Mental Yoga Sunday / 5 Favorite Long Form Reads This Week / Issue No. 19

Poirot,” I said. “I have been thinking.”
”An admirable exercise my friend. Continue it.
— Agatha Christie, Peril at End House
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Mental Yoga Sunday posts are meant to be like a big mute button you aim at the rest of the world. Just you, your chair, a mug, a spot next to a dust-filled sunny spot or a rainy window. Take in a long form read...sip by sip.

"Feeling depressed about the conflation of fiction and fact in the first few months of 2017, I steered a car into the hills of Calabasas to meet with one person whom many rely on to set things straight. This is an area near Los Angeles best known for its production of Kardashians, but there were no McMansions on the street where I was headed, only old, gnarled trees and a few modest houses. I spotted the one I was looking for—a ramshackle bungalow—because the car in the driveway gave it away. Its license plate read SNOPES.

David Mikkelson, the publisher of the fact-checking site, answered the door himself. He was wearing khakis and a polo shirt, his hair at an awkward length, somewhere between late-­career Robert Redford and early-­career Steve Carell. He had been working alone at the kitchen table, with just a laptop, a mouse, and the internet. The house, which he was getting ready to sell, was sparsely furnished, the most prominent feature being built-in bookcases filled with ancient hardcovers—“there’s a whole shelf devoted to the Titanic and other maritime disasters,” Mikkelson told me—and board games, his primary hobby.

Since about 2010, this house has passed for a headquarters, as Snopes has no formal offices, just 16 people sitting at their laptops in different rooms across the country, trying to swim against the tide of spin, memes, and outright lies in the American public sphere. Just that morning Mikkelson and his staff had been digging into a new presidential tweet of dubious facticity: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” Trump had the correct total, but the overwhelming number of those detainees had been released during the George W. Bush administration. “There’s a whole lot of missing context to just that 122 number,” Mikkelson said." - Read Full Story


On Kindness, My Mother is Sick by Cord Jefferson

"For a few weeks one summer, when I was about eight or nine, my family and I road-tripped from our home in Tucson to the Grand Canyon and then up to Yosemite National Park. We hiked and played and slept for days amid some of the world’s most majestic natural beauty, and yet I can tell you almost nothing about what Yosemite or the Grand Canyon are like from the inside. Instead, my most powerful memory from that trip is an afternoon spent at the beach during a brief stop in Los Angeles.

On that day, the heat was the humid kind that mingles with L.A.’s smog to make everything look thick and dull, as if you were watching the world through wax paper. While my parents read paperback novels and played backgammon, I divided my time between juggling a soccer ball on the beach and swimming in the ocean to cool off. I sprinted back and forth between the two activities for hours, until the setting sun instigated a mass dispersal, when all the beachgoers turning their heads to flick sand from their towels looked like parts of some grand choreographed routine.

As my family and others packed up our bags, I noticed a group of people several plots away from us who appeared to be in no hurry to beat the traffic. It was three young men and two young women, sun-kissed and attractive in a way that they would have looked at home on a cheap picture postcard people send from Santa Monica to Cincinnati. At first I only noticed the group’s peals of laughter, hysterical and unabashed, and I considered how wonderful it must be to be old enough to go to the beach without your parents. And then I saw who they were laughing at." - Read Full Story

"On a brisk day last November, law enforcement professionals and forensic scientists crowded into a dining room at the Union League in downtown Philadelphia to eat lunch and stare at photos of dead bodies. The contrast was startling: fine steaks served on white china, sumptuous wallpaper dimly lit by elegant candelabra, and blood and limbs projected onto a screen. Tucked into the back of the room, I struggled to keep down my coffee. My tablemates, most of them graying and austere, clad in smart, dark suits, seemed unbothered.

“Can you make the picture a little bigger?” shouted one.

“It’s hard to see the hands,” added another.

The hands in question belonged to David Hayes, a retiree from a small town in Nebraska. Two years earlier, in the fall of 2010, an intruder had broken into the back door of a condo owned by David and his wife, Joan.* David was savagely shot and bludgeoned to death; Joan was stabbed repeatedly in the chest and face. A pocketknife emblazoned with the logo of the Nebraska State Police was found buried in Joan’s sternum.

The details mystified police. Nothing appeared stolen. Joan was posed in a sexual way—her nightgown jimmied up around her neck, her legs splayed apart. Rings of table salt were spread in careful circles around the bodies. The pages of a rare edition of the Bible were scattered over David’s corpse, and there were multiple, careful stab wounds around his eyes.

After two years of investigation, the case was ice-cold. So in late 2012, David Schumann and Pete Webber, the Nebraska cops running the case, packed information on the Hayes murders into manila envelopes and sent them to the headquarters of the Vidocq (pronounced vee-dock) Society, a crime-solving organization founded in 1990 by a group of forensics specialists. Well-known in law enforcement circles, the Vidocq Society is a last resort—it’s where cops turn when every lead has come to naught. For Schumann and Webber, it was their best and perhaps last hope for a break. If the Vidocq Society couldn’t crack the case, nobody could." - Read Full Story


Going Underground: Inside the World of the Mole-Catchers (The Guardian)

"...But after he retired five years ago, Page expanded his back lawn and the moles became more persistent. As more and more molehills sprung up, Page came to feel as if their labours were engineered to produce in him the maximum anguish. He purchased traps at the garden centre, but they would often remain unsprung or – worse – sprung and empty.

He decided to escalate his counter-assault. During a stopover in Amsterdam, he bought a pungent bag of flower bulbs advertised as a natural mole deterrent. (The moles didn’t mind.) Next, he installed a solar-powered mole repeller, a torpedo-shaped device that emits vibrations that are supposed to keep the moles away. (The moles carried on.) He tried flooding them out with a water hose. (Moles are strong swimmers.) Finally, he tried suffocating them with the exhaust of his lawnmower. (Moles can survive in low‑oxygen environments.)

Page knew it wasn’t healthy to go on like this. Last September, he found the phone number of a woman named Louise Chapman, also known as the Lady Mole Catcher of Norwich..." - Read Full Story


Gone Girl (The Caravan)

"On the evening of 13 January, Birna Brjansdottir—a 20-year-old woman who worked as a salesperson at a department store—went out with a friend to an indie bar in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. Brjansdottir’s friend headed home at 2 am, but Brjansdottir wanted to stay out longer. Shortly after 5 am, she left the bar on her own.

After that, Brjansdottir was filmed by at least five CCTV cameras in the downtown area. In footage that would be viewed thousands of times in the coming weeks, she walks unsteadily down a well-lit street, bumps into a man, drops a few coins and almost falls over as she collects them. In the background, a red Kia drives by. At 5.25 am, the footage shows Brjansdottir turning left at a building of the Church of Iceland. This is the last image captured of her, alive.

The next day, Brjansdottir did not show up to work. Her phone was switched off. That evening, her family reported her missing." - Read Full Story