----- 4 stars -----

The White Darkness / New Yorker
This will likely end up as one of the top links of the year:

The man felt like a speck in the frozen nothingness. Every direction he turned, he could see ice stretching to the edge of the Earth: white ice and blue ice, glacial-ice tongues and ice wedges. There were no living creatures in sight. Not a bear or even a bird. Nothing but him. It was hard to breathe, and each time he exhaled the moisture froze on his face: a chandelier of crystals hung from his beard; his eyebrows were encased like preserved specimens; his eyelashes cracked when he blinked. Get wet and you die, he often reminded himself. The temperature was nearly minus forty degrees Fahrenheit, and it felt far colder because of the wind, which sometimes whipped icy particles into a blinding cloud, making him so disoriented that he toppled over, his bones rattling against the ground. The man, whose name was Henry Worsley, consulted a G.P.S. device to determine precisely where he was. According to his coördinates, he was on the Titan Dome, an ice formation near the South Pole that rises more than ten thousand feet above sea level. Sixty-two days earlier, on November 13, 2015, he’d set out from the coast of Antarctica, hoping to achieve what his hero, Ernest Shackleton, had failed to do a century earlier: to trek on foot from one side of the continent to the other. The journey, which would pass through the South Pole, was more than a thousand miles, and would traverse what is arguably the most brutal environment in the world. And, whereas Shackleton had been part of a large expedition, Worsley, who was fifty-five, was crossing alone and unsupported: no food caches had been deposited along the route to help him forestall starvation, and he had to haul all his provisions on a sled, without the assistance of dogs or a sail. Nobody had attempted this feat before. Worsley’s sled—which, at the outset, weighed three hundred and twenty-five pounds, nearly double his own weight—was attached to a harness around his waist, and to drag it across the ice he wore cross-country skis and pushed forward with poles in each hand. The trek had begun at nearly sea level, and he’d been ascending with a merciless steadiness, the air thinning and his nose sometimes bleeding from the pressure; a crimson mist colored the snow along his path. When the terrain became too steep, he removed his skis and trudged on foot, his boots fitted with crampons to grip the ice. His eyes scanned the surface for crevasses. One misstep and he’d vanish into a hidden chasm. Worsley was a retired British Army officer who had served in the Special Air Service, a renowned commando unit. He was also a sculptor, a fierce boxer, a photographer who meticulously documented his travels, a horticulturalist, a collector of rare books and maps and fossils, and an amateur historian who had become a leading authority on Shackleton. On the ice, though, he resembled a beast, hauling and sleeping, hauling and sleeping, as if he were keeping time to some primal rhythm.

----- 3 stars -----

The Road / The Globe and Mail
Well-executed, media-rich reporting:

Highway BR-163 cuts a brutal path through Brazil’s conflicting ambitions: to transform itself into an economic powerhouse and to preserve the Amazon as a bulwark against climate change. Stephanie Nolen travelled 2,000 kilometres along the dusty, dangerous corridor, and found a range of realistic — and often counterintuitive — ways that the forest could work for everyone [...] Drenched in sweat when the job was done, Mr. Barth Filho had a satisfied air. His team had been patrolling the forest for six hours by then, chasing false leads on cattle ranchers and loggers who always seemed to elude them: He was delighted to have made a bust. “They do so much damage, these guys – they open up the forest, they send mercury into the streams and it poisons everything,” he said, heading back up to his truck. Mr. de Jesus watched his partner go, and shook his head. “Peixinhos,” he muttered. “Só peixinhos.” Just little fish. Both of the agents were right, in their way. The garimpeiro do drive deforestation across the Amazon. But their environmental impact is dwarfed by that of the legal mining industry, which has a large – and growing – presence in the rainforest.

