Archive for March, 2015


Roundup – STEALTH

Best of the Best:

The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed [Phil Bronstein on Esquire] (2/11/13)

What is much harder to understand is that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life. Back in April, he and some of his SEAL Team 6 colleagues had formed the skeleton of a company to help them transition out of the service. In my yard, he showed everyone his business-card mock-ups. There was only a subtle inside joke reference to their team in the company name. Unlike former SEAL Team 6 member Matt Bissonnette (No Easy Day), they do not rush to write books or step forward publicly, because that violates the code of the “quiet professional.” Someone suggested they might sell customized sunglasses and other accessories special operators often invent and use in the field. It strains credulity that for a commando team leader who never got a single one of his men hurt on a mission, sunglasses would be his best option. And it’s a simple truth that those who have been most exposed to harrowing danger for the longest time during our recent unending wars now find themselves adrift in civilian life, trying desperately to adjust, often scrambling just to make ends meet.

Edir Macedo, Brazil’s Billionaire Bishop [Alex Cuadros on Bloomberg Businessweek] (4/25/13)

In Macedo’s teaching, tithing, or giving 10 percent of your income to the church, is a mandate from God. Tithing was never part of Brazil’s Catholic tradition, and, for Macedo, that explains many of the country’s problems. In Belo Horizonte that day, he quoted Malachi, a favorite of prosperity theologians, pointing to 3:10, where the Lord promises to the faithful tither that He will “pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” A man of humble beginnings, Macedo offered his own success as proof. “Our culture is retrograde, a stingy culture, a culture with no view of the future,” he said. “Only you can change this situation. Tithing is you on God’s altar, just as Jesus was God’s tithe for humanity.” Silvio Luís Martins de Oliveira, a prosecutor in São Paulo, says that Macedo’s promise of riches amounts to fraud. In a 2009 case that is just now being tried, he accuses Macedo and three high-ranking church members of conspiracy, money laundering, and undeclared international cash transfers. “The preachers make use of the faith, desperation, or ambition of [their followers] to sell the idea that God and Jesus Christ only look upon those who contribute financially to the church,” Oliveira wrote in a criminal complaint. In his description, the Universal Church enriches its leaders far more than its faithful.

Dirty medicine [Katherine Eban on Fortune] (5/15/13)

Thakur left Kumar’s office stunned. He returned home that evening to find his 3-year-old son playing on the front lawn. The previous year in India, the boy had developed a serious ear infection. A pediatrician prescribed Ranbaxy’s version of amoxiclav, a powerful antibiotic. For three scary days, his son’s 102° fever persisted, despite the medicine. Finally, the pediatrician changed the prescription to the brand-name antibiotic made by GlaxoSmithKline GSK -1.09% . Within a day, his fever disappeared. Thakur hadn’t thought about it much before. Now he took the boy in his arms and resolved not to give his family any more Ranbaxy drugs until he knew the truth. What Thakur unearthed over the next months would form some of the most devastating allegations ever made about the conduct of a drug company. His information would lead Ranbaxy into a multiyear regulatory battle with the FDA, and into the crosshairs of a Justice Department investigation that, almost nine years later, has finally come to a resolution. On May 13, Ranbaxy pleaded guilty to seven federal criminal counts of selling adulterated drugs with intent to defraud, failing to report that its drugs didn’t meet specifications, and making intentionally false statements to the government. Ranbaxy agreed to pay $500 million in fines, forfeitures, and penalties — the most ever levied against a generic-drug company. (No current or former Ranbaxy executives were charged with crimes.) Thakur’s confidential whistleblower complaint, which he filed in 2007 and which describes how the company fabricated and falsified data to win FDA approvals, was also unsealed. Under federal whistleblower law, Thakur will receive more than $48 million as part of the resolution of the case.

One of the Baltimore Ravens Just Published an Insanely Complex Study in a Math Journal [Natalie Kitroeff on Bloomberg News] (3/20/15)

Urschel said he was jealous of Chris Borland, the San Francisco 49ers linebacker who retired from football this month at the age of 24 because he was worried about head trauma. “Playing a hitting position in the NFL can’t possibly help your long-term mental health,” Urschel acknowledged, before rattling off a list of reasons why his mental health might be particularly valuable, including a “bright career ahead of me in mathematics.” The problem is that Urschel likes to crush his peers too much. (“I love hitting people,” he confirms.)

The Rise and Fall of RedBook, the Site That Sex Workers Couldn’t Live Without [Eric Steuer on Wired] (2/24/15)

Omuro started Redbook so that Bay Area mongers would have a home on the web. It succeeded, ultimately attracting so many users that the site became a full-fledged business, with massive profits. But when RedBook was shut down, the people who were hit the hardest weren’t the buyers, but the sellers—sex workers like Cathy for whom the site had made the world’s oldest profession significantly less risky. One of the ways the site reduced danger for workers was by making it easier for them to weed out bad dates, from poor tippers to full-on abusive creeps. Providers could choose to meet only customers who were well known and well liked on RedBook’s forums, and some workers even required references from other escorts on the site before taking on a new client.

Porntopia: A trip to the Adult Video News Awards [Molly Lambert on Grantland] (3/10/15)

There are differing schools of thought on the relative value of narrative pornography (which mimics traditional Hollywood narrative film) and pseudo-vérité gonzo pornography (whose extreme close-ups verge on abstraction). Fishbein, like many people I speak with at AVN, ultimately favors narrative for the emotional investment. There’s a hypothesis that viewers will care more about (and therefore be more turned on by) a story with recognizable characters, plots, and archetypes, even if narrative plots ultimately still lead to scenes of two people fucking. Like all film taste, the distinction is wholly subjective and not really binary — most people like both. And there are those who want to legitimize pornography as an art form in the eyes of the public — the holy grail being a great movie that just happens to have some hot hard-core sex scenes in it. Part of Fishbein’s hope with X-Rated is to renew the mainstream audience’s desire for movies worthy of standing alongside classics like Behind the Green Door. I ask him what his best-loved adult movie is and he names Nothing to Hide — an adult film inspired by John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men from the early ’80s that he included in X-Rated.

Average penis size revealed in study results [Agence France-Presse via The Guardian] (3/14/15)

The team said their work, published in the BJU International journal of urology, was the first to combine all existing data on penis length and girth into a definitive graph.

