Archive for July, 2012


Roundup – Sky in Motion

Line O’ the Day:

“If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.”

– Jourdon Anderson, To My Old Master” [Letters of Note] – In August of 1865, a Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, and requested that he come back to work on his farm. Jourdon — who, since being emancipated, had moved to Ohio, found paid work, and was now supporting his family — responded spectacularly by way of the letter seen below (a letter which, according to newspapers at the time, he dictated).

Best of the Best:

CIA divorces: The secrecy when spies split [Ian Shapira on The Washington Post]

The woman’s account is a rare window into the deep strains that the agency’s ethos of secrecy can exert on operatives’ marriages. Divorces involving spies are often just as clandestine as their work. The details are typically buried in documents sealed by the courts. Only a handful of people get read-in, so to speak: divorce lawyers, marriage counselors and sometimes the agency’s attorneys. Unlike the Pentagon, which studies how often service members split up, and knows, for instance, that 29,456 of 798,921 [3.7%] military couples divorced last year, the CIA does not keep official tabs on its employees’ divorce rates. One retired CIA senior paramilitary officer, who served for more than two decades and lives in Virginia, said he was told several years ago that the divorce rate for the agency’s operations division was astonishingly high.

How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work [Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher on The New York Times]

For years, cellphone makers had avoided using glass because it required precision in cutting and grinding that was extremely difficult to achieve. Apple had already selected an American company, Corning Inc., to manufacture large panes of strengthened glass. But figuring out how to cut those panes into millions of iPhone screens required finding an empty cutting plant, hundreds of pieces of glass to use in experiments and an army of midlevel engineers. It would cost a fortune simply to prepare. Then a bid for the work arrived from a Chinese factory. When an Apple team visited, the Chinese plant’s owners were already constructing a new wing. “This is in case you give us the contract,” the manager said, according to a former Apple executive. The Chinese government had agreed to underwrite costs for numerous industries, and those subsidies had trickled down to the glass-cutting factory. It had a warehouse filled with glass samples available to Apple, free of charge. The owners made engineers available at almost no cost. They had built on-site dormitories so employees would be available 24 hours a day. The Chinese plant got the job.

Reinventing Lincoln [Keith Naughton on Bloomberg Businessweek]

The car was the epitome of cool when JFK was in the White House and the Rat Pack was headlining in Vegas. From a sales standpoint, Lincoln reached its zenith in 1990, when 231,660 were sold. As recently as 1999, the heyday of Lincoln’s behemoth Navigator SUV, the line ranked first in U.S. sales among luxury car brands. Today, Lincoln stands eighth, its image defined largely by the black Town Cars that transport people to and from airports. (Ford stopped production of the Town Car in September.) The average Lincoln driver is 65 years old. Lincoln says it sold 85,643 cars in 2011, down a breathtaking 63 percent since the 1990 peak. The latest indignity came last month, when a 1970s-era Lincoln Continental was used to carry the coffin of deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

A strong contender for the greatest movie trailer of all time (NSFW) [Cyriaque Lamar on io9]

In situations like these, it’s easier to simply state what occurs in the preview for The Killing of Satan rather than run the risk of overanalyzing things. The below list scratches the surface of what you will witness: – Avalanches – Satan, whose only evil power is to make things spin around – A naked woman covered in barbecue sauce – A man crushed by a boulder in slow motion – The sentence, “Found answers are only to be found in a world of unearthly wonderment!” – An cage full of nude ladies disintegrated by a Gandalf staff – Random volcanic eruptions – A woman transform into a python while making out with Lando [a mustachioed Catholic wizard who tracks down Satan to kill him] – Another lady transform into a dog – A wicked missus rip a guy’s entire cheek off – A cobra polymorph into a greased elf

How the puffer fish gets you high, zombifies you, and kills you [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9]

So of course it seems like a spin worthy of Barnum to label them a ‘delicacy,’ and charge hundreds of dollars a serving for them. A closer examination of the work that goes into making puffer fish, or fugu, shows that the price is fair. Fugu chefs have to be trained for two years, during which they will eat many of the fish that they themselves prepare. And make no mistake, people do die from fugu poisoning. About five people a year make puffer fish their last meal, and many more get violently sick from it.

Dennis Kucinich and “wackiness”  [Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

So let’s recap the state of mental health in establishment Democratic circles: the President who claims (and exercises) the power to target American citizens for execution-by-CIA in total secrecy and with no charges — as well as those who dutifully follow him — are sane, sober and Serious, meriting great respect. By contrast, one of the very few members of Congress who stands up and vehemently objects to this most radical power — “The idea that the United States has the ability to summarily execute a US citizen ought to send chills racing up and down the spines of every person of conscience” — is a total wackjob, meriting patronizing mockery.

Washington’s high-powered terrorist supporters  [Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

We now have an extraordinary situation that reveals the impunity with which political elites commit the most egregious crimes, as well as the special privileges to which they explicitly believe they — and they alone — are entitled. That a large bipartisan cast of Washington officials got caught being paid substantial sums of money by an Iranian dissident group that is legally designated by the U.S. Government as a Terrorist organization, and then meeting with and advocating on behalf of that Terrorist group, is very significant for several reasons. New developments over the last week make it all the more telling.

