News 12.06.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

News 12.06.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

If you’ve been enjoying these curated article summaries that dive into cultural, creative, and technological currents, you may find the discussions and analyses on our Substack page worthwhile as well. There, I explore themes and ideas that often intersect with the subjects covered in the articles I come across during my curation process.

While this curation simply aims to surface compelling pieces, our Substack writings delve deeper into topics that have piqued our curiosity over time. From examining the manifestation of language shaping our reality to unpacking philosophical undercurrents in society, our Substack serves as an outlet to unpack our perspectives on the notable trends and undercurrents reflected in these curated readings.

So if any of the articles here have stoked your intellectual interests, I invite you to carry that engagement over to our Substack, where we discuss related matters in more depth. Consider it an extension of the curation – a space to further engage with the fascinating ideas these pieces have surfaced.


There’s no such thing as a miracle cure for weight loss, but the latest obesity drugs seem to come pretty close. People who take Ozempic or other weekly shots belonging to a class known as GLP-1 agonists, after the gut hormone they mimic, can lose a fifth or more of their body weight in a year. Incessant “food noise” fueling the urge to eat suddenly goes silent.

In recent months, the mystique of these drugs has only grown. Both semaglutide (sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy) and tirzepatide (Mounjaro and Zepbound) were initially developed for diabetes and then repurposed for weight loss. But they apparently can do so much more than that. Studies showing the heart benefits of semaglutide have already led the FDA to approve Wegovy as a way to reduce the risk of major cardiac events, including stroke, heart attack, and death, in certain patients. The drug has also shown clear benefits for sleep apnea, kidney disease, liver disease—and can potentially help with fertility issues, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, colorectal cancer, alcohol overuse, and even nail-biting. These days, a new use for GLP-1s seems to emerge every week.

With each new breakthrough, GLP-1s look more and more like the Swiss Army knife of medications. As Vox asked last year: “Is there anything Ozempic can’t do?” But GLP-1s can’t take all the credit. Obesity is linked to so many ailments that losing huge amounts of weight from these drugs is destined to have “a pretty dominant effect” on health outcomes, Randy Seeley, an obesity researcher at the University of Michigan, told me. Teasing out exactly what is causing these secondary benefits will be difficult. But the future of these drugs may hinge on it.

Some of the additional health effects of GLP-1s do seem in line with a drug that can lead to dramatic weight loss. People with obesity are at a much higher risk for heart attacks and liver disease; excessive weight can restrict breathing at night, leading to sleep apnea. Of course obesity drugs would help. Even reports of “Ozempic babies”—people unexpectedly conceiving while on GLP-1s—make sense considering that fertility tends to improve when people lose weight. But weight loss alone isn’t always the only explanation. A major trial tracking the heart health of people on semaglutide suggested that patients can have cardiovascular improvements even if they don’t lose much weight. “It is quite clear that there are benefits to these drugs that are beyond weight loss,” Seeley said.

GLP-1s improve health outcomes through three mechanisms, Daniel Drucker, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto who co-discovered GLP-1 in the 1980s, told me. (Both Drucker and Seeley have consulted with GLP-1 manufacturers, as have many prominent obesity researchers.) The first mechanism involves the main functions of the drug: controlling blood sugar and inducing weight loss. That the drug coaxes the pancreas into secreting insulin led to its development for diabetes. Weight loss mostly happens through a separate process affecting the brain and gut that prompts a waning appetite and a lingering feeling of fullness. Disentangling their effects is difficult because high blood sugar can lead to weight gain, and is linked to many of the same chronic illnesses as obesity, including heart disease and cancer. The significant reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease and death from chronic kidney disease seen by people on GLP-1 drugs “certainly reflect” both changes in blood sugar and weight, Drucker said.

