PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Walk This Way: Why Pedestrians Hold the Key to Sustainable Cities (Maria)

The author writes, “Too many of our urban homes have been designed around the car, often to absurd extremes. Commutes are getting longer — on average they’ve increased by 20% since 1980 in US cities. These journeys have a significant impact on the environment; a car-dominated transport sector also has health implications for those in and outside the vehicle. This is precisely why so many cities are working to encourage people to leave their cars at home, and where the concept of a walkable city comes in — where the pedestrian is prioritized.”

In Kabul, Private Rescue Efforts Grow Desperate as Time to Evacuate Afghans Runs Out (Dana)

From The Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. and its allies have evacuated more than 88,000 people since the Taliban closed in on Kabul on Aug. 14. In the final days, the focus is shifting to pulling out the remaining Westerners rather than vulnerable Afghans. ‘There is no way with the numbers of people on the ground that we will be able to get everybody out by Aug. 31,’ said Alex Plitsas, a U.S. Army combat veteran working on rescue operations in Afghanistan. Private rescue efforts have been ad hoc, scattershot and, at times, divisive. Mr. Prince, whose Blackwater guards were convicted of killing civilians in 2014 while providing security for Americans during the Iraq war, said he was charging each passenger $6,500 to get them safely into the airport and on a plane, and it would cost extra to get people who have been trapped in their homes to the airport. It remained unclear whether Mr. Prince had the wherewithal to carry out his plans.”

The Taliban’s Return Is Catastrophic for Women (Dan)

From The Atlantic: “One morning in the summer of 1999, Shukriya Barakzai woke up feeling dizzy and feverish. According to the Taliban’s rules, she needed a Maharram, a male guardian, in order to leave home to visit the doctor. Her husband was at work, and she had no sons. So she shaved her 2-year-old daughter’s head, dressed her in boys’ clothing to pass her off as a guardian, and slipped on a burka. Its blue folds hid her fingertips, painted red in violation of the Taliban’s ban on nail polish. She asked her neighbor, another woman, to walk with her to the doctor in central Kabul. Around 4:30 p.m. they left the doctor’s office with a prescription. They were heading toward the pharmacy when a truckload of Taliban militants from the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice pulled up beside them. The men regularly drove around Kabul in pickup trucks, looking for Afghans to publicly shame and punish for violating their moral code.”

The Secret Bias Hidden in Mortgage-Approval Algorithms (Doug)

From The Markup: “An investigation by The Markup has found that lenders in 2019 were more likely to deny home loans to people of color than to White people with similar financial characteristics — even when we controlled for newly available financial factors that the mortgage industry for years has said would explain racial disparities in lending.”

This Was the Year College Admissions Were Supposed to Finally Be Fair. They’re Not (Reader Steve)

From the San Francisco Chronicle: “Access to higher education has long been disproportionately afforded to the affluent end of the socioeconomic ladder. But this was the year that was supposed to change. In an attempt to make admissions more equitable, colleges across America went test-optional for the classes of 2021 and 2022, meaning that students would no longer need to submit their SAT or ACT scores. Some schools, such as the UC and CSU systems went further by eliminating the option to submit standardized test scores altogether. This was billed as an attempt to make the application process more equitable. And its intention was noble. But the decreased emphasis on standardized testing didn’t get rid of the classism that is intertwined with American college admissions.”

‘A Combination of Failures:’ Why 3.6M Pounds of Nuclear Waste Is Buried on a Popular California Beach (Inez)

The author writes, “More than 2 million visitors flock each year to California’s San Onofre state beach, a dreamy slice of coastline just north of San Diego. The beach is popular with surfers, lies across one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the United States and has a 10,000-year-old sacred Native American site nearby. It even landed a shout-out in the Beach Boys’ 1963 classic Surfin’ USA. But for all the good vibes and stellar sunsets, beneath the surface hides a potential threat: 3.6m lb of nuclear waste from a group of nuclear reactors shut down nearly a decade ago. Decades of political gridlock have left it indefinitely stranded, susceptible to threats including corrosion, earthquakes and sea level rise.”

Rain Falls at Greenland Ice Summit for First Time on Record (Mili)

The author writes, “Rain fell at the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet last week for the first time on record, another worrying sign of warming for the ice sheet already melting at an increasing rate, scientists said [last] Friday. ‘That’s not a healthy sign for an ice sheet,’ said Indrani Das, a glaciologist with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. ‘Water on ice is bad. … It makes the ice sheet more prone to surface melt.’ Not only is water warmer than the usual snow, it’s also darker — so it absorbs more sunlight rather than reflecting it away.”

The Man Who Lost $20 Billion in Two Days Is Lying Low in New Jersey (Russ)

The author writes, “He sits on the porch in a white plastic chair, a swing set out back, the lawn freshly mowed. Here in suburban Tenafly, 15 miles from midtown Manhattan, few would guess that this unassuming figure is none other than Bill Hwang — the man who just lost more than $20 billion. ‘Billion with a B?’ gasps a neighbor down the block, when told of the epic blowup at Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management.”

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