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Endurance: It’s All in Your Head, Apparently

Scott Jurek applies lotion to his feet before running McAffee's Knob trail -- part of the Appalachian Trail in Catawba, Va. on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Jurek is on day 16 of his attempt to complete the 2,168.1 mile trail in 42 days. The current record is 46 days held by Jennifer Pharr Davis. Starting at Springer Mountain, Ga., Jurek has ran roughly 700 miles to date. (John Roark/The Roanoke Times via AP)

At The Atlantic, Paul Bisceglio surveys three new books that consider the brain’s role in extreme endurance sports and how a large part of high performance is in how the brain negotiates with an exhausted body.

Of all the things that could have broken Scott Jurek on a 2,189-mile run, it was a small tree root that crushed his spirit. He was 38 days into an attempt to beat the speed record for completing the full length of the Appalachian Trail, the mountainous hiking path that snakes along America’s East Coast, from northern Georgia to the top of Mount Katahdin, in Maine. Jurek, one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all times, was in trouble. After battling through a succession of leg injuries, then slogging through Vermont’s wettest June in centuries, he had to make up ground over a particularly merciless stretch of the trail, New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Delirious from just two hours of sleep following 26 straight hours of hiking, he was stumbling along the trail when he encountered the root in his path.

“As I saw it coming, I didn’t know what to do,” Jurek recalls in his new memoir, North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail, co-written with his wife, Jenny. “Was I supposed to step around it or over it? I just couldn’t remember.” So he hit it and toppled. “I’d forgotten how to raise my legs,” he writes. “How to run like a sane person.”

After tripping over the root in New Hampshire, he picked himself up, charged forward in his delirium for another week, and defeated Davis’s time by a slim three hours: He finished in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. Since then, two people have already beaten his record.

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Life After Life: Offering Dignity to Fellow Prisoners Through Hospice Care

VACAVILLE, CA - John Gillis (the prisoner's name has been changed at his request), age 73, grimmaces while an open wound -- a development due to terminal colon cancer -- is treated by fellow prisoner and hospice care worker JP Madrona, in the hospice care wing of California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville, California. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

At the New York Times Magazine, Suleika Jaouad and photographer Katy Grannan document how some inmates serving life sentences at The California Medical Facility work 10-15 hours a day, seven days a week, stripping soiled beds, helping with personal hygiene, and at the very end, sitting vigil so that terminally ill fellow prisoners do not have to die alone.

The workers make a point not to find out what the patients have done. They worry that knowing too much could affect the quality of care. When a patient’s past sins cross over into the realm of the horrific, it can be hard to keep creeping judgments and questions at bay. How do you reconcile the dissonance between the serial killer and the elderly patient, bedridden, incontinent and lost in the fog of dementia? The workers are also in prison for crimes, but that doesn’t make them immune to judgment. “Death can be an equalizer,” Lyman said. The past falls aside. Time is grounded in the shifting demands of the body as it begins its decay.

Each of the workers has his own style of caregiving, but if there is one trait that stands out about Murillo, it is the tenderness with which he handles the patients. When Jimmy Figueroa needed a shower, Murillo stood in the stall with him to make sure he didn’t fall, fidgeted with the water temperature until it was just right and gently helped towel him off. A few days later, when Ralph Martinez’s health took a sudden turn for the worse and he began sobbing on his bed, it was Murillo who sat down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders. “I’m just returning something I didn’t get as a kid,” Murillo told me, rocking back and forth in his chair, punching his hands together. “All I wanted was kindness and to be held as a boy. Now I get to do that for somebody else. There’s also the regret of not being able to do that for my victims, for the people in my community who I hurt.”

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How Vietnam Shaped Robert S. Mueller

Robert S. Mueller (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Despite sharing a privileged upbringing and education, the paths of Donald Trump and Robert Mueller diverged sharply during the Vietnam War. While Trump deferred the draft five times to enter his father’s real estate business, Mueller received a Bronze Star with a distinction for valor for his active role in combat during some of the most intense fighting in the conflict.

At Wired, Garrett M. Graff reports on how serving in Vietnam instilled a discipline and relentlessness in Robert S. Mueller that underpins his approach to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Today, the face-off between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump stands out, amid the black comedy of Trump’s Washington, as an epic tale of diverging American elites: a story of two men—born just two years apart, raised in similar wealthy backgrounds in Northeastern cities, both deeply influenced by their fathers, both star prep school athletes, both Ivy League educated—who now find themselves playing very different roles in a riveting national drama about political corruption and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The two men have lived their lives in pursuit of almost diametrically opposed goals—Mueller a life of patrician public service, Trump a life of private profit.

