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Roundup – Zombie Killing Can-Can Style

Best of the Best:

Counting Americans of Middle Eastern, North African Descent [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline]

Race is an ever shifting, ever evolving concept in America. From the 1890s through the 1930s, an African-American family with a mixed-race heritage, for example, could be classified as everything from “quadroon” to “mulatto” to “black” to “Negro,” depending on the year and who was doing the classifying. Meanwhile, the “East Asian” category morphed into separate categories for Koreans, Filipinos, Japanese and “Hindus,” or South Asians.  The stakes were high: With the exception of freed slaves who were granted citizenship in 1864, for a long time, non-whites were not eligible for citizenship. In 1909, George Shishim, a policeman living and working in Venice, California, had to fight for the right to claim U.S. citizenship. Because he was born in Lebanon, under the dictates of the time, he was deemed by the U.S. to be of “Chinese-Mongolian” ancestry and therefore ineligible for citizenship. The Syrian-Lebanese community rallied behind him and hired a lawyer. Ethnographic studies were done to prove the “white” bona fides of the Arab population. Finally, a Superior Court judge agreed, and Shishim was sworn in as a citizen. Today, “white” as defined by the federal government, is “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as ‘White’ or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish.” But while it made sense for the MENA community to fight for a “white” designation a century ago, it is less advantageous now.

Politics of American churches & religions in one graph [Pew Religious Landscape Survey and Corner of Church and State via Tobin Grant on Religion News Service]

Churches that are similar religiously are also similar ideologically. Evangelicals are classic conservatives (small role in economy, protect morality). Pentecostals want a larger role for government on economic issues. Presbyterian Church in America, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and smaller Methodist churches have historical ties to both evangelicalism and mainline denominations. On the question of government and morality, they are between other evangelical churches and mainline denominations. Mainline churches hold similar economic views as evangelicals but want less government involvement protecting traditional morality. Christians in traditionally black denominations and evangelicals are similar in their views toward morality policy, but there is a large divide on economics. Catholics are large and represent the center on both dimensions. Jews are centrist on the economy. There is a major divide between both Conservative and Orthodox Jews and other streams of Judaism. This divide falls along the morality dimension. The “nones” are united on their ideology toward morality (keep government out!) but there are interesting divides on government services. Atheists want more government services; agnostics favor less governmental involvement in the economy. If you consider Unitarians part of this group, then they’re the most supportive of government services.

Sexual Satisfaction: Do You and Your Partner Have to be the SAME Shade of Grey? [Jennifer Shukusky on The Science of Relationships]

[I]mportantly, similarity did not predict sexual satisfaction for these couples. Instead, the only consistent predictor of sexual satisfaction was complementarity. That’s right: The most sexually satisfied people like to provide things for their partner that their partner enjoys receiving (e.g., stimulation with sex toys). It may be intuitive that when two people enjoy the same thing (similarity), they can enjoy it together. However, similarity itself did not predict satisfaction. On the other hand, when one person likes receiving what the other likes giving (complementarity), then everyone is be more satisfied. What may be less obvious, however, is the impact that the overestimating these things can have on sexual satisfaction. Overall, people overestimated how similar and complementary they were to their partner, and how accurate their partner was about their own likes and dislikes. Believing that one’s partner is more similar, complementary, and accurate were all also associated with higher levels of sexual satisfaction. It has been theorized that overestimating our partners’ positive qualities helps us maintain our relationships.

The Marriage Proposal Ritual [Lisa Hoplock on The Science of Relationships]

People are often aware of gender roles when it comes to proposals. Even though men are usually the first to say “I love you,” women in mixed-sex couples are often the ones who are ready to get married first. According to some research, women indicate this to the man, then wait for the man to be ready to marry them because the ritual dictates that men are the ones to propose. Men are usually ready to propose within about 6 months of receiving hints or discussing it with their partner. Women often play a role in planning the proposal by helping to choose the ring, for example, but the time when it actually occurs is usually kept a surprise. If the woman proposes, then it is often viewed as illegitimate (or a joke) by the partner and others, because it goes against tradition…At the start of the previous century, it was so unconventional for women to propose that a tradition was developed where it was okay for a woman to propose on leap year and Sadie Hawkins Day. This tradition isn’t followed as much anymore, but was quite popular back in the early 1900s. Social reinforcement helps perpetuate the script, so it may not be too surprising that many young men and women in this day and age still often hold traditional views of proposals.

Scientists take a look at the feel-good benefits of belly dance [Science Daily] – LW

The researchers found that belly dancers see their own bodies in a better light than the college students do, and are less likely to be dissatisfied with how they look. They also have fewer self-objectifying thoughts, and therefore take what others might think about their bodies less to heart.

“Pillow Talk” Speaks A Lot About Your Relationship [Jana Lembke on The Science of Relationships]

Women who reached orgasm made significantly more positive disclosures than those who did not. In fact, women who did not orgasm actively engaged in more negative pillow talk toward their partner. Interestingly, this same pattern held no matter the method used to achieve orgasm; that is, the effect of orgasm on disclosures was the same whether the woman orgasmed during intercourse or from other stimulation.

Behind Every Good Whisky Is A Trusty Distillery Cat [Ari Shapiro on NPR]

On the central path between buildings at Glenturret, the scent of leaves and grass mixes with the smells of wood, smoke and caramel from the whisky-making process. Looming over it all is a proud bronze statue. It’s not the company founder, or a bottle of whisky. It’s a cat. The greatest distillery cat of them all. Towser the Mouser is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for catching mice. Estimated lifetime kills: 28,899.

MTV Public Policy: How 16 and Pregnant Reduced Teen Motherhood [John Tozzi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland who’s studied teen birth rates (PDF), attributes most of the declines from 1990 to 2008 to better access to effective contraceptives. But teen birth rates dropped more sharply in the years after 2008, and Kearney’s research credits MTV’s reality show 16 and Pregnant and its slew of Teen Mom spinoffs. The first episode of 16 and Pregnant aired in 2009. The narratives of hard lives of young mothers, conveyed to a mass TV audience, prompted Google searches and tweets about birth control or abortion, according to Kearney’s research (PDF) with Phillip Levine of Wellesley College. Their analysis suggests the show accounted for as much as one-third of the overall drop in teen births in the year and a half after its debut. High unemployment also contributed to the decline. Here’s the shocking thing: If Kearney’s research is correct, a hit TV show dwarfs the influence of pretty much all the public policy that could affect teen birth rates. Changes to welfare, Medicaid coverage for contraception, sex ed or abstinence curriculums, access to abortion—she says none of it really moves the needle. Those charged policy questions take up most of the oxygen in our public debate around family planning, and they’re certainly important to the individuals affected. But they play “a very, very small role in affecting aggregate rates” of unmarried births, Kearney says.

Declassified Documents Reveal US Plan for Alaska in a Russian Invasion [Mark Strauss on io9]

Still, despite such heroic candidates as the aforementioned one-armed, Kodiak bear tracker, U.S. intelligence didn’t think highly of Alaskans, since “most of them who settled there are interested primarily in making money.” That meant they would have to be carefully screened, and promised generous financial compensation. One group, however, was regarded as completely off-limits for recruitment—the indigenous Alaskan peoples: “The selection of agents from the Eskimo, Indian, and Aleut groups in the Territory should be avoided in view of their propensities to drink to excess and their fundamental indifference to constituted governments and political philosophies. It is pointed out that their prime concern is with survival and their allegiance would easily shift to any power in control.”

Disney’s Defunct Toontown Remade by Unsanctioned Teen [Christopher Palmeri on Bloomberg]

Toontown Online, loosely based on the 1988 Walt Disney Co. (DIS) film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” was a multiplayer Internet game for kids and families that drew more than 1 million users after it was introduced in 2003. Disney shut it down last year amid a shift away from subscription-based games. Now, it’s getting a second life thanks to fans who have created a knockoff version without the company’s permission.

Fake Antibiotics Feed Growing Worldwide Superbugs Threat [Makiko Kitamura on Bloomberg]

Antibiotics now rank among the most counterfeited medicines in the world, feeding a global epidemic of drug-resistant superbugs. A new surveillance and reporting program in 80 countries led by the World Health Organization shows that counterfeit antibiotics are a growing problem in all regions of the world, rivaling fake versions of erectile dysfunction pills like Viagra. Infections become superbugs by gaining resistance when the treatments used against them aren’t strong enough to kill them. It’s a growing problem as substandard counterfeit drugs become more prevalent. The threat is already spurring a strong response from drugmakers such as Pfizer Inc. (PFE), the U.S. maker of the Zithromax antibiotic, which has been focusing its anti-counterfeiting efforts on online pharmacies, collaborating with Microsoft Corp.

GAO: Pentagon violated law with Bergdahl swap [Donna Cassata on The Associated Press]

The Pentagon broke the law when it swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, for five Taliban leaders, congressional investigators said Thursday. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said the Defense Department failed to notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the exchange — a clear violation of the law — and used $988,400 of a wartime account to make the transfer. The GAO also said the Pentagon’s use of funds that hadn’t been expressly appropriated violated the Antideficiency Act.

Israel, Gaza, War & Data [Gilad Lotan on Medium]

The graph below represents Twitter accounts responding to a different incident at the UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun between July 25th and 30th. It is still unclear who is to blame for firing at the school, although someone clearly learned their Google SEO tricks…Network graphs are mathematical tools used to model relations between objects, and are incredibly helpful when working with social data. Analyzing their structure helps us gain insight into our culture and society. In this case, we see a clear separation between the two sides. On the right, a clearly “pro-Palestinian” group of activists (in green) as well as a variety of media outlets and journalists (in gray). The gray cluster of bloggers, journalists and international media entities is closely connected with the group of pro-Palestinian activists, which means that information is much more likely to spread amongst the two. This structural characteristic of the graph reinforces general Israeli sentiment regarding international media bias…Alternatively, on the other side we encounter the “pro-Israeli” groups, including media outlets, Israeli public personas, and various American zionists (light blue), as well as American conservatives and Tea Party members (dark blue). There’s a clear difference in frame when we compare one side of the graph to the other. None of the information shared is false per se, yet users make deliberate choices about what they choose to amplify. This is a representation of their values, and the values of their connections. Messages passed along in one side of the graph will never reach the other. Certain nodes are more strategic when trying to bridge between the two sides. In this case, Haaretz accommodates the most connections on both the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli sides of the graph, having the highest betweenness centrality. Compared to all other nodes in the graph, Haaretz is most likely to spread throughout the wider network. It has the most potential for bridging across biases and political barriers…Facebook’s trending pages aggregate content that are heavily shared (“trending”) across the platform. If you’re already logged into Facebook, you’ll see a personalized view of the trend, highlighting your friends and their views on the trend…Now open a separate browser window in incognito mode (Chrome: File->New Incognito Window) and navigate to the same page. Since the browser has no idea who you are on Facebook, you’ll get the raw, unpersonalized feed. How are the two different? If you’re rooting for Israel, you might have seen videos of rocket launches by Hamas adjacent to Shifa Hospital. Alternatively, if you’re pro-Palestinian, you might have seen the following report on an alleged IDF sniper who admitted (on Instagram) to murdering 13 Gazan children. Israelis and their proponents are likely to see IDF videos such as this one detailing arms and tunnels found within mosques passed around in their social media feeds, while Palestinian groups are likely to pass around images displaying the sheer destruction caused by IDF forces to Gazan mosques. One side sees videos of rockets intercepted in the Tel-Aviv skies, and other sees the lethal aftermath of a missile attack on a Gazan neighborhood. The better we get at modeling user preferences, the more accurately we construct recommendation engines that fully capture user attention. In a way, we are building personalized propaganda engines that feed users content which makes them feel good and throws away the uncomfortable bits.

Survey: YouTube Stars More Popular Than Mainstream Celebs Among U.S. Teens [Susanne Ault on Variety]

U.S. teenagers are more enamored with YouTube stars than they are the biggest celebrities in film, TV and music. That’s the surprising result of a survey Variety commissioned in July that found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube faves, eclipsing mainstream celebs including Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen. The highest-ranking figures were Smosh, the online comedy team of Ian Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, both 26. Despite having minimal exposure in the mainstream media, another comedy duo, known as the Fine Bros., Benny and Rafi, finished a close second, followed by the Swedish videogamer who has the most subscribers on all of YouTube, Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg — otherwise known as PewDiePie. Interestingly, the highest-ranking non-YouTuber is Paul Walker, who tragically died in a car accident late in 2013.

The Happiest Regions In America [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics]

But while the map can offer some guidance on which areas tend to be happier, the paper reveals few guiding principles. New York City is unhappier than average, but on the whole, urban areas in America are not less happy than rural or suburban ones. Among cities, the small city of Charlottesville, Virginia, tops the rankings, and Washington D.C. and Atlanta both rank as happier than average. The impact of weather is also small (and for the record, Seattle ranks right in the middle of the life satisfaction rankings). As for the tech world, San Francisco, which feels increasingly annexed by Silicon Valley, ranks slightly below the national average for urban areas, but San Jose is right in the middle. One trend, however, is very clear. Declining cities like Detroit, Michigan, and urban areas in the Midwest are particularly unhappy. And the TV show The Office had it right: Scranton, Pennsylvania, ranks as one of the unhappiest areas in the country, as the 367th happiest metropolitan area out of around 380.

Americans are taking fewer vacations than they used to [Evan Soltas on Vox]

Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976, the peak month each year for summer travel. Yet in July 2014, just seven million did. Keeping in mind that 60 million more Americans have jobs today than in 1976, that adds up to a huge decline in the share of workers taking vacations. Some rough calculations show, in fact, that about 80 percent of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56 percent do.

Lions Hunted to Save Rhinos in South African Circle of Life [Kevin Crowley and Tshepiso Mokhema on Bloomberg]

When U.S. television host Melissa Bachman posted a photo on Facebook Inc. (FB) of herself smiling and holding a rifle above the head of a lion she had shot, the response was instant. Users of the social network vilified Bachman, 30, who also killed a Nyala antelope last year on a trip to South Africa, as “evil,” a “low-life” and a “disgusting excuse for a human being.” The hunting trip was part of South Africa’s game-ranching industry, which is worth 12 billion rand ($1.1 billion) a year and growing at 10 percent annually, according to Barclays Africa Group Ltd. (BGA) The industry is also responsible for boosting the country’s large mammal population, a measure that excludes animals such as rodents, to 24 million, the most since the 19th century, and up from 575,000 in the early 1960s, Wouter van Hoven, an emeritus professor at the University of Pretoria, said in an interview last month. By contrast animal numbers in Kenya, which focuses on eco-tourism, have plunged 80 percent since it banned hunting in 1977.

People Think Experiences Bring Happiness, Still Opt for Things [Erika Beras on Scientific American]

Researchers surveyed people before and after they made purchases. Beforehand, they rated life experiences as making them happier and as a better use of money than buying objects. But subjects still tended to choose to buy objects over experiences. Then, despite picking items, most said they still believed the experiences would have been a better choice. The researchers ascribe this conflict to the tangible and quantifiable nature of a thing. You can point to a car and say how much its worth. But taking that car on a cross-country trip is an experience, and experiences can’t easily be assigned a value.

In One America, Guns and Diet. In the Other, Cameras and ‘Zoolander.’: Inequality and Web Search Trends [The Upshot on The New York Times]

The results, based on a decade of search data, offer a portrait of the very different subjects that occupy the thoughts of richer America and poorer America. They’re a glimpse into the id of our national inequality. In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10. To be clear, these aren’t the most common searches in our list of hardest places. They’re the searches with the highest correlation to our index. Searches on some topics, like Oprah Winfrey or the Super Bowl, are popular almost everywhere. The terms on these lists are relatively common subjects for web searches in one kind of place — and rarely a subject in the other. In the easiest places to live, the Canon Elph and other digital cameras dominate the top of the correlation list. Apparently, people in places where life seems good, including Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast, want to record their lives in images. One explanation is that cameras have remained a top-selling piece of technology throughout the last decade…Beyond cameras, subjects popular in the easiest places include Baby Joggers, Baby Bjorns and baby massage; Skype and Apple devices like the iPod Nano; a piece of workout equipment known as a foam roller; and various foreign destinations (Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Switzerland and Pyeongchang, the South Korean host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics). The phrase “pull-out” is also relatively popular in the easiest places. It presumably refers to either a kind of sofa or a kind of birth control.

The Role of Deception in Scientific Research [Shirley S. Wang on The Wall Street Journal]

Kypros Kypri, a professor in the school of medicine and public health at the University of Newcastle in Australia, and his colleagues in the U.K. have independently studied the drinking habits of tens of thousands college students in New Zealand, the U.K. and Sweden. They found that just asking heavy drinkers about their alcohol use sometimes changes their behavior. The researchers surveyed students about their drinking behavior and, based on the responses, identified thousands of heavy drinkers. They sent the students one or more follow-up surveys to see if they changed their behavior or sought help for their drinking. While in most cases the students understood they were filling out surveys as part of a research study, at no point did the researchers tell them they were participating in an intervention—not even at the end of the process, which is usually when subjects learn the true purpose of a study. (In one case, the British team didn’t even tell the students they were in a research study.) Disclosing the goal at the beginning of the study would have changed the very behavior the researchers were studying—whether students would decide to cut down on their drinking after answering questions that might prompt them to think about whether they had a problem, Dr. Kypri says. Disclosing the true purpose at the end of the study would have done more harm than good because participants might have felt misled about the study, he says. The researchers decided that not disclosing was ethical, because the intervention was subtle and unlikely to cause negative consequences. In addition, they reasoned, the subjects were healthy college students, not individuals who might have been vulnerable because they didn’t understand what was happening or couldn’t take care of themselves. However, when Dr. Kypri and his colleagues published an article about the ethics of their work in the American Journal of Bioethics in 2013, some scientists disagreed with them on issues including the researchers’ belief that participants would have been upset about being misled about the purpose of the study. Likelihood of public benefit is a “necessary condition” for deception, Dr. Kypri says, and another is that there wasn’t any other way to answer the question.

Beirut’s Champs-Elysees Sees Despair of Syria’s Refugees [Donna Abu-Nasr on Bloomberg]

A few steps from Brisk Cafe on Beirut’s Hamra Street, a teenage Syrian squats with her three children and cups her hand appealing for loose change. Along the road, a Syrian shoeshine boy urinates against a poster. “This is not the Hamra Street we used to know,” said Mustapha Broush, the cafe’s supervisor. “We feel for the Syrian refugees, sympathize with them, but they have changed the character of this street.” Imagine if everyone in Mexico spilled over the U.S. border and many ended up scratching for a living on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. That’s the scale of the human wave from war-torn Syria washing up on what was once known as the Middle East’s Champs Elysees, a magnet for wealthy Gulf Arab shoppers in the 1970s. While immigration has transformed the social makeup of cities from Seattle to Seville in recent years, few places have seen anything like the influx in the Lebanese capital. Syrians now number more than 1.1 million in a country of 4.5 million people, making it the largest per-capita recipient of refugees in the world, according to the United Nations. Greater Beirut’s population is about 1.2 million, the World Bank estimates. “It’s a scale of disruption that is hard to get your head around,” World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim told journalists in Beirut in June. “It’s the equivalent of having the entire population of Mexico entering the United States within a two- or three-year period and then integrating that population into your own school systems and health-care systems.”

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Roundup – This is How Michael Caine Talks

Best of the Best:

The Pentagon Overpays for Almost Everything—Even Prescription Drugs [Charles Kenny on Bloomberg Businessweek]

If the Pentagon is so bad at providing good weapons to soldiers at a reasonable price, you might not expect it to be any better at buying anything else—and the evidence suggests it isn’t. Take the comparatively straightforward purchasing of off-the-shelf drugs, which the Pentagon does for active-duty and retired personnel and their dependents. Another recent GAOffice report compared net prices across a sample of 78 common and expensive brand-name and generic drugs. Compared to Medicaid, the DOD paid on average 60 percent more. One of the most reviled government agencies gets the best deal; the most loved, the worst. And yet Congress keeps expanding Pentagon’s portfolio. The department has spent more than $3.6 billion on breast cancer research. It funds science on alcohol and substance abuse, Alzheimer’s disease, and lung, ovarian, and prostate cancer. Overseas, we’ve asked it to play a lead role in the reconstruction of Haiti (spending half a billion dollars in the six months after the earthquake), to support anti-Malaria programs in Ethiopia, to vaccinate goats in Uganda, to rehabilitate dams in Afghanistan, and to build mobile phone networks in Iraq. Whether it is any more successful in these efforts than it is buying military equipment is suspect. The implementation record of these programs is patchy at best. During its tenure, the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction pursued U.S. military, civilians, and contractors involved in corruption, fraud, or other abuse in the country. By the time the office closed in 2013, its search had resulted in 90 convictions, 75 of which involved U.S. military staff, DOD employees, or contractors.

