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an aural noise

some of the things I read while eating breakfast in antisocial isolation

For Hundreds of Years, People Thought California Was an Island

Dozens of maps show cartography’s most persistent mistake.

The top left of the globe shows an island as long as the current U.S. Embiggenable. Explore at home.

IN 1971, GLEN MCLAUGHLIN CAME across a strange map in a London map shop. Americæ Nova Descriptio, produced by Anne Seile (1) in 1663, showed California as a big, carrot-shaped island, floating off the coast of North America.

McLaughlin, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, bought the map and hung it on a wall at home. It turned into a popular talking point with visitors, and California-as-an-island became McLaughlin’s decades-long obsession.

Over the next 40 years, he collected more than 700 maps, charts, and other cartographic objects on the topic, building up a visual library of what is one of history’s most persistent cartographic fallacies.

A New and Correct Map of AMERICA (London, 1752).

First Mention

Perhaps that persistence and McLaughlin’s obsession spring from the same source. Even though California geographically isn’t an island, it does tend to feel like a place separate from the “mainland.”

Indeed, in more ways than one, California is a one-off. Some metrics are obvious. It’s so vast and varied that it could easily be a country on its own, let alone an island. California is the largest state by population (40 million) and GDP ($3 trillion, 15% of the U.S. total). It’s home to both the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States: Mount Whitney (14,505 feet; 4,421 meters) and Badwater Basin in Death Valley (-282 feet, -86 meters).

But the Golden State is special in a more intangible way as well. It’s where America’s westward expansion met its ultimate physical barrier: Manifest Destiny, say hi to Pacific Ocean. Both the 1849 Gold Rush and the birth of Hollywood, half a century later, merely confirmed the image of California in the popular mind as the final destination of the American Dream—there to flourish or wilt.

LA City Council Approves Over $1M to Clean Graffiti From Towers

Additional funds were set aside to install fencing, remove scaffolding, and hire security services for the luxury development that was tagged in early February.

An aerial view of the graffiti on the unfinished Oceanwide Plaza luxury real estate development in Los Angeles, California. Embiggenable.

The Los Angeles City Council voted last Friday to approve nearly $4 million to remove graffiti covering three abandoned skyscrapers in downtown LA, secure the site, and restore the public right of way on the adjacent sidewalks. The towers made headlines earlier this month when graffiti artists tagged them from top to bottom in the span of about a week.

In an amendment to the motion, $1.1 million was set aside to install new fencing, remove scaffolding left by the property’s developer, and initiate security services, according to Peter Brown, communication director for LA City councilmember Kevin de León, who co-sponsored the motion with councilmember Bill Blumenfield. An additional $2.7 million may be allotted for graffiti removal, further security, and fire safety upgrades once the city receives additional estimates for the work.

Brown told Hyperallergic that the entire property, which covers a city block directly across from the event venue LA Live and the Crypto Arena, will be surrounded by a roughly 10-foot-tall steel barrier, making it harder to scale than the current chain-link fence and leftover construction scaffolding. Since news of the graffiti first broke, people have continued to trespass on the site despite constant police presence, even base-jumping off the building.

“A $1 million fence will not keep anyone out,” Aker, one of the artists who tagged the buildings, told Hyperallergic. “It’s a waste of money. They need to either finish that project or demolish it to start something that will be finished.”

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Critics decry it as vandalism and others celebrate it as the transformation of urban blight.

Ed. It’s been said Is it art or is it vandalism? That’s for the courts to decide.

RELATED: Revealed: 300% surge in deaths of unhoused people in LA amid fentanyl and housing crises
More than 2,000 people died in 2023, with a decade of autopsy data uncovering escalating humanitarian catastrophe.

Rue Ryan, 32, puts together a memorial for her old friend in December 2022.

More than 2,000 unhoused people died in Los Angeles in 2023, meaning an average of nearly six deaths a day of people living on the street or in shelters in the nation’s most populous county.

The numbers reveal an escalating humanitarian emergency as the housing crisis and drug addiction epidemic collide, with victims found in tents, encampments, vehicles, parks, alleys, vacant lots, underpasses, bus stops and train stations.

