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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 20 December, 2014

Sitdown Sunday: 7 Deadly Reads

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair. We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Domestic Abuse

Anna Minard looks at a subject that has dominated the headlines over the past few weeks: domestic violence. In particular, she looks at the case of Dennis Clark III (27), who shot dead his girlfriend Justine Baez (24) in April of this year. But he didn’t stop there – after he left the apartment, he shot three more men, and continued shooting. Tragically, domestic violence is not in any way unusual. But how does it turn into a mass shooting spree? What can be done to protect people from such violence – and why don’t we talk about it more? (The Stranger) (Approx minutes 19 reading time – 3996 words)

A woman being killed by her boyfriend is a horrifying crime, but it’s not unusual. Domestic-violence deaths, especially with a gun, are relatively common occurrences—two-thirds of women killed with a firearm in the United States are killed by an intimate partner, according to federal crime statistics. What splashed this story across national news was the death count—a domestic-violence homicide that became a mass shooting.

2. Tech ends

David Rotman explores how we need technology, but some believe it is destroying our jobs. According to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee , as our use of technology has increased, jobs have been destroyed faster than they are being created.  As Rotman says, it is “a startling assertion because it threatens the faith that many economists place in technological progress”. (Technology Review) (Approx 18 minutes reading time – 3773 words)

On the chart Brynjolfsson likes to show, separate lines represent productivity and total employment in the United States. For years after World War II, the two lines closely tracked each other, with increases in jobs corresponding to increases in productivity. The pattern is clear: as businesses generated more value from their workers, the country as a whole became richer, which fueled more economic activity and created even more jobs. Then, beginning in 2000, the lines diverge; productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. By 2011, a significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation.

3. Gagriculture

Ted Genoways writes about how groups trying to expose the alleged abuse of animals on farms in the USA are finding themselves ‘gagged’ by new measures. He meets Shawn Lyons, whose methods of hog-handling included thumping the animals, and speaks to him about his arrest after footage of his actions found its way into the hands of law enforcement. He also looks at the lobbying effort from agribusiness to prevent activists from taking part in undercover investigations.  (Mother Jones) (Approx 27 minutes reading time – 5466 words)

“If you think this is an animal welfare issue, you have missed the mark,” said Amanda Hitt, director of the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign, who served as a representative for the whistleblowers who tipped off ABC in the Food Lion case. “This is a bigger, broader issue.” She likened activist videos to airplane black-box recorders—evidence for investigators to deconstruct and find wrongdoing. Ag gag laws, she said, don’t just interfere with workers blowing the whistle on animal abuse. “You are also stopping environmental whistleblowing; you are also stopping workers’ rights whistleblowing.”

4. Private publicity

Jill Lepore asks if it is possible to have privacy in an age of publicity, bringing us back to 1844 when eavesdropping drew a “huge fuss” when an Italian revolutionary began to suspect the UK’s Home Secretary had ordered his mail to be opened. She looks at today’s attitude to online surveillance, given the recent revelations about the NSA. She argues that e-mail “isn’t that different from mail”, and that monitoring people’s correspondence is most certainly not a new phenomenon.  (New Yorker) (Approx 19 minutes reading time – 3885 words)

As a matter of historical analysis, the relationship between secrecy and privacy can be stated in an axiom: the defense of privacy follows, and never precedes, the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case for privacy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn. The post office has opened your mail. Your photograph is on Facebook. Google already knows that, notwithstanding your demographic, you hate kale.

5. You, Robot

Rick Paulas introduces us to an oral history of robot wars, taking us back to California in 1992, when the “best and brightest engineering minds that money can buy” met with George Lucas to present their ideas about ‘battlebots’. After the battlebots came the sport of ‘robot combat’, and Robot Wars. Charting the evolution of this from its early days to today, we find out more about concepts like ‘Robot Darwinism’ and what draws people to the unusual ‘sport’. (SB Nation) (Approx 46 minutes reading time – 9249 words)

It’s crowded, I can’t see what’s going on. The bleachers are blocking my view. And I walk around the edge, and there’s an opening. And I hear this mayhem and banging noises and smell this weird smell. And I turn the corner and, BOOM, there’s these little remote controlled car robots with weapons crashing into each other, smashing into each other, essentially killing each other.

6. Flying blind

Katie Heaney is afraid of flying. So what does she do? Instead of giving up travelling by plane altogether, she tackles her fear head on: using exposure therapy.  She attends a therapy programme that uses virtual reality to put her onto a plane that is careering through an intense storm – and the ultimate test of whether it works is that she will return home by air. Does the bizarre treatment work? (Buzzfeed ) (Approx 33 minutes reading time – 6745 words)

It is Mary Cover Jones, though, who is credited with developing the therapy’s central technique: “desensitization,” or the process by which the body’s response to the triggering stimulus gradually diminishes by repeated exposure. Jones’ most notable work is a 1924 study conducted on a 3-year-old boy named Peter with many phobias, including rats and rabbits. Jones posited that the introduction of a positive stimulus — food — in tandem with the triggering stimulus — a white rabbit — would desensitize Peter to his fear. Jones brought both the rabbit and the food closer and closer to Peter (a simultaneously bizarre and sweet image, if ever there was one) until he was able to touch the rabbit.

AND FROM THE ARCHIVES

Journalist Michael Hastings died at the age of just 33 in a car crash. A talented writer who took on tough subjects, in 2010, he profiled General Stanley A McChrystal, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and US Forces-Afghanistan. The profile ended up leading to McChrystal resigning, despite the fact he had led the war on Afghanistan since June 2009. (Rolling Stone) (Approx 39 minutes reading time – 7963words)

But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.” Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, “turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.” Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” says an adviser. “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.’ ”

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

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