Seriously, What the Heck Happened With Freddy Adu? [Noah Davis on Grantland] (3/5/15)

The Turkeys were Adu’s 10th team since being drafted no. 1 by D.C. United in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, and his eighth squad since 2009, a six-year span over which he’s played fewer than 70 games. That’s not good, but it’s hardly the end of the world as some American soccer fans make it out to be. It’s a low point for sure, but there have been some impressive highs and, perhaps, even more to come. After scoring four goals as a 14-year-old at the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship, Adu — by then already anointed the “Next Pelé” — tallied 11 goals and 17 assists in MLS between 2004 and 2006. He was 16; that is nuts. Then, at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Adu captained a U.S. group that included Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. They beat a Brazil team with Marcelo and Willian in the group stage and a Uruguay side led by Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani in the round of 16 before falling to Austria in extra time in the quarterfinals. Adu scored a hat trick against Poland in the group stages…Hackworth remembers a teenager who could dazzle, the creativity and imagination married to his first touch something rare. The coach saw it at the U-17 level, with the Union, and on the senior team, where Adu would turn defenders inside out and then deliver the perfect ball. To me, the sweeping, left-footed pass Adu hit in the 76th minute of a 0-0 tie against Panama in the 2011 Gold Cup semifinals epitomizes what he — and not many others who’ve worn the U.S. shirt — could do. If the U-20 World Cup in 2007 was the peak of Adu’s career, the 2011 Gold Cup is a close second. He didn’t figure in the first four matches but played an integral role in winning the semifinal, then tore up Mexico in the final — setting up the second goal and nearly scoring on a 25-yard free kick — before the entire U.S. team collapsed under El Tri’s withering pressure. That game marked the end of Bob Bradley’s tenure and also the last time Adu wore the red, white, and blue. It was clear he still had the physical talent, but, according to Rongen, the mental side didn’t match.

Outing at St. Louis park turns to tragedy as bullets fly, killing 6-year-old boy [Denise Hollinshed on St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (3/12/15)

Johnson, 34, said her son had suffered from heart disease since birth. She said her husband, Marcus Johnson Sr., 33, took the boy to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center for blood work Wednesday after his heart surgery the week before. Then the family decided to head to O’Fallon Park, just south of Interstate 70 in north St. Louis…She said they had a great time at the park. But at one point, her husband saw someone he knew passing by in a car. The man stopped his vehicle to chat. Another man approached, upset that traffic was stopped. “You can’t hold this traffic up,” the man yelled, according to Johnson. “This is my ’hood.” The friend in the car moved on, and the angry man walked off, but his look stuck with Johnson. “He had the devil in his eyes,” she said of how he looked at them, as if they had disrespected him. She said her gut told her they should leave. They got in the minivan, but a vehicle followed them, and before they got out of the park, shots were flying. Johnson said bullets were hitting her car and the windows were shattered. She said she had recently bought a gun because of her fear of break-ins in their neighborhood. She grabbed it. “I put my clip in my gun and looked back and saw that my son had been shot,” she said. “I gave it to my husband and I told him that if he didn’t shoot back, they will kill us all.” He fired back as they fled northwest on West Florissant Avenue, Quiana Johnson said. The vehicle’s tires were shot out and he drove on the rims. “Bullets were flying past my head as I crawled back to my baby,” she said. The others were huddling on the floor. “I said, ‘Little Marcus, wake up, don’t go to sleep. Mommy is right here with you. Wake up,’” she said. “He was trying.” They pulled off on nearby Genevieve Avenue and called police, who arrived and rushed Marcus to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Medical workers tried to save him, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital. Another son who was shot, 15-year-old Sutorus Prince, was treated and released. The 69-year-old was also taken to a hospital. His condition was not available.

Regrettable [Tanner Colby via Slate] (3/12/13)

Wired is like that throughout. Like a funhouse mirror, Woodward’s prose distorts what it purports to reflect. Moments of tearful drama are rendered as tersely as an accounting of Belushi’s car-service receipts. Friendly jokes are stripped of their humor and turned into boorish annoyances. And when Woodward fails to convey the subtleties of those little moments, he misses the bigger picture. Belushi’s nervousness about doing that love scene in Continental Divide was an important detail. When that movie came out, it tanked at the box office. After months of fighting to stay clean, Belushi fell off the wagon and started using heavily again. Six months later he was dead. Woodward missed the real meaning of what went on.

The Legend of Chris Kyle [Michael J. Mooney on D Magazine] (April 2013)

There’s a story about Chris Kyle: on a cold January morning in 2010, he pulled into a gas station somewhere along Highway 67, south of Dallas. He was driving his supercharged black Ford F350 outfitted with black rims and oversize knobby mudding tires. Kyle had replaced the Ford logo on the grill with a small chrome skull, similar to the Punisher emblem from the Marvel Comics series, and added a riot-ready aftermarket grill guard bearing the words ROAD ARMOR. He had just left the Navy and moved back to Texas. Two guys approached him with pistols and demanded his money and the keys to his truck. With his hands in the air, he sized up which man seemed most confident with his gun…He told the robbers that he just needed to reach back into the truck to get the keys. He turned around and reached under his winter coat instead, into his waistband. With his right hand, he grabbed his Colt 1911. He fired two shots under his left armpit, hitting the first man twice in the chest. Then he turned slightly and fired two more times, hitting the second man twice in the chest. Both men fell dead. Kyle leaned on his truck and waited for the police…A brief description of the incident appeared in fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s 2012 book Service: a Navy SEAL at War— but not Kyle’s own best-seller, American Sniper—and there are mentions of it in various forums deep in the corners of the internet. Before Kyle’s murder at the hands of a fellow veteran in February, I asked him about that story during an interview in his office last year, as part of what was supposed to be an extended, in-depth magazine story about his service and how hard he worked to adjust back to this world—to become the great husband and father and Christian he’d always wanted to be. He didn’t want to get into specifics about the gas station shooting, but I left that day believing it had happened…During the interview in which he discussed the gas station incident, he didn’t say where it happened. Most versions of the story have him in Cleburne, not far from Fort Worth. The Cleburne police chief says that if such an incident did happen, it wasn’t in his town. Every other chief of police along Highway 67 says the same thing. Public information requests produced no police reports, no coroner reports, nothing from the Texas Rangers or the Department of Public Safety. I stopped at every gas station along 67, Business 67 in Cleburne, and 10 miles in either direction. Nobody had heard of anything like that happening. A lot of people will believe that, because there are no public documents or witnesses to corroborate his story, Kyle must have been lying. But why would he lie? He was already one of the most decorated veterans of the Iraq war. Tales of his heroism on the battlefield were already lore in every branch of the armed forces.

