13
May
14

Roundup – You! Use the Force!

Best of the Best:

For Many Indian Voters, Corruption Issue Takes a Back Seat at the Polls  [Jesse Pesta on The Wall Street Journal]

About 10% of candidates in the first five phases of India’s nine-phase election face “serious” criminal charges such as corruption, murder or kidnapping, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a clean-government advocacy group. There have been a series of high-profile scandals in recent years, including “Coalgate,” which involved allegations that coal-mining rights were given to politically connected companies at low prices in exchange for bribes to politicians and officials. In Mumbai, homes intended for war widows allegedly ended up in the hands of politicians. Among others, there have also been scandals over granite mining, rural health care and an immense controversy over the allocation of cellphone bandwidth to telecom giants. The spate of cases gave birth to a nationwide anticorruption movement and, last year, a new political party, the Aam Aadmi Party, which has gained a significant following in urban India.

The Police Raided My Friend’s House Over a Parody Twitter Account [Justin Glawe via Vice]

Yes, the cops raided Daniel’s home because they wanted to find out who was behind @peoriamayor, an account that had been shut down weeks ago by Twitter. When it was active, Daniel used it to portray Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, as a weed-smoking, stripper-loving, Midwestern answer to Rob Ford. The account never had more than 50 followers, and Twitter had killed it because it wasn’t clearly marked as a parody. It was a joke, a lark—but it brought the police to Daniel’s door. The cops even took Daniel and one of his housemates in for in-depth questioning—they showed up at their jobs, cuffed them, and confiscated their phones—because of a bunch of Twitter jokes.

Marc Summers Realizes Police Will Immediately Look For Body In Giant Pile Of Mashed Potatoes [The Onion]

“Oh God, as soon as the cops check the hot fudge sundae slide, of course they’re going to start digging through the giant mound of mashed potatoes,” the frenzied former Double Dare host reportedly muttered to himself following an attempt to stuff the remains of a local woman into a kiddie pool heaped with hundreds of pounds of instant mashed potatoes and 20 gallons of gravy, after the woman suffered a fatal head injury while attempting to run in the oversized hamster wheel mounted in his living room.

Review: ‘Heaven Is For Real’ Is Not Shameless Pandering, It’s Much Worse [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk]

You want to sell hope and love and living without fear? Fine. Make all the money you want. Even if you’re terribly cynical about it it’s still probably a net good. Heck, give it an even more openly disdainful title. “God’s Not Dead.” “Heaven Is For Real.” “Jesus Was Definitely A Guy.” But it’s not love that Heaven Is For Real is peddling. It’s not the kind of religious story that feeds you hot chocolate and warmly invites you into its community (the way a college Bible study group did for me when I passed out on their porch once in college). It’s a divisive paean to a bogus cultural divide created by a coalition of opportunists who don’t mind making money selling that same poisonous lie, the arms dealers of a pointless culture war. F*ck these people.

How Western Is Germany? Russia Crisis Spurs Identity Conflict [Christiane Hoffman on Der Spiegel translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey]

It’s thus no wonder that the debate about Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis is more polarizing than any other issue in current German politics. For Germany, the Ukraine crisis is not some distant problem like Syria or Iraq — it goes right to the core of the question of German identity. Where do we stand when it comes to Russia? And, relatedly: Who are we as Germans? With the threat of a new East-West conflict, this question has regained prominence in Germany and may ultimately force us to reposition ourselves or, at the very least, reaffirm our position in the West.

