Archive for February, 2012

24
Feb
12

Roundup – Mormon Disco Ball

Line O’ the Day:

“The retarded thing about all of this is that the UFC hired her knowing full well that she had been a Playboy model, and their current poster ring girl, Arianny Celeste, did a Playboy spread with the full blessing of the brass (try not to make a joke trynottomakeajoke…). So if they did fire her (we’ll likely find out in the next couple days), we now know that all that separates UFC poster girl from shameful, unemployable whore is a few centimeters of exposed labia and butthole. And let’s not forget that her job was to hold up numbers while looking good in a bikini and not freak out when the camera man blatantly zoomed in on her ass. I guess the message is, if you’re going to pose nude, you have to pretend to look surprised about it.”

– Vince Mancini, UFC ring girl Chandella Powell’s past as a softcore porn star revealed [FilmDrunk]

Best of the Best:

Santorum Becomes Millionaire in Six Years After U.S. Senate Loss [Heidi Przybyla and Julie Bykowicz on Bloomberg]

Since his 2006 re-election defeat, the former Pennsylvania lawmaker has gone from being one of the poorer members of the U.S. Senate to earning $1.3 million between January 2010 and August 2011. In 2007, he spent $2 million to buy a 5,000-square foot home in Great Falls, Virginia, according to property records. Santorum’s financial rise was powered by consulting contracts with fuel producer Consol Energy Inc. (CNX), faith advocacy group Clapham Group and American Continental Group, a Washington consultancy, as well as media engagements. “If he’s claiming he’s not an insider, this is the thing that insiders do — after public office they cash in,” said Kent Cooper, a campaign finance expert and former Federal Elections Commission assistant staff director.

The Airline That Loses Bags, Cancels Flights [Scott McCartney on The Wall Street Journal]

Southwest Airlines, the only major airline that doesn’t charge fees to check two pieces of luggage, had the second-worst rate of mishandled bags, better than only American. Bags fly free, but they don’t always get there.

Ali And His Entourage [Gary Smith on Sports Illustrated, April 25, 1988]

“But on my tombstone,” he says, “it will say ‘Muhammad Ali’s doctor.’ It’s like being gynecologist to the queen.” In our time, will we see another comet that burns so long and streaks so fast, and whose tail has room for so many riders? “The entourage” some called the unusual collection of passengers who took the ride; the traveling circus, the hangers-on, others called it. “These people are like a little town for Ali,” his manager, Herbert Muhammad, once said. “He is the sheriff, the judge, the mayor and the treasurer.” Most were street people, thrown together on a lonely mountaintop in Pennsylvania where Ali built his training camp, until they burst upon the big cities for his fights. They bickered with each other over who would do what task for Ali, fist-fought with each other at his instigation—two of them once even drew guns. And they hugged and danced with each other, sat for hours talking around the long wooden dinner table, played cards and made midnight raids on the refrigerator together. “That’s right,” said Herbert Muhammad. “A family.”

How Doctors Could Rescue Health Care [Arnold Relman on The New York Review of Books]

In the absence of effective general solutions for these causes of rising costs, there is little chance that the Act will “bend the curve” of medical inflation as Democrats hope. The law does, however, propose to cover the cost of adding millions of beneficiaries to Medicaid and to private plans over ten years. It does this by cutting payments to the private “Medicare Advantage” plans now chosen by some 12 million Medicare beneficiaries, and by eliminating tax exemptions for expensive insurance coverage offered by employers to favored employees. Apart from two ill-conceived and probably unworkable exceptions, the Act offers no other broad initiatives directly aimed at reducing costs.

Alexander: How Great? [Mary Beard on The New York Review of Books]

Dante found a place for “Alexander” (we assume he meant “the Great”) in the Seventh Circle of Hell, screaming in pain, up to his eyebrows in a river of boiling blood, spending eternity alongside such monsters as Attila the Hun and Dionysius the tyrant of Sicily. Many modern writers have followed him. A.B. Bosworth, for example, another doyen among historians of Alexander (who has contributed an appendix—on Alexander’s death, foul play or not?—to the Landmark Arrian), once summarized Alexander’s career bleakly: “He spent much of his time killing and directing killing, and, arguably, killing was what he did best.” And I myself, more flippantly, once described him as a “drunken juvenile thug” whom it was difficult to imagine chosen by any modern country as its national symbol.

The Tweaker: The Real Genius of Steve Jobs [Malcolm Gladwell on The New Yorker]

The point of Meisenzahl and Mokyr’s argument is that this sort of tweaking is essential to progress. James Watt invented the modern steam engine, doubling the efficiency of the engines that had come before. But when the tweakers took over the efficiency of the steam engine swiftly quadrupled. Samuel Crompton was responsible for what Meisenzahl and Mokyr call “arguably the most productive invention” of the industrial revolution. But the key moment, in the history of the mule, came a few years later, when there was a strike of cotton workers. The mill owners were looking for a way to replace the workers with unskilled labor, and needed an automatic mule, which did not need to be controlled by the spinner. Who solved the problem? Not Crompton, an unambitious man who regretted only that public interest would not leave him to his seclusion, so that he might “earn undisturbed the fruits of his ingenuity and perseverance.” It was the tweaker’s tweaker, Richard Roberts, who saved the day, producing a prototype, in 1825, and then an even better solution in 1830. Before long, the number of spindles on a typical mule jumped from four hundred to a thousand. The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution. That is not a lesser task.

