Roundup – Totally

Line O’ The Day:

One day, most Americans will point at us in the news media and say: “Why didn’t you tell us? Why did you encourage all that bile and venom? Why did you feed us all that trivial crap, when so many terrible things were converging? And no one will be happy with the answer. Least of all, those of us who offer it. “What we gave you,” we will say, “is what you wanted.” At this critical juncture in your lives, then, let me urge you — no, let me implore you to want more. More substance, more real information about important issues, more fairness, more objectivity, more tolerance for views that differ from your own. You have a truly magical array of media at your disposal. Use them well.

Oh my God, that’s the most shitheaded example of media paternalism ever. “Don’t you see? The media wants to educate you and shed a light on the most pressing matters of our time. But we are too distracted trying to please the unwashed masses, who clamor only for celebrity gossip and other frivolity. If only you simpletons would somehow become more aware of the world on your own and force us to do our job better, then the media could finally give attention to the things that shape our world. But that will never happen, because you won’t let us.”

– Christmas Ape, “Brainfarts. Lots Of Those In A Peter King Column” [KSK]

Best of the Best:

New Grads’ Pay Gap Is Lasting Legacy of Recession [Kathleen Madigan on Real Time Economics on The Wall Street Journal]

The board found median wages for new graduates with a university degree declined in both 2009 and 2010. Even with a bounce in 2011, Levanon said the starting pay for new grads is below the pay in 2008–and that is before inflation is taken into account. Economic research has shown most workers don’t make up the income lost when they have to accept a lower-paying job during a recession. Consequently, the pay gap among the young–the result of cyclical forces–could become a structural impediment to the U.S. economy. The younger workforce will have less money to cover daily expenses, pay off student loans (which are more massive than for previous generations), save for a home downpayment or start a family. The gap also means less money paid into Social Security and Medicare to support retired baby boomers. The good news, Levanon said, is that 2011 had a turning point and pay trends are reversing. But given the deep hole, the economic damage will linger for years if not decades.

Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85% [jestevens on ACES Too High]

First. U.S. schools suspend millions of kids — 3,328,750, to be exact. Since the 1970s, says a National Education Policy Center report published in October 2011, the suspension rate’s nearly doubled for white kids, to 6%. It’s more than doubled for Hispanics to 7%, and to a stunning 15% for blacks. For Native Americans, it’s almost tripled, from 3% to 8%. Second. If you think all these suspensions are for weapons and drugs, recalibrate. There’s been a kind of “zero-tolerance creep” since schools adopted “zero-tolerance” policies. Only 5% of all out-of-school suspensions were for weapons or drugs, said the NEPC report, citing a 2006 study. The other 95% were categorized as “disruptive behavior” and “other”, which includes cell phone use, violation of dress code, being “defiant”, display of affection, and, in at least one case, farting. Third. These suspensions don’t work for schools. Get rid of the “bad” students, and the “good” students can learn, get high scores, live good lives. That’s the myth. The reality? It’s just the opposite. Says the NEPC report: “…research on the frequent use of school suspension has indicated that, after race and poverty are controlled for, higher rates of out-of-school suspension correlate with lower achievement scores.” Fourth. They don’t work for the kids who get kicked out. In fact, these “throw-away” kids get shunted off a possible track to college and onto the dead-end spur of juvenile hall and prison…Fifth. All these suspensions have led many communities to create “alternative” schools, where they dump the “bad” kids who can’t make it in regular public school. Lincoln High School was set up as one of those alternative schools.

Delta Dawn How Sears, Roebuck & Co. midwifed the birth of the blues [Chris Kjorness, music teacher at Longwood University, via Reason]