Obama’s personal role in a journalist’s imprisonment [Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

Shaye’s real crime is that he reported facts that the U.S. government and its Yemeni client regime wanted suppressed. But while the imprisonment of this journalist was ignored in the U.S, it became a significant controversy in Yemen. Numerous Yemeni tribal leaders, sheiks and activist groups agitated for his release, and in response, President Saleh, as the Yemeni press reported, had a pardon drawn up for him and was ready to sign it. That came to a halt when President Obama intervened. According to the White House’s own summary of Obama’s February 3, 2011, call with Saleh, “President Obama expressed concern over the release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai.” The administration has repeatedly refused to present any evidence that Shaye is anything other than a reporter

Five Book Interviews: Jonah Lehrer on Decision-Making [Sophie Roell Interviews Jonah Lehrer on The Browser]

And, as a patient dealing with cancer, you often do have to make decisions based on statistics you are given – doctors say there’s a five per cent chance of this if you do that, or a 10 per cent chance of that if you don’t do this, and it’s all very confusing. Yes. We’re given all these statistics, but the human mind wasn’t designed very well to deal with statistics. What we’re left with is this feeling. A feeling of either fear – that’s a risk we’re taking – or that’s a potential gain I should pursue. A lot of it really is about these emotions which, in the end, drive our decisions. So simply by reframing the question one way or the other, you can dramatically influence these feelings. Human beings really aren’t rational agents for the most part, because we’re actually being driven by these emotions triggered by dreams of losses or gains.

The Caging of America [Adam Gopnik on The New Yorker]

William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School who died shortly before his masterwork, “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,” was published, last fall, is the most forceful advocate for the view that the scandal of our prisons derives from the Enlightenment-era, “procedural” nature of American justice. He runs through the immediate causes of the incarceration epidemic: the growth of post-Rockefeller drug laws, which punished minor drug offenses with major prison time; “zero tolerance” policing, which added to the group; mandatory-sentencing laws, which prevented judges from exercising judgment. But his search for the ultimate cause leads deeper, all the way to the Bill of Rights. In a society where Constitution worship is still a requisite on right and left alike, Stuntz startlingly suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system—much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man, which Jefferson, he points out, may have helped shape while his protégé Madison was writing ours. The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles. The Declaration of the Rights of Man says, Be just! The Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason; you can’t accuse him without allowing him to see the evidence; and so on. This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life. You may be spared the death penalty if you can show a problem with your appointed defender, but it is much harder if there is merely enormous accumulated evidence that you weren’t guilty in the first place and the jury got it wrong. Even clauses that Americans are taught to revere are, Stuntz maintains, unworthy of reverence: the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” was designed to protect cruel punishments—flogging and branding—that were not at that time unusual.

The War Between alt.tasteless and rec.pets.cats [Josh Quittner on Wired, May 1994]

Usenet is like a vast computer bulletin board, readable by more than 10 million people around the world every day. It actually does cable one better: It’s already interactive. You can post notes to Usenet groups, ask questions, comment on someone else’s remarks, conjecture idly and often. Which is how Trashcan Man and his pals started the war of words that got out of control. It’s hard to say with precision how many people actually read any one news group. (The term news groups is peculiar, since most of the postings, known as “articles,” would not be considered news. Nevertheless, Usenet users refer to them in this way.) The Internet, as you probably know, is anarchic, not owned by anyone, and monitored mainly at its ever-expanding edges by the system administrators who sell or give people access. Periodically, various surveys attempt to poll Internet sites that distribute net news. These surveys give rough estimates of who reads which news groups. So who reads the articles posted to alt.tasteless? According to a Q&A in the alt.tasteless FAQ (most news groups have FAQs, or Frequently Asked Questions files), 60,000 people around the world browse it. You can believe it or not; I choose to believe it in the same way that I believe most people will slow down and take a good look at the carnage of a car accident. Why do we look?

The Maturation of the Billionaire Boy-Man [Henry Blodget on New York Magazine]

All great consumer-technology products share two attributes, which is that they are cool and easy to use. From the beginning, Zuckerberg knew how to make products that were cool and easy to use. He didn’t “overbuild” Facebook, packing it so full of features that people couldn’t figure out how to use it. He made “uptime” a huge early priority, only rolling out Facebook to new schools when he was certain that the company’s servers and software could handle the traffic load. These steps sound like no-brainers, but they trip up a lot of technology start-ups. Stanford’s predecessor to Facebook, for example, was so complicated that it never really caught on. Friendster grew so fast that its infrastructure got swamped: People wanted to log on, but they couldn’t. A year later, when Friendster finally fixed the problem, its U.S. users were gone. Many promising tech companies place too much emphasis too soon on the business rather than the product. They worry too much about “making money.” This sounds nuts—aren’t companies supposed to make money?—and it sounds especially nuts in the wake of the dot-com bust. But that crash was a product of investors’ and analysts’ overexuberance (sorry!), not evidence of a fundamental flaw in the tech industry’s start-up ecosystem. In a market where ­speed is critical, venture-capital funding allows young companies to move faster than they could if they had to rely only on revenues to fund product development. Entrepreneurs who understand that tend to stick around to make plenty of money later.