An exclusive review of LA county medical examiner data obtained by the Guardian shows the department logged a total of 11,573 deaths of unhoused people over the last decade. Deaths have consistently increased every year.

In 2023, 2,033 people died, a staggering 291% increase from the 519 cases recorded in 2014 and an 8% increase from the 1,883 fatalities in 2022.

The data is an undercount as the medical examiner only has jurisdiction over deaths considered violent, sudden or unusual, or where the deceased has not recently seen a doctor, meaning the scale of the crisis is greater than what’s captured in the data.

The LA county public health department does its own tracking, and a spokesperson said its researchers estimate there are roughly 20% more deaths in its database due to its more comprehensive sources and methodologies. The health department has not yet released 2023 data.

“Every single death takes a toll on you,” said Rebecca Chavez, 41, who is part of a community of unhoused people that suffered two recent losses in the San Fernando Valley region of LA. Both victims had lived in encampments with her over the years and she considered them family, she said. One died of an overdose while she was nearby, and she said she was haunted by the memory of being unable to revive him: “I don’t know how I’ll ever recover.”

8 Pieces of Playground Equipment That Basically Violate the Geneva Convention

As a child born in 1990, who went to a public school system that received approximately $3.50 per decade to spend as they please, I’m well-versed in antiquated playground equipment. Were they fun, in a thrill-seeking sort of way? Yes. At the same time, safer playgrounds are probably a godsend for school nurses, who are no longer running a little war hospital for children who got thrown off the monkey bars.

Here are eight pieces of playground equipment with a body count…

8. Merry-Go-Rounds

No, not the giant, slow carnival rides that I assume someone, at some point, had fun on — before they just became a place to get killed in a horror movie. Instead, I’m talking about the spinning, glorified scaffolding that taught children a hard lesson about centripetal force. Maybe they assumed a group of singing kids would calmly pedal these things around, but we ended up with a vomitron that either ended up with school lunch in the wood chips, or a concussion.

Christians Are Fragile Snowflakes

It’s kind of hypocritical, isn’t it?

I got some really bad medical news lately. I’m not talking about the going blind thing. I’m talking about something scarier to me than that. Too scary for me to talk about it yet, if I ever do, especially before they finish running further tests.

And all of this is making me face the fragility of the human body more and more. Also, how fleeting life can really be. And I’m doing this all as an atheist, who has no after life to look forward to. This is the only life that exists and I won’t be tricked into believing otherwise.

But my father is in complete denial. He’s arguing with my diagnoses. I keep telling him they are real, a doctor actually did diagnose me with these things and he says, “I know, but God is going to heal you of them. Just wait and see. So it’s like you don’t actually have them.”

It breaks my heart when he says those things because I know he says them because he’s scared of my diagnoses, too, and is seeking comfort in his religion.

The worse part about it is that my Dad actually believes in me, unlike my Mom. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it hurts to have a mother like my Mom, who doesn’t care if I’m dying, but it also hurts to talk to my Dad in a different way.

He keeps saying, “You will be healed because God has a special purpose for your life. You’re going to help a lot of people. You’re going to do a lot of good in the world and you can’t die because you’re not done yet.”

He literally thinks I’ll be famous someday, which, I for sure, won’t be. He thinks I’m going to be as well known as the president or something, but I’m just an average person.

And so instead of feeling stressed out about all the experiences I won’t have in life if I die before I turn forty, I find myself feeling guilty, like my average life will be a disappointment to my Dad.

The Happy Way to Drop Your Grievances

Grumbling about something can feel as if it offers relief, but it spreads misery. Here’s how to break the habit and make everyone happier.

In 15th-century Germany, there was an expression for a chronic complainer: Greiner, Zanner, which can be translated as “whiner-grumbler.” It was not a complimentary term. A popular tavern song at the time (which the great renaissance composer Heinrich Finck also arranged as an instrumental piece) had lyrics that ran, by my rough translation, “Greiner, Zanner, you know what? I’ll sit at your table and kiss your wife on the mouth! How do you like that?” In other words, quit your whining, or I’ll give you something to whine about.