Suspect City Florida [Alice Brennan & Dan Lieberman on Fusion]

Earl Sampson has worked for nearly three years at the 207th Street Quickstop, a convenience store that has become the epicenter for police stops. Earl, 28, says he’s been stopped more than 200 times by the Miami Gardens Police Department. According to records obtained by Fusion, MGPD stopped him and filed a field contact report 181 times. In addition, Earl was arrested 111 times. Seventy-one of those arrests were for trespassing at his place of work…Since the Miami Herald first reported Earl Sampson’s story last year, Quickstop owner Alex Saleh has launched a civil rights lawsuit against the police department and the City of Miami Gardens…Alex says he was so appalled that he installed video surveillance cameras in his store — not to record crime but to record police misconduct. In January 2012, Alex says he gave his employee, Earl Sampson, a place to live inside the store to protect him from the police. But even that was no deterrent. In this security video, police are seen storming into Earl’s bedroom in the back of the store. Then Alex Saleh is seen stepping in, demanding police leave Earl alone. Moments later, the police can be seen turning around and leaving the store.

When Yahoo Reigned Supreme [Rohin Dhar on Priceonomics]

Yahoo was attractive to advertisers because it was big and one of the few games in town. It sent untargeted traffic, however, without any particular intent. Buying a banner ad on Yahoo reached people who were checking their email or reading the news. They weren’t looking to buy something or use your service. Yahoo ads were a blunt instrument. As the Internet exploded in size, browsing a list of recommended sites through Yahoo’s directory became intractable. Users needed a better way to search for the proverbially needle in the haystack. Google, with its superior relevance algorithm, blazing fast results, and uncluttered design became the best jumping off point for finding something on the web. Google’s search traffic grew because the product was great.  But Google also figured out how to make search traffic more valuable for advertisers than the display ads sold on portals like Yahoo. When users searched for a keyword, Google would let advertisers bid on placing a sponsored result that matched exactly what the user was looking for.

The Birds: Why the Passenger Pigeon Became Extinct [Jonathan Rosen on The New Yorker]

Human beings live in their historical and cultural contexts as much as passenger pigeons lived in fields, trees, and sky; it is important to remember, for example, that rural people hunted for food in the days before factory farming and supermarkets. The chicken industry in this country alone kills more than seven billion birds a year—far more than the total number of passenger pigeons at their peak. Nobody in the nineteenth century had figured out how to make the slaughter of the birds sustainable, but it is worth wondering what we would think of the passenger pigeon, and ourselves, if they had.

Rise of Viral Farms [Rohin Dhar on Priceonomics]

The first thing that these websites provide is context that primes the visitor to consider the content interesting. All of these viral videos are sitting on Youtube, often gathering dust. It seems to requires an interesting headline and short write up to make something go viral. Consider the case of Upworthy, which finds older videos that their audience might find interesting, optimizes the headlines by testing 25 different versions, and then unleashes the most popular one with great effect. The site only posted 246 times in the month of October, but each one got an average of 18,000+ social shares. That’s almost 8 times more shares than the nearest viral competitor, Mashable.

Hollande Popularity Rises After Actress Affair Disclosed: Poll [Mark Deen on Bloomberg]

French President Francois Hollande’s popularity rose from a record low, according to a poll conducted after a magazine reported that he’s having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. The Socialist president’s approval rating jumped 2 points to 26 percent, according to an LH2 poll for Le Nouvel Observateur magazine. LH2 interviewed 1,018 adults on Jan. 10 and 11. No margin of error was given.

Inquiry by C.I.A. Affirms It Spied on Senate Panel [Mark Mazzeti and Carl Hulse on The New York Times]

An internal investigation by the C.I.A. has found that its officers penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its damning report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program. The report by the agency’s inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers read the emails of the Senate investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information, according to a summary of findings made public on Thursday. One official with knowledge of the report’s conclusions said the investigation also discovered that the officers created a false online identity to gain access on more than one occasion to computers used by the committee staff.

The Business of Fake Hollywood Money [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics]

For ISS (the company who produced the money), the premise of Rush Hour 2 had become a reality — and they were penned as the bad guy. Sadly, their story is indicative of a constant dilemma faced by prop suppliers in Hollywood: the necessity to skirt the line between strict counterfeiting laws and producers’ demands for incredibly realistic money.

Fourth-Grade Teacher Polishing Up Speech On This Not Being Third Grade Anymore [The Onion]

Sources confirmed that Potter, worried about overwhelming her students too much on the first day, later revised her speech to put more emphasis on the spring field trip to Gettysburg.

£127,000 gold shirt: Indian businessman’s 4kg garment is worth its weight in gold [on The Independent]

An Indian businessman has treated himself for his 45th birthday in a way like no other: by having a shirt made out of gold. Pankaj Parakh, a local politician and the owner of a multi-million pound textile business near Mumbai, has had the shirt created out of pure love for the precious metal. The shirt in question weighs four kilos and is estimated to have cost £127,000. It has seven gold buttons has been created to move flexibly, just like any other shirt. The gold itself is 18-22 carat purity, and there have been no other metals used. It is lined with a thin cloth for added comfort, though the body of the garment is smooth. A team of 20 people are thought to have spent 3,200 hours crafting the shirt.

Is the Australian model in trouble? [Matthew C. Klein on FT Alphaville]

Officially, Australia has avoided recession for more than two decades — an impressive achievement for a small open economy that has become increasingly dependent on exports of iron ore, copper, and coal as a source of growth. Many have attributed this track record to Australia’s fortunate position as one of China’s biggest commodity suppliers, while others have argued that the Reserve Bank of Australia deserves the credit. Australians should hope that their success is due to the skill of their policymakers, rather than luck, because the newest data suggest that Oz’s luck is beginning to change.

The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord [Peter Coy on Bloomberg Businessweek]

The problem, rather, is that St. Louis is locked into a pattern of inequitable development, as shown in a remarkable series of maps that Iowa’s Gordon has posted on the Web. ‘The Gateway City is,’ he writes, ‘by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay.’ Fragmentation ‘is not the principal cause, but it certainly fed into what’s happening in Ferguson,’ says Robert Cohn, author of The History and Growth of St. Louis County, Missouri. Metro St. Louis has about the same population that it did 30 or 40 years ago, only now it’s thinly spread across 15 counties in Missouri and southern Illinois, up from just four. In an interview, Gordon says that because of Missouri’s tax laws and political fragmentation, ‘there is a huge incentive to build the next great mall in the cornfield because you all of a sudden capture the tax revenue from it. It’s something that everyone recognizes as an insane beggar-your-neighbor policy.’ He adds: ‘In places like Ferguson, you not only have disinvestment and collapsing value in residential, but also in commercial. It contributes to this dramatic spatial mismatch between where they work and where they live. St. Louis is one of the worst cities for length of commute.’

The Great Chinese Exodus [Andrew Browne on The Wall Street Journal]

Beijing makes a crucial distinction between ethnic Chinese who have acquired foreign nationality and those who remain Chinese citizens. The latter category is officially called huaqiao—sojourners. Together, they are viewed as an immensely valuable asset: the students as ambassadors for China, the scientists, engineers, researchers and others as conduits for technology and industrial know-how from the West to propel China’s economic modernization. In 1989, when the Tiananmen Square massacre triggered an outflow of traumatized students and shattered the Party’s image among overseas Chinese communities, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office kicked into high gear with a propaganda campaign to repair the damage. It proved highly successful…Foreigners sometimes have a hard time understanding why Beijing expends so much effort countering threats, real or imagined, from Chinese opponents overseas, including the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. But China’s leaders are haunted by history. To an extraordinary degree, the destiny of modern China has been shaped by the Chinese who left. The overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia provided critical support for Sun Yat-sen’s 1911 revolution, which toppled the Qing. The dynamic works the other way too. When Deng needed money and expertise to unlock the entrepreneurial energies of China in the early 1980s, he first tapped the mega-rich Chinese tycoons in Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia, whose factories populated his Special Economic Zones.

Guess Which Party Says Rand Paul ‘Blames America’ (Seriously, Guess) [Robby Soave on Reason] – RW

Which political party’s press secretary put out a press release today that criticizes Sen. Rand Paul because he “blames America…on foreign soil” and subscribes to a radical isolationist policy that would “make American less safe and secure”?…And the answer is…the Democrats. The above statement comes from DNC National Press Secretary Michael Czin. You would be forgiven for thinking otherwise; this is the exact criticism that Republicans have hurled at both Democrats and members of the Paul family for years. But with Rand Paul as the likely Republican presidential contender and interventionist Hillary Clinton as his likely opponent, the absurdities of party politics demand a switching of the unhinged attacks.

The Body on Somerton Beach [Mike Dash on The Smithsonian Magazine]

They certainly were baffled, though, in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, in December 1948. And the only thing that seems to have changed since then is that a story that began simply—with the discovery of a body on the beach on the first day of that southern summer—has become ever more mysterious. In fact, this case (which remains, theoretically at least, an active investigation) is so opaque that we still do not know the victim’s identity, have no real idea what killed him, and cannot even be certain whether his death was murder or suicide.

Lesbian women are ‘significantly more likely’ to orgasm than straight or bisexual females [Heather Saul on The Independent]

Lesbian women are much more likely to orgasm during sexual activity than either straight or bisexual females, a new study has revealed. Women also have less predictable and more varied orgasms than men, research looking at orgasm variation by a team at the Kinsley [sic] Institute has found. Their study discovered that for women – but not men – how likely they are to orgasm varied depending on their sexual orientation, with bi-sexual women being the least likely to experience orgasms.

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Roundup – HOSPITAL!

Best of the Best:

The World’s Ball [The New York Times]

The 1970 World Cup was broadcast by satellite in both Europe and the Americas, and the Telstar Durlast was designed to be television friendly. The enduring black-and-white pattern was said to improve visibility on black-and-white sets.

Have Brazilians Lost Their Love of Soccer? [Brendan Greeley on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Wesley is a family friend, taking care of me while I’m in São Paulo for a two-day layover before heading north to Fortaleza to watch some soccer. In Paulinia, where he lives, I ask where the Brazilian flags are. He points down his street and says that in any other World Cup year, you’d see flags on every house. You see them this year, but isolated: two or three per apartment tower. This doesn’t mean that Brazilians don’t care about the cup. It does mean that the way they care about the cup is complicated…In the car, he tells me that Paulinia has an American football team—pigskin and helmets and pads, that kind of football—and says that pigskin football is Brazil’s fastest-growing sport. I ask why, and he explains that the soccer leagues in Brazil are frustratingly corrupt. He’s fed up with corruption in general.

West African Ebola epidemic “out of control”: aid group [Reuters]

An Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is out of control and requires massive resources from governments and aid agencies to prevent it from spreading further, medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières said on Monday. The death toll has hit 337 since February, the U.N. World Health Organisation said last week, making it the deadliest outbreak since Ebola first emerged in 1976.

L. Rock Hubbard [Nathan Rabin on Slate]

But even people morbidly obsessed with Hubbard might not realize that before John Travolta donned platform boots to cackle maniacally at the foolishness of puny man-animals in the film version of Battlefield Earth, the book had been adapted into an album written by Hubbard called Space Jazz. Space Jazz wasn’t the only album masterminded by Hubbard in the final years of his life, as the eccentric guru boogied his way toward death. Collectively, these albums offer a fascinating glimpse into both Hubbard’s psyche and rampant egomania.

Paper or Power: Nothing Cut and Dried About Hand Washing in Restrooms [Timothy W. Martin on The Wall Street Journal]

People prefer paper towels by a 4-to-1 margin over hand dryers, according to a 2009 study by industry trade publication Facility Cleaning Decisions. Paper towels, a $2.5 billion industry, still exist by themselves in 85% of the nation’s 30 million, nonresidential bathrooms…Research findings on the most effective way to dry hands is so far a bit wishy-washy. A Mayo Clinic publication, with a study done by a trio of researchers including a former Kimberly-Clark consultant, weighed in on the debate in 2012, declaring that “paper towels are superior” from a hygiene standpoint, because dryers weren’t as effective at wiping bacteria off the hands. But this year, University at Buffalo researchers, using blow torches and cotton swabs to collect bacteria samples, declared high-speed hand dryers more hygienic. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention take no position.

Ohio’s Measles Outbreak Prompts Amish to Get Vaccinated [Sarah Jane Tribble on Kaiser Health News via Governing Magazine]

The largest outbreak of measles in recent U.S. history is underway. Ohio has the majority of these cases – 341 confirmed and eight hospitalizations. The virus has spread quickly among the largely unvaccinated Amish communities in the center of the state.

The demographics and politics of gun-owning households [Rich Morin on FactTank on Pew Research Center]

The new research also suggests a paradox: While blacks are significantly more likely than whites to be gun homicide victims, blacks are only about half as likely as whites to have a firearm in their home (41% vs. 19%). Hispanics are less likely than blacks to be gun homicide victims and half as likely as whites to have a gun at home (20%).

Demographics: Prime and Near-Prime Population and Labor Force [Bill McBride on Calculated Risk]

The prime working age labor force grew even quicker than the population in the ’70s and ’80s due the increase in participation of women. In fact, the prime working age labor force was increasing 3%+ per year in the ’80s! So when compare economic growth to the ’70s, ’80, or 90’s we have to remember this difference in demographics (the ’60s saw solid economic growth as near-prime age groups increased)…As Bruegel notes, the working age population in the US is expected to grow over the next few decades – so the US has much better demographics than Europe, China or Japan (not included). The key points are: 1) A slowdown in the US was expected this decade just based on demographics (the housing bust, financial crisis were piled on top of weak demographics). 2) The prime working age population in the US will start growing again soon.

Four myths about the Great War of 1914-1918 [Mark Harrison, Professor of Economics, University of Warwick via VOX.EU]

It is true that Germany imported 20‐25% of calories for human consumption before the war. Wartime imports were limited by an Allied blockade at sea and (via pressure on neutrals) on land. At the same time, German civilians suffered greatly: hunger-related mortality is estimated at around 750,000 (Davis and Engerman 2006: 204). But decisions made in Berlin, not London, did the main damage to German food supplies. The decision to attack Germany’s main food suppliers struck the first blow. In 1913, the German economy was more interlinked with future adversaries than allies. Britain, France, Italy, and Russia accounted for 36% of pre-war German trade. Britain alone provided more German trade than the 12% share of Austria‐Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire combined (Gartzke and Lupu 2012, Kramer 2013). Gerd Hardach (1987) conjectured that the effects of the loss of trade were outweighed by Germany’s war mobilisation. Mobilisation policies damaged food production in several ways (described by Feldman 1966). On the side of resources, mobilisation diverted young men, horses, and chemical fertilisers from agricultural use to the front line. Farmers’ incentives to sell food were weakened when German industry was converted to war production and ceased to supply the countryside with manufactures. Government initiatives to hold down food prices for the consumer did further damage. Because trade supplied at most one quarter of German calories, and German farmers the other three quarters, it is implausible to see the loss of trade as the primary factor. Germany’s own war effort probably did more to undermine food supplies.

How ‘Crazy Negroes’ With Guns Helped Kill Jim Crow [Thaddeus Russell on Reason Magazine] – RW

Although the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were formally committed to nonviolence, when their volunteers showed up in Canton they happily received protection from Chinn and the militia of armed black men he managed. “Every white man in that town knew you didn’t fuck with C.O. Chinn,” remembered a CORE activist. “He’d kick your natural ass.” Consequently, Chinn’s Club Desire offered a safe haven for black performers such as B.B. King, James Brown, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and the Platters; illegal liquor flowed freely in the county; and, unlike their comrades in much of Mississippi, CORE and SNCC activists in Canton were able to register thousands of black voters with virtual impunity from segregationist violence. According to Charles E. Cobb’s revelatory new history of armed self-defense and the civil rights movement, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, Canton and the rest of the South could not have been desegregated without people like C.O. Chinn, who were willing to take the lives of white people and were thus known as “crazy Negroes” or, less delicately, “bad niggers.”

The Price of Prevention: Vaccine Costs Are Soaring [Elisabeth Rosenthal on The New York Times]

The earliest vaccines were not patented, in part because the law at the time held that natural products could not be so protected. And vaccines like polio were developed through a large infusion of government and foundation funds, not by a company. Even when commercialized by the 1960s, vaccines were made by small specialty manufacturers, instead of big pharmaceutical firms, since producing them involved particular challenges: using live organisms, some of them dangerous. Indeed, huge liability payouts and aggressive mergers had, by the 1990s, meant that more than half of the country’s vaccine makers had closed down. With low retail prices, no one regarded vaccine making as a lucrative business. When he started his pediatric practice in 1982 in San Antonio, Dr. Michael Ozer remembers, he charged $22 for a 2-month well-child checkup, with $8 added on for the polio vaccine and another $8 for the vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. “And I’m sure we were making money on it,” he said. But one by one, various barriers eroded: Drug manufacturers discovered new ways to protect their products, like patenting the manufacturing process. The number of vaccine patent applications rose tenfold in the 1990s to more than 10,000. In 1988, the federal government set up the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, effectively shielding manufacturers and doctors.

Student Debt Grows Faster at Universities With Highest-Paid Leaders, Study Finds [Tamar Levin on The New York Times]

At the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012, according to a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning Washington research group.

Soccer Concussions Are More Frequent Than You Think [Eric Chemi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

According to the Center for Injury Research and Policy, more high school soccer players had concussions in 2010 than basketball, baseball, wrestling, and softball players combined. In the CIRP’s report (PDF) for the 2011-12 school year, concussions represented 34 percent of all injuries in boys’ soccer competitions and 30 percent in girls’ soccer. American football, of course, tops the list as the high school sport with the most concussions—but girls’ soccer ranks second. Soccer has seen a 58 percent increase in the number of children suffering concussions over the past decade. Some experts believe that banning headers in youth soccer is one way to limit injuries, because the combination of less-mature brains, weaker neck muscles, and poor heading technique contributes to the damage. While contact between head and ball isn’t directly responsible for most concussions, the long-term accumulation of those small impacts over time could cause problems with the brain, affecting thinking, concentration, and memory. The biggest danger of concussions comes from the act of going up in the air—head first—which leads to such risky situations as hitting another player’s knee.

The Misguided Freakout About Basement-Dwelling Millennials [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic]

[T]he share of 18-to-24-year-olds living at home who aren’t in college has declined since 1986. But the share of college students living “at home” (i.e.: in dorms, often) has increased. So the Millennials-living-in-our-parents meme is almost entirely a result of higher college attendance.  That’s crucial to know, because the share of 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor degree has grown by almost 50 percent since the early 1980s. More than 84 percent of today’s 27-year-olds spend at least some time in college and now 40 percent have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. More young people going to school means more young people living in dorms, which means more young people “living with their parents,” according to the weird Census.  Almost half of young people “living with their parents” are in college, where all campus housing counts as “living with their parents.”

Legal experts dissect the US government’s secret drone memo: a round-up [Alice K. Ross on The Bureau of Investigative Journalism]

On Monday, a US court ordered the publication of a secret memo outlining the government’s legal justification for killing an American citizen, Anwar al Awlaki…A CIA drone strike killed Anwar al Awlaki, along with three others, on September 30 2011. His 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, died in a separate drone strike two weeks later. The US government has said Abdulrahman was not the target of the strike that killed him – so no such document exists for him.

How Gowex CEO Went From Defiant to Disgraced in Five Days [Rodrigo Orihuela and Manuel Baigorri on Bloomberg]

It was 10:37 a.m. on July 1. Jenaro Garcia was preparing for a meeting with Madrid’s mayor aimed at fostering Spain’s entrepreneurial spirit when a message popped up on his phone. A short seller in New York had just released a report saying that Let’s Gowex SA (GOW), the company Garcia founded 15 years ago to offer Internet access via Wi-Fi hotspots, had overstated its revenue almost 10-fold in recent years. Garcia denied the accusations and threatened legal action against the report’s author, Gotham City Research LLC. Gowex employees and its auditor made Batman jokes about Gotham, named after the Caped Crusader’s fictitious burg. And Garcia continued his usual routine, posting on Twitter, “Gooooood morning Madrid!!!! Perfect day for a jog.” Then he said the report was on target. On July 6, Gowex announced that Garcia had been stripped of his powers. The previous day, the board said, Garcia told directors that he took responsibility for falsified financial accounts for at least four years. Gowex would file for creditor protection, putting an end to what had been seen as a rare success story of Spanish entrepreneurship.

