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Escape: your cage. Remember Flaco, the Eurasian Eagle owl that captured New York’s imagination and ruled the city’s night skies after he was mysteriously freed from his cage in the Central Park zoo? He died over the weekend after crashing into an apartment building window. It was only a matter of time, they said, before Flaco’s flight of freedom would end with rat poison in his veins or a losing encounter with a highrise of some kind. But for many locals, Flaco continues to soar as a symbol of something. “He was showing us how we can break free out of our cages,” one unjaded Gothamite told the Times, “the mundane, the things that don’t serve us, the things that hold us back.” -Alex
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Read: “Several Short Sentences About Writing,” by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I’ve just finished my fifth (maybe sixth?) reading of this inspiring guide to better writing. This thoughtful set of writing principles helps me notice what I notice, in writing and in life, and write more simply. – Willis
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Watch: “The Zone of Interest.” I’ve never seen a Holocaust film quite like this. It focuses on the commandant of Auschwitz as he balances facilitating mass murder while trying to maintain a good home for his family outside of the walls of the notorious death camp. The film is a ruthless, deeply unsettling examination of the banality of evil. I will be thinking about this haunting movie, which was among this year’s Oscar nominees for “Best Picture,” for a very long time. – John

Watch:Californication.” It’s a kinda funny, kinda twisted, kinda lighthearted sitcom I’ve been binging. It will get you through the doldrums of winter. – Riley

Read:A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara. This might just be the most devastating book I’ve ever read. It follows the lives of Willem, Jude, Malcolm, and JB who meet in college in New York and quickly become lifelong friends despite coming from very different backgrounds. Yanagihara has weaved in layers and layers of sadness by showing an abundance of trauma in every character’s life. The boys have just one thing tying them together: a will to break away from their pasts. – Suhani

Hear: Sweetness of Broken Dates. Today, the East African nation of Somalia is often associated with war and strife, but it wasn’t always so. In the '70s, Somalia – always a rich crossroads of African, Arab, and South Asian influences – enjoyed relative stability under the secular dictatorship of Siad Barre. The music scene in Mogadishu boomed. Male and female artists conducted wild experiments mixing traditional East African rhythms and melodies with Western styles like funk, R&B, and reggae. The album “Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa” rescues some of the era’s best records, which were hidden away in an archive in the (now) separatist enclave of Somaliland. The whole album hits hard, but my favorite track is probably Na Daadihi, by the 40-member supergroup 4 Mars (wait til the chorus comes in – it’s wild). – Alex

Watch:“Masters of the Air” Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg can’t stop producing WWII content, and I’m not mad about it. If you’re a history nerd like me and enjoyed “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” I would highly recommend checking out this new show on Apple TV. It focuses on the brutal air battles of WWII, offering an intense glimpse into Allied efforts to take the fight to the Nazis from above. – John

Listen: Twilight of the Aesir, Part II”: On the banks of the river Volga in the year 921, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, an ambassador from the Caliph in Baghdad encountered “the filthiest of all Allah’s creatures”: the Rus. Burly, tattooed slavers worshiping violent, jealous gods from the frozen north in ibn Fadlan’s day, within a few generations these fearsome “Eastern Vikings” had taken Slavic names and went to war under the Christian cross. In the second installment of Dan Carlin’s epic narrative about how Odin’s berserkers became brides of Christ, the veteran podcaster turns his eye to the much-understudied east, and the blood-soaked process that turned the Rus into Russians. (Skip the bit about their cleaning rituals — truly stomach-churning) – Matt

WatchBlue Eye Samurai”: This 2023 Netflix animated series deserves all the hype and more. Action-packed with a strong storyline, this show, set in the Edo period, centers around Mizu, a half-white half-Japanese outcasted samurai, out to seek revenge from the four white men who invaded Japan to bring in Western influence. The show has flawed yet well-developed characters, tons of blood, history, wholesome sidekicks, and a focused aim. It’s one of the best-animated shows I’ve seen and makes for a perfect Saturday binge! - Suhani

Read: “The Trials of Madame Restell” by Nicolas L. Syrett. For forty years, out of her home office at 148 Greenwich Street, Madame Restell gave an array of gynecological and abortions in nineteenth-century New York, when abortion was illegal but de facto tolerated. The book follows how Madame Restell built a gynecological empire by embracing that “there’s no bad press” as well as the shifts in medicine, morality, and law that shaped it.Riley
Read: The Hundred Years War on Palestine.” For a concise, scholarly account of the Israel-Palestine conflict from the Palestinian perspective, check out Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi’s latest book, which is both a political history and personal memoir. Khalidi hails from a prominent Jerusalem family of jurists and diplomats, and he was involved in Palestinian politics in the early 1980s. As with any book on this fraught subject, critical readers will find points of disagreement, but Khalidi’s book is an important contribution from a perspective that is often underrepresented in the Western press. – Alex
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Turkish citizens voted in historic presidential and parliamentary elections in Diyarbakir, Turkey

Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto

Buckle up for the most intense year of democracy the world has ever seen.

With at least 65 countries holding elections, 4.2 billion people – about half of the world's adult population – will have the chance to vote in 2024. To say that the world could shift on its axis this year would be an understatement.

We are going to break down the 10 most consequential elections in 2024, but first, let’s zoom out and look at the connections coursing through elections around the world.

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Celebrate a la Chilena: Throw on some yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve to ensure a good love life in 2024, then eat a big spoonful of lentils and stash 1,000 Chilean pesos in your shoe for financial luck. At the stroke of midnight, eat 12 grapes, one for each month, and make a wish on each one. If you get a sweet grape, your wish will come true! If it’s sour, well… maybe try again for the next month? - Matt
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Read: "Ethan Frome." You may have read this story of dashed hope as a student, but Edith Wharton’s right-to-the-point, straight-to-the-heart classic reads more powerfully when you’re a little older. – Willis

Build: A digital metropolis. Have you ever been sitting in traffic, thinking to yourself how much better you could make the city run if only the foolish voters delivered you absolute power over the built environment? Really, that’s just me? Regardless, check out “Cities Skylines II,” released this week, one of the most exquisitely complex and detailed city simulators ever designed, and allow your inner benevolent megalomaniac to run wild. – Matt

See: Joy in the sky. What does that cloud look like to you? A leaping wolf? A lazy cat in sunglasses? A cheerful shark? A puppy holding a piña colada? The artist behind the Instagram account @adailycloud sees it too. Every day, he takes a photo of a cloud and brings it to life for his 500K followers by drawing a few simple features on it. These are dark times; treat yourself to some free joy. – Alex

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