Are you a bit of a Greiner, Zanner? If so, you’re not alone: Survey data show that American customers today are more than twice as likely to complain about a product or service as they were in 1976. People are grumbling more at work too. Nearly a third of employers in one U.K.-based survey witnessed an increase in employee grievances over a two-year period prior to autumn 2022, and according to an executive coach cited in the Harvard Business Review, a majority of employees either complain themselves or listen to complaints about upper management for at least 10 hours a month.

This epidemic of discontent is also reflected in our media. Researchers who analyzed some 23 million news headlines from 2000 to 2019 found that the proportion denoting anger, fear, disgust, and sadness had risen consistently—especially anger. The opinion section of almost every news outlet is like a Greiner, Zanner convention, with one editorial after another telling you that something is awful and you should be upset.

Of course, if you look around, you can always find something to complain about. But if you do so habitually, that is probably hurting you, bringing down others, and making you a less attractive person to be around.

So you might want to buck the trend toward a culture of complaint. Fortunately, you can do a lot to quit the habit and so get happier.

Maru, Hana and Miri spend silent winter nights with the wood stove.

Ed. マル、ハナ、ミリは、木材 ストーブで静かな冬の夜を過ごします。


Middle School Teacher Accused of Selling Students’ Art Online

Mario Perron faces a potential lawsuit from parents who say he printed their kids’ drawings on coffee mugs and tote bags.

The since-deactivated online marketplace featured mugs printed with student drawings. Embiggenable.

A CANADIAN TEACHER WHO allegedly offered his middle-school students’ artwork for sale online faces a potential lawsuit from their parents. Mario Perron posted submissions from a homework assignment on a since-deactivated virtual marketplace, where he hawked images of his students’ drawings on coffee mugs and tote bags.

Perron allegedly asked his class to create artwork in the style of Jean-Michel Basquiat for a “creepy portraits” project, according to a February 13 lawyer’s letter sent on behalf of two parents to the teacher and his employer, the Lester B. Pearson School Board in Montreal. On February 8, two students Googled Perron and stumbled across his selling platform, where they encountered their homework for sale.

The February 13 notice, reviewed by Hyperallergic, asks the district to suspend Perron, send an apology letter, and hand over CA$350,000 (~$259,000) “in accordance with the copyright act” and for “moral and punitive damages.” Six other parents soon signed on, and the monetary demand grew to CA$175,000 (~$129,500) per affected student.

The artworks were printed onto tote bags and titled with the students’ names. Embiggenable.

The school board told Hyperallergic it could not comment on an ongoing investigation, but noted that by the time the institution examined Perron’s marketplace, the buying option had been disabled. It is unclear whether or not the teacher, who did not respond to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment, successfully sold any of his students’ works.

Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Probably. Maybe. Likely, if I find nothing more barely uninteresting at all to do.

Ed., etc. I didn’t have time to do this today.

ONE MORE THING: Our Dead Pet Came Home Alive and Totally Ruined My Credibility
What am I supposed to tell the kids?

Zombie chicken is a real possibility. Embiggenable.


Clydie, our sweet little fluffernutter with the chocolatey brown eggs, was a goner. Fox tracks led straight through the snow to the barn, and even if the fox didn’t eat her—and why wouldn’t he? She was delectable!—she was nowhere to be found.

It’s winter in the north, and without #barnliving, she had no food, no water, and no roosting buddies or coop heaters to keep her from becoming frozen food in the sub-zero weather. No, that chicken was definitely dead.

We’ve lost other birds to the all-you-can-steal varmint buffet, but Clydie was a family favorite. So I cursed all foxes everywhere, girded my loins, and broke the bad news to my young children.

And I don’t mind saying, I totally nailed it.

I pulled out all my best material:

Clydie went to chicken heaven where there’s free corn all the time!

It’s okay to be sad, honey, but we’ll get some new chicks in the spring and won’t that be fun?

How about a big bowl of whipped cream before dinner to celebrate her life?

By the time I was through with them, my kids would happily invite the fox back to kill more chickens, just to experience my amazing words of comfort again.

I was feeling fantastic. And sad, of course. Because death. But mostly proud of my next-level parenting chops.

Assimilation Complete