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sitdown sunday

Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

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. The problem with prison
Elizabeth Gudrais looks at America’s prison crisis, where one in 100 adults are in jail, and wonders whether anything can be done to prevent those who enter the prison system from re-offending. (Harvard Magazine)

Jerry is quick with a joke, charismatic and likable – not what comes to mind when one hears “convicted rapist.” For Western, this has been one of the study’s chief lessons. Although he is one of the foremost experts on incarceration in America, in the past he primarily studied prisoners through datasets and equations. Meeting his subjects in person put a human face on the statistics and dashed preconceived notions in the process.

2. Space wars
Tim Murphy meets Professor Bong Wie, and discovers why he could be the man to save a planet. (Mother Jones)

Wie’s plan for destroying an Earth-bound asteroid is simple: Stick a massive nuclear device into it and blast it to smithereens. Notwithstanding the 168 factual inaccuracies NASA engineers have reportedly found in Armageddon, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton got it essentially right. “Astronauts will not be required, so clearly this would be an unmanned robotic mission – but we will need a nuclear device,” Wie says.

3. Hacked off
Dune Lawrence and Michael Riley look at one of the biggest threats online – Chinese malware. (Business Week)

Within the industry, Stewart is well-known. In 2003 he unraveled one of the first spam botnets, which let hackers commandeer tens of thousands of computers at once and order them to stuff in-boxes with millions of unwanted e-mails. He spent a decade helping to keep online criminals from breaking into bank accounts and such. In 2011, Stewart turned his sights on China. “I thought I’d have this figured out in two months,” he says. Two years later, trying to identify Chinese malware and develop countermeasures is pretty much all he does.

4. The life behind the words
Meredith Hindley charts the life and times of Jane Austen, and the events that inspired her writing. (Humanities)

It’s not surprising to see Austen think of her characters as living, breathing people. Austen had lived with Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, and Darcy for more than fifteen years. She began writing Pride and Prejudice when she was twenty, working on the book from October 1796 to August 1797. But Pride and Prejudice wasn’t published until January 1813, which raises the question of what caused such an extended delay between its writing and publication.

5. Death of an engineer
Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar investigate the case of American Shane Todd, and why the official account of his death has left more questions than answers. (Financial Times)

So the Todds, along with two of Shane’s younger brothers, John and Dylan, were unnerved by what they didn’t see as they crossed the threshold. The front door was unlocked and there was no sign of an investigation – no crime-scene tape, no smudges from fingerprint searches. “The first thing I did was make a beeline for the bathroom,” Mrs Todd recalled. She wanted to see exactly how Shane had died – and she saw nothing that fitted the police description. The marble bathroom walls had no holes in them. Nor were there any bolts or screws. The toilet was not where the police had said.

6. Eat fast, die young
Michael Moss delves into the science and marketing behind addictive junk food. (The New York Times Magazine)

In the process of product optimization, food engineers alter a litany of variables with the sole intent of finding the most perfect version (or versions) of a product. Ordinary consumers are paid to spend hours sitting in rooms where they touch, feel, sip, smell, swirl and taste whatever product is in question. Their opinions are dumped into a computer, and the data are sifted and sorted through a statistical method called conjoint analysis, which determines what features will be most attractive to consumers.


In 2008, Chris Jones wrote in Esquire about one American soldier’s journey home.

Leatherbee wet his lips before he raised his trumpet. That was the first indication that he was a genuine bugler. There is such a shortage of buglers now — ushered in by a confluence of death, including waves of World War II and Korea veterans, the first ranks of aging Vietnam veterans, and the nearly four thousand men and women killed in Iraq — that the military has been forced to employ bands of make-believe musicians for the graveside playing of taps. They are usually ordinary soldiers who carry an electronic bugle; with the press of a button, a rendition of taps is broadcast out across fields and through trees. Taps is played without valve work, so only the small red light that shines out of the bell gives them away.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

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