Mugs in the news: A collection of Chicago-area arrest photos [Chicago Tribune]

Arrest and booking photos are provided by law enforcement officials. Arrest does not imply guilt, and criminal charges are merely accusations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty and convicted.

Velvet Underground Sues Warhol Over Banana Design [Don Jeffrey on Bloomberg]

The Andy Warhol Foundation was accused in a lawsuit by The Velvet Underground of infringing the trademark for the banana design on the cover of the rock group’s first album in 1967. The band’s founders, Lou Reed and John Cale, said that the foundation infringed the design by licensing it to third parties, according to the complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. The band, which was active from about 1965 to 1972, formed an artistic collaboration with Warhol, who designed the banana illustration for “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” which critics have labeled one of the most influential rock recordings of all time, according to the complaint.

A California City Is Into Tweeting—Chirping, Actually—in a Big Way [John Letzing on The Wall Street Journal]

Mind control isn’t just for the birds. The London Underground plays classical music in some stations to create a more crime-free environment, says a spokeswoman for transport for London. U.K.-based Compound Security Systems Ltd. sells a device to repel loitering teens with a frequency adults can’t hear. It also appears not to bother dogs. Greg Budney, audio curator at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library, a renowned collection of recorded bird song, says he has had requests to use the collection for medical purposes but hasn’t heard of bird song being used to fight crime.

Fed’s image tarnished by newly released documents [Zachary A. Goldfarb on The Washington Post]

[T]he Fed released transcripts of its meetings in 2006, offering a new window into what was on the minds of some of the nation’s top economic and financial thinkers just ahead of the financial crisis and subsequent great recession. The transcripts, which are customarily released after five years, show that Fed leaders, armed with the best economic data available, had little idea of what was looming less than two years off.

Change is Constant: 100 Years of New York Real Estate [Jonathan J. Miller on Matrix on Miller Samuel, Inc.]

Diane Cardwell of the New York Times in her “The Appraisal” (an incredible column name BTW) penned a great piece: In an Earlier Time of Boom and Bust, Rentals Also Gained Favor that originated from my article and zeroed in on the 1920s and 1930s to draw a comparison to the current market. I have the feeling my project is going to morph into something bigger – it’s just too interesting (to me). A few things I learned about the Manhattan market over this period:

  • Douglas Elliman published the first market study in 1927 [heh, heh] not counting other marketing materials written before WWI)
  • Real estate media coverage in the first half of the century was social scene fodder (same as today) but with extensive and excessive personal details presented on tenants, buyers and sellers yet housing prices and rents were rarely presented in public.
  • Manhattan made a rapid transition from single family to luxury apartment rentals and eventually co-ops.
  • Housing prices and rents by mid century weren’t that much different than the beginning of the century.
  • Manhattan’s population peaked at 2.3M around WWI.
  • Wall Street in the 1920’s was seen as the driver of the real estate market.
  • Federal and state credit fixes in the late 1930’s help bail out the housing market.

Why Narcissistic CEOs Kill Their Companies [Eric Jackson via Forbes]

Here’s a summary of what Don found in both studies with his co-author Arijit Chatterjee:

–  In the first study, the authors studied 111 CEOs in the computer and software industries between 1992 and 2004….

– They created a 4 measure index of CEO narcissism which were:

  • The prominence (size) of the CEO’s photo in the annual report
  • CEO prominence (number of mentions) in company press releases
  • CEO’s use of first person singular pronouns in transcripts of public comments to shareholders
  • The gap between the CEO pay (salary, bonus, deferred income, stock grants, and stock options) and the pay of the 2nd highest paid executive

– The study showed that more narcissistic CEOs spent more on advertising as a percentage of their sales, spent more on R&D as a percentage of their sales, ran up costs more (measured as SG&A as percentage of sales), and took on more debt

–  More narcissistic CEOs also tended to do more acquisitions and pay much higher premiums for the companies they bought

– More narcissistic CEOs led companies that had more extreme performance results — sometimes they’d do well and other times they’d do terribly

– They also found more narcissistic CEOs were linked to big performance fluctuations for the companies — for a few years they would do really well but this would usually be followed by several years where they did very poorly

As Treasury Continues to Exit Programs, Opportunities to Enhance Communication on Costs Exist [U.S. Government Accountability Office]

Although Treasury regularly reports on the cost of TARP programs and has enhanced such reporting over time, GAO’s analysis of Treasury press releases about specific programs indicate that information about estimated lifetime costs and income are included only when programs are expected to result in lifetime income. For example, Treasury issued a press release for its bank investment programs, including CPP, and noted that the programs would result in lifetime income, or profit. However, press releases for investments in AIG, a program that is anticipated to result in a lifetime cost to Treasury, did not include program-specific cost information. Although press releases for programs expected to result in a cost to Treasury provide useful transaction information, they exclude lifetime, program-specific cost estimates. Consistently providing greater transparency about cost information for specific TARP programs could help reduce potential misunderstanding of TARP’s results. While Treasury can measure and report direct costs, indirect costs associated with the moral hazard created by the government’s intervention in the private sector are more difficult to measure and assess.

