Archive for September, 2014


Roundup – This is How Michael Caine Talks

Best of the Best:

The Pentagon Overpays for Almost Everything—Even Prescription Drugs [Charles Kenny on Bloomberg Businessweek]

If the Pentagon is so bad at providing good weapons to soldiers at a reasonable price, you might not expect it to be any better at buying anything else—and the evidence suggests it isn’t. Take the comparatively straightforward purchasing of off-the-shelf drugs, which the Pentagon does for active-duty and retired personnel and their dependents. Another recent GAOffice report compared net prices across a sample of 78 common and expensive brand-name and generic drugs. Compared to Medicaid, the DOD paid on average 60 percent more. One of the most reviled government agencies gets the best deal; the most loved, the worst. And yet Congress keeps expanding Pentagon’s portfolio. The department has spent more than $3.6 billion on breast cancer research. It funds science on alcohol and substance abuse, Alzheimer’s disease, and lung, ovarian, and prostate cancer. Overseas, we’ve asked it to play a lead role in the reconstruction of Haiti (spending half a billion dollars in the six months after the earthquake), to support anti-Malaria programs in Ethiopia, to vaccinate goats in Uganda, to rehabilitate dams in Afghanistan, and to build mobile phone networks in Iraq. Whether it is any more successful in these efforts than it is buying military equipment is suspect. The implementation record of these programs is patchy at best. During its tenure, the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction pursued U.S. military, civilians, and contractors involved in corruption, fraud, or other abuse in the country. By the time the office closed in 2013, its search had resulted in 90 convictions, 75 of which involved U.S. military staff, DOD employees, or contractors.

Suspect City Florida [Alice Brennan & Dan Lieberman on Fusion]

Earl Sampson has worked for nearly three years at the 207th Street Quickstop, a convenience store that has become the epicenter for police stops. Earl, 28, says he’s been stopped more than 200 times by the Miami Gardens Police Department. According to records obtained by Fusion, MGPD stopped him and filed a field contact report 181 times. In addition, Earl was arrested 111 times. Seventy-one of those arrests were for trespassing at his place of work…Since the Miami Herald first reported Earl Sampson’s story last year, Quickstop owner Alex Saleh has launched a civil rights lawsuit against the police department and the City of Miami Gardens…Alex says he was so appalled that he installed video surveillance cameras in his store — not to record crime but to record police misconduct. In January 2012, Alex says he gave his employee, Earl Sampson, a place to live inside the store to protect him from the police. But even that was no deterrent. In this security video, police are seen storming into Earl’s bedroom in the back of the store. Then Alex Saleh is seen stepping in, demanding police leave Earl alone. Moments later, the police can be seen turning around and leaving the store.

When Yahoo Reigned Supreme [Rohin Dhar on Priceonomics]

Yahoo was attractive to advertisers because it was big and one of the few games in town. It sent untargeted traffic, however, without any particular intent. Buying a banner ad on Yahoo reached people who were checking their email or reading the news. They weren’t looking to buy something or use your service. Yahoo ads were a blunt instrument. As the Internet exploded in size, browsing a list of recommended sites through Yahoo’s directory became intractable. Users needed a better way to search for the proverbially needle in the haystack. Google, with its superior relevance algorithm, blazing fast results, and uncluttered design became the best jumping off point for finding something on the web. Google’s search traffic grew because the product was great.  But Google also figured out how to make search traffic more valuable for advertisers than the display ads sold on portals like Yahoo. When users searched for a keyword, Google would let advertisers bid on placing a sponsored result that matched exactly what the user was looking for.

The Birds: Why the Passenger Pigeon Became Extinct [Jonathan Rosen on The New Yorker]

Human beings live in their historical and cultural contexts as much as passenger pigeons lived in fields, trees, and sky; it is important to remember, for example, that rural people hunted for food in the days before factory farming and supermarkets. The chicken industry in this country alone kills more than seven billion birds a year—far more than the total number of passenger pigeons at their peak. Nobody in the nineteenth century had figured out how to make the slaughter of the birds sustainable, but it is worth wondering what we would think of the passenger pigeon, and ourselves, if they had.

Rise of Viral Farms [Rohin Dhar on Priceonomics]

The first thing that these websites provide is context that primes the visitor to consider the content interesting. All of these viral videos are sitting on Youtube, often gathering dust. It seems to requires an interesting headline and short write up to make something go viral. Consider the case of Upworthy, which finds older videos that their audience might find interesting, optimizes the headlines by testing 25 different versions, and then unleashes the most popular one with great effect. The site only posted 246 times in the month of October, but each one got an average of 18,000+ social shares. That’s almost 8 times more shares than the nearest viral competitor, Mashable.

Hollande Popularity Rises After Actress Affair Disclosed: Poll [Mark Deen on Bloomberg]

French President Francois Hollande’s popularity rose from a record low, according to a poll conducted after a magazine reported that he’s having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. The Socialist president’s approval rating jumped 2 points to 26 percent, according to an LH2 poll for Le Nouvel Observateur magazine. LH2 interviewed 1,018 adults on Jan. 10 and 11. No margin of error was given.

Inquiry by C.I.A. Affirms It Spied on Senate Panel [Mark Mazzeti and Carl Hulse on The New York Times]

An internal investigation by the C.I.A. has found that its officers penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its damning report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program. The report by the agency’s inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers read the emails of the Senate investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information, according to a summary of findings made public on Thursday. One official with knowledge of the report’s conclusions said the investigation also discovered that the officers created a false online identity to gain access on more than one occasion to computers used by the committee staff.

