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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: How half a tonne of cocaine transformed an island

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back 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. Is poverty necessary?

Marilynne Robinson writes about her quest to understand modern economics, and how she learned about the belief that some workers must be kept poor ‘for their own sake’.

(Harper’s, approx 123 mins reading time)

Or, a less benign view: workers would subvert the social wealth, impoverishing the nation, if they by any means had more than they absolutely need. William Beveridge, called the Father of the Welfare State, wrote economics of just this kind, and so did Beatrice Webb. I have no reason to think it ever died out. Indeed, American practice moves continuously in this direction, toward the radical polarization this economics was meant to promote and rationalize.

2.  What folk means

An interview with the Irish-based musician Rhiannon Giddens, about folk and black music.

(New Yorker, approx 44 mins reading time)

When I arrived at Giddens’s house, she had been making some sort of healthy broccoli dish for her children, who were passing in and out of the kitchen, followed closely by her husband at the time, Michael Laffan, a gentle, soft-spoken Irish-born piano technician with a quiet wit, who is still her good friend and parenting partner. Their children have thick dark hair, rosy cheeks, and lyrical, hard-to-spell Celtic names: Aoife (pronounced “ee-fa”) and Caoimhin (“kwi-veen”).

3. Living amid fear and oppression in Xinjiang

Ansila Esten and Nursila Esten, ages 8 and 7, left their home in Kazakhstan, with their mother, Adiba Hayrat, in 2017. The three traveled to China – but their father, and Hayrat’s husband, says that Hayrat was detained and he hasn’t heard from her in two years.

(CNN, approx 19 mins reading time)

According to the US State Department, up to 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been held against their will in massive camps in Xinjiang. An unknown number are working in what rights groups have described as forced labor facilities, and like Adiba, they are unable to leave China.

4. Who killed the Swedish prime minister?

In 1986, the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme went to the cinema with his wife – they didn’t bring any bodyguards. At 11.21pm, a man came up behind them and shot Palme dead. The killer has never been found, but new evidence has been discovered in recent years. 

(The Guardian, approx 28 mins reading time)

Following Palme’s death, the country was cast first into turmoil and then into confusion. Over the past three decades, one chief investigator after another has failed to solve the case, and today the official inquiry remains open. In 2010, Sweden removed the statute of limitations on murders, specifically so that investigators could continue their search for Palme’s killer for as long as it takes. More than 10,000 people have been questioned in the case, whose files now take up more than 250 metres of shelf space in Sweden’s national police headquarters. It is the largest active murder investigation archive in the world.

5. Can cheap fashion ever be ethical?

These days, people are much more concerned about where their clothes come from – but is it possible to have cheap and ethical clothes?

(Quartz, approx 30 mins reading time)

First off, very few brands own the factories that make their clothes. They outsource the work to independent producers, usually in countries where labor is cheap. Their supply chains also tend to be highly flexible, in that they can change the factories they source from without too much disruption. Lastly, they’re continually trying to make clothes faster, as they work to keep pace with customers who are moving at the pace of social media.

6. How cocaine transformed an island

In 2001, cocaine washed up in the Azores, flooding Sao Miguel with high-grade cocaine. The effects of what happened are still being felt today.

(The Guardian, approx 23 mins reading time)

São Miguel’s coastline is pocked with grottos and secluded coves. The sailor navigated the yacht to a cave near Pilar da Bretanha and began offloading the cocaine, which was bound with plastic and rubber in hundreds of packages the size of building bricks. According to the police investigation that followed, he secured the contraband with fishing nets and chains, submerging it beneath the water with an anchor. 


In 2018, Nidhi Subbaraman wrote about a ‘poop cult’ that convinced people to believe in dangerous science.

(Buzzfeed, approx 24 mins reading time)

“My dad was really desperate,” Taylor Wilmot, his daughter, told BuzzFeed News. “He was very sad, and he didn’t want to die.” Then 55 and living alone in Columbus, Georgia, he stumbled across the Facebook group of Jillian Mai Thi Epperly, a woman from Canton, Ohio, whose tens of thousands of followers swore by her bizarre, dangerous, and entirely made-up science theory: that all diseases — including cancer — are caused by a fungus called candida that lives in the gut.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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