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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: What is it like to spend 500 days alone in a cave?

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. Cave woman

woman-standing-in-rawana-ella-cave-in-sri-lanka File photo. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

When Beatriz Flamini emerged into daylight for the first time last April after spending almost a year-and-a-half underground to break a world record, she joked at a press conference as though her experience had been a piece of cake.

But this profile by D. T. Max explores the psychological impact of spending 500 days in isolation in a Spanish cave. 

(The New Yorker, approx 33 mins reading time)

In the early nineteen-nineties, while Flamini was studying to be a sports instructor, she visited a cave for the first time. She and a friend drove north of Madrid to El Reguerillo, a cavern known for its paleolithic engravings. “We stayed until Sunday and came out only because we had classes and work,” Flamini recalls. El Reguerillo was dark but cozy, and inside its walls she experienced an overwhelming sense of love. “There were no words for what I felt,” she says.

After graduating, Flamini taught aerobics in Madrid. She was admired for her charisma and commitment. “Everyone wanted me for their classes,” she says. “They fought over me.” By the time she turned forty, in 2013, she had a partner, a car, and a house. But she felt unsatisfied. She didn’t really care about financial stability, and, unlike most people she knew, she didn’t want children. She experienced an existential crisis. “You know you’re going to die—today, tomorrow, within fifty years,” Flamini told herself. “What is it that you want to do with your life before that happens?” The immediate answer, she remembers, was to “grab my knapsack and go and live in the mountains.”

2. Space law

As more and more countries send satellites into orbit, and one Elon Musk attempts to colonise Mars, legal brawls over space seem inevitable. These young students are training to become experts in the study of space law – and they even have a fictional court. 

(Wired, approx 20 mins reading time)

A single American company—SpaceX, through its Starlink subsidiary—owns and operates more than half of the active satellites orbiting the planet today. In 2021, the director general of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, argued that Musk is effectively “making the rules” in space, squeezing rivals out of radio frequency allocation and open lanes in low Earth orbit. According to a growing contingent of advocates, academics, and officials around the world, this narrow dominance of orbit resembles something all too familiar: a colonial land grab. According to some scholars, it may even amount to a violation of the Outer Space Treaty itself. Which is just one reason why some players in the global south are gearing up for the orbital future not just by scrambling to launch satellites, but by building up skills in outer space law—the evolving area of international jurisprudence that introduced the “province of all mankind” concept in the first place.

3. Old tech

macintosh-128k-signed-by-steve-wozniak-release-date-january-1984-exhibited-at-macpaws-ukrainian-apple-museum-in-kiev-ukraine-on-january-26-2017-ukrainian-developer-macpaw-has-opened-apple-hard A Macintosh 128K. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It’s been 40 years since Apple unveiled its Macintosh 128K personal computer. The tech company’s products have come a long way since then – but the Mac 128K still has some fans that use the computer today.

(BBC Future, approx 8 mins reading time)

Today, the Mac 128K – so called because it came with 128kb of Random Access Memory, or RAM – is a museum piece. Apple stopped producing the computers in October 1985 and discontinued software support for them in 1998. But a handful of diehard fans still use their Mac 128K computers today – although not without frustrations. The machines are extremely limited due to their small amount of memory. If you want to check out the 128K’s specifications, Apple actually lists them on its website.

Even with its diminutive memory, no modem or ability to connect to the internet, and rudimentary graphics, there is a community of avid fans who delight in poring over this seemingly ancient hardware. David Greelish, a computer historian in Florida who is releasing a documentary about the 128Ks predecessor the Apple Lisa this month, notes the ingenuity of the 128K’s original circuit board. “It’s got everything: ROM, RAM, processor and all the input-output,” he says. “Everything there in a beautiful little integrated square board. For 1984, it was amazing.”

4. Sand trafficking

The demand for sand is growing as construction booms, but a shortage has resulted in mafias illegally mining the material as part of a trade estimated to be worth up to $350 billion a year. David A. Taylor looks at the consequences of the practice for communities and ecosystems. 

