The Neurologist Who Hacked His Brain—And Almost Lost His Mind

Daniel Engber in WIRED:

THE BRAIN SURGERY lasted 11 and a half hours, beginning on the afternoon of June 21, 2014, and stretching into the Caribbean predawn of the next day. In the afternoon, after the anesthesia had worn off, the neurosurgeon came in, removed his wire-frame glasses, and held them up for his bandaged patient to examine. “What are these called?” he asked.

Phil Kennedy stared at the glasses for a moment. Then his gaze drifted up to the ceiling and over to the television. “Uh … uh … ai … aiee,” he stammered after a while, “… aiee … aiee … aiee.”

“It’s OK, take your time,” said the surgeon, Joel Cervantes, doing his best to appear calm. Again Kennedy attempted to respond. It looked as if he was trying to force his brain to work, like someone with a sore throat who bears down to swallow.

Meanwhile, the surgeon’s mind kept circling back to the same uneasy thought: “I shouldn’t have done this.”

Meet the Man Who’s Been Spoiling ‘The Bachelor’ for Four Years

Jon Caraminico in the New York Times: FRISCO, Tex. — A little more than a month ago, Ben Higgins, the warmly handsome star of the coming season of “The Bachelor,” got down on one knee at the Sandals Royal Plantation resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and proposed marriage.

At least, this is the information that, a day later, the blogger Stephen Carbone received as a tip from one of his many sources. A few days after that, after more reporting, he posted the scoop on his website,, spoiling the event — including the name of the winner — that will be the capstone of the 20th season of “The Bachelor,” which has its season premiere on ABC on Monday and won’t conclude until March.

“The Bachelor” is, ostensibly, a competition show with an unknown outcome, making this, depending on your perspective, the admirable work of a dedicated reporter or a shocking act of bad faith. But for the last four years, Mr. Carbone has been making a habit of spoiling the season for “The Bachelor” and its spinoffs in their entirety before they even begin airing, making him the foremost authority on one of reality TV’s signature franchises — and also a thorn in the side of its producers and network.


Tragedy on deadline

AARON YOST and TROY BRYNELSON in the Roseburg, Ore. News-Review:

Hannah Miles sat on a plastic chair inside cavernous Douglas Hall, wrapped in a white Red Cross blanket, shaking.

A grief counselor spoke with her. Another approached with a cell phone and made a call for her. Ten minutes later, Miles was no longer alone.

Her sister Hailey wrapped her in a close hug. Her father, Gary Miles, a pastor at Christian Life Center in Roseburg, consoled her.

Hannah continued to cry, the shock from the shooting at Umpqua Community College still exerting a tight grip upon her.

She wasn’t alone among the displaced students, staff and children who were transported to the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Reunions — tearful, blessed, happy — were the general order of the day.



Platforms and presentations

What are your favorite non-print presentations of stories? I’m partial to reading something on paper, but most of the things I most want to read are only available to me digitally. There are some slick things out there, but sometimes it feels like the flashy presentation gets in the way of the story.

I really enjoyed the Tampa Bay Times’ comic book treatment of The Incredible Adventures of Chuck, the Carpenter. (Written by Caitlin Johnston, illustrated by Cameron Cottril)

The New York Times is doing great work, at Upshot in particular, in building interactive pieces built on data. It’s not traditional story-telling, but it ends up presenting something tailored to an individual reader. This piece was really fun to play with, comparing how different counties stack up. As was this one, that allowed people to see how their perception of the link between income and college stacked up against reality.

I’m fascinated with Fold. I played with it earlier this year, to build a digital history of the Mark Jensen case, which has played out in the courts over the past 18 years. The format let me pull in things that could never really have fit in our print product (or on our website, without being incredibly clunky).

Anybody have other links to share?

Split Image

Kate Fagan: 

ON THE MORNING of Jan. 17, 2014, Madison Holleran awoke in her dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. She had spent the previous night watching the movie The Parent Trap with her good friend Ingrid Hung. Madison went to class. She took a test. She told a few friends she would meet them later that night at the dining hall. She went to the Penn bookstore and bought gifts for her family.

While she was there, her dad called. “Maddy, have you found a therapist down there yet?” he asked.

“No, but don’t worry, Daddy, I’ll find one,” she told him.

But she had no intention of finding one. In fact, she was, at that exact moment, buying the items she would leave for her family at the top of a parking garage. Godiva chocolates for her dad. Two necklaces for her mom. Gingersnaps for her grandparents, who always had those cookies in their home. Outfits for her nephew, Hayes, who had been born two weeks earlier. The Happiness Project for Ingrid, with a note scribbled inside. And a picture of herself as a young kid, holding a tennis racket. Over winter break she had told her dad that she was borrowing that picture, that she needed it for something.

