Sorry for missing last week; things have been quite busy.

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

The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma / New Yorker
By Junot Diaz:

Last week I returned to Amherst. It’s been years since I was there, the time we met. I was hoping that you’d show up again; I even looked for you, but you didn’t appear. I remember you proudly repped N.Y.C. during the few minutes we spoke, so I suspect you’d moved back or maybe you were busy or you didn’t know I was in town. I have a distinct memory of you in the signing line, saying nothing to anyone, intense. I assumed you were going to ask me to read a manuscript or help you find an agent, but instead you asked me about the sexual abuse alluded to in my books. You asked, quietly, if it had happened to me. You caught me completely by surprise. I wish I had told you the truth then, but I was too scared in those days to say anything. Too scared, too committed to my mask. I responded with some evasive bullshit. And that was it. I signed your books. You thought I was going to say something, and when I didn’t you looked disappointed. But more than that you looked abandoned. I could have said anything but instead I turned to the next person in line and smiled. Out of the corner of my eye I watched you pick up your backpack, slowly put away your books, and leave. When the signing was over I couldn’t get the fuck away from Amherst, from you and your question, fast enough. I ran the way I’ve always run. Like death itself was chasing me. For a couple of days afterward I fretted; I worried that I’d given myself away. But then the old oblivion reflex took over. I pushed it all down. Buried it all. Like always. But I never really did forget. Not our exchange or your disappointment. How you walked out of the auditorium with your shoulders hunched. I know this is years too late, but I’m sorry I didn’t answer you.

An AI can realistically “paint in” missing areas of photographs / Kottke
Maybe I'm rating this too highly, but I thought this was very impressive:

This video, and the paper it’s based on, is called “Image Inpainting for Irregular Holes Using Partial Convolutions” but it’s actually straight-up witchcraft! Researchers at NVIDIA have developed a deep-learning program that can automagically paint in areas of photographs that are missing. Ok, you’re saying, Photoshop has been able to do something like that for years. And the first couple of examples were like, oh that’s neat. But then the eyes are deleted from a model’s portrait and the program drew new eyes for her. Under close scrutiny, the results are not completely photorealistic, but at a glance it’s remarkably convincing.

The Great High School Impostor / GQ

What Artur Samarin pulled off at a school in small-town Pennsylvania is one of the boldest hoaxes of our time. [...] Before putting the plot into motion, before the five-year masquerade, before the honors and the scholarships and the arrests and the deportation, before any of that, he rode into town on a Greyhound bus on a sleepy spring afternoon, marveling at how smooth the roads were all along the way. He'd come a great distance—5,000 miles from Nova Kakhovka to Harrisburg. But it was a distance he'd collapsed in his mind time and again from his boyhood bedroom in the south of Ukraine, where he'd dreamed of the limitless opportunities he figured he could find only in the U.S. of A. In America, Artur Samarin was sure, he could change his life forever—but he only had three months to pull it off. As a sophomore at his local university in Ukraine, he had interviewed for a slot in an American exchange program that permitted foreign university students to work summer service jobs in the U.S. Artur had always been an extraordinary student in un-extraordinary circumstances. And though his English was thin, he parroted his way through the application process and landed a coveted post manning the fryer at a Red Robin in South Central Pennsylvania for a few months. The America Artur discovered after that initial buzzed-up ride into Harrisburg had its perks: clean buses, foliage in full bloom, delicious flame-broiled burgers. But it wasn't all that he'd hoped—at least not right away. It was expensive, more expensive than he'd expected. He was making $9.50 an hour, good money for home but less good in Harrisburg. The work was grinding. And it took a fair amount of time each day to get to the restaurant, over in the shadow of the Lightning Racer roller coaster at Hersheypark. But in his rare slivers of free time, he would remind himself that this was the place where he might be able to pivot his fate for good. When he'd dreamed of America, it hadn't been so much for the movie stars or the big-box shopping as for the higher education, the academic opportunities, the engineering labs that gleamed in his visions. All his life it had been easy for Artur to pick up new material; his brain just seemed dialed up a little higher. But he'd felt himself limited in the classroom at home. And so an American university? American graduate school? He wanted to work for NASA someday. He wanted to be the first someone somewhere in the universe.

