20
Apr
12

Roundup – Chocolate Jesus

Line O’ the Day:

“The worst part of taking over the Raiders must be knowing you can’t benefit from the dumb shit that the Raiders do.”

- Christmas Ape, Peter King Is Neither Rat Nor Hero, But One Word: Sad [Kissing Suzy Kolber]

Best of the Best:

Gay Marriage Ruling a Memo to Justice Kennedy [Noah Feldman via Bloomberg]

The establishments of most conservative religious denominations and the bulk of followers — from Catholics to Baptists to Orthodox Jews to Mormons to Muslims — are the stalwarts in opposing gay marriage. In these traditions, change comes incrementally and over generations. Almost 500 years after the Reformation, Catholicism still rejects divorce. Orthodox Judaism is not going to endorse marriages between Jews and non- Jews, no matter what more-liberal Jewish denominations might do. Yet such religious traditionalism has proven difficult to translate into a legally cognizable argument. Because of the separation of church and state, Proposition 8’s proponents couldn’t simply tell the truth: That they oppose gay marriage because it is against their faith and their customs. They did claim in court that their religious liberty was affected, but this argument is a sure loser, since they may continue to determine their own marriage rules. The state’s adoption of gay marriage will have no more coercive effect than the state’s recognition of divorce does on the Catholic church. There is a certain paradox here. The state recognizes marriages performed by priests, rabbis and imams — a privilege that itself deviates from strict separation between religion and government. This makes civil, state-sanctioned marriage seem religious, which is exactly why religious traditionalists are threatened by the idea of state marriage extending to gay people. Imagine that the state didn’t use the word marriage to describe any relationship, but only recognized civil union for all couples, gay or straight. In this parallel universe, there would be no discrimination. And presumably, neither religious traditionalists nor gay-rights advocates would have reason to complain. But that imaginary world isn’t ours. Once the state calls something marriage, supporters of gay equality have every reason to insist that this honorable word must extend to everyone equally.

Word for Word [Ben Zimmer via Lapham's Quarterly]

Roget’s thesaurus was crucially a conceptual undertaking, and, according to Roget’s deeply held religious beliefs, a tribute to God’s work. His efforts to create order out of linguistic chaos harks back to the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden, who was charged with naming all that was around him, thereby creating a perfectly transparent language. It was, according to the theology of St. Augustine, a language that would lose its perfection with the Fall of Man, and then irreparably shatter following construction of the Tower of Babel. By Roget’s time, Enlightenment ideals had taken hold, suggesting that scientific pursuits and rational inquiry could discover antidotes to Babel, if not a return to the perfect language of Adam. Though we no longer cling so tightly to these Enlightenment notions about language in our postmodern age, we still carry with us Roget’s legacy, the view that language can somehow be wrangled and rationalized by fitting the lexicon into tidy conceptual categories.

Goldman conducts company-wide email review: sources [Lauren Tara LaCapra on Reuters]

Goldman Sachs Group Inc has begun scanning internal emails for the term “muppet” and other evidence that employees referred to clients in derogatory ways, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein told partners in a conference call this week, according to people familiar with the call. The company-wide email review comes after an executive director named Greg Smith resigned last week in a scathing op-ed column in the New York Times in which he said he saw five Goldman managing directors refer to clients as “muppets,” at times over internal email. In the United States, “muppet” brings to mind lovable puppets such as Kermit the Frog, but in Britain “muppet” is slang for a stupid person.

The Hard Way Out of Afghanistan [Luke Mogelson on The New York Times]

Just then two Afghan soldiers strutted by holding their weapons like folded umbrellas. They seemed entirely unconcerned by the fact that people were shooting at us. I recognized one of them. In lieu of a rifle, he humped a rucksack full of rocket-propelled grenades. The marines loved him for this and had nicknamed him R.P.G. Others were less popular: because they were lazy, because they complained, because they smelled, because they stole, because way too often they were way too stoned — the list of grievances ran long. In the end, though, what mattered most was that one item never made the list: cowardice. They delighted in fighting.

Repulsive progressive hypocrisy [Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

I’ve often made the case that one of the most consequential aspects of the Obama legacy is that he has transformed what was once known as “right-wing shredding of the Constitution” into bipartisan consensus, and this is exactly what I mean. When one of the two major parties supports a certain policy and the other party pretends to oppose it — as happened with these radical War on Terror policies during the Bush years — then public opinion is divisive on the question, sharply split. But once the policy becomes the hallmark of both political parties, then public opinion becomes robust in support of it. That’s because people assume that if both political parties support a certain policy that it must be wise, and because policies that enjoy the status of bipartisan consensus are removed from the realm of mainstream challenge. That’s what Barack Obama has done to these Bush/Cheney policies: he has, as Jack Goldsmith predicted he would back in 2009, shielded and entrenched them as standard U.S. policy for at least a generation, and (by leading his supporters to embrace these policies as their own) has done so with far more success than any GOP President ever could have dreamed of achieving.

