The Weekender, June 30, 2017

1)  “Writer Evan Ratliff Tried to Vanish: Here’s What Happened ” (Wired, 38 minutes, November 2009). It’s a bit out of date — technology has changed a ton in seven and a half years — but wow, what a great experiment.

Officially it will be another 24 hours before the manhunt begins. That’s when Wired‘s announcement of my disappearance will be posted online. It coincides with the arrival on newsstands of the September issue of the magazine, which contains a page of mugshot-like photos of me, eyes slightly vacant. The premise is simple: I will try to vanish for a month and start over under a new identity. Wired readers, or whoever else happens upon the chase, will try to find me.

The idea for the contest started with a series of questions, foremost among them: How hard is it to vanish in the digital age? Long fascinated by stories of faked deaths, sudden disappearances, and cat-and-mouse games between investigators and fugitives, I signed on to write a story for Wired about people who’ve tried to end one life and start another. People fret about privacy, but what are the consequences of giving it all up, I wondered. What can investigators glean from all the digital fingerprints we leave behind? You can be anybody you want online, sure, but can you reinvent yourself in real life?

It’s one thing to report on the phenomenon of people disappearing. But to really understand it, I figured that I had to try it myself. So I decided to vanish. I would leave behind my loved ones, my home, and my name. I wasn’t going off the grid, dropping out to live in a cabin. Rather, I would actually try to drop my life and pick up another.

Wired offered a $5,000 bounty — $3,000 of which would come out of my own pocket — to anyone who could locate me between August 15 and September 15, say the password “fluke,” and take my picture.

2) Support Now I Know: As many of you already know, researching, writing, and (save for the daily typo or two) editing Now I Know is a pretty big endeavor on my part. Keeping the project financially sustainable is an on-going battle, and to that end, I’ve tried many different avenues.

One of them — a major one at that — is my on-going Patreon campaign. It’s an old-style patronage campaign, where readers such as yourself support Now I Know through a monthly pledge. A $5 a month pledge comes out to about 25 cents per article I send; a $1 a month pledge is roughly a nickel. Please consider supporting Now I Know through Patreon by clicking here. It’s entirely optional and you’re under no obligation to do so, so don’t feel bad if you can’t or don’t want to. But if you do, please know it all adds up, and I greatly appreciate your support. Thanks!

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

And a bonus item: Does America celebrate its Independence Day two days too late (or maybe a month too early)?

4) “The $100 billion per year back pain industry is mostly a hoax” (Quartz, 10 minutes, June 2017). I don’t know nearly enough about that industry to endorse the cited research’s conclusions, but I enjoy the skepticism and investigation.


5) “The Libertarian Utopia That’s Just a Bunch of White Guys on a Tiny Island” (GQ, 12 minutes, December 2016). The title made me laugh a bit. The lead-in proves that the absurd title is on-tone.

The women of Liberland may be free, but they most certainly will not be equal. “Equality rights—don’t be alarmed,” Kacper Zajac, Liberland’s Minister of Justice and the author of its constitution, says by way of introduction of this contentious topic. “It’s equality before the law and before the law only.” A PowerPoint presentation drives this home with the word “ONLY!” in all caps. “No other equality is acceptable, obviously.”

It’s a vague introduction to a theme that hangs heavy in the air, a reminder that women are not men, blacks are not whites, refugees aren’t citizens, and the poor aren’t rich. Zajac just wants to cut the crap. Political correctness has no place in Liberland, everyone—all five dozen white men—can agree.

We are in Novi Sad, Serbia, just a short trip from Liberland, the unrecognized, unpopulated Libertarian microstate and the subject of this three-day conference. We won’t actually get to Liberland, which was the original plan, and we won’t take a boat along the Danube and see it in the distance, which was the backup plan. We will eat fried fish near a patch of land that the President of Liberland will assure us looks a lot like Liberland, and those of us who fly home via Air Liberland will ooh and aah at Liberland from above. But Liberland is going through a couple of legal issues, and its neighbors are pretty pissed, so we’re not actually going to set foot in the freest country in the world, which aside from not actually being a country is also beginning to seem not all that free.

6) “The Death of the Electric Guitar (and Why You Should Care” (Washington Post, 10 minutes, June 2017). Where have all the guitar heroes gone?

Have a great weekend!