Bolivia’s Quest to Spread the Gospel of Coca / Guernica

Nowhere has coca been more important than in Bolivia, South America’s poorest country. Though its governments have traditionally toed the line of U.S. foreign policy on drugs since at least the 1980s, Bolivia’s current president, Evo Morales, threw out the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) nearly a decade ago while vowing to resuscitate coca’s sullied reputation. “Coca,” Morales has said so often that the phrase could be printed on the currency, “is not cocaine.” After decades of sweaty counter-narcotics operations, during which U.S.-trained soldiers scoured the jungle uprooting coca bushes and Americans and Europeans snorted cocaine anyway, Morales called a stop to eradication campaigns in his country. Instead, the cocaleros of Bolivia have cultivated the conviction that they can spread the gospel of coca. “Our philosophy is clear,” the country’s leading anti-drug official, Sabino Mendoza, told me. “Coca should be consumed, in its natural state.” To that end, the Bolivian government has spent millions of dollars and put forward a law to support its coca market. It has shunned the War on Drugs and sought instead to create alternate markets for coca leaf by supporting industrialization. Teas, shampoos, wines, cakes, liquors, flour, toothpastes, energy drinks and candies that feature the leaf have been produced, some in government-backed factories. It sometimes seems like Bolivians will market anything that contains their quasi-magical plant. Anything that could lure investors. Anything that could trade internationally. Anything, anything but cocaine.

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

Islamic State assassin: How I killed more than 100 people / BBC
Includes some disturbing content:

Khaled did not simply wake up in Raqqa to the smell of death and dust, and decide to become an assassin. He was sent a special invitation. Six men were ordered to report to an airfield in Aleppo, in north-western Syria, where a French trainer would teach them to kill with pistols, silenced weapons, and sniper rifles. They learned to murder methodically, taking prisoners as their victims. "Our practice targets were detained soldiers from the regime," he says. "They put them in a difficult place so you need a sniper to hit them. Or they send out a group of detainees and ask you to target one without hitting the others. Most of the time assassinations are done from a motorbike. You need another person to ride the bike and you sit behind him. You ride next to the target's car - then you shoot him and he cannot escape."

The Doting Boyfriend Who Robbed Armored Cars / Texas Monthly

In September 2016, when FBI agents first started tailing Redrick “Red” Batiste, he seemed to be an ordinary young man leading an ordinary life. Batiste was 36 years old, tall and slim, with dark eyes and an easy smile. He lived with his two bulldogs in a two bedroom, 956-square-foot house in Acres Homes, a modest neighborhood twelve miles north of the skyscrapers of downtown Houston. By most indications, he was exceedingly straitlaced. He dressed well, usually wearing pullover polo shirts and tightly belted cargo pants. Once a week, he went to a barbershop to get a haircut and a manicure. He was so meticulous about keeping his house clean that he asked visitors to take off their shoes before coming inside so they wouldn’t track dirt across the carpet. “Red even had the toilet paper coming out over the top of the roll,” said Tommie Albert, an older man in the neighborhood who’d known Batiste since he was a boy. “He said it looked better than toilet paper coming out from behind the roll.” Batiste regularly visited his aging parents to check on them. A few times a week, he went to see his girlfriend, Buchi Okoh, their eighteen-month-old daughter, and Okoh’s five-year-old son from a previous relationship. Okoh, a striking, gregarious woman in her early thirties, worked in sales at a Cadillac dealership. On occasion, Batiste would take her to a nice restaurant, but most of the time they stayed home and played with the children. Okoh told friends that her boyfriend was a budding real estate developer, buying and renovating small homes. He was a good man, she said, intelligent and ambitious. He read self-improvement books like Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success, by the hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. He was determined to make something of himself, “to be the best person he could possibly be,” Okoh said, “building his life the right way.” Shadowing him around Houston in their unmarked cars, however, FBI agents weren’t convinced that Batiste was all that he appeared to be. They had begun to suspect that he was leading a secret life that Okoh, his parents, and his neighbors knew nothing about. Red Batiste, they believed, was the leader of an armored car robbery ring, one of the most daring and diabolical the FBI had ever encountered.

