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

‘My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro / Politico

The untold story of how Lisa Howard’s intimate diplomacy with Cuba’s revolutionary leader changed the course of the Cold War. [...] Lisa Howard had been waiting for more than two hours in a suite of the Hotel Riviera, enough time to bathe, dress and apply makeup, then take it all off to get ready for bed when she thought he wasn’t coming. But at 11:30 p.m. on that night in Havana—February 2, 1964—Howard, an American correspondent with ABC News, finally heard a knock at the door. She opened it and saw the man she had been waiting for: Fidel Castro, the 37-year-old leader of the Cuban revolution and one of America’s leading Cold War antagonists. “You may be the prime minister, but I’m a very important journalist. How dare you keep me waiting,” Howard declared with mock anger. She then invited Castro, accompanied by his top aide, René Vallejo, into her room. Over the next few hours, they talked about everything from Marxist theory to the treatment of Cuba’s political prisoners. They reminisced about President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated just a few months earlier. Castro told Howard about his trip to Russia the previous spring, and the “personal attention” he had received from the “brilliant” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Howard admonished Castro for the repressive regime he was creating in Cuba. “To make an honorable revolution … you must give up the notion of wanting to be prime minister for as long as you live.” “Lisa,” Castro asked, “you really think I run a police state?” “Yes,” she answered. “I do.” [...] Howard’s trip to Havana in the winter of 1964 was pivotal in advancing one of the most unusual and consequential partnerships in the history of U.S.-Cuban relations. She became Castro’s leading American confidant, as well as his covert interlocutor with the White House—the key link in a top-secret back channel she singlehandedly established between Washington and Havana to explore the possibility of rapprochement in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis. From mid-1963 to the end of 1964, Howard secretly relayed messages from Cuba’s revolutionary regime to the White House and back again; she also used her reporting skills and high-profile perch at ABC to publicly challenge the Cold War mind-set that Castro was an implacable foe of U.S. interests. Her role as peacemaker was built on a complex, little-understood personal rapport she managed to forge with Castro himself—a relationship that was political and personal, intellectual and intimate.

The ISIS Files / New York Times

Though he spoke in a menacing tone, the commander had a surprisingly tame request: Resume your jobs immediately, he told them. A sign-in sheet would be placed at the entrance to each department. Those who failed to show up would be punished. Meetings like this one occurred throughout the territory controlled by the Islamic State in 2014. Soon municipal employees were back fixing potholes, painting crosswalks, repairing power lines and overseeing payroll. “We had no choice but to go back to work,” said Mr. Hamoud. “We did the same job as before. Except we were now serving a terrorist group.” The disheveled fighters who burst out of the desert more than three years ago founded a state that was acknowledged by no one except themselves. And yet for nearly three years, the Islamic State controlled a stretch of land that at one point was the size of Britain, with a population estimated at 12 million people. At its peak, it included a 100-mile coastline in Libya, a section of Nigeria’s lawless forests and a city in the Philippines, as well as colonies in at least 13 other countries. By far the largest city under their rule was Mosul. Nearly all of that territory has now been lost, but what the militants left behind helps answer the troubling question of their longevity: How did a group whose spectacles of violence galvanized the world against it hold onto so much land for so long? Part of the answer can be found in more than 15,000 pages of internal Islamic State documents I recovered during five trips to Iraq over more than a year. [...] Taken together, the documents in the trove reveal the inner workings of a complex system of government. They show that the group, if only for a finite amount of time, realized its dream: to establish its own state, a theocracy they considered a caliphate, run according to their strict interpretation of Islam. The world knows the Islamic State for its brutality, but the militants did not rule by the sword alone. They wielded power through two complementary tools: brutality and bureaucracy. [...] As he walked to and from work, Mr. Hamoud began taking side streets to dodge the frequent executions that were being carried out in traffic circles and public squares. In one, a teenage girl accused of adultery was dragged out of a minivan and forced to her knees. Then a stone slab was dropped onto her head. On a bridge, the bodies of people accused of being spies swung from the railing. But on the same thoroughfares, Mr. Hamoud noticed something that filled him with shame: The streets were visibly cleaner than they had been when the Iraqi government was in charge.

Pristine restoration of a 9-minute silent film of NYC street life from 1911 / Kottke

Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue.

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

The holiday village run by spies / BBC

Arous Village, on the fringe of spectacular coral reefs and the odd shipwreck, appears to be a diving enthusiast's dream. The pamphlets were printed in their thousands and distributed in specialist travel agents across Europe. Reservations were booked through an office in Geneva. And over time hundreds of guests went on holiday there. It was a long trek. But once at the desert oasis, they enjoyed first-rate facilities, water sports, deep-sea dives and an abundance of fresh food and wine. The visitors' book was a catalogue of glowing comments. The Sudanese International Tourist Corporation was also happy. It had leased the site to a group of people introducing themselves as European entrepreneurs, whose venture brought some of the first foreign tourists to the country. The only thing was, unbeknown to the guests or the authorities, the Red Sea diving resort was entirely fake. It was a front, set up and run for more than four years in the early 1980s by operatives from the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. They used it as a cover for an extraordinary humanitarian mission - to rescue thousands of beleaguered Ethiopian Jews stranded in refugee camps in Sudan and evacuate them to Israel. Sudan was an enemy Arab country, and it had to be done without anyone finding out, either there or at home. "It was a state secret, nobody talked about it," says Gad Shimron, one of the agents who served at the village. "Even my family didn't know."

