Editors’ Picks

Picks

Letting the Sea Have Its Way

There is no question that land is being lost to the sea — it is an inevitable part of climate change. However, as Erica Gies reports in this fascinating essay for Hakai, in some areas of the UK, the Environment Agency is not only acknowledging this — but helping the sea to win.

For that homeowner in Rodanthe, water has dictated immediate retreat from the coastline. Elsewhere around the world, people are beginning to leave coasts, usually on the heels of disasters or when they can no longer afford routine flooding or salt intrusion that fouls drinking water, kills plants, and spreads sewage.

How the “Mother of Yoda” Conquered Hollywood — and Why She Disappeared

The skill of puppeteers, and puppet creators, can get overlooked — even when they create icons. So it was a delight to read Falene Nurse’s profile on puppet designer Wendy Froud, complete with wonderful photos from her time on film sets.

“One of the most tragic moments in my life, in my early teens, was the realization that I was too old for Peter Pan to return for me,” Wendy says. “But now, I create the magic. I am Peter Pan, I’m Tinkerbell, I’m Wendy, and I love that idea.”

Gene Machine

The global genealogy industry is booming, with people’s desire to find out if they have some long-lost Viking blood outweighing concerns over privacy and marketing. Adam Elliott Segal deftly interweaves his personal story in this look at the success of consumer DNA kits.

For the dozens of black-market babies I’ve interviewed over the years, submitting a saliva sample or simply making their birth story public wasn’t a philosophical or moral question. It was the only way to get answers.

On Metaphors and Snow Boots

Annie Sand suggests that for us to understand others’ pain and communicate our own, we need to create some new metaphors based on our individual perception and experience.

Man of Culture

Punjabi microbiologist Surendra Nath Sehgal spent his life’s work studying a bacterium found in the soil on Easter Island. Called Rapamycin, it became a wonder drug, changing the lives of millions.

“Uma, it’s a fantastic compound, it’s a miracle,” Sehgal would tell his wife during these early encounters. “Anything it touches gives good results.”

Back in the lab, as Sehgal and his team were studying rapamycin’s antifungal properties, they realised it also had immunosuppressant qualities. This would make it very useful in countering the advance of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Crucially, it could help in post organ transplant recovery.

The Medical Power of Hypnosis

Does hypnosis really work? For BBC Future, Martha Henriques falls down a rabbit hole and explores hypnosis as a treatment for pain, anxiety, PTSD, and other conditions.

For many people, it’s a regular occurrence to get lost in a good book, or become so absorbed in a film (perhaps even a Harry Potter film) it can become overwhelming. Or perhaps you find yourself oblivious to landmarks by the road as you drive along the motorway. If that’s happened to you, then you’ve experienced something not so different from hypnosis, says Barnier. There are even parallels between becoming absorbed in your smartphone and hypnosis – both distort time perception, reduce awareness of your external environment, and bring a reduced sense of agency (that feeling you just can’t stop scrolling).

But if you don’t often experience these kinds of deep absorption, that’s normal too. “It’s just like the difference between extraversion and introversion,” says Barnier. “Some people are just living in their skins in different ways in the world.”

Sorcerer’s Apprentice

While TikTok and Tumblr have long been brimming with a newly abundant witch culture, believers in magic also populate a darker, more occultic level of the internet — and John R. King IV, whose long-running blog details his explorations of demonology, is one of its most prominent practitioners. What happens when Kent Russell seeks him out? The result is (sorry) spellbinding.

I pressed King to let me watch him conjure. Show me a scream full of hooves, I said, or a smile spreading across a pool of blackness. He demurred. He had to ascertain what kind of person I was offline before that could happen. So we made plans to meet at the Okanogan Family Faire, a festival where especially dirty hippies encamp alongside militiaman types in a valley on the far side of the Cascades. For several days, they sing and dance and barter goods and services—mostly drugs. King would be offering tarot readings, but for me, he said, he might perform services that would disclose how demons affect everyday lives, my own included. I booked my flight and dusted off my camping gear.

All the Best Things About Europe with None of the Genocide

Laurie Penny takes an amusing dive into why the Eurovision song contest is so wonderful — and so honest.

