Archive for November, 2011

20
Nov
11

Roundup – The Tiny Team

Line O’ the Day:

For those keeping score, Aaron Rodgers is on pace to tie the single-season record for touchdown passes and shatter the record for passer rating. I get angry—physically angry—at how good Rodgers is. It’s not fair that a human being can do what he does. He has the technique to put the ball exactly where he wants it, and more importantly he has the smarts to avoid putting it where he doesn’t.

– Barry Petchesky, Aaron Rodgers And The Ben Roethlisberger School Of Quarterbacking [Deadspin]

Best of the Best:

The Stupid Moral Panic Over Mocking Tim Tebow; Or, What Would Jesus Do About Tebowing? [Tommy Craggs on Deadspin]

The result is that the balance of Tebow coverage, to the extent that it even addresses his religion, is a patronizing mush of willful ignorance that—it seems to this heathen, at least—far more cheapens his faith than would a frank discussion of his beliefs. Tebow was brought up in a conservative and politically influential Baptist church that occasionally preaches doctrine from a distant fringe of American Protestantism. Would you know any of that from reading the many, many mainstream profiles of Tebow?

Organ Gangs Force Poor to Sell Kidneys for Desperate Israelis [Michael Smith, Daryna Krasnolutska and David Glovin on Bloomberg]

With a generally well-educated population of 7.4 million and a modern medical system, Israel has an acute shortage of organs, in part because of religious beliefs. Just 12 percent of Israelis are registered donors, meaning they have consented to let their organs be used for transplants after they die, according to the Israeli National Transplant Center. That compares with 40 percent of Americans. About 730 Israelis are currently waiting for a transplant, which is 13 times more than the number of such surgeries performed legally in Israel in 2010, according to the center.

In Israel, an unresolved religious debate hampers organ donation — from both the living and the dead. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, a leading arbiter of Jewish law in Israel, advises that donating body parts violates religious tradition, which holds that upon death, a body should be buried intact. “It is not permitted to remove any organ,” Elyashiv, who’s 101 years old, said in a public statement in March 2008. Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, Israel, is leading a drive to get 100 colleagues to sign a document advocating organ donation. He says the Torah tells people to help others when they can, especially if it means saving a life. He says donating an organ is a mitzvah, or good deed. “I hope that many more Jews will become part of the organ donation network,” Eliyahu says.

Fatty Foods Addictive Like Cocaine in Growing Body of Scientific Research [Robert Langreth and Duane D. Stanford on Bloomberg]

A growing body of medical research at leading universities and government laboratories suggests that processed foods and sugary drinks made by the likes of PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) aren’t simply unhealthy. They can hijack the brain in ways that resemble addictions to cocaine, nicotine and other drugs.

Report Says New York Fed Didn’t Cut Deals on A.I.G. [Binyamin Applebaum on The New York Times]

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, says that New York Fed officials have offered inconsistent explanations for their decision to pay other financial companies the full amounts they were owed by A.I.G., and that some of the explanations were contradicted by other evidence. The report also asserts that the decision to pay the full amounts, rather than seeking concessions as the government later did in other cases, disregarded the expectations of senior Fed officials in Washington and the expressed willingness of some of the companies to accept smaller payments.

Americans ’Hooked’ on Government Benefits [Brian Faler on Bloomberg]

Political dysfunction is often blamed for Congress’s inability to curb the U.S. budget deficit. An even bigger obstacle may be the American public. A record 49 percent of Americans live in a household where someone receives at least one type of government benefit, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 63 percent of all federal spending this year will consist of checks written to individuals for which the government receives currently no services, the White House budget office estimates. That’s up from 46 percent in 1975 and 18 percent in 1940. Those figures will climb in coming years. The 75 million baby boomers have only begun their long march into retirement, while President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul will extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million additional people.