She didn’t say what.

The fire on the 57 bus in Oakland

Dashka Slater:

It was close to 5 o’clock on the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2013, and Sasha Fleischman was riding the 57 bus home from school. An 18-year-old senior at a small private high school, Sasha wore a T-shirt, a black fleece jacket, a gray newsboy cap and a gauzy white skirt. For much of the long bus ride through Oakland, Calif., Sasha — who identifies as agender, neither male nor female — had been reading a paperback copy of “Anna Karenina,” but eventually the teenager drifted into sleep, skirt draped over the edge of the bus seat.

As Sasha slept, three teenage boys laughed and joked nearby. Then one surreptitiously flicked a lighter. The skirt went up in a ball of flame. Sasha leapt up, screaming, “I’m on fire!” Two other passengers threw Sasha to the ground and extinguished the flames, but Sasha’s legs were left charred and peeling. Taken by ambulance to a San Francisco burn unit, Sasha would spend the next three and a half weeks undergoing multiple operations to treat the second- and third-degree burns that ran from thigh to calf.

Then, later in the story, you get to hear about the boy who flicked the lighter, Richard Thomas:

“Can I be in your program?” Richard asked.

Wilson was taken aback. Students didn’t usually volunteer for her program; they were assigned to it. She wasn’t exactly trying to fill slots either — she already had a caseload of some 800 chronically truant students, and her program was meant for freshmen and sophomores, who are easier to get back on track than juniors and seniors. But when she looked up Richard’s file, she saw that his grades were poor and his attendance spotty.

“I want you to help me like you help them,” Wilson remembered him saying. “Because I’ve been to a lot of schools, and I’ve been in trouble, but I’m really not a bad kid.”

How the Colombian army sent a hidden message to hostages… using a pop song

Jeff Maysh: Colonel Jose Espejo was a man with a problem. As the Colombian army’s communications expert watched the grainy video again, he saw kidnapped soldiers chained up inside barbed-wire pens in a hostage camp deep in the jungle, guarded by armed FARC guerillas. Some had been hostages for more than 10 years, and many suffered from a grim, flesh-eating disease caused by insect bites.

It was 2010, and the straight-talking Espejo was close to retirement after 22 years of military service. But he couldn’t stand the thought of quitting with men left behind enemy lines. He needed an idea, and when he needed an idea, he always went to one man.

Juan Carlos Ortiz was dunking his kids in the pool at his home in Coconut Grove, Miami, when he got the call from Colonel Espejo. With his easy charm and seemingly natural talent for creating clever commercials, the 42-year-old advertising executive had earned himself a Don Draper-like reputation in Colombia.

The women living in Chernobyl’s toxic wasteland

Holly Morris: Outside Hanna Zavorotnya’s cottage in Chernobyl’s dead zone, a hulking, severed sow’s head bleeds into the snow, its gargantuan snout pointing to the sky in strange, smug defeat.

The frigid December air feels charged with excitement as Hanna, (above) 78, zips between the outlying sheds wielding the seven-inch silver blade that she used to bring the pig to its end.

‘Today I command the parade,’ she says, grinning as she passes a vat of steaming entrails to her sister-in-law at the smokehouse, then moves off again. In one hand she holds a fresh, fist-sized hunk of raw pig fat – there is no greater delicacy in Ukraine – and she pauses now and then to dole out thin slices to her neighbours.



Ben’s tweet last week about his latest story about the Dozier School for Boys was something I needed to hear.

“This story is based on six years of reporting, the review of thousands of documents and interviews with more than 100 people.”

It seems like all the talk about journalism lately has been the kind that crops up every few years, when someone makes something up, or makes someone up, nobody catches it, and it gets into print. Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and Michael Finkel come to mind.

Now, there’s Rolling Stone, and the UVA rape story source problems. And that Stuyvesant High School kid who didn’t really make $72 million trading stocks.

So instead of paying attention to that, go read Ben’s story. It’s real, folks, and it hits hard. Share it. Let’s shift the dialogue.

They started with shovels, then trowels. The first hole they’d dug was empty, nothing but Jackson County clay. But, now, on the third day of digging, a graduate student got Kimmerle’s attention. Her eyes were wide.

“Want to come take a look?”

Kimmerle descended into the open grave.

The months to come would bring protests and press conferences, more threats and a massive search for a second cemetery. Kimmerle would come close to breaking. She’d find more bodies than anybody expected. She’d find an empty casket. She’d find a hundred more questions.

Now, though, in early September 2013, at the bottom of the grave, she brushed away the earth.

There in the dirt was a perfect set of baby teeth.