What Are Cats Thinking? [David Grimm via Slate]

But when Miklósi took the study a step further, he spotted an intriguing difference between cats and dogs. This time, he and his colleagues created two puzzles: one solvable, the other impossible. In the solvable puzzle, the researchers placed food in a bowl and stuck it under a stool. Dogs and cats had to find the bowl and pull it out to eat. Both aced the test. Then the scientist rigged the exam. They again placed the bowl under a stool, but this time they tied it to the stool legs so that it could not be pulled out. The dogs pawed at the bowl for a few seconds and then gave up, gazing up at their owners as if asking for help. The cats, on the other hand, rarely looked at their owners; they just kept trying to get the food. Now before you conclude that cats are dumber than dogs because they’re not smart enough to realize when a task is impossible, consider this: Dogs have lived with us for as many as 30,000 years—20,000 years longer than cats. More than any other animal on the planet, dogs are tuned in to the “human radio frequency”—the broadcast of our feelings and desires. Indeed, we may be the only station dogs listen to. Cats, on the other hand, can tune us in if they want to (that’s why they pass the pointing test as well as dogs), but they don’t hang on our every word like dogs do. They’re surfing other channels on the dial. And that’s ultimately what makes them so hard to study. Cats, as any owner knows, are highly intelligent beings. But to science, their minds may forever be a black box.

Riza Dreams of Poetry After Mom Risks Safety in Bangladesh [Mehul Srivastava on Bloomberg]

To give her daughter the opportunity neither she nor her mother had, Nazma Akhter made the only choices possible for a poor, illiterate woman in Bangladesh. She escaped her tiny village, bolting the door behind her so her mother couldn’t chase her down. She lived in a shed the size of a parking space in Dhaka, the capital. She worked as much as 12 hours a day making jeans, T-shirts and dresses, earning no more than $98 a month. The income was just about enough to bring her family to Dhaka and put her daughter, Riza, in school. And then came the fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., the multistoried factory where Akhter was sewing jeans on the fourth floor on Nov. 24, 2012.

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest [David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy on The New York Times]

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

Clapper Goes on Tour to Persuade University Students Snowden Is No Whistleblower, Not a Hero [Kevin Gosztola on The Dissenter on firedoglake]

‘There’s an inspector general for NSA and another one for the entire intelligence community. My office has a civil liberties and privacy protection officer. Snowden could also have gone to the Justice Department or the Congress. And as we’ve seen Snowden is superb at finding information so I think he could have tracked those people down had he given it a little thought,’ Clapper stated. Actually, if he had gone to the NSA’s inspector general, George Ellard, according to Ellard himself, he would have said something like, ‘Hey, listen, fifteen federal judges have certified this program is okay.’ He also would have tried to address Snowden’s ‘misperceptions’ and his ‘lack of understanding what we do.’ Ellard said at Georgetown Law Center in February that Snowden was ‘manic in this thievery.’ He compared him to an actual spy, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. He said, ‘Hanssen’s theft was in a sense finite whereas Snowden is open-ended, as his agents decide daily which documents to disclose.’ This is who Snowden should have risked his livelihood and turned to when blowing the whistle?

The Decline of Tornado Devastation [Roger A. Pielke Jr. via The Wall Street Journal]

What we can say with some certainty is that the number of years with very large tornado losses has actually decreased. Consider that from 1950 to 1970 the U.S. saw 15 years with tornado damage in excess of $5 billion a year. From 1993 to 2013 there were only four such years, with three since 2008. We can also tell that even though the U.S. is crisscrossed by hundreds of tornadoes annually, they are not nearly so damaging as the much less frequent occurrences of hurricanes and earthquakes. Cumulatively since 1950, 153 landfalling hurricanes in the U.S. have caused about twice as much total damage (in normalized dollars) as the almost 58,000 documented tornadoes. We also estimate that a recurrence of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake today could cause more damage than all of the tornadoes since 1950 combined. Our study also provided a state-by-state portrait of the country’s vulnerability to tornadoes—but there’s more than one answer to the common question about which state has the most tornado damage. It depends on how the measuring is done. In total damage suffered since 1950, Texas has the melancholy distinction of leading the way, followed by Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma. If we look at damage per square mile, the leaders are Massachusetts, Connecticut and Indiana, and Texas drops to 29th. There are relatively fewer tornadoes in New England, but high populations and development mean a risk of more damage. The only state with no tornado losses during this period: Alaska.