Drones Mean the Iraq War Is Never Over [Sam Biddle on Gizmodo]

As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, “The CIA doesn’t officially acknowledge the drone program, let alone provide public explanation about who shoots and who dies, and by what rules.” And given the agency’s explosion of counter-terror operators, laboring to dig up “targeting” data and pulling triggers, the agency has every reason to stay aloft in Iraq. “Presumably, we’re finding people to blow up in Yemen,” agrees defense think tank GlobalSecurity’s John Pike, “so [from the CIA’s perspective] there will be some who need to be blown up in Iraq.” Pike, who has testified before Congress in matters of national defense and collaborated with NASA, knows drones. And he doesn’t think they’re going anywhere…Iraq has no air force. Iraq’s ability to prevent itself from harboring enemies of the CIA is dubious. This gives America’s drone fleet a self-justification to fly ad infinitum, and for a smaller war of distant humming and craters to continue as long as the CIA wants. So how will we ever know when we continue attacks inside Iraq? We won’t—except “the people who get blown up. And even they won’t know what happened,” says Pike.

Why American Roads Are So Bad [Rachel Swaby on Gizmodo]

“The challenge is that the roads are always in some sense of a reactive mode to what businesses want to do,” explains Lomax. “The transportation network is being used to help companies make more profit. That’s a difficult trend to resist.” He points to ‘just in time manufacturing,’ where each individual part is made at its own plant and then trucked to another plant for rapid assembly, as a recent example of how companies are pushing the limits of what our roads can take, which increases their profits—but at the taxpayer’s expense.

The Shadow Superpower [Robert Neuwirth via Foreign Policy]

System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of “l’economie de la débrouillardise.” Or, sweetened for street use, “Systeme D.”

In 2009, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a think tank sponsored by the governments of 30 of the most powerful capitalist countries and dedicated to promoting free-market institutions, concluded that half the workers of the world — close to 1.8 billion people — were working in System D: off the books, in jobs that were neither registered nor regulated, getting paid in cash, and, most often, avoiding income taxes.

In many countries — particularly in the developing world — System D is growing faster than any other part of the economy, and it is an increasing force in world trade. But even in developed countries, after the financial crisis of 2008-09, System D was revealed to be an important financial coping mechanism. A 2009 study by Deutsche Bank, the huge German commercial lender, suggested that people in the European countries with the largest portions of their economies that were unlicensed and unregulated — in other words, citizens of the countries with the most robust System D — fared better in the economic meltdown of 2008 than folks living in centrally planned and tightly regulated nations. Studies of countries throughout Latin America have shown that desperate people turned to System D to survive during the most recent financial crisis.

Troy Davis update: Supreme court denies stay; Davis executed at 11:08pm ET. [BoingBoing]

The final words of Troy Davis at his execution, according to media witnesses:

The incident that took place that night was not my fault. I did not have a gun. [Addressing the victim’s family] I did not personally kill your son, father, brother; I am innocent. Look deeper in this case, so you can find the truth. To the people who are about to take my life: May God have mercy on your soul. May God bless your soul.

Insiders voice doubts about CIA’s 9/11 story [Rory O’Connor and Ray Nowosielski on Salon]

Did Tenet fail to share intelligence with the White House and the FBI in 2000 and 2001 that could have prevented the attacks? Specifically, did a group in the CIA’s al-Qaida office engage in a domestic covert action operation involving two of the 9/11 hijackers, that — however legitimate the agency’s goals may have been — hindered the type of intelligence-sharing that could have prevented the attacks? And if not, then what would explain seemingly inexplicable actions by CIA employees?

Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay [Joe Light and Rachel Emma Silverman on The Wall Street Journal]

Time will tell if the poor job market persuaded more students to push into disciplines such as engineering and science. Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with engineering degrees only increased 19%, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education. The number with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%. Since students typically set their majors during their sophomore year, the first class that chose their major in the midst of the recession graduated this year.

U.S. Soldier Found Guilty in Afghan Killings [Wall Street Journal]

A U.S. Army soldier accused of exhorting his bored underlings to slaughter three civilians for sport was convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges Thursday in one of the most gruesome war-crimes cases to emerge from the Afghan war.

