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File photo of a carrion beetle. Shutterstock/poidl
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: The forensic entomologist who uses insects to help solve murders

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. The woman buried in a pet cemetery

The heartwarming story about why Patricia Chaarte wanted to be buried at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York, beautifully told by Andrew Keh. 

(The New York Times, approx 13 mins reading time)

The thought of burying a human at a pet cemetery, for Mr. Martin, was not in itself particularly confounding. Alongside the 80,000 or so animals currently interred at his family’s graveyard are approximately 900 people — including all four of his grandparents — who wished to rest eternally with their pets.

In dealing each day with the emotionally convoluted rigors of his job, Mr. Martin, now 57, had become attuned to the various human compulsions around the ritual of death. Prominent among them, for many, is the desire for a level of physical proximity to loved ones, animals included, even after one’s soul has departed.

But this case felt different. Ms. Chaarte, in death, seemed so alone.

2. The perfect webpage

barnaul-russiajune202022googlehomepageonthemonitor Shutterstock / Melnikov Dmitriy Shutterstock / Melnikov Dmitriy / Melnikov Dmitriy

An interesting look at how websites are designed and crafted with Google in mind in order to claim a top spot in their search results, and how it makes them all look the same.

(The Verge, approx 29 mins reading time)

Google’s outsized influence on how we find things has been 25 years in the making, and the people running businesses online have tried countless methods of getting Google to surface their content. Some business owners use generative AI to make Google-optimized blog posts so they can turn around and sell tchotchkes; brick-and-mortar businesses are picking funny names like “Thai Food Near Me” to try to game Google’s local search algorithm. An entire SEO industry has sprung up, dedicated to trying to understand (or outsmart) Google Search.

The relentless optimizing of pages, words, paragraphs, photos, and hundreds of other variables has led to a wasteland of capital-C Content that is competing for increasingly dwindling Google Search real estate as generative AI rears its head. You’ve seen it before: the awkward subheadings and text that repeats the same phrases a dozen times, the articles that say nothing but which are sprayed with links that in turn direct you to other meaningless pages. Much of the information we find on the web — and much of what’s produced for the web in the first place — is designed to get Google’s attention.

3. Life after Roe

Stephania Taladrid writes about the dangers of a high-risk pregnancy in Texas after the overturning of Roe v Wade, focusing on one woman’s death. 

(The New Yorker, approx 27 mins reading time)

“Anything that fails in society, anything that’s broken, ends up being the emergency room’s problem,” one of the employees told me. Both of them suspected that the surge was being driven by diminished access to abortions, following the enactment, in 2021, of a state law known as S.B. 8, which banned the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy in nearly all cases. A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study recently showed that, in a nine-month period following the passage of S.B. 8, nearly ten thousand additional babies were born in Texas.

What conservative lawmakers hailed as the saving of infant lives, medical professionals I interviewed in rural Texas saw as a beleaguering challenge. According to state data, even before S.B. 8 half the counties in Texas were unequipped to treat pregnant women, lacking a single specialist in women’s health, such as an ob-gyn or a certified midwife. Multiple doctors told me that the overturning of Roe v. Wade, in June of 2022, exacerbated the crisis, as practitioners retired early or moved to states where they’d have more liberty to make medical judgments. So who, exactly, was supposed to handle the extra deliveries in women’s-health deserts such as Caldwell County? What would become of women in remote locales who experienced a hemorrhage or a ruptured fallopian tube?

4. Margot Robbie

beverly-hills-los-angeles-california-usa-january-07-margot-robbie-wearing-a-giorgio-armani-prive-hot-pink-sequined-gown-and-manolo-blahnik-shoes-arrives-at-the-81st-annual-golden-globe-awards-he Margot Robbie arriving at the 81st Annual Golden Globe Awards. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The actress talks about getting her big break in Neighbours, the success of Barbie, her film production company and what’s next in her career.