In Virginia’s Fairfax County, Robbing Banks for the CIA [Tom Schoenberg on Bloomberg Businessweek] (4/18/13)

In a white-walled interrogation room in a small Virginia police station last June, two detectives were trying to get Herson Torres to crack. Surveillance video tied him to two attempted bank robberies in the area during the past week. The skinny 21-year-old didn’t have a criminal record and seemed nervous, but he wasn’t talking…He was crying as he told them an incredible story about being recruited by the Defense Intelligence Agency to participate in a secret operation testing the security of Washington-area banks. He said he’d been assigned to rob a half-dozen banks over four days. And he told them about Theo, the man who hired him and gave all the orders—even though Torres had never met him. Angry, his interrogators accused him of making up a ridiculous story. Still, Torres persuaded them to look at the text and e-mail messages on his cell phone; he also gave them the password to his Facebook account and urged them to retrieve a copy of the Defense Intelligence Agency immunity letter from his glove compartment. The police locked up Torres on a charge of attempted robbery and examined the evidence. By the end of the night, they weren’t sure what was going on, but they suspected Torres might be telling the truth.

An interview with Anna Reid on the Siege of Leningrad [Alec Ash on Five Books] (12/11/11)

The most reliable accounts of what actually happened inside the city during the siege (and the core of of my book) are uncensored diaries – some newly published, some lodged with museums or libraries, some handed me by the diarists’ families. There are also masses of government documents which we’ve only had access to since [the fall of the USSR in] 1991. They include stuff from the NKVD [Soviet secret police], reports from government agencies on how everything stopped functioning – the fire service, hospitals, factories – and police reports on cannibalism and crime more generally. There was looting of shops and bread carts; mugging, murder, corruption in the food distribution system; massive theft of food and ration cards – none of which, of course, enters the Brezhnevite version of events. Also, of course, political repression ground on. Ordinary, perfectly harmless people were still being arrested and dragged off to prison even as they were dying of starvation. Putin is clearly using the siege in the same way that Brezhnev did, as part a cult of the Great Patriotic War. You can see it in action at the Piskarovskoye Cemetery, [site of Leningrad’s – now St Petersburg’s – main siege memorial] on Victory Day [May 9th]. Enormous crowds gather carrying banners – red, but without the hammer and sickle – and wearing little coloured ribbons that are supposed to indicate that you are related to a blockade survivor (which is impossible, they can’t all be descended from blokadniki). Understandably, Russians are very proud of their war record, and in general people still think of the siege as a heroic episode – a testament to the human spirit and a great survival story – whereas for me, having spent years with dozens of unbearably sad diaries, it’s more a story of human tragedy and government brutality and incompetence.

Diving Deep into Danger [Nathaniel Rich on The New York Review of Books] (2/7/13)

When executives at Micoperi, an Italian company that specializes in marine construction, read about Keller’s achievement, they urged Shell to provide him with additional funding. The two companies worked together to build new facilities for Keller to continue his experiments, forming a joint-venture company called Sub Sea Oil Services. During the next twenty years, Shell’s divers would descend as deep as 1,900 feet. The free diver would revolutionize the oil industry, allowing human beings to extract oil in many places where they were not designed to go.

Long Night at Today [Joe Hagan on New York Magazine] (3/24/13)

If Matt Lauer doesn’t want to be seen with sharp knives, it’s because last summer his co-host Ann Curry was discovered with one in her back. She was swiftly replaced by a younger, more genial woman, Savannah Guthrie. Ever since, Lauer has been the prime suspect in Curry’s virtual demise. Five million viewers, the majority of them women, would not soon forget how Curry, the intrepid female correspondent and emotionally vivid anchor, spent her last appearance on the Today show couch openly weeping, devastated at having to leave after only a year. The image of Matt Lauer trying to comfort her—and of Curry turning away from his attempted kiss—has become a kind of monument to the real Matt Lauer, forensic evidence of his guilt…What followed was the implosion of the most profitable franchise in network television. After sixteen years as the No. 1 morning show in America, Today was worth nearly half a billion dollars a year in advertising revenue to NBC, the bedrock of its business. In the aftermath of the Curry debacle, the show lost half a million viewers and ceded first place in the ratings war to ABC’s Good Morning America, losing millions of dollars overnight.

Moore’s Law and the Origin of Life [MIT Technology Review] (4/15/13)

Alexei Sharov at the National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore and his mate Richard Gordon at the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Florida, have taken a similar to complexity and life. These guys argue that it’s possible to measure the complexity of life and the rate at which it has increased from prokaryotes to eukaryotes to more complex creatures such as worms, fish and finally mammals. That produces a clear exponential increase identical to that behind Moore’s Law although in this case the doubling time is 376 million years rather than two years. That raises an interesting question. What happens if you extrapolate backwards to the point of no complexity–the origin of life? Sharov and Gordon say that the evidence by this measure is clear. “Linear regression of genetic complexity (on a log scale) extrapolated back to just one base pair suggests the time of the origin of life = 9.7 ± 2.5 billion years ago,” they say. And since the Earth is only 4.5 billion years old, that raises a whole series of other questions. Not least of these is how and where did life begin.

Maximal meaning in minimal space: the history of punctuation [Keith Houston on Shady Characters] (4/16/13)

Punctuation itself – literally, the act of adding “points” to a text – did not arrive until the third century BC, when Aristophanes of the great Library at Alexandria described a series of middle (·), low (.) and high points (˙) denoting short, medium and long pauses. Over the centuries, this system gave rise to punctuation as we know it: from Aristophanes’ three dots came the colon, the full stop, and many other marks besides. At the same time the paragraphos evolved into the “pilcrow”, a C-shaped mark (¶) placed at the start of each new section in a text. The word space was a late arrival, appearing only when monks in medieval England and Ireland began splitting apart unfamiliar Latin texts to make them easier to read. Then, in the mid-1450s, Gutenberg published his famed 42-line Bible, and everything changed overnight. Spaces, once as wide or as narrow as a scribe chose to make them, begat an extended family of fixed widths, from hair spaces ( ) up to em quads ( ), that printers required to justify lines. Once carefully painted in by hand, pilcrows became too time-consuming to add; left out, their ghostly absences gave rise to the indented paragraph.