Born in 1988? Sorry. [Peter R. Orszag via Bloomberg View]

Many studies have documented the income effect. A typical estimate, from a 2010 study, is that every percentage point increase in the unemployment rate during the year a person enters the workforce reduces his or her wages by 6 percent to 7 percent on average. And the reduction persists, though it diminishes somewhat over time. Even 15 years on, a person’s wages are 2.5 percent lower for every percentage point increase in the unemployment rate that happened when he or she graduated from college. This can make for big differences among members of the same generation who are born just a few years apart. Compare a person born in 1988, who graduated in 2010, when the unemployment rate averaged 9.6 percent with someone born in 1984 who graduated from college in 2006, when the unemployment rate averaged 4.6 percent. The person unlucky enough to be born in 1988 had a 30 percent to 35 percent lower wage at graduation. And at their respective 15 year reunions, the 2010 graduate is expected to be earning 12.5 percent less than the 2006 graduate.

These Doctors Are Bowing to a Boy for Doing Something That Could Save Millions of Lives [Matt Connolly on NewsMic] – RW

The boy on the gurney in that powerful photo is 11-year-old Liang Yaoyi, and according to a QQ news story translated by chinaSMACK, he decided to donate his kidneys and liver after suffering from an eventually fatal brain tumor. The operation was performed in June, and doctors bowed to Yaoyi and his mother three times in recognition of his sacrifice.

What Does Your “Relfie” Say About Your Relationship? [Dr.Benjamin Le on The Science of Relationships]

The take home message is that others will assume you are in a good relationship if you post relfies, change your status to “in a relationship with…”, and talk about your relationship on Facebook. In addition, people viewing your profile are pretty accurate in their ratings of your relationship. If you are in a strong relationship, viewers can pick that up from your Facebook profile. However, there is some danger in getting too schmoopie about your relationship on Facebook; although your friends will think your relationship is going well, they will like you less.

Tales From the Friend Zone: REALLY Just Friends? [Dr. Gary Lewandowski on The Science of Relationships]

This demonstrates an important point: being attracted to someone does not mean that the two people will ever hook-up or develop a relationship. Surely, the guys in the study who admit to being attracted to their female friends may simultaneously be more attracted to their current relationship partners as well (“my friend is hot, but my girlfriend is hotter”). Similarly, guys may never pursue a romantic relationship with a female friend either because they know they have no realistic chance, because their female friend already has a relationship, or because she just simply does not see romantic potential with him (i.e., you are staying “just friends”).

Opting Out of Parenthood: How Couples Navigate the Decision to Not Have Children [Dr. Gary Lewandowski on The Science of Relationships]

A couple’s decision to remain childless is clearly one that spouses do not take lightly. Rather, the decision is a deliberative process that unfolds over time. Though many couples quickly reach the decision through mutual agreement to not have children, for other couples the decision is much more complicated and necessitates reconciliation by one partner. Perhaps most importantly, outsiders should view couples who remain voluntarily childless as a partnership that has a strong conviction about remaining childless, largely due to how the partners deeply value their relationship.

Why An African-American Sports Pioneer Remains Obscure [Alan Greenblatt on code switch on NPR] – RW

Alice Coachman Davis never entered the pantheon of breakthrough African-American sports heroes, like Jesse Owens or Wilma Rudolph. But she was a pioneer nonetheless. In 1948, competing as Alice Coachman, she became the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold, breaking the U.S. and Olympic records in the high jump.

I Don’t Want to Be Right [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker]

Not all false information goes on to become a false belief—that is, a more lasting state of incorrect knowledge—and not all false beliefs are difficult to correct. Take astronomy. If someone asked you to explain the relationship between the Earth and the sun, you might say something wrong: perhaps that the sun rotates around the Earth, rising in the east and setting in the west. A friend who understands astronomy may correct you. It’s no big deal; you simply change your belief. But imagine living in the time of Galileo, when understandings of the Earth-sun relationship were completely different, and when that view was tied closely to ideas of the nature of the world, the self, and religion. What would happen if Galileo tried to correct your belief? The process isn’t nearly as simple. The crucial difference between then and now, of course, is the importance of the misperception. When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur.

This Isn’t a Brain Freeze—Manitoba Wins ‘Slurpee Capital’ Once Again [Julie Steinberg on The Wall Street Journal]

The Manitoba market comprises 52 7-Elevens in all, 43 of them in Winnipeg proper. Manitoba’s locations averaged 8,300 Slurpee sales a month in 2009, according to the most recent figures provided by 7-Eleven, which is a privately held unit of a public company, Tokyo-based Seven & i Holdings Co. The company hasn’t released specific Slurpee sales figures since then. It says other big Slurpee markets include Detroit, Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City…To some Manitobans, nothing beats a nippy winter night like a Slurpee with a nip of alcohol. Mr. Cassidy said some of his buddies “boost” their Slurpees, adding vodka to a Sprite Slurpee or rum to a Coke one. Manitoba’s reign as world Slurpee champion hasn’t gone unchallenged over the years. In 2008, Don Mariotto, the franchisee of a 7-Eleven in Kennewick, Wash., advertised on TV and on radio stations that his store was No. 1 for Slurpee sales in the world between July 2007 and June 2008. He said his slogan was: ‘Move Over, Manitoba, Kennewick is King.; The proclamation received a frosty reception in Winnipeg, where television and radio personalities reported the claim. Manitobans rallied and ultimately prevailed, winning the title that year and each year since. Mr. Mariotto alleges the rules were changed to count the number of cups of Slurpees sold and not the volume, putting his store at a disadvantage. A spokesperson for 7-Eleven said the company stands by the Manitoba victory. Years later, Winnipeg Slurpee aficionados still burst with civic pride over that win. Photographer Kineret Rifkind, who loaded up on Slurpees in 2008 to help defend the crown, now drinks hers out of a one-liter thermos emblazoned with the words “Manitoba Slurpee Capital of the World.”

Despite Exposure of Madoff Fraud, New Ponzi Schemes Emerge [Elizabeth Olson on New York Times Dealbook]

Over the last five years, Mr. Maglich said, he has followed about 500 Ponzi schemes on his site, which includes links to legal documents, including those filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which posts some of them on its website; the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and state financial authorities. Such swindles are largely viewed as distasteful cousins in the high-rolling world of securities, but they still rake in amounts that could be envied on Wall Street. In May alone, at least nine newly discovered Ponzi schemes were claimed to involve more than $96 million, said Kathy Bazoian Phelps, a Los Angeles lawyer who keeps a running tally on her blog.

Chinese Hackers Show Humans Are Weakest Security Link [Jordan Robertson on Bloomberg]

Spearphishing, a more targeted version of mass-e-mail phishing attacks, has long been known as a glaring vulnerability. In 2011, RSA Security, a unit of EMC, was hacked that way, exposing a hiring campaign. A Coca-Cola Co. executive opened a spearphishing message in 2012, leading hackers to gain access to internal documents. At Alcoa, about 19 employees received an e-mail purporting to be from a board member, Carlos Ghosn, who is also chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co. An attachment to the message, once opened, unleashed a virus that penetrated Alcoa’s network. While Ghosn wasn’t directly identified in yesterday’s indictment, the document refers to a director with the initials “C.G.” Ghosn was the only board member at the time matching that criteria. Chris Keeffe, a spokesman for Nissan, and Monica Orbe, a spokeswoman for Alcoa, declined to comment. Some of the main targets are personal assistants, who play a central role inside companies and are targeted because they often have access to executives’ calendars, contact lists and e-mail accounts, according to Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Corp.’s Security Response team. The other type of workers targeted most often are public-relations professionals, whose names and e-mail addresses are easy to harvest from public Web pages. They’re also accustomed to hearing from people they don’t already know, Haley said.

Wealthy Somalis Flout Kenyan Law Banning Female Circumcision [Abjata Khalif on Bloomberg]

Halima Abdi charges foreign visitors at least $1,000 for a tour of remote northeastern Kenyan villages that most people wouldn’t dream of making. Her clients are young girls sent by their parents to undergo traditional circumcision. Most of her customers are ethnic Somalis who arrive from countries such as the U.K., Sweden and the Netherlands, Abdi explained in an interview at her cramped one-room office in the suburb of Eastleigh in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Abdi says she’s offered ‘consultancy services’ to hundreds of migrant families from abroad since she began operating in 2000. ‘I have undergone the female cut and I have administered the same to my daughters and their granddaughters too will go through it,’ said Abdi, a 48-year-old mother of five children. ‘These beliefs and values are still present and valued by Somalis in Africa and the developed world.’ While female genital mutilation has been illegal in Kenya since 2011, practitioners like Abdi continue to earn a handsome living from the procedure. The Wagalla Centre for Peace and Human Rights, a Wajir, Kenya-based advocacy group, says the practice has made some circumcisers rich enough to buy four-wheel-drive vehicles, build luxury homes in remote villages and acquire livestock.

Cynk Short Squeeze Blamed by Trader for Costing Him Job [Zeke Faux and Jing Cao on Bloomberg]

A Wall Street trader said Cynk Technology Corp.’s (CYNK) 36,000 percent stock surge cost him his job, and he blames a short squeeze and regulators who didn’t halt the shares before the company’s value shot past $6 billion. Tom Laresca, a market-maker at Buckman Buckman & Reid Inc., said he was among traders who thought they spotted a scam as the shares jumped to $2.25 last month from pennies. He sold it short last week around $6 — which means selling stock you don’t own with a plan to buy it cheaper soon, pocketing the difference. Laresca figured the Securities and Exchange Commission would suspend trading, sending the price toward zero. Cynk has said it’s a social-network service with no revenue and one employee…Instead of falling, the price more than doubled the next day, July 9, starting the squeeze. Market-makers who had sold the shares short got nervous and scrambled to buy them to close their positions, driving the price even higher, Laresca said. The SEC stopped trading two days later, citing concerns about the accuracy of information in the marketplace and “potentially manipulative transactions.” That was too late, Laresca said.

Craft Beer Industry Taps Profits of “Big Beer” [Elaine S. Povich on Stateline]

According to Beer Marketer’s Insights, a trade industry publication, the craft beer industry produces 16 million barrels annually, approximately 7.8 percent of the total beer volume in the U.S. Back in 2008, the crafters produced only 8.9 million barrels for a 4.2 percent share. The craft beer industry is growing 13 percent to 14 percent each year, with a commensurate drop in production by the “big guys” like Anheuser-Busch and Coors, from 177.6 million barrels in 2008 down to 162.7 million in 2013, said Beer Marketer’s vice president Eric Shepard.

The Economics of Fake Degrees [Scott McLemee on Slate]

Last year a dog received his MBA from the American University of London, a non-accredited distance-learning institution. It feels as if I should add ‘not to be confused with the American University in London,’ but getting people to confuse them seems like a pretty basic feature of the whole AUOL marketing strategy. The dog, identified as ‘Peter Smith’ on his diploma, goes by Pete. He was granted his degree on the basis of ‘previous experiential learning,’ along with payment of 4,500 pounds ($7,723). The funds were provided by a BBC news program, which also helped Pete fill out the paperwork. The American University of London required that Pete submit evidence of his qualifications as well as a photograph. The applicant submitted neither, as the BBC website explains, ‘since the qualifications did not exist and the applicant was a dog.’

How Gamblers Get Hot [Jay Caspian Kang on The New Yorker]

Juemin Xu and Nigel Harvey, the study’s authors, took a sampling of 569,915 bets taken on an online sports-gambling site and tracked how previous wins and losses affected the probability of wins in the future. Over all, the winning percentage of the bets was somewhere around forty eight per cent. Xu and Harvey isolated the winners and tracked how they fared in their subsequent bets. In bet two, winners won at a rate of forty-nine per cent. From there, the numbers go haywire. A player who had won two bets in a row won his third bet at a rate of fifty-seven per cent. His fourth bet won sixty-seven percent of the time, his fifth bet seventy-two. The best gamblers in Las Vegas expect to win fifty-five per cent of their bets every year. Seventy-two per cent verges on omniscience. The hot hand, it appears, is real. Losers, unsurprisingly, continued to lose. Of the 190,359 bettors who lost their initial bet, fifty-three per cent lost their next, and those who had enough money left for a third round lost sixty per cent of the time. When unfortunate bettors got to five straight losses, their chance of winning dropped to twenty-three per cent. The losing streaks should be familiar to problem gamblers and can be explained by another well-worn theory called the gambler’s fallacy. If you’ve ever called heads on a coin flip, seen the coin land tails up, and then called heads again because ‘heads is due,’ you’ve been caught up in the gambler’s fallacy. Winning and losing streaks had no correlation with the skill or risk aversion of the gambler. Xu and Harvey examined the over-all payoffs of gamblers across three currencies and found no significant difference between hot-streakers and cold-streakers. What the research did find was that gamblers on streaks—good or bad—acted under the influence of the gambler’s fallacy. Winning bettors began placing more prudent bets because they assumed their luck would soon run out. Losers began placing bets with longer odds because they wanted to win big when their luck finally, inevitably changed.

Here’s What Obama’s ‘Part-Time America’ Really Looks Like [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic]

Three thoughts for the road: 1) Most people working part-time want to work part-time because they’re in school, or they’re raising kids, or they consider themselves mostly retired. Don’t pay attention to anybody who’s using the number of stay-at-home dads and moms to argue that Obamacare is destroying full-time work. 2) Last fall, the Fed produced a useful document explaining that “current levels of part-time work are largely within historical norms, despite increases for selected demographic groups, such as prime-age workers with a high-school degree or less.” 3) If you insist on being a pessimist, here’s a very smart way to express fear about the future of part-time work, also from the Fed. There are some industries, such as hotels, food service, and retail, that have historically had shorter workweeks and more part-time workers. If those sectors continue to grow faster than the overall economy (because other sectors, like government and manufacturing, are shrinking), then we should expect part-time work to remain elevated. Indeed, the relative strength of those industries today is one reason why part-time work hasn’t declined even faster than it has.

Master’s degrees are as common now as bachelor’s degrees were in the ’60s [Libby Nelson on Vox]

The story of the past four decades isn’t just about how master’s degrees became as common now as bachelor’s degrees were in the 1960s. It’s about how the US has redefined which fields need or reward postgraduate study. In 1970, the 15 most popular master’s degrees — which made up 94 percent of all master’s degrees given that year — split up their market share [with] education…dominant, and many of the other master’s degrees were in traditional academic fields. Over the next four decades, they’d lose ground to professional degrees. And slowly but surely, MBAs would take over the world. By the time the class of 1981 donned their master’s hoods, the degrees that would dominate for the next 30 years had established themselves at the top of the heap. Two categories of professionally oriented degrees, health professions (public health, nursing, and similar fields) and public administration and social services (public policy and social work) were gaining. And computer science has made its first appearance. The top 15 degrees don’t change much in the 1980s and 1990s, even as the number of master’s degrees continued to grow. By the class of 2002…[c]omputer science has jumped up, while theology and history are losing ground. Education, once far more popular than business, is now on more or less the same level. The 2000s see the real rise of professional master’s degrees. In 1971, about 64 percent of master’s recipients were getting either a degree in business or a degree that lined up with a specific job (engineer, nurse, librarian, policy wonk). By 2012, about 80 percent were — and business reigned supreme, passing education in 2010.

How a Copyright Dispute Helped Give America Rock ‘n’ Roll [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics]

Lobbying by ASCAP helped secure the passage of the 1909 copyright law — the organization also survived an antitrust case in 1937 — but it did not become really lucrative until radio performances became a significant source of revenue. After ASCAP’s share of radio revenue increased from $750,000 to $4.3 million from 1932 to 1939, it doubled the fees it charged to play its copyrighted works in 1940. Radio stations balked; after all, they had hosted bands to play on the air at no charge just years earlier, since it was seen as good publicity and marketing for the performers. In response, a number of radio broadcasters boycotted ASCAP and formed BMI as an alternative. BMI focused on local music — lots of blues, country, and folk — that ASCAP ignored in its focus on LA, New York City, and music it considered highbrow. (To the extent ASCAP represented black musicians, they played genres like jazz that white audiences had already adopted, according to Garofalo.) Suddenly rhythm and blues music had a national audience that included white listeners, while other local musicians also received a national airing.

The Hippie Hobby Lobby: Eden Foods Says No to Birth Control [Susan Berfield on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Eden Foods calls itself the oldest natural and organic food company in North America. Chances are that if you buy organic food, you’ve bought Eden’s soy milk, beans, or pasta. The company, which started as a food co-op, is owned and run by Michael Potter, a practicing Catholic who similarly doesn’t want to provide birth control to his employees. In fact, Potter’s objections go farther than those that took the Hobby Lobby case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Greens refused to cover four kinds of birth control they consider tantamount to abortion, while Potter objects to paying for any form of birth control. Eden Foods filed a lawsuit last year, seeking exemption on religious grounds, and lost. Following the Supreme Court’s decision on June 30, Eden’s case is being reconsidered.

Librarians Lack LeBron’s Pull as Miami Arena Deal Precedes Cuts [Toluse Olorunnipa on Bloomberg]

Last month, Miami politicians approved a $19 million subsidy for the professional basketball arena. Six weeks later, they turned to a grimmer task: deciding how many police and librarians to fire.

Here’s What Happens When Your Joke Goes Massively Viral On Twitter [Caroline Moss on Business Insider]

The tweet was still being retweeted, hitting close to 16,000 around July Fourth. And when Scott thought it couldn’t get anymore bizarre — being accused of plagiarizing his own joke was surely the strangest thing that could happen — someone pointed out that YouTube celebrity Tyler Oakley was a fan of the joke. But Oakley had posted the screengrab of the tweet to his Facebook and blacked out Scott’s handle. In fact, the only credit Oakley gives is to himself and his Tumblr page. With 1.6 million fans on Facebook, Oakley cheats Scott out of the small fame and glory he would have had from having his name attached to his joke in this particular situation.

Netflix’s 50 Million Subscribers Face a Flood of New Shows [Ashlee Vance on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Netflix has spent more and risked more to become a real competitor to HBO (TWX) and Showtime (CBS) in programming while maintaining a technology edge over everyone. When Netflix first set out on this strategy, it was easy to predict a bleak future in which the company would spend itself to death buying shows that no one watched. Netflix took a huge risk, although hindsight and the rising subscriber numbers are making it harder to remember just how gutsy the move was.

Why The Last Five Years Of Your Life Have Disappeared [Ron Friedman on Fast Company]

Studies show that people who feel “time-rich” tend to be happier and more fulfilled than those of us who constantly feel rushed. They experience fewer headaches and upset stomachs, and regularly get better quality sleep. And it’s not just people who are time-rich and financially successful. Studies show that time affluence is independent of income. Feeling less pressured promotes a happier existence, regardless of how much you earn.

Millennials’ Political Views Don’t Make Any Sense [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic]

Forty-two percent of Millennials think socialism is preferable to capitalism, but only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism in the survey.

How Advanced Socialbots Have Infiltrated Twitter [MIT Technology Review]

The team also teased apart the data to find out what factors contributed to the success of the bots. Unsurprisingly, activity level is important and the more active bots achieved greater popularity in their social networks. That’s expected since more active bots are more likely to be seen by others (although they are also more likely to be detected by Twitter’s defense mechanisms). More surprisingly, the socialbots that generated synthetic tweets (rather than just reposting) performed better too. That suggests that Twitter users are unable to distinguish between posts generated by humans and by bots. “This is possibly because a large fraction of tweets in Twitter are written in an informal, grammatically incoherent style, so that even simple statistical models can produce tweets with quality similar to those posted by humans in Twitter,” suggest Freitas and co. The groups that the socialbots were set up to follow also had a major effect. The group of socially connected software developers produced the fewest followers while the group of randomly chosen software developers generated the highest number of them.