Anyway, every year at least one of the Nordic countries can be trusted to inspect the geopolitical hells cape and do what needs to be done: serve up a slice of magical realist pop madness so absolutely baffling that it might well end fascism, which after all requires a coherent aesthetic.

The Magic of Alleyways

An ode to some of the world’s most misunderstood urban spaces:

Ever since ancient Uruk, the world’s first major city, founded around 4000 BC in what is now Iraq, alleys have served as a borderland between private and public life. Uruk’s covered lanes, no more than eight feet wide, offered respite from the sun when residents walked to the temple, as well as a space to escape from tiny windowless homes. A place to meet and make mischief, tucked away from the plazas where power and privilege reigned, these were sites where urban ideals collided with human desire.

That would never change. Even as the back alley shifted form and function, inspiring local variants in every urban culture — the “castra” alleyways in Roman fortress towns, the hutongs of Beijing, the terraced lanes of Istanbul with howling packs of dogs — it stayed the city’s unofficial social laboratory. The lower and middle classes of early modern Seoul defied a rigid caste system in narrow Pimagol: “Avoid-Horse-Streets” where nobles couldn’t ride. The alley coffeehouses of 17th century London fueled a newly democratic culture of ideas—a space, as poet and satirist Samuel Butler observed, where “gentleman, mechanic, lord and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece.”

No Health, No Care

“Fatphobia is medicine’s status quo.” This essential read in Pipe Wrench’s Fat Issue explores the history of medical fatphobia.

When you see a fat person, you associate them with ob*sity. What you believe about ob*sity and have internalized from health authorities—its causes, symptoms, consequences, treatment, and more—then guide your interaction with that fat person. You see an affliction to be cured rather than a human being. Fatphobia starts at the top, with scientific authorities who set the tone for how we think about health and illness, then seeps down to shape the lives of every fat person everywhere.

Joan Didion’s Magic Trick

Caitlin Flanagan goes on a road trip through California — including Sacramento, Berkeley, and Malibu — visiting the homes of the late Joan Didion and exploring why her writing has had such a powerful effect on people.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album created a new vocabulary of essay writing, one whose influence is on display every day of the week in the tide of personal essays published online by young writers. Those collections changed the way many people thought about nonfiction, and even the way they thought about themselves.

Dislodged

In this beautiful personal essay, Josh McColough recounts a road trip with his daughter along the coast of California and makes poignant observations about humanity and our vulnerable environment.

Still, we too often move through life not considering our size and stature relative to forces and objects that humble us. Geologic time. Plate tectonics. A virus. A couple of degrees’ difference in the oceans’ temperatures. More rain and less snow. No snow and too much rain. Fire tornadoes. A couple of inches more of the ocean and a few hundred thousand more people underwater.

Our inability to see ourselves as tiny points on a much longer ecological or geological spectrum is our uniquely human blind spot. It’s where and how we fall short.

The Caretaker
Esther Lee’s physical therapy work is described by athlete clients like the Williams sisters and Shaun White as life-changing, going beyond muscles and into matters of the soul. Now, facing down death, Lee is learning to look within, too:

Not long after Esther began working with the Williams sisters, Serena was hospitalized for a pulmonary embolism in wake of giving birth, and then again for blood clots. Esther slept in a chair beside her hospital bed. “She never left my side,” Serena says. “And I never asked for that. That meant a lot to me.… She is such a caretaker. And beyond anything that I’ve ever seen, beyond anything you could write in a job description. There is no job description for Esther.”

A Bleed of Blue

At Granta, Amy Key recounts intentionally avoiding romantic love, thinking it the best way to avoid getting hurt. She concludes that depriving herself of intimate relationships has caused its own form of harm.

Absence of romantic love in my life has created its own awkward space in me. Like a corner of a room you cannot find a comfortable use for, a deficient space, grasping for its own utility. And I sense other people can see this and that it makes them uncomfortable… The frying pan has an altogether different intimate energy. Perhaps it’s because people so often fry eggs for someone they love. And to eat eggs together suggests a synchronised hunger, suggests sleeping and waking together, and says please linger, please stay. Perhaps it’s the sweet balance of ‘you cook and I’ll wash up’, how the pan moves from one person’s job to another, and the ordinariness of that joint endeavour.

