Weekend Reading: Labor and Workers, True Crime Stories, Life in Texas, and More

The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.

There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.

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Americans Have No Idea What the Supply Chain Really Is — Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

A beautifully simple concept that so often goes overlooked by sanitized language, especially during the pandemic: The supply chain is just people. That’s what we’re talking about. Human beings. Workers.

  • 🖥️ Revolt of the Delivery Workers — Josh Dzieza, Curbed/New York: More on the human toll of our current economy. This is a harrowing paragraph: “Delivery workers now move faster than just about anything else in the city. They keep pace with cars and weave between them when traffic slows, ever vigilant for opening taxi doors and merging trucks. They know they go too fast, any worker will say, but it’s a calculated risk. Slowing down means being punished by the apps.” Don’t miss the photo in the story with the caption that reads, “Anthony Chavez delivers an ice cream during Hurricane Ida.

  • 📖 When Quitting Your Job Feels Like the Only Option — Laura Entis, Vox: Just staggering statistic after staggering statistic in this piece. It’s hard not to feel gross after reading it. Gross about the system as a whole, gross that we, as a society, haven’t insisted that we do better, gross for every time during the pandemic I went to a store staffed by essential workers or ordered something online to avoid those essential workers but forced to action another set of essential workers.

  • 📖 Why Are So Many Knowledge Workers Quitting? — Cal Newport, The New Yorker: A friend of mine sent this article to me when it was first published in August. “This made me think of you,” he said. We’d practiced law together before I quit to return to graduate school. It made sense that he would think of me; I fit the mold of what Newport is describing as a knowledge worker. But now I think about the journalists, among whom I’m fortunate to count myself, and wonder about them, about us. We have all of the triggers that caused so many to quit, except for one thing (for most of us): We’re not paid well. That was the defining characteristic underpinning his group, and I can’t help but worry that if journalists seek that slower pace, the reclamation of their free time, it will take them many places but almost all assuredly away from the profession of journalism.

Stick with me here, but what if people weren’t lazy — and instead, for the first time in a long time, were able to say no to exploitative working conditions and poverty-level wages? And what if business owners are scandalized, dismayed, frustrated, or bewildered by this scenario because their pre-pandemic business models were predicated on a steady stream of non-unionized labor with no other options? It’s not the labor force that’s breaking. It’s the economic model.

Gabby Petito, Online Detectives, and the Queasy Places Our True-Crime Obsessions Have Taken Us — Delia Cai, Vanity Fair

I like this essay because it grapples with some of the myriad thoughts I have on this particular current national fixation. I’m geographically closer to the story than many people reading about it because Gabby Petito died in my state, yet it would be harder to find someone farther away from the topic. I’m trying to assess what that says about me because my knee-jerk reaction is that it sounds cold and callous. Of course I don’t mean it that way; this young woman’s death is tragic. Full stop. But everything else about it, including but not limited to, the social media world’s fascination with the case, is hard to stomach. Not just from the age-old mainstream media fascination with the disappearance of a pretty white girl, or the half of the media eager to lambaste the other for not treating every missing person case the same way, though there were plenty of both in this case. It was more the true-crime-podcastification of this girl’s story in real-time and sheer number of people engaging with the content on social media and wondering how many made content simply to get noticed that grossed me out.

  • 🗄️ From 2020: When James Baldwin Wrote About the Atlanta Child Murders — Casey Cep, The New Yorker: Lest you think I’m naive and assume true crime just suddenly became popular, read this piece to be assured that I know it’s always sold papers. In this instance, I simply respect the effort taken for the resultant piece to seem legitimate and worthy of the moment.

And yet making my way through a variety of cozy mysteries, I can understand why they appeal to so many readers, why someone might choose to avoid the macabre, again and again and again. Readers can immerse themselves in a world of crime without worrying that they will be overcome with unpleasant images or real grief; they choose to glimpse violence precisely so that they can look away. This sort of world — insulated, replete with homemade baked goods and chaste love affairs, stripped of loss — alleviates the need to interrogate what is so seductive to humans about violence.

As the host of Fox’s America’s Most Wanted from 1988 through 2011, Walsh would fuel the nation’s crime panic and reinforce his position as the country’s foremost proponent of harsh anti-crime measures. With its grim, gritty tone and dramatic reenactments of violent acts, the show sought to induce fear in the American public, alerting viewers to rare, sensational events and thus distorting their conceptions of crime and danger.

Photos Capture Desperation as Haitian Migrants Hope for Asylum at Texas Border — Tucker C. Toole, National Geographic

More than 14,000 migrants — many of whom had been living in Mexican cities — made the trek to the Texas border after rumors spread that migrants would be able to gain entrance into the United States through Del Rio, the Miami Herald reported. Thousands are now camped out under the international bridge.

  • 📖 Who Shot Walker Daugherty? — Wes Ferguson, Texas Monthly: A true crime story that involves two men getting shot and blaming it on a band of roving Mexican immigrants. But that explanation might have been a rush to judgment, or, worse yet, made up entirely.

  • 📖 The State of Texas vs. Jesus Christ — Elizabeth Bruenig, The Atlantic: A death row inmate in Texas can’t have his pastor lay hands on him and recite prayers aloud, according to rules and regulations in the unit. The inmate challenged, and now, it pits God-fearing Texas against a man who wants to die while being prayed over by a man of God.

  • 📖 New Texas Law Bans Abortion-Inducing Drugs After 7 Weeks Pregnancy — Melody Schreiber, The Guardian: More bad news for pro-choice forces in the Lone Star State, as another incredibly restrictive abortion law is signed into law.

More of Our Favorites From the Past Week

The Secrets of the World’s Greatest Freediver — Daniel Riley, GQ

The Digital Death of Collecting — Kyle Chayka, Kyle Chayka Industries/Substack

My Time With Kurt Cobain — Michael Azerrad, The New Yorker

The Scientist and the A.I.-Assisted, Remote-Control Killing Machine — Farnaz Fassihi & Ronen Bergman, The New York Times

The Follow-Up

The news doesn’t stop. If you checked out last week’s edition and found the topics interesting, here’s a collection of stories published since.

Celebrity Deaths

Sexual Misconduct

The Facebook Files

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The Postscript

This week, elsewhere on The Postscript.

Svetlana Alexievich and the Difficulty of Telling the Stories of Those Who Cannot Tell the Stories Themselves

Teaching the Nobel laureate’s techniques as an alternative to some of the ego-driven pitfalls of literary journalism.

Stories that Matter: How The Washington Post Magazine Revealed the Link Between 9/11 and Dementia

Patrick Hruby discovered that a disproportionate number of 9/11 first responders are suffering in mid-life from cognitive disorders usually seen in old age.