Obama Budget Unique Source for $3 Trillion [Frank Bass and Sharon L. Lynch on Bloomberg]

At least three federal sources tally spending, each following its own rules to produce a different total. For the 15 Cabinet-level agencies and Social Security, the White House Office of Management and Budget put expenses at $3.18 trillion in fiscal 2010, the last year for which data are complete. Ask the Census Bureau, and the amount rises by $13.1 billion to $3.19 trillion. USASpending.gov, a website Obama championed as a senator, accounts for $2.23 trillion of spending.

The Wall Street Bombing That Made Hoover and the FBI [Tim Weiner, a former reporter for the New York Times, is the author of “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” This article is adapted from his new book, “Enemies: A History of the FBI,”via Bloomberg]

In May 1924, Stone fired the FBI director and issued a statement whose power resounds to this day. “A secret police system may become a menace to free government and free institutions because it carries with it the possibility of abuses of power which are not always quickly comprehended or understood,” Stone wrote. “The Bureau of Investigation is not concerned with political or other opinions of individuals. It is only concerned with their conduct and then only with such conduct as is forbidden by the laws of the United States. When a police system passes beyond these limits, it is dangerous to the proper administration of justice and to human liberty, which should be our first concern to cherish. Within them it should rightly be a terror to the wrongdoer.” The next day, Stone summoned Hoover, not yet 30 years old, his hair slicked back, neck straining at his shirt collar, and told him he would become the FBI director on one condition: The bureau was out of the spy business. Hoover looked up to the 6- foot-4 Stone and said yes, sir. Stone remained attorney general for nine months before ascending to the Supreme Court. Hoover lasted in his job for 48 years. In that time, he never lost faith that the fate of the nation lay with him and his work. And he never stopped spying. With the terrible patience that became his trademark, Hoover methodically built his disreputable force into an American institution. Within a decade, it was famous as the nation’s foremost pillar of the law. In secret it became America’s most powerful intelligence service…Hoover then told the president that the FBI needed the power to conduct secret intelligence operations. Nothing was put in writing, but without question Roosevelt gave Hoover an open- ended order to attack America’s enemies, foreign and domestic. Hoover cited that authority until the day he died. It remains in force today.

If You’re Fat, Broke, and Smoking, Blame Language [DerekMead on MotherBoard]

Chen’s data are pretty striking. Based on info from various world reports, he found that weak-FTR speakers saved 170,000 more euros on average than strong-FTR speakers. Those weak-FTR folks were also 13 percent less likely to be obese, 24 percent less likely to smoke heavily, and 29 percent more likely to exercise regularly. The trends are noticeable at the national level too: Chen found that countries with weak-FTR languages saved six percent more of their GDP on average than countries with strong-FTR languages. Of course, hopefully at least of few of you are thinking “correlation doesn’t equal causation” right now, and you’d be right. It’s tough to tell whether the way a language’s syntax references the future actually affects how people respond to that future.

Checking Out [Avi Steinberg, the author of Running the Books, a memoir of his adventures as a prison librarian, via The Paris Review]

It is close to impossible to browse a serious library’s collection of porn and porn criticism without getting sucked into big, sexy historical theories. Within an hour of my visit to Harvard’s Widener Library, I was beginning to suspect that smut had been behind the rise of … everything. I discovered that pornos caused the French Revolution, and that the Renaissance really got going when images of hard-core, swan-on-guy action began to circulate among the people. Every pornographer of note, it seemed, was a pop philosopher; every philosopher, a closet pornographer. As for the rise of the novel, of literary realism, this, I learned, was linked to a certain eighteenth-century depiction of a ponytailed dude taking it from behind from another ponytailed dude while the first dude gets sucked off by a chick, who is also taking it from behind from yet a third ponytailed dude, all while another chick—who happens to be wearing a lovely Dormeuse-style cap—rides piggyback on the first dude, which positions her perfectly to flog the third dude, while being orally pleasured from behind by the second dude. The caption to this illustration reads, “A Typical Scene.” According to the pile of books I’d stacked onto my library desk, our story is nothing but the evolutionary history of the Porno sapiens.

What goes on in the mind of a sniper? [Stephanie Hegarty on BBC News]

She studied attitudes to killing among 30 Israeli snipers who served in the Palestinian territories from 2000 to 2003, to examine whether killing is unnatural or traumatic for human beings. She chose snipers in particular because, unlike pilots or tank drivers who shoot at big targets like buildings, the sniper picks off individual people. What she found was that while many Israeli soldiers would refer to Palestinian militants as “terrorists”, snipers generally referred to them as human beings…Snipers almost never referred to the men they killed as targets, or used animal or machine metaphors. Some interviewees even said that their victims were legitimate warriors. “Here is someone whose friends love him and I am sure he is a good person because he does this out of ideology,” said one sniper who watched through his scope as a family mourned the man he had just shot. “But we from our side have prevented the killing of innocents, so we are not sorry about it.” This justification – which was supported by friends, family and wider Israeli society – could be one reason why the snipers didn’t report any trauma after killing, she suggests. “Being prepared for all those things that might crack their conviction, actually enabled them to kill without suffering too much.”

