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.

‘We’ve Made History’: Flint Water Crisis Victims to Receive $626M Settlement (Maria)

The author writes, “A federal judge has approved a $626M settlement for victims of the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in a case brought by tens of thousands of residents affected by the contaminated water. Announcing the settlement on Tuesday, district judge Judith Levy called it a ‘remarkable achievement’ that ‘sets forth a comprehensive compensation program and timeline that is consistent for every qualifying participant.’ Most of the money will come from the state of Michigan, which was accused of repeatedly overlooking the risks of using the Flint River without properly treating the water.“

Trumpism Without Trump: How Republican Dog-Whistles Exploited Democratic Divisions

The author writes, “At the very moment Joe Biden emerged from his helicopter into a cold, dark night on the White House south lawn, a new adversary was delivering his victory speech before a hot-blooded crowd in northern Virginia. The cable news split screen took place just after 1am on Wednesday. The president, a Democrat, was returning from G20 and Cop26 summits in Europe. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, was celebrating a stunning victory in the race for governor of Virginia. The message from voters was emphatic. The Republican party was back in business, ready to take on a weakened president whose party is racked by infighting. Youngkin showed the way by deploying a formidable new weapon to which Democrats had no answer: a racist culture war fought over children.”

Why Unions Are Striking — And Winning More Public Support Than in 50 Years (Reader Steve)

From the Los Angeles Times: “The U.S. is experiencing an unusual surge of strikes — 10,000 John Deere workers went on strike in October, and so did 1,400 Kellogg workers, and now 35,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers are threatening to walk out. Workplace experts generally point to two reasons for this surge. First, after working so hard and often risking their lives during the pandemic, many workers believe that they deserve better pay and treatment. Second, American workers — especially long-underappreciated essential and low-wage workers — are suddenly feeling empowered because of today’s labor shortage. These factors have certainly helped cause the wave of walkouts, but there’s another huge but often overlooked factor behind the strikes: It takes two to tangle.”

A Drone Tried to Disrupt the Power Grid. It Won’t Be the Last (Sean)

From Wired: “In July of last year, a DJI Mavic 2 drone approached a Pennsylvania power substation. Two 4-foot nylon ropes dangled from its rotors, a thick copper wire connected to the ends with electrical tape. The device had been stripped of any identifiable markings, as well as its onboard camera and memory card, in an apparent effort by its owner to avoid detection. Its likely goal, according to a joint security bulletin released by DHS, the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center, was to ‘disrupt operations by creating a short circuit.’ The drone crashed on the roof of an adjacent building before it reached its ostensible target, damaging a rotor in the process. Its operator still hasn’t been found. According to the bulletin, the incident, which was first reported by ABC, constitutes the first known instance of a modified, unmanned aircraft system being used to ‘specifically target’ US energy infrastructure. It seems unlikely to be the last, however.”

The US Urges Beijing to Release a Chinese Citizen Journalist Who Highlighted COVID (Russ)

The author writes, “The first known person to be prosecuted for documenting China’s coronavirus crisis is seriously ill in a Shanghai prison and could die if she does not receive treatment, her family and friends say — a disclosure that has drawn renewed attention to China’s efforts to whitewash its early handling of the pandemic. On Monday, the U.S. State Department called on the Chinese government to immediately release the woman, Zhang Zhan. Human Rights Watch has called for the same.”

Researchers Make Hardened Wooden Knives That Slice Through Steak (Mili)

The author writes, “The sharpest knives available are made of either steel or ceramic, both of which are human-made materials that must be forged in furnaces under extreme temperatures. Now, researchers have developed a potentially more sustainable way to make sharp knives: using hardened wood. The method makes wood 23 times harder and a knife made from the material is nearly three times sharper than a stainless-steel dinner table knife.”

Tourists Marvel at Ancient Rome’s Party Town, Now Buried By the Sea (Dana)

The author writes, “Fish flit around Enrico Gallochio as he gently brushes away a layer of sand to reveal an ornate mosaic floor on which Roman nobility would have hosted non-stop parties in Baiae, an ancient resort in the gulf of Pozzuoli, close to Naples. Four metres below the surface of the water, Gallochio passes more mosaic pavements and the remains of walls that once surrounded a spa. The mosaics date from the third century and are just a small part of the remains uncovered since Baiae, now a vast undersea archaeological park, began to emerge from its watery grave. The site has become an unlikely tourism destination, even as work continues to uncover more ruins.”

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