U.S. Attempts to Stem Video Outcry [The Wall Street Journal]

Pentagon officials went to lengths Thursday to avert damage to the U.S. war effort from a video that shows a group of Marines urinating on militants’ corpses.

The True Story Of How A Ferrari Ended Up Buried In Someone’s Yard [Mike Spinelli on Jalopnik]

These photos, taken in February, 1978, show a Dino 246 GT being unearthed from the front yard of a home in Los Angeles. The photos have been making the rounds online for years. But what’s the real story? How’d the Dino wind up underground, and where is it now? In May, 1977, Sandra Ilene West, dressed in her best lace nightgown and seated upright at the wheel of her powder-blue 1964 Ferrari 330 America, was lowered into a concrete mausoleum — just as her last will and testament had instructed.

What the Top 1% of Earners Majored In [Robert Gebeloff and Shaila Dewan on Economix]

Of course, choice of major is not the only way to increase your chances of reaching the 1 percent, if that is your goal. There is also the sector you choose. A separate analysis of census data on occupations showed that one in eight lawyers, for example, are in the 1 percent — unless they work for a Wall Street firm, when their chances increase to one in three. Among chief executives, fewer than one in five rank among the 1 percent, but their chances increase if the company produces medical supplies (one in four) or drugs (two in five). Hollywood writers? One in nine are 1 percenters. Television or radio writers? One in 14. Newspaper writers and editors? One in 62.

How Much of US Consumables Are Made in China? [Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco via Barry Ritholz on The Big Picture]

Goods and services from China accounted for only 2.7% of U.S. personal consumption expenditures in 2010, of which less than half reflected the actual costs of Chinese imports. The rest went to U.S. businesses and workers transporting, selling, and marketing goods carrying the “Made in China” label. Although the fraction is higher when the imported content of goods made in the United States is considered, Chinese imports still make up only a small share of total U.S. consumer spending.

Sex Safe for Heart Patients Not Having an Extramarital Affair [Nicole Ostrow on Bloomberg]

Most people being treated for heart disease can safely have sex, according to research that also suggests the risk of sudden cardiac death may rise for men when the amorous activity occurs in an extramarital affair…Levine’s research group reviewed more than 100 studies to determine the risks. In autopsy reports of 5,559 cases of sudden death, 0.6 percent occurred during sexual intercourse, they found. Of those who died, 82 percent to 93 percent were men and 75 percent were having extramarital sex, in most cases with a younger partner and after excessive food and alcohol consumption, the report said. The study on the autopsy reports involved “only a very modest number of patients,” and thus “there is no way to know how much, if any, an extramarital affair relationship truly increases risk or the mechanism,” said Levine, who directs the Cardiac Care Unit at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

Iraq: Under Worse Management [Elliot Woods on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Iraqis are overwhelmingly happy that the American troops are gone, and while many blame the U.S. for leaving such a mess behind, they realize their own leaders must now come through. Scant few expressed confidence they would. While many I spoke to wished they could be positive, they were far more anxious than optimistic.

The secrets Apple keeps [Adam Lashinsky on CNNMoney]

For new recruits, keeping secrets begins even before they learn which building they’ll be working in. Many employees are hired into so‑called dummy positions, roles that aren’t explained in detail until after they join the company. “They wouldn’t tell me what it was,” remembered a former engineer who had been a graduate student before joining Apple. “I knew it was related to the iPod, but not what the job was.” Others do know but won’t say, a realization that hits the newbies on their first day of work at new-employee orientation. “You sit down, and you start with the usual roundtable of who is doing what,” recalled Bob Borchers, a product marketing executive in the early days of the iPhone. “And half the folks can’t tell you what they’re doing, because it’s a secret project that they’ve gotten hired for.”

Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us [Jonah Lehrer via Wired]

This doesn’t mean that nothing can be known or that every causal story is equally problematic. Some explanations clearly work better than others, which is why, thanks largely to improvements in public health, the average lifespan in the developed world continues to increase. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, things like clean water and improved sanitation—and not necessarily advances in medical technology—accounted for at least 25 of the more than 30 years added to the lifespan of Americans during the 20th century.) Although our reliance on statistical correlations has strict constraints—which limit modern research—those correlations have still managed to identify many essential risk factors, such as smoking and bad diets. And yet, we must never forget that our causal beliefs are defined by their limitations. For too long, we’ve pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge. If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works. But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we’ll still be telling stories about why it happened. It’s mystery all the way down.