A 2000-year-old Philosophical Problem that Stumps Modern Machines [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9] (5/23/13)

The most formal application of, well, ass-theory, came from Leslie Lamport. He showed that, if a sample ass has to make a decision between two absolutes, and starts at some point in a continuous range of values, there are always going to be some starting points that end in the ass starving to death. No matter how many fail safes and specifics built into the system, there is going to be a stalling point. Lamport stresses that this theory doesn’t say that the ass could never decide. The problem with the ass is that it’s mortal, and therefore has limited time. Computers, although they do things quickly, also have a limited time. If the ass were immortal, and the machine had an infinite amount of time before its operator got impatient and hit it with a hammer, it’s possible that the paradox would resolve itself. But not within any bounded length of time.

How Pesticides Pushed Cockroaches Into Rapid Evolution [Joseph Bennington-Castro on io9] (5/23/13)

Just how this mechanism evolved so quickly remains unknown, though the researchers have a few ideas. One possibility is that glucose-aversion is actually an ancient trait that plant-eating cockroaches developed to avoid ingesting nasty plant compounds. When they moved in with humans in caves and later buildings, the trait became useless and was selected against. And then when we introduced baits that coupled glucose with toxic insecticides, the ancient trait, which likely still occurred at very low frequencies, was rapidly selected for.

A quick way to manipulate people [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9] (5/23/13)

Steven Sherman, a psychologist, gave people a call. He told people he wanted them to show up and work for a pledge drive to raise money for cancer research. Since no one likes cancer, many people said they’d show up to work at a certain time. About 4% of those who agreed actually did. He made another round of calls. This time, he asked people simply if they were the type of person who would donate their time if they were asked to. Nearly all the people who said yes showed up.

CEOs are Terrible at Management, Study Finds [Susan Adams on Forbes] (5/23/13)

The study, a joint project by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and The Miles Group, a consulting firm in New York that focuses on C-suites and corporate boards, found that both CEOs and boards are overly focused on the bottom line, at the expense of mentoring and engaging their boards. The survey polled 160 CEOs and directors of North American public and private companies…It makes sense to me that boards are preoccupied with financial measurements. But the study found that the attention given to talent development and mentoring was at rock bottom. The survey asked boards and CEOs about the weighting they give to various aspects of CEO performance. The most important thing, rated at 41%, was “accounting, operating or stock price performance.” The weighting given to people performance was incredibly low, with “succession planning” getting just a 5% rating and and “workplace safety” just 2%…Also striking is the fact that a sizable majority of directors (83%) and boards (64%) agree that the CEO evaluation process should rely on a balanced approach between financial performance and nonfinancial measurements…More results from the study:-Directors don’t rate their CEOs highly. Only 41% of directors say their CEO is in the top 20% of their peers and 17% say their CEO is below the 60th percentile.-A sizable minority, 10%, say they have never evaluated their CEO.-CEOs who are evaluated, agree with the marks they get…-Many directors forgive CEOs for legal and regulatory violations. This is one of the most striking results of the study. When asked about unexpected litigation against the company, a significant minority of directors, 27%, said that it would have no impact on a CEO’s performance evaluation, while 24% said that regulatory problems would have no impact. Shouldn’t CEOs be held accountable for legal and regulatory lapses? At least directors were unforgiving about ethical violations and a failure to be transparent with the board. A full 100% said their CEOs would get worse performance evaluations in the face of ethical problems.

The Section: Knights of Soft Rock [David Browne on The Rolling Stone] (4/11/13)

For most of the Seventies, the singer-songwriter sound embodied by Taylor, Jackson Browne, King and Crosby, Stills and Nash dominated the charts and the radio, luring thousands of bell-bottomed fans to concert halls. Those acts – as well as Zevon, Ronstadt and many more – relied on a small, rarified group of backup musicians to shape that tight, gently rocking sound. Anyone who geeked out on liner notes back then will recognize the most prominent names: guitarist Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russell Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar and keyboardist Craig Doerge – known collectively as “the Section” – plus Wachtel and stringed-instrument wizard David Lindley…one day when he was riding in the back seat of a car with Taylor, Wachtel watched as a female tollbooth clerk asked Taylor for an autograph. Looking groggy, Taylor scribbled something on a piece of paper, said, “Hi, darling, here you go,” and handed it to her. Wachtel glanced over and saw what Taylor had scrawled: “You bitch, I’ll kill you” – signed, sardonically, “James Taylor.”

Slaves to the algorithm [Steven Poole on Aeon Magazine] (5/13/13)

[A] single Californian company called Impermium provides software to tens of thousands of websites to automatically flag online comments for ‘not only spam and malicious links, but all kinds of harmful content — such as violence, racism, flagrant profanity, and hate speech’. How do Impermium’s algorithms decide exactly what should count as ‘hate speech’ or obscenity? No one knows, because the company, quite understandably, isn’t going to give away its secrets. Yet rather than pursuing mere lexicographical analysis, such a system of automated pre-censorship is, again, making moral judgments.

Last Native American mound in St. Louis is visited by tribe that purchased site [Doug Moore on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (3/19/15)

St. Louis is often referred to as Mound City, based on the more than 40 earthen structures that were once part of its landscape. But now, just this one, known as Sugarloaf Mound, remains. The mound — and the 900-square-foot house that sits atop it — was bought in summer 2009 by the Osage Nation, a tribe based in Oklahoma. Preservationists, archaeologists and politicians had written to the tribe when the property went on the market. The mound, which could be as much as 2,000 years old, is the victim of abuse. A quarry nearly destroyed it 200 years ago. Construction of I-55 did more damage in the 1960s. The Osage didn’t build Sugarloaf, but based on archaeological evidence, the tribe believes its ancestors include a mound-building society that constructed massive earthworks throughout the Midwest.

Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea’s Colossal Monument Factory [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg Businessweek] (6/6/13)

Perhaps the world’s biggest art factory, Mansudae employs roughly 4,000 North Koreans, including some 1,000 artists, handpicked from the country’s best academies. These favored few are the only artists officially sanctioned to portray the Kim family dynasty, and their primary task is to churn out propaganda paintings, murals, posters, billboards, and Soviet-style monuments deifying the country’s Great, Dear, and Supreme Leaders, also known as Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un. But Mansudae does more than just set the stage for North Korea’s self-celebration. The studio also runs a thriving multimillion-dollar side business: building statues, monuments, museums, sports stadiums, and at least one palace, for a long list of countries across the world, many of them in Africa.

