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Narrowing the Vaccine Racial Gap and Fighting Sneaker Bots: The Week in Narrated Articles

This weekend, listen to a collection of narrated articles from around The New York Times, read aloud by the reporters who wrote them.

In the first months that vaccines became available, Black Americans were far less likely than white Americans to be vaccinated. Their hesitancy was fueled not only by the difficulty of obtaining shots in their communities, but also by a powerful combination of general mistrust of the government and medical institutions, and misinformation.

But a wave of vaccination campaigns and a surge of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths this summer have narrowed the gap, experts say.

How the racial gap was narrowed — after months of disappointing turnout and limited access — is a testament to decisions made in many states to send familiar faces to knock on doors and dispel myths about the vaccines’ effectiveness, provide internet access to make appointments and offer transportation to vaccination sites.

The Velvet Underground story is hardly obscure, and in outline it might fit fairly neatly in the standard music-documentary template. Early struggle gives way to (relative) triumph, and then the whole thing blows up in a squall of battling egos, substance abuse and self-destructive behavior. In the aftermath, life goes on, solo careers are pursued, and the survivors — fans as much as artists — look back with mellow affection.

“The Velvet Underground” has some of those elements, but it’s directed by Todd Haynes, a protean filmmaker who never met a genre he couldn’t deconstruct.

Haynes doesn’t just want you to listen to the reminiscences of band members and their friends, lovers and collaborators, or to groove on vintage video of the band in action. He wants you to hear just how strange and new the Velvets sounded, to grasp where that sound came from. And also to see — to feel, to experience — the aesthetic ferment and sensory overload of mid-60s Manhattan.

Written and narrated by Dave Itzkoff

An unparalleled lack of inhibition has always defined Selma Blair’s best-known work. She is 49 now, with a résumé that includes seminal works of teensploitation (“Cruel Intentions”), comedy (“Legally Blonde”) and comic-book adventure (“Hellboy”). That same unbridled bluntness persists in all her interactions, whether scripted or spontaneous, with cameras on or off.

But Blair’s candor has come to mean something more in the three years since she went public about her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Now, whether she is posting personal diaries on social media or appearing on a red carpet, she understands she is a representative with an opportunity to educate a wider audience about what she and others with M.S. are experiencing.

It is a philosophy of maximum openness that she is taking further by appearing as the subject of a new documentary, “Introducing, Selma Blair.” The film, directed by Rachel Fleit, is an unflinching account of Blair’s life with M.S. and the stem-cell transplant she underwent to treat it in 2019.

Written and narrated by Corey Kilgannon

Zohra Saed was an infant when her family, ethnic Uzbeks, fled Afghanistan because of the Soviet-Afghan war, a conflict that killed many of her relatives. But she absorbed her parents’ stories as she grew up in Brooklyn, using them as she became a poet and editor who preserves the literature of Afghan writers.

Three years ago, Ms. Saed, a professor at the City University of New York, began working with a writer from northern Afghanistan to preserve and publish lyrical folk poems in the Uzbek language.

Like many Afghan New Yorkers, Ms. Saed watched and worried as the Taliban takeover following the United States’ withdrawal forced the writer whom she worked with and his extended family of 12 into hiding.

So, Ms. Saed put aside her poetry work and rallied a group of literary cohorts in a grass-roots campaign to move the family to safety among the thriving community of Afghans and other central Asians in New York City.

Written and narrated by Daisuke Wakabayashi

When Bodega, a streetwear shop in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, released a hyped, limited-edition New Balance 997S sneaker in 2019, the entire stock sold out online in under 10 minutes.

There was one problem, though: About 60 percent of Bodega’s sales went to shoppers gaming the system with bots, timesaving automation software used to speed through checkout. The bots had claimed hundreds of pairs of New Balances for a single customer; many other shoppers failed to secure just one.

Thanks to resale sites like StockX and GOAT, collectible sneakers have become an asset class, where pricing corresponds loosely to how quickly an item sells out. Sophisticated sneaker bots, which can cost thousands of dollars, are key to creating the artificial scarcity that makes a sneaker valuable and, in turn, makes a brand seem cool.

It all raises a big, difficult question: If the bots lose, who wins?

The Times’s narrated articles are made by Parin Behrooz, Carson Leigh Brown, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Aaron Esposito, Elena Hecht, Elisheba Ittoop, Emma Kehlbeck, Marion Lozano, Tanya Perez, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and John Woo. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Ryan Wegner, Julia Simon and Desiree Ibekwe.

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