To survive, a bluesman had to be versatile, mobile, and cheap. And so did his instrument. The new breed of Delta musicians needed an instrument that was affordable, portable, and capable of producing a wide variety of musical timbres. The guitar could provide harmonic support, rhythmic propulsion, and enough sustain to draw out the long melismatic lines of African-American field hollers. A guitar played with a slide could reproduce the characteristic whine of the single-string didley-bow—a homemade instrument, cobbled together from boards, wire, and nails, that served as the first instrument for many Delta musicians. Creative use of tuning allowed bluesmen like Charlie Patton and Booker White to produce raucous rhythmic accompaniments.  The six strings and fixed frets of the guitar enabled the guitarist to play a much richer variety of harmonies than even the most skilled banjo player. The guitar had a wider range than other string instruments and was especially effective underneath the human voice. A true Delta master like Robert Johnson could juggle all of these elements simultaneously, while singing. One or two musicians could take the place of four or five without sacrificing sound or versatility, thereby lowering costs and expanding opportunities.  The first Sears, Roebuck catalog was published in 1888. It would go on to transform America. Farmers were no longer subject to the variable quality and arbitrary pricing of local general stores. The catalog brought things like washing machines and the latest fashions to the most far-flung outposts. Guitars first appeared in the catalog in 1894 for $4.50 (around $112 in today’s money). By 1908 Sears was offering a guitar, outfitted for steel strings, for $1.89 ($45 today), making it the cheapest harmony-generating instrument available.

Cuckoo: Our body clocks have social jet lag. And it’s making most of us a little crazy. [Kathryn Schulz on The New Yorker]

Ultimately, though, Roenneberg is more interested in what he calls “social jet lag”: the exhaustion produced by the gap between internal and social time. You can, should you choose, quantify your social jet lag. Simply calculate the difference between the midpoint of your average night’s sleep on a workday and a day off. Say on workdays you fall asleep at eleven and wake up at six: Your midpoint is 2:30 a.m. On weekends, you fall asleep at one and wake up at nine: Your midpoint is 4:30—and you’ve got two hours of social jet lag. You might as well fly from New York to Utah. Social jet lag, unlike real jet lag, is chronic. Its chief symptom is sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation is—surely I do not need to tell you this—ghastly. It leaves you with the equilibrium of a despot, the attention span of a toddler, and the working memory of a fire hydrant. It’s one of the few human conditions that can make the characteristics of the tomb—dark, quiet, horizontal—seem unbelievably desirable. Not for nothing are torturers so fond of it.

Sept. 11 Trial Set to Have More Chaos Than Justice [Noah Feldman a law professor at Harvard University, a via Bloomberg]

The fundamental problem for a military commission is that no one expects the soldiers of a state to acquit enemies of that state accused with breaking the laws of war. Once the outcome is no longer in doubt, there is every reason for the defendants to try to make a mockery of the proceedings. A tribunal is a Catch- 22 situation: It needs to allow a defense in order to make the trial look credible, but the defense will use the opportunity to impugn the credibility of the tribunal. There are exceptions. The most famous — and most successful — military commission was at the Nuremberg trials. At the time, however, critics in the U.S. and elsewhere fretted that the defendants were being charged with the crime of “aggressive war,” which was not contained in any international treaty but was alleged to be a crime under customary international law. Genocide was charged only insofar as it was part of the Nazis’ crime of aggressive war. In a private letter, the U.S. Chief Justice Harlan Stone referred to the Nuremberg trials as “a high-grade lynching party.” Today, however, we remember the Nuremberg tribunal as a major victory for international law. We tell ourselves, a bit anachronistically, that it punished the Nazis for genocide. Arguably, the ends — creating international justice –justified the means. We should have a similar goal for the Guantanamo tribunal. But, given Saturday’s circus, the odds of achieving it look very long indeed.

The Founder of Mother’s Day Later Fought to Have It Abolished [Jonathan Mulinix on mental_floss]

Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”…Jarvis’s ideal observance of Mother’s Day would be a visit home or writing a long letter to your mother. She couldn’t stand those who sold and used greeting cards: “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.” She also said, “Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card.”

Chinese Atheists Lured to Find Jesus at U.S. Christian Schools [Daniel Golden on Bloomberg]

While proselytizing is banned in China, Protestant — and, to a lesser extent, Catholic — high schools are doing their missionary work on this side of the Pacific Ocean. Through placement agents and religious networking, they’re recruiting growing numbers of students from China, most of them atheists, and encouraging them to convert, in the hope that some of them will spread the faith back home.

