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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: Two Irish businessmen, a Nigerian gas deal and an $11 billion arbitration case

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. Heading for disaster

milan-italy-17-october-2020-danilo-dambrosio-of-fc-internazionale-and-franck-kessie-of-ac-milan-compete-for-a-header-during-the-serie-a-football-match-between-fc-internazionale-and-ac-milan-ac File photo of two footballers competing for a header. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The evidence that heading a ball damages footballers’ brain and leads to dementia is growing. Andrew Hankinson writes about it here, and looks at what the game might look like without them. 

(GQ, approx 22 mins reading time)

“If you imagine you get hit by a car, and you’ve suffered a severe brain injury, that’s one big dose of injury,” Stewart said. A concussion, in comparison, would be a smaller dose. “Conceptually, you have to have more of those lower dose concussion injuries to equate to the damage of being hit by a car. But we also now believe that dialling it down even further, going beyond where you see signs and symptoms to where there are no apparent outward signs and symptoms, that is: heading a ball.”

Repeated brain trauma is just one risk factor for dementia: genetics, blood pressure, cholesterol and other factors play a role. But in recent years, Stewart’s research has revealed that professional players are three and a half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease compared to people of the same age in the wider population; goalkeepers, who rarely head the ball, did not have the same increased risk. Other research has corroborated this. A study last year by Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet found that 8.9 per cent of 6,000 footballers who had played in the Swedish top division were diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease, compared to 6.2 per cent of a control group of non-footballers.

2. The P&ID scandal

A fascinating tale of corruption, greed and those who enable it, centering on two Irish businessmen, a multi-million dollar gas deal in Nigeria, and the vulnerabilities of international arbitration. 

(The New York Times, approx 24 mins reading time)

In June, Quinn opened his morning paper to an unwelcome twist. The oil-drilling company that Nigeria had promised would supply the wet gas had decided to keep it; the gas turned out to be useful for maintaining pressure inside the wells. Quinn might have picked up the phone and protested to his friends inside the government, but most of them were gone. A new president had recently come into office. Lukman had been replaced. In February 2011, Hitchcock sent a text message that suggested the company was in dire straits. “In view of the rapidly deteriorating situation here, I see no option but to liquidate some P.&I.D. assets,” he wrote. “With your approval, I propose to sell the Honda Civic.” Quinn emailed the new president, Goodluck Jonathan, but his appeal went nowhere.

To a well-seasoned observer, all of this would have seemed like a pretty average case of what investors call “political risk.” When doing business in a corrupt country, it’s not at all uncommon that a new group takes power, then reneges on its predecessor’s deals. It happened all the time in Nigeria, which Transparency International ranks as one of the most corrupt places in the world, on par with Afghanistan and Guatemala. The whole affair seemed destined to melt without a trace.

3. Cillian Murphy

cillian-murphy-poses-for-a-portrait-during-the-96th-academy-awards-oscar-nominees-luncheon-on-monday-feb-12-2024-at-the-beverly-hilton-hotel-in-beverly-hills-calif-ap-photochris-pizzello Cillian Murphy poses for a portrait during the 96th Academy Awards Oscar nominees luncheon. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The actor is the favourite to take home the Best Actor Oscar next month for his performance in Oppenheimer. In this interview, he chats about that possibility, his life in Ireland outside of “The Bubble”, and his new film Small Things Like These, which opened the Berlinale this week.  

(GQ, approx 31 mins reading time)

For the lead in Oppenheimer, Murphy prepared at home for six months, focusing first on the voice and the silhouette (in other words, shedding weight to reflect the skin and bones of a world-renowned physicist who subsisted primarily on martinis and cigarettes during his years developing the bomb). On set, as the days of filming piled on in the New Mexico desert, the specialness of what Murphy was up to started to spread across the set among the cast and crew “like a rumor,” Nolan said. “I remember the same thing with Heath Ledger on The Dark Knight.” Blunt, who plays Oppenheimer’s beleaguered wife, Kitty, first got to know Murphy well on A Quiet Place Part II. “Cillian’s really kidnapping to be in a scene with. He pulls you into this vibrational vortex,” she told me. “He loves a party. But when he’s working, he’s intensely focused, and won’t socialize very much at all. Certainly not on Oppenheimer, I mean he didn’t have anything left in the tank to say one word to someone at the end of the day.”

4. Scammed

Think you’re the kind of person who would never fall for a scam? So did Charlotte Cowles. In this wild essay, the financial advice columnist lays out how she became the victim of a scam – which saw her put $50,000 in a shoebox and hand it to a stranger. 