It’s Very Difficult for Patients to Compare Hospital Prices [Kaiser Health News on Governing Magazine]

Seattle-area hospitals, while insisting that charges are largely meaningless because they’re not what insurers or most patients end up paying, were nevertheless quick to provide explanations when their own charges were high or low. Swedish, pointing to its destination Heart & Vascular Institute, says its average charges, often the highest in the area, reflect the high numbers of complicated cases it handles. Virginia Mason, on the other hand, says its low charges reflect a commitment to eliminating unnecessary tests and procedures, inefficient use of staff and sloppy supply ordering.

Curiously Strong Remains:




The content on this site is provided as general information and entertainment only and should not be taken as investment advice. All site content shall not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial product, or to participate in any particular trading or investment strategy. The ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of firms affiliated with the author. The author may or may not have a position in any security referenced herein and may or may not seek to do business with companies mentioned via this website. Any action that you take as a result of information or analysis on this site is ultimately your responsibility. Consult your investment adviser before making any investment decisions.



Roundup – Anthropology Rap

Quote o’ the Week:

f. Coffeenerdness II: Then, just 45 minutes out of Regina, we stopped in Moose Jaw at a Tim Horton’s. Busy morning at the Moose Jaw TimHo’s.

No. Stop. No one, no one calls it that. Why are you like this? Why?

- Adam, “Fun with PK (Canada Edition)” [KSK]

Best of the Best:

The photos North Korea didn’t want you to see  [Jenni Ryall on News AU]

Photographer Eric Lafforgue has ventured into North Korea six times. Using digital memory cards he smuggled out images of the communist nation he was forbidden to take. Mr Lafforgue wanted to show that North Koreans are humans, not robots, who also suffer.

Getting the Sex You Want is Good for Your Relationship [Dr. Benjamin Le on Science of Relationships]

Researchers asked more than 1000 U.S. married couples about their desired and actual sexual frequency. Spouses who weren’t getting as much sex as they desired were less satisfied and thought about ending their marriages more often, had less positive communication with their partners, and reported more conflict. Similarly, the spouses of sexually unfulfilled individuals reported these same negative outcomes (i.e., if you aren’t getting the sex you desire, your partner is less satisfied etc.). While these effects are likely reciprocal, getting the sex you want is associated with better relationship quality for both you and your partner.

Are Millennials Really the “Hook-Up Generation”? [Dr. Gary Lewandowski on Science of Relationships]

Although a common narrative, do the data support the notion that today’s young adults are “hooking up” more than previous generations? In short…no. A sociological study using the General Social Survey comparing hook-up rates among today’s students with students from a decade ago found that both groups reported similar rates of hooking up.3 Specifically, 31.9 % of students from 1988-1996 reported having more than one sexual partner in the past year, whereas 31.6% of today’s college students reported having more than one sexual partner in the past year.

Santa Barbara Massacre Defies Gun Control, Mental Health Proposals: 4 Blunt Points [Paul M. Barrett on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Forget conventional gun-control proposals. These provisions may make sense to deter many kinds of wrongdoing, but they don’t apply to the suicidal young man determined to express his pain and rage by taking innocent people with him. Elliot Rodger, the self-pitying Santa Barbara killer, passed background checks—three times—as he bought his Glock and Sig Sauer pistols. He didn’t need an “assault weapon,” or military-style semiautomatic rifle. Ordinary handguns did just fine. He didn’t need large-capacity ammunition magazines; those are already illegal in California. He planned ahead: three pistols in case one jammed, and more than 40 10-round mags, which provided ample ammo for his deadly mission. California has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the country, far more stringent than what the federal government imposes. Those laws didn’t stop, or even significantly slow, Rodger.

Which Cities Sleep in, and Which Get to Work Early [Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight]

[The 20 most nocturnal metro areas, by the median time of arrival at work] break down into three rough categories. First are those like New York, San Francisco and Boston, which are home to a lot of young, creative professionals. Next are college towns such as Ithaca, N.Y. (Cornell University); Lawrence, Kan. (the University of Kansas); and Logan, Utah (Utah State University). Finally are cities such as Atlantic City, N.J., Orlando, Fla., and Miami, whose economies are associated with recreation, tourism and gambling. A quarter of the workforce in Atlantic City doesn’t begin its workday until 11:26 a.m. or after.

Breaking the Five-Minute ‘Beer Mile’ Brews Controversy [Zusha Elinson on The Wall Street Journal]

Since its origin on college campuses in the late 1980s, the beer mile has grown into an underground phenomenon. Thousands of people, including some professional athletes, have sought to be the fastest in the world at chugging a 12-ounce beer, running one lap, then repeating the uncomfortable, belch-heavy process three more times. Adherents call it the most “glorified” of the “digestive athletics”—a realm that includes competitive eating contests—but it has remained mostly in the shadows. Mr. Nielsen’s record-setting 4:57 run catapulted the obscure sport onto a larger stage with more than one million views of a YouTube video of his feat. The first world championship is now being planned for this year. Mr. Nielsen, a 34-year-old sales executive who ran competitively in college, says he has been approached with endorsement offers from apparel and beer companies. But sudden fame has come with a price: questions about the record-setting race are being raised by beer-milers who have examined his video like assassination theorists poring over the Zapruder film. In online forums, some accuse Mr. Nielsen of gaining an unfair advantage by somehow de-fizzing the four cans of Budweiser he drank. Others question why he didn’t flip the first can upside down above his head to prove that he had completely drained its contents, as custom demands.

The Return of Local Currencies [Liz Farmer on Governing Magazine]

To work well, local currencies require a dedicated administrator who’s able to consistently promote and recruit new businesses. The Ithaca Hours program had that in its founder Paul Glover, who says he once sat down with a business owner who had too many Hours and wanted out of the system. He used his own money to exchange $100 worth of Hours and then helped devise a plan for how the owner could spend the remaining Hours locally on goods and services he needed. But since Glover handed over the Hours to a board a decade ago, the currency’s circulation has greatly diminished. The economic benefits touted by supporters — that local currencies protect mom-and-pop shops against the aggressions of big box retailers that send their profits outside the community — aren’t proven. And, says Loren Gatch, a political science professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, the financial impact is negligible because local currencies represent a tiny fraction of the U.S. dollars circulating in communities. But there can still be an upside: In just three years, the Bnote has gone from 55 participating Baltimore businesses to 220. Eight years ago, BerkShares were accepted at 100 businesses; now more than 400 retailers in the region accept them.

How to Get Rich Just by Moving [Ben Steverman on Bloomberg]

Feel like moving to Pittsburgh? Now there’s a city in a sweet spot, with cheap prices and, according to new BEA data that adjust average incomes for local inflation, relatively high incomes. Pittsburgh is 6.6 percent cheaper than the national average, and residents are the 36th best-paid in the U.S., bringing home almost $48,000 annually per person.

Monica Wehby’s Run for the Oregon Senate Results in Awkward Questions About Her Personal Life  [Mark Z. Barabak on The Los Angeles Times via Governing Magazine]

A relative moderate on issues like abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage, she fit the mold of Republicans who have won statewide office in the past. Then, just before the May 20 primary, reports surfaced regarding Wehby’s personal life _ a bitter divorce, a difficult romantic breakup, calls to the police by her ex-husband and a former boyfriend, who both accused her of harassment. Suddenly, her candidacy came under much harsher scrutiny and Oregon became the latest testing ground in the ever-fraught battle over politics and gender. Democrats, already pressed to keep their Senate majority, have quietly pushed the Wehby-as-stalker story, even as the incumbent, Jeff Merkley, distances himself to avert any backlash. Republicans have seized on the revelations, unearthed by Democratic research, to accuse the party of waging a war on women, hurling back the phrase Democrats use to attack GOP candidates on issues like contraception and equal pay.

The 1 Work Hack That Will Save You 900 Hours a Year [Dave Kerpen on Inc.]

During every call or meeting, no matter how short it is, I won’t end the discussion until everyone clearly understands their next steps, and until I’ve actually begun any next steps of my own. In other words: Begin your next steps during a meeting, and you will never have to spend a minute reviewing notes or figuring out what’s next…A good rule of thumb is to reserve 20% of every minute to review next steps. If it’s a five-minute meeting, take one minute; a 30-minute meeting, take six minutes; or an hour-long meeting, 12 minutes. During that time, make sure everyone understands what they need to do next, and if there’s time, begin the next steps in earnest.

Work Creates Less Stress Than Home, Penn State Researchers Find [Elizabeth Bernstein on The Wall Street Journal]

In a new study, published online last month in Social Science & Medicine, researchers at Penn State University found significantly and consistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, in a majority of subjects when they were at work compared with when they were at home. This was true for both men and women, and parents and people without children…The majority of subjects had on average lower levels of cortisol at work than at home. It made no difference what their occupation was, whether they were single or married or even if they liked their job or not. One intriguing finding: The only participants who didn’t have lower levels of cortisol at work—their levels remained the same as at home—were those who earned more than $75,000 a year. (The researchers, who didn’t pursue that finding for this study, said they believe the salary bar would have been higher in a city with a more expensive standard of living.) The study also found that while both parents and childless adults were less stressed at work, the difference was greater for people without children. Researchers say this may be because parents bring some home stress to work with them, or because children may help relieve stress at home. Both men and women showed less stress at work. But women were more likely to report feeling happier there. Men were more likely to feel happier at home. The researchers say this may be because women still do more housework and child care and may feel they have less free time.

Dimon’s Raise Haunts BNP as U.S. Weighs $10 Billion Penalty [Greg Farrell and Tiffany Kary on Bloomberg]

When JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM)’s Jamie Dimon got a 74 percent raise in January, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara fumed. He had forced the bank just weeks before to pay $1.7 billion for enabling Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. And yet Dimon was being rewarded. Now, five months later, Bharara’s frustration is directed at another bank.

Guest Post: Afghanistan – Obama’s War [Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University via Zero Hedge]

Graciana del Castillo, one of the world’s leading experts on failed states, has just written a most edifying book on the Afghan war (Guilty Party: The International Community in Afghanistan. Xlibris, 2014). Del Castillo’s book allows us to finally understand just what a fiasco the Afghan war has been. Why is Afghanistan, as Bob Woodward correctly termed it, Obama’s war? Del Castillo’s sharp pencil work shows that during the period 2002-2013, $650 billion have been appropriated for the Afghan war effort, and a whopping $487.5 billion of that (or 75 percent) took place after President Obama took office. If one pulls apart that $650 billion price tag, a variety of interesting sleights-of-hand emerge. For example, about $70 billion was disbursed to what is euphemistically termed “reconstruction.” But, in reality, 60 percent of this $70 billion (or $42 billion) was actually spent on beefing up the Afghan National Security Forces. And not surprisingly, 75 percent of the $42 billion spent on national security forces was spent under President Obama’s watchful eye. To put these outsized numbers into perspective, just consider that the total cost of the Afghan war from 2002-2013 amounts to $7089 per American taxpayer (based on the number of income tax returns). More revealing is the fact that the annual expenditure rate under the Bush administration was already $222 per taxpayer. Then, it exploded to an annual expenditure rate of $1329 per taxpayer under President Obama. In addition to laying out the phenomenal spending magnitudes on President Obama’s watch, del Castillo demonstrates just how unsustainable all this Afghan spending is. For example, in 2013, the United States financed over $5 billion of the $6.5 billion needed to field the Afghan National Security Forces. This $5 billion of U.S. financing was roughly 10 times more than the Afghan government actually spent from its own revenue sources. In fact, the U.S. funding of Afghan forces was almost three times the total revenue collected by the Afghan government.

What Corrupt States Spend Their Money On [Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh on Governing Magazine]

The study found that high levels of corruption in a state can shape its budget allocation. More corrupt states tended to spend money on construction, highways, and police protection programs, which provide more opportunity for corrupt officials to use public money for their own gain. These states spend less on health, education, and welfare, which provide less opportunity for officials to collect bribes, according to Indiana University’s John Mikesell, who co-authored the report with Cheol Liu of the University of Hong Kong.

5 facts about today’s college graduates [Drew Desilver on Pew Research Center]

Only about 56% of students earn degrees within six years. The National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit verification and research organization, tracked 2.4 million first-time college students who enrolled in fall 2007 with the intent of pursuing a degree or certificate. The completion rate was highest (72.9%) among students who started at four-year, private, nonprofit schools, and lowest (39.9%) among those who started at two-year public institutions.

In Nevada, nobody wins (sort-of) [Steven Shepard on Politico]

Nevada Democratic leaders acknowledged earlier this year that they had failed to recruit a credible candidate to face GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval in the fall. And on Tuesday, Silver State Democratic primary voters agreed, casting more votes for the state’s quirky “none of these candidates” option than any one of the eight actual humans on the ballot. “None of these candidates” earned 30 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race, outpacing the leading actual candidate, Robert Goodman, a retired state Economic Development commissioner from Las Vegas who’s run statewide twice before and shares a last name with the Vegas mayoral dynasty, at 25 percent. But according to state law, Goodman will win the nomination.

World Cup Opinions in 19 Countries: Likes, Dislikes, Predictions [Gregor Aisch, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy on New York Times Upshot]

A strong plurality of fans in only three countries — Argentina, Brazil and Spain – predict their own country to win the tournament. (A plurality in the United States also picked the home team to win, against all odds, but that plurality consisted of only 14 percent of Americans; the rest picked another team or said they didn’t know who would win.) Everywhere else, the most common prediction was Brazil. In many countries, the home team was the second- or third-most commonly predicted winner. One notable exception: England. The English just don’t believe in their team anymore.

How Comments Shape Perceptions of Sites’ Quality—and Affect Traffic [Adam Felder on The Atlantic]

A couple of weeks ago, National Journal changed its comments policy, opting to eliminate comments on most stories as a way to stem the flood of abuse that appeared on the site. Naturally the comment-section reaction to that announcement helped reinforce the reason editors said comments had to go in the first place. For all the boycott threats and comparisons to Hitler, though… the site seems to be doing better now. If anything, user engagement has increased since the comment policy changed. Pages views per visit increased by more than 10 percent. Page views per unique visitor increased 14 percent. Return visits climbed by more than 20 percent. Visits of only a single page decreased, while visits of two pages or more increased by almost 20 percent…Respondents who saw comments evaluated the article as being of lower quality—an 8 percent difference. In other words, authors are judged not just by what they write, but by how people respond. The presence of comments did not make a statistically significant difference in a person’s likelihood to read more content by the same author, nor did it make an appreciable difference in respondent self-reported mood. The comments used in the sample group are perhaps worse than many Internet comments. They aso represent only a small sample of the whopping 7,725 comments—many of them negative or downright offensive—on the actual article. It’s easy to see how a reader might reassess her opinion of an article after catching a glimpse of thousands of negative opinions about it. There are good options for encouraging reader feedback: nice moderated comment sections, forums that build community, quick exchanges on Twitter, or lengthy feedback over email. But unmoderated comments appear to have a small, but real deleterious effect on readers’ perception of the sites on which they appear. And that appears to have implications for the bottom-line metric on the web: traffic.

Berkshire’s Radical Strategy: Trust [Andrew Ross Sorkin on New York Times Dealbook]

As Pollyannaish as Mr. Munger may sound, his view has a profound counterintuitive truth to it: Behavioral scientists and psychologists have long contended that “trust” is, to some degree, one of the most powerful forces within organizations. Mr. Munger and Mr. Buffett argue that with the right basic controls, finding trustworthy managers and giving them an enormous amount of leeway creates more value than if they are forced to constantly look over their shoulders at human resources departments and lawyers monitoring their every move.

Here’s Why the Student Loan Market Is Completely Insane [Eric Chemi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Any other market with such varying default rates would feature borrowing rates that are varied to match more appropriately: Students from Stanford and Yale would pay far less than students at the University of Phoenix. That doesn’t happen in the student loan market—and that creates all kinds of skewed incentives. Subsidies go to the wrong people: taxpayers (and high-performing students) subsidize loans to below-average schools, because students at these poor-performing schools are loading up on much more debt than they should take on, at interest rates too low for their high risk of default.

When Michael Jordan Wore 45 [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics]

The Bulls had struggled without Jordan during the 1994-95 season; by mid-March, they were 31-31. Then, with a two-word press release — “I’m Back” — Jordan made his glorious return. But when Jordan trotted out on the court on March 19, 1995, it was without his trademark 23 jersey. Upon his return, he’d made it clear that he wouldn’t be wearing number 23 again, since it was the last number his father had seen him play in; the number was immediately retired to Uniter Center’s rafters during a ceremony. This disallowed anyone else in the franchise to wear 23 — including MJ himself. For 22 games, Jordan played as number 45, but things just weren’t the same. Though he performed well (he scored 19 points in his first game back), many claimed he’d lost some of his mojo; the new jersey number became a scapegoat. While the Bulls rallied and managed to make it to the 1995 Eastern Conference Semi-finals, Jordan’s number debacle reached a tipping point. With 10 seconds on the clock in game 1, Orlando’s Nick Anderson stole the ball from Jordan — a play that led to the Magic’s game-winning basket. “Number 45 is not number 23,” Anderson told the press after the game. “I couldn’t have done that to number 23.”

Rekindled Iraq Conflict Stirs U.S. Veterans [Ben Kesling on The Wall Street Journal]

“When I left in April 2009, I said, ‘In five years there’ll be a civil war,’ ” said Keith Widaman, a former Marine staff sergeant who helped train Iraqi law enforcement during his deployment. “The Sunnis were stockpiling weapons and they weren’t using them against us. They were just holding on to them.”

How do we die? What killed Americans in 1900 vs. 2010 [Kyle Kim on The Los Angeles Times]

The most visually striking difference is the enormous decline of infectious diseases (pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, etc). Advances in medicine and society have largely eradicated many of these diseases that were an overwhelming cause of death in 1900. Nephropathy (kidney disease) and cerebrovascular disease (stroke) have also seen sharp declines in the last century, while cancer, diabetes and heart disease have all now become major causes of death. Senility stopped being recorded as a cause of death in mid-1910. Alzheimer’s started being recorded in the late 1990s. If you’re a silver-linings kind of person, the news is still generally on the upswing: people are dying from what were once the leading causes of death at half the rate as they were in 1900.

The Complicated History Of ‘Tetris,’ Which Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary Today [Karyne Levy on Business Insider]

In 1988, Nintendo was working on its Game Boy handheld gaming system. When Rogers flew to Moscow to get the rights to “Tetris,” he struck a deal that would change history forever: exclusive pack-in rights for the game to be bundled with the Game Boy, rather than the company’s own game, “Super Mario Bros.” “I convinced the CEO of Nintendo of America, Minoru Arakawa, to include ‘Tetris’ rather than ‘Mario’ by saying to him, ‘If you want little boys to buy your machine include ‘Mario,’ but if you want everyone to buy your machine, include ‘Tetris,'” Rogers tells Business Insider. “I guess it worked. People say ‘Tetris’ made Game Boy and Game Boy made ‘Tetris.’ Both statements are true.”

Life Insurers Treat E-Cigs Just Like Other Cigarettes [John Tozzi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

A survey of 151 life insurance underwriters at a conference last week showed that nine in 10 considered e-cig users to be smokers. The survey, conducted by Munich American Reassurance Company, captured responses from about 20 percent of conference attendees. The majority said their companies didn’t yet have specific policies for e-cigarettes. The dilemma for life insurers is that even if electronic cigarettes turn out to be safer than their tobacco counterparts, the insurers have no way to tell the difference between a smoker and vaper. Underwriters ask people applying for life insurance about their tobacco use and then verify those responses with a blood or urine test for cotinine, a product of metabolizing nicotine found in both products.

Most Income Inequality: U.S. Cities [Bloomberg Visual Data: Bloomberg Best (and Worst)]

Income inequality is greatest in Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami

Curiously Strong Remains:




The content on this site is provided as general information and entertainment only and should not be taken as investment advice. All site content shall not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial product, or to participate in any particular trading or investment strategy. The ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of firms affiliated with the author. The author may or may not have a position in any security referenced herein and may or may not seek to do business with companies mentioned via this website. Any action that you take as a result of information or analysis on this site is ultimately your responsibility. Consult your investment adviser before making any investment decisions.