Hungry Spouses Lash Out as Low Blood Sugar Spurs Anger [Nicole Ostrow on Bloomberg]

Researchers in the study included 107 married couples who for 21 days had to test their blood-sugar levels before breakfast in the morning and before bed in evening. They were also given voodoo dolls representing their spouses and told to insert as many as 51 pins daily depending on how angry they were with their partner. The researchers were testing aggressive impulses. Those with the lowest nighttime blood-sugar levels inserted the most pins, while those with the highest glucose levels inserted the least, the study found. Women tended to stick more pins into their husband voodoo doll, but the finding wasn’t significant. The authors only found the association for nighttime blood glucose levels as the amount of sugar in the body drops throughout the day, Bushman said. After 21 days, the couples went into a laboratory where they were told they would compete with their spouse to see who could press a button the fastest to test aggressive behavior. The winners could blast their spouse with a loud noise through headphones. The spouses in reality were playing against a computer, not each other. The researchers found that those with the lowest average nighttime blood-sugar levels sent louder and longer noises to their spouse no matter how good their relationship was or whether they were male or female.

Flight Delayed? Your Pilot Really Can Make Up the Time in the Air [Benjamin Montet on FiveThirtyEight]

That means if your plane takes off 35 to 50 minutes after its scheduled departure, you can expect to make up about 20 minutes of that time in the air. But if the delay is any longer than 50 minutes, you shouldn’t get your hopes up. I suspect the pilots are more willing to press the accelerator, and consequently accept the higher fuel costs, if they believe there’s a good chance they can still get to their destination on time. (I ran the numbers across airlines, to see whether JetBlue pilots were behaving any differently than American pilots, for example, and didn’t find any statistically significant differences.) Interestingly, the BTS defines a delay as arriving late at the destination, not leaving after the scheduled departure, as I’ve defined it — so the airline has an incentive to get to the destination on time. Once the window for a plausible on-time arrival passes, however, so does your chance of a shorter flight.

The Doctor Who Coaches Athletes on Sleep [Danielle Elliot on The Atlantic]

In a 2006 interview with Harvard Business Review, Czeisler advised that companies should not expect workers to log more than 16 hours in a row, or to drive or work after an overnight flight. “We now know that 24 hours without sleep, or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1 percent,” he said. “We would never say, ‘This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!’ yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep for work.”

The Power of the Earliest Memories [Sue Shellenbarger on The Wall Street Journal]

Children who have the ability to recall and make sense of memories from daily life—the first day of preschool, the time the cat died—can use them to better develop a sense of identity, form relationships and make sound choices in adolescence and adulthood, new research shows. While the lives of many youngsters today are heavily documented in photos and video on social media and stored in families’ digital archives, studies suggest photos and videos have little impact. Parents play a bigger role in helping determine not just how many early memories children can recall, but how children interpret and learn from the events of their earliest experiences.

Stalin-Era Cable Cars Make for Thrilling Daily Commute, but Some Want Upgrade [Joe Parkinson on The Wall Street Journal]

In Chiatura, a mining town in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, residents each day pack into tiny, rusting cable cars suspended hundreds of feet over steep slopes and gorges. Known here as the “metal coffins,” the corroding cabins creak along a metal pulley system that dates back to the 1950s. Most of the cars have now rusted away, but 21 remain in service, forming the perilous “Kanatnaya Doroga,” or “rope road” network. The gondolas were built by Stalin to showcase how Soviet technology could conquer the town’s extreme geography to help extract the area’s huge metal deposits…The rope roads operate 24 hours a day with no tickets, no fines and no timetable…Travelers riding the cable cars must wait until several people are lining up at a station before operators start the pulley system. Smoking is permitted and passengers sometimes bring bottles of the local firewater Cha-Cha to drink on the trip…The rusting, wood-bottomed cabins—coated in decades-old graffiti and grime—groan and squeal as they shake and vibrate their way up the mountainside. Some of the steel wires suspending the cabins have frayed, splaying metal cords at ominous angles. Strong winds cause the carriages to bob and swing wildly. Regular power cuts mean the tram operators have to wind the cars down manually. In 2008, one of the cables snapped, leaving passengers dangling for 12 hours above rocks or rapids waiting to be rescued. One of the rusty gondolas has an emergency telephone, but operators say it stopped working in 1994.

Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future [Bryan Gardiner on Wired]

Don Stookey knew he had botched the experiment. One day in 1952, the Corning Glass Works chemist placed a sample of photosensitive glass inside a furnace and set the temperature to 600 degrees Celsius. At some point during the run, a faulty controller let the temperature climb to 900 degrees C. Expecting a melted blob of glass and a ruined furnace, Stookey opened the door to discover that, weirdly, his lithium silicate had transformed into a milky white plate. When he tried to remove it, the sample slipped from the tongs and crashed to the floor. Instead of shattering, it bounced.

“The Best TV Show That’s Ever Been” [Brian Raferty on Gentlemen’s Quarterly]

Amy Poehler (comedian): I could watch the series finale every day. When Danson turns the bar’s lights out, it’s that rare moment in TV where it feels incredibly real and earned and sweet. And that episode’s still packed with jokes, you know? I remember watching that [finale], and being so crushed that I wasn’t going to see that family again.

Almost 2,400 Millionaires Pocketed Unemployment Benefits [Frank Bass on Bloomberg]

Almost 2,400 people who received unemployment insurance in 2009 lived in households with annual incomes of $1 million or more, according to the Congressional Research Service…The 2,362 people in millionaire homes represent 0.02 percent of the 11.3 million U.S. tax filers who reported unemployment insurance income in 2009, according to the August report. Another 954,000 households earning more than $100,000 during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression also reported receiving unemployment benefits.  The reported benefits may include those received by spouses or dependents of people who made high incomes, or benefits received earlier in the year before a household member got a high-paying job. Eliminating the federal share of unemployment benefits for millionaires would save $20 million in the next decade, the congressional researchers said in their report.

The Woman Who Took the Fall for JPMorgan Chase [Susan Dominus on The New York Times]

In February of 2011, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, approached the podium of one of the ballrooms at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Key Biscayne, Fla., where 300 senior executives from around the world were attending the bank’s annual off-site conference. By that time, the cold fear of the financial crisis was cordoned off in the near-distant past, replaced by a dawning recognition that the ensuing changes in business — the comparatively trifling risk limits, the dwindling bonuses, the elevated stress levels — might actually be permanent. That day, Dimon took the opportunity, according to a bank employee in attendance, to try to inspire his team, to rouse them from the industrywide sense of malaise. Yes, there were challenges, Dimon said, but it was the job of leadership to be strong. They should be prudent, but step up — be bold. He looked out into the audience, where Ina Drew, the 54-year-old chief investment officer, was sitting at one of the tables. “Ina,” he said, singling her out, “is bold.”

“There will be growth in the spring”: How well do economists predict turning points? [Hites Ahir, Senior research officer, IMF, and Prakash Loungani, Senior resource manager and advisor in the IMF’s Research Department, via VOX.EU]

In short, the ability of forecasters to predict turning points appears limited. This finding holds up to a number of robustness checks (Loungani, Stekler, and Tamirisa 2013). First, lowering the bar on how far in advance the recession is predicted does not appreciably improve the ability to forecast turning points. Second, using a more precise definition of recessions based on quarterly data does not change the results. Third, the failure to predict turning points is not particular to the Great Recession but holds for earlier periods as well.

States Battle Asthma as Numbers Grow [Michael Ollove on Stateline]

In a valley wedged between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, St. Louis often finds itself beset by a stationary air mass that only a severe storm of some kind can dislodge. St. Louis is also an industrial city with high humidity, so it’s no wonder it usually makes the list of worst places for asthmatics to live. But the state has also pioneered advances in addressing asthma treatment and costs…Despite the state’s policies addressing asthma, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America still does not consider Missouri one of the states doing the best job in schools. It didn’t include Missouri in the honor roll of states with the most comprehensive and preferred statewide public policies supporting people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis risk and related allergic diseases in schools. The organization grades states on whether they have adopted 18 specific policies related to medication, reporting, tobacco use and indoor quality. By those standards, only seven states made the foundation’s honor roll: Washington, Indiana, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. (The District of Columbia also made the list). While Collins, of the national office, said Missouri was deficient in school-related air quality and tobacco policies, its innovations in accessibility to medications in schools had gotten the attention of advocates across the country.

