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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