Saudi Women More Educated Than Men Are Wasted Resource [Donna Abu-Nasr on Bloomberg News] (6/4/13)

As Saudi women take jobs that were previously not open to them, they’re creating a new workplace dynamic in the country. More Saudis now accept the idea of women working in jobs such as law or real estate. Employers who see the benefits of hiring women are adjusting their workplaces to accommodate them, adding women’s restrooms or creating separate entrances and work spaces for them. Women who’ve been raised separately from men outside their immediate family are learning that it’s OK to interact with them on the job. King Abdullah, who’s ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005, has been slowly expanding rights for women despite resistance from some segments of the religious establishment…More women are working than ever before — a total of 647,000 in 2012, up from 505,000 in 2009, according to the country’s Central Department of Statistics and Information. “The number is minuscule, but it is a significant increase,” says Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, an economist and an assistant secretary-general for negotiations and strategic dialogue at the Gulf Cooperation Council. Just 10 percent of Saudi women over the age of 15 are employed, one of the lowest rates in the world. Yet women outnumber men in higher education: Some 59,948 women received postsecondary degrees in 2009 compared with 55,842 men, according to the Education Ministry.

Laughter and the Brain [Richard Restak on The American Scholar] (6/10/13)

All humor involves playing with what linguists call scripts (also referred to as frames). Basically, scripts are hypotheses about the world and how it works based on our previous life experiences. Consider what happens when a friend suggests meeting at a restaurant. Instantaneously our brains configure a scenario involving waiters or waitresses, menus, a sequence of eatables set out in order from appetizer to dessert, followed by a bill and the computation of a tip. This process, highly compressed and applicable to almost any kind of restaurant, works largely outside conscious awareness. And because our scripts are so generalized and compressed, we tend to make unwarranted assumptions based on them. Humor takes advantage of this tendency…everyday activities are given a different spin by forcing the listener to modify standard scripts about them. Indeed, the process of reacting to and appreciating  humor begins with the activation of a script in the brain’s temporal lobes. It is the brain’s frontal lobes that make sense of the discrepancy between the script and the situation described by the joke or illustrated by the cartoon. This ability is unique to our species. Though apes can engage in play and tease each other by initiating false alarm calls accompanied by laughter, they cannot shift back and forth between multiple mental interpretations of a situation. Only we can do this because—thanks to the larger size of our frontal lobes compared with other species—we are the only creatures that possess a highly evolved working memory, which by creating and storing scripts allows us to appreciate sophisticated and subtle forms of humor. Neuroscientists often compare working memory to mental juggling. To appreciate a cartoon or a joke, you have to keep in mind at least two possible scenarios: your initial assumptions, created and stored over a lifetime in the temporal lobes, along with the alternative explanations that are worked out with the aid of the frontal lobes.

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Best of the Best:

The Hackers of Damascus [Stephen Faris on Bloomberg Businessweek] (11/15/12)

Much has been written about the rebellion in Syria: the protests, the massacres, the car bombs, the house-to-house fighting. Tens of thousands have been killed since the war began in early 2011. But the struggle for the future of the country has also unfolded in another arena—on a battleground of Facebook (FB) pages and YouTube accounts, of hacks and counterhacks. Just as rival armies vie for air superiority, the two sides of the Syrian civil war have spent much of the last year and a half locked in a struggle to dominate the Internet. Pro-government hackers have penetrated opposition websites and broken into the computers of Reuters (TRI) and Al Jazeera to spread disinformation. On the other side, the hacktivist group Anonymous has infiltrated at least 12 Syrian government websites, including that of the Ministry of Defense, and released millions of stolen e-mails. The Syrian conflict illustrates the extent to which the very tools that rebels in the Middle East have employed to organize and sustain their movements are now being used against them. It provides a glimpse of the future of warfare, in which computer viruses and hacking techniques can be as critical to weakening the enemy as bombs and bullets. Over the past three months, I made contact with and interviewed by phone and e-mail participants on both sides of the Syrian cyberwar. Their stories shed light on a largely hidden aspect of a conflict with no end in sight—and show how the Internet has become a weapon of war.

Why Things Fail: From Tires to Helicopter Blades, Everything Breaks Eventually [Robert Capps on Wired] (10/19/12)

This meticulous work has produced revelations. Before, even information like the size of the market—how much gets paid out each year in warranty claims—was a mystery. Nobody, not analysts, not the government, not the companies themselves, knew what it was. Now Arnum can tell you. In 2011, for example, basic warranties cost US manufacturers $24.7 billion. Because of the slow economy, this is actually down, Arnum says; in 2007 it was around $28 billion. Extended warranties—warranties that customers purchase from a manufacturer or a retailer like Best Buy—account for an estimated $30.2 billion in additional claims payments. Before Arnum, this $60 billion-a-year industry was virtually invisible. Then there are the warranty “events.” When a company gets something seriously wrong, it shows up in an Arnum spreadsheet. Asked for a dramatic example, he thinks for a second, then says, “the Xbox 360.”

The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly [Justin Heckert on The New York Times] (11/15/12)

Her life story offers an amazing snapshot of how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain. Pain is a gift, and she doesn’t have it.

Luck and Skill Untangled: The Science of Success [Samuel Arbesman on Wired] (11/16/12)

Of course, we know one of the terms of our equation — the observed outcome — and we can estimate luck.  Estimating luck for a sports team is pretty simple. You assume that each game the team plays is settled by a coin toss. The distribution of win-loss records of the teams in the league follows a binomial distribution. So with these two terms pinned down, we can estimate skill and the relative contribution of skill. To be more technical, we look at the variance of these terms, but the intuition is that you subtract luck from what happened and are left with skill. This, in turn, lets you assess the relative contribution of the two. Some aspects of the ranking make sense, and others are not as obvious. For instance, if a game is played one on one, such as tennis, and the match is sufficiently long, you can be pretty sure that the better player will win. As you add players, the role of luck generally rises because the number of interactions rises sharply. There are three aspects I will emphasize. The first is related to the number of players. But it’s not just the number of players, it’s who gets to control the game…The second aspect is sample size. As you learn early on in statistics class, small samples have larger variances than larger samples of the same system…Finally, there’s the aspect of how the game is scored. Go back to baseball. A team can get lots of players on base through hits and walks, but have no players cross the plate, based on when the outs occur. In theory, one team could have 27 hits and score zero runs and another team can have one hit and win the game 1-0. It’s of course very, very unlikely but it gives you a feel for the influence of the scoring method. Basketball is the game that has the most skill.