The Quiet Revolution: China's Millennial Backlash / Financial Times [ungated version from OZY]

Faye Lu, a Beijing-based businesswoman, chose the Chinese New Year after her 30th birthday to come clean to her family. At the biggest social gathering in the Chinese calendar, she prepared a New Year’s Eve feast for her parents and 20 relatives — more than 10 dishes, including roast fatty pork, pork ribs and fried pickled cabbage. The feast, she knew, would give her the right to make a speech. “You have taken care of me for 30 years,” she told her guests seated at the table. “I am very grateful to you all. I have had the opportunity to travel and to get to know many different cultures, who have different attitudes to marriage. And I can see that despite their differences to us, they are still happy.… ” Lu was circling around a problem: As an unmarried 30-year-old, she is seen by her parents and their contemporaries as a “leftover woman” At the end of her speech, she presented a veiled request: “I am so grateful to you for not bothering my parents too much to ask when I am getting married.” When she had confided in friends what she planned to say at the dinner, they did their best to dissuade her. She was hoping for the impossible: to convince her family she could be 30, single and happy. When Lu had discussed her ideas about the future before, her parents said she had been “poisoned by foreigners” while studying abroad. But she was determined to carve out a different life for herself. Across China, millennials like Lu are committing small acts of rebellion. Society pressures young people in China to find a good job, buy an apartment and get married — in that order, and before age 30. But economic restructuring, soaring house prices and increasing numbers of students in higher education are making those goals harder for millennials than they were for their parents. At the same time, millennials have developed different visions of the “good life” from their parents. This generation wants something new from China, and in pursuing it they are changing China too. A quiet revolution is underway.

Be a Time Wizard: How to Slow Down and Speed Up Time / The Art of Manliness

From these results, Eagleman posited that time doesn’t actually slow down when we’re fearing for our lives. Instead, scary situations send our amygdala – a part of the brain connected with memory and emotion – into overdrive, spurring the brain to record much more detail than normal. Because the brain lays down such rich, dense memories of those moments, when you later look back on the experience, there’s a lot more “footage” than normal to run through, making the experience seem like it lasted longer than it actually did. [...] Through a cognitive phenomenon called “repetition suppression,” once the brain has been exposed repeatedly to the same stimuli, it doesn’t have to expend as much time and energy recognizing it. The first time the brain encounters something, it utilizes a high amount of cognitive resources in order to make sense of it. The novelty of the stimulus spurs the mind to capture a lot of detail, which makes the encounter seem longer. With each exposure to the same stimuli, the energy required to identify it goes down, as does how long your encounter with it seems to last [...] What may be puzzling about Eagleman’s research is that it seems to contradict popular maxims like “Time flies when you’re having fun,” and “The watched pot never boils.” Don’t exciting and novel experiences speed up time rather than slow it down? [...] If you’ve been doing something boring and bereft of stimuli, your brain won’t have recorded much “footage” from the experience, and it will seem like a quick episode – a waft of cerebral nothingness – in your memory. If you look back on that boring meeting or long flight, it barely registers as a happening in your brain. But when you reflect on a dangerous or novel experience, your mind’s got plenty of detailed footage for you to peruse. Your brain interprets this fact thusly: “That must have taken a long time because I don’t normally retain that much detail about events.” Hence, time does fly when you’re having fun, but then stretches out in your memory. [...] Those who live a mundane, repetitious life are actually hit with a double whammy: in the midst of their boring day-to-day lives (prospective time), time seems to drag interminably on. Yet when they reflect on their lives (retrospective time), it seems to have sped by!

Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison / Splinter News

Edward Minor had a paper due for his English class on income inequality at Wayne County Community College in Detroit. He’d completed all the research and knew what he wanted to write. The main issue was time—he only had a few hours. But countless, frustrating obstacles delayed his progress, from the laborious pace at which 62-year-old Minor types to figuring out how to save his document. The final step, however, was really tripping him up. Since he was using a computer at the library, he needed to email the file to himself so he could edit it later on a different computer. “Do I just put my email address up here?” Minor asked, pointing to the bar at the top of the web browser. Eventually he got some help from a computer technician, but he wasn’t confident he’d be able to find the document later. “They’re doing it so fast and I’m trying to follow,” he says. “They don’t see that there’s a baby right here in front of them. I’m a baby out here!”

