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.

The James Webb Space Telescope Is in Position — And Now We Wait (Maria)

The author writes, “The James Webb Space Telescope traveled nearly 1.6 million km (1 million miles) to reach a destination that, in some ways, is nowhere at all. On January 24, just shy of one month after its Christmas Day launch, the $10 billion observatory arrived at a spot in space known as L2 — where the gravity of the sun and the Earth effectively cancel each other out, allowing the spacecraft to circle an invisible point as if it were orbiting a solid body like a planet. There the telescope will station-keep for up to the next 20 years, peering deeper into space than any observatory ever has before.”

I Am Embarrassed for the Supreme Court (DonkeyHotey)

The author writes, “Having asked for institutional transparency for the sake of the Supreme Court’s legitimacy last week, I am now just embarrassed. In case the Supreme Court Color War of 2022 isn’t occupying 100 percent of your attention this week, let me catch you up: Justice Neil Gorsuch hasn’t been wearing a mask at oral arguments this month. Justice Sonia Sotomayor — who is high risk of complications from COVID because she has Type 1 diabetes — has been participating telephonically. This has, understandably, raised some hackles, in part because it is childish and absurd, and in part because the court failed to clarify when pressed on what the policy for masking actually was. Then, veteran Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg at NPR reported Tuesday morning that Gorsuch, and the other justices, had in fact been asked by Chief Justice John Roberts to wear a mask because Sotomayor, who sits next to him at arguments, is at high risk for COVID, and he refused. Fury and shocked disbelief ensued. Unfortunately that is not the end but somehow just the beginning.”

Omicron May Have Peaked — But 2,000 Americans Are Dying Every Day (Sean)

The author writes, “The highly-contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has ripped through all corners of the U.S. over the past month and a half, and now finally appears to have peaked, with cases down nearly 10 percent over the past two weeks, according to CDC data. But we’re not out of the woods yet. More than 2,000 people are dying every day from COVID, according to the CDC. Over 156,000 people are currently hospitalized, stretching the country’s healthcare infrastructure even further and delaying important medical procedures for people who don’t have COVID.”

Federal Court Blocks Alabama’s New Congressional District Map, Saying It’s Not Fair to Black Voters (Dan)

From the Montgomery Advertiser: “A three-judge federal panel late Monday blocked Alabama’s new congressional district map from going into effect, ruling that challengers were ‘substantially likely’ to prevail in their arguments that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In a 225-page decision, the judges found that Black Alabamians had ‘less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect the candidates of their choice to Congress.’ The congressional map as approved preserves a nearly 30-year plan of having a single majority-minority congressional district, the 7th in west Alabama.”

Nayib Bukele Trades Bitcoin Naked. El Salvador Is Paying the Price. (Doug)

From The Washington Post: “Beware of naked millennial presidents bearing bitcoin. El Salvador, economists say, is learning that lesson the hard way. President Nayib Bukele — who dropped the mic this month on Twitter by claiming he trades his country’s cash for bitcoin on his phone while ‘naked’ — oversaw the cryptocurrency’s adoption as legal tender 3½ months ago. Since then, its plunging value, the vice president of Moody’s credit-rating agency estimates, has cost the national treasury up to $22 million worth of precious reserves. The country’s bonds have tanked. Fears of diminished financial transparency, meanwhile, have stalled a vital loan deal with the International Monetary Fund, which urged El Salvador on Tuesday to drop bitcoin as legal tender.”

The Western Megadrought Is Revealing America’s ‘Lost National Park’ (Laura)

From NPR: “On a turquoise lake in a sandstone desert, Ross Dombrowski is trying to figure out what to do about the rock growing behind his houseboat. The rock, spectacular and rust red, like most in southern Utah, wasn’t visible below the water’s surface when Dombrowski moored his houseboat on Lake Powell last year. Today, it’s three stories tall. … At Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, record-low water levels are transforming the landscape, renewing a long-standing dispute over the land the reservoir drowned — a canyon labyrinth that novelist Edward Abbey once described as ‘a portion of earth’s original paradise.’ For half a century, environmental groups and Colorado River enthusiasts have implored water managers to restore Glen Canyon by draining the reservoir.”

$7 Thrift Store Chair Auctioned for More Than $21,000 in Britain (Dana)

The author writes, “A wood and wicker chair purchased from a thrift store in Britain was auctioned for more than $21,000 when it was identified as the work of an early 20th-century artist. Auction house Sworders said a woman bought the chair for just under $7 at a thrift store in Brighton, England.”