Archive for September, 2012


Roundup – Out through the Fallon Door

Line O’ The Day:

“There’s a whole book out now about just how greatly the Patriots benefited from stealing defensive signals during games. The spying was so extensive, according to one of author Bryan O’Leary’s sources, that Tom Brady might’ve known the defensive calls ahead of time on over 70 percent of his snaps. That’s fucking CHEATING. No wonder the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004. No wonder supposed offensive genuises like Charlie Weis and Josh McDaniels turned to sandy diarrhea after striking out on their own. It’s all so obvious in retrospect. You cheated, and now you suck because you can’t cheat. TEAR DOWN THE BELICHICK STATUE.”

– Drew Magary, Why Your Team Sucks 2012: New England Patriots [Deadspin]

Best of The Best:

World’s Healthiest Countries [Bloomberg Rankings]

To identify the healthiest countries in the world, Bloomberg Rankings created health scores and health-risk scores for countries with populations of at least 1 million. We subtracted the risk score from the health score to determine the country’s rank. Five-year averages, when available, were used to mitigate some of the short-term year-over-year swings.

Blind Mice Given Sight After Device Cracks Retinal Code [Bloomberg]

In research described today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists cracked the code the retina uses to communicate with the brain. The technology moves prosthetics beyond bright light and high-contrast recognition and may be adopted for human use within a year or two, said Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and the study’s lead author.

Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth [Jonah Lehrer on The New Yorker]

Nemeth’s experiment devised a way of escaping this trap. Pairs of subjects were shown a series of color slides in various shades of blue and asked to identify the colors. Sometimes one of the pair was actually a lab assistant instructed by Nemeth to provide a wrong answer. After a few minutes, the pairs were asked to free-associate about the colors they had seen. People who had been exposed to inaccurate descriptions came up with associations that were far more original. Instead of saying that “blue” reminded them of “sky,” they came up with “jazz” and “berry pie.” The obvious answer had stopped being their only answer. Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential. In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise. After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives. “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” Nemeth says. “It wakes us right up.”

The Paul Clement Court [Jason Zengerle on The New Yorker]

There are two ways to assess a Supreme Court argument. One is to view it as an act of persuasion. You can read Clement’s brief primarily as a letter to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who’ll likely be the deciding vote if the Court overturns Obama­care. Clement quotes Kennedy’s previous opinions throughout his brief, and he leans on broad themes rather than legalistic detail, which is a style that has worked to good effect on the justice in past cases. The other, more cynical way to view a Supreme Court argument is as an act of manipulation—to provide the justices with a plausible rationale for reaching a decision they’re already predisposed to make. If you believe that the Court’s conservative majority is itching to strike down Obamacare, then the task is to launder this decision of partisan motivation. And so Clement argues that there are, in fact, other ways to fix America’s health-care system without an individual mandate; it’s just that Congress chose not to avail itself of those means because they were politically unpopular.

“Tom Cruise Worships David Miscavige Like a God”: A Scientology Insider Gives First Full-Length Interview to the Voice  [Tony Ortega Interviews John Brousseau on The Village Voice]

When his father fell gravely ill a couple of years later, however, Brousseau was doing the RPF in Happy Valley. Getting out to see his father wasn’t going to be easy. “I kept getting all these delays because they were sec checking [interrogating] me to make sure I wouldn’t blow,” he says. “I got one call through to my dad. He said he was dying of liver cancer. And then he died before I could get there.” He finally arrived, and was asked to identify his father. “They brought me the wrong body. I was so numb,” he says. At the funeral, there were some old friends of his parents. He felt very alone. “I went to the house, and spent some days going through old photos,” he says.

His father had left him some money. But there was a catch. “He made it so I couldn’t touch it until I’m 60,” Brousseau says. “I guess he figured I couldn’t be trusted with it until I was out of the church. And he figured I’d be out by the time I was 60 years old.

“He was pretty smart.”

How Long Do You Want to Live? [David Ewing Duncan via The New York Times]

Over the past three years I have posed this query to nearly 30,000 people at the start of talks and lectures on future trends in bioscience, taking an informal poll as a show of hands. To make it easier to tabulate responses I provided four possible answers: 80 years, currently the average life span in the West; 120 years, close to the maximum anyone has lived; 150 years, which would require a biotech breakthrough; and forever, which rejects the idea that life span has to have any limit at all. I made it clear that participants should not assume that science will come up with dramatic new anti-aging technologies, though people were free to imagine that breakthroughs might occur — or not. The results: some 60 percent opted for a life span of 80 years. Another 30 percent chose 120 years, and almost 10 percent chose 150 years. Less than 1 percent embraced the idea that people might avoid death altogether.

