#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.
Which camp are you in: Fearful of the coming robot apocalypse, or looking forward to the coming robot nirvana? Being human, I'm mostly on the fear side of this question. So I read with interest a Quartz post the other day that made clear a robot apocalypse for some is a robot nirvana for others. In this case, the losers are crown-of-thorns starfish and the winners are the corals that make up Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The starfish are bad news for the corals. So researchers have developed an autonomous underwater killing machine, a robot that — they say — can identify its target 99.4 percent of the time and deliver a lethal injection of bile salts. The Quartz description makes it sound a bit like the black, hovering orb that threatened an imprisoned Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie. It sounds wonderful. It sounds scary. It sounds like the future.
It's usually Labor Day weekend when a piece like this rolls out. We journalists love holiday themes. Still, the timing of this thought-provoking article this week from The Atlantic was apropos as Americans returned to work in a new year amid grim global economic news. (Thanks a lot, China, and your dysfunctional-but-still-growing economy).
Just why do Americans work so much?
Research by a Harvard economist cited in the piece offers several possibilities, including the obvious – stagnant wages make it difficult for working people to work less.
Nearly a century ago, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that American productivity and the age of abundance would mean less toil for workers. And until the 1970s, the average workweek was shrinking.
Not anymore. Most of us are working more. And another intriguing answer to the question why – and some of you may find this one difficult to believe – we may actually prefer being at work.
Don't buy it? Um, are you reading this at work?
Sometimes, you can't just talk it out. For veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, art may be more fruitful.
Samantha Allen of The Daily Beast highlights a program at Walter Reed medical center that is teaching veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan how to make papier-mache masks.
"The results," she writes, "are stirring."
In the hundreds of masks that have been made, there are themes: cuts, embedded shrapnel, manipulated mouths and the "split sense of self," according to art therapist and program coordinator Melissa Walker.
Drexel University in Philadelphia will be studying 400 of the masks to better understand service members' experiences.
"A lot of research will tell you that when you're in a traumatic experience, the part of the brain that controls speech shuts down," said Dr. Girija Kaimal of Drexel tells The Daily Beast. "So having a nonverbal way—such as art—to communicate is key to understanding what they're going through."
What I find particularly interesting is that the veterans do many kinds of art projects, but Walker says the masks tend to get the most attention from people outside the program.
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