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Mexican journalists at a protest following the murder of three reporters in the country in January 2022. Alamy Stock Photo
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: 'Don't sell your pen' - how Mexican journalists are murdered for telling the truth

Settle down 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. Dying for truth

A chilling account of the fate of many journalists who attempt to report on the drug violence and corruption in Mexico, and how reporters in one town tried to fight back.

(The New York Times Magazine, approx 33 mins reading time)

Mexican journalists have faced phone hacks, death threats, beatings, torture and, in one case, grenade attacks on their newsroom. They face these perils in part because the authorities whose job it is to protect them have in many instances long been infiltrated by the cartels: Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s former secretary of public security, for example, was convicted in the United States this year for taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel in the early 2000s, when he was head of the Mexican equivalent of the F.B.I. And in 2014, police officers in the rural city Iguala kidnapped 43 students on buses headed for a march in Mexico City and handed them over to a drug cartel that mistakenly assumed they were part of an attack from a rival. This year, a trove of text messages showed that nearly every branch of government in the region — including soldiers, the police and a local mayor — were communicating with the cartel, which killed the students and incinerated some of them in a crematory.

2. The Rwanda plan

manchester-uk-3rd-october-2023-manchester-uk-suella-braverman-secretary-of-state-for-the-home-department-gives-speech-to-conference-day-three-of-the-conservative-conference-in-manchester-credit UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The UK government’s controversial plan to send migrants to Rwanda is back in court next week. Daniel Trilling chronicles how the scheme came together, how the Tories were warned multiple times that it would fail, and how it has gotten this far. 

(The Guardian, approx 25 mins reading time)

[Suella] Braverman has spoken of her “dream” of seeing a deportation flight take off for Kigali, but what would it mean for the Rwanda deal to actually work? What would success look like? For Rwanda, it has already yielded some rewards. Officials like the Rwandan high commissioner to London, caught by journalists in an undercover sting last month, might rankle at seeing the UK pose as “the refugee country, the solace country, the protection country, the compassion country”, while Rwanda’s reputation is hauled over the coals. But Rwanda has got the money that was promised – and for the moment, it has one less potential critic when its own human rights abuses are exposed.

For the British government, the policy would not only have to succeed in deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda, it would have to actually deter people from crossing the Channel. Would the sight of a few hundred people exiled to Kigali really convince someone who has crossed the Sahara, or the Mediterranean, or the mountains between Iran and Turkey, or spent days cooped up in a lorry across Turkey and Europe, not to take that final trip from Calais to Dover? Or if the intention really is to deport far greater numbers, perhaps tens of thousands of people a year, would Rwanda – or any other country for that matter – really be willing to accept them?

3. The Confident Man Ranch Retreat

Ten men who feel lost in life warily go to a Western-themed retreat in Colorado where over four days, they engage in group therapy, discuss empathy and masculinity and care for horses. Rosecrans Baldwin writes about what the experience was like. 

(GQ, approx 20 mins reading time)

A big topic was how to say fuck off to the classic American model for straight men’s lives, which Steve and Tim characterized as a sort of Frankenstein of machismo and hypercapitalism. It was a masculinity focused on “have, do, be,” they suggested, where men were taught to acquire things that supposedly built a life (partner, job, fancy car), which enabled them to do things they desired (start a family, build a career, project an image of success), and therefore become the humans they’d always imagined. But what if a man flipped the order, focused on “be, do, have,” by putting effort into becoming the type of man he admired (kind, confident, self-reliant), which then led to doing the kinds of things such a guy might do (attract others, find purpose, feel comfortable in his own skin), which then could result in desired outcomes?

What Steve and Tim wanted, among other things, was for attendees to learn a form of applied emotional intelligence: to give men the means to know what’s going on inside themselves, enabling them to better connect with what’s happening in someone else’s life. “Typically, you ask a guy how he’s feeling,” Steve said, “and he tells you what happened to him that day, he tells you about some idiot on the highway who cut him off. I have to say, ‘You weren’t listening; I asked how you’re feeling.’” I was reminded of something I read in For the Love of Men, a book by journalist Liz Plank about “mindful masculinity.” “Expecting men to be emotionally intelligent in their relationships,” she writes, “is like expecting people to know how to do a butterfly backstroke when they’ve been instructed to never get wet.”