Making It in America [Adam Davidson on The Atlantic]

We do still make things here, even though many people don’t believe me when I tell them that. Depending on which stats you believe, the United States is either the No. 1 or No. 2 manufacturer in the world (China may have surpassed us in the past year or two). Whatever the country’s current rank, its manufacturing output continues to grow strongly; in the past decade alone, output from American factories, adjusted for inflation, has risen by a third. Yet the success of American manufacturers has come at a cost. Factories have replaced millions of workers with machines. Even if you know the rough outline of this story, looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data is still shocking. A historical chart of U.S. manufacturing employment shows steady growth from the end of the Depression until the early 1980s, when the number of jobs drops a little. Then things stay largely flat until about 1999. After that, the numbers simply collapse. In the 10 years ending in 2009, factories shed workers so fast that they erased almost all the gains of the previous 70 years; roughly one out of every three manufacturing jobs—about 6 million in total—disappeared.

The Making Of “Homer At The Bat,” The Episode That Conquered Prime Time 20 Years Ago Tonight [Erik Malinowski via Deadspin]

“Homer at the Bat” was proof you could see baseball in all its silliness and still love the game. Even the stars who were both target and participant in the spoof remember the episode fondly. Ozzie Smith is generally regarded as the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball history. He has played in three World Series, and he’s earned election to the Hall of Fame—and yet he still gets questions from fans about The Simpsons whenever he does a card show or some other event. He can’t escape it, but with no hesitation, he reckons his tumble into the Springfield Mystery Spot to be one of the highlights of his career.

Spring of ’62: Revisiting the Dawn of the Mets [Robert Lipsyte on The New York Times]

Once, acting on a tip that guests at the Colonial Inn, where we were all staying, had complained about African-American ballplayers in the hotel pool, I asked Stengel if that was the reason he barred the Mets from swimming. “Thass right, pool’s off limits,” he growled, pushing his pleated, leathery mug into my face. He also said in a salty way that they could not have sex “all season.” He added, “Now print that.”

The Correlation of Laughter at FOMC Meetings [Kyle Akin on The Daily Stag Hunt]

The number of recorded laughs actually increased in frequency from 2000 to 2006.  In 2001, the FOMC erupted into laughter 16.5 times per meeting on average. In 2003, it was over 19. In 2005, 27.  And then in 2006, the FOMC burst into laughter nearly 44 times per meeting!  And just in case you woke up from a 5-year coma this morning, the Case-Shiller 20-city Home Price Index also peaked in 2006.

It’s a girl: The three deadliest words in the world [Ram Mashru on The Independent]

The UN reports approximately 200 million girls in the world today are ‘missing’. India and China are said to eliminate more female infants than the number of girls born in the US each year. Lianyungang in China has the worst infant gender ratio on record with 163 boys born for every 100 girls. Taiwan, South Korea and Pakistan are also countries in which unwanted female babies are aborted, killed or abandoned. Gendercide in South Asia takes many forms: baby girls are killed or abandoned if not aborted as foetuses. Girls that are not killed often suffer malnutrition and medical neglect as sons are favoured when shelter, medicine and food are scarce…The brutal irony of femicide is that it is an evil perpetrated against girls by women. The most insidious force is often the mother in law, the domestic matriarch, under whose authority the daughter in law lives. Policy efforts to halt infanticide have been directed at mothers, who are often victims themselves. The trailer shows tragic scenes of women having to decide between killing their daughters and their own well-being. In India women who fail to produce sons are beaten, raped or killed so that men can remarry in the hope of procuring a more productive wife.

Americans Anti-Big Business, Big Gov’t [Frank Newport on Gallup Politics]

Republicans in particular are displeased with the size and power of the federal government, with 16% satisfied and 84% dissatisfied. Democrats are more positive about the federal government, but hardly overwhelmingly so, with 49% satisfied and 47% dissatisfied. The politically crucial group of independents is slightly more negative than the national average. Democrats, as would be expected, are disproportionately displeased with the size and influence of major corporations, with 71% dissatisfied and 23% satisfied. Republicans break even in their views of major corporations, with 48% satisfied and the same percentage dissatisfied. Independents — as was the case in their views of the federal government — are slightly more negative than the national average.

The Man Who Bought North Dakota: How wildcatter Harold Hamm became the biggest winner in the biggest American oil find since Prudhoe Bay [Bryan Gruley on Bloomberg Businessweek]

By the late 1980s, Hamm had survived two oil busts, a big lawsuit with Occidental Petroleum (OXY), and the drilling of 17 straight dry holes that cost him more than $10 million. Chastened by the busts, other companies were shifting to natural gas. Hamm stubbornly dispatched his geologists to find fresh crude. They researched well logs, production records, and geologic studies in Wyoming and North Dakota. The question wasn’t whether these regions held oil, but whether it could be extracted at a reasonable profit. “We were looking for higher-risk, higher-potential plays that hadn’t had every rock turned over,” Hamm recalls.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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08
Feb
12

Roundup – Jedi Squirrels, David Lynch and Barbie’s Head

Line O’ the Day:

“Yeah, what happened to the Patriot Way of running the ball to win games? It must have gone from a myth to a fairy tale to a movie pitch where Mark Walhberg stops 9/11 with a street-wise Corey Dillon sidekick that he openly detests.”

