3 stars

The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate | The Atlantic

I never got around to reading this last year; another very good Caitlin Flanagan piece:

This is not an argument anyone is going to win. The loudest advocates on both sides are terrible representatives for their cause. When women are urged to “shout your abortion,” and when abortion becomes the subject of stand-up comedy routines, the attitude toward abortion seems ghoulish. Who could possibly be proud that they see no humanity at all in the images that science has made so painfully clear? When anti-abortion advocates speak in the most graphic terms about women “sucking babies out of the womb,” they show themselves without mercy. They are not considering the extremely human, complex, and often heartbreaking reasons behind women’s private decisions. The truth is that the best argument on each side is a damn good one, and until you acknowledge that fact, you aren’t speaking or even thinking honestly about the issue. You certainly aren’t going to convince anybody. Only the truth has the power to move.


Meet the Customer Service Reps for Disney and Airbnb Who Have to Pay to Talk to You | ProPublica

You may not have heard of Arise, but chances are, you’ve talked to an Arise agent — perhaps when you thought you were talking to a Comcast employee about a bill or a Disney employee about a reservation. Arise lines up customer service agents who work from home. It then sells this network of agents to blue-chip corporations. […]

After paying about $1,500 for home office equipment: a computer, two headsets and a phone line dedicated to Arise; after paying Arise to run a check on her background; after passing Arise’s voice-assessment test and signing Arise’s nondisclosure form; after paying for and passing Arise’s introductory training, to which she devoted three days, unpaid; after paying for and passing a certification course to provide customer service for Arise client AT&T, to which she devoted 44 unpaid days; after then being informed she had to get more training yet — an additional 10 days, for which she was told she would be paid, but wasn’t; and then, after finally getting a chance to sign up for hours and do work for which she would be paid (except for her time spent waiting for technical support, or researching customer issues, or huddling with supervisors), Tami Pendergraft spent three weeks fielding telephone calls from AT&T customers, after which she received a single paycheck.

For $96.12.


How The New Yorker Fell Into the “Weird Japan” Trap | New Republic

Elif Batuman was duped by a source’s fabrications about the country’s rent-a-family industry. What went wrong? […]

In contrast, I knew, before I even clicked on Batuman’s article, that it was off; that it would not correspond with reality as I know it as a Japanese person. Now that we know much of the story is bunk, it’s worth examining how such a skewed depiction of a country sailed right over the heads of writers, fact-checkers, editors, and award-givers alike.

Here I am betraying my own biases toward a tiresome journalistic genre: the story that depicts Japan as a menagerie of the weird, the alien, the freakish.


2 stars

Who Did J.K. Rowling Become? | Vulture

Read another way, though, the latest turn in Rowling’s story looks perhaps less perplexing than inevitable. It is the culmination of a two-decade power struggle for ownership of her fictional world — the right to say what Harry Potter means. The Harry Potter books describe a stark moral universe: Their heroes fight on behalf of all that is good to defeat the forces of absolute evil. Though the struggle may be lonely and hard, right ultimately beats wrong. For fans, when it came to the matter of trans rights, the message of Harry Potter was clear. For Rowling, this was no less the case.

“She absolutely believes that she is right, that she’s on a mission, and that history will eventually bear her out,” Anelli told me. “She thinks she’s doing good work right now.”


The Journalist and the Pharma Bro | Elle

Almost every weekday for six years, Christie Smythe took the F train from Park Slope downtown to her desk at Brooklyn’s federal court, in a pressroom hidden on the far side of a snack bar. Smythe, who covered white-collar crime for Bloomberg News, wore mostly black and gray, and usually skipped makeup. She and her husband, who worked in finance, spent their free time cooking, walking Smythe’s rescue dog, and going on literary pub crawls. “We had the perfect little Brooklyn life,” Smythe says.

Then she chucked it all.

Over the course of nine months, beginning in July 2018, Smythe quit her job, moved out of the apartment, and divorced her husband. What could cause the sensible Smythe to turn her life upside down? She fell in love with a defendant whose case she not only covered, but broke the news of his arrest. It was a scoop that ignited the Internet, because her love interest, now life partner, is not just any defendant, but Martin Shkreli: the so-called “Pharma Bro” and online provocateur, who increased the price of a lifesaving drug by 5,000 percent overnight and made headlines for buying a one-off Wu-Tang Clan album for a reported $2 million. Shkreli, convicted of fraud in 2017, is now serving seven years in prison.

“I fell down the rabbit hole,” Smythe tells me, sitting in her bright basement apartment in Harlem, speaking publicly about her romance with Shkreli for the first time. The relationship has made her completely rethink her earlier work covering the courts, and as she looks back on all of the little decisions she made that caused this giant break in her life, she says she has no regrets: “I’m happy here. I feel like I have purpose.”


1 star

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny dupes spy into revealing how he was poisoned | CNN

A Russian agent sent to tail opposition leader Alexey Navalny has revealed how he was poisoned in August -- with the lethal nerve agent Novichok planted in his underpants.

The stunning disclosure from an agent who belonged to an elite toxins team in Russia's FSB security service came in a lengthy phone call following the unmasking of the unit by CNN and the online investigative outfit Bellingcat last week.

In what he was told was a debriefing, Konstantin Kudryavtsev also talked about others involved in the poisoning in the Siberian city of Tomsk, and how he was sent to clean things up.

But the agent was not speaking to an official in Russia's National Security Council as he thought. He was talking to Navalny himself, who almost died after being poisoned in August.


The McTrain: The Rise and Fall of McDonald's Ambitious Plan to Conquer the Railroads | The Drive

The "McTrain," as it is unofficially known, reportedly got its start in 1992, when the Deutsche Bundesbahn (German Federal Railway) agreed to try outsourcing catering on long-distance routes to McDonald's. The DB allowed McDonald's to refit two of its dining cars for the program, installing deep fryers, coffee machines, soda fountains, water heaters, and multiple walk-ins in a 269 square-foot kitchen—still reportedly more than half the car. After an apparent test period in Switzerland (though there is evidence of a parallel program in that country), the DB allowed the McTrain into service in Winter 1993, assigning it to the country-spanning Hamburg-Berchtesgarden line.


What Makes LeBron James So Great | FiveThirtyEight

But that debate obscures what, specifically, makes James so great to begin with: his seemingly infinite longevity as perhaps the best player in the world, and how he can change what he’s so good at to fit the needs of his team.


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