Revenge and Rebound Sex: Bouncing Back, Into Bed [Dr. Benjamin Le on The Science of Relationships]

If people are having rebound and revenge sex, you might think it must be an effective way to cope with breakups. Not exactly. People who had sex with new partners did not show less distress, less anger, or higher self-esteem afterward. The bottom line is that, although some people do use sex as a way to cope with a breakup, rebound and revenge sex don’t actually make you feel any better, although it doesn’t necessarily make you feel any worse either.

The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop [Matt Daniels] – RW

Wu-Tang Clan at #6 is fucking impressive given that 10 members, with vastly different styles, are equally contributing lyrics. Add the fact that GZA, Ghostface, Raekwon, and Method Man’s solo works are also in the top 20 – notably, GZA at #2. Perhaps their countless hours of studio time together (and RZA’s mentorship) exposed each rapper’s vocabulary to one another.

California Report Criticizes $100 Million Hollywood Aid [Michael B. Marois on Bloomberg]

California’s $100 million annual tax subsidy for the film and TV industry doesn’t pay for itself, and expanding it may not stem job losses to other regions, the state’s non-partisan fiscal analyst said. For every $1 of subsidy, the state gets back about 65 cents in sales, income and use taxes, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said yesterday in a report citing the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. Local and federal agencies separately collect 46 cents, according to the report. Legislators may still wish to consider expanding California’s subsidies, the analyst said. Hollywood is a flagship industry, with high-paying jobs for the most populous U.S. state, according to the report. It also warned that other states could respond with increases of their own…California and 36 other states offer tax credits to the film industry, with payments totaling $1.4 billion a year. California lost 16,137 entertainment industry jobs between 2004 and 2012, a decline of 11 percent. New York, the Golden State’s main competitor, added 10,675 positions, up almost 25 percent, according to a February report by the Milken Institute. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to double the tax-credit program and expand it to include advertising, shows on premium-cable networks such as HBO, and films with budgets of more than $75 million. Los Angeles accounts for about half of the 221,000 jobs in the U.S. film industry, the analyst said.

Liechtenstein Gets Even Smaller [John Letzing on The Wall Street Journal]

The tiny size means easy access to people in power and a strong sense of political entitlement, locals say. That is true even in a system that gives the prince veto power over new laws. In a 2012 referendum, 76% of Liechtensteiners voted against stripping that ability. Every year, His Serene Highness Prince Hans-Adam II, the head of state, and his son, His Serene Highness Hereditary Prince Alois, invite their subjects up to the castle for a beer. A significant portion of the population shows up.

More than 100 sickened after food safety summit [Juliet Linderman on The Associated Press]

Health officials are investigating what may have sickened over 100 people who attended a conference where more than 1,300 food safety experts had gathered.

Half in Illinois and Connecticut Want to Move Elsewhere [Lydia Saad on Gallup]

Thirty-three percent of residents want to move to another state, according to the average of the 50 state responses. Seventeen states come close to that 50-state average. Another 16 are above the average range, including three showing an especially high desire to move. In fact, in these three — Illinois, Connecticut, and Maryland — roughly as many residents want to leave as want to stay. At the other end of the spectrum, 17 states are home to a below-average percentage of residents wanting to leave. This includes the previously mentioned six states — Montana, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Texas — where fewer than one in four want to move, the lowest level recorded.