The Battle for the Soul of Occupy Wall Street [Mark Binelli on Rolling Stone]

To that end, only two days after the May Day march, an Occupy contingent met at a UAW space in Manhattan’s Garment District to discuss a week of direct actions, each day targeting a different theme. It was a bit of a hodgepodge of causes – mass incarceration, immigrant justice, food security, the environment – and I couldn’t help wondering if someone would come up with a Wall Street-related reason for Freeing Mumia. (An activist friend involved in the Iraq War protests once told me the decline of the movement could be traced alongside the number of words they were forced to add to their posters.) Once the meeting broke off into smaller groups, some familiar tensions arose. In the group I joined, one guy was dressed like such a cartoonish protester (tie-dyed peace-symbol necklace, filthy bare feet), I assumed he was a police infiltrator. But everyone seemed to know him. He kept jumping ahead of other speakers and making irritating objections, to the exasperation of everyone else present. By the end of the 30-minute meeting, ideas have been tossed around, but the main thing that’s been agreed upon has been a need to hold another meeting.

Fight Birth-Control Battle Over the Counter [Virginia Postrel on Bloomberg]

Aside from safety, the biggest argument for keeping birth- control pills prescription-only is, to put it bluntly, extortion. The current arrangement forces women to go to the doctor at least once a year, usually submitting to a pelvic exam, if they want this extremely reliable form of contraception. That demand may suit doctors’ paternalist instincts and financial interests, but it doesn’t serve patients’ needs. As the 1993 article’s authors noted, the exam requirement “assumes that it would be worse for a woman’s health to miss out on routine care than it would be to miss out on taking oral contraceptives.”

Slaughterhouse-Five: ‘So it goes’ [Thomas Meaney on The Times Literary Supplement]

If Vonnegut’s tone outdoes O’Brien’s here – right down to the use of italics – it’s not only because he’s less flagrant with feeling. His front-porch casualness, his perfectly inappropriate mention of the Guggenheim grant, his blithe, domesticating comparison to Dayton; and the impact of the last line – all of it signals a writer willing to take his satire to the very end. O’Brien can afford to gaze across the river because, by the time his book was published, public opinion about Vietnam was on his side. Vonnegut faced down the much more imposing shibboleth of the Good War. As with all things sacred, it raised the stakes of irony. He wrote against an establishment that believed its values were impervious to the effects of corrosive wit. An American Petronius, Vonnegut had the strange fortune of finding his own cynicism about his historical moment irresistibly funny. But there were limits to what his irony could do. In the novels that followed Slaughterhouse-Five, he began to recycle his gimmicks and the sardonic shell started to crack. Among the most common criticisms levelled at Vonnegut is that he became too cosy with his audience, that they made his posturing too easy for him. But that also ignores his main achievement: from unpromising beginnings, he built one of the most faithful and enduring audiences in American fiction.

The Man Who Broke Atlantic City [Mark Bowden on The Atlantic]

In every blackjack scenario, Johnson knows the right decision to make. But that’s true of plenty of good players. What gives Johnson his edge is his knowledge of the gaming industry. As good as he is at playing cards, he turns out to be even better at playing the casinos.

Why I left Google [James Whittaker via MSDN Blogs]

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn’t a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.” Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.

The Incident Report. Or, The Time I Broke It [Jeff Winkler on The Awl]

Pain. Ow. That’s real pain. I move her off me and roll onto my stomach. Miscalculations have happened before; a few seconds of discomfort and then it’s go time again. I roll back over and look down to see if it’s go time again. I rise up off the bed: “Yeah, this… this isn’t right.” I sit back down. The woman beside me looks so horror-stricken, I try to sound especially calm when talking to 911. I don’t tell the operator it’s so swollen and purple that I’m afraid it’ll burst at any moment. Instead I say, in an even, measured tone, “My penis is the shape, size and color of a baby eggplant.”

A Warning for Women of the Arab Spring [Shirin Ebadi one of Iran’s leading lawyers and human rights activists, and winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, via The Wall Street Journal]

There are interpretations of Shariah law that allow one to be a Muslim and enjoy equal gender rights—rights that we can exercise while participating in a genuinely democratic political system. Shariah law and women’s rights do not have to be mutually exclusive. Although the 1979 revolution in Iran is often called an Islamic revolution, it can actually be said to be a revolution of men against women. Before the revolution, women’s rights were recognized to some extent. But the revolution led to the enactment of numerous discriminatory laws against women.

Books Women Read When No One Can See the Cover [Katherine Rosman on The Wall Street Journal]

Electronic readers, and the reading privacy they provide, are fueling a boom in sales of sexy romance novels, or “romantica,” as the genre is called in the book industry. As with romance novels, romantica features an old-fashioned love story and pop-culture references like those found in “chick lit.” Plus, there is sex—a lot of it. Yet unlike traditional erotica, romantica always includes what’s known as “HEA”—”happily ever after.” Kindles, iPads and Nooks “are the ultimate brown paper wrapper,” says Brenda Knight, associate publisher at Cleis Press, of Berkeley, Calif., a publisher of erotica since 1980.

