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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 25 October, 2014

Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads

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

Image: Jerome Delay/AP/Press Association Images

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. How a city sank itself
Tim Reid, Cezary Podkul and Ryan McNeill look at the Californian city of San Bernardino and the sequence of events that led to its eventual bankruptcy. (Reuters)

City workers took advantage of compensation rules, common among public employees in California, that made retirement deals even better. Key to this was boosting an employee’s eve-of-retirement wages, which form the basis of the pension calculations.

2. The difference between hearing and listening
Seth S. Horowitz explains the role that attention plays in helping us to hear less and listen more. (The New York Times)

While it might take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye, turn your head toward it, recognize it and respond to it, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least 10 times as fast.

3. Obama’s secret army
Alexis Madrigal looks at the technology behind Obama’s successful re-election campaign, and the engineers who made it happen. (The Atlantic)

He may be like you, but he also juggles better than you, and is wilder than you, more fun than you, cooler than you. He’s what a king of the nerds really looks like. Sure, he might grow a beard and put on a little potbelly, but he wouldn’t tuck in his t-shirt. He is not that kind of nerd. Instead, he’s got plugs in his ears and a shock of gloriously product-mussed hair and hipster glasses and he doesn’t own a long-sleeve dress shirt, in case you were wondering.

4. A life without pain
Justin Heckert spends some time with Ashlyn Blocker, whose inability to feel pain makes every day a fight to stay alive. (The New York Times)

A couple of nights after telling me the story about putting her hand in the boiling water, Ashlyn sat in the kitchen, playing with the headband that held back her long brown hair. We had all been drawing on napkins and playing checkers and listening to Ashlyn and Tristen sing “Call Me Maybe,” when all of a sudden Tara gasped and lifted the hair away from her daughter’s ears. She was bleeding beneath it. The headband had been cutting into her skin entire time we were sitting there.

5. The army that needs war to stay alive
William Langewiesche looks at whether the French Foreign Legion are running out of battles. (Vanity Fair)

I had thought that people might come out to encourage them, and even warm them with offers of coffee, but rather the opposite occurred when some of the residents closed their shutters as if to wish the legionnaires gone. This fit a pattern I had seen all day, of drivers barely bothering to slow as they passed the line of exhausted troops. When I mentioned my surprise to Boulanger he said that the French love their army once a year, on Bastille Day, but only if the sky is blue. As for the foreigners of the Foreign Legion, by definition they have always been expendable.

6. Bigger than boxing
Maik Großekathöfer follows Hamid Rahimi, the Kabul-born and Hamburg-raised boxer, as he travels back to Afghanistan to help give his people the hope he knows they need. (Spiegel Online)

After training, Rahimi sits in the steam sauna. “My father always said we were only guests in Germany. It was clear to him that we would return. Bearded fanatics aren’t the only ones living in Afghanistan. Young people here need other heroes. They shouldn’t hang posters of mujahideen over their beds, but of athletes instead.”

… AND A CLASSIC READ FROM THE ARCHIVES…

In 2010, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The New Yorker about the efforts of two American conservationists and the point at which right and wrong began to blur.

The confrontation with poachers brought troubles. Delia Owens tells Vieira that “there were several assassination teams that were sent down by poachers with the intent to kill us. I mean, lions don’t frighten me nearly as much as humans.” Vieira’s voice-over suggests that the threats created trouble in the marriage, and Delia says of her husband, “He was just out there. I couldn’t reach him anymore. He had become—he doesn’t like for me to say it, but I think he had become truly obsessed.”

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

The Sports Pages – the best sports writing collected every week by TheScore.ie >

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