The Weekender, May 3, 2019

1) “My Childhood in a Cult” (The New Yorker, 17 minutes, April 2019).

“Where are you from?” For most people, this is a casual social question. For me, it’s an exceptionally loaded one, and demands either a lie or my glossing over facts, because the real answer goes something like this: “I grew up on compounds in Kansas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard, often travelling in five-vehicle caravans across the country from one location to the next. My reality included LSD, government cheese, and a repurposed school bus with the words ‘Venus or Bust’ painted on both sides.” And that, while completely factual, is hard to believe, and sounds like a cry for attention. So I usually just say, “Upstate New York.”

2) “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence” (New York Mag/The Cut, 38 minutes, April 2019). The subhead: “What happened to the group of bright college students who fell under the sway of a classmate’s father?” It’s the story of a dorm room cult, the mastermind behind it, and the young adults he snookered. (I guess these first two selections make a bit of a theme.)


3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

MondayWhy You Shouldn’t Take Advice From a Board Game. The downside of a financial hour which, in theory is in your favor.

Tuesday: The Dancing Plague. It’s not the hokey pokey.

Wednesday: On the Move. Why May 1st was chaos in New York City, at least until World War II came around.

ThursdayThe Cars that Karaoke. The quiet cars that become artificially loud.

4) From the Now I Know YouTube channel: “Lewis & Clark’s Poop Trail.” (3 minutes, 10 seconds, and a lot of poop emojis.) How do we know the exact path traveled by Lewis & Clark? Turns out, they took weird dumps.


5) “Some Amazon Sellers Are Paying $10,000 A Month To Trick Their Way To The Top” (Buzzfeed News, 13 minutes, April 2019). The pull-quote below doesn’t do the story justice, but it was difficult to find an excerpt.

For the millions of third-party sellers on Amazon’s marketplace, maintaining a successful business is a constant battle to rank high in search results, collect positive product reviews, and keep up with Amazon when it releases its own branded versions of sellers’ most successful products. This intense competition has led to the emergence of a secretive, lucrative black market where agents peddle “black hat” services, sometimes obtained by bribing Amazon employees, that purportedly give marketplace sellers an advantage over their rivals, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The most prominent black hat companies for US Amazon sellers offer ways to manipulate Amazon’s ranking system to promote products, protect accounts from disciplinary actions, and crush competitors. Sometimes, these black hat companies bribe corporate Amazon employees to leak information from the company’s wiki pages and business reports, which they then resell to marketplace sellers for steep prices. One black hat company charges as much as $10,000 a month to help Amazon sellers appear at the top of product search results. Other tactics to promote sellers’ products include removing negative reviews from product pages and exploiting technical loopholes on Amazon’s site to lift products’ overall sales rankings. These services make it harder for Amazon sellers who abide by the company’s terms of service to succeed in the marketplace, and sellers who rely on these tactics mislead customers and undermine trust in Amazon’s products.

6) “The Raisin Situation” (New York Times, 15 minutes, April 2019). The subhead reads “one man wanted to change the raisin industry for the better. He got more than he bargained for,” but the phrase “raisin mafia” clinched it for me.

Have a great weekend!