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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Alamy Stock Photo Tina Turner performing in 1997.
# 7 great reads
Sitdown Sunday: A classic interview with the late 'Queen of Rock 'n' Roll' Tina Turner
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. Opium

A look at how biology changed the course of human history with an examination of the way the British Empire used opium to subdue China.

(The Guardian, approx 17 mins reading time)

The East India Company readily expanded its pipeline pumping opium into China until, in 1806, the tipping point was reached and the trade deficit had been forcibly reversed. The large numbers of Chinese opium addicts were now collectively paying so much to feed their habit that Britain was making more money from selling opium than it was spending on buying tea. The silver tide had been turned and the precious metal began flowing from China to Britain for the first time. The amount of opium imported into China by the East India Company trebled between 1810 and 1828, and then almost doubled again by 1832, to about 1,500 tonnes every year. The British empire, fuelled in the early days of its expansion across the Atlantic by one addictive plant, tobacco, was now wielding another, the poppy, as a tool of imperial subjugation.

2. Death by debt 

A tragic account of one woman’s fight for student loan cancellation in the US as she unknowingly became ill, and how the movement she campaigned for could now be in peril. 

(Mother Jones, approx 16 mins reading time)

A few months after their ceremony, Jessica convinced Izzy to come with her to dinner with two activists who’d been strategizing about student debt ever since meeting at Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street protest. They were talking with Corinthian alums across the country about a project they would call the Debt Collective, which would organize borrowers to fight for student loan relief. Jessica listened, rapt, as the pair laid out a vision for a first-of-its-kind debt strike, in which a group of Corinthian alums would publicly refuse to make further payments. The goal was to get the Education Department—already investigating Corinthian—to erase the debts they’d accrued from fraudulent institutions. Their radical plan was grounded in the idea that the ubiquity of student debt might just give borrowers bargaining power. After a few more months of conversations, Jessica put aside her usual shyness and joined 14 other alumni to form what would be known as “The Corinthian 15.”

3. Guinness World Records

At a time when you can become famous overnight using TikTok or YouTube, the weird and wonderful Guinness Book of World Records continues. But has it just become another business?

(The Guardian, approx 25 mins reading time)

Super record-breakers are the kind of people who try to break a record a week. David Rush, a teacher living in Boise, Idaho, broke his first record – the longest duration juggling while blindfolded – in 2015, and since then has broken more than 250 more. No human in history has caught as many marshmallows fired from a homemade catapult in the space of one minute (77), nor has anyone put on more T-shirts in 30 seconds (17). “Not only can you get better at anything,” Rush told me in a Zoom interview, “but the belief you can get better at something dramatically improves your ability to do so.” One of Rush’s frequent direct competitors is Silvo Saba, a gym owner from just outside Milan and the man who currently holds the most Guinness World Records: 193. Saba’s particular genius is in identifying what are known as “soft records”: ones that most people would be capable of breaking, if they approached it in the right way. 

4. Niksen

The Dutch wellness trend that means “doing nothing” that captured the world’s attention.

(BBC Travel, approx 6 mins reading time)

To Thijs Launspach, a psychologist, TEDx speaker and author of the book Crazy Busy: Staying Sane in a Stressful World, niksen means “doing nothing or occupying yourself with something trivial as a way of enjoying your own time. Not doing nothing entirely but doing as little as possible,” he said, pointing out that this mostly applies to elderly people who have more unstructured free time. Younger generations, on the other hand, are more stressed out than ever – even in the Netherlands, a country traditionally applauded for its work-life balance. There are plenty of reasons for that. “Our lives and our jobs have become increasingly complex. We tend to spend a lot of time with computers. There is a lot of pressure on being the best version of yourself, be it in our jobs, or the expectations of parents [or] from social media. There is a lot of pressure to perform,” Launspach said.

5. The true cost of tuna

An investigation into how marine workers tasked with upholding sustainable seafood standards are facing dangerous conditions.

(Civil Eats, approx 9 mins reading time)

Harassment of marine observers aboard fishing vessels is one of the industry’s worst-kept secrets. In a survey of observers in the United States alone, about half said that they had been harassed on the job. Anecdotally, Liz Mitchell, president of the Association for Professional Observers (APO) and herself a former observer, says the APO routinely logs stories of such incidents. The APO’s website describes them in detail: observers locked in their rooms, threatened at knifepoint, chased around docks, forced to accept bribes, raped, starved, pressured to sign off on sustainability criteria. Conditions in the South Pacific are among the worst.

6. Cillian Murphy

A portrait of the Irish actor ahead of the hotly anticipated release of Oppenheimer, the Christopher Nolan-directed Oscar contender which he plays the man who is often credited as the “father of the atomic bomb”.

(The New York Times, approx 8 mins reading time)

Did he feel the pressure of carrying a film that arrives with Nolan-size expectations? “Yes,” Murphy said seriously during a conversation in a north London photo studio, where he had just completed a shoot. The Irish-born actor, who turns 47 on Thursday, said that while playing a lead for Nolan was a dream, he took the time to prepare, “knowing you are working with one of the greatest living directors” — he paused. “I have been doing this for 27 years,” he said, adding an expletive for emphasis. “So I just threw myself in. I was terribly excited.”


The world mourned the passing of Tina Turner this week. Here is a classic interview with the Queen of Rock and Roll from 1986. 

(Rolling Stone, 33 approx mins reading time)

I’m self-made. I always wanted to make myself a better person, because I was not educated. But that was my dream – to have class. Now it’s too late for that. You can’t read a book like my autobiography and say, “She’s classy.” You can say, “She’s a respectable woman,” but you can’t say “classy.” My role model was always Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Now, you’re talking about high stuff, right? [Laughs.] My taste was high. So when it came to role models, I looked at presidents’ wives. Of course, you’re talking about a farm girl who stood in the fields, dreaming, years ago, wishing she was that kind of person. But if I had been that kind of person, do you think I could sing with the emotions I do? You sing with those emotions because you’ve had pain in your heart. The bloodline of my family didn’t come from that kind of royalty. Why I relate to it, I don’t know. That’s the class I wanted to be. But I wasn’t, so I dealt with the class I was in. I have never disrespected myself, and I’m still very proud of myself. But society doesn’t look at that as class, that type of woman. Society respects me, I think, because I’m self-made and I climbed to the top.

Note: The Journal generally selects stories that are not paywalled, but some might not be accessible if you have exceeded your free article limit on the site in question.

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