(Scientific American, approx 15 mins reading time)

Very few people are looking closely at the illegal sand system or calling for changes, however, because sand is a mundane resource. Yet sand mining is the world’s largest extraction industry because sand is a main ingredient in concrete, and the global construction industry has been soaring for decades. Every year the world uses up to 50 billion metric tons of sand, according to a United Nations Environment Program report. The only natural resource more widely consumed is water. A 2022 study by researchers at the University of Amsterdam concluded that we are dredging river sand at rates that far outstrip nature’s ability to replace it, so much so that the world could run out of construction-grade sand by 2050. The U.N. report confirms that sand mining at current rates is unsustainable.

5. Tupac

poetic-justice-year-1993-director-john-singleton-tupac-shakur Tupac Shakur. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Duane “Keffe D” Davis was charged with the murder of Tupac Shakur in 2023, almost 30 years after the rapper was fatally shot. But why did it take so long? John L. Smith takes a deep dive into the case. 

(Rolling Stone, approx 36 mins reading time)

With the indictment generating global news and tabloid fodder, family members aren’t alone in wondering “Why now?” The story of the long-stalled case appears to include not just warring gangs and treacherous hip-hop bosses, but also sparring law-enforcement agencies. The lack of closure in the murder of such a troubled but undeniably talented victim has encouraged conspiracies to grow like weeds from the asphalt.

One of the biggest murders in Las Vegas history might also be the most tangled investigation. Did the LAPD and Las Vegas police collaborate on solving the murder or try to stymie each other? Did two cops from different departments almost come to blows over a possible murder weapon? Did certain members of Vegas police not want to solve it in the first place? Why weren’t follow-ups done with key players connected to the murder? When exactly did Las Vegas police learn about that crucial agreement Davis made with law enforcement? Did egos get in the way of law enforcement? Interviews with cops, reporters, lawyers, and Davis’ own account of events suggest all that and a lot more.

6. San Giovanni Lipioni

How a small Italian town with one of the oldest average populations is trying to attract young people.

(The New York Times, approx 7 mins reading time)

In the days after Christmas, as old men in the local bar played the card game Tressette under a television showing decades-old reruns, the town’s leaders ignored new data from the Italian National Institute of Statistics showing their home had slipped to fifth place (average age 64.2) in Italy’s old-age rankings, with a small town, Ribordone, in the northern Italian region of Piedmont (average age 65.5), taking the withered crown. “There’s some pride in it,” Nicola Rossi, the mayor, said of being the oldest town. He cited the previous average age of 66.1 years in a country with an average of 46.4 years. But to save the town, he said, “it doesn’t make sense to do things only for the old people.”

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

liverpools-jurgen-klopp-acknowledges-the-fans-after-the-final-whistle Jurgen Klopp. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Liverpool fans around the world shed a tear on Friday when Jürgen Klopp announced that he would step down as the club’s manager at the end of the current Premier League season. This article from 2020 captures the impact he has had on the club during his tenure. 

(The Athletic, approx 47 mins reading time)

Though Klopp lauded the playing talent sitting in front of him, since getting told the job was his he had watched most Liverpool games from the previous 12 months and it was clear to him most players were not performing to their best because of a lack of confidence. He decided to reduce holiday time and, overnight, training sessions became much more intensive. Klopp was unimpressed with some of the new gear Liverpool’s players were made to train in during those early months, identifying quickly that the fabric it was made of did not absorb sweat particularly well. This was a problem because he expected players to treat training sessions like they were matches.

Although Klopp got commitment and performances out of players who, a fortnight earlier, had needed penalties to beat fourth-tier Carlisle United at home in the League Cup, not all were impressed by the training sessions in those early months, with some of the more experienced figures talking among themselves and quietly agreeing they were a bit repetitive. For the time being, though, it did not seem to matter, because Liverpool’s results improved dramatically, with away victories at champions Chelsea and 2014-15 runners-up Manchester City in the first six weeks acting as evidence that Klopp’s methods were working.

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