, killing Cleta, but four-year-old Joan and eight-year-old Geri were only slightly hurt and were brought to Woodward’s hospital. Later that night, as the Croft girls lay together on a cot, two men wearing khaki Army-style clothing came into the hospital basement announcing that they had come for Joan. The men told hospital staff that they were friends of the Croft family, and were taking Joan to Oklahoma City Hospital. But she never got there.”
This World War II plan would have buried soldiers alive in a cave on Gibraltar
From Now I Know: “The British Army dug a maze of defensive tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar during the Second World War, and part of that maze was something called the “Stay Behind Cave,” a two-story bunker. The first floor was a room with bare rock walls and a wooden floor, and up the stairs were two more rooms — a bathroom and a radio transmitting station. The plan was for six British soldiers stationed at Gibraltar to brick themselves into the Stay Behind Cave if Germany were to take over the Rock. The Cave was outfitted with enough supplies to last a year; after that, the soldiers were expected to bury each other in the floor — unless the army could save them beforehand.”
From Vintage News: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs marked a turning point for Walt Disney. It was his first full-length cel-animated feature film, and it was astonishingly successful. The movie took in an unheard-of $1.5 million. Flush with success, Walt and his brother Roy bought their parents a house in North Hollywood, and Elias and Flora moved from Oregon. When Flora complained about a weird smell coming out of the furnace, Walt had repairmen come by to fix it, but they were apparently unsuccessful. Their housekeeper came in the next morning and found his mother and father unconscious and pulled them out on the front lawn. His father survived but Flora did not.”
How South America got conned into a concert tour by the fake Beatles
From the BBC: “Early in 1964, as Beatlemania swept the world, newspaper headlines announced that The Beatles would be travelling to South America later that year. Millions awaited their arrival with bated breath – and in July, when four young moptops descended into Buenos Aires Airport, it seemed that teenage dreams were about to come true. The Beatles were actually nowhere near Argentina at the time. The British group were back home in London, on a rare rest stop between concerts and recording. But without their knowledge, four young guys from Florida named Tom, Vic, Bill and Dave had taken their place. Previously a bar band called The Ardells, the quartet were now ‘The American Beetles’, or sometimes just ‘The Beetles’ for short.”
In 2019, Ecuadorean authorities allowed British police to enter the country’s embassy in London and arrest Julian Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, who had been living there for more than seven years. Ecuador granted asylum to Assange in 2012 on the grounds of political persecution, but reportedly grew irritated by his behavior. Since then, Assange has been incarcerated at Belmarsh prison and fighting attempts by the US Justice Department to extradite him to face close to twenty charges, including under the Espionage Act, related to his solicitation and publication of classified documents in 2010. In 2022, Priti Patel, then Britain’s home secretary, signed an extradition order. This week, the UK’s High Court held a two-day hearing to determine whether Assange will be allowed to appeal against it. While his personal freedom is clearly at stake, the case could also have significant repercussions for press freedom, too.
Patel’s was actually the second extradition order: in 2019, Sajid Javid, her predecessor, signed a similar one. Assange’s lawyers argued at the time that he could not be extradited to the US because he had been charged with political offenses (a 2003 treaty between the UK and US doesn’t allow prisoners to be extradited for these), and also that being incarcerated in a US prison could endanger Assange’s mental health and increase his risk of suicide. In 2021, a judge blocked this attempt at extradition based on the mental health argument—though the order was later reinstated after US authorities promised that he would be well treated. Assange’s lawyers say that if he is convicted, he could face up to a hundred and seventy-five years in prison in the US. The British court is expected to hand down a decision on Assange’s request for an appeal next month.
According to The Guardian, at the beginning of a hearing in Assange’s case on Tuesday, lawyers representing him told the court that he would not be attending the proceedings in person because he is unwell, but that he was expected to appear on a video link from Belmarsh. (In the end, he did not.) Kevin Gosztola, a journalist covering the case, said that Assange’s team told reporters that he had broken a rib due to excessive coughing. Other journalists in attendance suggested that the court did not seem to want to make it easy for the press to report on the case. Stefania Maurizi, a veteran Italian journalist, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that she and other reporters who tried to watch the hearing were forced to sit in a small Victorian gallery, from which they could barely hear the proceedings.
Note: This was originally written as the daily newsletter for the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer
From Esquire: “At around 7:00 a.m. on June 16, 1998, Barton McNeil, a thirty-nine-year-old divorced father, woke up on the couch after a muggy, stormy night. It was the beginning of one of those long summers in Bloomington, Illinois, the air so heavy you could chew it. McNeil traipsed to the bathroom and called out to wake Christina in the bedroom next door. It was time to get up and get dressed. She didn’t stir. So he took a shower, then checked his email again, and finally crept into the bedroom. There she lay, wrapped in the swirl of her flower-patterned sheets, a copy of Go, Dog. Go! beside her. Her eyes were open, her skin clammy and the color of slate.McNeil froze. His stomach churned. Panic took the wind out of his lungs.He scrambled for the phone and dialed 911.”
