PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Even NASA Seems Surprised by Its New Space Telescope (Maria)

The author writes, “To the world, the new [James Webb] telescope that was recently launched to space is one of the most ambitious scientific endeavors in history. It is the next Hubble, designed to observe nearly everything from here to the most distant edges of the cosmos, to the very first galaxies.”

The January Sixers Have Their Own Unit at the DC Jail. Here’s What Life Is Like Inside. (Reader Steve)

From Washingtonian: “The DC Jail is even more segregated than the city it serves. Just 3 percent of the inmates, on average, are white; 87 percent are Black. What happens inside when you lock up dozens of overwhelmingly white men arrested as part of a radical-right insurrection? The jail’s overseers decided they didn’t want to find out. The Sixers — as they’re known to their faithful — were confined to a medium-security annex, away from other prisoners. The brass call the block C2B, or Charlie Two Bravo. Its 40 or so residents call it the Patriots’ Pod. ‘We work as a team in here,’ says Brandon Fellows, a 27-year-old Sixer from central New York. ‘We pray together, we sing together.’”

FBI Arrests Man Accused of Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts (Russ)

The author writes, “They were perplexing thefts, lacking a clear motive or payoff, and they happened in the genteel, not particularly lucrative world of publishing: Someone was stealing unpublished book manuscripts. The thefts and attempted thefts occurred primarily over email, by a fraudster impersonating publishing professionals and targeting authors, editors, agents and literary scouts who might have drafts of novels and other books. The mystery may be solved. On Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old publishing professional, saying that he ‘impersonated, defrauded, and attempted to defraud, hundreds of individuals’ over five or more years, obtaining hundreds of unpublished manuscripts in the process.”

Spies, Lies, and the Oligarch: Inside London’s Booming Secrets Industry (Doug)

From the Financial Times: “In 2009, a fugitive Kazakh oligarch arranged a meeting in London with the head of an international private intelligence agency. Mukhtar Ablyazov, a slim man in his mid-forties with receding hair, a delicate mouth and a flinty gaze, had fled to the UK earlier that year as the Kazakh government prepared to nationalise his bank. So much money had gone missing from that institution that Ablyazov’s enemies would call him the Bernie Madoff of the steppe.”

Near-Empty Flights Crisscross Europe to Secure Landing Slots (Dana)

The author writes, “Europe’s sky is filling up with near-empty polluting planes that serve little other purpose than safeguarding airlines’ valuable time slots at some of the world’s most important airports. The highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 has put many off flying, and because of it, getting people and goods from point A to point B has become an afterthought for thousands of flights. It has created strange bedfellows, with environmentalists and major airlines united to cut down on empty or near-empty flights by pressuring the European Union — a pledged global leader in combating climate change — to tweak the rules on airport slots.”

Mathematicians Outwit Hidden Number Conspiracy (Mili)

From Quanta Magazine: “A new proof has debunked a conspiracy that mathematicians feared might haunt the number line. In doing so, it has given them another set of tools for understanding arithmetic’s fundamental building blocks, the prime numbers. In a paper posted last March, Harald Helfgott of the University of Göttingen in Germany and Maksym Radziwiłł of the California Institute of Technology presented an improved solution to a particular formulation of the Chowla conjecture, a question about the relationships between integers. The conjecture predicts that whether one integer has an even or odd number of prime factors does not influence whether the next or previous integer also has an even or odd number of prime factors. That is, nearby numbers do not collude about some of their most basic arithmetic properties. That seemingly straightforward inquiry is intertwined with some of math’s deepest unsolved questions about the primes themselves.”

A Reality Star Who Says She Made $200K From Selling Her Farts in Mason Jars Is Pivoting to Selling Them as NFTs (DonkeyHotey)

The author writes, “Stephanie Matto, 31, made headlines around the world when she announced that she’d have to retire from selling her farts in jars after she says she was hospitalized while trying to keep up with the skyrocketing demand. The former star of TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé said she made around $200,000 from selling her bottled farts to her fans, but doctors advised her that her excessive wind-breaking was taking a toll on her body. Instead of abandoning the business venture entirely, Matto told Insider that she decided to pivot to selling her farts as non-fungible tokens.”

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