Roundup – Fireproof

Best of the Best:

Remembering Brandon Lee’s Death 20 Years After ‘The Crow’ [Joel Stice on Warming Glow]

The scene that took Lee’s life was rather simple compared to the previous action sequences, calling for a .44 Magnum revolver to be cocked and pointed at the camera. To achieve the close-range of the camera shot, the bullets loaded had real brass caps, but no powder. The mistake happened when the freelance arms-master, James Moyer, was told by Carolco Studios he would no longer be needed and that the prop-master could finish the remaining scenes. After the closeup shot, the props-master dry-fired the gun, which knocked the slug off an empty cartridge and into the gun’s barrel. The gun was then loaded with powerful blanks that when fired by actor Michael Massee, propelled the slug out of the barrel and into Lee.

Newly Engaged Couple Receives Incredible Outpouring Of Insincerity From Family, Friends [The Onion]

“Oh my god! I’m so happy for you two!!!!” wrote Lyons’ old high school friend Jennifer Mescudi, whose hollow Facebook post was but one of dozens of congratulations from people who privately doubted the solidity of the relationship, only liked either the bride or the groom, or privately informed other friends that they gave the marriage 12 months tops.

Epic Fails of the Startup World [James Surowiecki on The New Yorker]

The eighteenth-century Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon, who coined the term “entrepreneur,” defined it as a “bearer of risk.” And in 1921 the economist Frank Knight argued that the function of entrepreneurs was to “specialize in risk-taking.” Yet studies of entrepreneurs find that, in general, they’re as risk-averse as everyone else. Only when it comes to starting a business are they daring. And that’s because the fundamental characteristic of entrepreneurs isn’t risk-seeking; it’s self-confidence. A 1997 study in the Journal of Business Venturing found that entrepreneurs are overconfident about their ability to prevent bad outcomes. They’re also overconfident about the prospects of their business. A 1988 study in the same journal of some three thousand entrepreneurs found that eighty-one per cent thought their businesses had at least a seventy-per-cent chance of success, and a third thought there was no chance they would fail—numbers that bear no relation to reality. A recent paper called “Living Forever” notes that entrepreneurs are more likely than other people to overestimate their life spans.

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Crows Understand Water Displacement Better Than Your Kid [Rose Eveleth on Smithsonian]

Crows are clearly the evil geniuses of the bird world. Years of exploring crow intelligence have revealed that these birds are terrifyingly smart. And now new research confirms that crows understand a concept that most children don’t: water displacement…In the study, researchers put pieces of meat floating in long narrow glasses. The crows not only figured out that they could add objects to the glass to bring the treat to them, but they also went for the food in glasses with the highest water levels first.

This Chart Shows Just How Popular ‘Game Of Thrones’ Has Become [Josh Kurp on Warming Glow]

Despite the lack of Ser Pounce, last Sunday’s Game of Thrones was watched by 7.2 million people, a number that doesn’t include the millions more who “borrowed” their parents HBO GO password. That’s the highest rating not only this season, but of the entire show — it was bigger than Blackwater, bigger than the Red Wedding, bigger than every season finale. You cannot stop the Game of Thrones; you can only hope to contain it, but much like Jaime in a cage, it’ll probably still find a way to escape.

‘Mom’s Night Out’ Is A PG-Rated, Faith-Based Mom-Com: Viewer Discretion Advised [Heather Dockray on FilmDrunk]

Watching Mom’s Night Out, you might think it’s all good clean mom-edy. But humor is rooted in anxiety, and Mom’s Night Out is deeply nervous about the modern era. Men like Allyson’s husband flail at babysitting because they’re men – meant to work and throw big rocks and bone from the top. Women like Allyson and her friends can’t go out because they’re moms – meant to care and clean and fake full-body orgasms.

Harvard Student Group Cancels ‘Satanic Black Mass’ After Outcry [John Lauerman on Bloomberg]

Harvard University extension school students planning a “satanic black mass” canceled the event after an outcry by administration, students, faculty and religious leaders. The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had decided to move the event off campus last night after widespread objections, and no other location was willing to host it, according to an e-mailed statement from the group.

America’s Thirst for IPA Beers Trickles Down to the Hop Farmers [Vanessa Wong on Bloomberg Businessweek]

As craft continues to rise, U.S. farmers are turning out more aroma hops. The country’s primary hop growing state, Washington, historically had about 70 percent of its acreage in alpha varieties and 30 percent in aroma. During the past few years the ratio has shifted to about 50-50, and the outlook for 2014 is 40 percent alpha to 60 percent aroma. The shift to pricier varieties is helping hop farmers turn profits on a crop that has lost money for years; the industry suffered an oversupply during the recession. George says prices are likely to remain high in the near term to pay for infrastructure improvements to meet craft brewers’ more demanding requirements. An average-sized grower in the Pacific Northwest will be investing upwards of $5 million, she estimates. The change has also led to an increased number of hop farms, many of which are small and supply only local brewers located outside the main growing region in the Northwest. According to the recently released U.S. Agriculture Census (PDF), there were 166 hop farms in 2012 compared to 68 in 2007. Craft beer, it seems, isn’t just luring new brewers and drinkers.

Income Inequality Is Higher In Democratic Districts Than Republican Ones [Joshua Green and Eric Chemi on Bloomberg]

32 of the 35 districts in which inequality is greatest are represented by Democrats (Republicans represent two; the other is vacant)…These data highlight an interesting dilemma for Democrats. Clearly, extreme inequality correlates strongly with Democratic political representation. As the income inequality grows, that will pose a threat to Republicans—and it’s why President Obama and the Democrats are talking so much about it. But as my Bloomberg News colleague Michael C. Bender notes today, this is unlikely to yield near-term gains for Democrats. Of the 100 districts with the highest levels of inequality, not one held by a Republican is considered to be in play this November.

The Secret Brazil Happy Meal McDonald’s Keeps Under Wraps [Denyse Godoy on Bloomberg]

After employees who rejected its regular menu of hamburgers and french fries on work breaks filed a complaint to prosecutors, the local operator of McDonald’s restaurants was required to provide dishes more in keeping with the local cuisine. While the meals don’t appear on behind-the-counter menu displays at the 816 McDonald’s across the South American country, they’re available to customers too. Just ask to see the “pratos executivos,” or “businessman’s specials.” With 35,429 restaurants in 119 countries, McDonald’s has long offered food tailored to local tastes, from the McKafta in Egypt to the Filet O Shrimp in Japan and the McVeggie burger in India. While the Brazilian options are kept under wraps, they’re available for purchase to avoid criticism the restaurant is serving employees special meals customers can’t buy.

When Can you Expect To Get Divorced? [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics]

The fact that over 10% of American marriages end within 5 years — and that only about half last “until death” — does not speak well of an institution meant to be permanent. But the data does not support the popular image of marriage lasting only a few years. Divorce rates are higher in the first 5 or so years, but at a rate you might expect. It’s hardly an epidemic. The spike in divorces after 5-7 years of marriage is also trumped by many other factors. One study using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that among couples who did not complete high school, half of all marriages ended in divorce. In contrast, the divorce rate among college graduate couples was 30%. This widely found result is not destiny. Rather it reflects that college graduates tend to marry later and have higher incomes, whereas poverty and getting married young both have been found to increase the risk of divorce…But even by the crude instrument of divorce rates, pessimism about matrimony appears overblown. The latest US census data shows that among marriages that began in the late nineties, the percentage that lasted at least 5 years is the highest it has been since Lyndon Johnson served as president. Reports of the demise of marriage have been greatly exaggerated.

The Most And Least Expensive Places In The World For A Cheap Date [Deutsche Bank via Zero Hedge]

And as we did last year, we focus on one specific subindex [3]: that looking at the price of “cheap dates” around the world. The index consists of i) a standard bouquet of roses, ii) cab rides, iii) pizza, iv) a soft drink, v) two movies tickets and vi) a couple of beers. While once again there is no data on the “hit rate” of said basket in culminating with a desired date “end goal”, what is clear is that the disparity between the most (London ) and least expensive (Mumbai) place for a cheap date is vast, at nearly five times, yet the difference continue to surge (the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, but all want to procreate) and is nearly double the 250% difference observed just one year ago.

Brushing Teeth With Sewer Water Next Step as Texas Faces Drought [Darrell Preston on Bloomberg]

The Texas city of more than 104,000, suffering the worst drought on record, is about to become the first place in the U.S. to treat sewage and pump it directly back to residents. People who live in Wichita Falls, northwest of Dallas on the Oklahoma border, say they’ll buy more bottled water and try not to think about what’s flowing through their pipes when they bathe, brush their teeth and make soup…Sewage has long been reused. Astronauts in the International Space Station turn urine back into drinking water. In Israel, more than half the water used in agriculture comes from treated sewage, according to the Israel Water Association. Only a few places around the globe, including Windhoek, Namibia, recycle it directly.

New World’s Oldest Skeleton Is a Key Genetic Link [Robert Lee Hotz on The Wall Street Journal]

As a specimen, the skeleton, belonging to a girl 15 or 16 years old, was formally designated HN5/48, but those who handled her bones have nicknamed her Naia, after the water nymphs of Greek mythology. Her remains embody the past and the present. She doesn’t look very much like a contemporary Native American. Her face instead resembles a modern African, indigenous Australian or Pacific Islander, the scientists said. Such differences have fueled theories that these first paleo-Americans and modern Native Americans have no kinship. Yet by the evidence of her maternal DNA—cross-checked by three independent laboratories—she is the ancestor of many Native Americans alive today, the researchers said. They share a unique genetic signature, called haplogroup D1, today found only in the indigenous people of the Americas, the researchers said.

Nice Is Tough Sell in Nebraska as State Ads Battle for Tourists [Mark Niquette and Jennifer Oldham on Bloomberg]

Washington pulled the plug on “SayWa” after only six months in 2006 when critics found it baffling. After more than two decades of “Georgia On My Mind,” the Peach State tried “Put Your Dreams in Motion.” That one died amid comparisons to Coca-Cola Co.’s catastrophic change to its signature soft drink’s formula in 1985. Alaska used “B4UDIE” for a month in 2005. The ads looked like vanity license plates, but conjured a frigid demise straight out of Jack London…Nationwide, tourism generated $887.9 billion in direct spending last year and $133.9 billion in revenue for governments, the U.S. Travel Association said. In Nebraska, it’s the third-largest income generator, bringing in $3.1 billion in 2012, according to a state-commissioned study last year. “Visit Nice” has a dual meaning, said Angela White, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. It combines how people feel about the state with individual experiences at events such as the College World Series and Sandhill crane migration. Still, lacking snow-capped peaks or sugar-white beaches, Nebraska has to try harder, White said.

Pervasive Child Marriages Add to Women’s Struggles, Report Shows [Sandrine Rastello on Bloomberg]

More than 142 million girls from India to Niger will be married before they turn 18 over the next decade, increasing their chances of being illiterate, victims of domestic violence or infected with HIV, a World Bank report showed…The bank said child marriage remains “pervasive” in developing economies, with one in three girls wedded before 18 and one in nine before 15. A third of the world’s child brides live in India, according to the report, and girls from poor households in rural areas are most at risk.

Health Insurance and Death Rates [Christine Vestal on Stateline]

The authors caution that their conclusions, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, may not apply to all states, and other studies have shown little correlation between having insurance and living longer. Nevertheless, the Harvard study adds to a growing body of evidence that having health insurance increases a person’s life expectancy…In 2002, the Institute of Medicine estimated that the death rate of the uninsured is 25 percent higher than for otherwise similar people who have health insurance. According to the study, 18,000 excess deaths occurred each year because 40 million Americans lacked insurance. But a 2009 rebuttal study by Richard Kronick of the Health Research and Education Trust found that when adjusted for health status and other factors, the risk of subsequent mortality is no different for people who lack insurance than for those who are covered by employer-sponsored plans…The Harvard researchers compared Massachusetts death rates from 2001 to 2005 to the four-year period after the new health care law was enacted, and found that the mortality rate decreased by 3 percent between 2006 and 2010. Using county-level mortality rates from the CDC, they compared 4 million Massachusetts residents (the entire population from age 20 to 64) to a control group with similar demographics in counties in other New England states. Greater access to health care may have prevented as many as 320 deaths per year, the authors estimated. Changes were most pronounced in Massachusetts counties with lower household incomes and higher uninsured rates. According to the authors, providing health coverage to 830 uninsured adults prevented one death per year.

How the Real Atlantis was Drowned [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9]

Ever heard of the city of Helike? For a long time it was as lost (and considered as mythical) as the city of Atlantis. Then one day someone found a coin from Helike, and the search was on. Take a look at how people found the ancient city of Atlantis — on land…Helike was built on a liquefaction zone. When an earthquake hits such a zone, the soil suddenly behaves as though it were water. Suddenly, all the buildings sink like they were dropped on the sea. Meanwhile, the sea — and any surrounding groundwater, is rushing upwards to meet them. In 373 BC, an earthquake turned the ground beneath Helike into liquid, and the entire city sank into a newly-made lagoon. Meanwhile, parts of the coast in the area broke off and slid into the sea, causing a massive tidal wave that rushed across the sea, rebounded off the far coast, came back, and buried the sunken city under water. A day and night of misfortune, and Helike was gone. Over time, silt and dirt washed into the lagoon and it dried up, burying the city in dirt. The lost Atlantis isn’t lurking under the sea. It’s buried in the ground.

Real-Life Scientists Who Meddled With Life and Death [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9]

Sergei Bryukhonenko attached his newly-invented heart and lung machine to a dog’s head and kept it alive for quite some time, lying on a plate and eating and drinking. Though these experiments were distasteful, at least they had a clear medical purpose and their results wound up saving many human lives. Vladimir Demikhov, meanwhile, just went nuts and decided to make two-headed dogs for a while. He managed to successfully put one dog’s head on another dog’s body twenty times over, but none of the two-headed dogs lived longer than a month.

Deep Thoughts With the Homeless Billionaire [Devin Leonard on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Twelve years ago, Nicolas Berggruen sold his apartment, which was filled with French antiques, on the 31st floor of the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan. He said he no longer wanted to be weighed down by physical possessions. He did the same with his Art Deco house on a private island near Miami. From that point on he would be homeless. Now he keeps what little he owns in storage and travels light, carrying just his iPhone, a few pairs of jeans, a fancy suit or two, and some white monogrammed shirts he wears until they are threadbare. At 51, the diminutive Berggruen is weathered, but still youthful, with unkempt brown hair and stubble. There’s something else he hung on to: his Gulfstream IV. It takes him to cities where he stays in five-star hotels. In London, he checks into Claridge’s. In New York, he’s at the Carlyle Hotel. In Los Angeles, he takes a suite at the Peninsula Beverly Hills.

The Biggest Science Fiction Movie Hoaxes (and Scams) of All Time [Amanda Yesilbas and Charlie Jane Anders on io9]

An enterprising group of people set up a “production” company to film a horror movie called Wood Evil in Inchnacardoch Forest, near Fort Augustus in the Scottish Highlands. They set about “casting” extras and charging £60 to be in the film. This might have been just a small time scam, but the production company over reached and contacted the tour company VisitScotland in what could only have been an attempt to get busloads of eager tourists to be “cast” in their movie. VisitScotland appears to be the source who tipped the authorities off about the scam. And needless to say, the local constabulary was not amused. Similar scams were set up around the Twilight sequels, as every desperate Twihard was attempting to get close to their chosen hairless idol.

Bill & Hillary Forever [John Heilemann on New York Magazine]

[O]n September 11, [2008] Barack Obama made the pilgrimage to Harlem to have lunch with Bill Clinton. The meal was the first tête-à-tête between the soon-to-be president and the former one since the unpleasantness of the ­Democratic nomination contest, and feelings on both sides were still raw and fraught with suspicion. Clinton’s staff had wanted to include a Harlem stroll and ­photo op as part of the visit, but Obama’s people demurred—a standoff that led each camp to ascribe race-related motives to the other. Eager to avoid awkwardness, Obama kept the conversation focused on governance, not politics. But at the end, Clinton offered to hit the campaign trail for, or with, the nominee. Obama, fighting a stomach bug, said okay and then beat a hasty exit to avoid upchucking on Clinton’s shoes. In truth, neither side was delighted at the prospect of Clinton stumping for Obama. The latter’s team believed that he wouldn’t move many votes, and were only interested in having the two men appear onstage together to stop the press from harping on the fact that they had not. Clinton, meanwhile, was still simmering over his treatment during the primaries—in particular over Obama’s assertion, before the Nevada caucuses, that “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that … Bill Clinton did not.” On countless conference calls with his wife’s campaign, Clinton had returned obsessively to the slight, which he saw not as a gambit to get inside his head (which it was) but as Obama’s genuine opinion. “He would have been less angry if he thought it was tactical,” a former Clinton aide remembers. “But he thought Obama actually believed he was a shitty president.”

Boss Rail [Evan Osnos on The New Yorker]

The Wenzhou crash killed forty people and injured a hundred and ninety-two. For reasons both practical and symbolic, the government was desperate to get trains running again, and within twenty-four hours it declared the line back in business. The Department of Propaganda ordered editors to give the crash as little attention as possible. “Do not question, do not elaborate,” it warned, on an internal notice. When newspapers came out the next morning, China’s first high-speed train wreck was not on the front page. But, instead of moving on, the public wanted to know what had happened, and why. This was not a bus plunging off a road in a provincial outpost; it was dozens of men and women dying on one of the nation’s proudest achievements—in a newly wired age, when passengers had cell phones and witnesses and critics finally had the tools to humiliate the propagandists.

America’s Less Religious: Study Puts Some Blame On The Internet [Elise Hu on NPR]

His statistical analysis asked which variables were factors in our religious disaffiliation, and to what degree. The model found a causal relationship among three factors — a drop in religious upbringing, an increase in college-level education and the increase in Internet use — that together explain about 50 percent of the drop in religious affiliation. Of those, increased Internet use alone can account for about 20 percent of the decline.

More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why? [NPR]

Melissa Adelman, 30, raised Catholic “Starting in middle school we got the lessons about why premarital sex was not OK, why active homosexuality was not OK, and growing up in American culture, kids automatically pushed back on those things, and so we had some of those conversations in school with our theology teachers. The thing for me — a large part of the reason I moved away from Catholicism was because without accepting a lot of these core beliefs, I just didn’t think that I could still be part of that community. I remember a theology test in eighth grade where there was a question about homosexuality, and the right answer was that if you are homosexual, then that is not a sin because that’s how God made you, but acting upon it would be a sin. That’s what I put down as the answer, but I vividly remember thinking to myself that that was not the right answer.”

Thousands of Toddlers Are Medicated for A.D.H.D., Report Finds, Raising Worries [Alan Schwarz on The New York Times]

Dr. Visser’s analysis of Georgia Medicaid claims found about one in 225 toddlers being medicated for A.D.H.D., or 760 cases in that state alone. Dr. Visser said that nationwide Medicaid data were not yet available, but Georgia’s rates of the disorder are very typical of the United States as a whole. “If we applied Georgia’s rate to the number of toddlers on Medicaid nationwide, we would expect at least 10,000 of those to be on A.D.H.D. medication,” Dr. Visser said in an interview. She added that MarketScan data suggested that an additional 4,000 toddlers covered by private insurance were being medicated for the disorder. Dr. Visser said that effective nonpharmacological treatments, such as teaching parents and day care workers to provide more structured environments for such children, were often ignored.

Why the Mona Lisa Stands Out [Ian Leslie on Intelligent Life]

Cutting, a professor at Cornell University, wondered if a psychological mechanism known as the “mere-exposure effect” played a role in deciding which paintings rise to the top of the cultural league. In a seminal 1968 experiment, people were shown a series of abstract shapes in rapid succession. Some shapes were repeated, but because they came and went so fast, the subjects didn’t notice. When asked which of these random shapes they found most pleasing, they chose ones that, unbeknown to them, had come around more than once. Even unconscious familiarity bred affection. Back at Cornell, Cutting designed an experiment to test his hunch. Over a lecture course he regularly showed undergraduates works of impressionism for two seconds at a time. Some of the paintings were canonical, included in art-history books. Others were lesser known but of comparable quality. These were exposed four times as often. Afterwards, the students preferred them to the canonical works, while a control group of students liked the canonical ones best. Cutting’s students had grown to like those paintings more simply because they had seen them more…A study in the British Journal of Aesthetics suggests that the exposure effect doesn’t work the same way on everything, and points to a different conclusion about how canons are formed. Building on Cutting’s experiment, the researchers repeatedly exposed two groups of students to works by two painters, the British pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais and the American populist Thomas Kinkade. Kinkade’s garish country scenes are the epitome of kitsch—the gold standard for bad art. The researchers found that their subjects grew to like Millais more, as you might expect, given the mere-exposure effect. But they liked Kinkade less. Over time, exposure favours the greater artist. The social scientists are right to say that we should be a little sceptical of greatness, and that we should always look in the next room. Great art and mediocrity can get confused, even by experts. But that’s why we need to see, and read, as much as we can. The more we’re exposed to the good and the bad, the better we are at telling the difference. The eclecticists have it.