Detective Work: The False Alzheimer’s Diagnosis [Melinda Beck on The Wall Street Journal]

Autopsy studies of nearly 1,000 dementia patients at 30 top centers supported by the National Institute on Aging from 2005 to 2010 found that between 17% and 30% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease had been misdiagnosed and had other conditions. The study, published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology in April, also found nearly 40% of patients not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s during their lifetimes had evidence of Alzheimer’s when autopsied.

Who Really Lost the Apple vs. Samsung Case? You Did. [Matt Yglesias on Slate]

The verdict was essentially confirmation that under contemporary conditions, if you want to get in the technology game, a product people want to buy isn’t good enough. You’ll also need an arsenal of patents that you can use in countersuits to force a cross-licensing agreement with the incumbents you’re trying to challenge. Consequently, Samsung’s loss is a huge gain for a product-poor, patent-rich firm like RIM. The patent system operates as a kind of tax on today’s innovators, and the jury’s verdict confirms that the tax is not a small one. Optimists will say this kind of strong protection for first movers creates big financial incentives to innovate. But a more realistic view is that technology companies are generally trying their best to innovate and it’s simply difficult. In that view, jury rulings in favor of incumbents will simply reduce competition and raise prices for consumers.

Why the Brains of ‘Knowledge Workers’ Don’t Wear Out [Mark Miller on Reuters via The Fiscal Times]

A growing body of neuroscience research suggests that old dogs can learn new tricks, and that they can do it better than the young ones. Walton elaborates on how the scientific research connects with the real life experiences of successful midlife transformations in his new book, Boundless Potential: Transform Your Brain, Unleash Your Talents, Reinvent Your Work in Midlife and Beyond (McGraw-Hill). He concludes that our brains are wired not for retirement, but for constant reinvention. And that seniors can tap extraordinary creative and intellectual powers in the second half of life – if they put in the required work.

Obama takes Bush’s secrecy games one step further [Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

So Obama officials are eager to publicly tout the supposed benefits of the CIA’s drone programs in order to generate political gain for the President: to make him look like some sort of Tough, Brave Warrior single-handedly vanquishing Al Qaeda. The President himself boasts about how tightly controlled, precise and effective the CIA drones are. Everyone in the world knows the CIA has a drone program. It is openly discussed everywhere, certainly including the multiple Muslim countries where the drones routinely create piles of corpses, and by top U.S. Government officials themselves. But then when it comes time to test the accuracy of their public claims by requesting the most basic information about what is done and how execution targets are selected, and when it comes time to ask courts to adjudicate its legality, then suddenly National Security imperatives prevent the government even from confirming or denying the existence of the program: the very same program they’ve been publicly boasting and joking about. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer put it after Obama publicly defended the program: “At this point, the only consequence of pretending that it’s a secret program is that the courts don’t play a role in overseeing it” – that, and ensuring that any facts that contradict these public claims remain concealed.

Havana Gets a Taste of the Free Market [Jens Glüsing on Der Spiegel]

But the Neptuno is no ordinary street. It is a laboratory for the experiments that President Raul Castro has prescribed for Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants. What happens in this area will demonstrate whether his ambitious project is a success. Castro wants to combine the state-run economy with market-based reforms in the hope of transforming Cuba into a sort of Caribbean Vietnam. However, Castro is still ruling out political liberalization. Allowing opposition groups would amount to “the legalization of the parties of imperialism,” he warned at a Communist Party congress in late January. So far, Cubans’ hopes that they might be allowed to travel abroad have been in vain since the regime has refused to amend its migration laws. Revolutionary veterans are still in charge in a country where the average age in the National Assembly is well over 70. And regime critics continue to be repressed. In the economic sphere, however, things that were once unthinkable are suddenly possible. To reduce expenses, the government recently laid off 500,000 employees. They are now permitted to open shops and handicraft businesses, sell real estate, cars and home-grown vegetables, or — as in the case of Perez — drive their own rickshaws. Within a year, the number of very small businesses has doubled to almost 350,000. Nevertheless, these ventures are still a far cry from being genuine small businesses or even privately owned companies.

