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What We’ve Been Feeding Our Brains

An eclectic mix of books, podcasts, records, and games that The Markup staff has found fascinating this month

Watercolor sketch of a man reading a book under the shade of some trees
Man Reading in a Garden by Honoré Daumier

Hi everyone,

Michael Reilly here. As March draws to a close—and we wrap up the month with an investigation into how NYC’s AI-powered bot tells people to break the law—I’ve been asking around the newsroom to find out what else has captured my colleagues’ interest and fascination over the last month. Below you’ll find an eclectic mix of the things that we read, play, listen to, and otherwise feed our brains with when we’re not heads down doing the journalism we love (because we’re journalists, you’ll find a healthy dose of that as well).

Our hope is this enriches your weekend and gives you some cool new stuff to check out—as well as a greater sense of who we are.

📚 Means of Control
Reporter Byron Tau has been breaking stories on the massive ecosystem of shadowy data brokers that collect our personal data—such as our precise movements—using our phones. In his book, Tau tells the fascinating story of this industry’s origin and how it fueled government surveillance, bypassing constitutional protections.
Jon Keegan

🎙️ Who Trolled Amber?
I’ve been bingeing the “Who Trolled Amber?” podcast by Tortoise Media over the past few weeks. It’s a fascinating deep-dive into the role that bots played in the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trials, including who may be behind the efforts and whether this kind of thing is limited to just celebrity cases.
Malena Carollo

🎵 Utopia Now!

I’ve been eagerly awaiting L.A. based singer-songwriter Rosie Tucker’s latest record UTOPIA NOW! On this record, Tucker reflects the queasy joys and banal horrors in our hyper connected lives. Opening track lyrics such as “I hope no one had to piss in a bottle at work to get me the thing I ordered on the internet” and “They’re gonna turn the moon into a sweatshop” have stuck and will resurface for years.
Mohamed Al Elew

📚 Not the End of the World
Staring directly into the face of our current climate emergency can turn anyone into a doomer—passively watching the world sink into CO2-choked oblivion with a resigned shrug. But in her new book, “Not The End of the World,” Hannah Ritchie, an editor at Our World In Data, runs the numbers and comes to a revolutionary conclusion: In many ways, things are, in fact, getting better. It’s not just that Ritchie separates meaningful environmental interventions (like consuming less meat) from those that are largely cosmetic (like consuming food produced locally). It’s that, by highlighting ongoing environmental success stories, which are shockingly myriad, the book provides both a clearly visible path forward and a ray of hope that, as a species, we have the ability to follow that path into the future.
Aaron Sankin

📰 Who’s Behind All the ‘Pussy in Bio’ on X?
I admit I clicked as fast as I could on this profane headline from Intelligencer. The story’s about pornbots, but it’s also a peek into the ways spammers skirt automated content moderation.
Soo Oh

📰 Gangsters, money and murder: How Chinese organized crime is dominating Oklahoma’s illegal medical marijuana market

There’s a great story this month out of Frontier, the Oklahoman investigative journalism nonprofit, and ProPublica. They unspooled how four murders in the state are connected to illegal cannabis sales and Chinese mobsters. According to a state law enforcement official quoted in the story, Chinese organized crime outfits have “taken over marijuana in Oklahoma and the United States.” The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics claims that a group crowdfunded weed ventures in the state through invites on WeChat.
Ese Olumhense

🕹️ Balatro
Addictive and enthralling, this new video game ditches all the boring parts of poker (gambling, bluffing, lack of jokers) and adds endless ways to modify a standard 52-card deck (wild cards, tarot cards, business cards) in pursuit of ever-higher chip counts. Sorry poker purists, I can’t hear your objections over the sound of my game-winning five-of-a-kind.
Joel Eastwood

📰 The Groundwater Crisis
There is a shocking lack of data on one of Earth’s most important resources: groundwater. In this article, researcher Nick Dudley Ward details why it is essential that we work to fill in these massive data gaps and outlines researchers work toward a national groundwater database in New Zealand.
Natasha Uzcátegui-Liggett

📚 The Anxious Generation
Ok, so psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s new book just came out this week and I have not actually had a chance to read it. But I wanted to include it on this list because it focuses on something that as a parent I’m preoccupied with: how is technology—and smartphones and social media in particular—affecting the lives of young people? And what are the mechanics of these effects? Given his track record, I’m expecting nothing less than a fascinating read.
Michael Reilly

📰 Suicide Mission
In American Prospect, Moe Tkacik has been covering Boeing’s recent unraveling, which includes the story of John Barnett, a former employee who became a prominent whistleblower before he was suddenly found dead. Tkacik’s reporting documents the engineering-hostile culture that eroded the foundations of Boeing’s success and provided a stark lesson in the perils of cavalier technology development. 
Ryan Tate



Michael Reilly
Managing Editor
The Markup

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