The Rise and Fall of MF Global Chief Jon Corzine [Michael Daly on The Daily Beast]

Corzine is either the worst of the good guys or the best of the bad guys. He does not seem to be a thief. The question is whether he allowed hundreds of millions in customer funds to be lost in a last-ditch effort to stave off MF Global’s collapse. One senior executive of the firm insists that nobody was more stunned by the money’s disappearance than Corzine himself.

The social cell [Daniel Dennett, a philosopher, cognitive scientist and professor at Tufts University, via The New Statesman]

Religions changed more in the past century than they changed in the previous two millennia, and probably will change more in the next decade or two than in the past century. The main environmental change, as many have suggested, is the sudden increase in informational transparency. Religions were beautifully designed over millennia to work in circumstances in which the people within them could be assumed to be largely ignorant of much that was outside the membrane. Now that mobile phones and the internet have altered the epistemic selective landscape in a revolutionary way, every religious organisation must scramble to evolve defences or become extinct. Much has been made of the growing attention to religion in the world, and this has often been interpreted as a revival, an era of expanding religiosity, but all the evidence points away from that interpretation. The fastest-growing religious category worldwide is no religion at all, and the increasing noise we hear is apparently due to the heightened expenditure of energy by all the threatened varieties in their desperate attempts to fend off extinction. What will the various religions evolve into? That is hard to say, because evolution is a pro­cess that amplifies unpredictable accidents into trends and then novel structures. But there are patterns in how this plays out, and if we examine the good tricks that religions have evolved over the millennia, we may be able to see what new applications are in the offing.

Derek Boogaard: A Brain ‘Going Bad’ [John Branch on The New York Times]

It did not take long for Dr. Ann McKee to see the telltale brown spots near the outer surface of Boogaard’s brain — the road signs of C.T.E. She did not know much about Boogaard other than that he was a 28-year-old hockey player. And the damage was obvious…A neuropathologist, McKee is one of four co-directors of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the director of the center’s brain bank. She has examined nearly 80 brains of former athletes, mainly retired football players and boxers who spent their careers absorbing blows to the head. The center’s peer-reviewed findings of C.T.E. have been widely accepted by experts in the field. The National Football League, initially dismissive, has since donated money to help underwrite the research. The group may now have its most sobering case: a young, high-profile athlete, dead in midcareer, with a surprisingly advanced degree of brain damage. “To see this amount? That’s a ‘wow’ moment,” McKee said as she pointed to magnified images of Boogaard’s brain tissue. “This is all going bad.” The degenerative disease was more advanced in Boogaard than it was in Bob Probert, a dominant enforcer of his generation, who played 16 N.H.L. seasons, struggled with alcohol and drug addictions and died of heart failure at age 45 in 2010. In the past two years, C.T.E. was also diagnosed in the brains of two other former N.H.L. players: Reggie Fleming, 73, and Rick Martin, 59. The condition of Boogaard’s brain, however, suggests the possibility that other current N.H.L. players have the disease, even if the symptoms have not surfaced. The N.H.L. is not convinced that there is a link between hockey and C.T.E.

Beauty in the Beast [Tim Keown, July 23, 1995, on The San Francisco Chronicle]

There is some necessary discomfort in how we deal with someone else’s religious fervor. There is no room for argument; that is the nature of faith. Foreman’s conversion — so drastic in so many ways — was looked upon with immense skepticism. Foreman had been surly and uncooperative to the press, so a sudden conversion, from a man who once wished to kill as a form of myth-building to a man who preached the gospel, was seen as not only improbable, but impossible. ‘I can’t believe it myself,’ Foreman says. ‘Religion to me was for weak people, and I was strong. I had a million dollars in my pocket, so if there was a God, I had it right there.’ You can’t just call it an epiphany, proclaim yourself redeemed and move on. Just as you can’t buy a pair of boxing gloves, hit the bag a few times and challenge Mike Tyson. Redemption is not something people take at face value.

