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Must Reads: Zika, BART, PTSD, strikes, and con artists

It’s been a busy week around the world, but here are some stories that caught our eyes from around the web, from investigative journalism to frank personal essays.

The Disappearing Soldier‘ (Pacific Standard)

It’s a strange, haunting, mysterious story, and one that testifies to the legacy we’re leaving soldiers with as they return from complicated, hated, and sometimes forgotten wars. How did the system fail this Australian serviceman, and how can it do better?

The railroad tracks cut through a marshy area, continued through the smattering of houses that make up the hamlet of Ray Brook, and passed the gates of the federal penitentiary. At noon, two guards on their lunch break saw a man in winter gear walking steadily east. Just beyond the prison was the trail to Scarface Mountain. Broad but not tall, with no real view, Scarface isn’t majestic, but on the slope facing Saranac Lake is a distinctive, rocky cliff—its eponymous scar. From the trailhead to the summit, it’s a 3.5-mile climb that takes around two hours in summer. In late December, it would have been slower going, the route covered by snow, criss-crossed with misleading animal trails, and slick with ice. At some point, the man walked off the trail and into the unmarked woods.

Why we should listen to the cleaners on strike at the Maudsley Hospital‘ (The Guardian)

Striking workers, and how they’re handled, provide powerful insights into how society treats those who are least able to advocate for themselves. These workers are demanding better working and living conditions: Will they get them? What does this say about hospital work around the world?

But the balance has shifted. The sense of power that these women – indeed all of us – experienced on the picket line is tangible. The scales have tipped in favour of the workers. All because they have organised into a union, the GMB. They have grown in confidence, their consciousness has been raised, their heads are high, and they have done the most powerful thing a group of organised workers can do: they have withdrawn their labour. They have redressed the balance of power between them and their employer.

Tackling Zika: Have We Learned Our Lesson on Rights?‘ (Rewire)

Recommendations from public health officials created a human rights crisis with Zika: As the virus is linked to possible microcephaly in pregnant patients, some officials recommended that patients not get pregnant, in a move that carried powerful overtones of attempting to control reproductive rights. Moreover, many patients in Latin American can’t access birth control, or abortion.

Without access to contraception, many women, including some young girls, will experience unintended pregnancies. And once pregnant, women and girls do not have control over their own reproduction as the laws provide limited options for termination. In countries that have very restrictive abortion laws, women and girls face an even greater health crisis should they experience an unintended pregnancy, become infected with the Zika virus, and want an abortion.

Alleged cult leader plays shell game with U.S. foreign aid‘ (Reveal)

Those charity bins you see everywhere promising to send their contents to organisations in need aren’t what they appear. Listen to a fascinating investigation from Reveal that delved into who benefits, and where all that money goes.

Our investigation finds that the U.S. government knew an international fugitive was linked to the projects, but kept the money flowing. Reveal goes behind the bin and across an ocean to find out what’s going on.

This Is Our Reality: Why I Couldn’t Hold Back About the Bay Area’s Real Transit Problem‘ (Popular Mechanics)

Fans of Bay Area Rapid Transit (and haters) were fascinated last week when the company Twitter feed got very real, with an employee honestly talking about the financial and other problems that make it difficult to provide optimal service. Many are lauding the corporate transparency involved, and the man behind the Tweets wrote an essay about the experience.

Yet for all its usefulness, our system is showing its age with alarming regularity. BART now needs more than $1 billion to fix up its electrical system, replacing substations, rectifiers, inverters, and miles upon miles of deteriorated 1960s-era high-voltage cabling. Our tunnel walls below downtown San Francisco (which are below sea level) are struggling to remain waterproof. Our once-world-renowned automatic train control central computer system is now a Pong-era relic, preventing us from running trains closer together and interfacing poorly with the physical infrastructure it controls.

Photo: Alexander Lyubavin/Creative Commons