On the Market [Alice Gregory on n+1]

Hired as a researcher, I was assigned the task of going through the catalogues raisonnés of the Contemporary Art department’s top-grossing artists—Warhol, Koons, Prince, Richter, Rothko—and determining the whereabouts of every piece that had ever come onto the global market. The Excel spreadsheets I worked on each day (column 1: image, column 2: title, column 3: year, column 4: cataloguing, column 5: present owner) would serve to expedite the future searches of collectors, who might want, say, a big, mostly purple Richter from the mid-’80s. Sometimes a painting was in a museum (the auction houses hate this because it makes the work more or less permanently priceless). Other times, a prominent collector was listed as the work’s owner. Usually, though, I was trying to track down pieces in anonymous private collections. Sometimes a city or country was provided, unhelpfully. Private Collection, France. Or more often than not: Private Collection, Liechtenstein.  There were many ways to gather this information: hand-annotated auction catalogues, holograph index cards, old issues of the New York Times, cunning questions asked in the right way to foundation archivists in good moods. The method was cobbled together, and success depended on both a high tolerance for monotony and a willingness to flirt. I laughed sparkling laughs and framed my inquiries as either massive or negligible impositions. Sometimes I apologized: “I’m sorry, but I have a huge favor to ask, do you know where . . .” Other times I used a postscript: “Oh, and just one tiny, last thing: I’ve been told that . . .”

Why Interacting with a Woman Can Leave Men “Cognitively Impaired” [Daisy Grewal, PhD in social psychology from Yale University and a researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine, via Scientific American]

Researchers have begun to explore the cognitive impairment that men experience before and after interacting with women. A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even w hen men simply anticipate interacting with a woman who they know very little about…The results may also have to do with social expectations. Our society may place more pressure on men to impress women during social interactions. Although this hypothesis remains speculative, previous research has shown that the more you care about making the right impression, the more your brain gets taxed. Such interactions require us to spend a great deal of mental energy imagining how others might interpret our words and actions. For example, psychologists Jennifer Richeson and Nicole Shelton found that Caucasian Americans who hold stronger racial prejudices face similar cognitive impairments after interacting with somebody who is African American. In these situations, individuals who hold strong prejudices must try hard to come across as not prejudiced. In a different study, Richeson and her colleagues found that less privileged students at elite universities experience similar cognitive impairments after being observed by their wealthier peers.

When Prejudices Become a Disadvantage [PLoS One via Science Daily]

Prejudiced strategies are therefore successful and rational for a short time. However, as they do not learn from mistakes and cannot adjust their behaviour, in the long run they yield to strategies that respond to their partners in a more differentiated way.

The Unpersuaded: Who listens to a President? [Ezra Klein on The New Yorker]

Edwards’s views are no longer considered radical in political-science circles, in part because he has marshalled so much evidence in support of them. In his book “On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit” (2003), he expanded the poll-based rigor that he applied to Reagan’s rhetorical influence to that of nearly every other President since the nineteen-thirties. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats are perhaps the most frequently cited example of Presidential persuasion. Cue Edwards: “He gave only two or three fireside chats a year, and rarely did he focus them on legislation under consideration in Congress. It appears that FDR only used a fireside chat to discuss such matters on four occasions, the clearest example being the broadcast on March 9, 1937, on the ill-fated ‘Court-packing’ bill.” Edwards also quotes the political scientists Matthew Baum and Samuel Kernell, who, in a more systematic examination of Roosevelt’s radio addresses, found that they fostered “less than a 1 percentage point increase” in his approval rating. His more traditional speeches didn’t do any better. He was unable to persuade Americans to enter the Second World War, for example, until Pearl Harbor.

Curiously Strong Remains:





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OBR – MLB at the Break

Taking a look at the putatively best hitters in the National and the American leagues is a likely a tradition amongst those with a touch too many minutes on the clock lying about–meaning this blog is going to the rodeo. I have previously constructed a hitter ranking based on the top 40 (by batting average) individual players’ stats aggregated to produce an average and standard deviation and then producing a z-score for each player. A more  refined approach takes each team’s total statistics to produce a more comprehensive, and less skewed towards high performers, average and standard deviation than that garnered by merely the top 40 players.

In choosing which stats to compare, I tried to eliminate those with significant correlations with other stats. For instance, OPS and ISOP was eliminated due to their high correlation with the more widely quoted slugging percentage. Eventually the following set of hitting stats was used, derived from ESPN data:

  • Batting Average
  • On-Base Percentage [(H + BB + HBP)/(AB + BB + HBP + SF)]
  • Slugging Percentage
  • Runs Created (calculated with the more complex formula described by wikipedia rather than ESPN’s, though the two sets of numbers are fairly close. Situational hitting nor the team adjustment as described by wiki were not used due to lack of volition and data. Note that runs created have a high correlation to BA, OBP and SLG–plus 0.80–but included it as a proxy, and hopefully a more descriptive one, for the more common RBIs. For the average and standard deviation based on team statistics ZJX simply used a team’s total runs divided by an assumed 11 players)
  • Secondary Average (A way to look at a player’s extra bases gained, independent of Batting Average = (TB – H + BB + SB – CS) / AB)
  • HR/AB (HR/AB were employed rather than the more oft-quoted AB/HR due to the fact that if a player had no home runs the stat would revert to zero instead of an error term due to dividing by zero)
  • BB/K
  • K/AB
  • ISOP/(K/AB) (this combination examines power statistics versus strikeouts–the tradeoff weakness for some power hitters)

I am trying, poorly at that, in reinventing the wheel already created by an even more comprehensive statistic: Wins Above Replacement. Regardless, I’ve always been intrigued by the z-score process, namely the number of standard deviations a player’s statistic is above an average player’s. This of course makes the assumption that hitting stats conform to a normal distribution.