A New ‘James Bond Gang’ Lives On [Sean Gardiner on The Wall Street Journal]

When their mentors went to prison in the late 1980s, the four principal members of the James Bond Gang—Terence Lawton, David “Keith” Kirkland, Bruce “Cap” Anderson and Drew Black—fined-tuned what they had learned. “They had it down to a system,” Mr. Bukowski said. Nothing burnished the gang’s myth more than its cars, the main reason police coined their nickname (the gang itself didn’t call itself by a name). They chose luxury vehicles such as BMWs and customized them for a thief’s lifestyle. Some of the vehicles had secret compartments that could be opened only by triggering a sequence of car functions such as flicking on the turn signal, pushing in the defrost button and then hitting a window switch. One car was equipped with a retractable license plate that flipped down to reveal a set of halogen lights used for blinding police officers. A legend soon spread—still widely believed, but false, authorities would later learn—that the James Bond Gang car had a 007-like set of tailpipes that spewed oil to literally slip up those trying to catch them.

Unemployment for Young Vets: 30%, and Rising [Dan Beucke on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Why would someone coming out of military service have a harder time finding a job? Think about the demographics of a young soldier. Most are men, and unemployment is worse now for men: 9.5 percent in October vs. 8.5 percent for women. Younger vets are coming right out of high school; the job market punishes those with less education. Many vets come from and return to rural and rust-belt areas that are struggling. And the cut-throat competition for jobs has been hardest on those out of work the longest; fair or not, eight years in the Army is viewed by some employers as eight years without private-sector skills and experience. At a job summit held by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs in September, Gallucci says, some companies said many vets have a hard time adjusting to corporate culture.

Smokers Who Try to Quit Dogged by High Failure Rate [Betsy McKay on The Wall Street Journal]

Of the nearly 69% of adult smokers who wanted to quit in 2010, more than half tried but only 6.2% succeeded, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who try can double or triple their chances with counseling or medicine, but most of those who tried to quit last year didn’t use either. Nor did they receive advice to quit from a doctor.

How to Avoid Becoming a Person You Hate [Peter Bregman on Harvard Business Review via Bloomberg Businessweek]

But Ian was on to something deep and important. Something all leaders need to understand: When empathy plays favorites, we should all be scared. It makes us feel better to separate ourselves from people whose behavior we don’t like. It makes us feel moral, safe, and beyond reproach. But separating the other people as evil means we are more likely to lash out at them and, before we know it, become cruel ourselves. I am not saying that we should excuse violence or poor behavior. There must be consequences to people who act destructively. But psychologically separating ourselves from them makes us dangerous.

How Delonte West’s Mental Illness Affected LeBron’s Final Year In Cleveland, And Why You Never Heard About It [Scott Raab on Deadspin]

In fact, the most compelling storyline of the Cavs’ 2009-10 season wasn’t LeBron James, or Shaquille O’Neal. It was the saga of Delonte West, starting with his arrest on Sept. 17, 2009, when he was booked on weapons charges. West was pulled over while riding his trike on a D.C.-area highway armed with a 9mm Beretta, a .357 Magnum, a Remington 870 in a guitar case, 100 rounds of shotgun ammo, and an 8-inch Bowie knife. On the Cavs’ Media Day a few weeks later, West sloughed off the arrest as no big thing. Not long after that, in the locker room before a preseason game, he verbally assaulted a reporter after the reporter asked him how he was doing. “Step the fuck off,” he snarled. “Motherfucking faggot. Fuck you.” The team’s media relations people cleared the room and denied that any such incident had occurred. The journalists covering the team agreed among themselves to ignore what had happened.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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06
Nov
11

Roundup – Chilly Snow Dogs

Line O’ The Day:

“Oh, men. Oh… men. Men, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, because things that are sugarcoated are delicious. WE ARE SHIT. We are a big green turtle that poked out of a dirty Russian war criminal’s asshole and broke off down into a puddle of cold piss. I took a shit this morning, men. Big shit. HUGE shit. The kind of shit that makes you wonder if you just lost a vital organ. And all I could think about while that turd was running a go route was, ‘THIS IS US.'”

