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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