The Family Hour: An Oral History of The Sopranos [Sam Kashner on Vanity Fair]

TERENCE WINTER (writer, executive producer): I watched 18 different versions of the last scene of the series finale. All very subtle variations on each other, but that was so painstaking, shot by shot by shot, and it took David weeks I think to put that ending together. I thought it was great. What I always took away from it was: when you’re Tony Soprano, even going out for ice cream with your family is going to be fraught with paranoia, and whether or not a guy comes out of that bathroom that night, eventually somebody’s going to come out of the bathroom somewhere. Maybe it happened that night, maybe it didn’t. But his legacy is paranoia and just that horrible distance that he lives in. I was shocked that people were so angry. It upset David that people would think, Oh, he’s trying to fuck with us. That it was David’s “Fuck you” to the audience. And David’s like, “I’m trying to entertain people. I’m trying to do something different that you haven’t seen before. I’m not trying to fuck with the audience.”

Condom Queues Incite Church Tensions in Philippines [Natasha Khan and Norman P. Aquino on Bloomberg]

One in five women of reproductive age in the Philippines have an unmet family planning need, the UN Population Fund says, leading to unintended pregnancies and population growth twice the Asian average. Relief may come from a reproductive health bill backed by President Benigno Aquino that promises free or subsidized contraception, especially for the poor, says Ugochi Daniels, the fund’s country representative in the Philippines…The bill has been re-filed and blocked in each three-year congressional term since it was introduced in legislature 14 years ago amid opposition from the Catholic Church — the faith of at least 80 percent of the nation’s 95 million people. This time, with presidential support, it may be put to a vote in congress in three months.

Will You Marry Me (After I Pay Off My Student Loans)? [Elizabeth Dworskin on Bloomberg Businessweek]

In 2007, the median age of a first marriage for males was 27.5 years old, and for females, 25.6 years old, according to IHS. By 2011 it crept up to 28.7 and 26.5, respectively. Fertility rates, defined as births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, decreased significantly from 69.3 in 2007 to just below 65 last year. (The marriage trend began earlier in the decade. Fertility rates, on the other hand, were going up until the recession hit.)

Can’t Help Myself [Dr. Timothy Wilson, Sherrell J. Aston professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, Reviews Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” via The New York Times]

There is another type of habitual behavior that involves more cognitive activity, namely people’s interpretation of a situation according to what it means for them and how it fits into the narratives they tell themselves. These behaviors are habitual in the sense that people have chronic ways of interpreting the world. A black college student’s “story,” for example, may be that she doesn’t belong at the ­majority-white university she attends, which causes her to fall into a pattern of disengagement and academic failure. Research shows that changing black students’ stories about their sense of belonging improves their academic performance and health throughout college. The point is that habitual behaviors come in many different forms, and squeezing them into one framework misses some of the nuances of how to change behavior effectively. In recent years social psychologists have developed many effective interventions to help people improve their lives, only some of which involve breaking bad habits in the way Duhigg describes.

Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? [Edward Jay Epstein on The Atlantic, February 1982]

De Beers proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. While other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber, and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds have continued, with few exceptions, to advance upward in price every year since the Depression. Indeed, the cartel seemed so superbly in control of prices — and unassailable — that, in the late 1970s, even speculators began buying diamonds as a guard against the vagaries of inflation and recession. The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.

In their subsequent investigation of the American diamond market, the staff of N. W. Ayer found that since the end of World War I, in 1919, the total amount of diamonds sold in America, measured in carats, had declined by 50 percent; at the same time, the quality of the diamonds, measured in dollar value, had declined by nearly 100 percent. An Ayer memo concluded that the depressed state of the market for diamonds was “the result of the economy, changes in social attitudes and the promotion of competitive luxuries.” Although it could do little about the state of the economy, N. W. Ayer suggested that through a well-orchestrated advertising and public-relations campaign it could have a significant impact on the “social attitudes of the public at large and thereby channel American spending toward larger and more expensive diamonds instead of “competitive luxuries.” Specifically, the Ayer study stressed the need to strengthen the association in the public’s mind of diamonds with romance. Since “young men buy over 90% of all engagement rings” it would be crucial to inculcate in them the idea that diamonds were a gift of love: the larger and finer the diamond, the greater the expression of love. Similarly, young women had to be encouraged to view diamonds as an integral part of any romantic courtship. Since the Ayer plan to romanticize diamonds required subtly altering the public’s picture of the way a man courts — and wins — a woman, the advertising agency strongly suggested exploiting the relatively new medium of motion pictures. Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love. In addition, the agency suggested offering stories and society photographs to selected magazines and newspapers which would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs would conspicuously show the glittering stone on the hand of a well-known woman. Fashion designers would talk on radio programs about the “trend towards diamonds” that Ayer planned to start. The Ayer plan also envisioned using the British royal family to help foster the romantic allure of diamonds.