For the National League, the highly paid Joey Votto appeared to be earning by the all-star break:

For the American League, designated hitter David Ortiz took the top spot by a wide margin over Edward Encarnacion:

Combining the statistics of both leagues (by using all MLB teams) is somewhat misleading not only because of the designated hitter rule but also given the each league faces different pitching. However, on that basis, Ortiz beats out Votto by less than three points:


For all the World Series wins, Joe Dimaggio is best remembered for his improbable 56 game hitting streak, if not his tumultuous marriage to icon Marilyn Monroe, which brought a very private man into a highly public relationship.  However, a lesser known DiMaggio stat is equally, if not more, impressive. DiMaggio, a member of the 300 home run club, drove 361 balls out of the park over his 13 year career (in which he missed the prime years of 28-30 due to the Second World War) but struck out just 369 times for a HR/K ratio of 0.978. That is, DiMaggio, a formidable power hitter, had almost as many home runs as strikeouts, typically the bane of power hitters. The top five home run hitters–Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez, who all have solid career OBPs–don’t go any higher than 0.546 (Aaron).  For those over 300 home runs, the top ten in HR/K:

  1. Joe DiMaggio (NYY): 0.978 (361 HR)
  2. Yogi Berra (NYY): 0.865 (358)
  3. Ted Williams (BOS): 0.735 (521)
  4. Johnny Mize (STL/NYG/NYY): 0.685 (359)
  5. Stan Musial (STL): 0.682 (475)
  6. Lou Gehrig (NYY): 0.624 (493)
  7. Albert Pujols (STL/LAA): 0.618 (459)
  8. Chuck Klein (PHI/CHC): 0.576 (300)
  9. Mel Ott (NYG): 0.570 (511)
  10. Hank Aaron (ATL): 0.546 (755)

For baseball, the home run and the strikeout represent the extremes of volatility in hitting achievement–scoring a run single-handedly and causing an out without even putting the ball in play (or even really connecting with the ball, at least on the final strike). This excludes hitting into a double (or even triple) play, but that is subject to situational factors not to mention the opposing team’s defensive prowess.

In that spirit of capturing those that were able to balance the extremes favorably, I replaced the traditional triple crown of AVG/HR/RBI to a bit more in-depth statistics of OPS/(HR/K)/Runs Created. For this year, in the NL, only Andrew McKutcheon (2nd OPS, 2nd RC, 5th HR/K) and Ryan Braun (5th OPS, 4th RC, 3rd HR/K) appear in serious contention at the break. In the AL, perhaps unsurprisingly, David Ortiz is in the clear pole position at 2nd (by a thin margin) in OPS, 1st in RC, and 1st in HR/K. Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano and Edwin Encarnacion are honorable mentions finishing in the top five in two categories and the top eight in the third.


Roundup – Sunshine Sakae

Line O’ the Day:

Lax bros display a certain understated confidence that critics call arrogance.

No. It’s arrogance. I assure you. And it’s not understated. There’s nothing understated about Tyler Taylor Toyler IV struttin’ around school twirling a stick and wearing a shirt that says I AIN’T LAX ABOUT CRUSHIN’ PUSSY.

– Drew Magary, Bro-Tastic Laxachusetts Lax Bros Get The Bro-Tastic Story They Deserve From The Boston Bro-be [Deadspin]

Best of the Best:

“Snow White & The Huntsman is a triumph of feminist storytelling” [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk]

By the way, if you want to see “a triumph of feminist storytelling,” go see Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. A movie about a tough, smart young girl who doesn’t need a man to save her, or need to strap on a sword and a codpiece and do unrealistically-male things to save herself. A movie that was, come to think of it, written and directed by… you guessed it, actual women.

Son Who Hears Voices Finds Health Care Fatally Dysfunctional [Tom Moroney on Bloomberg]

Minutes before 11 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2010, two strangers sped toward a shared fate on a highway outside Seattle. Behind the wheel of a silver Subaru wagon was Adam Knapp, a 30-year-old schizophrenic 2,400 miles from home. Eighteen days earlier, he had slit his wrists and swallowed two bottles of pills in a suicide attempt. Three hospitals admitted him afterward. None kept him, and now he had taken off in a car alone…

Elisa Mefi, 31, was driving a black Ford Explorer. The unemployed medical clerk had just picked up her younger sister from work. They laughed and talked about new hairstyles until they saw the headlights of Adam’s car coming straight at them. Adam had U-turned directly into oncoming traffic. On impact with his car, Elisa’s side of the Explorer crumbled like a candy wrapper. Once his car came to a halt, Adam climbed out, jumped over a guardrail into traffic and was hit by five vehicles, police reports say. He died at the scene. Elisa succumbed to injuries three weeks later. Their deaths lay bare continuing failures of the U.S. health care system in treating the seriously mentally ill, and in protecting the public from their disturbed behavior. Adam’s parents say he died because a series of hospitals sent him home too soon in the turbulent final months of his life.

