The Weekender, October 13, 2016

1) “The Story Behind the Chicago Newspaper That Bought a Bar” (Topic, 15 minutes, October 2017). An oral history of a really great journalism stunt that I hadn’t heard of before.)

BY 1976, reporter Pat Zekman was well-acquainted with the everyday corruption that permeated Chicago. After all, the city was so well-known for shady dealings it birthed its own shorthand: “Chicago-style politics” was used with frequency to describe boss-style rule and graft in government.

Zekman was part of a four-person Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Chicago Tribune, where she had gone undercover in a nursing home, for a collections agency, in a hospital, and at a precinct polling place, exposing wrongdoings ranging from medical malpractice to election fraud. “We had become known for doing this kind of undercover reporting with one caveat: When there’s no other way to get the story,” says Zekman. “We didn’t do it just for the idea of doing it and we did not do it cavalierly. ”

When Zekman was poached by a rival paper, the feisty Chicago Sun-Times, she proposed a daring project that would go down in the annals of journalism history as both a feat of reporting and a focal point for ethics debates still raging today. For years, Zekman had been collecting tips about city employees extracting bribes from local businessmen, but couldn’t get sources to go on the record; she figured the only way to get the story would be to get inside the system. So she convinced her paper to buy a bar. They would staff it with newspaper workers, run it like any other watering hole (with some notable exceptions that included concealed photographers), and wait to see what happened. It was named, appropriately, the Mirage.

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3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: The Ben and Jerry’s Flavor that Left a Bad Taste Behind. Or, why you should research the origins of words.

Tuesday: Why Things are Tawdry. The etymology of the word “tawdry.” Also: apparently “bawdry” is a word.

Wednesday: The “Child-Left-Behind” Law That Went Wrong. A couple people wrote in to say I was being judgmental toward those who feel compelled to give up their children; if I came off that way, I apologize — my intention was to come off as the opposite of that.

Thursday: The Two Soviets Who Saved the World. I neglected to mention that one of the two men, Stanislav Petrov, passed away recently.

4) “Astronaut Scott Kelly on the devastating effects of a year in space ” (Brisbane Times, 11 minutes, October 2017). Kelly spent more time in space than anyone to date as part of an experiment. His identical brother Mark — also an astronaut — stayed back on Earth. NASA compared everything about the two Kellys to see what kind of damage a year on the ISS does to a human. It starts off not-so-well:

I make it to my bedroom without incident and close the door behind me. Every part of my body hurts. All my joints and all of my muscles are protesting the crushing pressure of gravity. I’m also nauseated, though I haven’t thrown up. I strip off my clothes and get into bed, relishing the feeling of sheets, the light pressure of the blanket over me, the fluff of the pillow under my head.

[ . . . ]

I struggle to get up. Find the edge of the bed. Feet down. Sit up. Stand up. At every stage I feel like I’m fighting through quicksand. When I’m finally vertical, the pain in my legs is awful, and on top of that pain I feel a sensation that’s even more alarming: it feels as though all the blood in my body is rushing to my legs, like the sensation of the blood rushing to your head when you do a handstand, but in reverse.

I can feel the tissue in my legs swelling. I shuffle my way to the bath room, moving my weight from one foot to the other with deliberate effort. Left. Right. Left. Right. I make it to the bathroom, flip on the light, and look down at my legs. They are swollen and alien stumps, not legs at all. “Oh —-,” I say. “Amiko [his girlfriend], come look at this.” She kneels down and squeezes one ankle, and it squishes like a water balloon. She looks up at me with worried eyes. “I can’t even feel your ankle bones,” she says.


5) “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food” (New York Times, 21 minutes, September 2017).

In many ways, Brazil is a microcosm of how growing incomes and government policies have led to longer, better lives and largely eradicated hunger. But now the country faces a stark new nutrition challenge: over the last decade, the country’s obesity rate has nearly doubled to 20 percent, and the portion of people who are overweight has nearly tripled to 58 percent. Each year, 300,000 people are diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a condition with strong links to obesity.

Brazil also highlights the food industry’s political prowess. In 2010, a coalition of Brazilian food and beverage companies torpedoed a raft of measures that sought to limit junk food ads aimed at children. The latest challenge has come from the country’s president, Michel Temer, a business-friendly centrist whose conservative allies in Congress are now seeking to chip away at the handful of regulations and laws intended to encourage healthy eating.

“What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,” said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo.

“It’s a war,” he said, “but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.”

6) “A Lawyer Explains Who Really Owns Your Tattoos” (Vice, 6 minutes, October 2017). A fascinating look at a legal issue you probably never considered.

Have a great weekend!