– Christmas Ape, “The Blame Brady Crowd Is My New Favorite Fringe Movement” [KSK]

Best of the Best:

Mike Martz Gave Us Something To Believe In, Even If We Shouldn’t [Barry Petchesky on Deadspin]

It’s not complicated stuff, but the sheer number of route permutations means everyone needs to have their playbook down pat. Those Rams, not least of them the coldblooded Kurt Warner, were a rare assemblage of specialized cogs. Perhaps more so than most schemes, Martz’s baby needs a very specific environment to thrive. (If you’re wondering why he’s retiring now, read a wholly depressing account of Martz explaining that the Bears would never ask Caleb Hanie to do “that St. Louis kind of stuff.”) It allows for and requires a whole arsenal of offensive weapons, most of them available on any given play. The height advantage receiver. The speedster. The crafty white guy with good hands. The shifty pass-catching running back. The dangerous tight end. The transcendent quarterback. And, inevitably, a woeful defense, its weaknesses hidden behind turnover numbers inflated by opponents desperately trying to catch up. Green Bay, New Orleans. And New England, where Bill Belichick remains almost in awe of Don Coryell. In the end, Martz’s own offense only won one Super Bowl, as defensive adaptations were hastened by Warner’s injuries and the Patriots’ discovery of their own out-of-nowhere pocket demigod. Still, his Rams showed an entire generation of playcallers not that it should be done by relying solely on an air attack built around a preternatural QB, but that it could.

Disney’s ESPN’s Bill Simmons Has Committed 98 Potential SOPA Violations On Grantland So Far [Timothy Burke on Deadspin]

The vague language of SOPA (and its associate PIPA) opens up a huge latitude for the government to shut down sites that link (even occasionally) to content that infringes upon copyright. One of those sites is Grantland, which regularly links to unlicensed clips on YouTube. Bill Simmons alone accounted for 98 possible SOPA-worthy violations, which could put Grantland.com—and ESPN.com—at serious risk of being seized by the government.

How Ronald Reagan Became A Secret Subaru Test Driver [Benjamin Preston on Jalopnik]

But in 1980, a time when Japanese automakers were mopping Detroit’s detritus from the factory floor, it was, among Reagan’s crowd of campaign advisers, considered a political faux pas for the presidential hopeful to be seen in a Japanese car. That’s why you’ll never see pictures of a smiling Ronnie loading brush and fence posts into the BRAT’s little bed (pictures of him smiling and doing ranch activities in other settings are plentiful).  “At the time, members of Congress were putting Japanese cars on the steps of the Capitol and smashing them with sledgehammers,” says Allen, who had owned a Japanese car himself since 1971, but realized that for his boss, leaking such a fact to the press could be the presidential candidate’s undoing.

The Bob Famine: Athletes Aren’t Named ‘Bob’ Anymore And There’s Nothing We Can Do About It [Jon Bois on SB Nation]

But always, we miss them. Our lone remaining Bob, Bob Sanders, is a defensive player. “There goes Bob with the ball. A terrific score by Bob!” We will likely never hear it again. I invite you to scour through every “top high school prospects” list in the land, as I did. There are no Bobs. But it isn’t simply that we as athletes, as fans, as experts, as blowhards, will have to find our way without Bob. Indeed, we have now been doing so for decades. We never imagined we would stand on our own, and here we are, careering into a Bobless future without a jet pack or a second thought. I have to think that we will make it without Bobs, that we will be just fine in the end. But we will be poorer for it, and I suppose the only proper thing to do is to thank the Bobs for attending, hope they enjoyed themselves, and wish them well on whichever journey they find themselves in this uncertain age. Goodbye, Bob. You sure were something.

Authorities identify dead in Christmas shootings [Associated Press via Fox News]

A 56-year-old suburban Dallas man facing marital and financial problems killed his estranged wife, two teenage children and three other family members on Christmas Day while dressed as Santa Claus before turning the gun on himself, authorities said Tuesday.

Navigating Love and Autism [Amy Harmon on The New York Times]

Jack bent down and scooped up the kitten, holding her up to the mirror above the sink. Kirsten stroked her black fur in his arms, their hands touching briefly across the kitten’s back, and in the reflection. “Are you looking at yourself in the mirror?” Jack asked the kitten. “Are you smart enough to recognize yourself?” They stood for a moment together, awaiting the reaction.

Libya has one dictator, but Kosovo has many Gaddafis [Fatos Bytyci on Reuters]

During the socialist era of 1970s and 1980s, dozens of parents in Kosovo named their sons after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, someone they admired for his non-aligned stance and devotion to Islam. With NATO, a supporter of mainly Muslim Kosovo’s independence, now fighting Gaddafi’s regime and calling for him to leave office, these are awkward times for such children.