The Vatican classified the capybara as a fish so believers could eat it during Lent
From IFLScience: “During the middle ages, eating the meat of certain animals was not allowed during Lent, the period commemorating when Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, according to the Bible. After the colonization of the Americas by European settlers, clergymen in Venezuela wrote to the Vatican to ask if this new creature – which spends a lot of time in the water, has webbed feet and reportedly has a fishy taste – could be classified as a fish, so that they could continue to eat it during the period of Lent. Those are 40 days of eating adorable rodents that you just can’t get back. The Vatican granted their request in 1784, and the rodent was given the status of fish. “
From The Cut: “On a Tuesday evening this past October, I put $50,000 in cash in a shoe box, taped it shut as instructed, and carried it to the sidewalk in front of my apartment, my phone clasped to my ear. “Don’t let anyone hurt me,” I told the man on the line, feeling pathetic.“You won’t be hurt,” he answered. “Just keep doing exactly as I say.” Three minutes later, a white Mercedes SUV pulled up to the curb. “The back window will open,” said the man on the phone. “Do not look at the driver or talk to him. Put the box through the window, say ‘thank you,’ and go back inside.” When I’ve told people this story, most of them say the same thing: You don’t seem like the type of person this would happen to. What they mean is that I’m not senile, or hysterical, or a rube.”
The Amber Room was coveted by the Tsars and the Nazis and then it disappeared
From Atlas Obscura: “The Nazis have reached Russia. They’ve taken the Catherine Palace and are waiting for orders from Berlin. Soldiers pull at the wall coverings. And suddenly, in the dimness, there is a glimmer, not gold, but deeper, richer: carved garlands of acanthus leaves, rosettes, mirrors, mosaics made of agate, onyx, and lapis, and panel upon panel of lustrous brown gems. Contemporaries named it the eighth wonder of the world. But today the Amber Room is lost in layers of time, obscured by the flames and political paperwork of a great war. It had a long, eventful existence, traveled further than most rooms do, and was last seen in Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, Russia, in 1944, just before the city was carpet-bombed into oblivion. Then it vanished.”
From Undark: “Nuclear weapons laboratories don’t often help solve serial-killer cases. But in the investigation of Efren Saldivar, data from such a lab provided the clinching evidence that led to his conviction on six counts of murder. As a respiratory therapist at Glendale Adventist Medical Center in California, Saldivar helped care for terminally ill patients. The hospital got a tip that someone had “helped a patient die fast,” and Saldivar was questioned. He confessed to dozens of murders, stating that he poisoned patients with overdoses of the paralyzing chemicals pancuronium bromide, also known as Pavulon, and succinylcholine chloride. He was arrested immediately. But there was little physical evidence to back up his self-incriminating claims.”
The difficulty markings for ski hill runs were designed by Walt Disney
From Inside The Magic: “If you have ever visited a ski resort in the United States or Canada, a significant part of your experience is thanks to work done by Walt Disney and his team. And you probably had no idea. All ski resorts in North America grade their slopes and trails with either a green circle (easy), a blue square (intermediate), a black diamond (advanced), or a double black diamond (experts only). It was Walt Disney’s team that came up with that grading system. Before he passed away in 1966, Disney set out to build or buy his own ski resort. One of the proposed locations was in California’s Sequoia National Park, but environmentalists reportedly blocked it. But before the plan was shut down, Disney already established its proposed trail signage.”
From Sky News: “Dr Cara Love, an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist at Princeton University, has been studying how the Chernobyl wolves survive despite generations of exposure to radioactive particles. Dr Love and a team of researchers visited the CEZ in 2014 and put radio collars on the wolves so that their movements could be monitored. They also took blood samples to understand how the wolves’ bodies respond to cancer-causing radiation. The researchers discovered that Chernobyl wolves are exposed to upwards of 11.28 millirem of radiation every day for their entire lives – which is more than six times the legal safety limit for a human.”
A Liverpool man who inherited $125,000 let 12 strangers decide what to do with it
From The Guardian: “A man who has been sitting on a £100,000 inheritance from his mother for more than 10 years has given the large sum to four charities in Liverpool, and that decision was down to 12 strangers. David Clarke, 34, said he wanted to tackle inequality as he felt he had enough money to live on. He wanted to give power to his neighbours and residents to decide what to do with his lump sum of money. So he sent letters randomly to 600 addresses in the L8 postcode, and then picked 12 to take part in the project. “During the first session, everyone thought it was a scam,” Clarke said, “but when the facilitator and I explained the cause and backstory, it was fine.” The only condition he gave to the group was not to spend the money on themselves.”