The Weekender, July 26, 2019

1) “Safe Deposit Boxes Aren’t Safe” (New York Times, 11 minutes, July 2019). “When Philip Poniz opened Box 105 at his local Wells Fargo, he discovered it was empty — and that he was totally unprotected by federal law.” I had no idea that this was a problem until I read the article, and I’m still shocked.

For over a decade, Mr. Poniz’s Box 105 sat at the bottom of a seven-foot shelf in Wells Fargo’s Highland Park vault, accessible via a metal-barred door with an old-fashioned crank. But halfway up a different wall in the vault was another Box 105 — a product of the bank’s having consolidated several branches’ safe deposit boxes into a single location and having kept their original numbering. Bank employees got them mixed up, and emptied the wrong one.

[ . . . ]

When Wells Fargo employees opened Mr. Poniz’s box, they created an inventory that included 92 watches. When workers at the bank’s storage facility in North Carolina counted the items, they listed only 85. Also missing were dozens of rare coins that were listed in the first inventory, but not the second. According to Mr. Poniz, photographs and family documents also disappeared.

Oddly, the bank returned to him five watches that weren’t his. “They were the wrong color, the wrong size — totally different than what I had,” Mr. Poniz said. “I had no idea where they came from.”

2) “The Grand Schemes of the Petty Grifter” (GQ, 29 minutes, June 2019). The subhead: “That old adage that you can be anything you want? Well, Jeremy Wilson has lived it for years, crisscrossing the country and inventing new identities. A war hero, an MIT grad, a Hollywood journalist, an IRA operative—Jeremy has claimed to be all those things and more. And oh, what a mess he’s made.”


3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: The Great Saudi Beauty Pageant Scandal of 2018. Involves camels.

Tuesday: The Rainbow Grandpa Who Saved His Village. Just a nice, touching story.

Wednesday: The Incredible Cause of Tasmanian Crop Circles. I still have the Raffi song stuck in my head. 

Thursday: What Happens When a Convict Doesn’t Actually Go To Prison. I accidentally sent this out with the email subject “TK,” which has nothing to do with the story. “TK” is a placeholder for “to come,” as in “Hey, Dan, don’t forget to put the subject line here!” But I forgot.


4) “I was a fast-food worker. Let me tell you about burnout.” (Vox, 10 minutes, July 2019).

If you had to make a rat depressed, how do you think you’d go about it?

[. . . ]

[T]o test your new antidepressant, you need an efficient method of making a lot of rats exhibit anhedonia — that is, making them lose interest in things they used to enjoy, like sugar.

How do you think you’d do that?

It turns out you don’t need to traumatize them. The most reliable protocol is “chronic mild stress.” There are many methods of making the lives of experimental animals mildly but chronically miserable — a cage floor that administers random electric shocks; a deep swimming pool with no way to rest or climb out; a stronger “intruder” introduced into the same cage. One neuroscientist actually nicknamed his apparatus the Pit of Despair.

But they’re all variations on the same theme: remove all predictability and control from the animal’s life. Then take notes as they gradually lose interest in being alive.

5) “I’ve Climbed Everest 21 Times. It’s Not the Mountain It Used to Be.” (The New Republic, 4 minutes, June 2018). An interesting perspective from someone who literally climbed Everest twenty-one times.

Have a great weekend!