– Big Daddy Drew, Chaos At Camp Ryan [KSK]

Best of the Best:

Even in the real world, women on the pill may choose dependable men over sexy ones [Proceedings of the Royal Society B via io9]

The researchers write:

Here, we test for differences in relationship quality and survival between women who were using or not using OC [oral contraceptives] when they chose the partner who fathered their first child. Women who used OC scored lower on measures of sexual satisfaction and partner attraction, experienced increasing sexual dissatisfaction during the relationship, and were more likely to be the one to initiate an eventual separation if it occurred.

Sounds kind of unpleasant, right? But there’s a flip side; the authors continue:

However, the same women were more satisfied with their partner’s paternal provision, and thus had longer relationships and were less likely to separate. These effects are congruent with evolutionary predictions based on cyclical preference shifts. Our results demonstrate that widespread use of hormonal contraception may contribute to relationship outcome, with implications for human reproductive behaviour, family cohesion and quality of life.

According to Roberts, his team’s findings offer more evidence of what he calls “the subconscious chemistry of attraction” between men and women — evidence he believes so strongly in, he’s even willing to structure marital advice around it: “Choosing a non-hormonal barrier method of contraception for a few months before getting married might be one way for a woman to check or reassure herself that she’s still attracted to her partner,” says Roberts.

How To Win A 10-Man Battle Royal Inside A Home Depot [Big Daddy Drew on Deadspin]

I have constant nightmares about facing down giant insects and arachnids. I know that’s what awaits me down in Hell. If I were forced to square off against a real giant bee, I’d be done. I’d be so terrified, I wouldn’t be able to move. Then the bee would lance me through the heart with its giant stinger, carry me to its queen, and then embed me in a waxy honeycomb tomb forever and ever. Mmmm… honey tomb.

Nearly Half of U.S. Lives in Household Receiving Government Benefit [Sara Murray on Economix via The Wall Street Journal]

Means-tested programs, designed to help the needy, accounted for the largest share of recipients last year. Some 34.2% of Americans lived in a household that received benefits such as food stamps, subsidized housing, cash welfare or Medicaid (the federal-state health care program for the poor). Another 14.5% lived in homes where someone was on Medicare (the health care program for the elderly). Nearly 16% lived in households receiving Social Security. High unemployment and increased reliance on government programs has also shrunk the nation’s share of taxpayers. Some 46.4% of households will pay no federal income tax this year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That’s up from 39.9% in 2007, the year the recession began.

  • “So what of the claim that the 53 percent are subsidizing the 99 percent? Well, just because 47 percent of households do not pay federal income tax does not mean that they do not pay any federal taxes. Indeed, almost everyone pays some: There are federal taxes for Social Security and Medicare, on gas, alcohol, and cigarettes. Plus, there are also state and local taxes, and property taxes. You’d have to be freegan to escape paying any tax at all.”: 99 Percenters, Meet the 53 Percenters [Annie Lowery on Slate]

Net Impact: One man’s cyber-crusade against Russian corruption. [Julia Ioffe on The New Yorker]

Tall and blond, Navalny, who is thirty-four years old, cuts a striking figure, and in the past three years he has established himself as a kind of Russian Julian Assange or Lincoln Steffens. On his blog, he has uncovered criminal self-dealing in major Russian oil companies, banks, and government ministries, an activity he calls “poking them with a sharp stick.” Three months ago, he launched another site, RosPil, dedicated to exposing state corruption, where he invites readers to scrutinize public documents for evidence of malfeasance and post their findings. Since the site went up, government contracts worth nearly seven million dollars have been annulled after being found suspect by Navalny and his army. Most remarkably, Navalny has undertaken all this in a country where a number of reporters and lawyers investigating such matters have been beaten or murdered.

Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? [John Tierney on The New York Times]

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

Creation Myth: Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation [Malcolm Gladwell via The New Yorker]

In the history of the mouse, Engelbart was the Soviet Union. He was the visionary, who saw the mouse before anyone else did. But visionaries are limited by their visions. “Engelbart’s self-defined mission was not to produce a product, or even a prototype; it was an open-ended search for knowledge,” Matthew Hiltzik writes, in “Dealers of Lightning” (1999), his wonderful history of Xerox PARC. “Consequently, no project in his lab ever seemed to come to an end.” Xerox PARC was the United States: it was a place where things got made. “Xerox created this perfect environment,” recalled Bob Metcalfe, who worked there through much of the nineteen-seventies, before leaving to found the networking company 3Com. “There wasn’t any hierarchy. We built out our own tools. When we needed to publish papers, we built a printer. When we needed to edit the papers, we built a computer. When we needed to connect computers, we figured out how to connect them. We had big budgets. Unlike many of our brethren, we didn’t have to teach. We could just research. It was heaven.” But heaven is not a good place to commercialize a product. “We built a computer and it was a beautiful thing,” Metcalfe went on. “We developed our computer language, our own display, our own language. It was a gold-plated product. But it cost sixteen thousand dollars, and it needed to cost three thousand dollars.” For an actual product, you need threat and constraint—and the improvisation and creativity necessary to turn a gold-plated three-hundred-dollar mouse into something that works on Formica and costs fifteen dollars. Apple was Israel. Xerox couldn’t have been I.B.M. and Microsoft combined, in other words.

The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright [Noreen Malone on The New Yorker]

Desi and I tried to picture the country in 50 years, as a kind of parlor game. “Oh! Mushroom cloud! It’s going to be a disaster!” he said. “It’s so overwhelming there’s nothing in particular to be worried about.” We both laughed, because it’s true.

Bubble Boys [Christopher Beam on New York Magazine]

YouTube Instant hasn’t changed the world—it hasn’t even made money. But its story describes the template for Silicon Valley these days, which may be a bubble, but it hasn’t popped yet: If you have an idea for an app, do it now. Throw it up online. Find an audience. Worry about quality later. Best-case scenario, you create the next Facebook. Worst-case, you try again. Even then, chances are you’ll get a job offer you can brag about rejecting. Right this minute, Silicon Valley is America’s opposite: House prices are soaring and demand for young talent far outstrips supply. The ongoing cyberspace race between Facebook, Apple, and Google, among others, means computer engineers enjoy more freedom—and power—than ever before. The barriers to entry for web programming are almost nonexistent. Angel investors are blessing start-ups left and right, and launching a software company is cheaper than ever. Do I take the offer from Google, or take the venture capital to start my own thing? Only in this one little quadrant do people have the luxury to ask such questions. For ­Feross, the son of a schoolteacher and a Syrian-born electrical engineer, the forecast is bright, though indistinct. He may become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs; he may not. But while most of the country is in economic darkness, the American Dream is beaming bright in Palo Alto.

The Journalist and the Spies [Dexter Filkins on The New Yorker]

Shahzad, whose parents migrated from India after Partition, making him a muhajir—Urdu for “immigrant”—was an affable outsider within Pakistan’s journalistic circles. Asia Times Online is not connected to any of the country’s established newspapers; its editorial operations are based in Thailand. Shahzad had no local editor to guide him or restrain him. Only a few other journalists had written as aggressively about Islamist extremism in the military, and not all of them had survived. A hallmark of Shahzad’s reporting was that it frequently featured interviews with Islamist militants, including Al Qaeda fighters. His work was sometimes inaccurate, but it held up often enough so that other journalists followed his leads. Perhaps because he had cultivated so many militants as sources, he occasionally seemed to glorify the men who were carrying out suicide bombings and assassinations. In 2009, he published a breathless account of a meeting with Ilyas Kashmiri, a top Al Qaeda leader. Shahzad noted that the terrorist “cut a striking figure,” was “strongly built,” and had a powerful handshake, adding, “Ilyas, with his unmatched guerrilla expertise, turns the strategic vision into reality, provides the resources and gets targets achieved, but he chooses to remain in the background and very low key.” At other times, like many Pakistani journalists, he seemed to spare the intelligence services from the most damning details in his notebooks. But on several important occasions—as in the case of the Mehran attack—he wrote what appeared to be undiluted truth about the Pakistani state’s deepest dilemmas.