A second mechanism that could explain some of these health effects is that the drugs act directly on certain organs. GLP-1 receptors exist on tissues all over the body: throughout the lungs, kidneys, cardiovascular system, gut, skin, and central nervous system. The drugs’ heart benefits, for example, might involve GLP-1 receptors in the heart and blood vessels, Steven Heymsfield, a professor who studies obesity at Louisiana State University, told me.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

In March, Gisele Navarro watched Google Search traffic to her Web site, HouseFresh, disappear. HouseFresh evaluates and reviews air purifiers. Her husband, Danny Ashton, launched the site in 2020, when the pandemic created a spike in demand for air purification, and at its peak the business had fifteen paid contributors. (Navarro and Ashton also work together at NeoMam, a content studio that Ashton founded.) Google traffic to HouseFresh had been slowly declining since last October, but the recent drop was far more dramatic—from around four thousand daily search referrals, or click-throughs from Google results, to around three hundred. The site makes money from affiliate fees, taking a small cut when a reader follows a link from HouseFresh to purchase an air purifier online; less traffic means less revenue, and the site can now only afford to pay one full-time employee. Navarro told me, “We are living our lives like Google is gone for us.”

The drop in traffic to HouseFresh has coincided with internal changes to Google’s search function. In late 2023, Google rolled out a series of algorithm modifications; with a “core update” in March, it made those changes permanent. HouseFresh reviews previously ranked highly on Google searches for air purifiers, but lately its articles have been buried below recommendations from brand-name publications—Better Homes and GardensPeople, Architectural Digest (which is owned by Condé Nast, the parent company of The New Yorker). Navarro even noticed Rolling Stone, the music magazine owned by Penske Media, recommending anti-mold humidifiers. To her, it seemed as if media companies were making a grab for affiliate revenue without the expertise that her own site had worked hard to cultivate—and it looked as if Google was rewarding them for doing so. HouseFresh followed Google’s guidelines for search-engine optimization, or S.E.O.s—the company suggests that Web sites “provide original information” and demonstrate “experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness”—but this no longer seemed to have any effect. “There are people who feel that Google is obfuscating the truth,” Navarro said. “It’s lying to our faces, or gaslighting.” She began publishing articles on HouseFresh about the decline in search traffic, with headlines such as “How Google Is Killing Independent Sites Like Ours.” The articles got more search traffic than the reviews did.

In May, we got a glimpse into the inner workings of Google Search, from a leak of twenty-five hundred pages of the company’s internal documentation. The files seem to have been uploaded to GitHub by an unknown party, in March, but gained attention only when Erfan Azimi, a search-engine-optimization consultant, sent it to Rand Fishkin, a veteran S.E.O expert and a commentator on the industry. The leak is from Google Search’s A.P.I., or application programming interface, a kind of directory of labels that external developers can refer to in their code in order to call up information from Google’s internal infrastructure. It is a vast list of coding tags incomprehensible to the lay reader. But the documents identify many of the variables that Google’s search algorithm takes into account, without going so far as to specify how those variables are weighted or how a site’s ranking is ultimately determined.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 12.06.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

Joan Donovan, one of the world’s leading experts in misinformation, was dying to set the record straight. On a brisk November night, she told me a story about why she’d left Harvard University. It was captured, she claimed, by a corporation she had loudly criticized, one with far too much power over our democracy: Meta.

Donovan had been preparing for months to air this accusation in public, and I’d flown to Boston to interview her before the big day. At the moment, she had just heard through her lawyer that Harvard wanted to talk. “What are they going to offer me, $5 million?” she mused as we sat in a cafe. She wore a leather jacket over head-to-toe black, and a whistle dangled from her neck. “How am I going to feel about that money if I don’t tell the truth?”

Read the rest of this article at: The Chronicle

Soon after I gave birth to my daughter three years ago, questions about my well-being started to take a new, unexpected form. Interest seemed to shift away from my physical state — how was I feeling, how much sleep were we getting — toward something else. “So, how’s motherhood?” “How is being a mother?” I had no idea what they were talking about. There were many obvious changes: new tasks, new research assignments, new things — soft things, plastic things — that I could not fit anywhere in the cupboards and closets. But when asked about “motherhood,” I didn’t know where to look.