(The Cut, approx 26 mins reading time)

“I’m glad we’re speaking,” said Calvin. “Your personal information is linked to a case that we’ve been working on for a while now, and it’s quite serious.” He told me that 22 bank accounts, nine vehicles, and four properties were registered to my name. The bank accounts had wired more than $3 million overseas, mostly to Jamaica and Iraq. Did I know anything about this? “No,” I said. Did I know someone named Stella Suk-Yee Kwong? “I don’t think so,” I said. He texted me a photo of her ID, which he claimed had been found in a car rented under my name that was abandoned on the southern border of Texas with blood and drugs in the trunk. A home in New Mexico affiliated with the car rental had subsequently been raided, he added, and authorities found more drugs, cash, and bank statements registered to my name and Social Security number. He texted me a drug-bust photo of bags of pills and money stacked on a table. He told me that there were warrants out for my arrest in Maryland and Texas and that I was being charged with cybercrimes, money laundering, and drug trafficking.

5. ‘You are Lisa Simpson’

Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa, speaks about the profound effect that recording one of the most sincere episodes of the animated sitcom had on her. 

(Vulture, approx 9 mins reading time)

I’m a little embarrassed to tell this story, but I have told it before: Dustin Hoffman, as a parting gift because she’s so wrecked by his departure, hands her this note. He says, “Here’s everything you need,” and she opens it and it says, “You are Lisa Simpson.” And when I tell you I felt so cheated when we recorded that … I thought, That’s all you’re gonna give her? How dare you, not at all realizing at the time that what they were saying was, You are enough. Honestly, that speaks to the tremendous deficit that I felt inside and sort of have grappled with my whole life. It certainly has evolved now, but back then I was really, really working hard to fill up the inside from the outside. So if you’d handed me a note that said, “You are Yeardley Smith,” I would have been like, “What the fuck is that? What are you talking about? So fucking what?” I really didn’t get it, and I think part of the gulping sobs was feeling as though it wasn’t enough.

6. The NYPD’s basement

Inside the treasure trove that is the New York Police Department’s evidence room, which counts amongst its contents a samurai sword, a $5,500 Cartier diamond-encrusted pocket watch, and a Nokia mobile phone found in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

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

The office of the Manhattan Property Clerk, as it is known, is a subterranean repository for lost objects and the tangible aftermath of crime and misadventure. Ms. Carryl has been a police evidence and property specialist there for more than a decade. Thousands of people walk through One Police Plaza each day not knowing an archive that allows the criminal justice system to run is just one story below their feet. Almost every item that passes through the borough’s 22 precincts must go to the basement to be numbered and cataloged to be held as evidence for a trial or wait for its rightful owner. Some objects come from crime scenes. Others were turned in after they were left behind on a park bench or a sidewalk. Ms. Carryl supervises the meticulous bookkeeping. She keeps track of the expected — guns, drugs, samples of DNA — and the bizarre: a gold dental grill, a half-drunk bottle of Smirnoff and a weathered brown suitcase. It is stuffed with muskets.

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

russian-opposition-activist-alexei-navalny-attends-a-protest-in-moscow-russia-saturday-july-20-2019-masses-of-people-gathered-in-central-moscow-to-demand-that-opposition-candidates-be-included-on Alexei Navalny. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Though he had survived being poisoned and had been imprisoned in a maximum security penal colony since 2021, the announcement of the death of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s greatest foe, still sent shockwaves around the world on Friday, and saw world leaders pay tribute to his courage in fighting for democracy in Russia. 

This interview with the opposition leader was conducted in 2022, just weeks before the invasion of Ukraine. 

(Time, approx 22 mins reading time)

What Putin truly fears is what Navalny’s movement seeks—a change of power in Russia, followed by cashiering its corrupt clan of oligarchs and spies. It isn’t NATO that keeps Putin up at night; it’s the space for democratic dissent that NATO opens up along his border. This fear, Navalny argues, is what drives all the conflicts Russia wages with the West. “To consolidate the country and the elites,” he writes, “Putin constantly needs all these extreme measures, all these wars—real ones, virtual ones, hybrid ones or just confrontations at the edge of war, as we’re seeing now.” Rather than convening talks or offering concessions, Navalny wants the U.S. to pressure the Kremlin from without while Navalny and his supporters pressure it from within. The combination, he believes, will split the elites around Putin, ushering in what Navalny’s followers like to call “the beautiful Russia of the future,” one that is free, democratic, at peace with its neighbors and the West.

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