This first in-depth account of his year at war is based on multiple interviews with Mueller about his time in combat—conducted before he became special counsel—as well as hundreds of pages of once-classified Marine combat records, official accounts of Marine engagements, and the first-ever interviews with eight Marines who served alongside Mueller in 1968 and 1969. They provide the best new window we have into the mind of the man leading the Russia investigation.

Decades later, Mueller would tell me that nothing he ever confronted in his career was as challenging as leading men in combat and watching them be cut down. “You see a lot, and every day after is a blessing,” he told me in 2008. The memory of Mutter’s Ridge put everything, even terror investigations and showdowns with the Bush White House, into perspective. “A lot is going to come your way, but it’s not going to be the same intensity.”

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Margot Kidder: 1948-2018

Margot Kidder in 2007. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

“The reality of my life has been grand and wonderful,” says Kidder, “punctuated by these odd blips and burps of madness.”

— “Starting Over,” by J.D. Reed, People Magazine, September 23rd, 1996.

Actor Margot Kidder was a political, environmental, and anti-war activist who was candid about her struggles with mental health. Best known for playing Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve in Superman in 1978, Kidder died at her home on Sunday, May 13th, 2018 at age 69.

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Why Psilocybin and LSD Don’t Deserve Their Bad Rap

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In the context of some recent reads on psychedelic drugs, Laura Miller at Slate looks at Michael Pollan’s new book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

In it, Pollan says that drugs such as psilocybin and LSD got a bad rap after some flawed scientific experimentation and images of burned-out, ’60s counter-culture hippies soured Americans on exploring the medical benefits these drugs might offer, suggesting that their mind-altering abilities might help free us from cognitive patterns that are holding us back.

After 40 years in the wilderness, psychedelics are once more the subject of serious scientific study, with early results suggesting that the drugs, when used under a therapist’s supervision, can help patients suffering from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and both alcohol and nicotine addiction.

Pollan took a couple of research trips himself in the course of writing How to Change Your Mind, with results that are interesting only to the extent that they help him make sense of other people’s accounts of their own journeys. The meat of the book is its chapters on the neuroscience of the drugs and their evident ability to suppress activity in a brain system known as the “default mode network.” The DMN acts as our cerebral executive, coordinating and organizing competing signals from other systems. It is, as Pollan sees it, the “autobiographical brain,” and the site of our ego. The long history of people reporting the sensation of their egos dissolving while under the influence of psychedelics meshes with this interpretation. It’s an experience with the potential to both terrify and, paradoxically, comfort those who undergo it.

Why should this effect prove so helpful to the depressed, addicted, and anxious? As Pollan explains it, these disorders are the result of mental and emotional “grooves” in our thinking that have become, as the DMN’s name suggests, default. We are how we think. The right psychedelic experience can level out the grooves, enabling a person to make new cerebral connections and briefly escape from “a rigidity in our thinking that is psychologically destructive.”

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Blame It All on Tibbles: The Case for Keeping Fifi Indoors

(Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Pete Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, is pushing a controversial conservation idea: as the single-biggest man-made danger to bird and small mammal populations in the United States, outdoor and feral cat populations should be controlled, either by keeping pets inside or by euthanasia and sterilize-and-return programs. Rachel E. Gross tells his story at Smithsonian Magazine.

Marra tells the story of Tibbles the cat, who traveled with her owner to an untouched island south of New Zealand in 1894. There, she single-pawedly caused the extinction of the Stephens Island wren, a small, flightless bird found only in that part of the world. Most cats aren’t as deadly as Tibbles, but your average outdoor pet cat still kills around two animals per week, according to the Wildlife Society and the American Bird Conservancy. The solution for these cats is simple, says Marra: Bring them indoors. The Humane Society of the United States agrees.

For Marra, it is clear that outdoor cats represent the Silent Spring of our time. Not only are cats the single worst threat to birds caused directly by humans, but they are also the easiest problem to fix, as compared to many-leveled threats like climate change. For him, it is obvious what we must do. Yet he is also starting to understand the challenge of making others see the world as he does. “To me, this should be the low-hanging fruit,” he says. “But as it turns out, it might be easier stopping climate change than stopping cats.”

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The “Maddening Labyrinth” Aging NFL Players Face for Dementia Compensation

MIAMI - JANUARY 17: Linebacker Chuck Howley #54, of the Dallas Cowboys, helps George Andrie #66, Larry Cole #63, Dave Edwards #52 and Charlie Waters #41 stop Earl Morrall #15 on a quarterback sneak at the goal line during Super Bowl V on January 17, 1971 against the Baltimore Colts at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)

For a decade, George Andrie played defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys as a member of the “Doomsday Defense.” Now, at age 78, despite the fact four different doctors agree that Andrie’s dementia is linked to his football career, the NFL has twice denied his settlement claim in a “maddening labyrinth” of a process beset by confusion and delays. Dom Cosentino tells Andrie’s story at Deadspin.