Navigating Aches and Aging on the Best Trail Running Route in the World

Nine days of running through the Alps, soaring above the treeline and plunging into flower-filled valleys, refueling with incredible food at night? Sure, it might take a pronounced masochistic streak to count that as a bucket list experience — the trip averages nearly 17 miles a day, with thousands of feet of climbing thrown in — but once you get to the end of Christopher Solomon’s teeth-gritted travelog, you might just decide the wonder is worth the wincing.

As we gained altitude, the Via Valais uncorked the first of its many lessons: trail running here isn’t like trail running back home. Often it isn’t running at all, because the paths are so steep. How steep? I’ve been on escalators with less pitch. But aren’t there switchbacks? No, these apparently are the invention of lazy Americans. The Swiss favor the diretissima, the most aesthetic and uncompromising line straight up the mountain. On trails like this, a runner’s pride will ruin him faster than any blister. He must find a humbler rhythm to match the terrain.

American Nationalist

An epic three-part series documenting how Tucker Carlson became America’s most racist cable TV host, and the heir apparent to Trumpism:

Like Mr. Trump, he is a winking pugilist who rails against elites even as he shapes a movement. Mr. Carlson likes to address his audience directly: “You” are decent, generous, deserving. “They” — the pro-war, pro-China, anti-American “ruling class” — are out to get you. “They’d rather put your life in peril than appear insensitive,” Mr. Carlson says of this ruling class, adding, “They literally don’t care about you, and yet they are still in charge.” He delivers these grim sermons with peppy good cheer and shameless overstatement. On “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” events of the day are further evidence of truths already established; virtually any piece of news can be steered back to the themes of elite corruption, conspiracy and censorship, from gun control to marijuana legalization to paper drinking straws.

The Man Who Controls Computers With His Mind

After an accident in 2006, Dennis DeGray became paralyzed from the collarbones down. Eager to participate in experimental research in the area of brain-computer interfaces, DeGray has electrode arrays embedded in his cortex, and is one of a few dozen people in the world who can control various forms of technology with his thoughts.

If the neurons in DeGray’s skull were like notes on a piano, then his distinct intentions were analogous to unique musical compositions. An attempt to lift his hand would coincide with one neural melody, for example, while trying to move his hand to the right would correspond to another. As the decoder learned to identify the movements DeGray intended, it sent commands to move the cursor in the corresponding direction.

If brain-computer interfaces fulfill their promise, perhaps the most profound consequence will be this: Our species could transcend those constraints, bypassing the body through a new melding of mind and machine.

DeafBlind Communities May Be Creating a New Language of Touch

Andrew Leland’s fascinating piece in The New Yorker explores Protactile, a system of tactile communication that has evolved into a national movement for autonomy among DeafBlind people across the U.S.

Still, several linguists have come to believe that, among some of its frequent users, Protactile is developing into its own language, with words and grammatical structures that have diverged from those of A.S.L. “I am totally convinced that this is no tweak of A.S.L.,” Diane Brentari, one of the premier linguists of sign language, who teaches at the University of Chicago, told me. “This is a new language.” Clark believes that Protactile has the potential to upend centuries of DeafBlind isolation. “It’s an exciting time to be DeafBlind,” he has written. “The single most important development in DeafBlind history is in full swing.”

The Bronc-busting, Cow-punching, Death-defying Legend of Boots O’Neal

Boots O’Neal is up before dawn nearly every day, to do what he loves: to jump on the back of a horse and work as a cowboy at the Four Sixes Ranch. What makes Boots stand out from the average wrangler? He’s 89 years old.

That he’s been able to do it for so long makes him, to borrow a classic Boots-ism, “luckier than a two-peckered goat.”

I’ve Always Struggled With My Weight. Losing It Didn’t Mean Winning.

“What is the human relationship to the body? Is it like a roommate? A pet? A twin? A teammate? A rival? A parasite? A host?” In a frank and funny essay, Sam Anderson reflects on losing the weight he gained during the pandemic with the help of Noom and examines the relationship with his own body.

What is the human relationship to the body? Is it like a roommate? A pet? A twin? A teammate? A rival? A parasite? A host?

The crisis of my father’s body made me think, in a new way, about the basic crisis of every human body: that we will always, in the end, be disabled, lose control. In many ways, this is what our bodies are: ever-present reminders of our essential lack of control.