Good morning, gentle readers! What a wild week it’s been, especially in the wide world of institutionalised sexism. There are a lot of amazing longreads out there this week, so we had a trouble narrowing it down to just five, but we did our best — and if you have recommendations for things we missed, please chime in with your own recommendations in our comments section!
Death at a Penn State Fraternity (Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic)
This is a a long read and a rough one, but so very good. It pulls together years of work to explore the death of a single fraternity student, and the story it blew wide open. Turning a personal narrative into an indictment of a culture, Flanagan takes us on a meticulous reconstruction of Tim Piazza’s last hours, and leaves us asking some hard questions.
Tim Piazza’s case, however, has something we’ve never seen before. This time the dead student left a final testimony, a vivid, horrifying, and inescapable account of what happened to him and why. The house where he was so savagely treated had been outfitted with security cameras, which recorded his long ordeal. Put together with the texts and group chats of the fraternity brothers as they delayed seeking medical treatment and then cleaned up any traces of a wild party—and with the 65-page report released by a Centre County grand jury, which recommended 1,098 criminal charges against 18 former members and against the fraternity itself—the footage reveals a more complete picture of certain dark realities than we have previously had.
How Essential Oils Became the Cure for Our Age of Anxiety (Rachel Monroe for the New Yorker)
Essential oils: Load of hokum, or vital cure? That’s a subject that’s pretty up to debate, according to some, despite a mountain of pretty decisive science. This is a thoughtful delve into essential oil culture and the people who espouse quack cures, done respectfully, but authoritatively.
Much of the oil sold in the United States comes from two companies based in Utah, Young Living and doTerra, both of which have claimed to be the largest seller of essential oils in the world. The two companies have more than three million customers apiece, and a billion dollars in annual sales. While there are cheaper oils—Walmart sells a kit of sixteen “therapeutic grade” essential oils for thirty dollars—Young Living and doTerra have built their brands on claims that they sell completely pure, naturally derived oils. “They have Skittles,” Kirk Jowers, a vice-president at doTerra, said. “We have the real fruit.”
When You’re Broken by Breaking News (Danielle Tcholakian for Longreads)
This read is a bit shorter, but it explores some interesting tensions in the reporting of breaking news, and the value of different kinds of media, along with the swirl of misinformation that breeds in the aftermath of trauma and disaster. When a story is so huge that people demand news now, even if it’s poorly vetted, how should the media respond?
I was frustrated by the the breaking news updates, which was strange because I used to love being a breaking news reporter. I know the rush of unearthing a piece of information no one else has, of typing as fast as you can to get it out — the pride of being first. But something about this news cycle has changed that for me. I don’t care that the shooter was a gambler, or a loner, that he was cruel to his girlfriend in his local Starbucks, or otherwise unremarkable as he purchased multiple firearms. I don’t see what value that information has for the public.
How the Elderly Lose Their Rights (Rachel Aviv for the New Yorker)
Older adults in the United States are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation. This unflinching piece takes a sharp, insightful look at the systems that conspire to keep elderly people trapped, slowly stripped of dignity and autonomy, in a country that devalues their lives and contributions.
On the Tuesday after Labor Day, she drove to the house again and found a note taped to the door: “In case of emergency, contact guardian April Parks.” Belshe dialled the number. Parks, who had a brisk, girlish way of speaking, told Belshe that her parents had been taken to Lakeview Terrace, an assisted-living facility in Boulder City, nine miles from the Arizona border. She assured Belshe that the staff there would take care of all their needs.
“You can’t just walk into somebody’s home and take them!” Belshe told her.
Nestlé Makes Billions Bottling Water It Pays Nearly Nothing For (Caroline Winter for Bloomberg Businessweek)
When in doubt, follow the money, and in the case of the bottled water industry, the pockets are deep. This piece explores the brilliant business model of firms profiting at the expense of small communities who make deals to sell their most precious resource…and don’t realise what they’ve given up until it’s too late.
Nestlé has been preparing for shortages for decades. The company’s former chief executive officer, Helmut Maucher, said in a 1994 interview with the New York Times: “Springs are like petroleum. You can always build a chocolate factory. But springs you have or you don’t have.” His successor, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who retired recently after 21 years in charge, drew criticism for encouraging the commodification of water in a 2005 documentary, saying: “One perspective held by various NGOs—which I would call extreme—is that water should be declared a human right. … The other view is that water is a grocery product. And just as every other product, it should have a market value.” Public outrage ensued. Brabeck-Letmathe says his comments were taken out of context and that water is a human right. He later proposed that people should have free access to 30 liters per day, paying only for additional use.
If you enjoy our work, please consider supporting us with a one time or recurring donation. We believe in paying writers, and we rely on our readers to help us continue serving up interesting, dynamic, and engaging commentary every weekday. To make sure you don’t miss any of that commentary, you can subscribe to our newsletter below — and if you’re interested in writing for us, check out our contributor guidelines.
Photo: Masha George/Creative Commons