4. The Exorcist

max-von-sydow-the-exorcist-1973 Max von Sydow in The Exorcist. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Almost fifty years after its release, Anna Bogutskaya reflects on the chilling legacy of the film that defined the horror trope of demonic possession and is still inspiring sequels decades on. 

(BBC Culture, approx 9 mins reading time)

When it was released in the US in 1973, The Exorcist was more than a film, it was a true cultural phenomenon. Perhaps that was because of the society it was born into, one where religious faith was on the downslide, and there was distrust in a government plagued with scandals like Watergate. There was a collective crisis of faith and an anguished desire to find a culprit, and the devil was as great a scapegoat as any. What’s more, with the advent of the hippie movement of the 60s and early 70s, there was a real cultural divide between generations opening up – so the idea of a young person possessed by dark forces would have resonated with many older audience members who saw their children become alien to them.

5. Ireland’s unidentified bodies

The full or partial remains of 44 people are on a new Irish database of unidentified remains. But some whose loved ones are missing say it needs to be improved. 

(The Irish Examiner, approx 8 mins reading time)

It has been almost 20 years since Claire Clarke-Keane from Co Louth first came up with the idea of a database of unidentified remains across Ireland. It was in 2005, three years before the opening of a cold-case review of the disappearance of her sister Priscilla

Priscilla disappeared after going horse-riding with her employer Lynda Kavanagh in Wicklow in 1988. Mrs Kavanagh’s body was recovered from the River Dargle two days later but Priscilla has never been found. She is one of 856 people who remain “missing” in Ireland. “The database is a start but it needs to have visuals — it is just a spreadsheet,” says Claire. She believes that distinguishing clothing, jewellery, or any other items found with or on unidentified remains should be photographed and placed on the database too. 

6. Narges Mohammadi

The human rights activist won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work promoting human rights and freedom in Iran. She is currently in prison accused of “propaganda against the state”. Jomana Karadsheh and Adam Pourahmadi write about why her work matters.

(CNN, approx 9 mins reading time)

Mohammadi knows all too well the price of speaking publicly. In August she was sentenced to an additional year in jail for her continued activism inside prison after she gave a media interview and a statement about sexual assaults in jail. She was already serving time for publishing a book last year about Iran’s brutal prison methods, titled “White Torture: Interviews with Iranian Women Prisoners,” as well as a documentary film telling the stories of prisoners held in solitary confinement – a punishment Mohammadi herself has endured.

But she remains undeterred. Mohammadi recently sent CNN a lengthy letter railing against four decades of the Islamic Republic’s mandatory hijab and calling out what she says is the hypocrisy of a religious state using sexual violence against female detainees. When it came to power four decades ago, she writes, the religious regime used the compulsory hijab to “showcase the image of domination, subjugation and control over women” as a means to control society. “They couldn’t put an abaya and turban on half of the population, i.e., men in society,” her letter reads. “However, they easily adorned half of Iran’s population with ‘mandatory hijab,’ veil, chador, manteau, and dark-coloured trousers to present the odious face of the despotic religious system to the world.”


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An article from 2021 looking at how ultra-fast fashion companies have changed our relationship with clothes and grown their brands online through social media and influencers, with catastrophic results for the environment. 

(The Atlantic, approx 23 mins reading time)

The more we began documenting our own lives for public consumption, meanwhile, the more we became aware of ourselves (and our clothing) being seen. Young people, and young women in particular, came to feel an unspoken obligation not to repeat an #outfitoftheday; according to a 2017 poll, 41 percent of women ages 18 to 25 felt pressure to wear a different outfit every time they went out. Boohoo’s founders understood that the company had to hustle to keep customers’ attention—to “be fresh all the time,” as Kane has put it. “A traditional retailer might buy three or four styles, but we’ll buy 25,” Kane told The Guardian in 2014. Not having to keep hundreds of stores stocked meant Boohoo could be flexible about inventory management.

In 2018, H&M was sitting on $4.3 billion worth of unsold items. Boohoo, by contrast, could order as few as 300 or 500 units of a given style—just enough to see whether it would catch on. Only about a quarter of the initial styles were reordered, according to Kane. Over time, Boohoo accumulated rich data about online consumer behavior, and further tailored the shopping experience to its shoppers’ tastes. “They know that first-time customers like to see this product category, or customers from this geographic area like this color palette,” Matt Katz, a managing partner at the consulting firm SSA & Company, told me. In normal times, Boohoo’s agility and ingenuity offered crucial advantages over the competition. When the pandemic hit, those advantages became decisive.

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