In Manhattan Pizza War, Price of Slice Keeps Dropping [N.R. Kleinfield on The New York Times]

While the pizza parlors insult one another, the eating public couldn’t be happier. At 6 Ave. Pizza, Mike Dooley, 60, a maintenance worker, said while polishing off a slice: “I think it’s beautiful. We need 75-cent hamburgers next.” At 2 Bros., John Combs, 46, a carpenter, said, with a mouthful of pizza: “It’s awesome. I’m from Jersey, but any time I’m in the city I’ll be back. It’s awesome.”

Apple Mac Computers Hit in Hacker Attack, Researcher Says [Jordan Robertson on Bloomberg]

“This once again refutes claims by some experts that there are no cyber-threats to Mac OS X,” Doctor Web said. Apple spokesman Bill Evans declined to comment on the hacker attack. He noted that there are 63 million Macs in use worldwide. Macs have historically been an unappealing hacking target because of their low market share. Instead, criminals have attacked personal computers running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows software, seeking the biggest number of victims for illicit moneymaking schemes. Windows runs on more than 90 percent of the world’s desktop computers, according to market researcher Net Applications.

How Bahrain Spends Millions To Spin The Press [Matt Hardigree on Jalopnik]

Bahrain’s PR push for the race is obvious in its actions over the past four months, including inviting former drivers — like Damon Hill — to endorse the Grand Prix. Or a piece quoting Michael Schumacher in in The Telegraph trying to quell fears. There’s also a story on ESPN including officials trying to equate the violence in Bahrain to Las Vegas — and even a puff piece in BusinessWeek about how the race will create 3,000 jobs. All this PR may actually work. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone says he “has no doubts” about a race in Bahrain and blames the media for making up stories about violence in the country. “The good thing about Bahrain is it seems more democratic there than most places,” Ecclestone told the BBC. “People are allowed to speak when they want, they can protest if they want to.” Not really. There’s actually a law on the books that requires any assembly of more than six people for the purposes of protesting to have prior approval form the government, according to Amnesty International.

Arab Women Blaze Trails in Start-Ups  [Ben Rooney on The Wall Street Journal]

Conferences for start-ups and entrepreneurs often feature “pitch contests,” slots in which aspiring entrepreneurs take to the stage to sell their ideas to the audience. Last month’s ArabNet conference, held in the Lebanese capital, was no different. What was different, however, was the number of pitches from female entrepreneurs. The stereotype has it that women in the Middle East are subjugated, oppressed and barely let out of their houses. But if that is the case, how come 40% of the pitches were from women—a higher percentage than is typical in equivalent conferences held in Europe? Nor was this closer-to-equal representation of women unique to ArabNet. According to Salwa Katkhuda of the Amman-based Oasis 500 accelerator, a program aimed at developing digital start-ups in Jordan, while 25% of applications to its program come from women, 40% of those accepted are female. By contrast, a recent report called the Startup Genome, comparing start-ups around the world, found that while New York City has almost double the female founders of Silicon Valley and London, they still comprised just 20% of start-ups. May Habib, founder of Dubai-based Arabic translation service Qordoba.com, which uses a lot of freelance female workers, said the Internet has transformed women’s opportunities. “More flexible work options, freelance, home-based work, low capital requirements; you can see why starting a company on a small scale is a much more viable thing for women to do than get a corporate job.”

For Your Ads Only: 50 Years of James Bond Product Placement [Julian Sancton on Bloomberg Businessweek]

A handful of characteristics define Bond as Bond and connect each new incarnation to Ian Fleming’s legacy, primarily that he’s as promiscuous with women as he is faithful to vodka martinis—shaken not stirred. Which is why some 007 fans felt betrayed by the news of a major partnership between the makers of Skyfall, the 23rd Bond movie (to be released in November), and Dutch brewer Heineken. The response on Twitter is almost all outrage and cynicism and calls of “sacrilege.” Never mind that Bond has drunk other booze in the past, and that he has on at least one occasion had his martini stirred, not shaken. And never mind that, ever since Sean Connery flew Pan Am and prominently displayed a Smirnoff  label in Dr. No 50 years ago, the franchise has slowly but steadily been invaded with brands. Bond’s been driving Aston Martins since Goldfinger, with the occasional dalliance in a BMW. He crashed through a British Airways billboard in Moonraker (1979) and through a Perrier truck in Goldeneye (1995). And in 2002, for Die Another Day, he switched to Finlandia Vodka.

