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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: 43 Mexican students vanished in 2014 - their families are still looking for answers

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. ‘The forty three’

file-in-this-april-13-2019-file-photo-people-stand-under-the-portraits-of-43-disappeared-teachers-college-students-by-chinese-concept-artist-and-government-critic-ai-weiwei-at-the-contemporary-a People stand under the portraits of 43 disappeared teachers' college students, by Chinese concept artist Ai Weiwei at the Contemporary Art University Museum, in Mexico City. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In 2014, 43 students from a rural teachers’ college in Mexico vanished and have never been seen again. An initial investigation ruled out any involvement of the armed forces or the federal police in their disappearance. But subsequent investigators have found that the evidence suggests otherwise.

(New Yorker, approx 39 mins reading time)

Soon, the [Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts] members were learning the Mexican lesson. At the café, Beristain and Buitrago chuckled as they recalled officials from the prosecutor’s office giving a presentation and saying things like “You will never see a more complete investigation than the one we have carried out.” The giei members’ efforts were impeded at every turn. For months, they were blocked from obtaining copies of hundreds of documents. Salvador Cienfuegos, the Secretary of National Defense, refused to let them question anyone from one of Iguala’s military battalions. “I will not permit soldiers to be treated like criminals,” he told the press. It was almost fun to watch giei press conferences, because Buitrago called out the government’s lies in a way that is all but unheard of in Mexico’s institutional discourse. “We were given statements signed by personnel from the general prosecutor’s office that were false,” she declared at one point. “There were investigative proceedings in which all the information was tampered with.”

2. Back to baggy

Have you noticed that there are less fitted trousers and so-called skinny jeans in the shops than there used to be? That’s because baggy, wide-leg trousers are back in fashion. An enjoyable read from Jonah Weiner about ever-changing fashion trends and culture.

(The New York Times Magazine, approx 20 mins reading time)

In 2020, I started writing a newsletter about style and culture called Blackbird Spyplane. Perhaps the most common question from readers concerned — you guessed it — pants. Specifically, How Should They Fit Now? This is because, among clothes, pants command a unique, and uniquely vexing, signifying power: No other garment we routinely wear is as totemic, as eloquent or as problematic. One pants-preoccupied friend of mine, the Wall Street Journal fashion writer Jacob Gallagher, has called pants “the core of an outfit.” The GQ fashion writer Samuel Hine — a dedicated pants Talmudist — recently described them to me as “the most essential garment you can wear.” Even those of us with zero avowed interest in fashion are prone to feel anxiety, vulnerability and dissatisfaction around our pants. Larry David once said that “trying on pants is one of the most humiliating things a man can suffer.” In a 2021 interview, David Lynch — a master of the dread that lurks beneath the surface of the quotidian — confessed: “I am searching for a good pair of pants. I never found a pair of pants that I just love,” adding, “If they’re not right, which they never are, it’s a sadness.”

3. Formula One’s velvet curtain

sakhir-bahrain-march-05-max-verstappen-from-netherlands-competes-for-red-bull-racing-race-day-round-1-of-the-2023-formula-1-championship-credit-michael-pottsalamy-live-news Round 1 of the 2023 Formula 1 championship in Bahrain. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

This socialist critique of the luxurious, opulent world of F1 by Kate Wagner was published by Road & Track magazine, but later deleted. It’s a great piece of sportswriting that those who have no interest in Formula One will still enjoy.

(Road & Track/Internet Archive, approx 25 mins reading time)

When they set off, one by one, first in the sprint, then the first shootout, what struck me was how quiet the cars were. This makes sense to me as someone who once studied acoustics in graduate school. Formula 1, again like sword fighting, is about an economy of motion. Noise is a hallmark of mechanical inefficiency. When mechanical systems work well, they work quietly. Noise at its core is excess energy. In Formula 1 cars, being perfect machines, that energy is redirected where it could be of use. The track began with a big hill, 11 percent in gradient, which made for a spectacular formal gesture, especially with the people on the lawn alongside it crowded on blankets. This, the finish line, and the straightaway coming off the final turn, were all I could see. There was a television above the opposite grandstands, but information was refreshingly scarce. When I watch F1 on TV, I’m used to the constant chattering of the commentators, the endless switching of perspectives and camera angles, the many maps. Here, I stood, and the cars merely passed, and when they passed, numbers changed on a big tower. It was so clean and almost proper, the way they flew by me in the sprint, dutifully, without savagery. Team principals and engineers were lined up on stools in their little cubbyholes crowding around laptops. In between each car was a calm lull in which calculations and feedback were made. A man with a sign walked up to the edge of the track to mark the laps for the Mercedes drivers. Then, almost bored, he sat on a stool waiting to do it again. I found this lull and surge transfixing, as though I were viewing the scaffolding behind a convincing theater set, the mundanity behind the spectacle.

4. AI voice scams

A chilling account from a couple who got a phone call from their relatives being held for ransom – but it turned out their voices had been cloned. 