(Deadline, approx 29 mins reading time)

Margot Robbie begins 2024 as one of the industry’s MVPs, a bankable movie star who has established a production company in LuckyChap that seeks not to create star vehicles for its principal, but rather to tell compelling stories. Among other successes, LuckyChap has produced both of Emerald Fennell’s features to date, including this year’s Saltburn, and more of its productions don’t star Robbie than do. The goal, she says, is to keep the company at the top of filmmakers’ call lists for any projects with female protagonists, or from women creators. Indeed, after the zeitgeist impact of Barbie, Robbie’s last priority is to shepherd more projects that might bring her image back to theater lobbies and billboards anytime soon. “Everyone’s probably sick of the sight of me for now,” she laughs.

5. The Stanley cup

No, not the hockey trophy. The fancy, reusable water bottle that has sparked a craze on social media. Alex Abad-Santos explores why.

(Vox, approx 12 mins reading time)

Soon after buying, I found myself fantasizing about having my Stanley in a different color, specifically the Forest Gloss Deco. Forest Gloss Deco has a dark green base, a color that oozes majesty, and Stanley gilds that deep emerald with a gold trim and a soaring, geometric pattern that mimics how light scatters when it hits the face of a gem. Rose Quartz is a perfectly pleasing color. But Rose Quartz is no Forest Gloss Deco, and now I simply must have the Forest Gloss Deco. I think this is the secret behind Stanley’s success. “They aren’t that great,” Caroline Moss, the founder and host of Gee Thanks, Just Bought It!, a product recommendation podcast and platform, told me. “But, they are pretty. And that’s all trends really seek: Is this thing moderately useful and does it look good?”

A search and scroll for Stanleys on TikTok proves Moss’s point. There’s a satisfying feeling seeing an army of Stanleys lined up on people’s shelves. In a world so full of chaos, there’s something soothing in that Stanleys can be obtained in large numbers and arranged by gradient, creating a soft matte rainbow wall of tumblers with semi-sumptuous hue names like abalone, lilac, wisteria, and nectar. Stanley’s myriad colorways photograph well and look great on social media, which helps the brand assert dominance.

6. A unique way to solve crime

sextonbeetlesorburyingbeetle File photo of a carrion beetle. Shutterstock / poidl Shutterstock / poidl / poidl

When a 16-year-old girl was found dead in Turin, her family were not convinced with the conclusion that she had died of natural causes. Then Paola Magni, a forensic entomologist who studies creatures at crime scenes, got involved in the case. 

(Smithsonian Magazine, approx 17 mins reading time)

She frequently works with public health officials and coroners, who, perhaps surprisingly, are often repelled by vermin, critters and crawlers. “Pathologists hate bugs,” she says of the doctors who examine corpses. But her comfort with these widely loathed creatures, combined with a talent for communicating forensic concepts to the public in press interviews and on social media, have propelled her to the forefront of innovations in forensic biology. She has consulted on dozens of homicide cases and suspicious deaths all over the world. In association with the local health service, she established Italy’s first forensic entomology laboratory, then housed in the Turin morgue. A smartphone app she created called SmartInsects, which helps investigators identify bugs and guides them in how to collect samples, has been downloaded more than 40,000 times, mainly by pathologists, law enforcement officers and students. And by applying her expertise to all the living organisms that arrive opportunistically at crime scenes like uninvited party guests, from flies to barnacles, Magni has become a leading figure in the burgeoning field of aquatic forensics, which extends the science of criminal investigations to evidence found in bodies of water.

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

marbellamalagaspain-10232019espressocoffeeinwhite Shutterstock / makesushi1 Shutterstock / makesushi1 / makesushi1

A longread from 2020 about Nespresso, the company that changed the way coffee is consumed through its pod technology.

But with more people now concerned about the waste caused by coffee pods, what might that mean for the company’s future? You can listen to the audio version of the article here.

(The Guardian, approx 25 mins reading time)

Today, some 14bn Nespresso capsules are sold every year, both online and from 810 brightly lit boutiques in 84 countries. More than 400 Nespressos are drunk every second. Hundreds of rivals and imitators have emerged, some making capsules for Nespresso machines, others pushing competitor systems. The firm employs more than 13,000 people and the Nespresso magazine, which the company has referred to as a “bi-annual pleasure guide”, has a circulation of more than 2m. In 2013, the most recent year it released figures, Nespresso’s revenues totalled $10.8bn. Its success has provided its public face, the actor George Clooney, with the means to maintain a private satellite over Sudan.

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