Let's start off a little differently this week: "Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality." From Natalie Wolchover at the Simons Foundation, a short explanation of why something that looks like an elaborated version of Bejeweled Blitz is actually evidence for why things like space and time don't exist. (Via @pourmecoffee.)
"Cosmologists have speculated that the Universe formed from the debris ejected when a four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole — a scenario that would help to explain why the cosmos seems to be so uniform in all directions." Or we could all be just the three-dimensional event horizon of a four-dimensional black hole, reports Zeeya Merali at Nature. (Also via @pourmecoffee.)
Now that we've got everything firmly in perspective, let's move on. "How often do whales clean their ears? Well, never. And so, year after year, their ear wax builds up, layer upon layer." Foot-long columns of whale ear wax. By Rhitu Chatterjee for NPR. (Via Melissa del Bosque.)
"Using electronic health records and mapping systems (including Google Earth) to figure out how close patients resided to livestock and crop operations, the researchers found that people who lived closer to farms that used swine manure to fertilize crops or that raised livestock were more likely to have MRSA infections than people who lived farther away." From Eryn Brown at the LA Times.
"On the windswept prairies of the Oklahoma Panhandle, the hog barns of Prestage Farms are lined up like military barracks. The 20,000-sow operation near the Texas border stands at the front lines of a months-long battle to contain a virus that has already killed some 1.3 million hogs in the United States." And the pigs aren't feeling so good, either, report Carey Gillam and P.J. Huffstutter. (Via Sarah Zhang.)
"'We can dream and this is the world we made?' he said. 'We have all these capabilities and what are we going to do? We're gonna figure out how to monetize some poor folks in the center of the country who we've convinced need to buy some shit that they don't actually.'" From "The Bacon-Wrapped Economy," by Ellen Cushing at the East Bay Express. (Via Lois Beckett.)
"A parasite that changes the brains of rats and mice so that they are attracted to cats and cat urine seems to work its magic almost right away, and continues to control the brain even after it’s gone, researchers reported on Wednesday." At NBC News, Maggie Fox reports that new research "'does not necessarily explain crazy cat ladies or why there are LOLCATS online.'" OR DOES IT? (Via Amanda Katz.)
"In 2012, National Research Council scientists were barred from discussing their work with NASA on snowflakes with journalists." From Suzanne Goldenberg at Grist, a stunning short look at government censorship of science… in Canada? (Via Deborah Blum.)
"'People think the use-by date means either the product is going to die or you're going to die if you eat it. And it's just not true. You can't tie shelf life to a date,' Labuza said." News you can use by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian at Reuters.
"A landmark study has found that stop-and-frisk policing leads to so much mistrust of cops, many young adults won’t go to cops to report violent crimes — even when they are the ones victimized." This week in You Don't Say, by Erin Durkin for the NY Daily News. (Via Christie Thompson.)
"The death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, led civil rights groups to question the kind of training that resulted in the barrage of bullets fired against an unarmed man by a 27-year-old officer promoted two years ago from the animal control division." At the NYT, Kim Severson reports on the killing of a man wounded in a Charlotte, NC, car accident this week.
"His name is Dr. Chencho Dorji and he is Bhutan’s first psychiatrist. Four decades ago, his first patient began to lose his mind." By Jennifer Yang for the Toronto Star. (Via Sonia Faleiro.)
"This is the second time that his family has endured a random act of gun violence. In 2009, one of his sons — 14-year-old Arthur Daniels — was shot in the back. He was also running away from an armed man." From Emily Wax-Thibodeaux at The Washington Post, on the grieving family of Navy Yard massacre victim Arthur Daniels.
"'I may see this every day, I may be the chief medical officer of a very large medical center, but there is something wrong here,' said Janis Orlowski of Medstar Washington Center, which treated three other Navy Yard victims. 'I’d like you to put my trauma center out of business.'" From Suzy Khimm at MSNBC.
"Unburdened by the Boomers’ reverence for hierarchy, Gillibrand, in her refusal to bow to the will of her committee chairman or the military brass, forced the women of the Democratic caucus to choose between the remedies favored by victims’ groups or those favored by the male military leaders who have presided over a crisis that has only gotten worse over the last two decades." At RH Reality Check, Adele M. Stan writes a fascinating long analysis of how generational differences have led Senators Claire McCaskill and Kristen Gillibrand to take opposing approaches to addressing the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.
From National Geographic this week: Michele Norris reflects on what the Race Card Project has told her about "multiracial experiences—most specifically marriage, parenting, and the questions of identity for the resulting offspring." (Via Gwen Ifill.)
"In the world of education reform, Paul Vallas is a superstar. As leader of school districts in Chicago and Philadelphia, he expanded charter schools and testing. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he replaced New Orleans’ ravaged public schools with a radical experiment in decentralized, charter-based learning." But last week voters in Bridgeport, CT, look to have thrown him out of a job, reports Molly Ball at The Atlantic.
"In the fall of 1981, second grader Mike Ryan was walking through the halls of his new school when he realized something terrible: He was the only kid without a Trapper Keeper." By Erin McCarthy at Mental Floss, the history you've been waiting for — of the Trapper Keeper. (Via Arika Okrent.)
"At Spelman College, a historically black, all-women’s college in Atlanta, about half of last year’s incoming class of some 530 students were obese or had high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, or some other chronic health condition that could be improved with exercise. Each year, Spelman was spending nearly $1 million on athletics—not for those students, but for the 4 percent of the student body that played sports." I'm an easy mark for anything called "The Case Against High-School Sports," but this piece by Amanda Ripley at The Atlantic makes some interesting points even if you're a passionate supporter of high school sports. (Via Shani O. Hilton.)
"Sandberg’s admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women’s equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women’s equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right." This very long Susan Faludi essay at The Baffler on capitalism and feminism has everything from Kate Losse to the Bread and Roses strike. It may take you awhile to get through, but it is definitely worth it. (Via Cam Larios.)
"I don’t subscribe to the usual moral objection to horror fiction—to wit, that it causes horrible facts. But it doesn’t follow that such fiction causes no real-life effects whatsoever. Consider the standard disclaimer that appears in the front of novels: that the events therein exist solely in the author’s imagination. That is not entirely true. Once you’ve read the book, those events exist in your imagination, too." Ah, the incomparable Kathryn Schultz reviews the latest Stephen King novel at Vulture.
"I remember once reading speculations about why creatures sleep. The one that impressed me was some scientist saying, 'It keeps the organism out of trouble.' So every once in a while I sit on the couch thinking, I’m keeping my organism out of trouble." From a couple of months ago, Thessaly La Force interviews Marilynne Robinson for VICE. (Hat tip to Jody T.)
"The Day the Man Came to Burning Man." One short, beautiful anecdote from this year's Burning Man festival, by L.J. Williamson for LA Weekly. (Via Sarah Zhang.)
"Manic Pixel Dream Girl." An amazing four-part comic presenting a portrait of the artist as a young, female gamer, by Elizabeth Simins at Cargo Collective. (Hat tip to Jill Heather.)
You guys, the royal we here at Phantom's List are in a bit of a pickle about What to Do With Mallory Ortberg. She writes SO MUCH, and we feel sheepish about becoming basically a fanclub for a single author. But on the other hand, trying to pick the best of her pieces each week? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. You choose. "Literary Trysts It Gives Me Great Joy To Think About: Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman." "The Rage of Jonathan Franzen." "A Chat With Rainbow Rowell About Love and Censorship." "A Day In the Life of a TV Antihero." Or, if you're looking for a good book to read now that you've finally gotten to the end of this post, "Americanah, Pride and Prejudice, and All of the Feels.."