White Man Brutally Beaten For Allegedly Having Black Girlfriend [Ruth Manuel-Logan on NewsOne]

According to the 23-year-old, he and Bakre were leisurely strolling through the town’s square when suddenly they were approached by three black men who began barraging them with racial slurs. “One of them was making racial comments at us and one of them was blowing kisses. It was very aggravating,” Bakre said. Quade tried his best to ignore the comments.  “I didn’t want to freak out on them because I thought they were saying something about me and my girlfriend. I wanted to get more information and understand the situation. But before I could, I was knocked out,” Quade said.

Autism Diagnoses Up Sharply in U.S. [Shirley S. Wang on The Wall Street Journal]

One in every 88 U.S. children has been diagnosed with autism or an autism-related disorder, a government report says, up sharply since figures were last published in 2009. But the reasons for the increase largely remain a puzzle to public-health officials. The number of kids identified as “on the autism spectrum,” marked by substantial social impairment and repetitive behaviors, has been on the rise for years. Thursday’s numbers, put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show a 23% increase over data gathered in 2006 and a 78% increase from 2002. About five times as many boys as girls have been diagnosed, according to the latest data, similar to 2006. Public-health officials say that the jump is partly due to an increase in the identification and diagnosis of younger and minority children but that this wasn’t responsible for the entire trend. Whether there was actually an increase in the incidence of autism during the period remains a pressing question.

Richard Clarke on Who Was Behind the Stuxnet Attack [Ron Rosenbaum Interviews Richard Clarke on Smithsonian Magazine]

Clarke claims, for instance, that the manufacturer of the F-35, our next-generation fighter bomber, has been penetrated and F-35 details stolen. And don’t get him started on our supply chain of chips, routers and hardware we import from Chinese and other foreign suppliers and what may be implanted in them—“logic bombs,” trapdoors and “Trojan horses,” all ready to be activated on command so we won’t know what hit us. Or what’s already hitting us. “My greatest fear,” Clarke says, “is that, rather than having a cyber-Pearl Harbor event, we will instead have this death of a thousand cuts. Where we lose our competitiveness by having all of our research and development stolen by the Chinese. And we never really see the single event that makes us do something about it. That it’s always just below our pain threshold. That company after company in the United States spends millions, hundreds of millions, in some cases billions of dollars on R&D and that information goes free to China….After a while you can’t compete.”

The God of Gamblers: Why Las Vegas is moving to Macau. [Evan Osnos on The New Yorker]

Until recently, Macau looked as much Mediterranean as Chinese, with baroque Catholic churches and rows of cafés shaded by drooping palms, where old émigrés sipped café da manhã over the Jornal Tribuna. These days, the city also evokes a touch of the Persian Gulf. Government tax revenue is often more than double the budget, and, like Kuwait, Macau distributes occasional checks to its residents under a program named the Wealth Partaking Scheme. (Last year: eight hundred and seventy-five dollars per person.) Unemployment is below three per cent. “What Las Vegas did in seventy-five years, we are doing in fifteen,” Paulo Azevedo, the publisher of Macau Business and other local magazines, told me. The rush has left the city short of many things—taxis, roads, housing, medical services. “For dental, I have to go to Thailand,” Azevedo said. One month, Macau came close to running out of coins. The casinos have reordered the rhythms of life and work, in ways that are not universally celebrated. Au Kam San, a member of Macau’s Legislative Assembly, who works as a high-school teacher, told me, “My students have said, ‘I can go get a job in a casino right now and earn more than my teacher.’”

Secrets and Lies [Andrew Rosenthal on The New York Times]

The Bush administration kept secrets largely for bad reasons: It covered up its torture memos, the kidnapping of innocent foreign citizens, illegal wiretapping and other misdeeds. Barack Obama promised to bring more transparency to Washington in the 2008 campaign, but he has failed to do that. In some ways, his administration is even worse than the Bush team when it comes to abusing the privilege of secrecy.