----- 2 stars -----

'Class-passing': how do you learn the rules of being rich? / The Guardian

On an October night in 2003, a flat tire changed Muhammad Faridi’s life forever. Faridi was 20. An immigrant who’d moved from a small village in Pakistan to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn when he was 12, he split his time studying at City University of New York during the day, and driving his dad’s cab at night to make money. One of his professors had organized a human rights conference in New Jersey and, knowing about Faridi’s side job, asked him to drive the woman delivering the keynote lecture to the conference and back. And that’s what Faridi was doing until he got a flat and had to pull over in the dark on the side of Route 80. As it turned out, Faridi’s passenger was Mary Robinson: the first female president of Ireland and the United Nations high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002. It took Faridi a while to change the tire – everything seemed to be going wrong that night – and as he was struggling with the car jack, the two got talking. It was coming up to the second anniversary of 9/11 and Faridi told Robinson that, as a Muslim, he was no longer sure what his place was in America. A lot of his Pakistani friends had been rounded up in immigration raids and had been deported. “You’ve got to become a lawyer,” Robinson told Faridi firmly. That would be the best way to help his community. Her words stuck with him. Fast forward 14 years, and Faridi is a partner at a prestigious New York law firm. As a kid, Faridi’s loftiest goal was maybe one day being a limo driver, doing just a little better than his father. He never thought he’d be where he is today: conducting billion-dollar lawsuits and leading pro bono cases, representing Muslim community centers and death row inmates. I’m talking to Faridi in his plush office on the 30th floor of a fancy Manhattan skyscraper. Our conversation is part of a number of interviews I’m conducting with people who have dramatically changed their social class. I want to find out what it’s like to be a class “migrant”. What you learn when you journey from one socioeconomic group to another, and whether it takes an emotional toll.

One Giant Leap / ESPN

He arrived at nationals in January sponsored by Coca-Cola, Bridgestone, United Airlines, Nike and Kellogg's, and dressed for competition in a palette of black, white and charcoal designed by fashion icon Vera Wang, who also directed him to lop off his raffish curls to match her sleek, modern style. He'd won all four international events he entered this season, surpassed only by the specter of his breakthrough at the 2017 nationals. At times it seemed Chen had advanced the plot so fast that even he couldn't keep up. An increment of brilliance had eluded him in the year since he became the first athlete in the world to land five quadruple jumps within a 4-minute, 30-second free skate. Chen's five-quad coup would've been inconceivable not so long ago. Most of the top U.S. men had tried just one that night. [...] He takes a few deep breaths when the music ends and runs his hand through his hair as he glides in a small circle, allowing himself a moment of relief. His coach, Rafael Arutunian, picks up a stuffed tiger in the kiss-and-cry area, where athletes wait for scores, and shakes it triumphantly in Chen's direction, then pats his back when the two sit down. "Three days' practice," Arutunian tells him. "On three days' practice." Chen nods, looking spent but pleased. His combined score for the short and long programs is 315.23, putting him 40 points beyond the next man. "And he did it in a pressure situation, and he did it while skating last, and, and, and," Boitano says the next day, after Chen has been officially named to the Olympic team. "The guy is a monster." Skating has rarely beheld a more gargantuan talent, faster learner or more ardent self-critic than Chen.

Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya "Megalopolis" Below Guatemalan Jungle / National Geographic

A vast, interconnected network of ancient cities was home to millions more people than previously thought. [...] In what’s being hailed as a “major breakthrough” in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala. Using a revolutionary technology known as LiDAR (short for “Light Detection And Ranging”), scholars digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

Rosa Parks Was My Aunt. Here's What You Don't Know About Her. / Shondaland

I was excited when Oprah brought up Taylor’s story because people need to know these things happened to black women. It’s our history. But it was also emotional for me to hear Oprah’s words because she gave people the chance to see that Rosa Parks — my Auntie Rosa — was not just a tired old lady who sat down on a bus one day. With February 4 being (what would have been) my great aunt’s 105th birthday, I’m going to Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit to pay her my respects. But I also pay her my respects by refusing to let her legacy be turned into a caricature. I believe her story is more relevant than ever because she and people like her laid a foundation so that women today can be more vocal, can run for office, can demand equal rights and equal pay, and say we don’t have to be harassed. I regularly give presentations to organizations and schools about how tirelessly my aunt worked for justice and how she’d been heavily involved in civil rights work long before she refused to give up that seat. But, real talk, I didn’t realize who my aunt really was until I was 19-years-old in 1995 and she took me to a NAACP event. People were screaming at her like she was Michael Jackson. "Oh my God, you’re Rosa Parks." I had never witnessed that. The whole time Auntie Rosa was sitting there, like "Oh it’s not a big deal." She was very humble.