Personal Best [Atul Gawande via The New Yorker]

So outside ears, and eyes, are important for concert-calibre musicians and Olympic-level athletes. What about regular professionals, who just want to do what they do as well as they can? I talked to Jim Knight about this. He is the director of the Kansas Coaching Project, at the University of Kansas. He teaches coaching—for schoolteachers. For decades, research has confirmed that the big factor in determining how much students learn is not class size or the extent of standardized testing but the quality of their teachers. Policymakers have pushed mostly carrot-and-stick remedies: firing underperforming teachers, giving merit pay to high performers, penalizing schools with poor student test scores. People like Jim Knight think we should push coaching. California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.

Polling the Occupy Wall Street Crowd [Douglas Schoen on The Wall Street Journal]

Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost. By a large margin (77%-22%), they support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but 58% oppose raising taxes for everybody, with only 36% in favor. And by a close margin, protesters are divided on whether the bank bailouts were necessary (49%) or unnecessary (51%).

The Demographics Of Occupy Wall Street [Sean Captain on Fast Company]

How David Beats Goliath [Malcolm Gladwell via The New Yorker]

Arreguín-Toft found the same puzzling pattern. When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. But most of the time underdogs didn’t fight like David. Of the two hundred and two lopsided conflicts in Arreguín-Toft’s database, the underdog chose to go toe to toe with Goliath the conventional way a hundred and fifty-two times—and lost a hundred and nineteen times. In 1809, the Peruvians fought the Spanish straight up and lost; in 1816, the Georgians fought the Russians straight up and lost; in 1817, the Pindaris fought the British straight up and lost; in the Kandyan rebellion of 1817, the Sri Lankans fought the British straight up and lost; in 1823, the Burmese chose to fight the British straight up and lost. The list of failures was endless. In the nineteen-forties, the Communist insurgency in Vietnam bedevilled the French until, in 1951, the Viet Minh strategist Vo Nguyen Giap switched to conventional warfare—and promptly suffered a series of defeats. George Washington did the same in the American Revolution, abandoning the guerrilla tactics that had served the colonists so well in the conflict’s early stages. “As quickly as he could,” William Polk writes in “Violent Politics,” a history of unconventional warfare, Washington “devoted his energies to creating a British-type army, the Continental Line. As a result, he was defeated time after time and almost lost the war.” It makes no sense, unless you think back to that Kentucky-L.S.U. game and to Lawrence’s long march across the desert to Aqaba. It is easier to dress soldiers in bright uniforms and have them march to the sound of a fife-and-drum corps than it is to have them ride six hundred miles through the desert on the back of a camel. It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing. We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It’s the other way around. Effort can trump ability—legs, in Saxe’s formulation, can overpower arms—because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coördination.

It isn’t surprising that the tournament directors found Eurisko’s strategies beyond the pale. It’s wrongto sink your own ships, they believed. And they were right. But let’s remember who made that rule: Goliath. And let’s remember why Goliath made that rule: when the world has to play on Goliath’s terms, Goliath wins.

Does impatience make us fat? [Sarah Kliff on Wonkblog via The Washington Post]

As the American obesity rate keeps ticking upward, it masks other key trends. One is that, for a decent part of our population, weight actually isn’t going up. The slimmest segments remain just as thin as they were 40 years ago. Instead, a lot of the weight gain has been concentrated in a smaller group of Americans. That’s created more variation in weight, a bigger gap between the lightest and heaviest Americans.

Is This the End of Popping Vitamins? [Shirley S. Wang on The Wall Street Journal]

The case for dietary supplements is collapsing. A succession of large-scale human studies, including two published earlier this month in leading medical journals, suggests that multivitamins and many other dietary supplements often don’t have health benefits—and in some cases may even cause harm.

