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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: 'There are about 295 deaths a day' - inside the global fentanyl crisis

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 some of the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Fentanyl

illegal-fentanyl-is-safely-handled-and-contained Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

With reporting from Mexico, China and the US, this extensive piece shows how fentanyl has become a global crisis and features interviews with those who make it, those who sell it, those who are addicted to it, and those who are trying to tackle the problem.

(El País, approx 40 mins reading time)

Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, and Philadelphia, the symbol of the largest drug crisis in the history of the United States, are two of the stations along the journey of a dose of fentanyl. And more than 11,000 miles separate Daniel’s needle from the Chinese laboratories in Wuhan, where the chemical precursors necessary to synthesize the drug are manufactured. That cheap white powder that is injected, smoked, or taken in pill form was responsible for two-thirds of the 107,888 overdose deaths recorded in the United States in 2022 — an all-time record. There are about 295 deaths a day, as if a major plane crashed at a New York City airport every morning.

2. Is it a bird?

UFO enthusiasts might want to skip this one, as Nicholson Baker debunks the suggestion that aliens have ever visited our planet by looking at Cold War history.

(Intelligencer, approx 31 mins reading time)

Thoughtful, sensible-seeming, non-crankish people at Harvard, at The New Yorker, at the New York Times, and at the Pentagon seemed to be drifting ever closer to the conclusion that alien spaceships had visited Earth. Everyone was being appallingly open-minded. Yet even after more than 70 years of claimed sightings, there was simply no good evidence. In an age of ubiquitous cameras and fancy scopes, there was no footage that wasn’t blurry and jumpy and taken from far away. There was just this guy Grusch telling the world that the government had a “crash-retrieval and reverse-engineering program” for flying saucers that was totally supersecret and that only people in the program knew about the program. Grusch said he had learned about it while serving on a UAP task force at the Pentagon. He interviewed more than 40 people, and they told him wild things. He said he couldn’t reveal the names of the people he interviewed. He shared no firsthand information and showed no photos. He said the program went back decades, back to the saucer crash that happened in Roswell, New Mexico.

3. When is sport too extreme?

freeride-skiing-val-disiere-france A freeride skier in Val D'Isiere, France. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

An engrossing piece on freeride skiing, an extreme sport that regularly sees a handful of its practitioners die every year, that asks the question: how much is too much when it comes to risk in sport?

(The Guardian, approx 26 mins reading time)

In its early days, steep skiing’s drama had come from the fact that these slopes could be skied at all. Now Heitz sought to bring speed – up to 75mph (120km/h) – and style to a sport that once impressed through sheer audacity. The result was something remarkable – and even riskier than before. “That style of skiing is incredibly dangerous,” says Dave Searle, a British mountain guide based in Chamonix. “You can keep pushing the limits of it until you either stop pushing the limits, or you die. That’s the two things really.” At the top of the Combin, Heitz stood on a crest of snow that curved like a frozen wave. He looked down at the clouds in the valleys far below. “You ready?” someone said on the radio. A countdown cued the camera crew hovering nearby in a helicopter: “5,4,3,2,1. Go.”

4. Orchestrating the future

This profile of Lucian Grainge, the chairman of Universal Music Group, explores how the music industry is dealing with the challenge of A.I – by trying to embrace it.

(The New Yorker, approx 37 mins reading time)

In April of 2023, an anonymous producer called ghostwriter used A.I. voice replications of Drake and the Weeknd to create a deepfake duet called “Heart on My Sleeve.” The “Fake Drake” song quickly went viral, sending waves of fear through the industry; Universal’s stock fell by roughly twenty per cent between February and mid-May, over concerns about generative A.I. eroding the value of its copyrights. (The stock has since recovered, and is near an all-time high.) Grainge invited me to imagine an illegitimate version of a Kanye West song featuring Taylor Swift’s voice: “Get your head around that. And then it’s ingested into one of the platforms and someone starts monetizing it.” He added, “I haven’t spent forty-five years in the industry just to have it be a free-for-all where anything goes. Not going to happen while I’m still here!” At the same time, he didn’t want to miss out, in case A.I.-generated material became a new source of revenue for artists—and their labels.

5. Capote vs the Swans

naomi-watts-feud-capote-vs-the-swans-2024-photo-credit-pari-dukovicfx Naomi Watts as Barbara 'Babe' Paley in Feud: Capote vs the Swans (2024). Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The new season of Ryan Murphy’s drama-filled Feud series tackles author Truman Capote’s beef with a group of high-society socialites. Sarene Leeds looks at the real-life scandal and how the new series compares.

(Vulture, approx 14 mins reading time)

While it’s impossible for anyone to eclipse Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance in 2005’s Capote, Hollander nimbly disappears into the role of Truman Capote by adopting the writer’s distinctive southern cadence and effete mannerisms. The most recognizable name in Feud’s cast of characters, Capote was at the height of his fame when he published “La Côte Basque 1965.” (The excerpt was named for the upscale New York restaurant famous for its French cuisine where Capote’s equally upscale lady friends would often dine. La Côte Basque shut its doors in 2004.) Nine years earlier, he’d solidified his placement in American literary history with the release of In Cold Blood, a groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction investigating the 1959 murder of a Kansas farming family, as well as the capture and execution of the killers, that made Capote a bona fide celebrity.

6. Britain’s equal pay scandal

When a group of women in Glasgow took on the local council in 2005, it led to billion-pound payouts. But, as Samira Shackle writes, the underlying issue of pay inequality has yet to be properly addressed. 

(The Guardian, approx 25 mins reading time)

Cross’s new firm started litigating around the UK, not just in Scotland, starting with the north-east of England. It won some early victories. Many councils opted to settle, rather than fighting lengthy court battles. Cross hired a few other disillusioned ex-trade union lawyers and organisers, and his firm filed its first Birmingham case and their first Glasgow case in the same month, June 2005. Not long after that, Stojilkovic and the other women got the letter calling them into the leisure centre. Something very similar happened in Birmingham. “A lot of councils did something like this, where employees were expected to sign away their rights,” said Paul Savage, who worked for Cross’s firm in Birmingham. “Women were often told: ‘Don’t be greedy, take it or you’ll lose your job.’ And the unions sat with the bosses, encouraging women to sign.”


professor-erno-rubik-inventor-of-rubiks-cube-is-photographed-in-new-york-tuesday-sept-18-2018-ap-photorichard-drew Erno Rubik. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A 2020 interview with Erno Rubik, who invented – yes, you guessed it – the Rubik’s Cube.

(The New York Times, approx 8 mins reading time)

Rubik, 76, is lively and animated, gesturing with his glasses and bouncing on the couch, running his hands through his hair so that it stands up in a gray tuft, giving him the look of a startled bird. He speaks formally and gives long, elaborate, philosophical answers, frequently trailing off with the phrase “and so on and so forth” when circling the end of a point. He sat in his living room, in a home he designed himself, in front of a bookshelf full of science fiction titles — his favorites include works by Isaac Asimov and the Polish writer Stanisław Lem. He speaks about the cube as if it’s his child. “I’m very close to the cube. The cube was growing up next to me and right now, it’s middle-aged, so I know a lot about it,” he said.

Note: The Journal generally selects stories that are not paywalled, but some might not be accessible if you have exceeded your free article limit on the site in question.

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