Show Trial: Puppets Act Out Corruption Case [Douglas Belkin on The Wall Street Journal]

Mr. Maynard’s puppets—including a bucktoothed squirrel, a lime-green lawyer and an obese man with a removable beard—aren’t putting on a show for kids or some offbeat comedy revue. They are covering one of the biggest corruption trials in Ohio history—delivering their reports of real testimony and wiretapped conversations from a yearslong investigation of Jimmy Dimora, the Democratic kingpin accused of racketeering by prosecutors in federal court in Akron. The result is a cross between “The Sopranos” and “The Muppet Show” that has elicited some complaints from viewers and hand-wringing from journalism professors. But since the trial began in January, “The Puppet’s Court” has led a ratings surge for the station’s late news show and won praise from some politicians.

Ocean trench: Take a dive 11,000m down [BBC News]

Icy cold, pitch black and with crushing pressures – the deepest part of the ocean is one of the most hostile places on the planet. Only three explorers have made the epic journey there: 11km (seven miles) down to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. As a new wave of explorers is gearing up to make this remarkable dive, take a look at the mysterious world that they will be plunging into.

Life as a Landlord (in Cleveland Heights, Ohio) [Bert Stratton via The New York Times]

I want my tenants to be law-abiding and act middle-class. That’s the goal. The riskiest tenants are bartenders and servers. They often come home late and party hard, annoying the 9-to-5 tenants. I rent to welders, bartenders, landscapers, flight attendants, legal secretaries and Suzuki violin teachers. Some of the tenants meet one another in the vestibule, fall in love and marry. Then I have another vacancy.

Teller Reveals His Secrets  [Teller on Smithsonian Magazine]

Magic is an art, as capable of beauty as music, painting or poetry. But the core of every trick is a cold, cognitive experiment in perception: Does the trick fool the audience? A magician’s data sample spans centuries, and his experiments have been replicated often enough to constitute near-certainty. Neuroscientists—well intentioned as they are—are gathering soil samples from the foot of a mountain that magicians have mapped and mined for centuries.

Top five regrets of the dying [Susie Steiner via The Guardian]

A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.

The Writer’s Job [Tim Parks via The New York Review of Books]

None of this prepared us for the advent of creative writing as a “career.” In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed. In short, the next big new thing. A Rushdie. A Pamuk.

Everything I Needed to Know about Modern Love I Learned from the Oxford English Dictionary Quarterly Updates [Pamela Haag on Big Think]

It’s interesting to observe the lag time between the cultural emergence of the word and its OED inclusion. This could be used to measure a concept’s osmosis rate–how quickly it became culturally ubiquitous. Safe sex was in use even in the 1980s, but made it into the OED in 2005, whereas work-life balance and biological clock were included in 2006, but they were in circulation, as I recall, in the late 1990s, for a shorter lag time. Speed dating enjoyed an extremely swift ascent. It started as a practice only in 2000, but was included three years later. So speed dating ingratiated itself into the English language faster than safe sex. Oh dear.

Saudi Arabia May Be Tied to 9/11, 2 Ex-Senators Say [Eric Lichtblau on The New York Times]

In sworn statements that seem likely to reignite the debate, two former senators who were privy to top secret information on the Saudis’ activities say they believe that the Saudi government might have played a direct role in the terrorist attacks. “I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” former Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, said in an affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit brought against the Saudi government and dozens of institutions in the country by families of Sept. 11 victims and others. Mr. Graham led a joint 2002 Congressional inquiry into the attacks. His former Senate colleague, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Democrat who served on the separate 9/11 Commission, said in a sworn affidavit of his own in the case that “significant questions remain unanswered” about the role of Saudi institutions. “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued,” Mr. Kerrey said.

Ethiopians Trade Holy Water for AIDS Drugs [Miriam Jordan on The Wall Street Journal]

Cast out from her family, Tigist arrived at Ethiopia’s Entoto Mountain believing that a spring here welled with holy water that would rid her body of HIV. Joining 4,000 other squatters seeking the same cure, the young woman reluctantly also started taking antiretroviral pills. Gaining strength, she married an HIV-positive man, Melaku, and started a new life in a mud-and-tarp hut amid eucalyptus forests.

When Gaming Is Good for You [Robert Lee Hotz on The Wall Street Journal]

People who played action-based video and computer games made decisions 25% faster than others without sacrificing accuracy, according to a study. Indeed, the most adept gamers can make choices and act on them up to six times a second—four times faster than most people, other researchers found. Moreover, practiced game players can pay attention to more than six things at once without getting confused, compared with the four that someone can normally keep in mind, said University of Rochester researchers. The studies were conducted independently of the companies that sell video and computer games. Scientists also found that women—who make up about 42% of computer and videogame players—were better able to mentally manipulate 3D objects, a skill at which men are generally more adept. Most studies looked at adults rather than children. Electronic gameplay has its downside. Brain scans show that violent videogames can alter brain function in healthy young men after just a week of play, depressing activity among regions associated with emotional control, researchers at Indiana University recently reported. Other studies have found an association between compulsive gaming and being overweight, introverted and prone to depression. The studies didn’t compare the benefits of gaming with such downsides.

