April 12th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

The lucky thirteen genetic superheroes, and why where you live determines how long you live.

They’re supposed to be dead. But they’re not. They are the thirteen genetic superheroes who walk among us. “These people, unbeknownst to them, carry genes that all but guarantee that they’ll get fatal diseases. And yet, somehow, they’re completely healthy.” So all we have to do is figure out what they’re doing and start doing it ourselves. The only problem is, due to the initial terms of the study, the researchers who have identified these lucky thirteen are not allowed to contact them. What makes them so resilient remains a mystery. But the fact that they exist, and that we can genetically identify them, is a very big deal. (I’m no geneticist, but I’m guessing these superheroes have about 75 tabs open right now.)


Location, Location, Compensation

If you’re poor, you might want to consider moving to a place where your life expectancy will be reasonably high. In many parts of America, there is only a minor gap between the life expectancies of the wealthy and the poor. “But in some other parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, and their life spans are getting shorter.” If you’re rich, you’re probably OK right where you are (regardless of where that happens to be). Here are some remarkable numbers from the NYT Upshot: The rich live longer everywhere. For the poor, geography matters.

+ And it turns out that one of those infamous New York Values is living longer.


From Assad to Worse

“The commission’s work recently culminated in a four-hundred-page legal brief that links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad.” Here’s The New Yorker on the The Assad Files that underscore the many war crimes committed by Syria’s leader. Assad is a monster. But he will likely stay in place in large part because of what happened when Iraq’s leader was removed from power.

+ Another recent historical event working in Assad’s favor is what Obama calls the worst mistake of his presidency. Failing to appropriately plan for the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall.


How Racist is Too Racist?

“What does it take to prove unconstitutional prejudice on a jury?” That’s a question The Marshall Project helps to answer with this informative (and disturbing) quiz on juror bias.


Water World

“When wells run dry, farmers are forced to fallow fields, and some people get hungry, thirsty and often very angry.” Reveal has gone through some secret conversations among diplomats to piece together one very consistent storyline: We’re running out of water, and the world’s powers are very worried.

+ “A lot of people want to go back to something. They think, If we just stop doing things, maybe the reef will come back to what it was. Really, what I am is a futurist. Our project is acknowledging that a future is coming where nature is no longer fully natural.” Humans are making life difficult for nature. Can we save it by assisting evolution to make the environment tougher? The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert talks to some “glass is half-full” researchers about what it will take to save the world’s reefs and forests. (In the meantime, maybe let’s ease up on ruining everything…)


Is the State of Denmark Rotten?

Denmark is often held up as a social welfare utopia. But the influx of refugees has challenged the nation’s notion of itself. It’s a key story of our era; one that’s playing out across Europe. The secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council explains: “We’re losing respect for the values upon which we built our country and our European Union. It’s becoming very hard to defend human rights.” Sound familiar?



What can ruin the aftermath of a championship season? How about unresolved chronic pain for which no one can quite figure out the cause? While the rest of us we’re cheering the first half of the Warriors record-setting season, head coach Steve Kerr was in a whole lot of hurt. From ESPN: Steve Kerr has suffered more than you will ever know.


Drop the Balm

John Kerry just visited Hiroshima. Should Barack Obama become the first sitting U.S. president to do the same? He’ll be in the neighborhood in May. And he’s considering a visit. He should do it. To rewrite a common adage: Keep your friends close and your allies closer. (Also, after dealing with my kids being here for a couple weeks, Japan is definitely overdue for a kind gesture from America.)


Monkey Business

“Accusations of anthropomorphism are about as big a spoiler in cognitive science as suggestions of doping are of athletic success. The indiscriminate nature of these accusations has been detrimental to cognitive science, as it has kept us from developing a truly evolutionary view. In our haste to argue that animals are not people, we have forgotten that people are animals, too.” In the NYT, Frans de Waal argues that it’s time stop drawing such a fierce distinction between animals and humans. And it all begins with laughter (does anyone remember laughter?): What I Learned From Tickling Apes. (Here’s what I learned from tickling my cats: They think I’m an idiot.)


Bottom of the News

This election season, we all feel like we have a personal stake in the outcome. But no group of Americans are watching this campaign more closely than those who will have to spend the next several years living with the victor. From Vanity Fair: The permanent White House staff is, understandably, on edge.

+ The harsh truth about speed reading.

+ “If you have worked in the movies, you know that a picture as good as All the President’s Men is a miracle. An impossible conjunction of talent and opportunity, collaboration and ego, trust, power, and luck. And then more luck.” From Los Angeles Review of Books: On its 40th anniversary: Notes on the making of All the President’s Men. You know, Watergate… back when politics wasn’t so depressing.

+ It “is meant for those who are hoping to improve their posture and flexibility, but have never felt at ease in a modern yoga studio.” Introducing Rage Yoga.

+ Reminder: I’m traveling in Japan through April 15. During this period, I will only be sending a couple editions a week.

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