Iraq war will cost more than World War II [David R. Francis via Christian Science Monitor]

Anyone curious about the cost of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can look it up on costofwar.com, up to the latest fraction of a second. Last weekend, the Iraq war had cost more than $800 billion since 2001; the Afghan war, $467 billion plus. For the 8-1/2-year conflict in Iraq alone, that works out to nearly $3,000 a second…When President George W. Bush launched the war, charging incorrectly that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the Pentagon estimated its cost at $50 billion to $60 billion. Economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey got in hot water at the White House when he guessed in public the war could cost as much as $200 billion…Another interesting note: It is estimated Al Qaeda spent roughly half a million dollars to destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon.

These Inmates Have License To Tool Around With Vintage Cars [Joel Millman on The Wall Street Journal]

In the U.S., prison industries—correctional facilities with for-profit ventures that sell goods and services to the public—will have sales of over $2.2 billion this year, according to the National Correctional Industries Association, a Baltimore-based trade group. Silver State’s auto-restoration shop here in Indian Springs brought in $130,000 of the facility’s $6 million in fiscal 2010 revenue.Besides auto-restoration, Silver State Industries also has a shop that packages old playing cards into souvenirs for Nevada casinos, and others that print books and make clothing.

CBO Report Shows Rich Got Richer, As Did Most Americans [Editors on Bloomberg]

The skyrocketing earnings of the very wealthiest get the headlines, but the vast middle of U.S. workers didn’t do too badly either over the study period: the 21st through 80th percentiles saw their inflation-adjusted incomes rise about 40 percent, and even the very poorest 20 percent had an 18 percent increase in real dollars. Mean household income, not including government transfers, rose by 62 percent; median income by 35 percent. (Many other studies have shown a slowing of middle- class earnings growth over the last decade; the CBO report doesn’t cover the years since the economic crisis of 2008.)

So what caused the top earners to get a larger slice of the pie? Here’s what the budget office says: “Numerous researchers have concluded that, on balance, the technological changes of the past several decades — and perhaps the entire past century — increased employers’ demand for workers with higher skills and more education. That increase, along with a smaller increase in the supply of workers with higher skills and more education, generated substantial gains in the relative wages of more- educated workers.” This phenomenon, the report noted, has been global.

Looking at the report in conjunction with 2010 Census data reveals some telling distinctions between Americans at the top and bottom. The average household in the top 20 percent has 2.03 wage earners, as opposed to just 0.43 earners in the bottom 20 percent. The marriage rate in the top group is 78 percent, but just 17 percent among the lowest earners. Unsurprisingly, educational achievement is vital: 60 percent of earners in the top group have at least an undergraduate degree; just 12 percent in the lowest-income households graduated from college, and 27 percent are high-school dropouts.

The data do much to contradict claims that America has become a permanently stratified society. A Treasury Department report on income mobility found that half the taxpayers in the bottom 20 percent in 1996 moved to a higher bracket by 2005. As one moves through life, one moves through earnings groups: 74 percent of people in the top 20 percent of households are in their peak earnings years, between ages 35 and 64; fewer than half the people in households in the bottom 40 percent are.

In sum, the vast increase in the wage gap may not be fair or good, but it isn’t arbitrary. And it’s certainly not a conspiracy of the so-called 1 percent. The pattern is clear: The best way to get ahead financially is to be part of a married couple in which both partners have a college degree and a career.

Dear Bill Simmons, The Helmet Catch Was Not Luck [Big Daddy Drew on Deadspin]

Luck is a factor in the success of any athlete. No man is ever truly a self-made man. Sheer chance is the reason any of us were born at all. It could have been some other loser sperm that rammed into your mom’s ovum. In order to make the Helmet Catch, Tyree had to be born physically gifted enough to play football, to be noticed by scouts who encouraged the Giants to sign him, and be a member of a team that managed to get to the Super Bowl without a particularly large contribution from him. And I suppose it’s good fortune for Tyree that Eli Manning elected to throw HIM the ball at that particular moment. All of that is luck, but to use it to discount what Tyree did once the ball was thrown to him is idiotic. That catch was, in fact, the LEAST lucky part of that particular moment.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

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