----- 3 stars -----

My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me. / New York Times
Wonderfully written while being surprisingly compelling and thought-provoking:

Three years ago, my cousin tried to kill me. When people ask why, I don’t know what to say. Usually I mumble that he didn’t have a reason. I say that he didn’t even think he had a reason. We had no argument that day or any other in 40 years. I say that we didn’t think of each other merely as cousins. We were best friends. We spoke for hours every week, often late at night, squinting through the portal of a video chat to exchange complaints about our lives and show off household projects. I say that we had been planning for months to get together that weekend. We organized a family reunion at his house. My son and I were staying in his guest room, while a swarm of aunts and uncles and cousins spilled into a nearby hotel. I had spent the day with them, watching our kids play in the hotel pool, and everyone was planning to gather at my cousin’s house for a party that evening. I say that none of our relatives knew there was conflict between my cousin and me. Neither did I, and neither did he. There was no sign of anything wrong until he tried to kill me. When I say this, I know it doesn’t make sense. I know it sounds incomplete. It sounds like a story I tell myself to avoid responsibility, and maybe it is. “Boys,” he said, “can I talk with Liam’s daddy?” That was how it began. He was standing in the doorway of the guest room with an easy smile. My son and I had just returned from the pool to get ready for the party. We brought along my sister’s son and another cousin’s daughter. The kids dried off and flopped on the bed to play video games while I straightened the room. I remember the careless way they glanced up when my cousin appeared at the door. His giant frame blocking the exit gave them no concern. I can still hear the humor in his voice as he asked their permission to speak with me. I remember that he called them “boys,” even though one was not. Should that detail have alarmed me? I wonder now.

The Most Senseless Environmental Crime of the 20th Century / Pacific Standard

It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret. The Soviet Union was a party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that limited countries to a set quota of whales each year. By the time a ban on commercial whaling went into effect, in 1986, the Soviets had reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the country’s fleets had killed nearly 18 times that many, along with thousands of unreported whales of other species. It had been an elaborate and audacious deception: Soviet captains had disguised ships, tampered with scientific data, and misled international authorities for decades. In the estimation of the marine biologists Yulia Ivashchenko, Phillip Clapham, and Robert Brownell, it was “arguably one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.” It was also a perplexing one. Environmental crimes are, generally speaking, the most rational of crimes. The upsides are obvious: Fortunes have been made selling contraband rhino horns and mahogany or helping toxic waste disappear, and the risks are minimal—poaching, illegal logging, and dumping are penalized only weakly in most countries, when they’re penalized at all. The Soviet whale slaughter followed no such logic. Unlike Norway and Japan, the other major whaling nations of the era, the Soviet Union had little real demand for whale products. Once the blubber was cut away for conversion into oil, the rest of the animal, as often as not, was left in the sea to rot or was thrown into a furnace and reduced to bone meal—a low-value material used for agricultural fertilizer, made from the few animal byproducts that slaughterhouses and fish canneries can’t put to more profitable use. “It was a good product,” Dmitri Tormosov, a scientist who worked on the Soviet fleets, wryly recalls, “but maybe not so important as to support a whole whaling industry.” This was the riddle the Soviet ships left in their wake: Why did a country with so little use for whales kill so many of them?

My Rapist Apologized / New York Times

I took a deep breath. Her question took me by surprise, and yet I had been waiting for it since the day she was born. I always knew the time would come when I would have to tell my daughters the truth: I was raped. And I had an abortion. One day, you may face these challenges too. [...] During my second year in law school, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case, Rust v. Sullivan, that many worried might overturn the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade. I recall some male law students arguing that abortion bans wouldn’t be so bad, so long as there were exceptions made in cases of rape. I wondered how a “rape exception” to an abortion ban could possibly help women, like me, who did not want to report a rape to the police and who could not possibly prove that a rape occurred if the man denied it. Criminal cases take months, even years, to be resolved. Would abortions be allowed based on mere allegations of rape without any proof? If not, what would a woman have to prove in a matter of days or weeks to get an abortion in the first trimester? How could she overcome the inevitable denial? What man would admit to rape knowing that he’d face a likely prison sentence? My own situation proved to be highly unusual in one respect. The man who raped me admitted what he had done and apologized. I doubt if he would’ve done the same if I’d been legally required to report the rape to obtain an abortion. I know many women who’ve been raped; not one has called the cops. My rapist called the day after he violated me and left an awkward message on my answering machine saying he was sorry about “what happened.” He did not use the word “rape.” He asked me to call him back. I did not. More messages were left in the days that followed; each time he sounded more distraught, more apologetic, more despondent. On the day I learned I was pregnant, I finally decided to call.