George Andrie has always been a devoted father to Mary Brooks and her six siblings. But with the benefit of hindsight, Brooks also sees that something was always a bit off about her dad, going back to when she was a child. The outgoing guy she always knew suddenly became less socially engaged in the early 1980s, about 10 years after Andrie retired from the NFL.

“He was definitely a family man; I want to make it totally clear that he was a loving father,” Brooks said. “I just thought that he was needy. I thought he was middle-aged, grumpy. I knew that he was withdrawn and a little distant and had a very hard time with social situations and things like that—and he didn’t used to be that way.

“But we didn’t know. If you look back now, the man suffered forever. It all makes sense now.”

“I’m not getting my hopes up,” Brooks told me.

And why should she? Every step of the process has been met by some kind of confusion or delay. Brooks is long past the point of trusting the motives of the NFL or those charged with representing the interests of the concussion settlement’s claimants.

“The public needs to know [what] the NFL really is,” Brooks said. “That’s my biggest mission is just to expose them for who they are.”

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Desperately Seeking Company: Male, Age 85, Up for Adoption

(Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)

At the Washington Post, Emily Rauhala reports on a man left behind in a Chinese demographic that got old before it got rich. Knowing that his independence would eventually evaporate, Han Zeching, an 85-year-old desperate for human contact, put himself up for adoption by taping a note to a bus shelter in his neighborhood.

On a chilly day in December, the 85-year-old Chinese grandfather gathered some scraps of white paper and wrote out a pitch in blue ink: “Looking for someone to adopt me.”

“Lonely old man in his 80s. Strong-bodied. Can shop, cook and take care of himself. No chronic illness. I retired from a scientific research institute in Tianjin, with a monthly pension of 6,000 RMB [$950] a month,” he wrote.

“I won’t go to a nursing home. My hope is that a kindhearted person or family will adopt me, nourish me through old age and bury my body when I’m dead.”

He taped a copy to a bus shelter in his busy neighborhood.

Then he went home to wait.

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But a Novel Will Never Love You Like Your Children Do

(Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

Writing for GQ, four-time father Michael Chabon reconciles ignoring the advice of a great, un-named Southern writer who told him that having children would diminish his writerly productivity.

And those four “lost” novels predicted by the great man’s theory all those years ago? If I had followed the great man’s advice and never burdened myself with the gift of my children, or if I had never written any novels at all, in the long run the result would have been the same as the result will be for me here, having made the choice I made: I will die; and the world in its violence and serenity will roll on, through the endless indifference of space, and it will take only 100 of its circuits around the sun to turn the six of us, who loved each other, to dust, and consign to oblivion all but a scant few of the thousands upon thousands of novels and short stories written and published during our lifetimes. If none of my books turns out to be among that bright remnant because I allowed my children to steal my time, narrow my compass, and curtail my freedom, I’m all right with that. Once they’re written, my books, unlike my children, hold no wonder for me; no mystery resides in them. Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings, and flaws of character. Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back. Anyway, if, 100 years hence, those books lie moldering and forgotten, I’ll never know. That’s the problem, in the end, with putting all your chips on posterity: You never stick around long enough to enjoy it.

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Poe, A Love Story

Dr. Irene Pepperberg with Alex, an African Gray Parrot (Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Accompanied by intimate portraits of birds and their owners by photographer Miisha Nash, for Topic, bird enthusiast Karen Abbott recalls her beloved, quirky, slightly devious African gray parrot, Poe, who passed away of heart failure at the very young parrot age of 18.

I have never wanted children, but I’ve always wanted birds—a realization that dawned in December 1997 in the unlikeliest of places: Las Vegas’s MGM Grand casino, where my husband and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary. One afternoon, in between rounds of $5 blackjack, I wandered to a lobby and discovered a long perch supporting a dozen parrots—scarlet and hyacinth macaws, eclectuses and lilac-crowned Amazons among them—riotous bursts of red and blue and yellow and green, a preening, chirping string of jewels. I’d owned birds since childhood, a succession of mild, low-maintenance parakeets, beginning with a pastel beauty named Jake who rested on the wire rim of my 1980s orthodontic headgear. But parrots were different beasts, exotic and unpredictable. And some breeds have a life span of 60 to 80 years. A parrot, I thought, could outlive us both.

I had promised my husband I would look but not buy. We were 24 years old, had just bought our first house, and owed a combined $100,000 in student loans. The bird cost $1,500, not counting cage, formula, and toys, and required a nonrefundable $500 deposit. I lifted her close to my face. Struggling, she managed to pry one obsidian eye fully open and met my gaze. I named her Poe, after the writer.

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