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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