Shadow Boxing: Muhammad Ali Fought 50 Men. Only One Disappeared [Wright Thompson on ESPN Outside the Lines]

He says he arrived here 10 years ago: March 15, 1999. He repeats the date over and over. Later, he says he’s been here 20 years. I know for sure he was arrested here in 1973, so who knows. He tells me about his parents, back in Atlanta, who left one day to go to the store and never came back. He tells me about the pool hall regulars trying to hang together after it closed but ending up scattered, about Clyde Killens making sure they all had something to eat and about the last day he ever saw Sweet Jimmy. They were sitting in the pool hall. “He told me a long time ago,” Shelly says, “his brother was gonna come for him, you know. But I didn’t know when. Jimmy said he had a brother. I didn’t believe it until I saw him. His brother came and got him and took him home. I’m probably the only one who seen him get in the car. Everybody know he left town, but I was there when he got in the car and hauled ass. Shook my hand and every damn thing. Shook my hand. Said, ‘I’ll see you when I come back.’ I never saw him no more.” He points up at the perfect blue sky. “I’ll see him again.”

A man who looks too healthy to be here leans back in his chair, closes his eyes and sings along to the music: From the bottom of my heart, it’s true … I wish I could take a journey. Shelly sits quietly with the addicts and the sick, all huddled together, unwanted. I don’t know if he really saw Jimmy leave, or if his mind’s playing tricks, or if he knows his story makes him matter, if only for a moment, to a person who’ll buy him a soda and listen to him talk. I believe that, to him, right now, looking for shade in Overtown, it’s as true as the day he was born. Shelly takes a sip of his Pepsi and thinks about all the people who’ve come and gone. “They disappear like the wind,” he says.

Delayed Gratification [James Surowiecki on The New Yorker]

As Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show in a fascinating essay on the savings habits of low-income consumers, layaway is a popular way of making big purchases (like washing machines), because, if you don’t have a lot of money, the presence of a sizable sum in the house or even in the bank means that you’ll be constantly tempted to dip into it. The economists Barton Lipman and Wolfgang Pesendorfer argue convincingly that people have a profound distaste for temptation, and are willing to go to great lengths to avoid it. That’s precisely what layaway does.

The Definitive Post On Why SOPA And Protect IP Are Bad, Bad Ideas [Mike Masnick on TechDirt]

That main issue, we’re told over and over again, is “piracy” and specifically “rogue” websites. And, let’s be clear: infringement is a problem. But the question is what kind of problem is it? Much of the evidence suggests that it’s not an enforcement problem and it’s not a legal problem. Decades of evidence from around the globe all show the same thing: making copyright law or enforcement stricter does not work. It does not decrease infringement at all — and, quite frequently, leads to more infringement. That’s because the reason that there’s infringement in the first place is that consumers are being under-served. Historically, infringement has never been about “free,” but about indicating where the business models have not kept up with the technology.  Thus, the real issue is that this is a business model problem. As we’ve seen over and over and over again, those who embrace what the internet enables, have found themselves to be much better off than they were before. They’re able to build up larger fanbases, and to rely on various new platforms and services to make more money.

Top 10 Discoveries of 2011 [The Archaeology Institute of America]

Of course, traditional fieldwork took place in 2011 as well. Archaeologists uncovered one of the world’s first buildings in Jordan. In Guatemala, a Maya tomb offered rare evidence of a female ruler, and, in Scotland, a boat was found with a 1,000-year-old Viking buried inside. We also witnessed the impact that technology continues to have on archaeology. Researchers used a ground-penetrating radar survey of the site of a Roman gladiator school to create a digital model of what it may once have looked like. And scientists studying an early hominid have taken their investigation online by tapping the scientific blogging community. The team is seeking help to determine if they have actually found a sample of fossilized skin that appears to be more than 2 million years old.

The King of All Vegas Real Estate Scams [Felix Gillette on Bloomberg Businessweek]

The condominium schadenfreude hit a new high on Aug. 30 when Wark, the former chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, appeared before a federal judge and pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The maximum sentence is 30 years in prison. He is awaiting sentencing. In court documents filed as part of the plea agreement, Wark admits to helping rig elections at the Vistana. Like most condominium complexes built in Las Vegas during the boom, the Vistana had a high percentage of owners who were investors living out of state. According to the court documents, Wark and his crew won the elections, in part, by targeting out-of-state owners unlikely to participate in board elections. They would fill out a ballot on the owner’s behalf without the individual’s knowledge, transport the documents to the owner’s home state, then mail the ballot back to Nevada. The ballots would arrive bearing the correct postmarks, lending the votes credibility. The fake absentee ballots were used to tilt the campaigns in favor of the straw buyers. When homeowners became suspicious, the court documents reveal, the conspirators would bring in supposedly independent “special election masters” to preside over the vote counting. According to several plea agreements, the election overseers were paid off, too. Over the past three months, nine more guilty pleas have followed. So far, the ranks of the admitted conspirators have included Deborah Genato of Platinum Community Services, which worked as property manager for the Vistana; Daniel Solomon, a straw purchaser who served on the Vistana board; and Amesbury, Kim and Benzer’s former partner in the Courthouse Cafe. Neither Ben nor Lisa Kim have been charged with a crime. On the morning of Nov. 16, a few weeks after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors, Amesbury was found on the streets of a Las Vegas suburb severely beaten with multiple injuries, including two broken kneecaps. According to a story by Jeff German in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, police have so far found no evidence linking the beating to the FBI investigation.