The Great White Hope [Pete Hamill, June 23, 1969, on New York Magazine]

He watched some people walking slowly by, looking at him strangely. He didn’t seem to care what they thought of him. In a few weeks he was going to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, and if he won, this Okie’s son would probably become a millionaire. He started off past the gawkers, as if he could see all the way to Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street, into the ring of the Garden, where someone was holding his hand aloft and pronouncing him a champion. He seemed a tough and bitter young man, who wanted the cheers of strangers, but who had taught himself not to care whether he got them or not. Someone asked him whether he though of himself as a Great White Hope. ‘Screw White Hopes,’ he said. ‘I’m a fighter.’

Human Nature’s Pathologist: Steve Pinker [Carl Zimmer on The New York Times]

Dr. Pinker finds an explanation for the overall decline of violence in the interplay of history with our evolved minds. Our ancestors had a capacity for violence, but this was just one capacity among many. ‘Human nature is complex,’ he said. ‘Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control.’ Which inclinations come to the fore depends on our social surroundings. In early society, the lack of a state spurred violence. A thirst for justice could be satisfied only with revenge. Psychological studies show that people overestimate their own grievances and underestimate those of others; this cognitive quirk fueled spiraling cycles of bloodshed. But as the rise of civilization gradually changed the ground rules of society, violence began to ebb. The earliest states were brutal and despotic, but they did manage to take away opportunities for runaway vendettas.

What Really Happened to Strauss-Kahn? [Edward Jay Epstein on The New York Review of Books]

By the time the 911 call was finally made, the hotel’s management was presumably aware of the political explosion and scandal DSK’s arrest would cause. DSK could no longer be a challenger to Sarkozy. Such considerations, and the opportunities they presented, may have had no part whatever in the hotel’s handling of the situation, but without knowing the content of any messages between the hotel managers in New York and the security staffs in New York or Paris, among others, we cannot be sure. Meanwhile, several mysteries remain. Was there anyone in room 2820 besides Diallo during and after the encounter with DSK? If so, who were they and what were they doing there; and why, in any case, did Diallo deny that she’d gone to the room? Because she denied it, the police, according to the prosecutor’s recommendation for dismissal, did not search 2820 or declare it a crime scene. And where, if it still exists, is the BlackBerry that DSK lost and feared was hacked? All we know for sure is that someone, or possibly an accident, abruptly disabled it from signaling its location at 12:51 PM. DSK himself has not explained why he was so concerned about the possible interception of his messages on this BlackBerry and its disappearance. According to stories in Libération and other French journals on November 11, 2011, DSK sent text messages on a borrowed cell phone to at least one person named in the still-unfolding affair involving the Carlton Hotel in Lille, a scandal in which corporations allegedly provided high-class escort women to government officials. (DSK denies that he was connected to the prostitution ring.) If DSK sent these messages, may he also have received embarrassing messages back on his own BlackBerry that could have been damaging to his reputation and political ambitions? Or his concern could also have proceeded from other matters, such as the sensitive negotiations he was conducting for the IMF to stave off the euro crises. Whatever happened to his phone, and the content on it, his political prospects were effectively ended by the events of that day.

The Prosecution’s Case Against DNA [Andrew Martin on The New York Times]

Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia, examined most of the case files for the first 250 DNA exonerations. Garrett found that 76 percent of wrongly convicted prisoners were misidentified by a witness and half the cases involved flawed forensic evidence. The testimony of an informant, often a jailhouse cellmate of the accused, was pivotal in 21 percent of the cases. Perhaps most surprising, 16 percent — virtually all of whom were subjected to interrogations lasting several hours and, in many cases, days — confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. Garrett pointed out another, striking detail in the false confessions: in 38 of 40 false confessions, the authorities said defendants provided details that could be known only by the actual criminal or the investigators, thus corroborating their own admissions of guilt by revealing secret information about the crime that could only have been provided by them. The issues raised by DNA exonerations have led to an overhaul of the criminal-justice system. Some states now require that evidence be preserved; others require mandatory videotaping of interrogations. Several states, including Illinois, New Jersey and New York, abolished the death penalty largely because of concerns about executing an innocent person. North Carolina, meanwhile, has created an independent commission to review innocence claims. And some prosecutors’ offices, including those in New York and Dallas, have created conviction-integrity units. More often, though, the fate of an inmate with powerful new evidence of innocence still rests with local prosecutors, some of whom have spun creative theories to explain away the exculpatory findings. In Nassau County on Long Island, after DNA evidence showed that the sperm in a 16-year-old murder victim did not come from the man convicted of the crime, prosecutors argued that it must have come from a consensual lover, even though her mother and best friend insisted she was a virgin. (The unnamed-lover theory has been floated so often that defense lawyers have a derisive term for it: “the unindicted co-­ejaculator.”) In Florida, after DNA showed that the pubic hairs at the scene of a rape did not belong to the convicted rapist, prosecutors argued that the hairs found on the victim’s bed could have come from movers who brought furniture to the bedroom a week or so earlier.