Match Me if You Can: Lack of Matching Between Partners Predicts Divorce [Dr. Brent Mattingly and Amanda Mosley on Science of Relationships]

Level match refers to the degree to which your partner matches the precise “amounts” you would like of him or her on certain characteristics. To illustrate this idea, try this quick exercise. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, rate the degree to which your ideal partner should have a good sense of humor. If you want your ideal partner to score an 8 in sense of humor, and you perceive your partner as actually being an 8, then you have a level match. Pattern match, on the other hand, refers to how a partner matches on the relative importance of certain characteristics in relation to other characteristics, regardless of the precise amounts of those qualities. For example, suppose you prefer your ideal partner to have an 8 on sense of humor and a 9 on honesty. Although your actual partner may only be a 6 on sense of humor and a 7 on honesty, he or she still has the pattern of being more honest than funny, which matches what you prefer. In this case, you have a pattern match. Researchers recruited 169 newlywed couples and had them complete a questionnaire about their ideal partner preferences and perceptions of their actual partner’s attributes. Couples were then contacted about their marital status every 6 months for 3.5 years. Interestingly, pattern match (but not level match) significantly predicted divorce over time.

“We Can Still Be Friends”: Six Ways You Can Stay Friends After a Breakup [Dr. Brent Mattingly on The Science of Relationships]

Ex-couples are more likely to stay friends if the breakup was mutual. Also, post-dissolution friendships are more likely if the breakup was initiated by the man.4 In mutual breakups, the breakup is less negative since both partners were unhappy. However, men find it more difficult to breakup in the first place.4 Thus, when women initiate the breakup, men have a more difficult time dealing with the rejection and, by extension, are more resistant to transitioning into friendship…Exes are more likely to stay friends if the romantic relationship was satisfying.7 This shouldn’t be too surprising – happier relationships set the foundation for a potentially happy post-dissolution friendship. Then again, this begs the question as to why the couple broke up in the first place…We are more likely to stay friends with our exes if our friends and family support us. Having approval from important others helps ease the transition to post-dissolution friendship because we’re not having to answer the “Why are you still hanging around with him/her?” questions as much.

French rail company orders 2,000 trains too wide for platforms [Reporting by Gerard Bon and Elizabeth Pineau, writing by Nicholas Vinocur on Reuters]

France’s national rail company SNCF said on Tuesday it had ordered 2,000 trains for an expanded regional network that are too wide for many station platforms, entailing costly repairs. A spokesman for the RFF national rail operator confirmed the error, first reported by satirical weekly Canard Enchaine in its Wednesday edition.

Air Force Wants to Ground A-10 Vets Love [Bloomberg]

In an effort to save $4.2 billion over five years, the Pentagon wants to retire the 1970s-era A-10 attack jet. Combat veterans question the claim that newer, faster aircraft — such as the F-16, the F-15E, bombers and, eventually, the new F-35 fighter — can match the A-10 in providing “close air support,” striking targets on the ground to help soldiers in close combat.

Most Doctors Prescribe Antibiotics That Don’t Work [John Tozzi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

The Centers for Disease Control joined with medical societies in 2001 to recommend against prescribing antibiotics for acute bronchitis, a respiratory infection that comes with a nasty cough. The evidence against the practice is so clear that health-care providers are measured on how well they avoid it in quality ratings used by insurance companies and the government to evaluate effective care. The JAMA review excluded patients with other conditions that might warrant antibiotics. It also excluded the elderly and children to get as clear a picture as possible of cases of acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy people, Linder says. The study has some limitations; excluding so many patients left a relatively small sample size. Still, the researchers were looking at a situation where the prescribing rate “should be zero,” Linder notes, and found that it was 71 percent. Linder says the guidelines for bronchitis are widely understood by doctors. Patient demand—or, in some cases, doctors’ assumptions that people want antibiotics—leads them to write prescriptions anyway.

ESPN’s New $175M Studio: ‘Unlike Anything On Sports TV’ [Dan Haar on The Hartford Courant]

In a cut-rate bargain for Connecticut taxpayers, ESPN is expected to collect $10 million in tax credits. That’s instead of the $20-plus million package of grants, tax abatements and a large loan, much of it forgivable, that was announced on this spot nearly three years ago when Malloy made ESPN one of the state’s “First Five” companies with major development incentive money. The employee level, more than 4,000, up from 3,872 three years ago, has risen less than some anticipated — in part due to a layoff of about 125 people locally last year. But that’s not why the terms changed. Lawyers on both sides simply came up with a different package from the one Malloy announced in 2011, several sources said.

Recent Black College Grads Face Severe Underemployment [Josh Mitchell on Real Time Economics on The Wall Street Journal]

Among those with a job in 2013, more than half of black recent college graduates—56%–were in an occupation that typically doesn’t require a college degree, according to a report Tuesday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning Washington think tank. Among all recent college grads with a job, the rate still was a very high 45%. (The report defines a recent college grad as someone between the ages of 22 and 27 with a four-year degree.)

The Shawshank Residuals: How one of Hollywood’s great second acts keeps making money [Russell Adams on The Wall Street Journal]

On cable, “Shawshank” is at an age when the licensing value of many films diminishes, but its strength hasn’t wavered. “Shawshank” and other films are now being licensed for shorter periods to a bigger and hungrier universe of distributors. “Shawshank” has aired on 15 basic cable networks since 1997, including six in the most recent season, according to Warner Bros. Last year, it filled 151 hours of airtime on basic cable, tied with “Scarface” and behind only “Mrs. Doubtfire,” according to research firm IHS. “Shawshank,” despite its virtually all-male cast, was the most-watched movie on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network in the latest season and in the top 15% of movies among adults 18-49 on Spike, Up, Sundance and Lifetime…[Stephen] King never cashed the $5,000 check [writer/director Frank] Darabont sent him for the right to turn his story into a movie. Years after “Shawshank” came out, the author got the check framed and mailed it back to the director with a note inscribed: “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”

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Roundup – You! Use the Force!

Best of the Best:

For Many Indian Voters, Corruption Issue Takes a Back Seat at the Polls  [Jesse Pesta on The Wall Street Journal]

About 10% of candidates in the first five phases of India’s nine-phase election face “serious” criminal charges such as corruption, murder or kidnapping, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a clean-government advocacy group. There have been a series of high-profile scandals in recent years, including “Coalgate,” which involved allegations that coal-mining rights were given to politically connected companies at low prices in exchange for bribes to politicians and officials. In Mumbai, homes intended for war widows allegedly ended up in the hands of politicians. Among others, there have also been scandals over granite mining, rural health care and an immense controversy over the allocation of cellphone bandwidth to telecom giants. The spate of cases gave birth to a nationwide anticorruption movement and, last year, a new political party, the Aam Aadmi Party, which has gained a significant following in urban India.

The Police Raided My Friend’s House Over a Parody Twitter Account [Justin Glawe via Vice]

Yes, the cops raided Daniel’s home because they wanted to find out who was behind @peoriamayor, an account that had been shut down weeks ago by Twitter. When it was active, Daniel used it to portray Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, as a weed-smoking, stripper-loving, Midwestern answer to Rob Ford. The account never had more than 50 followers, and Twitter had killed it because it wasn’t clearly marked as a parody. It was a joke, a lark—but it brought the police to Daniel’s door. The cops even took Daniel and one of his housemates in for in-depth questioning—they showed up at their jobs, cuffed them, and confiscated their phones—because of a bunch of Twitter jokes.

Marc Summers Realizes Police Will Immediately Look For Body In Giant Pile Of Mashed Potatoes [The Onion]

“Oh God, as soon as the cops check the hot fudge sundae slide, of course they’re going to start digging through the giant mound of mashed potatoes,” the frenzied former Double Dare host reportedly muttered to himself following an attempt to stuff the remains of a local woman into a kiddie pool heaped with hundreds of pounds of instant mashed potatoes and 20 gallons of gravy, after the woman suffered a fatal head injury while attempting to run in the oversized hamster wheel mounted in his living room.

Review: ‘Heaven Is For Real’ Is Not Shameless Pandering, It’s Much Worse [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk]

You want to sell hope and love and living without fear? Fine. Make all the money you want. Even if you’re terribly cynical about it it’s still probably a net good. Heck, give it an even more openly disdainful title. “God’s Not Dead.” “Heaven Is For Real.” “Jesus Was Definitely A Guy.” But it’s not love that Heaven Is For Real is peddling. It’s not the kind of religious story that feeds you hot chocolate and warmly invites you into its community (the way a college Bible study group did for me when I passed out on their porch once in college). It’s a divisive paean to a bogus cultural divide created by a coalition of opportunists who don’t mind making money selling that same poisonous lie, the arms dealers of a pointless culture war. F*ck these people.

How Western Is Germany? Russia Crisis Spurs Identity Conflict [Christiane Hoffman on Der Spiegel translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey]

It’s thus no wonder that the debate about Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis is more polarizing than any other issue in current German politics. For Germany, the Ukraine crisis is not some distant problem like Syria or Iraq — it goes right to the core of the question of German identity. Where do we stand when it comes to Russia? And, relatedly: Who are we as Germans? With the threat of a new East-West conflict, this question has regained prominence in Germany and may ultimately force us to reposition ourselves or, at the very least, reaffirm our position in the West.

What Are Cats Thinking? [David Grimm via Slate]

But when Miklósi took the study a step further, he spotted an intriguing difference between cats and dogs. This time, he and his colleagues created two puzzles: one solvable, the other impossible. In the solvable puzzle, the researchers placed food in a bowl and stuck it under a stool. Dogs and cats had to find the bowl and pull it out to eat. Both aced the test. Then the scientist rigged the exam. They again placed the bowl under a stool, but this time they tied it to the stool legs so that it could not be pulled out. The dogs pawed at the bowl for a few seconds and then gave up, gazing up at their owners as if asking for help. The cats, on the other hand, rarely looked at their owners; they just kept trying to get the food. Now before you conclude that cats are dumber than dogs because they’re not smart enough to realize when a task is impossible, consider this: Dogs have lived with us for as many as 30,000 years—20,000 years longer than cats. More than any other animal on the planet, dogs are tuned in to the “human radio frequency”—the broadcast of our feelings and desires. Indeed, we may be the only station dogs listen to. Cats, on the other hand, can tune us in if they want to (that’s why they pass the pointing test as well as dogs), but they don’t hang on our every word like dogs do. They’re surfing other channels on the dial. And that’s ultimately what makes them so hard to study. Cats, as any owner knows, are highly intelligent beings. But to science, their minds may forever be a black box.

Riza Dreams of Poetry After Mom Risks Safety in Bangladesh [Mehul Srivastava on Bloomberg]

To give her daughter the opportunity neither she nor her mother had, Nazma Akhter made the only choices possible for a poor, illiterate woman in Bangladesh. She escaped her tiny village, bolting the door behind her so her mother couldn’t chase her down. She lived in a shed the size of a parking space in Dhaka, the capital. She worked as much as 12 hours a day making jeans, T-shirts and dresses, earning no more than $98 a month. The income was just about enough to bring her family to Dhaka and put her daughter, Riza, in school. And then came the fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., the multistoried factory where Akhter was sewing jeans on the fourth floor on Nov. 24, 2012.

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest [David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy on The New York Times]

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

Clapper Goes on Tour to Persuade University Students Snowden Is No Whistleblower, Not a Hero [Kevin Gosztola on The Dissenter on firedoglake]

‘There’s an inspector general for NSA and another one for the entire intelligence community. My office has a civil liberties and privacy protection officer. Snowden could also have gone to the Justice Department or the Congress. And as we’ve seen Snowden is superb at finding information so I think he could have tracked those people down had he given it a little thought,’ Clapper stated. Actually, if he had gone to the NSA’s inspector general, George Ellard, according to Ellard himself, he would have said something like, ‘Hey, listen, fifteen federal judges have certified this program is okay.’ He also would have tried to address Snowden’s ‘misperceptions’ and his ‘lack of understanding what we do.’ Ellard said at Georgetown Law Center in February that Snowden was ‘manic in this thievery.’ He compared him to an actual spy, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. He said, ‘Hanssen’s theft was in a sense finite whereas Snowden is open-ended, as his agents decide daily which documents to disclose.’ This is who Snowden should have risked his livelihood and turned to when blowing the whistle?

The Decline of Tornado Devastation [Roger A. Pielke Jr. via The Wall Street Journal]

What we can say with some certainty is that the number of years with very large tornado losses has actually decreased. Consider that from 1950 to 1970 the U.S. saw 15 years with tornado damage in excess of $5 billion a year. From 1993 to 2013 there were only four such years, with three since 2008. We can also tell that even though the U.S. is crisscrossed by hundreds of tornadoes annually, they are not nearly so damaging as the much less frequent occurrences of hurricanes and earthquakes. Cumulatively since 1950, 153 landfalling hurricanes in the U.S. have caused about twice as much total damage (in normalized dollars) as the almost 58,000 documented tornadoes. We also estimate that a recurrence of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake today could cause more damage than all of the tornadoes since 1950 combined. Our study also provided a state-by-state portrait of the country’s vulnerability to tornadoes—but there’s more than one answer to the common question about which state has the most tornado damage. It depends on how the measuring is done. In total damage suffered since 1950, Texas has the melancholy distinction of leading the way, followed by Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma. If we look at damage per square mile, the leaders are Massachusetts, Connecticut and Indiana, and Texas drops to 29th. There are relatively fewer tornadoes in New England, but high populations and development mean a risk of more damage. The only state with no tornado losses during this period: Alaska.

Hungry Spouses Lash Out as Low Blood Sugar Spurs Anger [Nicole Ostrow on Bloomberg]

Researchers in the study included 107 married couples who for 21 days had to test their blood-sugar levels before breakfast in the morning and before bed in evening. They were also given voodoo dolls representing their spouses and told to insert as many as 51 pins daily depending on how angry they were with their partner. The researchers were testing aggressive impulses. Those with the lowest nighttime blood-sugar levels inserted the most pins, while those with the highest glucose levels inserted the least, the study found. Women tended to stick more pins into their husband voodoo doll, but the finding wasn’t significant. The authors only found the association for nighttime blood glucose levels as the amount of sugar in the body drops throughout the day, Bushman said. After 21 days, the couples went into a laboratory where they were told they would compete with their spouse to see who could press a button the fastest to test aggressive behavior. The winners could blast their spouse with a loud noise through headphones. The spouses in reality were playing against a computer, not each other. The researchers found that those with the lowest average nighttime blood-sugar levels sent louder and longer noises to their spouse no matter how good their relationship was or whether they were male or female.

Flight Delayed? Your Pilot Really Can Make Up the Time in the Air [Benjamin Montet on FiveThirtyEight]

That means if your plane takes off 35 to 50 minutes after its scheduled departure, you can expect to make up about 20 minutes of that time in the air. But if the delay is any longer than 50 minutes, you shouldn’t get your hopes up. I suspect the pilots are more willing to press the accelerator, and consequently accept the higher fuel costs, if they believe there’s a good chance they can still get to their destination on time. (I ran the numbers across airlines, to see whether JetBlue pilots were behaving any differently than American pilots, for example, and didn’t find any statistically significant differences.) Interestingly, the BTS defines a delay as arriving late at the destination, not leaving after the scheduled departure, as I’ve defined it — so the airline has an incentive to get to the destination on time. Once the window for a plausible on-time arrival passes, however, so does your chance of a shorter flight.

The Doctor Who Coaches Athletes on Sleep [Danielle Elliot on The Atlantic]

In a 2006 interview with Harvard Business Review, Czeisler advised that companies should not expect workers to log more than 16 hours in a row, or to drive or work after an overnight flight. “We now know that 24 hours without sleep, or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1 percent,” he said. “We would never say, ‘This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!’ yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep for work.”

The Power of the Earliest Memories [Sue Shellenbarger on The Wall Street Journal]

Children who have the ability to recall and make sense of memories from daily life—the first day of preschool, the time the cat died—can use them to better develop a sense of identity, form relationships and make sound choices in adolescence and adulthood, new research shows. While the lives of many youngsters today are heavily documented in photos and video on social media and stored in families’ digital archives, studies suggest photos and videos have little impact. Parents play a bigger role in helping determine not just how many early memories children can recall, but how children interpret and learn from the events of their earliest experiences.

Stalin-Era Cable Cars Make for Thrilling Daily Commute, but Some Want Upgrade [Joe Parkinson on The Wall Street Journal]

In Chiatura, a mining town in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, residents each day pack into tiny, rusting cable cars suspended hundreds of feet over steep slopes and gorges. Known here as the “metal coffins,” the corroding cabins creak along a metal pulley system that dates back to the 1950s. Most of the cars have now rusted away, but 21 remain in service, forming the perilous “Kanatnaya Doroga,” or “rope road” network. The gondolas were built by Stalin to showcase how Soviet technology could conquer the town’s extreme geography to help extract the area’s huge metal deposits…The rope roads operate 24 hours a day with no tickets, no fines and no timetable…Travelers riding the cable cars must wait until several people are lining up at a station before operators start the pulley system. Smoking is permitted and passengers sometimes bring bottles of the local firewater Cha-Cha to drink on the trip…The rusting, wood-bottomed cabins—coated in decades-old graffiti and grime—groan and squeal as they shake and vibrate their way up the mountainside. Some of the steel wires suspending the cabins have frayed, splaying metal cords at ominous angles. Strong winds cause the carriages to bob and swing wildly. Regular power cuts mean the tram operators have to wind the cars down manually. In 2008, one of the cables snapped, leaving passengers dangling for 12 hours above rocks or rapids waiting to be rescued. One of the rusty gondolas has an emergency telephone, but operators say it stopped working in 1994.

Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future [Bryan Gardiner on Wired]

Don Stookey knew he had botched the experiment. One day in 1952, the Corning Glass Works chemist placed a sample of photosensitive glass inside a furnace and set the temperature to 600 degrees Celsius. At some point during the run, a faulty controller let the temperature climb to 900 degrees C. Expecting a melted blob of glass and a ruined furnace, Stookey opened the door to discover that, weirdly, his lithium silicate had transformed into a milky white plate. When he tried to remove it, the sample slipped from the tongs and crashed to the floor. Instead of shattering, it bounced.

“The Best TV Show That’s Ever Been” [Brian Raferty on Gentlemen's Quarterly]

Amy Poehler (comedian): I could watch the series finale every day. When Danson turns the bar’s lights out, it’s that rare moment in TV where it feels incredibly real and earned and sweet. And that episode’s still packed with jokes, you know? I remember watching that [finale], and being so crushed that I wasn’t going to see that family again.

Almost 2,400 Millionaires Pocketed Unemployment Benefits [Frank Bass on Bloomberg]

Almost 2,400 people who received unemployment insurance in 2009 lived in households with annual incomes of $1 million or more, according to the Congressional Research Service…The 2,362 people in millionaire homes represent 0.02 percent of the 11.3 million U.S. tax filers who reported unemployment insurance income in 2009, according to the August report. Another 954,000 households earning more than $100,000 during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression also reported receiving unemployment benefits.  The reported benefits may include those received by spouses or dependents of people who made high incomes, or benefits received earlier in the year before a household member got a high-paying job. Eliminating the federal share of unemployment benefits for millionaires would save $20 million in the next decade, the congressional researchers said in their report.

The Woman Who Took the Fall for JPMorgan Chase [Susan Dominus on The New York Times]

In February of 2011, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, approached the podium of one of the ballrooms at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Key Biscayne, Fla., where 300 senior executives from around the world were attending the bank’s annual off-site conference. By that time, the cold fear of the financial crisis was cordoned off in the near-distant past, replaced by a dawning recognition that the ensuing changes in business — the comparatively trifling risk limits, the dwindling bonuses, the elevated stress levels — might actually be permanent. That day, Dimon took the opportunity, according to a bank employee in attendance, to try to inspire his team, to rouse them from the industrywide sense of malaise. Yes, there were challenges, Dimon said, but it was the job of leadership to be strong. They should be prudent, but step up — be bold. He looked out into the audience, where Ina Drew, the 54-year-old chief investment officer, was sitting at one of the tables. “Ina,” he said, singling her out, “is bold.”

