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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
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# 7 great reads
Sitdown Sunday: An Icelandic town's annual mission to rescue baby Puffins
Settle down in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

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. Saving the baby puffins

A heartwarming look at the ‘Puffling Patrol’, a volunteer group made up of all ages in a small Icelandic town, and how they go all out to shepherd baby puffins on their journey every year during the fledgling season.

(Smithsonian, approx 19 mins reading time)

A quarter century ago, when Sigrún Anna’s father, Valur Már Valmundsson, was a boy, he rescued as many as 100 pufflings in a night. His daughter and the other kids out tonight won’t see that many in an entire season. That’s one reason they’re so intent on rescuing this one under the truck bed. The girls stand guard as Valmundsson, a burly chef on a commercial fishing boat, rakes a long metal pole toward the little bird. Inch by inch, the puffling backs away. Finally, after half an hour, the chick darts out the other side. It moves fast on its two webbed feet, but the girls are faster. Sigrún Anna wraps the bird in her mittened hands and shows it to me with a shy smile. Its sequin eyes sparkle in its gray face as it regards me calmly.

2. Talking to a chatbot 

Everyone’s talking about AI chatbots, but what are the bots actually saying? Kevin Roose had a conversation with Bing’s chatbot, and was left unsettled by what it said.

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

I’m not the only one discovering the darker side of Bing. Other early testers have gotten into arguments with Bing’s A.I. chatbot, or been threatened by it for trying to violate its rules, or simply had conversations that left them stunned. Ben Thompson, who writes the Stratechery newsletter (and who is not prone to hyperbole), called his run-in with Sydney “the most surprising and mind-blowing computer experience of my life.”

3. Whatever happened to middle age?

Anita Chaudhuri explores how the meaning of being “middle-aged” has changed through the years, from no longer having a job for life to waiting until you’re older to have children. 

(The Guardian, approx 12 mins reading time)

When it comes to screen culture, middle age isn’t what it used to be. People magazine gleefully reported last year that the characters in And Just Like That, the rebooted series of Sex and the City, were the same age (average 55) as the Golden Girls when they made their first outing in the mid-80s. How can that be possible? My recollection of the besequined Florida housemates was that they were teetering off this mortal coil, but then everyone seems old when you are young.

4. Abortion rights

After the overturning of Roe V Wade, women of different faiths are suing some states in the US over their abortion laws. 

(Mother Jones, approx 16 mins reading time)

No matter which way the courts rule, the lawsuits represent a hefty dose of irony: It was a religious movement based on one interpretation of Christianity that helped sparked the decades-long movement to restrict abortion across America back in the 1970s, and it was a politicized revival of that religious fervor that culminated in the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022. Now it’s another religious movement, led by faith leaders and devout adherents of multiple religions, who are trying to overturn these religiously motivated abortion laws.

5. Andrea Riseborough

The actress speaks about the controversy surrounding her Oscar nomination, as well as her career and making the film that got her the nod, To Leslie.

(The Hollywood Reporter, approx 22 mins reading time)

“It’s been confusing,” Riseborough offers, her brow furrowed. “And it’s wonderful the film’s getting seen. I suppose it’s a really bright ray of light. When any of us engage in anything, we want for that piece of work to be absorbed in some way. You can’t control how people absorb it.”

6. Area 51

The history behind the military base long been associated with alien and UFO sightings, and why it still fascinates 

(National Geographic, approx 9 mins reading time)

The government formally acknowledged the existence of Area 51 for the first time in 2013 when the CIA declassified documents about the development of the U-2 and A-12. Previously, locals knew something odd was happening in the desert but details were scarce and hard to verify. Area 51 is still an active base—but the purpose it has served since the 1970s is a top-secret mystery. It will be a few more decades, at least, until current work is declassified and available to the public.


In 1999, a series of apartment bombings in Moscow rocked the Russian people. This article explores who was behind them, and how they accelerated Vladimir Putin to power.

(GQ, approx 42 mins reading time)

It is peculiar, then, how few people outside Russia seem to have wanted that question answered. Several intelligence agencies are believed to have conducted investigations into the apartment bombings, but none have released their findings. Very few American lawmakers have shown an interest in the bombings. In 2003, John McCain declared in Congress that “there remain credible allegations that Russia’s FSB [Federal Security Service] had a hand in carrying out these attacks.” But otherwise, neither the United States government nor the American media have ever shown much inclination to explore the matter.

Note: The Journal generally selects stories that are not paywalled, but some might not be accessible if you have exceeded your free article limit on the site in question.

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