Weekend reads: 11 of the best premium syndicator pieces

Welcome to the weekend.

Settle down with a cuppa and catch up on some of the best content from our premium syndicators this week.

Happy reading.

How a David and a Goliath sprinted ahead in the vaccine race

Few corporate competitions have unfolded with so much at stake and such a complex backdrop. At play were not just commercial rivalries and scientific challenges but an ambitious plan to put the federal government in the middle of the effort and, most vexingly, the often toxic political atmosphere created by President Donald Trump. Betting that a vaccine would secure his re-election, he waged both public and private campaigns to speed the process.

The New York Times looks at the furious race between a pharmaceutical giant and a biotech upstart to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

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• Bill Gates, Covid-19 and the quest to vaccinate the world
• How the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine works and why it matters
• After admitting mistake, AstraZeneca faces difficult questions about vaccine

'Loser': How a lifelong fear bookended Trump's presidency

It is a matter of record that Trump has been a loser in many business ventures (Trump Steaks, anyone?). In fact, his greatest success flowed not from real estate but from the creation of a popular alternate-reality television persona — Trump, master of the boardroom — that he ultimately rode to the White House.

But his famous aversion to the label of loser has now reached its apotheosis.

The New York Times looks at how the president’s inability to concede the election is the latest reality-denying moment in a career preoccupied with an epithet.

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• After chaotic four years, Wall Street is itching to unfollow @realDonaldTrump
• What Donald Trump liked about being president

Crowning glory: Meet the Kiwi directing The Crown

The Crown isn’t Jessica Hobbs’ first period drama by a long shot. No, the Emmy-nominated New Zealand director, who has overseen five episodes in the two most recent seasons, has a long history in shows with a long history.

Before joining the team for the royal epic, Hobbs had been playing in the premiere league of British television for some time. Establishing herself in Australia in the late 1990s, she rose to director on shows such as Heartbreak High, All Saints, McLeod’s Daughters and Rake. When the 2011 domestic drama The Slap got noticed internationally, Hobbs found herself with work offers in the UK.

Among her first shows was the second season of Broadchurch, where she worked for the first time with Olivia Colman, the woman who would be queen. Hobbs also directed Emily Watson in thriller Apple Tree Yard, Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker in unconventional police drama River and Walker again in The Split.

Then came the call to join The Crown. She was the show’s second female director and first colonial.

Hobbs talks to Russell Baillie of The Listener about the anxiety that comes with depicting increasingly recent royal history.

ALSO READ:
• How Britain is reacting to The Crown, season 4

Covid combat fatigue: 'I would come home with tears in my eyes'

Frontline health care workers have been the one constant, the medical soldiers forming row after row in the ground war against the raging spread of the coronavirus. But as cases and deaths shatter daily records, foreshadowing one of the deadliest years in American history, the very people whose life mission is caring for others are on the verge of collective collapse.

In interviews, more than two dozen frontline medical workers described the unrelenting stress that has become an endemic part of the health care crisis nationwide. Many related spikes in anxiety and depressive thoughts, as well as a chronic sense of hopelessness and deepening fatigue, spurred in part by the cavalier attitudes of many Americans who seem to have lost patience with the pandemic.

The New York Times talks to doctors and nurses on the front lines who are running on empty.

ALSO READ:
• Evidence builds that an early mutation made the pandemic harder to stop
• A lonely New York holiday: ‘Miss this one and be alive for the next’

Michael Kors: 'You are only as good as the women you dress'

For a brief moment Michael Kors seems just like the rest of us. During lockdown he binge watched Netflix’s Unorthodox, succumbed to reality television (American Idol became a weekly fix) and despaired over the endless amounts of laundry.

It’s most likely a fleeting visit to the real world, for the regular MK universe — temporarily on hiatus — is altogether more fabulous.

On the eve of his brand’s 40th anniversary, Kors tells Jane McFarland of The Times how he went from bankruptcy to billion‑dollar businessman.