China Mafia-Style Hack Attack Drives California Firm to Brink [Michael A. Riley on Bloomberg News] (11/28/14)

For three years, a group of hackers from China waged a relentless campaign of cyber harassment against Solid Oak Software Inc., Milburn’s family-owned, eight-person firm in Santa Barbara, California. The attack began less than two weeks after Milburn publicly accused China of appropriating his company’s parental filtering software, CYBERsitter, for a national Internet censoring project. And it ended shortly after he settled a $2.2 billion lawsuit against the Chinese government and a string of computer companies last April. In between, the hackers assailed Solid Oak’s computer systems, shutting down web and e-mail servers, spying on an employee with her webcam, and gaining access to sensitive files in a battle that caused company revenues to tumble and brought it within a hair’s breadth of collapse.

The Folly of Scientism [Austin L. Hughes on The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society] (Fall 2012)

The temptation to overreach, however, seems increasingly indulged today in discussions about science. Both in the work of professional philosophers and in popular writings by natural scientists, it is frequently claimed that natural science does or soon will constitute the entire domain of truth. And this attitude is becoming more widespread among scientists themselves. All too many of my contemporaries in science have accepted without question the hype that suggests that an advanced degree in some area of natural science confers the ability to pontificate wisely on any and all subjects. Of course, from the very beginning of the modern scientific enterprise, there have been scientists and philosophers who have been so impressed with the ability of the natural sciences to advance knowledge that they have asserted that these sciences are the only valid way of seeking knowledge in any field. A forthright expression of this viewpoint has been made by the chemist Peter Atkins, who in his 1995 essay “Science as Truth” asserts the “universal competence” of science. This position has been called scientism — a term that was originally intended to be pejorative but has been claimed as a badge of honor by some of its most vocal proponents. In their 2007 book Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, for example, philosophers James Ladyman, Don Ross, and David Spurrett go so far as to entitle a chapter “In Defense of Scientism.”

Alan Turing in three words [Michael Saler on The Times Literary Supplement] (12/28/12)

Turing’s rehabilitation from over a quarter-century’s embarrassed silence was largely the result of Andrew Hodges’s superb biography, Alan Turing: The enigma (1983; reissued with a new introduction in 2012). Hodges examined available primary sources and interviewed surviving witnesses to elucidate Turing’s multiple dimensions. A mathematician, Hodges ably explained Turing’s intellectual accomplishments with insight, and situated them within their wider historical contexts. He also empathetically explored the centrality of Turing’s sexual identity to his thought and life in a persuasive rather than reductive way. Thus he made a convincing case that Turing’s teenage crush on a fellow schoolboy, Christopher Morcom, was an important catalyst for his lifelong preoccupation with the relationship between brain and mind. Morcom’s unexpected death at the age of eighteen was a shattering blow to Turing, who began to reflect on whether his friend’s consciousness might survive after death or whether it was simply a result of complex material processes and expired when life did. Hodges also linked the famous “Turing Test”, in which a computer attempts to pass as an intelligent human being, to Turing’s own dilemma as a gay man in a homophobic world. (Turing called his test the “imitation game”, and Hodges observed, “like any homosexual man, he was living an imitation game, not in the sense of conscious play acting, but by being accepted as a person that he was not”.)

Pardis Sabeti, the Rollerblading Rock Star Scientist of Harvard [Seth Mnookin on The Smithsonian Magazine] (December 2012)

Sabeti was convinced that there was a way to pinpoint when more recent changes in the human genome had occurred and that this knowledge could lead to breakthroughs in fighting disease. Specifically, she wanted to use the makeup of neighborhoods of genes (called haplotypes) to determine if a specific gene variation (called an allele) in a given neighborhood had recently come to prominence in a population because it conferred an evolutionary advantage. This should be possible, she thought, by using the never-ending process of genetic recombination—the breaking and rejoining of DNA strands—as a kind of clock to measure how long ago a given mutation had swept through a population. If a widespread mutation had appeared recently—for instance, the mutation that enabled adult human beings to digest the lactose in cow’s milk, a nutritional advantage for many people in Europe after cows became common there—fewer recombination events would have occurred since it was introduced. As a result, the mutated version of that allele should be on a stretch of DNA that was more or less identical for everyone in a population. If the mutation had appeared a longer time ago, recombination would dictate that the area around the mutated allele would have gone through more random recombination events and it would be on a stretch of DNA that was more varied across the population. It was a radical approach: Instead of using existing tools to analyze new data, she was trying to develop new tools to use on available data…early one morning, she plugged a large data set related to the DC40L gene, which she’d already linked to malaria resistance, into an algorithm she’d developed and watched results showing it was associated with a common haplotype—indicating it had recently been selected for—come into focus on her computer screen…That October, she was the lead author on a paper published in Nature that laid out her discovery’s “profound implications for the study of human history and for medicine.” For the first time, researchers could look for evidence of positive selection by testing common haplotypes even if they didn’t have “prior knowledge of a specific variant or selective advantage.” By applying this approach to pathogens, there was the possibility of identifying how diseases had evolved to outwit the human immune response or develop drug resistance—knowledge that would open up new avenues to combating disease.

5 Statistics Problems That Will Change The Way You See The World [Walter Hickey on The Atlantic] (11/13/12)

Abraham is tasked with reviewing damaged planes coming back from sorties over Germany in the Second World War. He has to review the damage of the planes to see which areas must be protected even more. Abraham finds that the fuselage and fuel system of returned planes are much more likely to be damaged by bullets or flak than the engines. What should he recommend to his superiors? PROTECT THE PARTS THAT DON’T HAVE DAMAGE: Abraham Wald, a member of the Statistical Research Group at the time, saw this problem and made an unconventional suggestion that saved countless lives. Don’t arm the places that sustained the most damage on planes that came back. By virtue of the fact that these planes came back, these parts of the planes can sustain damage. If an essential part of the plane comes back consistently undamaged, like the engines in the previous example, that’s probably because all the planes with shot-up engines don’t make it back.  Wald’s memos on this situation — in addition to being a remarkable historical statistical document — shed additional light of the statistics developed during the Second World War that would go on to found the field of Operations Research.

What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web? [Rob Rosenbaum on The Smithsonian Magazine] (January 2013)

In his often provocative and astute dissenting book You Are Not a Gadget, he recalls one of the participants in those early mind-melds describing it as like being “in the most interesting room in the world.” Together, these digital futurists helped develop the intellectual concepts that would shape what is now known as Web 2.0—“information wants to be free,” “the wisdom of the crowd” and the like. And then, shortly after the turn of the century, just when the rest of the world was turning on to Web 2.0, Lanier turned against it. With a broadside in Wired called “One-Half of a Manifesto,” he attacked the idea that “the wisdom of the crowd” would result in ever-upward enlightenment. It was just as likely, he argued, that the crowd would devolve into an online lynch mob.

