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Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads

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

Image: An android via Shutterstock

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. The life-saving devices that could kill you
Charles C Mann looks at how smartphones could, in the wrong hands, turn life-saving devices such as pacemakers into murder weapons at the touch of a button. (Vanity Fair)

I asked Jack if he thought anyone would actually use smartphones to try to fiddle with other people’s pacemakers, or change the dosage of their medications, or compromise their eyesight, or take control of their prosthetic limbs, or raise the volume of their hearing aids to a paralyzing shriek. Will this become a tempting new way to settle a score or hurry up an inheritance? He said, “Has there ever been a box connected to the Internet that people haven’t tried to break into?”

2. The entertaining thief
Adam Green spends some time with Apollo Robbins, the pickpocket extraordinaire who has specialists studying what his methods reveal about the nature of human attention. (The New Yorker)

Robbins works smoothly and invisibly, with a diffident charm that belies his talent for larceny. One senses that he would prosper on the other side of the law. “You have to ask yourself one question,” he often says as he holds up a wallet or a watch that he has just swiped. “Am I being paid enough to give it back?”

3. One Nation under God
Winston Ross profiles the far-right ‘sovereign’ groups that are emerging in the US, and their disregard for government. (The Daily Beast)

They are “sovereign citizens,” inspired by any number of complicated and cockamamie theories that all draw the same conclusion: we are not subject to your “laws.” And they are becoming an increasing headache for cops, public defenders, prosecutors, bailiffs, and judges all over the U.S., because when they inevitably land in court for driving without a license or failing to pay taxes, they clog up the system with reams of nonsensical paperwork. Their obfuscatory filings are so inundating that harried prosecutors often drop the charges against them – a victory for the sovereigns’ otherwise quixotic cause.

4. Working for a robot
Kevin Kelly wonders how long it will take before robots become our employers. (Wired)

It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation. Yes, dear reader, even you will have your job taken away by machines. In other words, robot replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work.

5. When the West goes home
Andreas Ulrich looks at the training being given to police in Afghanistan and wonders what will happen to the country once Western forces withdraw. (Der Spiegel)

Eight weeks is not much time to make a police officer of a man who has perhaps never attended a school. The country’s illiteracy rate is currently at roughly 70 percent, and sometimes the recruits don’t understand a word, for instance, if an instructor tries to teach a group of Pashtuns in Dari. Only the most basic knowledge is taught: roadblocks, house searches, self-defense and making arrests, weaponry and a few legal principles, including human rights. But is that enough?

6. Conducting yourself
Justin Davidson, a critic, decides to lead by example and conduct his own orchestra. (NYMag)

The idea of conducting as a kind of emotional ventriloquism helps deal with one especially thorny bit of the Maestro Paradox: Leadership requires confidence that is difficult to acquire and impossible to fake. Orchestras are psychic X-ray machines. They judge a new chief within minutes, and once scorn sets in, forget it. I’m going to have to project the sense that I am entitled to be there, and first, I must convince myself.

… AND A CLASSIC READ FROM THE ARCHIVES…

In 2007, Jeanne Marie Laskas went 500 feet below the surface, getting to know the miners who keep everything moving. (GQ)

The first day I went into the coal mine, a guy looked down and said, “Damn, how big are your feet?” I said, “15.” He said, “You’re a big-footed son of a bitch.” And that was it. One guy had a huge head, so of course we called him Pumpkin. One guy had a big red birthmark on his face, so of course his name was Spot. They don’t cut you any slack. They’ll get right on you. A coal miner will get right on you.

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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Paul Hyland

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