“There will be growth in the spring”: How well do economists predict turning points? [Hites Ahir, Senior research officer, IMF, and Prakash Loungani, Senior resource manager and advisor in the IMF's Research Department, via VOX.EU]

In short, the ability of forecasters to predict turning points appears limited. This finding holds up to a number of robustness checks (Loungani, Stekler, and Tamirisa 2013). First, lowering the bar on how far in advance the recession is predicted does not appreciably improve the ability to forecast turning points. Second, using a more precise definition of recessions based on quarterly data does not change the results. Third, the failure to predict turning points is not particular to the Great Recession but holds for earlier periods as well.

States Battle Asthma as Numbers Grow [Michael Ollove on Stateline]

In a valley wedged between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, St. Louis often finds itself beset by a stationary air mass that only a severe storm of some kind can dislodge. St. Louis is also an industrial city with high humidity, so it’s no wonder it usually makes the list of worst places for asthmatics to live. But the state has also pioneered advances in addressing asthma treatment and costs…Despite the state’s policies addressing asthma, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America still does not consider Missouri one of the states doing the best job in schools. It didn’t include Missouri in the honor roll of states with the most comprehensive and preferred statewide public policies supporting people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis risk and related allergic diseases in schools. The organization grades states on whether they have adopted 18 specific policies related to medication, reporting, tobacco use and indoor quality. By those standards, only seven states made the foundation’s honor roll: Washington, Indiana, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. (The District of Columbia also made the list). While Collins, of the national office, said Missouri was deficient in school-related air quality and tobacco policies, its innovations in accessibility to medications in schools had gotten the attention of advocates across the country.

Revenge and Rebound Sex: Bouncing Back, Into Bed [Dr. Benjamin Le on The Science of Relationships]

If people are having rebound and revenge sex, you might think it must be an effective way to cope with breakups. Not exactly. People who had sex with new partners did not show less distress, less anger, or higher self-esteem afterward. The bottom line is that, although some people do use sex as a way to cope with a breakup, rebound and revenge sex don’t actually make you feel any better, although it doesn’t necessarily make you feel any worse either.

The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop [Matt Daniels] – RW

Wu-Tang Clan at #6 is fucking impressive given that 10 members, with vastly different styles, are equally contributing lyrics. Add the fact that GZA, Ghostface, Raekwon, and Method Man’s solo works are also in the top 20 – notably, GZA at #2. Perhaps their countless hours of studio time together (and RZA’s mentorship) exposed each rapper’s vocabulary to one another.

California Report Criticizes $100 Million Hollywood Aid [Michael B. Marois on Bloomberg]

California’s $100 million annual tax subsidy for the film and TV industry doesn’t pay for itself, and expanding it may not stem job losses to other regions, the state’s non-partisan fiscal analyst said. For every $1 of subsidy, the state gets back about 65 cents in sales, income and use taxes, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said yesterday in a report citing the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. Local and federal agencies separately collect 46 cents, according to the report. Legislators may still wish to consider expanding California’s subsidies, the analyst said. Hollywood is a flagship industry, with high-paying jobs for the most populous U.S. state, according to the report. It also warned that other states could respond with increases of their own…California and 36 other states offer tax credits to the film industry, with payments totaling $1.4 billion a year. California lost 16,137 entertainment industry jobs between 2004 and 2012, a decline of 11 percent. New York, the Golden State’s main competitor, added 10,675 positions, up almost 25 percent, according to a February report by the Milken Institute. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to double the tax-credit program and expand it to include advertising, shows on premium-cable networks such as HBO, and films with budgets of more than $75 million. Los Angeles accounts for about half of the 221,000 jobs in the U.S. film industry, the analyst said.

Liechtenstein Gets Even Smaller [John Letzing on The Wall Street Journal]

The tiny size means easy access to people in power and a strong sense of political entitlement, locals say. That is true even in a system that gives the prince veto power over new laws. In a 2012 referendum, 76% of Liechtensteiners voted against stripping that ability. Every year, His Serene Highness Prince Hans-Adam II, the head of state, and his son, His Serene Highness Hereditary Prince Alois, invite their subjects up to the castle for a beer. A significant portion of the population shows up.

More than 100 sickened after food safety summit [Juliet Linderman on The Associated Press]

Health officials are investigating what may have sickened over 100 people who attended a conference where more than 1,300 food safety experts had gathered.

Half in Illinois and Connecticut Want to Move Elsewhere [Lydia Saad on Gallup]

Thirty-three percent of residents want to move to another state, according to the average of the 50 state responses. Seventeen states come close to that 50-state average. Another 16 are above the average range, including three showing an especially high desire to move. In fact, in these three — Illinois, Connecticut, and Maryland — roughly as many residents want to leave as want to stay. At the other end of the spectrum, 17 states are home to a below-average percentage of residents wanting to leave. This includes the previously mentioned six states — Montana, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Texas — where fewer than one in four want to move, the lowest level recorded.

How Accounting, Stop Groaning, Will Save the World [Manuela Hoelterhoff on Bloomberg]

What did Louis XIV’s accounting books look like? Colbert had them designed to fit into his coat pockets? They were small, like commonplace books. Gold and blue. Beautiful. He had the best calligraphers in the world. They aren’t in my book because the French National Library is so dysfunctional that they couldn’t even respond over two months to getting the images. France is in such bad shape. He would look at them on Fridays at 9 a.m., for the Council of Ministers. When Colbert dies, he doesn’t just get rid of the books, he cracks the financial system that allows you to do good accounting in the state, by breaking up these ministries so they can’t communicate. That’s the moment when England is making its financial reforms and France should have taken over the world, but it’s in chaos.

‘Born-Frees’ Shun South African Vote as Apartheid Memories Fade [Amogelang Mbatha, Mike Cohen and Neo Khanyile on Bloomberg]

When South Africans line up on May 7 to vote in their fifth election since the end of apartheid, 20-year-old Tshepo Mangwele and most of his contemporaries probably won’t be joining them. “Standing in a line and placing my vote on a ballot will just be a waste of time,” Mangwele, a first-year chemical engineering student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said in an interview at the campus. “Most people who registered to vote are old. They feel like they owe certain parties something because of what they did in the past.”…Mangwele, the engineering student, said it made little difference who runs the country because the politicians looked after their own interests. “Ninety percent of the youth in my neighborhood probably won’t vote because nothing is being done for them,” he said in an April 24 interview. “We vote and the person we vote for will be eating our tax money anyway. So why vote?”

Elite Colleges Don’t Buy Happiness for Graduates [Douglas Belkin on The Wall Street Journal]

A new Gallup survey of 30,000 college graduates of all ages in all 50 states has found that highly selective schools don’t produce better workers or happier people, but inspiring professors—no matter where they teach—just might. The poll, undertaken this spring, is part of a growing effort to measure how well colleges do their jobs. This survey adds an interesting twist, because it looked not only at graduates after college; it tried to determine what happens during college that leads to well-being and workplace engagement later in life. The poll didn’t measure graduates’ earnings. Rather, it was rooted in 30 years of Gallup research that shows that people who feel happy and engaged in their jobs are the most productive…The poll found that just 39% of college graduates feel engaged at work—meaning, for instance, that they enjoyed what they did on a daily basis and are emotionally and intellectually connected to their jobs. And only 11% reported they were “thriving” in five different aspects of their lives, among which are financial stability, a strong social network and a sense of purpose. That relatively small handful of graduates—who tend to be more productive—went to a variety of colleges, though they were slightly more likely to go to larger schools and less likely to have attended for-profits. The strongest correlation for well-being emerged from a series of questions delving into whether graduates felt “emotionally supported” at school by a professor or mentor. Those who did were three times as likely to report they thrived as adults. Graduates who reported having “experiential and deep learning” were twice as likely to be engaged at work as those who didn’t.

Shut Up and Deal [James Surowiecki on The New Yorker]

State regulations are littered with provisions designed to protect incumbent businesses. In most states, retailers and restaurants have to buy alcohol from wholesalers rather than directly from producers. And there’s an ever-growing thicket of occupational licensing regulations. For some professions, a licensing requirement makes sense. But, according to a 2008 study, almost thirty per cent of jobs now require a license in some state or other, including many—auctioneer, shampooer, home-entertainment installer—where licensing seems totally unnecessary. State governments have been looking out for local businesses since way back—in the nineteenth century, they forced travelling salesmen to pay extortionate fees—and they haven’t minded too much when this protectionism comes at the expense of consumers.

America and Russia arm the world, in four charts [Zack Beauchamp on Vox]

In terms of who is importing the most, India and China lead the way. In a certain sense, that’s no surprise, as they’re the world’s two largest emerging powers. Also unsurprisingly, they both buy overwhelmingly from Russia. 75 percent of Indian purchases come from Moscow, as do 64 percent of Chinese. But what’s really interesting is that India and China switched first and second place around 2008 — India rapidly outpaced China as the world’s largest importer, according to SIPRI. That’s not because India is suddenly overtaking China in terms of military power. Rather, the Chinese government has pretty effectively built up a domestic arms manufacturing and research sector. China is getting more self-sufficient, in other words. That’s good in defense terms but it’s also much better for China’s economy to spend all that money domestically. India’s arms sector is so sclerotic, by contrast, that it doesn’t even make boots and uniforms all that well.

Hasidim in NYC Exurbs Trigger Backlash That Entangles Cuomo [Freeman Klopott on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Community groups fighting the growing influence of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in New York City’s northwestern exurbs are joining forces to counter the Hasidic bloc vote in this year’s gubernatorial election. An organization called United Monroe opposes the expansion of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic village that brought high-density housing to the rural town as it grew by 63 percent since 2000. Two others, Concerned Citizens’ Group of Pine Bush and the Rural Community Coalition, are battling plans by a Hasidic developer to build 396 townhouses in Bloomingburg, a village in the foothills of the Catskills. The activists want to prevent what they call “the next East Ramapo,” a school district about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Manhattan, where critics say the state is standing idle as a Hasidic-controlled board of education cuts programs for public-school students. A group called Preserve Rockland and a coalition of religious leaders, including rabbis, are pressing Governor Andrew Cuomo for oversight.

Texas Tries to Build a Bullet Train, Yet Again [Aman Bethja on The Texas Tribune via Governing Magazine]

In 1989, former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes joined a group of investors hoping to develop a bullet train system in Texas. The company, Texas TGV, planned to build a 200 mph line between Dallas and Houston and then expand to Austin and San Antonio. After four years and more than $70 million in investments, the project collapsed…Many rail advocates have put the blame for the demise of the earlier “Supertrain” project on Southwest Airlines, which conducted an aggressive lobbying campaign. Yet the story of the project’s failure is more complicated…Texas TGV’s optimism was based in large part on its backers’ confidence that a high-speed rail line would draw thousands of Texans who regularly flew between the state’s major cities for work. The plan was a threat to Southwest Airlines, which had built a large portion of its business on the state’s “super-commuters.” Southwest officials said the Texas project was unlike any other high-speed rail project in the world, in that it was focusing more on taking customers from air travel rather than cars. Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s CEO at the time, predicted that the bullet train would force the airline to raise fares on some Texas routes and end service on others. He also warned that the company might move its corporate headquarters to another state. Southwest Airlines declined to comment for this article.

Most People in the World Have No Idea How to Manage Their Money [Moisés Naím on The Atlantic]

In Russia, 96 percent of those surveyed could not answer the three questions correctly. While that might be expected of a post-communist nation, the mecca of capitalism didn’t exactly yield glowing results—only 30 percent of Americans aced the quiz. The best-performing respondents were the Germans (53 percent got a perfect score) and the Swiss (50 percent), but this still leaves almost half of each country’s population without a basic understanding of financial matters. In countries with relatively strong economies, the numbers are sobering: 79 percent of Swedes, 75 percent of Italians, 73 percent of Japanese, and 69 percent of French could not respond correctly to all three questions…On the basis of these results, one might presume that demand for financial education is very strong. It is not. And that’s mostly because people are prone to overestimate how much they know about money. Asked to rank their financial knowledge on a scale of 1 (very low) to 7 (very high), 70 percent of the Americans surveyed by Lusardi and Mitchell ranked themselves at level 4 or higher. Yet only 30 percent of them got all three questions in the finance quiz right. The same pattern was apparent in Germany and the Netherlands. The research also found that women, the poor, and the elderly are the groups with the lowest levels of financial literacy. Ironically for the elderly, confidence in one’s money-managing prowess seems to grow with age, widening the gap between perceived and actual knowledge. Men seem to better grasp the subject than women, independent of age and education, but women—to their credit—are more aware of their shortcomings. While men outperformed women on the finance quiz, greater numbers of women responded that they “don’t know,” a result that held true all over the world. The upshot is that women, more conscious of their limitations, are more likely to be interested in financial-education programs.

Curiously Strong Remains:




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Roundup – Game of Swears

Quote O’ the Day:

“I’m not a big fan of country club sports. My theory is that Gentiles were invented by golf as a way to propagate itself.”

- Buttockus Finch, Esq., “The Hollyweird Legal Round Up: A Golf Tee In The Butt Stunt Gone Wrong” [FilmDrunk]

Best of the Best:

What The Music You Love Says About You And How It Can Improve Your Life [Eric Barker via Time Magazine]

No, rock and heavy metal don’t lead people to commit suicide — but it’s possible that country music might: The results of a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas show that the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the greater the white suicide rate.

The Sleep Deprivation Publicity Stunt That Drove One Man Crazy [Esther Ingliss-Arkell via io9] – RW

Back in 1959…Peter Tripp, a radio DJ, decided to stay awake for 200 hours, broadcasting his regular show at its regular time, as a publicity stunt….Amazingly, most of the way through the ordeal, Tripp was able to do his show fairly well. He pulled himself together to keep the DJ patter going. Outside of the show, he deteriorated. After about a hundred hours of wakefulness, Tripp was no longer able to get through simple math problems or recite the alphabet. After 120 hours, he began having hallucinations. He walked into a nearby hotel room to shower and change, and, when he opened a chest of drawers for his clothes, saw flames shooting out of the open drawer. At first he thought that the scientists had set the fire, trying to prank him or make him drop out of the contest. Then he began believing the scientists were in a conspiracy against him, and wanted to frame him for a crime. When one scientist, a stuffy dresser, came up to him, Tripp believed that the man was an undertaker come to bury him, and ran away into the street. During long periods of sleep deprivation, the brain begins going into REM sleep cycles while a person is still awake. Most of the time, the person will still be able to function, if only on a basic level. During the REM cycles, they will begin to dream while they are still conscious. Tripp was having normal, if unpleasant, dreams, he just wasn’t having them in bed. As time went by, the confusion took over his mind. He started staring at a clock, believing that he could see the face of a friend in it. He came to be doubtful as to whether he was Peter Tripp, or was the friend. In the last few hours, he began confiding to scientists that, although everyone believed he was Peter Tripp, he was not.

Colorado Town Considers Letting Residents Shoot at Drones [Jennifer Oldham on Bloomberg]

Phillip Steel, a 49-year-old welding inspector, wrote the proposed law as a symbolic protest after hearing a radio news report that the federal government is drafting a plan to integrate drones into civilian airspace, he said. The measure sets a bounty of as much as $100 for a drone with U.S. government markings, although anyone who shoots at one could be subject to criminal or civil liability, according to the Federal Aviation Administration…The proposal allows town officials to spend as much as $10,000 in municipal funds to “establish an unmanned aerial vehicle recognition program.” Shooters must be on private property and are limited to three shots per so-called engagement, “unless there exists an imminent threat to life and safety.”

See Also: Colorado Town Rejects Plan to Let Residents Shoot Drones [Jennifer Oldham on Bloomberg]

South Sudan Ethnic Hatred Drives Rebel Leader’s White Army [William Davison on Bloomberg]

All members of the Nuer ethnic group, the troops of the so-called White Army who gathered by the Sobat River in eastern South Sudan are the strike force in rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar’s campaign against the government in Juba, the capital. They’re planning to march on Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state, and then attack the Paloch oil field, a key source of revenue for President Salva Kiir’s military. While Machar sits in his bush hideout coordinating his rebellion’s positions on peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and trying to force Kiir into concessions, members of the White Army have more basic desires. They’re fired by reports of widespread killings of Nuer after Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused Machar of attempting a coup d’etat in December. New York-based Human Rights Watch said in January that as many as 300 Nuer were massacred on Dec. 16 in Juba…Rachel Nyachop, 47, said she came from Malakal and is in Nasir looking for food. She’s lost three sons in this war, which she is adamant should continue. “The war will not be stopped until we kill all Dinka, including the children,” she said.

Teacher Tenure and Dismissal on Trial [Adrienne Lu on Stateline]

The lawsuit, filed by the nonprofit advocacy group Students Matter on behalf of nine public school students, followed unsuccessful attempts in contract negotiations and the legislature to give school districts more freedom to hire and fire teachers. The plaintiffs in Vergara v. California argued that the state’s employment rules leave so many ineffective teachers on the job that some students – many of them low-income and minority – fail to receive the education guaranteed by the state constitution. The two-month trial ended last Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. A ruling is expected within several months.

How You, I, and Everyone Got the Top 1 Percent All Wrong [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic]

It turns out that wealth inequality isn’t about the 1 percent v. the 99 percent at all. It’s about the 0.1 percent v. the 99.9 percent (or, really, the 0.01 percent vs. the 99.99 percent, if you like). Long-story-short is that this group, comprised mostly of bankers and CEOs, is riding the stock market to pick up extraordinary investment income. And it’s this investment income, rather than ordinary earned income, that’s creating this extraordinary wealth gap.  The 0.1 percent isn’t the same group of people every year. There’s considerable churn at the tippy-top. For example, consider the “Fortunate 400,” the IRS’s annual list of the 400 richest tax returns in the country. Between 1992 and 2008, 3,672 different taxpayers appeared on the Fortunate 400 list. Just one percent of the Fortunate 400—four households—appeared on the list all 17 years. Now there’s your real 1 percent.

Carter Slams Religion and Men for Degrading Women [Manuela Hoelterhoff on Bloomberg]

In “A Call to Action,” the former president, who traveled to 145 countries with his wife, Rosalynn, and activists from their Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga., pulls no punches as he assails the forces that turn women into second-class citizens. He shows how religious leaders have purposefully doctored sacred texts to glorify men — and keep those women fetching water. He assails genital cutting, child brides, honor killing and trafficking, and outlines a “road to progress.”

Spite Is Good. Spite Works. [Natalie Angier on The New York Times]

Omar Tonsi Eldakar of Nova Southeastern University in Florida has studied the link between cooperative behavior and what he calls selfish punishment. “Why is everyone always assuming that it’s the good guys who are doing the punishing?” he asked. “Selfish individuals have more reason than anyone else to want to get rid of other cheaters.”…Using game theory models, Dr. Eldakar has demonstrated that when selfish players intent on maximizing their profits regularly punish other selfish players or exclude them from the group, the net outcome is an overall decline in selfish exchanges to a reasonably stable state. “It’s like the Mafia,” he said. “They end up reducing crime in the areas they inhabit.”

See Also: The Surprising Reason We Pay for a Stranger’s Coffee [Peter Coy on Bloomberg Businessweek] : “To the philosophers, the most interesting part of their model is that it generates some fairness without any altruism, since the only altruistic player, the Judge, is pushed out of the game. (There is one other equilibrium consisting of Laid-Back Person and the Judge, but it’s not as stable.) I spoke with Forber today about the authors’ rather dark vision. ‘It’s not fairness in the sense of justice and equity for all,” he said. “But it does generate some fairness in the population.’ I asked him if he thought this model, in which the two surviving types in the population are Spiteful Person and Laid-Back Person, accurately reflects modern society. ‘That’s an excellent question,’ he said. ‘It’s a very idealized experiment. That said, these models can represent biological evolution and learning. There are general lessons. It’s a second possible route to a kind of fair play. It’s a route that many people thought didn’t exist.'”

