Best Of 2021: Drawing Smart Newts

Welcome to 2022! We hope it's treating you well so far. Regular Browsing will return tomorrow; for today, here's the last installment of our favourite pieces from the year gone by.

Torching For Newts

Anita Roy | Dark Mountain Project | 10th February 2021

All about newts, and their near-magical ability to regenerate severed body parts. The biggest comon newt, the Great Crested Newt, is the size of an adult human hand, with a "lurid orange" underside and striped black-and-orange toes "looking like mittens". One long-suffering newt in a Japanese laboratory had the same eye cut out 18 times in 16 years, and regrew a new eye each time (2,505 words)

I Drew A Door And Disappeared Through It

Irina Kravtsova | Meduza | 1st April 2021

Read and weep. Conversations with homeless people in St Petersburg, Russia, about how they became homeless and how they live now. "Since Sasha was kicked out of his apartment, he’s gone back to his old home a few times. He’s seen the lights on through the window. He’s run into his mother a few times but he’s never approached her, and she’s never recognized him" (4,100 words)

Smart Canes

Derek Kriemer | World Of Derek | 16th April 2021

Could sensors and navigational technologies developed for autonomous vehicles also be usefully incorporated into blind people's canes, enabling them to navigate new terrain and complex traffic? Probably, yes. But the most urgent priority, and surely by now an easily soluble challenge, is to have a cane smart enough to detect and give warning of impending obstacles above knee height (2,000 words)

The Lion And The Polygamist

Vince Beiser | Wired | 2nd February 2021

Fundamentalist Mormon with failed biodiesel plant teams up with Armenian-born truck-stop tycoon to steal $500 million from the US government in bogus tax credits for non-existent fuel. Well-paced yarn with all the ingredients of a classic heist, including private planes, bags of money, guns, bodyguards, and a gold Ferrari. “It was tax fraud on an almost unimaginable scale” (7,500 words)

I Am A Heroin User

Mark MacNamara | Nautilus | 17th February 2021

Interview with Carl Hart, professor of neuroscience at Columbia University, who presents himself as a "model drug user", and says the dangers of heroin, and of addiction in general, are overstated. “I am now entering my fifth year as a regular heroin user. I do not have a drug-use problem. I pay my taxes, serve as a volunteer in my community on a regular basis. I am better for my drug use” (2,720 words)

On Being An Outsider

Charles Simic | Lit Hub | 20th April 2021

Extract from a book of essays and photographs about exclusion. This piece is by the poet Charles Simic, who elegantly recounts his Serbian family's displacement across Europe in WW2 and eventual emigration to America. For all the trauma this involved, he eventually decided to embrace this identity. "Being nobody struck me personally as being far more interesting than being somebody" (4,780 words)

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