(New Yorker, approx 15 mins reading time)

She picked up the phone, and, on the other end, she heard Mona’s voice wailing and repeating the words “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” “I thought she was trying to tell me that some horrible tragic thing had happened,” Robin told me. Mona and her husband, Bob, are in their seventies. She’s a retired party planner, and he’s a dentist. They spend the warm months in Bethesda, Maryland, and winters in Boca Raton, where they play pickleball and canasta. Robin’s first thought was that there had been an accident. Robin’s parents also winter in Florida, and she pictured the four of them in a car wreck. “Your brain does weird things in the middle of the night,” she said. Robin then heard what sounded like Bob’s voice on the phone. (The family members requested that their names be changed to protect their privacy.) “Mona, pass me the phone,” Bob’s voice said, then, “Get Steve. Get Steve.” Robin took this—that they didn’t want to tell her while she was alone—as another sign of their seriousness. She shook Steve awake. “I think it’s your mom,” she told him. “I think she’s telling me something terrible happened.”

5. Queens of the Stone Age

file-in-this-aug-7-1998-file-photo-the-venus-of-willendorf-is-shown-at-viennas-natural-history-museum-the-venus-of-willendorf-a-small-paleolithic-statuette-with-a-fleshy-distinctively-femi The Venus of Willendorf shown at Vienna's natural history museum. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Over the last 160 years, hundreds of Venus figurines have been discovered. But experts are still mystified about who made them, and what they might have been made for. 

(BBC, approx 13 mins reading time)

Today more than 200 Venus figurines have been discovered, sculpted from clay or carved out from a wide range of materials including ivory, jet, antler, bone, and various kinds of rock. While some are crude, with just a hint of the female form, many others were manufactured with great care and artistry. But what has gripped researchers for over a century and a half isn’t so much their differences, as their similarities. “I find them fascinating because they’re so widespread and there’s such a time gap [between when these figurines were manufactured],” says Rebay-Salisbury. “We have figurines that look alike from 17,000 BC and from 38,000 BC. How is it even possible to bridge these unbelievable amounts of time?” she says. That’s more than quadruple the separation between the present day and ancient Egypt, for example. The intervals are even more mind-boggling when you consider that Stone Age cultures didn’t have access to modern technologies for transmitting information across such long periods, such as writing.

6. Luxury… air?

Air pollution is recognised as one of the greatest threats to human health and the planet as a whole. As such, the latest must-have purchase for the wealthy is, yes, clean air.

In this dystopian piece, Shayla Love writes about how those who can afford to are benefitting from Swiss-engineered ventilation systems to filter the air they breathe.

(The New Republic, approx 21 mins reading time)

The building’s approach to filtration is undeniably sophisticated. The air in each unit isn’t shared with any other. Outside air is brought in, filtered, treated with an ultraviolet-C light that kills 99.9 percent of pathogens, and completely changed out once per hour. Circulation can be boosted or slowed. Most apartments with similar systems recycle the air every four to five hours a day. “We were thinking, if we’re already going to build a Ferrari, then why would we only give it a 200-horsepower engine?” Roe said. “Let’s put a 1,000-horsepower engine into it.” The quadruple-layer, triple-paned windows feature museum-quality glass and are generally opened only for cleaning. Otherwise, you’d let in air far dirtier than what’s circulating inside.

At night, when Roe’s family is sleeping, it “smells like you’re camping, because the fresh air is getting pumped in at such a rapid rate,” he said. You know the air is good, he told me, because the hydrangeas last. Typically, when cut at the stem and arranged in a vase, the delicate flowers wither and droop in a few days. In his apartment, the blooms will stay perky for nearly two weeks. Walking down the long hallways, I took deep, greedy breaths. There was a complete absence of odor, yet somehow the air felt bright, abundant—the opposite of stuffy, the inverse of stale.

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

subang-jaya-selangor-malaysia-3rd-mar-2024-relatives-of-passengers-on-a-malaysia-airlines-plane-that-mysteriously-vanished-10-years-ago-writing-a-messages-at-day-of-remembrance-for-mh370-at-suban Relatives of passengers on a Malaysia Airlines plane that vanished 10 years ago writing a messages at Day of Remembrance For MH370 at Subang Jaya, Malaysia. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Ten years after it happened, here’s a comprehensive article from 2019 about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

(The Atlantic, approx 45 mins reading time)

At that moment, the airplane should have been landing in Beijing. The search for it was initially concentrated in the South China Sea, between Malaysia and Vietnam. It was an international effort by 34 ships and 28 aircraft from seven different countries. But MH370 was nowhere near there. Within a matter of days, primary-radar records salvaged from air-traffic-control computers, and partially corroborated by secret Malaysian air-force data, revealed that as soon as MH370 disappeared from secondary radar, it turned sharply to the southwest, flew back across the Malay Peninsula, and banked around the island of Penang. From there it flew northwest up the Strait of Malacca and out across the Andaman Sea, where it faded beyond radar range into obscurity. That part of the flight took more than an hour to accomplish and suggested that this was not a standard case of a hijacking. Nor was it like an accident or pilot-suicide scenario that anyone had encountered before. From the start, MH370 was leading investigators in unexplored directions.

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