Sean Parker: Agent Of Disruption [Steve Bertoni on Forbes]

Justin Timberlake’s Parker is a cruel, cocky opportunist who forces Eduardo Saverin out of the company and robs him of his shares. At Plaxo Parker had endured in real life what the fictional Saverin suffered in the film. “I don’t mind being depicted as a decadent partyer because I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with that,” says Parker, quickly adding that the partying was exaggerated, too. “But I do mind being depicted as an unethical, mercenary operator, because I do think there is something wrong with that.” The movie debuted last October to critical and commercial success. It cut Parker deep.

What’s Luck Got to Do With It? [Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen via The New York Times]

There’s an interesting asymmetry between good and bad luck. A single stroke of good luck, no matter how big, cannot by itself make a great company. But a single stroke of extremely bad luck, or an extended sequence of bad-luck events that creates a catastrophic outcome, can terminate the quest. The 10Xers exercise productive paranoia, combined with empirical creativity and fanatic discipline, to create huge margins of safety. If you stay in the game long enough, good luck tends to return, but if you get knocked out, you’ll never have the chance to be lucky again. Luck favors the persistent, but you can persist only if you survive. After finishing our luck analysis for “Great by Choice,” we realized that getting a high ROL required a new mental muscle. There are smart decisions and wise decisions. And one form of wisdom is the ability to judge when to let luck disrupt our plans. Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? But, just as important, do we have the fanatic, obsessive discipline to keep marching, to push the opportunity to the extreme, to make the most of the chances we’re given? Getting a high ROL requires throwing yourself at the luck event with ferocious intensity, disrupting your life and not letting up. Bill Gates didn’t just get a lucky break and cash in his chips. He kept pushing, driving, working — and sustained that effort for more than two decades. That’s not luck — that’s return on luck.

Raise the Crime Rate [Christopher Glazek on n+1]

After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

Driverless Car Could Defy the Rules of Sprawl [Robert Bruegmann, a professor emeritus of art history, architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, via Bloomberg]

But given the technical advances of recent years, trains and particularly buses are no longer necessarily more fuel- efficient per vehicle mile traveled than the automobile. For the vast majority of trips, they are much slower. At best, policies encouraging transit use at the expense of automobiles involve painful trade-offs. The driverless car might well substantially alter all the equations: the division between public and private, the collective and individual. Transportation policy has never been as clear as the polemics on the subject would suggest. The taxi, for example, has long shared characteristics of each. In recent years, the divide between public and private transport has been further eroded with the Zipcar (ZIP), Super Shuttle and other on- demand vehicles such as Personal Rapid Transit, a system of small automated vehicles running on guideways. A pioneering and successful example of PRT, constructed in the 1970s, can still be seen in operation in Morgantown, West Virginia.

The Fishing Industry’s Cruelest Catch [E. Benjamin Skinner on Bloomberg Businessweek]

It is unclear exactly how much seafood caught by indentured fishermen ends up on the plates of American consumers. Public shipping records—which do not report seafood imported on planes, and only detail some seafood imported to the U.S. by boat—are sparse, and seafood distributors rarely disclose their specific suppliers. Alastair Macfarlane, a representative of New Zealand’s Seafood Industry Council, declined to comment on which American companies might be buying fish from troubled vessels such as the Melilla 203. However, an analysis of several sources of data—including New Zealand fishery species quota and FCV catch totals made available by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry—suggests roughly 40 percent of squid exported from New Zealand is caught on one of the vessels using coerced labor. Perhaps 15 percent of all New Zealand hoki exports may be slave-caught, and 8 percent of the country’s southern blue whiting catch may be tainted.