----- 2 stars -----

Who killed the prime minister? The unsolved murder that still haunts Sweden / The Guardian

Three decades ago, Olof Palme was assassinated on Stockholm’s busiest street. The killer has never been found. Could the discovery of new evidence finally close the case? [...] To his fellow countrymen, Palme was more than a politician. For more than 16 years, he had led Sweden’s leftwing Social Democratic party, which was in power for much of the 20th century. The party was responsible for many of the policies that people typically associate with Sweden, including high taxes and a robust social welfare system. Palme had come to embody not only the party, but these values, too. For this, Palme was loved by many – his predecessor Tage Erlander called him “the greatest political talent Sweden has seen this century” – and despised by others. He was distrusted by some on the left for being from aristocratic stock, and distrusted by aristocrats for being a class traitor. Paranoid corners of the Swedish right made wild allegations that he was a Soviet spy. Contra, a popular conservative magazine, sold dartboards featuring a caricature of his face. On the night of the killing, when word of Palme’s death reached Claes Löfgren, a journalist for the Swedish national broadcaster SVT, he was in a restaurant. When they heard the news, Löfgren told me, some people in the restaurant cheered and toasted. To Swedes of all political persuasions, the symbolism of Palme’s assassination was clear: it was as if the killer wanted to destroy the idea of modern Sweden itself.

The Bitter Life Of A Shattered Jockey: A Mostly True Story / Deadspin

Bacon received the award at the height of her fame. She had been granted her jockey’s license just four years earlier, and in the years since had not only become a highly successful and pioneering rider, but a true American celebrity. She appeared in the pages of Vogue, made it on the cover of Newsweek, captured the attention of sportswriting heavyweights and Hollywood screenwriters alike, posed for Playboy, and scored a sponsorship from Revlon. Her sudden rise to fame was the result of much more than just her success as a jockey. If there’s one thing Mary Bacon was better at than riding horses, it was crafting her own legend. She was a great interview and a reliable producer of fantastic quotes—two years after divorcing her first husband, she told People magazine, “If they ever legalize marriage between horses and human beings, then I’ll get married again.” She also boasted a backstory bursting with anecdotes of mythic quality. Take, for example, the incidents that led to her winning that 1973 award. Bacon had been in the tackroom at the Aqueduct Racetrack in New York when someone screamed out that Aegean Queen, a 2-year-old Bacon had ridden before, was choking. Somehow, the horse had the stirrup iron wrapped around her jaw, so Bacon rushed in and pulled it off. Aegean Queen was facing the rear wall when a hotwalker slapped the horse on the ass, and in the chaos, the 1,200-pound animal fell on the diminutive jockey, breaking her pelvis, upper and lower back, and leaving no feelings in her legs. For nearly two months, Bacon was laid up in a nearby hospital, cocooned in a cast from under arms to ankles. During her recovery, she ditched the institutional clothes and wore racing silks as pajamas. Not even four years into a career that would run its course by the time Jimmy Carter moved into the White House, hospital stays had become commonplace for Mary Bacon.

----- 1 star -----

Living with perfect pitch and synaesthesia – what it’s really like / LJ Rich

Now, I’d like you to imagine you’re chatting with your conversation partner. But instead of speaking and hearing the words alone, each syllable they utter has a note, sometimes more than one. They speak in tunes and I can sing back their melody. Once I know them a little bit, I can play along to their words as they speak them, accompanying them on the piano as if they’re singing an operatic recitative. They drop a glass on the floor, it plays a particular melody as it hits the tiles. I’ll play that melody back – on a piano, on anything. I can accompany that melody with harmony, chords – or perhaps compose a variation on that melody – develop it into a stupendous symphony filled with strings, or play it back in the style of Chopin, Debussy or Bob Marley. That car horn beeps an F major chord, this kettle’s in A flat, some bedside lights get thrown out because they are out of tune with other appliances. I can play along to every song on the radio whether or not I’ve heard it before, the chord progressions as open to me as if I had the sheet music in front of me. I can play other songs with the same chords and fit them with the song being played. Those bath taps squeak in E, this person sneezes in E flat. That printer’s in D mostly. The microwave is in the same key as the washing machine.

Can a man earn a living on sperm donation alone? This guy did. / Vox

"So where were you in life when you decided to become a full-time sperm donor? How did that come to be?" At the time, I was going to community college. I was working at a coffee shop, making minimum wage. Not much money, but something. I was looking for anything I could talk my way into, and sometimes I’d see these ads that said, “Hey, make $10,000 being a sperm donor.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” But one day, I decided the worst they could say was no. So I sent in an application.

Clotilda: Last US slave ship discovered among gators, snakes / Associated Press

The old wooden ship hull didn’t look like much when researchers first saw it: just broken, waterlogged boards and a few pieces of rusted metal, all stuck in the muddy bottom of a bug-infested Alabama bayou where an alligator and poisonous water moccasins swam nearby. Months later, after hundreds of hours of study and testing, historians say the wreck is the Clotilda , the last ship known to transport African captives to the American South for enslavement.

New paper by Donohue and Levitt on abortion and crime / Marginal Revolution

We estimate that crime fell roughly 20% between 1997 and 2014 due to legalized abortion. The cumulative impact of legalized abortion on crime is roughly 45%, accounting for a very substantial portion of the roughly 50-55% overall decline from the peak of crime in the early 1990s.

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