The Boy Who Became a World War II Veteran at 13 Years Old [Gilbert King on Smithsonian Magazine] (12/19/12)

Aboard was a gunner from Texas who would soon become the nation’s youngest decorated war hero. Calvin Graham, the fresh-faced seaman who had set off for battle from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, was only 12 years old…Calvin Graham told his mother he was going to visit relatives. Instead, he dropped out of the seventh grade and shipped off to San Diego for basic training. There, he said, the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and often made them run extra miles and lug heavier packs.

Which professions have the most psychopaths? The fewest? [Barking Up the Wrong Tree] (12/5/12)

“Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial character, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.” So which professions (other than axe murderer) have the most psychopaths? What about the least? Via The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success:

East St. Louis Cops Outgunned as Cuts Let Killers Thrive [Tim Jones on Bloomberg News] (1/3/13)

Parks, the mayor, said the city has had “an image problem” since the 19th century, when the city’s first elected leader, John Bowman, was murdered in his front yard.

Restless Genes [David Dobbs on National Geographic] (January 2013)

In the winter of 1769, the British explorer Captain James Cook, early into his first voyage across the Pacific, received from a Polynesian priest named Tupaia an astonishing gift—a map, the first that any European had ever encountered showing all the major islands of the South Pacific. Some accounts say Tupaia sketched the map on paper; others that he described it in words. What’s certain is that this map instantly gave Cook a far more complete picture of the South Pacific than any other European possessed. It showed every major island group in an area some 3,000 miles across, from the Marquesas west to Fiji. It matched what Cook had already seen, and showed much he hadn’t. Cook had granted Tupaia a berth on the Endeavour in Tahiti. Soon after that, the Polynesian wowed the crew by navigating to an island unknown to Cook, some 300 miles south, without ever consulting compass, chart, clock, or sextant. In the weeks that followed, as he helped guide the Endeavour from one archipelago to another, Tupaia amazed the sailors by pointing on request, at any time, day or night, cloudy or clear, precisely toward Tahiti. Cook, uniquely among European explorers, understood what Tupaia’s feats meant. The islanders scattered across the South Pacific were one people, who long ago, probably before Britain was Britain, had explored, settled, and mapped this vast ocean without any of the navigational tools that Cook found essential—and had carried the map solely in their heads ever since. Two centuries later a global network of geneticists analyzing DNA bread-crumb trails of modern human migration would prove Cook right: Tupaia’s ancestors had colonized the Pacific 2,300 years before. Their improbable migration across the Pacific continued a long eastward march that had begun in Africa 70,000 to 50,000 years earlier. Cook’s journey, meanwhile, continued a westward movement started by his own ancestors, who had left Africa around the same time Tupaia’s ancestors had. In meeting each other, Cook and Tupaia closed the circle, completing a journey their forebears had begun together, so many millennia before.

WHO MURDERED BENAZIR BHUTTO? [Eric Margolis] (12/28/12)

By the time her season’s greeting card and a handwritten note arrived in my office, my old friend Benazir Bhutto was already dead. The card mailed in Pakistan days before her murder,  remains on my desk to this today, a touching last link from this  remarkable lady.  So, too, the names of the men who may have murdered her. Five years ago last Thursday,  Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, was murdered in Rawalpindi during a campaign rally.   This charismatic lady was adored, even venerated by her supporters, who called her the savior of Pakistan. She was equally hated by her foes who accused her and husband, Asif Ali Zardari, of robbing Pakistan  and acting as agents of the United States. Shockingly, five years after her death, we still don’t know who was behind it even though her family political fief, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has held power ever since.   We are not even sure what killed her: a suicide bomber next to the vehicle from which she was waving to crowds,  a sniper, or a fractured skull caused by hitting her head on a roof latch as a result of the explosion. UN investigators reported she had been denied proper security by the regime of then president, Pervez Musharraf whose grip on power was faltering. Washington’s plan was to replace him with US ally Benazir.

Your Brain in Love [Mark Fischetti on Scientific American] (1/18/11)

Men and women can now thank a dozen brain regions for their romantic fervor. Researchers have revealed the fonts of desire by comparing functional MRI studies of people who indicated they were experiencing passionate love, maternal love or unconditional love. Together, the regions release neuro­transmitters and other chemicals in the brain and blood that prompt greater euphoric sensations such as attraction and pleasure. Conversely, psychiatrists might someday help individuals who become dan­gerously depressed after a heartbreak by adjusting those chemicals. Passion also heightens several cognitive functions, as the brain regions and chemicals surge. “It’s all about how that network interacts,” says Stephanie Ortigue, an assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University, who led the study. The cognitive functions, in turn, “are triggers that fully activate the love network.”

The Placebo Phenomenon [Cara Feinberg on Harvard Magazine] (Jan-Feb 2013)

Two weeks into Ted Kaptchuk’s first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist. In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn’t get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients’ pain ballooned to nightmarish levels. “The side effects were simply amazing,” Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce. But even more astounding, most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers. But Kaptchuk’s study didn’t prove it, either. The pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the “acupuncture” needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn’t aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes…But researchers have found that placebo treatments—interventions with no active drug ingredients—can stimulate real physiological responses, from changes in heart rate and blood pressure to chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson’s. The challenge now, says Kaptchuk, is to uncover the mechanisms behind these physiological responses—what is happening in our bodies, in our brains, in the method of placebo delivery (pill or needle, for example), even in the room where placebo treatments are administered (are the physical surroundings calming? is the doctor caring or curt?). The placebo effect is actually many effects woven together—some stronger than others—and that’s what Kaptchuk hopes his “pill versus needle” study shows. The experiment, among the first to tease apart the components of placebo response, shows that the methods of placebo administration are as important as the administration itself, he explains. It’s valuable insight for any caregiver: patients’ perceptions matter, and the ways physicians frame perceptions can have significant effects on their patients’ health.

