Shock therapy helps depression but scientists don’t know why

Shock therapy helps depression but scientists don’t know why

From Quanta: “Electroconvulsive therapy has a public relations problem. The treatment, which sends electric currents through the brain to induce a brief seizure, has barbaric, inhumane connotations — for example, it was portrayed as a sadistic punishment in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But for patients with depression that does not improve with medications, electroconvulsive therapy can be highly effective. Studies have found that some 50% to 70% of patients with major depressive disorder see their symptoms improve after a course of ECT. In comparison, medications aimed at altering brain chemistry help only 10% to 40% of depression patients. Still, even after many decades of use, scientists don’t know how ECT alters the brain’s underlying biology.”

How birdwatching’s biggest record threw its online community into chaos

From The Guardian: “In late 2023, 70-year-old birder Peter Kaestner was within striking distance of a goal that had never been accomplished: seeing more than 10,000 different species of birds in the wild. Such a record had previously been unthinkable, but with new technology facilitating rare bird sightings, improved DNA testing identifying a growing number of bird species, and public listing platforms making it easier to keep track of and share findings, more super-birders are inching towards the five digits. Just as Kaestner approached the finish line for his record 10,000 birds, though, a previously unknown competitor by the name Jason Mann flew in out of nowhere to snatch the record out from under him. The mystery birder seemed to have uploaded a backlog of thousands of species he had seen over several decades, listing more than 9,000 birds.”

This ancient Japanese tradition of female freediving is dying out

From Nautilus: “On the last day of fishing season, Ayami Nakata starts her morning by lighting a small fire in her hut beside the harbor. The temperature outside hovers around freezing and she changes into a wetsuit. For an hour and a half, Nakata takes minute-long plunges into the frigid water, free-diving 20 feet down to the rocky seabed and kelpy shore, and picking up any abalone, sea cucumbers, and turban shells. Nakata, 44 years old and a mother of five, is an ama diver: a freediving fisherwoman harvesting shellfish and seaweed according to an ancient Japanese technique. She’s been diving for seven years, but her profession is slowly dying: Climate change has depleted the shellfish along Japan’s coasts, and younger generations have lost interest in the craft, abandoning coastal villages to pursue careers in big cities. Women like Nakata are left to question whether they’ll be the last to embody this way of life.”

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When the Eiffel Tower was first built many Parisians hated it

From JSTOR Daily: “When construction of the now-iconic Eiffel Tower began in 1887, many Parisians were less than enamored by the project-in-progress. In fact, some were outright hostile towards it. But perhaps the Eiffel Tower’s greatest rejection came from the people who held the most authority on what worked aesthetically for the city and what didn’t: Parisian artists and writers. To them, the Eiffel Tower, spindly and bare like a skeleton, posed an unforgivable threat to the city’s sacred reputation as a lush, beatific urban ideal for nurturing creative minds. Unlike the Lost Generation of the 1920s, their spiritual descendants, the late-nineteenth-century intellectuals didn’t feel “inspired” by the looming presence over their city. The unusual structure hadn’t yet achieved its modern status, which William Thompson describes as “the acknowledged foremost universal symbol of Paris and France.”

Driving with Mr. Gil: A retiree teaches Afghan women the rules of the road

From The New York Times: “Bibifatima Akhundzada wove a white Chevy Spark through downtown Modesto, Calif., on a recent morning, practicing turns, braking and navigating intersections. “Go, go, go,” said her driving instructor, as she slowed down through an open intersection. “Don’t stop. Don’t stop.” Her teacher was Gil Howard, an 82-year-old retired professor who happened upon a second career as a driving instructor. And no ordinary instructor. In Modesto, he is the go-to teacher for women from Afghanistan, where driving is off limits for virtually all of them. In recent years, Mr. Howard has taught some 400 women in the 5,000-strong Afghan community in this part of California’s Central Valley. According to local lore, thanks to “Mr. Gil,” as he is known in Modesto, more Afghan women likely drive in and around the city of about 220,000 than in all Afghanistan.”

This kind of elevator has no doors and never stops moving

From Why Is This Interesting: "A cyclic elevator runs on a continuous loop, with two columns of small, doorless, closet-sized chambers in constant motion, one going up and one going down. A rider steps into a moving chamber to ride the elevator, and steps carefully off when the desired floor is reached. It doesn’t require much more dexterity than riding an escalator, but the consequences of failure are gruesome to imagine. Cyclic elevators are commonly called “paternosters," a name that reflects their resemblance to a string of rosary beads. When praying a rosary, one recites the “Our Father” prayer, or “Paternoster” in Latin. The development of the paternoster elevator roughly coincided with the conventional elevator in the second half of the 19th century. Paternosters never became as ubiquitous as conventional elevators, and as the public became more familiar with conventional elevators, many paternosters succumbed to disrepair, disuse, or were converted into normal elevators."

He built a fantasy castle in his backyard without plans because he felt like it

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as "serendipity engines," such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg's Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis's Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton's The Browser, Clive Thompson's Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy's Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova's The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me.