Weekend Reading: It’s Safe to Come Out

In this weekly roundup, we scour the Web for our favorite long-form articles, collecting them here and on Longreads and Twitter. This installment focuses on language, deadly mice, and the new wave of shamanism.


Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

First of all, congratulations to humanity. We’re still here. We’re still standing, and all we had to do to survive the Mayan apocalypse was endure the onslaught of our own paranoia and stupidity. Myself included. Maybe it’s because our lives are so unbearably repetitious sometimes that we’re willing to believe in, even yearn for, the possibility of some global cataclysm destroying the Internet and freeing us from our desks. I know I looked at more than a few leather jackets online and wondered how I might look with a sawed-off shotgun and a pair of World War II flight goggles. It’s all right though. We all had a moment but we’re fine now.

If you were sincerely hoping for the world to end, don’t be sad. There’s so much to get excited about! Bored with those same old boring holidays, with their trees and turkeys? Don’t despair. Shamanism is making a comeback! Spice up those Hanukah songs with a blood ritual and put a smile on that face. Had enough of hashtags, LOLs, and OMGs? Well, don’t worry, because John Quijada has invented a whole new language, one that will allow us to express emotions heretofore thought impossible.

I guess the point is, if you’re so bored with the world, just go paintballing. It helps. Anyway, here’s your weekly Weekend Reading! Read and enjoy the continued existence of everything awesome.

Former California DMV employee John Quijada is on a quest to create the ideal language, one that will allow us to communicate like never before.  Joshua Foer, The New Yorker.

“‘I wanted to use Ithkuil to show how you would discuss philosophy and emotional states transparently,’ Quijada said. To attempt to translate a thought into Ithkuil requires investigating a spectrum of subtle variations in meaning that are not recorded in any natural language. You cannot express a thought without first considering all the neighboring thoughts that it is not. Though words in Ithkuil may sound like a hacking cough, they have an inherent and unavoidable depth. ‘It’s the ideal language for political and philosophical debate—any forum where people hide their intent or obfuscate behind language,’ Quijada continued. ‘Ithkuil makes you say what you mean and mean what you say.'”

Over the summer, several people in Yosemite contracted hantavirus and died. The incident was contained, but the threat is far from over. Bruce Barcott, Outside.

“If things go south, a victim may be too sick to reach the hospital alone. If the disease reaches that point—and it’s unclear what percentage of those infected with hantavirus actually do—it’s bad. Breathing begins to fail. Some victims describe the feeling of a band tightening around their chest or of being smothered with a pillow. ‘They put me on oxygen because it was becoming hard to breathe,’ says Lindsey. ‘I remember the doctor telling me, ‘Listen, your oxygen saturation is at 60 percent and dropping fast. Once it hits 40 percent, major organs are going to fail and you’re going to die. We think we need to put you into a medically induced coma.” They put Lindsey under for nine days. Doctors hooked him up to a high-frequency oscillating ventilator because his lungs were filling with fluid. At one point his fever ran so high that nurses put his unconscious body in an ice bath.”

Slavery is alive and well across the world and growing stronger. Is there any way to stop the epidemic of human commodification? John Gould, The Atlantic.

“The leading demographic accounts of contemporary slavery project a global slave population of between 20 million and 30 million people. The highest ratios of slaves worldwide are from South and Southeast Asia, along with China, Russia, and the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. There is a significant slave presence across North Africa and the Middle East, including Lebanon. There is also a major slave trade in Africa. Descent-based slavery persists in Mauritania, where children of slaves are passed on to their slave-holders’ children. And the North Korean gulag system, which holds 200,000 people, is essentially a constellation of slave-labor camps. Most of the world’s slaves are in sedentary forms of servitude, such as hereditary collateral-debt bondage, but about 20 percent have been unwittingly trafficked by predators through deception and coercion. Human trafficking is often highly mobile and dynamic, leveraging modern communications and logistics in the same basic ways contemporary business does generally. After the earthquake of 2010 devastated Haiti, Hispaniola was quickly overrun with opportunistic traffickers targeting children to sell into forced domestic work or brothels.”

Learn the story of a 13-year-old who found himself a soldier on the most decorated battleship of the Second World War, the South Dakota. Gilbert King, Smithsonian Magazine.

“At 5-foot-2 and just 125 pounds, Graham dressed in an older brother’s clothes and fedora and practiced ‘talking deep.’ What worried him most was not that an enlistment officer would spot the forged signature. It was the dentist who would peer into the mouths of potential recruits. ‘I knew he’d know how young I was by my teeth,’ Graham recalled. He lined up behind a couple of guys he knew who were already 14 or 15, and ‘when the dentist kept saying I was 12, I said I was 17.’ At last, Graham played his ace, telling the dentist that he knew for a fact that the boys in front of him weren’t 17 yet, and the dentist had let them through. ‘Finally,’ Graham recalled, ‘he said he didn’t have time to mess with me and he let me go.’ Graham maintained that the Navy knew he and the others on line that day were underage, ‘but we were losing the war then, so they took six of us.’”

Shamanism is religion with no defined doctrine or organization, yet in small pockets across the world, the old ways are making a major comeback. David Stern, National Geographic.

“Shamanism is something you’re born with, Nergui said, slugging down a large shot of vodka. You can’t just decide to become a shaman—you must be chosen by the spirits. The shamanic calling is usually passed down from one generation to the next. ‘My father is a shaman,’ Nergui said, adding that he was 25 when he became aware that he too had an aptitude for communicating with the spirit world. ‘I’ve been doing this 25 years, and I have 23 spirits I can call on.’ But, he added, a shamanic gift is just the beginning. All shamans must undergo an intense apprenticeship, learning the timeworn practices of their vocation. These rituals facilitate the shaman’s interaction with the spirit world—like the trance I had just witnessed—as well as dictate the methods used in paying respect to the spirits. Shamans invest their own special ritualistic equipment with a holy spirit; it becomes ‘alive.’ Nergui’s includes a reindeer-hide drum, a mouth harp, the colored strips of cloth, and his costume.”

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