The Weekender, May 4, 2018
1) “The Great High School Impostor” (GQ, 28 minutes, April 2018). This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time.
The housing unit [Ukrainian exchange student Artur Samarin] lived in, the Towne House apartments, was outsize in scale, 20 stories in a city where many structures are two, and almost certainly the most Ukrainian-looking building in Pennsylvania—a Soviet-seeming high-rise, garlic-colored and a little crunchy at the edges. Artur lived with other Work Travel students, but through some effortful socializing, he started spending time with a childless adult couple who took a shine to him. They asked him to dinner at their place now and again, and developed a closeness. Artur gradually opened up and expressed his disillusionment with the realities of the exchange program—that much as he’d hoped it might serve as a springboard to college, it really was just a temporary tease of an American life. He couldn’t go back home, but the blunt inevitability was setting in.
Which was around when an idea began to take shape between Artur Samarin and his new friends Stephayne McClure-Potts and Michael Potts. Later, Artur would relay the sequence of events as follows, although Stephayne and Michael dispute their alleged motivations—and only the three who sat at the table during those dinners in the summer of 2012 know the honest origins of the plot. And so: In order to help him out with his ultimate dream, Stephayne and Michael said they’d look into adopting Artur. They took his passport, filled out forms. They brought Artur along to a meeting with an attorney across the river. If they went through with it, they explained to him, he’d be able to stay in the U.S. To Artur, the gesture seemed unconscionably kind.
One thing they would ask of him in return, he says they said, was that Artur agree to change his age. He was 19 at the time and thus too old, they explained, to be adopted. If they were to go through with this, he would have to change his birth date. And if he was going to change his birth date anyway, how would he feel about claiming to be a full five years younger than he was? Further, if they were to do him this solid, they would need for him to enroll in the local high school, too. With a dependent enrolled in the public-school system, they would receive a small payout from the Social Security Administration and attendant tax benefits, which would amount to fair recompense, he says they said, for the legal cover they were granting him.
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3) The Now I Know Week in Review:
Monday: The Accident and the Musical Savant. He plays piano better than you do. And he didn’t even take any lessons.
Tuesday: The Color Changing Building (and Democracy Experiment). I’ve been playing with the app all week.
Wednesday: Why the Runners’ Up Prizes Aren’t in Jeopardy. I forgot that a few years ago, Jeopardy doubled the dollar amounts per question. I’ve updated the article to reflect the current numbers. But: me getting trivia about Jeopardy wrong is why I’ve never been on Jeopardy.
Thursday: Why Dippin’ Dots Never Became the Ice Cream of the Future. A dream unfulfilled.
4) “Palantir Knows Everything About You” (Bloomberg, 16 minutes, April 2018). Despite the fact that this article is only a few weeks old, the efforts of Palantir aren’t new and aren’t clandestine, either. (The company is named for the always-looking seeing stones from Lord of the Rings.) Still, people seem to care about online privacy etc. in a cycle, and we’re near the top of that cycle right now.
5) “The Tragic History of RC Cola” (Mental Floss, 15 minutes, April 2018).
At one point, it did. Believe it or not, Royal Crown Cola used to be one of the most innovative companies in the beverage industry. It came out with the first canned soda, the first caffeine-free soda, and the first 16-ounce soda. It was the first to take diet cola mainstream, and the first to stage nationwide taste tests.
Given its long and pioneering history, RC deserved to be more than the middling soda brand it is today. In an industry that lives and dies by marketing, RC didn’t do nearly enough. But its failure wasn’t just due to lack of initiative. It was also a case of supremely bad luck, bad judgment, and a fateful ingredient known as cyclamate.
6) “The Shallowness of Google Translate” (The Atlantic, 24 minutes, January 2018). The subhead: “The program uses state-of-the-art AI techniques, but simple tests show that it’s a long way from real understanding.”
Have a great weekend!