Seemingly within the realm of conspiracy theory, but:

When half a million Americans died and nobody noticed | News | The Week UK:
"Typical was the headline on a short article that ran in the 19 April 2005 edition of USA Today: 'USA Records Largest Drop in Annual Deaths in at Least 60 Years.' During that one year, American deaths fell by 50,000 despite the growth in both the size and the age of the nation's population. Government health experts were quoted as being greatly "surprised" and "scratching [their] heads" over this strange anomaly, which was led by a sharp drop in fatal heart attacks.

For his Chinese melamine/Vioxx comparison, Unz went back to those 2005 stories. Quick scrutiny of the most recent 15 years worth of national mortality data provided on the US Government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offered Unz some useful clues.

"We find the largest rise in American mortality rates occurred in 1999, the year Vioxx was introduced, while the largest drop occurred in 2004, the year it was withdrawn," says Unz. "Vioxx was almost entirely marketed to the elderly, and these substantial changes in the national death-rate were completely concentrated within the 65-plus population."


The 911 Wars by Jason Burke, and The Don Camillo Omnibus by Giovanni Guareschi

I read about The 9/11 Wars by Jason Burke on Tim Bray's blog and thought "that sounds interesting", and so it is. I'm about half-way through this impressively researched book - it's 1/3rd notes, references, and indexes by weight - and so far I find it both highly educational and deeply depressing. Every time I put down the book I take a deep breath and think "what a mess!".

And so it's a pleasure to recommend the second book I'm working my way through as a light-hearted antidote. Regaling the exploits of the Catholic priest of a small village, Don Camillo, and his constant struggles with the Communist mayor, Peppone, it's hard to stay depressed after reading a couple of these short stories.

"Why fiction is good for you" at the Boston Globe is an interesting look at whether or not fiction is morally improving. Personally I would be a lot less happier without it.

What conditions give rise to great artistic achievements? Wealth, urban centers, belief in God. Wait: What?

20120513:See update below

Future tense, IX: Out of the wilderness by Charles Murray - The New Criterion:
"Upon reading Daniel Boorstin’s The Discoverers many years ago, I became fascinated with the ebbs and flows of human achievement, and especially those points in world history that have been associated with a flowering of great accomplishment. The most famous are Athens in the Periclean age and Florence in the Renaissance, but there have been many other less spectacular examples. Sometimes, the surge of great creativity is most obvious in a particular domain—literature in nineteenth-century Russia, for example—but strides made in one field are usually accompanied by strides made in others. Historically speaking, what accounts for the difference in the fertility of the cultural ground?"
Update: Firstly I should acknowledge that the title is the Arts & Letters Daily summary of the essay.

Secondly, reading a bit more about the author is enough for me to discount the conclusions of the article. Thinking about it a bit more, other, less predjudicial, reasons present themselves.

Assigning scores based on his own judgement to hundreds of pieces of data, it is no surprise that the overall result would reflect his own judgement more broadly. In addition, even if such scores were awarded impartially, which I doubt, it may well generate such a noisy dataset that you could slice & dice any which way you wanted to obtain your desired conclusions.

As such my posting of this article is probably a case of confirmation bias, and my update above is probably an ex post-facto justification. Who knew :-/