12 Baseball Feats That Only Happened Once [Miss Cellania on Neatorama]

On June 11 and 15, 1938, Johnny Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters for the Cincinnati Reds. The second no-no was pitched at Ebbets Field and was the first night game ever played there. Babe Ruth was in attendance.

The Secret Agreement that Revolutionized China [Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution]

The Great Leap Forward was a great leap backward – agricultural land was less productive in 1978 than it had been in 1949 when the communists took over.  In 1978, however, farmers in the village of Xiaogang held a secret meeting.  The farmers agreed to divide the communal land and assign it to individuals – each farmer had to produce a quota for the government but anything he or she produced in excess of the quota they would keep.  The agreement violated government policy and as a result the farmers also pledged that if any of them were to be killed or jailed the others would raise his or her children until the age of 18…The change from collective property rights to something closer to private property rights had an immediate effect, investment, work effort and productivity increased…Word of the secret agreement leaked out and local bureaucrats cut off Xiaogang from fertilizer, seeds and pesticides.  But amazingly, before Xiaogang could be stopped, farmers in other villages also began to abandon collective property. In Beijing, Mao Zedong was dead and a new set of rulers, seeing the productivity improvements, decided to let the experiment proceed.

The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever [Jonah Lehrer on Wired Magazine]

The secret was the timing: If new proteins couldn’t be created during the act of remembering, then the original memory ceased to exist. The erasure was also exceedingly specific. The rats could still learn new associations, and they remained scared of other sounds associated with a shock but that hadn’t been played during the protein block. They forgot only what they’d been forced to remember while under the influence of the protein inhibitor. The disappearance of the fear memory suggested that every time we think about the past we are delicately transforming its cellular representation in the brain, changing its underlying neural circuitry. It was a stunning discovery: Memories are not formed and then pristinely maintained, as neuroscientists thought; they are formed and then rebuilt every time they’re accessed. “The brain isn’t interested in having a perfect set of memories about the past,” LeDoux says. “Instead, memory comes with a natural updating mechanism, which is how we make sure that the information taking up valuable space inside our head is still useful. That might make our memories less accurate, but it probably also makes them more relevant to the future.”

NYPD monitored Muslim students all over Northeast [Chris Hawley on The Associated Press via Yahoo! News]

In recent months, the AP has revealed secret programs the NYPD built with help from the CIA to monitor Muslims at the places where they eat, shop and worship. The AP also published details about how police placed undercover officers at Muslim student associations in colleges within the city limits; this revelation has outraged faculty and student groups. Though the NYPD says it follows the same rules as the FBI, some of the NYPD’s activities go beyond what the FBI is allowed to do…Police also were interested in the Muslim student group at Rutgers, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 2009, undercover NYPD officers had a safe house in an apartment not far from campus. The operation was blown when the building superintendent stumbled upon the safe house and, thinking it was some sort of a terrorist cell, called the police emerency [sic] dispatcher. The FBI responded and determined that monitoring Rutgers students was one of the operation’s objectives, current and former federal officials said.

Why Jews Don’t Farm [Steve Landsburg on The Big Questions]

But the Jews (like everyone else) were beholden not just to economic rationalism, but also to the dictates of their religion. And the Jewish religion, unique among religions of the early Middle Ages, imposed an obligation to be literate. To be a good Jew you had to read the Torah four times a week at services: twice on the Sabbath, and once every Monday and Thursday morning. And to be a good Jewish parent you had to educate your children so that they could do the same. The literacy obligation had two effects. First, it meant that Jews were uniquely qualified to enter higher-paying urban occupations. Of course, anyone else who wanted to could have gone to school and become a moneylender, but school was so expensive that it made no sense. Jews, who had to go to school for religious reasons, naturally sought to earn at least some return on their investment. Only many centuries later did education start to make sense economically, and by then the Jews had become well established in banking, trade, and so forth. The second effect of the literacy obligation was to drive a lot of Jews away from their religion. Botticini and Eckstein admit that they have little direct evidence for this conclusion, but there’s a lot of indirect evidence. First, it makes sense: People do tend to run away from expensive obligations. Second, we can look at population trends: While the world population increased from 50 million in the sixth century to 285 million in the 18th, the population of Jews remained almost fixed at just a little over a million. Why were the Jews not expanding when everyone else was? We don’t know for sure, but a reasonable guess is that a lot of Jews were becoming Christians and Muslims.