Former McDonald’s Store Managers Say They Withheld Wages [Leslie Patton on Bloomberg]

Two former McDonald’s Corp. store managers, assisting with a campaign to raise pay for fast-food workers, said they helped withhold employees’ wages at the restaurant chain after facing pressure to keep labor costs down. The ex-managers, who came forward as part of an effort backed by worker advocacy group Fast Food Forward, said they engaged in tactics such as asking employees to continue working after they clocked out or adding unpaid breaks to time sheets. They took the steps to avoid exceeding a store’s strict goals for wage expenses, said Lakia Williams, a former assistant manager at a McDonald’s in Charleston, South Carolina…The new allegations follow a wave of lawsuits in March claiming that McDonald’s workers were being idled without pay for minutes and hours at work during slow periods, in violation of U.S. and state labor laws. Some workers also allege that McDonald’s requires them to pay for their uniforms, driving their pay below legal minimums. On the day the lawsuits were filed, McDonald’s said it was reviewing the allegations and would take necessary actions. Contact information for the two managers was provided by BerlinRosen, a public-relations firm that is managing the media effort for Fast Food Forward. The advocacy group, which has received funding from the Service Employees International Union, also commissioned a survey on fast-food wages as part of the campaign.

How the Chicken Conquered the World [Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler on The Smithsonian]

How did the chicken achieve such cultural and culinary dominance? It is all the more surprising in light of the belief by many archaeologists that chickens were first domesticated not for eating but for cockfighting. Until the advent of large-scale industrial production in the 20th century, the economic and nutritional contribution of chickens was modest. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond listed chickens among the “small domestic mammals and domestic birds and insects” that have been useful to humanity but unlike the horse or the ox did little—outside of legends—to change the course of history. Nonetheless, the chicken has inspired contributions to culture, art, cuisine, science and religion over the millennia. Chickens were, and still are, a sacred animal in some cultures. The prodigious and ever-watchful hen was a worldwide symbol of nurturance and fertility. Eggs hung in Egyptian temples to ensure a bountiful river flood. The lusty rooster (a.k.a. cock) was a universal signifier of virility—but also, in the ancient Persian faith of Zoroastrianism, a benign spirit that crowed at dawn to herald a turning point in the cosmic struggle between darkness and light. For the Romans, the chicken’s killer app was fortunetelling, especially during wartime. Chickens accompanied Roman armies, and their behavior was carefully observed before battle; a good appetite meant victory was likely. According to the writings of Cicero, when one contingent of birds refused to eat before a sea battle in 249 B.C., an angry consul threw them overboard. History records that he was defeated.

How the end of slavery led to starvation and death for millions of black Americans [Paul Harris on The Observer via The Guardian] – RW

[As Jim Downs of Connecticut College] shows in his book, Sick From Freedom, the reality of emancipation during the chaos of war and its bloody aftermath often fell brutally short of that positive image. Instead, freed slaves were often neglected by union soldiers or faced rampant disease, including horrific outbreaks of smallpox and cholera. Many of them simply starved to death. After combing through obscure records, newspapers and journals Downs believes that about a quarter of the four million freed slaves either died or suffered from illness between 1862 and 1870. He writes in the book that it can be considered “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century” and yet it is one that has been little investigated by contemporary historians. Downs believes much of that is because at the time of the civil war, which raged between 1861 and 1865 and pitted the unionist north against the confederate south, many people did not want to investigate the tragedy befalling the freed slaves. Many northerners were little more sympathetic than their southern opponents when it came to the health of the freed slaves and anti-slavery abolitionists feared the disaster would prove their critics right..So bad were the health problems suffered by freed slaves, and so high the death rates, that some observers of the time even wondered if they would all die out. One white religious leader in 1863 expected black Americans to vanish. “Like his brother the Indian of the forest, he must melt away and disappear forever from the midst of us,” the man wrote. Such racial attitudes among northerners seem shocking, but Downs says they were common. Yet Downs believes that his book takes nothing away from the moral value of the emancipation. Instead, he believes that acknowledging the terrible social cost born by the newly emancipated accentuates their heroism.

14 Interview Questions You Should Never Answer [Jacquelyn Smith on Business Insider] – CS

In a recent LinkedIn post, Bernard Marr, a global enterprise performance expert and a best-selling business author, says he’s always astonished to hear that candidates have been asked such inappropriate questions. “It can be very easy for interviewers to cross the line and ask questions that are inappropriate, and in many cases even illegal,” he says. “I believe that asking those questions in most cases [is] not done on purpose, but [rather] because of a lack of training and awareness, or even to break the ice and create a more friendly atmosphere.” But the purpose of the job interview is to establish whether you are right for the job and company, and whether the company is right for you, Marr says. So the questions you’re asked should never go beyond the professional assessment of your skills, enthusiasm, and fit.

The Grass Is Greener on the Internet: Pornography, Alternatives, and Infidelity [Dr. Benjamin Lee on Science of Relationships]

In short, these data suggest that watching pornography can lead to increased perceptions of alternatives to relationships, and perceptions of alternatives and increased cheating are associated with one another. Of course, one study on this topic doesn’t end the debate, but the researchers present an interesting argument for how perceptions of alternatives are a possible pathway by which porn could hurt the long-term success of relationships.

Female Adolescents’ First Coitus: Gaining Sexual Experience, Not Just “Losing” Virginity [Dr. Tim Loving on Science of Relationships]

This may seem obvious, but young heterosexual women are often characterized as having sex because their partners wanted to do the deed; turns out young women can and do engage in sex for the first time for their own reasons. Further, in addition to feeling greater sexual interest, the women also reported greater “partner support” (e.g., “He made me feel loved”) the day of first coitus (and the day after) relative to the day prior, providing some evidence that first time experiences generally occurred in a positive context.

The “Cheerleader Effect” (Yes, It Exists) [Dr. Dylan Selterman on Science of Relationships]

The researchers tested this idea by showing participants photos of other people (targets) who were either alone or next to others, and participants rated the attractiveness of the person/people in the photos with a sliding (low to high) scale. In 5 experiments, participants consistently rated both male and female faces as more attractive in the group condition relative to the alone condition, even though the faces were exactly the same in both conditions.

Most of what your doctor does, a robot can do better [Gina Siddiqui on Quartz]

Doctors average 23 seconds before interrupting their patients. Why tolerate that disrespect when a machine could process the same information politely and produce the right diagnosis more often? With competition like this, the division of labor in medicine between man and machine is going to change. The next phase may follow the chess world. After the Deep Blue supercomputer beat the world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, something interesting happened. Humans didn’t stop playing chess. Instead, “advanced chess” was born, whereby humans and computers teamed up. Some of those teams won against the otherwise unbeatable supercomputers. In medicine too, doctors hold the potential for synergy with their programmed counterparts. It is worth noting that the best human-computer chess teams were not composed of the best independent chess players. Instead, it was the humans who asked a lot of questions and took the time to weigh the computer’s different approaches. The best doctors will no longer be the ones with the best memory for differential lists or dosages, the doctors who were the most impressive against computers. Now that computers have eclipsed us in these realms, the best doctors will hone complementary skills with computers. They will focus on relating to their patients as people, and when planning treatment they will have the humility to leverage technical tools rather than try to do it all on their own.

A Pivotal Financial Crisis Case, Ending With a Whimper [Jesse Eisinger on The New York Times Dealbook]

Then there is Mr. Lewis’s high-priced lawyer. The lawyer issued a scathing assessment of the case initially. Mr. Cuomo’s decision to sue was “a badly misguided decision without support in the facts or the law,” this lawyer said. There is “not a shred of objective evidence” to support the case. Who was this zealous advocate? One Mary Jo White. You may recall her from such roles as the current chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Republicans Demand That the Feds Impose Pot Prohibition on States That Have Opted Out [Jacob Sullum on Reason] – RW

The memo that Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued on August 29 makes no promises, but it suggests that prosecuting state-legal cannabusinesses is not a good use of federal resources unless they are contributing to one of the eight problems listed in the memo, which include distribution to minors, sales of other drugs, interstate smuggling, violence, and organized crime. [Attorney General Eric] Holder is right that such prioritization is within his authority under the Controlled Substances Act, and [Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo)] Smith is wrong to suggest otherwise. Furthermore, this misguided argument in favor of imposing pot prohibition on recalcitrant states puts Republicans on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of their own avowed principles.

Why Education Spending Doesn’t Lead to Economic Growth [Charles Kenny on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Analysis by Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin suggests that increased educational attainment among Americans from 1915 to 1999 might account for 10 percent of the growth in U.S. GDP over that time. Some commentators contend that this an underestimate (PDF). But at the global level, no relationship has been found between a more educated population and more rapid economic development. There has been an explosion in schooling in developing countries, but many show nothing like explosive growth in GDP per person. By 2010, the average Kenyan had spent more years in school than the average French citizen had in 1985. But Kenya’s GDP per capita in 2010 was only 7 percent of France’s GDP per head 25 years earlier. What explains the limited impact of increased education on economic growth? A possible answer is that education acts as a filter rather than an investment. A recent study (PDF) in Italy found that test scores had a significant impact on the earnings of employees—but none on the earnings of self-employed people. One interpretation of that result is that schooling signals persons with intelligence and ambition, rather than actually imparting or indicating skills that make them better at their jobs over the long term. Signaling helps as a screening tool for employers, but makes no difference to people who work for themselves. Presumably, they already know how smart and ambitious they are.

The Woman Behind Apple’s First Icons [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics]

[W]hen a chance encounter in 1982 reconnected her with an old friend and Apple employee, Kare found herself working in a different medium, with a much smaller canvas — about 1,024 pixels. Equipped with few computer skills and lacking any prior experience with digital design, Kare proceeded to revolutionize pixel art. For many, Susan Kare’s icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends. But Kare, who has subsequently done design work for Microsoft, Facebook, and Paypal, has also become her own icon, immortalized in the annals of pixel art.

So You Think You’re Smarter Than A CIA Agent  [Alix Spiegel on NPR]

For the past three years, Rich and 3,000 other average people have been quietly making probability estimates about everything from Venezuelan gas subsidies to North Korean politics as part of , an experiment put together by three well-known psychologists and some people inside the intelligence community. According to one report, the predictions made by the Good Judgment Project are often better even than intelligence analysts with access to classified information, and many of the people involved in the project have been astonished by its success at making accurate predictions. When Rich, who is in her 60s, first heard about the experiment, she didn’t think she would be especially good at predicting world events. She didn’t know a lot about international affairs, and she hadn’t taken much math in school. But she signed up, got a little training in how to estimate probabilities from the people running the program, and then was given access to a website that listed dozens of carefully worded questions on events of interest to the intelligence community, along with a place for her to enter her numerical estimate of their likelihood…Rich’s numbers worked out incredibly well. She’s in the top 1 percent of the 3,000 forecasters now involved in the experiment, which means she has been classified as a superforecaster, someone who is extremely accurate when predicting stuff like: Will there be a significant attack on Israeli territory before May 10, 2014? In fact, she’s so good she’s been put on a special team with other superforecasters whose predictions are reportedly 30% better than intelligence officers with access to actual classified information. Rich and her teammates are that good even though all the information they use to make their predictions is available to anyone with access to the Internet.

America, Why Are You Naming All Your Boys Like This? [Robert T. Gonzalez on io9] – RW

The rise in popularity of boys’ names that end in “n” has been unprecedented. In 2009, baby name expert Laura Wattenberg told the New York Times that “n” has managed to achieve terminal-letter-ascendancy in a matter of decades, “[taking] over in a way that no ending has taken over before, for boys.”…At the time of her 2009 NYT interview, Wattenberg called the rise of the terminal-n “historically bizarre.” It’s only gotten weirder. Since 2011, four of the 10 most popular names for baby boys have ended in “n.” A full 36% of boys’ names now end in the letter.

Daytime Napping Linked to Increased Risk of Death [Robert T. Gonalez on io9]

The study, led by University of Cambridge epidemiologist Yue Leng, looked at the associations between daytime napping and mortality in a survey of over 16,000 British men and women. Their findings suggest that daytime nappers are nearly a third more likely to die before they turn 65 (even after they accounted for things like sex, social class, smoking status, and more)…Leng and the other authors of the present study note that “the exact mechanisms of these associations remain unknown,” but previous investigations into the link between napping and increased mortality have found daytime sleepiness to be associated with poor sleep hygiene, which itself is linked to a whole slew of other problems cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic in nature.

Newly Released Color Films Show The Utter Devastation Wrought By WW2 [George Dvorsky on io9]

The Hoover Institution has just release five reels of recently restored color films taken by lieutenant colonel William P. Miller from 1943 to 1945. They provide a rare and disturbingly real glimpse into the era, including shots of the battle-scarred cities at the center of the conflict. The films, which were made possible by a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, include shots taken in North Africa, Germany, and Austria.

That Time The CIA And Howard Hughes Tried To Steal A Soviet Submarine [Mark Strauss on io9]

Recently declassified documents reveal new details about Project AZORIAN: a brazen, $800-million CIA initiative to covertly salvage a Soviet nuclear submarine in plain sight of the entire world.

The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War. [Jack F. Matlock, ambassador to the U.S.S.R. from 1987 to 1991, via The Washington Post]

Because the collapse of the Soviet Union happened so soon afterward, people often confuse it with the end of the Cold War. But they were separate events, and the former was not an inevitable outcome of the latter. Moreover, the breakup of the U.S.S.R. into 15 separate countries was not something the United States caused or wanted. We hoped that Gorbachev would forge a voluntary union of Soviet republics, minus the three Baltic countries. Bush made this clear in August 1991 when he urged the non-Russian Soviet republics to adopt the union treaty Gorbachev had proposed and warned against “suicidal nationalism.” Russians who regret the collapse of the Soviet Union should remember that it was the elected leader of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who conspired with his Ukrainian and Belarusian counterparts to replace the U.S.S.R. with a loose and powerless “commonwealth.” Even after the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist, Gorbachev maintained that “the end of the Cold War is our common victory.” Yet the United States insisted on treating Russia as the loser.

Lavender-Filled Teddy Bears From Tasmania Are a Big Hit in China [Dinny McMahon on The Wall Street Journal]

Voracious demand from Chinese tourists for luxury goods to give as gifts or to sell at a markup back home often threatens to clear the shelves of major brands in France. Gucci stores in Paris sometimes limit the number of bags customers can buy per passport to ensure supply. Karicare, a brand of milk powder made from New Zealand goats’ milk that sells in Australia and New Zealand, has quadrupled production to 20,000 tons over the last three years to meet demand from Chinese consumers, some of whom are reselling online in China. Even that might not be enough. The company, a unit of Group Danone, says on its website that due to “unprecedented demand” it cannot find enough high quality goats milk. The craze for Bobbie the teddy bear has come with all the attendant effects of a China boom. Bridestowe sells Bobbie for about $48.50 or about 300 yuan, up from about $23 five years ago, after raising the price five times. In China, online retailers currently sell them for about 400 yuan, up from 300 only a few months ago. But, Mr. Ravens said, many are knockoffs; his authorized distributor estimates 100,000 fakes have been sold online. Three online retailers reached in China all said they were selling authentic Bobbie Bears…Bridestowe stuffed 30,000 bears last year—up from 3,500 in 2011 and 7,500 in 2012—and expects to double production this year, using a full ton of lavender for stuffing, rather than for aromatic oils, its traditional use.

SABMiller’s Hero Taps Into Biafra Nostalgia in Nigeria [Dulue Mbachu on Bloomberg]

At the Estate Sports Club in the southeastern Nigerian city of Onitsha, men troop up to the open-air bar and order a bottle of “Oh Mpa,” the local name for SABMiller Plc’s Hero beer. Oh Mpa means “Oh Father” in Igbo, the language of the area, and is widely regarded as referring to the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who led a failed attempt to secede from Nigeria in the 1960s and set up an independent nation of Biafra that sparked a 30-month civil war. With its Hero bottles bearing the rising sun that appeared on the Biafran flag, SABMiller is tapping into the area’s nationalism.

Run The Jules: Your Guide To The USMNT’s Newest (Maybe?) Star [Billy Haisley on Deadspin]

So, what can we expect? If he’s not a lock for the World Cup—and Klinsmann has denied promising Green a ticket to Brazil in exchange for his commitment—he at least has a good shot at making the trip. Just by scoring 15 goals in 22 games for the Bayern reserve squad playing in the German fourth tier and training with Bayern proper, he’s done more than Brek Shea, who’s back on Stoke’s bench after getting booted from his loan team. And what USMNT fan wouldn’t rather see Green’s number held up to sub off a tired Graham Zusi rather than that of Joe Corona? The most important factor in Green’s World Cup bid might be the response of other USMNT players. Don’t forget, it wasn’t too long ago that anonymous players were complaining about Klinsmann’s leadership style and the American, Mexican, and German factions in the side failing to coalesce. While the team overcame those issues to finish a historic qualifying campaign, they might not take too well to a long-time World Cup hopeful like Brad Evans being left home for some Jürgen-come-lately who hasn’t proven his ability on any level. It sounds like the other players were welcoming when Green was last in camp, though, and despite any potential misgivings, those guys have to be as intrigued with talent like his as we are.

The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene [political scientists Kyle Dropp (Dartmouth College), Joshua D. Kertzer (Harvard University) and Thomas Zeitzoff (Princeton University) via The Washington Post]

Does it really matter whether Americans can put Ukraine on a map? Previous research would suggest yes: Information, or the absence thereof, can influence Americans’ attitudes about the kind of policies they want their government to carry out and the ability of elites to shape that agenda. Accordingly, we also asked our respondents a variety of questions about what they thought about the current situation on the ground, and what they wanted the United States to do. Similarly to other recent polls, we found that although Americans are undecided on what to do with Ukraine, they are more likely to oppose action in Ukraine the costlier it is — 45 percent of Americans supported boycotting the G8 summit, for example, while only 13 percent of Americans supported using force. However, the further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily. Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants’ general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests; all of these effects are statistically significant at a 95 percent  confidence level. Our results are clear, but also somewhat disconcerting: The less people know about where Ukraine is located on a map, the more they want the U.S. to intervene militarily.

Why UPS Trucks Don’t Turn Left [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics]

In 2004, UPS announced a new policy for its drivers: the right way to get to any destination was to avoid left-hand turns…UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents. By mapping out routes that involved “a series of right-hand loops,” UPS improved profits and safety while touting their catchy, environmentally friendly policy. As of 2012, the right turn rule combined with other improvements — for the wow factor, UPS doesn’t separate them out — saved around 10 million gallons of gas and reduced emissions by the equivalent of taking 5,300 cars of the road for a year.

Small Slice of Doctors Account for Big Chunk of Medicare Costs [Christopher Weaver, Tom McGinty and Louise Radnofsky on The Wall Street Journal]

A tiny sliver of doctors and other medical providers accounted for an outsize portion of Medicare’s 2012 costs, according to an analysis of federal data that lays out details of physicians’ billings. The top 1% of 825,000 individual medical providers accounted for 14% of the $77 billion in billing recorded in the data. The long-awaited data reveal for the first time how individual medical providers treat America’s seniors—and, in some cases, may enrich themselves in the process. Still, there are gaps in the records released by the U.S. about physicians’ practice patterns, and doctors’ groups said the release of such data leaves innocent physicians open to unfair criticism. (Search Medicare payments to providers in 2012.) Medicare paid 344 physicians and other health providers more than $3 million each in 2012. Collectively, the 1,000 highest-paid Medicare doctors received $3.05 billion in payments. One-third of those top-earning providers are ophthalmologists, and one in 10 are radiation oncologists. Both specialties were singled out in a late 2013 report by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services urging greater scrutiny of doctors who consistently receive large Medicare payments.

See also: Doctor-Pay Trove Shows Limits of Medicare Billing Data [Christopher Weaver, Melinda Beck and Ron Winslow on The Wall Street Journal]

Number of Home Owners Lower than 2006 [Tom Lawler via Calculated Risk]

One of the most striking statistics is the number of US home owners: There were fewer US home owners in 2013 than there were in 2006, despite a 7% increase in the 15+ year old population!

Baseball, Hot Dogs And Income Inequality [Nick Colas on Covergex via Zero Hedge]

The concept of inequality on America seems to hit closer to home when it is apparent in the nation’s greatest pastime. Indeed, the most expensive tickets to a MLB game in the most equal cities in the U.S. cost 15.5 times more than the cheapest seats to the same game. Among the most unequal cities in the country, the spread is significantly larger at 26.4 times. Going to a baseball game is uniquely American, and the good news is that the low-end tickets are still affordable. Prices for high-end seats, however, are skyrocketing as franchises build new stadiums with state-of-the-art amenities when and where they know they can charge exorbitant rates – and this is most evident in cities where inequality is higher than the national average.

Curiously Strong Remains:





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