What Does Invoking The 25th Amendment Actually Look Like? / FiveThirtyEight

All of this points to a conclusion we probably already knew: The Cabinet, especially as it’s currently constituted, is pretty unlikely to take action against Trump. But Congress has its own set of political pressures, and if the Democratic “wave” happens, we may see a serious attempt to go after the president. If impeachment proceedings don’t get off the ground, Congress could turn to the 25th Amendment: While Congress can’t initiate removal of the president under the amendment, it can convene a body to investigate the president’s fitness to serve — and such legislation has already been proposed. [...] One of the arguments against invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump is that it wasn’t really intended for this purpose. But looking at how the amendment has been used in practice reveals that political context matters, and so does legitimacy. Presidents have avoided activating Section 3 of the article, appearing reluctant to concede even temporary power to their own vice presidents. And Section 4 spells out a process that is legally unclear. It’s likely that any discussion of the 25th Amendment will be about the politics of the moment rather than the precise text of its provisions. Whether we see it put into practice will depend on whether Congress or members of the Cabinet see political benefit in doing so. A critical part of that process would be to overcome the legitimacy challenges and political disruption that using the 25th Amendment would create.

Why being a night owl may lead to earlier death / Vox

Scientists have been circling around one answer that’s very concerning: that there are real, and negative, health consequences of being a later chronotype (going to sleep well after midnight and rising later). It may even put you at higher risk of early death. This past week, researchers at Northwestern and the University of Surrey published a huge study in the journal Chronobiology International of more than 433,000 adults in the UK, who had been tracked for an average of 6.5 years. It found a correlation: Those who reported having a later chronotype (people who are night owls) had a 10 percent increased likelihood of dying compared to people who had an earlier chronotype. And this was true for people of all ages in the study, and for both men and women.

Indian population bottlenecks / Marginal Revolution

Around a third of Indian groups experienced population bottlenecks as strong or stronger than the ones that occurred among Finns or Ashkenazi Jews. Many of the population bottlenecks in India were also exceedingly old. One of the most striking we discovered was in the Vysya of the souther Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, a middle caste group of approximately five million people whose population bottleneck we could date…to betweenthree thousand and two thousand years ago. The observation of such a strong population bottleneck among the ancestors of the Vysya was shocking. It meant after the population bottleneck, the ancestors of the Vysya had maintained strict endogamy, allowing essentially no genetic mixing into their group for thousands of years. And the Vysya were not unique. A third of the groups we analyzed gave similar signals, implying thousands of groups in India like this…long-term endogamy as embodied in India today in the institution of caste has been overwhelming important for millennia. …The truth is that India is composed of a large number of small populations.

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

The Christmas Bullet Was The Worst Plane Ever Made / Jalopnik

It was the worst military aircraft of all time. Developed by a man described as “the greatest charlatan ever to see his name associated with an airplane,” the Christmas Bullet was the rare kind of fighter which had a perfect kill ratio: it killed everyone who ever tried to fly it. The Christmas Bullet is a product of a bygone age when a lone madman could get rich convincing a New York senator, an established aerospace firm, and the U.S. military all at once that he could develop the greatest aircraft the world had ever seen.

Photos of the Chinese Town That Duplicated Paris / National Geographic

On the eastern coast of China—some 6,000 miles from the City of Light—a 354-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower dominates Tianducheng’s skyline. Known as the “Paris of the East”, the luxury real estate development in Zhejiang province was designed to evoke classical European charm. Its residents have their own Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysées main square, French neoclassical-style buildings, a fountain from the Luxembourg Gardens, and the centerpiece of the city: the second largest replica of the Eiffel Tower in the world after the Paris Las Vegas Hotel in Nevada. When Tianducheng first opened its gates more than a decade ago, it was described as a ghost town. While many of its homes remain vacant, the population has grown into the thousands, and it attracts a steady stream of Chinese and international tourists, including newlyweds looking for a picture-perfect backdrop.

The Most Commonly Used Words In Tech Giants' Job Listings Will Make You Never Want To Work At A Tech Giant / Digg

A few months ago, the recruiting consulting firm Textio analyzed 25,060 job listings from 10 major tech companies from the past year to figure out the most distinctive phrases used in their job descriptions. "The distinct phrases used by each company showed up in their jobs much more often than they did for other companies in the sample, and frequently way more often than average for the industry," Textio explains. The results were probably not surprising to people who work in Silicon Valley but frankly kind of scary to us. Here are the top three most distinctive phrases for each company, in alphabetical order.

Medieval Italian Man Replaced His Amputated Hand With a Knife / Gizmodo

Italian anthropologists have documented a remarkable case in which a Medieval-era Italian male not only managed to survive the amputation of his right hand, he also used a bladed weapon as a prosthetic limb.

Biker Cranks The Gas, Rides Motorbike Clear Across Lake / Digg

Cars are for land, planes are for air, boats are for water. Dirt bikes are for all three? We weren't sure about the "water" part either until we saw this insane video.

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