The Uber Pay Gap / Marginal Revolution

Using data on over one million Uber drivers and millions of trips, Cody Cook, Rebecca Diamond, Jonathan Hall, John A. List, and Paul Oyer show that female Uber drivers earn 7% less than male drivers. What makes this paper new, however, is that UBER’s extensive data lets the authors understand in great detail why the pay gap exists. It’s not discrimination: [...] The authors find that three factors explain the gap; driving speed, experience, and choices about where to drive.

Scientists may have discovered the first planets outside the Milky Way / Washington Post

Using data from a NASA X-ray laboratory in space, Xinyu Dai, an astrophysicist and professor at the University of Oklahoma, detected, for the first time ever, a population of planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy. The planets range in size from Earth's moon to the massive Jupiter.

America May Finally Be Ready To Fix Its Infrastructure. Too Bad The Timing Stinks. / FiveThirtyEight

But fixing America’s infrastructure will cost trillions, which is one reason Washington has been kicking this can down the unpaved road for years. And while inking an infrastructure deal is tricky under the best of circumstances, now is a particularly bad time — because the economy is just too strong. Costly repairs make more sense when the economy is faltering and Americans are desperate for work. In that environment, infrastructure spending has a supersized impact: Not only does it improve America’s bridges and transit systems, but it also provides jobs for people whose skills might otherwise go to waste. However, in today’s economic climate, where unemployment is nearing a 50-year low, even a massive infrastructure bill would likely generate only a trivial number of new jobs. Instead, the government would have to fill its construction crews by poaching private-sector workers, which could potentially create an inflation-generating war for scarce workers and neutralize many of the economic benefits commonly associated with large-scale government spending.

After 150 years, why does the Meiji restoration matter? / Economist

Far from expelling the barbarians, the new leaders embraced everything foreign. The “Charter Oath” of April 1868 that formally ended feudal rule decreed that “knowledge shall be sought throughout the world”. Some 50 officials set off on a tour of America and Europe to learn about administration, trade, industry and military affairs. On their return, and with foreign help, they threw their country into a race to catch up with the West, building railways and roads, pursuing land reform that redistributed the old feudal estates, establishing a Western-based system of education, and building a modern army. In 1889 the Meiji constitution, modelled along Prussian lines, enshrined both representative government and reverence for the emperor. Together, these were potent steps. In 1895 Japan humiliated China, East Asia’s traditional power, in a brief war fought over influence in Korea. In 1905 it did the same to Russia. Japan had previously feared the snuffing out of its independence by Western powers. In the Social Darwinian parlance of the day, it risked being served as meat at the Western imperial banquet. After the Russo-Japanese war it ended up joining the high table. It all went to Japan’s head. There was no clear break, as there was in Germany with Hitler’s rise to power, between the enlightened Japan that the Meiji reformers built and the militarist one that in 1937 launched into total war. The seeds of Japanese aggression and atrocities were sown in the emperor worship and glorification of the armed forces that were essential elements of the Meiji world. This is the unspoken problem with those who, like Mr Abe sometimes, refuse to face up to the wartime past. It risks pulling on a thread to the point where the Meiji narrative of national redemption itself comes into question. And then what is there left to be proud of? Better to burnish the myth.

----- 1 star -----

What’s happening just offscreen of famous album covers? / Kottke

On his Instagram account, Igor Lipchanskiy is imagining what’s happening just “offscreen” of musical album covers.

Flyover video of Jupiter’s Europa / Kottke

NASA engineer Kevin Gill stitched together images from two 1998 observations of Europa by the Galileo spacecraft to create this super smooth flyover video of the icy Jovian moon.

Click here to subscribe and to see previous issues