The Business of Fake Hollywood Money [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics]

For ISS (the company who produced the money), the premise of Rush Hour 2 had become a reality — and they were penned as the bad guy. Sadly, their story is indicative of a constant dilemma faced by prop suppliers in Hollywood: the necessity to skirt the line between strict counterfeiting laws and producers’ demands for incredibly realistic money.

Fourth-Grade Teacher Polishing Up Speech On This Not Being Third Grade Anymore [The Onion]

Sources confirmed that Potter, worried about overwhelming her students too much on the first day, later revised her speech to put more emphasis on the spring field trip to Gettysburg.

£127,000 gold shirt: Indian businessman’s 4kg garment is worth its weight in gold [on The Independent]

An Indian businessman has treated himself for his 45th birthday in a way like no other: by having a shirt made out of gold. Pankaj Parakh, a local politician and the owner of a multi-million pound textile business near Mumbai, has had the shirt created out of pure love for the precious metal. The shirt in question weighs four kilos and is estimated to have cost £127,000. It has seven gold buttons has been created to move flexibly, just like any other shirt. The gold itself is 18-22 carat purity, and there have been no other metals used. It is lined with a thin cloth for added comfort, though the body of the garment is smooth. A team of 20 people are thought to have spent 3,200 hours crafting the shirt.

Is the Australian model in trouble? [Matthew C. Klein on FT Alphaville]

Officially, Australia has avoided recession for more than two decades — an impressive achievement for a small open economy that has become increasingly dependent on exports of iron ore, copper, and coal as a source of growth. Many have attributed this track record to Australia’s fortunate position as one of China’s biggest commodity suppliers, while others have argued that the Reserve Bank of Australia deserves the credit. Australians should hope that their success is due to the skill of their policymakers, rather than luck, because the newest data suggest that Oz’s luck is beginning to change.

The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord [Peter Coy on Bloomberg Businessweek]

The problem, rather, is that St. Louis is locked into a pattern of inequitable development, as shown in a remarkable series of maps that Iowa’s Gordon has posted on the Web. ‘The Gateway City is,’ he writes, ‘by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay.’ Fragmentation ‘is not the principal cause, but it certainly fed into what’s happening in Ferguson,’ says Robert Cohn, author of The History and Growth of St. Louis County, Missouri. Metro St. Louis has about the same population that it did 30 or 40 years ago, only now it’s thinly spread across 15 counties in Missouri and southern Illinois, up from just four. In an interview, Gordon says that because of Missouri’s tax laws and political fragmentation, ‘there is a huge incentive to build the next great mall in the cornfield because you all of a sudden capture the tax revenue from it. It’s something that everyone recognizes as an insane beggar-your-neighbor policy.’ He adds: ‘In places like Ferguson, you not only have disinvestment and collapsing value in residential, but also in commercial. It contributes to this dramatic spatial mismatch between where they work and where they live. St. Louis is one of the worst cities for length of commute.’

The Great Chinese Exodus [Andrew Browne on The Wall Street Journal]

Beijing makes a crucial distinction between ethnic Chinese who have acquired foreign nationality and those who remain Chinese citizens. The latter category is officially called huaqiao—sojourners. Together, they are viewed as an immensely valuable asset: the students as ambassadors for China, the scientists, engineers, researchers and others as conduits for technology and industrial know-how from the West to propel China’s economic modernization. In 1989, when the Tiananmen Square massacre triggered an outflow of traumatized students and shattered the Party’s image among overseas Chinese communities, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office kicked into high gear with a propaganda campaign to repair the damage. It proved highly successful…Foreigners sometimes have a hard time understanding why Beijing expends so much effort countering threats, real or imagined, from Chinese opponents overseas, including the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. But China’s leaders are haunted by history. To an extraordinary degree, the destiny of modern China has been shaped by the Chinese who left. The overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia provided critical support for Sun Yat-sen’s 1911 revolution, which toppled the Qing. The dynamic works the other way too. When Deng needed money and expertise to unlock the entrepreneurial energies of China in the early 1980s, he first tapped the mega-rich Chinese tycoons in Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia, whose factories populated his Special Economic Zones.

Guess Which Party Says Rand Paul ‘Blames America’ (Seriously, Guess) [Robby Soave on Reason] – RW

Which political party’s press secretary put out a press release today that criticizes Sen. Rand Paul because he “blames America…on foreign soil” and subscribes to a radical isolationist policy that would “make American less safe and secure”?…And the answer is…the Democrats. The above statement comes from DNC National Press Secretary Michael Czin. You would be forgiven for thinking otherwise; this is the exact criticism that Republicans have hurled at both Democrats and members of the Paul family for years. But with Rand Paul as the likely Republican presidential contender and interventionist Hillary Clinton as his likely opponent, the absurdities of party politics demand a switching of the unhinged attacks.

The Body on Somerton Beach [Mike Dash on The Smithsonian Magazine]

They certainly were baffled, though, in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, in December 1948. And the only thing that seems to have changed since then is that a story that began simply—with the discovery of a body on the beach on the first day of that southern summer—has become ever more mysterious. In fact, this case (which remains, theoretically at least, an active investigation) is so opaque that we still do not know the victim’s identity, have no real idea what killed him, and cannot even be certain whether his death was murder or suicide.

Lesbian women are ‘significantly more likely’ to orgasm than straight or bisexual females [Heather Saul on The Independent]

Lesbian women are much more likely to orgasm during sexual activity than either straight or bisexual females, a new study has revealed. Women also have less predictable and more varied orgasms than men, research looking at orgasm variation by a team at the Kinsley [sic] Institute has found. Their study discovered that for women – but not men – how likely they are to orgasm varied depending on their sexual orientation, with bi-sexual women being the least likely to experience orgasms.

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