Since Skiing Came to Afghanistan, It Has Been Pretty Much All Downhill [Charles Levinson on The Wall Street Journal]

Though Afghanistan has plenty of snow-covered mountains, skiing is an extreme novelty here. In Bamiyan, best known for its giant Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban a decade ago, mountainous villages with no electricity, kept warm by dung-fueled heaters, saw their first skier in early 2010. Since then, the effort to implant ski culture in Bamiyan has brought here urban hip-hop slang, donkey-leaping snowboarders, and indiscriminately urinating ski bums who offend local sensibilities. It has also brought a small but welcome trickle of tourist dollars. The effort faces many of the same challenges as the broader struggle for bitterly fractured Afghanistan. Though the predominantly ethnic Hazara Bamiyan province is one of Afghanistan’s safest and attracts some vacationers—mainly foreigners based in Kabul—the Taliban increasingly operate on the access road from Kabul.

When Did the United States Last Kill an Al Qaeda Fighter in Afghanistan? [George Zornick on The Nation (3/1/12)]

According to a Defense Department spokesman, the most recent operation that killed an Al Qaeda fighter was in April 2011—ten months ago. However, there was an “Al Qaeda foreign fighter” captured near Kabul in May 2011, and an “Al Qaeda facilitator” capturedin the Paktiya province on January 30 of this year. By comparison, there have been 466 coalition fatalities since April 2011.  Given [White House press secretary Jay] Carney’s repeated insistence that the “number one”  purpose of the American mission is to “disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat” Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and given the ongoing sacrifices the country is making to achieve that goal, it’s very important to keep these benchmarks in mind. It is surprising Carney wasn’t aware of them, or didn’t disclose them—though, perhaps it’s not.

Attorney General Holder defends execution without charges [Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

But the crux of Holder’s argument as set forth in yesterday’s speech is this:

Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

When Obama officials (like Bush officials before them) refer to someone “who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces,” what they mean is this: someone the President has accused and then decreed in secret to be a Terrorist without ever proving it with evidence. The “process” used by the Obama administration to target Americans for execution-by-CIA is, as reported last October by Reuters, as follows:

American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions . . . There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council . . . Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

As Leon Panetta recently confirmed, the President makes the ultimate decision as to whether the American will be killed: “[The] President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go.” So that is the “process” which Eric Holder yesterday argued constitutes “due process” as required by the Fifth Amendment before the government can deprive of someone of their life.

How Luther went viral [The Economist]

In the early years of the Reformation expressing support for Luther’s views, through preaching, recommending a pamphlet or singing a news ballad directed at the pope, was dangerous. By stamping out isolated outbreaks of opposition swiftly, autocratic regimes discourage their opponents from speaking out and linking up. A collective-action problem thus arises when people are dissatisfied, but are unsure how widely their dissatisfaction is shared, as Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, has observed in connection with the Arab spring. The dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia, she argues, survived for as long as they did because although many people deeply disliked those regimes, they could not be sure others felt the same way. Amid the outbreaks of unrest in early 2011, however, social-media websites enabled lots of people to signal their preferences en masse to their peers very quickly, in an “informational cascade” that created momentum for further action. The same thing happened in the Reformation. The surge in the popularity of pamphlets in 1523-24, the vast majority of them in favour of reform, served as a collective signalling mechanism. As Andrew Pettegree, an expert on the Reformation at St Andrew’s University, puts it in “Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion”, “It was the superabundance, the cascade of titles, that created the impression of an overwhelming tide, an unstoppable movement of opinion…Pamphlets and their purchasers had together created the impression of irresistible force.” Although Luther had been declared a heretic in 1521, and owning or reading his works was banned by the church, the extent of local political and popular support for Luther meant he escaped execution and the Reformation became established in much of Germany.

Why (Almost) All of Us Cheat and Steal [Dan Ariely Interviewed by Gary Belsky on Time]

People are able to cheat more when they cheat for other people. In some experiments, people cheated the most when they didn’t benefit at all. This makes sense if our ability to be dishonest is increased by the ability to rationalize our behavior. If you’re cheating for the benefit of another entity, your ability to rationalize is enhanced.

Old vs. Young [David Leonhardt on The New York Times]

This year, polls suggest that Mitt Romney will win a landslideamong the over-65 crowd and that President Obama will do likewise among those under 40. Beyond political parties, the two have different views on many of the biggest questions before the country. The young not only favor gay marriage and school funding more strongly; they are also notably less religious, more positive toward immigrants, less hostile to Social Security cuts and military cuts and more optimistic about the country’s future. They are both more open to change and more confident that life in the United States will remain good. Their optimism is especially striking in the context of their economic troubles. Older Americans have obviously suffered in recent years, with many now fearing a significantly diminished retirement. But the economic slump of the last decade — a mediocre expansion, followed by a terrible downturn — has still taken a much higher toll on the young. Less established in their working lives, they have struggled to get hired and to hold on to jobs…Over all, more than 50 percent of federal benefits flow to the 13 percent of the population over 65. Some of these benefits come from Social Security, which many people pay for over the course of their working lives. But a large chunk comes through Medicare, and contrary to widespread perception, most Americans do not come close to paying for their own Medicare benefits through payroll taxes. Medicare, in addition to being the largest source of the country’s projected budget deficits, is a transfer program from young to old.

A Con Man Who Lives Between Truth and Fiction [Andrew Ross Sorkin Interviews Samuel Israel III on New York Times Dealbook]

What, I asked him, can an investor do to avoid being conned by the next Samuel Israel? “Seek as much transparency as possible,” he said. “If they do not understand exactly how a manager is making money, do not invest. If there is a secret process that cannot be explained, run. Go see the organization yourself, talk to the employees. The manager cannot see everyone or he could not be making money; if he has all the time in the world for you, that is a flag.”