Man whose WMD lies led to 100,000 deaths confesses all [Jonathan Owen on The Independent]

“Curveball”, the Iraqi defector who fabricated claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, smiles as he confirms how he made the whole thing up. It was a confidence trick that changed the course of history, with Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi’s lies used to justify the Iraq war. He tries to defend his actions: “My main purpose was to topple the tyrant in Iraq because the longer this dictator remains in power, the more the Iraqi people will suffer from this regime’s oppression.”

The bizarre calculus of emergency room charges [Steve Lopez on Los Angeles Times]

Dr. Phil Schwarzman, medical director of the emergency department at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, has an insurance plan with a high deductible ($7,000). Like Gary Larson…, Schwarzman also paid about $350 for a scan on himself that would have cost much more if he went with his insurance company’s negotiated rate. A couple of years ago, his daughter needed an ultrasound for a possible gallstone. If he’d gone through his insurance company, he would have been charged $3,200, with insurance paying $1,500, leaving him a $1,700 bill. He chose instead to leave insurance out of the equation and pay cash instead. The price was $250. “It’s outrageous,” Schwarzman said. “I don’t know where they’re coming up with these numbers. Are they picking them out of a hat?”

Why Your Team Sucks 2012 [Drew Magary on Deadspin]

No one is EXCITED to draft Ryan Tannehill. Drafting Ryan Tannehill is something you do after drinking too much and intentionally doing something to hurt yourself.

Obscure film incites protests, attack that kills US ambassador to Libya and Anti-Islamic filmmaker Sam Bacile might not be a real person [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk]

The tragedy here being, of course, that when dumbasses kill people over a dumbass film made by other dumbasses, you’d hope that the dead would at least be more dumbasses. Sadly, dumbasses, can’t aim, and some innocent diplomats paid the price.

Texas-Sized Safety Net Supports County Voting 83% Against Obama [Alan Bjerga on Bloomberg]

In bad years — like 2011 — he can rely on the government for help. Record-low rainfall triggered record-high crop insurance payouts of $125 million last year to local farmers, with taxpayers subsidizing $30.8 million of the $46.9 million of the premiums paid in the county that year. Loepky received about $1 million, which paid half of his loans for the year. Landowners such as Loepky who rely on the federal safety net are less fond of the man who heads the government offering it. Gaines voters backed John McCain — who voted against reauthorizing farm payments in 2008 — over subsidy-supporting Barack Obama by 83 percent to 16 percent, the most lopsided margin among the top 10 aid-receiving counties in the U.S.

Autism Linked to Obesity in Mothers [Shirley S. Wang on The Wall Street Journal]

Researchers said mothers who are obese are significantly more likely to have a child with autism or another developmental abnormality. The finding adds to the increasingly complex picture of possible factors that contribute to the disorders. About half the risk of autism, a condition characterized by poor social skills and repetitive behaviors, is genetic, researchers believe, while the rest stems from factors including older parental age, premature birth or failure to take prenatal vitamins…The link between obesity and developmental disorders is particularly worrisome because obesity has become so prevalent. About a third of U.S. women of reproductive age are considered obese, the authors said.

Starving in India: The Forgotten Problem [Ashwin Parulkar on The Wall Street Journal]

India is a nation that prides itself on having been self-sufficient in food production for decades and having leaped forward economically over the past 20 years. So it isn’t surprising that public officials and even many in the media are reluctant to face up to the painful reality that hunger persists in 2012. Starvation doesn’t fit neatly into the story of a “shining” India. But India is also a nation with about 360 million people living under the official poverty line – more than any other country – and starvation is all too real.

Obama targets journalists  [Jesselyn Radeck via Glenn Greenwald on Salon]

While the Bush administration treated whistleblowers unmercifully, the Obama administration has been far worse. It is actually prosecuting them, and doing so under the Espionage Act — one of the most serious charges that can be leveled against an American. The Espionage Act is an archaic World War I-era law meant to go after spies, not whistleblowers. Strangely, using it to target the media and sources is the brainchild of neo-conservative Gabriel Schoenfeld, who would have sources who disclose information to reporters, journalists who then write about it for newspapers, the newspapers that publish the information and the publisher itself all be held criminally liable. Everyone wants to know why Obama, with his pledge to “protect whistleblowers,” would do this.  After all, Obama’s transition agenda recognized that “[o]ften the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.”  That’s not just a broken promise, it’s a complete reversal. At first I thought Obama’s war on whistleblowers was meant to appease the intelligence establishment, which saw him as weak. I soon recognized this assault as a devious way to create bad precedent for going after journalists.

