The Sunday Post for August 21, 2016

David’s Ankles: How Imperfections Could Bring Down the World’s Most Perfect Statue

Salvaged from a weathered and awful piece of marble, Michelangelo’s David seemed like a miracle wrapped in layers of impossible perfection. But Sam Anderson reveals its cracks, scars, and blemishes, all overlooked in hopes that it will simply and luckily survive an impending Florentine disaster.

The trouble is the David’s ankles. They are cracked. Italians first discovered this weakness back in the 19th century, and modern scientists have mapped the cracks extensively, but until recently no one claimed to know just how enfeebled the ankles might be. This changed in 2014, when a team of Italian geoscientists published a paper called “Modeling the Failure Mechanisms of Michelangelo’s David Through Small-Scale Centrifuge Experiments.” That dry title concealed a terrifying story. The paper describes an experiment designed to measure, in a novel way, the weakness in the David’s ankles: by creating a small army of tiny David replicas and spinning them in a centrifuge, at various angles, to simulate different levels of real-world stress. What the researchers found was grim. If the David were to be tilted 15 degrees, his ankles would fail.
The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber

Does Alex Honnold have an amygdala, the brain’s fear center? If so, does it work? Even if it does, why does he seek out the experience of standing on a ledge 2,000 feet above ground with no safety gear? J. B. Mackinnon writes about the neuroscience behind the world’s greatest free-soloist climber.

Honnold is history’s greatest ever climber in the free solo style, meaning he ascends without a rope or protective equipment of any kind. Above about 50 feet, any fall would likely be lethal, which means that, on epic days of soloing, he might spend 12 or more hours in the Death Zone. On the hardest parts of some climbing routes, his fingers will have no more contact with the rock than most people have with the touchscreens of their phones, while his toes press down on edges as thin as sticks of gum. Just watching a video of Honnold climbing will trigger some degree of vertigo, heart palpitations, or nausea in most people, and that’s if they can watch them at all. Even Honnold has said that his palms sweat when he watches himself on film.
Scenes From the Terrifying, Already Forgotten JFK Airport Shooting That Wasn't

Nothing reflects the entire nation’s visceral fear of terrorism and shootings more than this sudden manifestation of mass hysteria at JFK airport a few days ago. If there’s anything more terrifying than being a victim of a violent attack, it’s the mere possibility that it could happen — a suffocating truth lingering around us every day. David Wallace-Wells perfectly captures this widespread mindset in a detailing of his own experience of the false alarm.

There was no “they.” There was not even a “he,” no armed person turning on a crowd. But what happened at JFK last night was, in every respect but the violence, a mass shooting. The fact that there was no attack at the center of it was both the weirdest and the scariest part — that an institution whose size and location and budget should make it a fortress, in a country that has spent 15 years focused compulsively on securing its airports, in a city with a terrifyingly competent anti-terror police unit, could be transformed into a scene of utter bedlam, stretching out from all eight terminals across the tarmac and onto the adjacent highways, by the whisper of a threat. Within minutes, the whole apparatus of the airport and its crowd-control mechanisms had collapsed into total disarray.
The Sensitive Question Of Intersex Athletes

Caster Semenya, a South African runner, has received heaps of criticism from the media for her androgyny and testosterone levels that are three times higher than the average woman’s. As Melissa Block points out, how do you navigate so many topics in the search for fairness in sports?

"It's the most complicated issue in sport," says Tucker, "because it's so layered. Some of those layers are unpleasant, like the racism and sexism issue. Some of those layers are really fascinating, like the biology. It's just so loaded. It's like every single topic here is a land mine."