How Accounting, Stop Groaning, Will Save the World [Manuela Hoelterhoff on Bloomberg]

What did Louis XIV’s accounting books look like? Colbert had them designed to fit into his coat pockets? They were small, like commonplace books. Gold and blue. Beautiful. He had the best calligraphers in the world. They aren’t in my book because the French National Library is so dysfunctional that they couldn’t even respond over two months to getting the images. France is in such bad shape. He would look at them on Fridays at 9 a.m., for the Council of Ministers. When Colbert dies, he doesn’t just get rid of the books, he cracks the financial system that allows you to do good accounting in the state, by breaking up these ministries so they can’t communicate. That’s the moment when England is making its financial reforms and France should have taken over the world, but it’s in chaos.

‘Born-Frees’ Shun South African Vote as Apartheid Memories Fade [Amogelang Mbatha, Mike Cohen and Neo Khanyile on Bloomberg]

When South Africans line up on May 7 to vote in their fifth election since the end of apartheid, 20-year-old Tshepo Mangwele and most of his contemporaries probably won’t be joining them. “Standing in a line and placing my vote on a ballot will just be a waste of time,” Mangwele, a first-year chemical engineering student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said in an interview at the campus. “Most people who registered to vote are old. They feel like they owe certain parties something because of what they did in the past.”…Mangwele, the engineering student, said it made little difference who runs the country because the politicians looked after their own interests. “Ninety percent of the youth in my neighborhood probably won’t vote because nothing is being done for them,” he said in an April 24 interview. “We vote and the person we vote for will be eating our tax money anyway. So why vote?”

Elite Colleges Don’t Buy Happiness for Graduates [Douglas Belkin on The Wall Street Journal]

A new Gallup survey of 30,000 college graduates of all ages in all 50 states has found that highly selective schools don’t produce better workers or happier people, but inspiring professors—no matter where they teach—just might. The poll, undertaken this spring, is part of a growing effort to measure how well colleges do their jobs. This survey adds an interesting twist, because it looked not only at graduates after college; it tried to determine what happens during college that leads to well-being and workplace engagement later in life. The poll didn’t measure graduates’ earnings. Rather, it was rooted in 30 years of Gallup research that shows that people who feel happy and engaged in their jobs are the most productive…The poll found that just 39% of college graduates feel engaged at work—meaning, for instance, that they enjoyed what they did on a daily basis and are emotionally and intellectually connected to their jobs. And only 11% reported they were “thriving” in five different aspects of their lives, among which are financial stability, a strong social network and a sense of purpose. That relatively small handful of graduates—who tend to be more productive—went to a variety of colleges, though they were slightly more likely to go to larger schools and less likely to have attended for-profits. The strongest correlation for well-being emerged from a series of questions delving into whether graduates felt “emotionally supported” at school by a professor or mentor. Those who did were three times as likely to report they thrived as adults. Graduates who reported having “experiential and deep learning” were twice as likely to be engaged at work as those who didn’t.

Shut Up and Deal [James Surowiecki on The New Yorker]

State regulations are littered with provisions designed to protect incumbent businesses. In most states, retailers and restaurants have to buy alcohol from wholesalers rather than directly from producers. And there’s an ever-growing thicket of occupational licensing regulations. For some professions, a licensing requirement makes sense. But, according to a 2008 study, almost thirty per cent of jobs now require a license in some state or other, including many—auctioneer, shampooer, home-entertainment installer—where licensing seems totally unnecessary. State governments have been looking out for local businesses since way back—in the nineteenth century, they forced travelling salesmen to pay extortionate fees—and they haven’t minded too much when this protectionism comes at the expense of consumers.

America and Russia arm the world, in four charts [Zack Beauchamp on Vox]

In terms of who is importing the most, India and China lead the way. In a certain sense, that’s no surprise, as they’re the world’s two largest emerging powers. Also unsurprisingly, they both buy overwhelmingly from Russia. 75 percent of Indian purchases come from Moscow, as do 64 percent of Chinese. But what’s really interesting is that India and China switched first and second place around 2008 — India rapidly outpaced China as the world’s largest importer, according to SIPRI. That’s not because India is suddenly overtaking China in terms of military power. Rather, the Chinese government has pretty effectively built up a domestic arms manufacturing and research sector. China is getting more self-sufficient, in other words. That’s good in defense terms but it’s also much better for China’s economy to spend all that money domestically. India’s arms sector is so sclerotic, by contrast, that it doesn’t even make boots and uniforms all that well.

