The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Josh Clark

What's Killing Poor White Women? In the American Prospect, writer Monica Potts examines a mystery of public health: over the past 18 years the life expectancy for white female high school dropouts in America has dropped by five years, an alarmingly quick regression the likes of which has typically last been seen in the West during epidemics in pre-Industrial Europe. Worse, no one understands the cause.

Why Are You Not Dead Yet? Slate science writer Laura Helmuth presents a nice tour of the state of ill health and early death that formed the basis of life expectancy for virtually all of human existence. It is only in the last several decades that medical interventions and public health initiatives have effectively doubled the average age a person can expect to live to compared to a hundred or so years ago. Helmuth's article gives rise to a game on Slate that allows you to find out when you would have died had you lived in a previous and less healthy era.

NSA Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on the Web. Based on files released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, New York Times reporters Nicole Perlroth, Scott Shane and Jeff Larson submit a report on the NSA's ability to decrypt the codes used every day to protect the emails, financial transactions and other personal information of people around the world, including Americans, using both hackers and coercion of corporations to find their way in. The codename given to the successful decryption project is, discouragingly, Bullrun, a major battle in the Civil War.

They Know Much More Than You Think. Another article on the NSA, this one by James Bamford in the New York Review of Books, provides an in-depth overview (maybe the most alarming we've read thus far) of the capabilities the spying agency has in use on telecommunications systems inside the United States, and Bamford ably finds its comparison in Orwell's vision of a total surveillance state in 1984.

They're Taking Over! In the New York Review of Books, Australian Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery covers a new biology book detailing the current (and largely overlooked) of the evolutionarily oldest living sea creature, the jellyfish, and the effect its having on the underwater ecosystems around the world thanks, of course, to human miscalculation and activity.

Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops. In a perhaps unnecessarily long longread, science writer Thomas Goetz covers the science behind feedback -- receiving up to date information about our behavior, its consequences and its impact on our goals -- and how the principles that support self-improvement that underlie it are being used in clever technologies.

Is this the dawn of a potentially catastrophic insurance bubble? On the investment website Quartz, writer Simone Fox explores whether the massive amounts of money being poured into the reinsurance investment sector -- where investors gamble that the insurance companies they fund won't see a huge amount of claims filed by the time they can sell off their stakes in the companies -- is in the midst of generating another bubble like the subprime mortgage market in 2007.

Death Grip. In a 2007 issue of New Republic, writer John B Judis reports on how terror management theory carved a field out for itself in social psychology by scientifically studying the theories of death psychology founder Ernest Becker and how fear from being faced with our mortality by the attacks of Sept 11 explains how George W. Bush was propelled into the White House for a second term.

A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse. Evolutionary biologist and all-round genius Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay in 1978 discussing the morphological changes to Disney's Mickey Mouse over 50 years, which resulted in his overall "cutening". Gould uses the theories of kinderschema to explain how and why.

Goodybe, Miami. In Rolling Stone, writer Jeff Goodell paints a grim picture for the survival of South Florida in the face of rising water and salt water intrusion due to climate change. The article is fascinating, well-written and worth the read, but for a synopsis: You may want to avoid long term real estate investment in Miami.

How Many Calories Are You Really Burning? In a 2005 article in Runner's World, writer Amby Burfoot puts to rest a common question, whether you burn the same calories if you run or walk the same distance.

A Plea of Caution from Russia. In the New York Times, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, writes a strangely sensible op-ed piece seeking to persuade the U.S. to drop its possible intention of invading Syria in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons and instead follow U.N. rules and seek a more peaceful and diplomatic path.

The Physics Behind Traffic Jams. Posted on, writer William Beaty writes about his self-experimentation in Seattle traffic with attempts to evaporate traffic jams. Beaty draws from real findings about the fluid dynamics of traffic and uncovers what steps individual drivers can take to ease congestion on the roadway in the midst of a real live traffic jam, at least theoretically.