Sons of Conover Made Iraq Sacrifices as Small Towns Hit Hardest [Margaret Newkirk and Catherine Dodge on Bloomberg]

Places like Hickory, with a population of 40,010, bore much of the burden of Iraq war casualties. Roughly half of those who died came from towns with fewer than 50,000 people, and of those, about a quarter were from places with less than 10,000, a Bloomberg analysis of U.S. Census figures suggests. The all-volunteer military gets many front-line troops from rural areas, where there’s a culture of patriotism, a tradition of service and often limited economic opportunities, said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in defense policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Are Smart People Getting Smarter? [Jonah Lehrer on Frontal Cortex on Wired]

The question, of course, is what this stimulation might consist of? It obviously has to be extremely widespread, since the IQ gains exist at the population level. One frequently cited factor is the increasing complexity of entertainment, which might enhance abstract problem solving skills. (As Flynn himself noted, “The very fact that children are better and better at IQ test problems logically entails that they have learned at least that kind of problem-solving skill better, and it must have been learned somewhere.”) This suggests that, because people are now forced to make sense of Lost or the Harry Potter series or World of Warcraft, they’re also better able to handle hard logic puzzles. (The effect is probably indirect, with the difficult forms of culture enhancing working memory and the allocation of attention.) As Steven Johnson argued, everything bad is good for us, especially when the bad stuff has lots of minor characters and subplots. HBO is a cognitive workout.

Japan and the Reality of Suffering [Pico Iyer on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Yet for all the sadness that will not go away, I can’t help feeling, after almost 20 years of living in Japan, that it’s the country’s strengths, more than its weaknesses, that have been and will be highlighted by the recent cataclysms. For a thousand years or more, after all, the island nation has weathered earthquakes and fires and wars and nuclear bombs; in some respects—a little like the Britain in which I grew up—it almost seems made for dealing with calamity. Resilience, stoicism, and community-mindedness have been binding and guiding the nation for centuries. Rather than the “pursuit of happiness,” Japan is built, at some deep, invisible level, around the Buddhist law of the reality of suffering; my Japanese family and neighbors are not inclined to complain about circumstances so much as to deal, silently and efficiently, with the hands they’re dealt. Some years ago, an Osaka painter in his 90s told me, “We used to believe that people should pay for suffering. It is such an instruction and help in growing up.” One of the most celebrated geishas in Kyoto has written, “I believe that self-discipline is the key to beauty.”

The Job-Interview Vortex [Liz Ryan, former Fortune 500 HR Executive via Bloomberg Businessweek]

Here are six questions to ask yourself when you don’t trust your judgment on the question: Is it the role itself or the vortex that’s influencing me?

  • Is this job significantly better for me than the one I’m in now—better than other jobs I’d be likely to get if I weren’t working now? If it’s more of the same, with different wallpaper and carpeting, why am I bothering to change companies?
  • Do I trust the people I’m meeting in the interview process, both as ethical business people and as smart individuals I can learn from?
  • Are there red flags I can identify now and ask questions about, before I accept an offer—such things as weirdness in the role definition, major and unaddressed compensation issues, questions about people in the mix who were hostile, needy, or psychotic in the interview process, or concerns about the organization’s priorities or direction?
  • Is this job going to fortify my résumé, contacts, and confidence enough to warrant taking myself off the market?
  • Is the role clear, important to the organization, and intellectually stimulating?
  • If I take the job, will I grow professionally and emotionally (mojo-wise) in 2012—faster than I’m doing now?
  • Is the employer milking me too much—taking advantage of the “free consulting” it’s getting from me during the interview process—without giving any indication of my status as a candidate?

LA Mayor signs pointless porn condom law [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk]

This is just the kind of meaningless, feel-good legislation that gets passed when politicians don’t want to argue about something “icky.” “Who could argue against condoms in porn!?” It’s a lot like when California lowered the legal drinking limit from .10 to .08. Everyone was against drunk driving, and it made it feel like they were doing something, even though they never actually made a case against those .08 and .09 drivers that it would actually affect. The actual result? More drunk drivers. Is it your God-given right to make porn without a condom? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’d say you at least have to present a case against it before you should be able to ban it. (*hums Star-Spangled Banner while jerking off to Faye Reagan and firing hand gun in the air*)

Why Placebos Work Wonders [Shirley S. Wang on The Wall Street Journal]

Hotel-room attendants who were told they were getting a good workout at their jobs showed a significant decrease in weight, blood pressure and body fat after four weeks, in a study published in Psychological Science in 2007 and conducted by Alia Crum, a Yale graduate student, and Ellen Langer, a professor in the psychology department at Harvard. Employees who did the same work but weren’t told about exercise showed no change in weight. Neither group reported changes in physical activity or diet.

