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Sitdown Sunday: The secret history of facial recognition

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

Image: Shutterstock/Prostock-studio

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. Knocking them down

This in-depth Noteworthy investigation looks at the 10,000 trees which have been cut down by councils since 2015. 

(Noteworthy, approx 19 mins reading time)

Later, he contacted South Dublin County Council, but says nobody could give him satisfaction on what had happened. “They told residents that the stumps would be removed and ground down, but that it could take a few years. We kicked up a fuss and, within 48 hours, they had removed any evidence that this beloved tree had ever been here.”

2. Splendid isolation

Confronting the realities of turning 40, getting older, and wondering about his place in the world, Irish writer Mark O’Connell headed to a forest to spend 24 hours in nature.

(The Guardian, approx 25 mins reading time)

This resource being as limited as it was, should I not be doing something better with it, something more urgent or interesting or authentic? At some point in my late 30s, I recognised the paradoxical source of this anxiety: that every single thing in life took much longer than I expected it to, except for life itself, which went much faster, and would be over before I knew where I was.

3. Why no paternity leave?

Icelandic dads take it. Japanese dads don’t. How parenthood, paternity leave and work collide.

(The Atlantic, approx 6 mins reading time)

In the past several years, a small number of men who object to these customs have filed lawsuits against their employers for what they say is unfair treatment. One, a Japanese national in his late 30s who has preferred to stay anonymous, claims that his employer, the sportswear company Asics, punished him after his stints of parental leave following the births of his two children. He maintains he was moved from a sales-and-marketing position to a warehouse job, doing manual tasks; after he sustained a shoulder injury at work, he was assigned to a different desk job, one that he claims to have no expertise in.

4. Becoming a man

For 50 years, P Carl lived as a woman. Now that he’s living as a man, he’s interrogating his relationship with masculinity and what he learned from the other men in his life growing up.

(New York Times, approx 21 mins reading time)

My father soured me on the idea of manhood from the get-go. My wife wasn’t encouraging around the subject. She has identified as a lesbian for 40 years, and though she loves boys, especially our nephews, men haven’t been of particular interest to her. She never had any intention of living with one. And as much as I had done every single thing to look like a man and live like one, I denied wanting to become one because I didn’t want to become my father or lose my lesbian lover or be a failed feminist and intellectual.

5. Who has the right to tell stories?

The release of the US novel American Dirt, about a mother and son who go on the run from a Mexican cartel, has had people asking – who gets to tell stories, whose stories are we telling, and what happens when race and writing collide?

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(The New York Times, approx 7 mins reading time)

“It’s a story that I think is at too comfortable a remove from the citizens of this country right now,” Cummins, 45, said in an interview on a frigid, snowy day last month. “This really is a tragedy of our making on our southern border. We are absolutely responsible for all of these deaths. This blood is on our hands.”

6. The secret history of facial recognition

If you were ever wondering about the history of facial recognition, and what it means for people, have a read of this.

(Wired, approx 26 mins reading time)

But early in his career, Woody had been consumed with an attempt to give machines one particular, relatively unsung, but dangerously powerful human capacity: the ability to recognize faces. Lance knew that his father’s work in this area—the earliest research on facial-­recognition technology—had attracted the interest of the US government’s most secretive agencies. Woody’s chief funders, in fact, seem to have been front companies for the CIA. Had Lance just incinerated the evidence of Washington’s first efforts to identify individual people on a mass, automated scale?

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

With the film Dark Waters about to hit cinemas, it’s a good time to look back at the article that started it all – this piece from 2016 about the lawyer who took on a chemical company.

(New York Times, approx 36 mins reading time)

At one point, the video cuts to a skinny red cow standing in hay. Patches of its hair are missing, and its back is humped — a result, Wilbur speculates, of a kidney malfunction. Another blast of static is followed by a close-up of a dead black calf lying in the snow, its eye a brilliant, chemical blue. ‘‘One hundred fifty-three of these animals I’ve lost on this farm,’’ Wilbur says later in the video. ‘‘Every veterinarian that I’ve called in Parkersburg, they will not return my phone calls or they don’t want to get involved. Since they don’t want to get involved, I’ll have to dissect this thing myself. … I’m going to start at this head.’’

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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