Architects And Engineers Say These Are The Most Amazing Tall Buildings Of The Year [Jennifer Polland on BusinessInsider]

In 2011, 88 new towers over 200 meters (656 ft.) high were built in the world–a record number, compared to the 32 new towers built in 2005. There are another 96 new towers slated for completion this year, with China being the biggest builder.

The Most Important Numbers of the Next Half-Century [Morgan Housel on The Motley Fool]

Though all countries age, within four decades the U.S. will likely have one of the lowest percentages of elderly citizens, and one of the highest rates of working-age bodies among large economies. China, meanwhile, will see its working-age population plunge and its elderly ranks soar — an echo of its one-child policy. Europe falls deeper into age-based stagnation. Alas, Japan becomes the global equivalent of Boca Raton. (Note: I excluded India from the list because it has a low life expectancy, which skews the comparison.)…The U.S. is projected to grow its working-age population by 47 million between 2012 and 2050. Amazingly, China’s population of working-age citizens is expected to decline by more than 200 million during that time…For perspective, the U.S. is on track to grow its working-age population by the equivalent of six New York cities between now and 2050. China is on track to lose the equivalent of three United Kingdoms. Those, folks, may be the most important numbers of the next half-century.

The United States of America: What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America? [Mary Wittenburg on Quora]

In the episode “True Urban Legends” of This American Life, Mary Wiltenburg asks refugees to share the rumors they’d heard about America but didn’t think were true, only to discover on arrival that they were. Examples include homelessness and Christmas lights.

The US Presidential Election: A Race Between The Two Most Unqualified Public Servants In A Century? [Michael Cembalest on J.P. Morgan Chase via Zero Hedge]

So, to find an election this light on public sector experience, you have to go back to the 1924 election between Coolidge and John W Davis, the latter a compromise candidate who had spent 5 years as US Solicitor General. Both Coolidge and Davis had only spent a couple of years as either Governor or in Congress before running. That’s one strange context of the 2012 election: a couple of “one-termers”, with neither having much prior experience at the highest levels of public service (12 years combined, by our count). The implications are subject to debate, but there’s no question that it’s an anomaly; or at a minimum, a throwback to the elections of the 19th century, when this kind of thing was more common.

A Cruel and Unusual Record [Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, the founder of the Carter Center and the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, via The New York Times]

The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights. Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

Decision time for China [Rosemary Righter on The Times Literary Supplement]

Then the businessman added: “Look, I don’t lose too much sleep over China’s economic troubles; but I do worry, tremendously, about a political explosion tearing the place apart”. The dramatic political destruction in March of Bo Xilai, one of China’s most thrustingly ambitious and charismatic regional Communist Party bosses, has set off that explosion. The shockwaves are convulsing China at a crucial political juncture.

Inside Minority Report’s ‘Idea Summit’, Visionaries Saw the Future [Wired]

John Underkoffler (MIT Media Lab alum, founder of Oblong Industries): A lot of people had very disparate points of view. Remember, it was the late ’90s, just before the bubble burst. Being a futurist was still a viable vocation then.

Shaun Jones (biomedical researcher, first director of DARPA’s Unconventional Coutnermeasures program): I had some chats with Joel Garreau [principal of consulting firm The Garreau Group, in 1999 a reporter at the Washington Post], probably lamenting the lack of adequate alcohol.

Doctor’s Orders [Dave Gardetta on Los Angeles Magazine]

In 1911 in Los Angeles, a man named John T. Keough patented a handheld insertable vibrating device; the modern vibrator was born. With the arrival of electricity in homes, smaller massagers were sold directly to women of means. Advertisements in the pages of magazines like McClure’s, Modern Woman, and Good Housekeeping promised hours of relief. “Gentle, soothing, invigorating, and refreshing,” claimed one ad in National Home Journal. “Invented by a woman who knows a woman’s needs.” The course of history might have continued this way were it not for men who knew men’s needs. In the 1920s, vibrators began showing up in stag films. Sexualized, they were also demonized and by the end of the decade had vanished from the American scene. They would not appear again until 1966, when a Los Angeles man named Jon H. Tavel patented a cordless, battery-powered vibrator with variable speed settings.

Vanishing Voices [Russ Rymer on National Geographic]

When I ask university students in Kyzyl what Tuvan words are untranslatable into English or Russian, they suggest khöömei, because the singing is so connected with the Tuvan environment that only a native can understand it, and also khoj özeeri, the Tuvan method of killing a sheep. If slaughtering livestock can be seen as part of humans’ closeness to animals, khoj özeeri represents an unusually intimate version. Reaching through an incision in the sheep’s hide, the slaughterer severs a vital artery with his fingers, allowing the animal to quickly slip away without alarm, so peacefully that one must check its eyes to see if it is dead. In the language of the Tuvan people, khoj özeeri means not only slaughter but also kindness, humaneness, a ceremony by which a family can kill, skin, and butcher a sheep, salting its hide and preparing its meat and making sausage with the saved blood and cleansed entrails so neatly that the whole thing can be accomplished in two hours (as the Mongushes did this morning) in one’s good clothes without spilling a drop of blood. Khoj özeeri implies a relationship to animals that is also a measure of a people’s character.

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