When Nurses Catch Compassion Fatigue, Patients Suffer [Laura Landro on The Wall Street Journal]

The Barnes-Jewish program is one of a growing number of efforts by hospitals and nursing groups to help combat the constant assault on nurse’s psyches. In addition to meditation and stress-reduction workshops, such programs include discussions about difficult patient situations, support groups, and staff retreats focused on the emotional aspects of care giving. Compassion fatigue is a combination of secondary traumatic stress from witnessing the suffering of others and burnout. It can lead nurses to feel sadness and despair that impair their health and well-being. Hospitals are tackling the problem amid a worsening shortage of nurses and concerns that patients may suffer. Compassion fatigue can reduce nurses’ empathy and lead them to dread or even avoid certain patients, raising the risk of substandard care.

U.S. twin births have doubled in three decades: study [David Beasley on Reuters]

More than 137,000 twins were born in the United States in 2009, accounting for one in every 30 babies. That compares to 68,339 twins born in 1980 when just one in 53 infants born was a twin, the CDC said. A third of the increase in the twin birth rate can be attributed to women waiting longer to have children, the CDC said. From 2000 to 2009, more than 35 percent of all births were to mothers ages 30 and over, up from 20 percent in 1980. The number of twins per 1,000 births rose in all 50 states and doubled in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Treatment for infertility such as in-vitro fertilization accounts for much of the remainder of the increase in twins, the CDC said.

The Art of Directing a Fight Scene [Don Steinberg Interviews Steven Soderbergh on The Wall Street Journal]

I mean, God, Fassbender, she really put him through the wringer. That was a pretty intense two days. Depending on the shot, he may have a pad here or there, but she’s really strong. During training she accidentally knocked out one of the stunt coordinators. She was constantly telling Channing [Tatum], “You’re not—you need to hit me harder. Stop pulling it.” It’s just really, really satisfying to see a woman beat up on guys like that.

Sex Toy Designer Screaming O Pushes Past Novelty Shops into Walgreens Aisles [Karen E. Klein on Bloomberg]

Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator in 1902, about a decade before it introduced the electric iron and vacuum cleaner.

New York was the source of an incarceration ‘epidemic’ [Ronald Fraser via The Buffalo News]

From 1970 to 2009, the number of federal prisoners increased from 21,094 to 208,118, while state prisons went from 177,737 to 1.4 million. When the 767,620 people in local jails are added in, America’s grand total for 2009 was nearly 2.4 million people behind bars— a world record. As for New York, from 1970 to 2009, state inmates increased fourfold, from 12,059 to more than 58,000. To show his toughness, New York’s Gov. Nelson Rockefeller sponsored the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws of 1973. These laws, says Drucker, launched America’s prison epidemic. “These laws,” he writes, “mandated an elaborate new set of lengthy sentences for many drug offenses. In some cases sentences for possession and sales of small quantities of drugs were equal to those given for many violent crimes — rape, assault and robbery.” The Rockefeller laws then became the model used by lawmakers in other states. In this way, the initial outbreak became contagious. In New York, exposure to the Rockefeller laws was 30 times higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites, and by 1990 these drug laws accounted for a third of the state’s entire prison population. This exposure pattern was repeated in other states. Drucker claims the epidemic is sustained by post-prison parole policies. Violations of administrative and technical parole rules, not new criminal charges, annually account for about one-third of all state prison admissions in America.

The Mega-Databases that Track Your Life [Keith Veronese on io9]

The United Kingdom holds DNA samples on over 5%of its population. When a citizen is arrested for almost any offense a DNA sample is retained for later use. The types of arrests allowing for DNA acquisition include low level offenses like illegal protesting, drunk and disorderly conduct, and begging. The United Kingdom touts the availability of DNA samples as a tool just as likely to free an individual as condemn them, using the Big Brother-esque phrase “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” when describing the policy.

Biochemist publishes a paper solving the mystery of life, but no one understands it [Annalee Newitz on io9]

Case Western Reserve University biochemist Erik Andrulis has just published a paper about a discovery that goes way beyond the RNA he usually researches. He claims he’s discovered the secret to life itself – and it all has to do with energy-spirit things he calls gyres. His 105-page paper is called “Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life,” and you can download the whole thing for free from the peer-reviewed journal Life. The problem is that even sympathetic readers found the paper incomprehensible and (worse for scientists) untestable.

Mafia now “Italy’s No.1 bank” as crisis bites: report [James Mackenzie on Reuters]

Organized crime has tightened its grip on the Italian economy during the economic crisis, making the Mafia the country’s biggest “bank” and squeezing the life out of thousands of small firms, according to a report on Tuesday. Extortionate lending by criminal groups had become a “national emergency,” said the report by anti-crime group SOS Impresa.

The boy wonder of the MF Global nightmare [Leah McGrath Goodman on CNN Money]

In early November, Koutoulas, along with fellow Chicago futures trader, John Roe – son of Tennessee Republican congressman Dr. Phil Roe – founded the Commodity Customer Coalition, a grassroots group that seeks to represent the complex legal interests of MF Global’s former clients. In the space of just a few weeks, the group has amassed more than 8,000 members, received tens of thousands of dollars of donations and singlehandedly proven that enough people, when banded together, can change the course of a multibillion-dollar bankruptcy.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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