Intrade, Where Politics Meets the Market [Elizabeth Dwoskin on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Carl Wolfenden, the company’s operations manager, says not all trades are entirely rational. “What’s amazing is the sort of eternal optimism of Ron Paul supporters,” he says. For others, that’s an opportunity for the perfect short. “Betting against Ron Paul is not something that requires a lot of brain power,” says Josh, an LSAT tutor in Tuscon who declines to give his last name out of concern over Intrade’s legality. “His fans … buy his contracts again and again, to a level not supported by any kind of empirical evidence. So you can just take money from them.”

Various matters: Jake Tapper grills the WH on the whistleblower war; Frank VanderSloot responds; and Tucker Carlson explains himself [Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

JAKE TAPPER: The White House keeps praising these journalists who are — who’ve been killed –

WHITEHOUSE SPOKESMAN JAY CARNEY: I don’t know about “keep” — I think –

TAPPER: You’ve done it, Vice President Biden did it in a statement. How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court? You’re — currently I think that you’ve invoked it the sixth time, and before the Obama administration, it had only been used three times in history. You’re — this is the sixth time — you’re suing a CIA officer for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture. Certainly that’s something that’s in the public interest of the United States. The administration is taking this person to court. There just seems to be disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States.

India Goes Its Own Way on Iran’s Nuclear Program [Pankaj Mishra on Bloomberg]

There is no doubt that, short of a catastrophic war that turns much of the Middle East into a wasteland, Iran’s nuclear program, which was started by the Shah, will be completed — either by the present regime in Tehran, or the one that replaces it. If many Indians feel this to be inevitable, it is because India itself defied intense international pressure to build its nuclear capacity. India refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban treaties, insisting that they discriminated against countries that had not achieved nuclear status before 1968. As late as 2005, when the Bush administration decided to change tack and seek a strong strategic partner in Asia, the U.S. kept up sanctions imposed on India after the latter’s nuclear tests in 1998. In at least one evolutionary narrative of international relations developed during the Cold War, countries attain adulthood when, after outgrowing adolescent neuroses, they align their interests with U.S. objectives. The example of India (and its attitude toward Iran) points at a newer and more widespread model of individuation: one in which nation states reach maturity when they grow aware of their own needs and interests, and define their foreign policies through the interplay of geopolitical imperatives, domestic politics, regional histories, and national pride. To ignore this dawning reality of the multipolar world is to risk regressing beyond adolescent neuroses; it is to lapse into child-like narcissism.

Adventures In Behavioral Neurology—Or—What Neurology Can Tell Us About Human Nature [Vilayanur Ramachandran on Edge]

We saw a patient recently who was a prominent dean of an engineering school and soon after he retired he came out and said he wants his left arm amputated above the elbow. Here’s a perfectly normal guy who has been living a normal life in society interacting with people. He’s never told anybody that he harbored this secret desire—intense desire—to have his arm amputated ever since early childhood, and he never came out and told people about it for fear that they might think he was crazy. He came to see us recently and we tried to figure out what was going on in his brain. And by the way, this disorder is not rare. There are websites devoted to it. About one-third of them go on to actually get it amputated. Not in this country because it’s not legal, but they go to Mexico or somewhere else and get it amputated…The second thing that struck us is the guy would often take a felt pen and draw a very precise irregular line around his arm or leg and say, “I want it removed exactly that way. I don’t want you removing too little of it or too much of it. It would feel wrong. I want you to amputate it exactly on that line.” And you could test him after a year it is the same wiggly line which he couldn’t have memorized, and this suggests already that this is something physiological, and not something psychological that he is making up.

Curiously Strong Remains:




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