The Weekender, January 8, 2021


This has been quite a week.

On Wednesday, I published a story I had been sitting on for a while. That story talks about one of the first times that the United States Congress debated and, ultimately, rejected some of the electoral votes there were charged with counting. I’ll not recap it here; you can click the Week in Review link if you missed that one. It should go without saying that I decided to publish that story because of the news of the day — or at least, the news I anticipated.

In sharing that story, I hoped to do two things. First, I wanted to deliver on the promise of this newsletter — interesting facts and the stories behind them, ideally well-told. But second, I wanted to give some historical context for what we’re seeing right now. History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme, and this is as close as I get to poetry.

Given the feedback I received — and, as a reminder, if you reply to this email, I’ll read your replies! — that was both welcome and appreciated. The next day (yesterday), I ran a re-run that, again, tried to provide some history relevant to the moment. And again, the feedback was positive. (And again, please, send me feedback. Even if it’s negative!)

I’m not saying that I am going to do this all the time or, for that matter, that this will happen more often. In the past, I’ve intentionally steered clear of making even oblique references to the news of the day, and for good reason. Tying stories into the news is tricky and often treacherous, and I don’t really have the time or patience to avoid the pitfalls on a consistent basis. Further, that’s not my reason for writing these newsletters nor your reasons for reading them; to a large degree, Now I Know is a diversion, both by intent and by design. But when the moment strikes, I’m not going to shy away from it — if I think I can do it well.

The Now I Know Week in Review

MondayThe Life-Saving Power of Television: Many people wrote in to tell me that Grey’s Anatomy also had a similar storyline. I’ve never watched it, which is definitely a failing on my part; I hear it’s a really good show.

TuesdayThe Rain Storm That Bugged Out: I really tried to work the lyrics of the Blind Melon song into this one… but I couldn’t get it done. Oh well. 

WednesdayBut Can a Ghost Be President?: See above. 

Thursday: The North Carolina Coup of 1898: Two things about this one.

First, you’ll note that the original title was “Coup D’USA.” I didn’t use that as my email headline because I didn’t want you to (incorrectly) assume I was writing about the insurrectionists storming the Capitol the day before.

Second, in 2017, a writer for the Altantic went to the site of the burned down newspaper officers, to see what was there. Here’s her picture and tweet about the experience, but to make it easier for you, I’ll paste her words here: “When I was reporting this story, in 2017, I wanted to see with my own eyes the place where The Daily Record once stood, before they burned it down in 1898. So I went to Wilmington, North Carolina. You’d never know what happened there. No plaque, nothing. It’s a parking lot.” 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “What the Hole Is Going On?” (GrubStreet, 16 minutes, December 2020). This is about pasta — and it’s just a pleasure to read. The subhead: “The very real, totally bizarre bucatini shortage of 2020.” 

2) “The Mystery of Deceased Hiker ‘Mostly Harmless’ Is At Long Last Solved” (Adventure Journal, 9 minutes or 23 minutes, December 2020). In a November Weekender, I shared the story of a hiker who died, but no one was sure who he was. That mystery is now solved. The link goes to the complete story — the original one plus a 9-minute read about the person’s identity and how the mystery was solved. Thanks to reader Gene V. for sharing

3) “Shaka, When the Walls Fell” (The Atlantic, 20 minutes, July 2014). If you already knew this was about Star Trek, you must read this article. Must. If you didn’t, and you’re interested in how people communicate with one another, you probably should anyway. For the uninitiated, the subhead: “In one fascinating episode, Star Trek: The Next Generation traced the limits of human communication as we know it—and suggested a new, truer way of talking about the universe.” 

Have a great weekend!