Special Report: How Gaddafi scion went from reformer to reactionary [Marie-Louise Gumuchian on Reuters]

It was supposed to be an olive branch from the dictator’s son, an apology for those who had died at the start of the Libyan uprising, a pledge to reform Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade old regime. But when Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared on television on February 20 last year, he sounded just like his defiant and rambling father. Wagging a finger at the camera, Saif al-Islam blamed Libyan exiles for fomenting the violence and warned of more bloodshed. There was mention of reform to Libya’s constitution, but it was hardly an offer of compromise.

Intoxicating Trends [Victoria Harris on History Today]

Germany has consistently attempted to avoid criminalising the use or possession of drugs such as heroin, preferring to regulate their trade. The criminalisation of its pharmaceutical industry’s products, which also included cocaine and amphetamines, would have been economically disastrous. But historically Germany has also had a distinct conceptualisation of intoxicants, which has led it to find fault not with the substance ingested­ but instead with certain behaviours of the user. Intoxication was not inherently sinful; rather some types of use were unhealthy, others part of normal group behaviour. Germany’s heavily interventionist state structure made regulating consumption rituals and the trade of products between companies and citizens relatively simple and acceptable. The United Kingdom, by contrast, because of its liberal individualistic tradition, focused on personal possession and consumption of intoxicants and, because it could not so routinely interfere in the private lives of its citizens, could best control problem behaviour through prohibiting problem-causing substances.

Kuka Robots Invade China as Wage Gains Put Machines Over Workers [Richard Weiss on Bloomberg]

Rising wages, a push for quality, and demands for faster production are prompting China’s manufacturing industry to buy more robots, helping European companies including Kuka and ABB Ltd. (ABBN) return lagging businesses into profit centers. Kuka’s robots have become twice as profitable as the company’s larger systems unit, and ABB turned its robot unit around in 2010.

In California, Economic Gap of East vs. West [Jennifer Medina on The New York Times]

Communities all along the state’s coastline have largely bounced back from the recession, some even prospering with high-tech and export businesses growing and tourism coming back. At the same time, communities from just an hour’s drive inland and stretching all the way to the Nevada and Arizona borders struggle with stubbornly high unemployment and a persistent housing crisis. And the same pattern holds the length of the state, from Oregon to the Mexican frontier.

A Startup’s Tool Helps Evade Iran’s Censors, for Now [John Tozzi on Bloomberg BusinessWeek]

Egyptians turned to VPNs when the Mubarak regime blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, which activists used to share information and organize protests. Workarounds such as AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield, which Gorodyansky says has been downloaded 60 million times since 2007, are becoming increasingly important for people in countries where the Web is censored, particularly as repressive regimes get better at blocking access.

A Little Independent Energy Experiment on the Prairie [Maggie Koerth-Baker on Smithsonian Magazine]

The cadence of Meschke’s voice plodded along, but her hands were restless—fidgeting with themselves, drawing little circles on her notepad. She dealt in the small, deliberate details that got public works projects accomplished—the boring stuff for which bureaucracy was basically invented. Yet she talked in the language of a rabble-rouser, about tossing out the old ways and taking risks on new ideas. It was this part of Meschke’s personality that led her to see small-scale local energy as a solution, both to the water-quality problems she’d been fighting for decades and to the threat of soil erosion—which had created the dust storms that plagued my trip to Madelia. Meschke thought that local energy could solve both of those issues, because it could give farmers an opportunity to get paid for growing something other than corn. Make no mistake, the Madelia Model is about biofuel, but it is not about ethanol. This part of the country needs less corn, not more, Meschke told me. Right now, corn and, to a lesser extent, soybeans are pretty much the only crops being grown. Corn takes up more than 45 percent of all available farmland in southern Minnesota, as well as in parts of Nebraska, Indiana, and Illinois—and pretty much every square inch of Iowa. In those same areas, depending on the county, soybeans chalk up anywhere from 15 percent to more than 45 percent of farmland. From the outside, this system can seem a little illogical, but it’s simply specialization. It’s no different from a factory making only shoes instead of a closet full of different clothing products. It’s easier to become an expert on two crops, rather than on 20, and you can grow more for less of an up-front investment. Also, frankly, corn and soybeans pay off. There’s a big industrial demand for those plants that broccoli can’t match. When demand falls, there are also ample subsidies to guarantee that farmers make at least a certain price for their crops, with government money picking up the market’s slack.

Curiously Strong Remains:


When Will We Forget? [xkcd]

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