America’s forgotten POW: Bowe Bergdahl [Murtaza Hussain via Slate]

Who is the American Gilad Schalit, the iconic figure of sacrifice whose fate is the concern of every one of his compatriots? There is no figure who occupies such a place in the American imagination, but if there were to be one it would rightly be Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. For nearly three years Bergdahl, a 26-year old from Sun Valley, Idaho has been held captive by the Afghan Taliban. Captured in an attack on his unit in Paktia province in Eastern Afghanistan, the only glimpses his family and the outside world have seen of him over the past several years have come through intermittent video transmissions released by his captors to confirm his continued detention. In the first of these videos released in 2009, Bergdahl can be seen visibly choking back tears as he describes his life in detention, “Well, I’m scared,” he says. “It’s very unnerving to be a prisoner.” From what little intelligence that has come out about his life in captivity since, it is known that as recently as 2011 he made an escape attempt from his captors only to be recaptured and confined permanently in shackles to prevent any further attempts. The last video footage released of him, also in 2011, shows a young man who appears haggard and scared, a far cry from the smiling military photograph of him before his deployment to the Afghan battlefield. Despite his nearly unfathomable suffering, Bergdahl is as out of sight and out of mind to the average American as the average Afghan, Iraqi, Somali, Pakistani and Yemeni victim of the past decade of war.

Hours of Work Needed to Purchase: CRB, SPY, Gold, Oil [Ron Griess on The Chart Store via The Big Picture]

From Ron Griess and the always fascinating Chart Store, we see a very different read of inflation. He shares this awesome selection from his weekly blog (subscription only) of commodities,  crude oil, copper, gold, silver, corn, coffee, cotton, and the S&P500 — all priced in terms of hourly earnings. [Data begins in 1964]

A Newspaper, and a Legacy, Reordered [Jeremy W. Peters on The New York Times]

Mr. Brauchli is acutely aware of the tension that lies at the heart of his mission — a tension being faced not just by newspapers but by media companies in music, film, books, magazines and television. He is charged with maintaining the standards and legacy of a great institution — in this case, the newspaper of Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee and Mr. Woodward and Carl Bernstein — while confronting the harsh reality that in the digital age, the grandeur is gone. Mr. Brauchli refuses to be held hostage to the past. “There are a lot of nostalgia-drenched people in the journalism field who look back at what newspapers were and have a fairly static view of what they should be,” he said in an interview. “Just because The Washington Post used to be a certain way doesn’t mean The Washington Post has to be that way in the future.”

Breaking Wall Street’s Color Barrier [Kristin Aguilera, the deputy director of the Museum of American Finance and the editor of Financial History magazine, via Bloomberg]

Although Searles was the first black trader on the exchange’s floor, he was technically not its first black member. That distinction goes to Clarence B. Jones — counsel and speechwriter to Martin Luther King Jr. — who became an allied member of the exchange in 1967 when he was named a partner at Carter, Berlind & Weill Inc. As an allied member, Jones had voting stock in a member firm, but he didn’t have floor access.

A girl who soared, but longed to belong [Noah Bierman on The Boston Globe]

Her grandmother, Hannie Crawford Reed, who had already lost her own mother, drove a horse-drawn wagon from Missouri to the territory at the age of 13, according to family lore. Hannie’s father rode ahead on a horse. “Her little brothers and sisters were bouncing around in the back of a wagon,’’ Warren said of her grandmother, who lived to age 94. “That woman made life happen.’’

Spread of soda taxes fizzles [Josh Goodman on Stateline]

As of the start of 2011, almost half of the states did tax soft drinks at a higher rate than other food products, according to the Bridging the Gap project at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Most of those states, though, merely  apply regular sales taxes to soda, while exempting food. Only a few states impose special excise taxes on soda the way they do on cigarettes. No state taxes soda at the levels public health researchers argue would be necessary to substantially reduce their consumption…What’s less clear is whether the idea has fallen out of favor in a lasting way or whether these are just temporary setbacks. Patrick Tigue of Community Catalyst, a nonprofit that advocates for soda taxes, notes that it took many years for cigarette taxes to gain broad acceptance and that there’s a strong commitment to soda taxes in public health circles. Even Chris Gindlesperger, director of communications at the American Beverage Association, expects the issue to come up in more places in 2013, once lawmakers make it through election season.

In 1941, jai alai-loving hillbillies were America’s future weapon against Hitler [Cyriaque Lamar on io9]

And with that, I’m off to pen some alternate reality fiction about Uncle Sam’s army of Vitamin-B12-drunk hayseed jai alai commandos. I will entertain any and all forthcoming book deals.

Curiously Strong Remains:

 

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