Hasidim in NYC Exurbs Trigger Backlash That Entangles Cuomo [Freeman Klopott on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Community groups fighting the growing influence of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in New York City’s northwestern exurbs are joining forces to counter the Hasidic bloc vote in this year’s gubernatorial election. An organization called United Monroe opposes the expansion of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic village that brought high-density housing to the rural town as it grew by 63 percent since 2000. Two others, Concerned Citizens’ Group of Pine Bush and the Rural Community Coalition, are battling plans by a Hasidic developer to build 396 townhouses in Bloomingburg, a village in the foothills of the Catskills. The activists want to prevent what they call “the next East Ramapo,” a school district about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Manhattan, where critics say the state is standing idle as a Hasidic-controlled board of education cuts programs for public-school students. A group called Preserve Rockland and a coalition of religious leaders, including rabbis, are pressing Governor Andrew Cuomo for oversight.

Texas Tries to Build a Bullet Train, Yet Again [Aman Bethja on The Texas Tribune via Governing Magazine]

In 1989, former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes joined a group of investors hoping to develop a bullet train system in Texas. The company, Texas TGV, planned to build a 200 mph line between Dallas and Houston and then expand to Austin and San Antonio. After four years and more than $70 million in investments, the project collapsed…Many rail advocates have put the blame for the demise of the earlier “Supertrain” project on Southwest Airlines, which conducted an aggressive lobbying campaign. Yet the story of the project’s failure is more complicated…Texas TGV’s optimism was based in large part on its backers’ confidence that a high-speed rail line would draw thousands of Texans who regularly flew between the state’s major cities for work. The plan was a threat to Southwest Airlines, which had built a large portion of its business on the state’s “super-commuters.” Southwest officials said the Texas project was unlike any other high-speed rail project in the world, in that it was focusing more on taking customers from air travel rather than cars. Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s CEO at the time, predicted that the bullet train would force the airline to raise fares on some Texas routes and end service on others. He also warned that the company might move its corporate headquarters to another state. Southwest Airlines declined to comment for this article.

Most People in the World Have No Idea How to Manage Their Money [Moisés Naím on The Atlantic]

In Russia, 96 percent of those surveyed could not answer the three questions correctly. While that might be expected of a post-communist nation, the mecca of capitalism didn’t exactly yield glowing results—only 30 percent of Americans aced the quiz. The best-performing respondents were the Germans (53 percent got a perfect score) and the Swiss (50 percent), but this still leaves almost half of each country’s population without a basic understanding of financial matters. In countries with relatively strong economies, the numbers are sobering: 79 percent of Swedes, 75 percent of Italians, 73 percent of Japanese, and 69 percent of French could not respond correctly to all three questions…On the basis of these results, one might presume that demand for financial education is very strong. It is not. And that’s mostly because people are prone to overestimate how much they know about money. Asked to rank their financial knowledge on a scale of 1 (very low) to 7 (very high), 70 percent of the Americans surveyed by Lusardi and Mitchell ranked themselves at level 4 or higher. Yet only 30 percent of them got all three questions in the finance quiz right. The same pattern was apparent in Germany and the Netherlands. The research also found that women, the poor, and the elderly are the groups with the lowest levels of financial literacy. Ironically for the elderly, confidence in one’s money-managing prowess seems to grow with age, widening the gap between perceived and actual knowledge. Men seem to better grasp the subject than women, independent of age and education, but women—to their credit—are more aware of their shortcomings. While men outperformed women on the finance quiz, greater numbers of women responded that they “don’t know,” a result that held true all over the world. The upshot is that women, more conscious of their limitations, are more likely to be interested in financial-education programs.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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