Along Russia's 'road of bones,' relics of suffering and despair

The prisoners, hacking their way through insect-infested summer swamps and winter ice fields, brought the road, and the road then brought yet more prisoners, delivering a torrent of slave labour to the gold mines and prison camps of Kolyma, the most frigid and deadly outpost of Josef Stalin’s gulag.

Their path became known as the “road of bones,” a track of gravel, mud and, for much of the year, ice that stretches 2,027km west from the Russian port city of Magadan on the Pacific Ocean inland to Yakutsk, the capital of the Yakutia region in eastern Siberia. Snaking across the wilderness of the Russian Far East, it slithers through vistas of harsh, breathtaking beauty dotted with frozen, unmarked graves and the rapidly vanishing traces of labour camps.

The New York Times take a trip along the Kolyma Highway where the ruins of Stalin’s cruel era are still visible today.

Can we make our robots less biased than we are?

During the past decade, evidence has accumulated that “bias is the original sin of AI”. Facial-recognition systems have been shown to be more accurate in identifying white faces than those of other people.

Now AI developers are committing to end the injustices in how their technology is often made and used.

The New York Times reports.

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• Designed to deceive: Do these people look real to you?

An unlikely Thanksgiving tradition carries on

Four years ago, Wanda Dench didn’t know her grandson had changed his phone number when she invited him to her house for Thanksgiving dinner at 3pm sharp.

First there was confusion from the apparent stranger on the receiving end of the text, then an exchange of selfies.

“You not my grandma,” texted Jamal Hinton, then a 17-year-old high school senior. “Can I still get a plate though?”

“Of course you can,” Dench, now 63, of Mesa, Arizona, responded. “That’s what grandma’s do … feed every one.”

Thus began a holiday tradition that has charmed the world.

This year though, they will feel major loss from the pandemic at their table.

The change Steve Jobs made to turn Apple into an innovation giant

Apple is well known for its innovations in hardware, software and services. Thanks to them, it grew from some 8,000 employees and US$7 billion in revenue in 1997, the year Steve Jobs returned, to 137,000 employees and US$260 billion in revenue in 2019. Much less well known are the organisational design and the associated leadership model that have played a crucial role in the company’s innovation success.

Harvard Business Review look at the big moves Steve Jobs made when he returned to the role.

Diego Maradona, the most human of immortals

The day that Diego Maradona said goodbye, as his voice cracked and the place that had always been home heaved and sobbed, his mind drifted to the mistakes that he had made, the price that he had paid.

In his valedictory moment, he did not seek absolution. All he asked, instead, was that the sport that he had loved and that had adored him in return, the one that he had mastered, the one he had illuminated, the one he lifted into an art, was not tarnished by all that he had done.

It is certainly possible that Diego Armando Maradona, who died this week at age 60, was the finest soccer player ever to draw breath, though that is a subject of hot and unyielding debate.

Less contentious is the idea that no other player has ever inspired such fierce devotion.

Anthony Hopkins makes it look simple. (And maybe it should be)

In the dementia drama The Father, the 82-year-old actor turns in a career-capping performance and yet claims, “No acting required.”

Had I misheard Anthony Hopkins?

Perhaps there was some sort of glitch on our Zoom call, or maybe the actual word that Hopkins meant to use had been obscured by his Welsh lilt. But then I heard him say it again. Twice!

“It was easy,” he told me with a grin. “Just so easy.”

We had been talking about something that didn’t seem easy at all: his tour-de-force performance in the drama The Father, in which Hopkins plays a London patriarch struggling with dementia. As the character finds himself unstuck in time and struggles to make sense of his surroundings, Hopkins flits back and forth from flinty to foggy with an astonishing grace that will almost certainly put him back in the Oscar race.

So how did this titan of stage and screen tackle such a weighty role? Hopkins shrugged his shoulders. “It was an easy part to play,” he said again, “because it was such a good script.” And it got even easier when Olivia Colman was cast as his put-upon daughter: “When you watch Olivia, and that face crumbles, and the tears come out, you think, ‘Oh, I don’t need to act anymore.'”

Kyle Buchanan of The New York Times talks to the Hollywood star about his latest film.


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