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Sitdown Sunday: Loving one dog while grieving another

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

Image: Shutterstock/4 PM production

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. China vs the US

How to stop China and the US going to war?

(The Guardian, approx 18 mins reading time)

The 2020s now loom as a decisive decade, as the balance of power between the US and China shifts. Strategists of both countries know this. For policymakers in Beijing and Washington, as well as in other capitals, the 2020s will be the decade of living dangerously. Should these two giants find a way to coexist without betraying their core interests, the world will be better for it. Should they fail, down the other path lies the possibility of a war many times more destructive than what we are seeing in Ukraine today – and, as in 1914, one that will rewrite the future in ways we can barely imagine.

2. Loss, grief and dogs

What one writer learned from loving one dog while grieving for another. 

(Outside, approx 15 mins reading time)

On that early spring day in 2021, Sunny was euthanized in my backyard, after cancer had consumed her. It was already a time of great transition for me. I was months away from turning 60, what many like to call the start of life’s third act. A year earlier, I had uprooted myself from Flagstaff, Arizona, my home for 26 years, and moved to Cortez, Colorado, where I knew no one but could live more cheaply. I believe Sunny held on as long as she could to usher me safely across the threshold. Except for those last few months, she had enjoyed a great life. Her days were filled with chasing Frisbees, swimming in rivers, romping in the mountains, sleeping on couches, and sneaking table food. She was my faithful hiking partner and supportive copilot as I navigated divorce, single parenting, financial strains, stressful jobs, PTSD, a mother with dementia, a dad with Alzheimer’s disease, and an empty nest after my son went to college. 

3. The rogue scientist and gene-edited babies

He Jiankui has been called a rogue scientist because he worked to help two couples have a baby through IVF without the risk of father-to-child HIV transmission. This article looks at what he did, and at whether such germline editing would cross an ethical red line.

(Science, approx 20 mins reading time)

Yet opposition was not unanimous. A few months before He met the couples, a committee convened by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) concluded in a well-publicized report that human trials of germline editing “might be permitted” if strict criteria were met. The group of scientists, lawyers, bioethicists, and patient advocates spelled out a regulatory framework but cautioned that “these criteria are necessarily vague” because various societies, caregivers, and patients would view them differently. The committee notably did not call for an international ban, arguing instead for governmental regulation as each country deemed appropriate and “voluntary self-regulation pursuant to professional guidelines.”

4. Searching for Susy Thunder

A journalist sets out to find ‘Susan Thunder’, a famed female hacker from the 1980s. 

(The Verge, approx 32 mins reading time)

Her specialty was social engineering. She was a master at manipulating people, and she wasn’t above using seduction to gain access to unauthorized information. Over the phone, she could convince anyone of anything. Her voice honey-sweet, she’d pose as a telephone operator, a clerk, or an overworked secretary: I’m sorry, my boss needs to change his password, can you help me out? In the early ’80s, Susan and her friends pulled increasingly elaborate phone scams until they nearly shut down phone service for the entire city. As two of her friends, Kevin Mitnick and Lewis DePayne, were being convicted for cybercrime, she made an appearance on 20/20, demonstrating their tradecraft to Geraldo Rivera.

5. Risk compensation

Ever heard of ‘risk compensation’? It’s a theory that things like seatbelts and guardrails will make people act in even more risky ways. But is it a load of bunkum?

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(Slate, approx 11 mins reading time)

But whenever risk compensation has been subjected to empirical scrutiny, the results are usually ambiguous, or the hypothesis fails spectacularly. And when risk compensation does play a part in behavior, it tends to do so in small and specific ways—hardly cause for the alarm and fervor with which it is often applied, especially during the pandemic. It might be tempting to dismiss any single deployment of risk compensation language by medical authorities as an unfortunate messaging misstep. Yet a closer look reveals there’s a reason why this zombie idea won’t die: It’s baked into the culture of institutional medicine and American political thought. And it’s going to come for us again, and again, in the future.

6. Defence in Lviv

A journalist and US veteran writes about his experience teaching civilian volunteers in Lviv how to defend themselves against the Russian invaders.

(Esquire, approx 33 mins reading time)

We taught basic urban-combat tactics and survivability to teachers, bus drivers, IT workers. Deceit marks any war, and the information battles in Ukraine have become case studies in real time. Yet I never got one whiff of duplicity in the confines of our training compound. These people were who they said they were, which is to say they are regular folks who want nothing to do with any of this but find themselves forced to act. How do I know? If you’ve ever seen a middle-aged lawyer try to bound across an open field for the first time, you just do.

… AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

Susan Sontag’s friend Terry Castle writes about her relationship with the late writer.

(London Review of Books, approx 15 mins reading time)

At its best, our relationship was rather like the one between Dame Edna and her feeble sidekick Madge – or possibly Stalin and Malenkov. Sontag was the Supremo and I the obsequious gofer. Whenever she came to San Francisco, usually once or twice a year, I instantly became her female aide-de-camp: a one-woman posse, ready to drop anything at a phone call (including the classes I was supposed to be teaching at Stanford) and drive her around to various Tower record stores and dim sum restaurants. 

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