The Marathon World Record Holder the World Forgot / Outside

Two weeks after Kathrine Switzer made headlines at Boston in 1967, 13-year-old Maureen Mancuso quietly shattered the women's world record. Few people noticed. [...] Mancuso’s achievement was underappreciated from the very beginning. Despite her showing that day, she says the officials didn’t even name her run a world record at the finish line, because she was too young to qualify for records. “They called it a ‘world’s best performance,’” Mancuso says. “It wasn’t until years later that they named it a world record.” [...] Boredom wasn’t the only obstacle to Mancuso’s running future. Immediately following her marathon, she and her family hopped in the car and headed north to their cottage for two weeks. When she returned, it wasn’t to accolades or glory, but to largely negative attention. “There were media calls coming in from all over the place,” Mancuso says. Numerous articles pointed to the potential harm that running 26 miles could cause a young girl. Some claimed that the women’s marathon would never catch on and that Mancuso’s effort was “without purpose.” One reporter went so far as to ask her to prove she was indeed female. The headlines were hard for a 13-year-old. “All I could see was the negativity toward me,” Mancuso says. While the marathon already wasn’t her favorite distance, Mancuso says the controversy over her race didn’t help. “I think if there was any enthusiasm to do another, that probably killed it,” she says.

The Famous Soccer Player Hiding in Plain Sight in a California Bakery / New York Times

Most customers do not recognize the fit, well-dressed man walking around Tuts Bakery and Cafe, picking up used cups and dirty dishes. Why would they? And what would he be doing here? [...] The meatballs — that is what Hakan Sukur ate as he explained how he got here. And by here, he is not referring just to this upscale cafe, or Palo Alto, or even America. But here. In this predicament, exiled from home and hiding in plain sight. Sukur, 46, is one of Turkey’s most famous athletes, its most celebrated soccer player, a World Cup hero and a veteran of several of Europe’s top leagues. He parlayed his fame into a political career and was elected to Turkey’s Parliament. Even with his sideburns tinged gray, his face and name are instantly recognized back home. So how did Hakan Sukur end up here — wondering if he’ll ever go home again, if his children will ever see his aging parents, if his country will turn back toward democracy and let him in again? “It’s my country; I love my people, even though their ideas about me are distorted by controlled media,” Sukur said. “Maybe in the future we will go there and visit.” His English is good, and improving quickly, but when the conversation gets serious, Sukur starts a sentence in English and finishes deep, long stories in Turkish, letting an interpreter make sure the words come out right. It was his first interview since he left Turkey in 2015, nearly a year before the 2016 deadly coup that tried, and failed, to topple the authoritarian regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former friend and political ally.

Here’s Why Drafting Saquon Barkley Could Be A Mistake / FiveThirtyEight

He looks like a star, but workhorse running backs aren’t as valuable in the modern NFL.

A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To Obstruct an FBI Hostage Raid / Defense One

Last winter, on the outskirts of a large U.S. city, an FBI hostage rescue team set up an elevated observation post to assess an unfolding situation. Soon they heard the buzz of small drones — and then the tiny aircraft were all around them, swooping past in a series of “high-speed low passes at the agents in the observation post to flush them,” the head of the agency’s operational technology law unit told attendees of the AUVSI Xponential conference here. Result: “We were then blind,” said Joe Mazel, meaning the group lost situational awareness of the target. “It definitely presented some challenges.” The incident remains “law enforcement-sensitive,” Mazel said Wednesday, declining to say just where or when it took place. But it shows how criminal groups are using small drones for increasingly elaborate crimes.

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

The Dominant Ethnic And Religious Groups In The United States, Mapped By County / Digg

These $250,000 Golf Carts Are Pricier Than a Tesla or Porsche / Bloomberg

As carmakers race to sell glitzy new models to wealthy Chinese, the old-fashioned golf cart is the hottest buy in one corner of Hong Kong.

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