To have a child, it is often said, is to transform one’s identity. What this might have meant in the past is more or less obvious: With few exceptions, for the better part of history, to have a child meant it was time for a woman to say her final farewells to whatever public existence she managed to forge up to that point. But now there is another, more mysterious change that becoming a mother is understood to imply, more basic than the historical conditions of oppression. This change is supposed to reconfigure the deepest core of one’s being. When the contemporary analytic philosopher L. A. Paul wanted to introduce the idea of a fundamentally transformative experience, one of her central examples was having a child. For women, especially, becoming a parent is frequently described as a total revolution of the self. “Giving birth to a baby is, literally, splitting in two, and it is not always clear which one your ‘I’ goes with,” philosopher Agnes Callard wrote in a reflection on the relief she felt after losing an unplanned pregnancy.

Writing of her own experience of becoming a mother, the writer and artist Darja Filippova likens the physical battering involved in labor — her body lashed, hollowed out, and subsequently made to shed, crack, and ooze — to the ecstatic visions of medieval female mystics, who longed for a divine encounter so powerful that it would shatter them to pieces, dissolve them into unity with the All. But, she insisted, the postpartum devastation of the physical body is only the appearance of the real, mental, drama. New mothers aren’t just torn asunder, they are delivered out of their minds. After birth, Filippova scours “What to Expect” web forums for women wondering whether they are going crazy. One post reads:

I forgot my name. I was at the register making a return at BuyBuyBaby, the guy asked for my name, and I totally blanked. Had to text my husband. Thankfully it happened at a baby store — he said it happens all the time! Haha ma liiiiife.

Musing with fascinated horror about her own postpartum metamorphosis, Filippova writes: “Something has made it out, but I am not sure it is me.”

This is what concerned onlookers wanted to know. They weren’t asking about me at all, they were checking in on my successor. I looked around. The baby was still there — mastering spit bubbles — but no one else. Did I do it wrong? Was I already gone?

Wheeled to the maternity ward with our baby in my arms (a matter of policy, I had offered to walk), there it was: everything just as we had left it the day before. A friend warned I would not be able to think for months after the birth; but I replied to work emails from the hospital bed. They didn’t make less sense; they didn’t seem any less important. The only thing standing in my way was the restricted use of my arms. Strange — all the same things continued to matter to me: the same philosophical questions, the same friends and their same problems, the same politics, the same petty gossip.

Read the rest of this article at: The Cut

News 12.06.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

Grand Marais is a quiet outpost on Lake Superior’s North Shore, set among boreal forest in the easternmost corner of Minnesota. The town of roughly 1,300 is home to a mix of artists and outdoor enthusiasts, working-class people and professionals, liberals and diehard Trump supporters. In the summer, Grand Marais’s art galleries, shops, and restaurants swell with tourists drawn to what the website Budget Travel once dubbed “America’s Coolest Small Town.” The wait for a table at the Angry Trout Café, which serves locally sourced cuisine in an old fishing shanty, can run to more than an hour. When summer is over, the town retreats into itself again, which suits full-time residents just fine. “Even though we’re a tourism economy, most of us live a life where we just don’t want to be bothered,” said Steve Fernlund, who published the Cook County News Herald in the 1990s and now writes a weekly column for The North Shore Journal. “I’m at the end of a road, and I’ve got 12 acres of land. My closest neighbors are probably about 600 feet away through the woods. So, you know, we appreciate being hermits.”

Yet privacy only extends so far here. Gossip travels fast while having breakfast at the South of the Border café, or in chance encounters along Wisconsin Street. Everybody knows everybody else’s business—or thinks they do. “Even though there are differences of opinion—we have an eclectic collection of opinions—this is a close-knit community,” said Dennis Waldrop, who manages the Cook County Historical Museum. “Anything that happens here is discussed extensively.”

The residents of Grand Marais have had a lot to discuss in recent years. A suspicious fire that destroyed the historic Lutsen Lodge. The suicide of their neighbor Mark Pavelich, a star on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that defeated the Soviet Union. Plans for the 40 acres near town owned by convicted sex offender Warren Jeff’s fundamentalist clan. All those events stirred plenty of talk.

But nothing has captivated local conversation quite like what happened between Larry Scully and Levi Axtell in March 2023. A shocking act of violence attracted international attention and split the town over questions of truth and justice. Grand Marais is still trying to piece itself back together.

Read the rest of this article at: Atavist