The Real Cuban Missile Crisis [Benjamin Schwarz on The Atlantic] (1/2/13)

Although the missiles’ military significance was negligible, the Kennedy administration advanced on a perilous course to force their removal. The president issued an ultimatum to a nuclear power—an astonishingly provocative move, which immediately created a crisis that could have led to catastrophe. He ordered a blockade on Cuba, an act of war that we now know brought the superpowers within a hair’s breadth of nuclear confrontation. The beleaguered Cubans willingly accepted their ally’s weapons, so the Soviet’s deployment of the missiles was fully in accord with international law. But the blockade, even if the administration euphemistically called it a “quarantine,” was, the ExComm members acknowledged, illegal. As the State Department’s legal adviser recalled, “Our legal problem was that their action wasn’t illegal.” Kennedy and his lieutenants intently contemplated an invasion of Cuba and an aerial assault on the Soviet missiles there—acts extremely likely to have provoked a nuclear war. In light of the extreme measures they executed or earnestly entertained to resolve a crisis they had largely created, the American reaction to the missiles requires, in retrospect, as much explanation as the Soviet decision to deploy them—or more. On that very first day of the ExComm meetings, McNamara provided a wider perspective on the missiles’ significance: “I’ll be quite frank. I don’t think there is a military problem here … This is a domestic, political problem.” In a 1987 interview, McNamara explained: “You have to remember that, right from the beginning, it was President Kennedy who said that it was politically unacceptable for us to leave those missile sites alone. He didn’t say militarily, he said politically.” What largely made the missiles politically unacceptable was Kennedy’s conspicuous and fervent hostility toward the Castro regime—a stance, Kennedy admitted at an ExComm meeting, that America’s European allies thought was “a fixation” and “slightly demented.” In his presidential bid, Kennedy had red-baited the Eisenhower-Nixon administration, charging that its policies had “helped make Communism’s first Caribbean base.” Given that he had defined a tough stance toward Cuba as an important election issue, and given the humiliation he had suffered with the Bay of Pigs debacle, the missiles posed a great political hazard to Kennedy…The risks of such a cave-in, Kennedy and his advisers held, were distinct but related. The first was that America’s foes would see Washington as pusillanimous; the known presence of the missiles, Kennedy said, “makes them look like they’re coequal with us and that”—here Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon interrupted: “We’re scared of the Cubans.” The second risk was that America’s friends would suddenly doubt that a country given to appeasement could be relied on to fulfill its obligations. In fact, America’s allies, as Bundy acknowledged, were aghast that the U.S. was threatening nuclear war over a strategically insignificant condition—the presence of intermediate-range missiles in a neighboring country—that those allies (and, for that matter, the Soviets) had been living with for years. In the tense days of October 1962, being allied with the United States potentially amounted to, as Charles de Gaulle had warned, “annihilation without representation.” It seems never to have occurred to Kennedy and the ExComm that whatever Washington gained by demonstrating the steadfastness of its commitments, it lost in an erosion of confidence in its judgment. This approach to foreign policy was guided—and remains guided—by an elaborate theorizing rooted in a school-playground view of world politics rather than the cool appraisal of strategic realities. It put—and still puts—America in the curious position of having to go to war to uphold the very credibility that is supposed to obviate war in the first place.

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Best of the Best:

The World’s Most Famous Performance Artist Needs to Make Real Money [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg News] (2/27/15)

Despite her fame, an Abramovic original isn’t expensive—at least, not compared with contemporaries such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Gerhard Richter. While a single Koons sculpture fetches as much as $58.4 million at auction, Abramovic’s biggest sale to date was one of her material works, a 1996 sculpture called Chair for Non-Human Use, which sold for $362,500 in 2011, according to Artnet, which tracks the art market. The chair has a quartz crystal backrest and iron legs that are 23 feet long. As for The Artist Is Present, Abramovic says she prepared for a year, sat for a total of 736 hours, and needed three years to recover from the physical and mental toll. Her fee, she says, totaled $100,000.

Scientists know there are more giant craters in Siberia, but are nervous to even study them [Sydney Morning Herald] (2/27/15)

In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet’s most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called “the ends of the Earth” where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 30 metres in diameter. The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Climate change had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time. Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters, the Siberian Times reported. Dozens more Siberian craters are likely still out there, said Moscow scientist Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, calling for an “urgent” investigation.

Heroin Overdose Deaths in U.S. Have Tripled Since 2010 [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (3/3/15)

The biggest spikes in heroin deaths have taken place in the Northeast and Midwest, the CDC reports. The demographics of heroin abuse and overdose are shifting. While heroin deaths are increasing among all races, the highest overdose rate in 2000 was among middle-aged blacks. By 2013, whites aged 18 to 44 had the greatest rate of overdoses. Men are nearly four times as likely to die from heroin overdoses than women are.  Heroin is also a big business: The RAND Corp. in 2010 estimated that America’s heroin market was worth $27 billion. That’s more than what is spent in the U.S. at hardware stores ($22 billion) or specialty food retailers ($21 billion), according to Census Bureau data.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist in Teen Pregnancy Rates [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (3/3/15)

But when you look at actual rates, they demonstrate a stark reality: Girls of color are much more likely to become pregnant. Among non-Hispanic white teens, the birth rate in 2013 was 19 births per 1,000, while among black teens, it was 39 births per 1,000. Latina teens have the highest birth rate, at 42 births per 1,000 teens. The birth rate for Native American teens was 31 births per 1,000, while among Asian/Pacific Islander teens, the birth rate was 9 births per 1,000. Poverty plays a big role in high teen birth rates, as does geography. Rural teens have higher rates of pregnancy than do urban and suburban teens. Southern states, which tend to be poorer and have the highest rates of HIV infections, also report the highest number of teen births. Education and access to contraceptives play a larger role in teen pregnancy rates than do cultural or religious differences, teen advocates suggest.

The Most Unique Job in Each State, in One Map [Jake Grovum on Stateline] (3/2/15)

The state of Hawaii has almost 13 times as many professional dancers than would be expected based on the national average. In New York, there are more than six times as many fashion designers. Florida has five times more professional athletes. Indiana, home to the Purdue University Boilermakers, has more than six times as many actual, working boilermakers…The numbers for North Dakota and Texas, for example, show the states’ heavy reliance on the energy industry: North Dakota has almost 36 times more extraction workers than would be expected based on national averages; Texas has almost seven times as many petroleum engineers. Louisiana, too, shows its reliance on energy: There are 20 times more riggers in the state than would be expected. Other states show similar reliance on certain industries: West Virginia has 77 times more mine shuttle car operators than would be expected. Nevada, meanwhile, is home to 32 times more gaming supervisors. Oregon has more than 40 times as many loggers. The results in some other states are more curious, although perhaps not for those who live there. Mississippi has almost 17 times more upholsterers within its borders than would be expected based on the profession’s prevalence elsewhere. Missouri has almost four times as many psychiatric technicians. In South Carolina, there are almost 12 times more tire builders. It’s worth noting the numbers don’t show that one state or the other necessarily has more people working in a given profession than others. The analysis takes the overall prevalence of certain professions nationwide and compares the expected concentration — relative to a state’s population — with how many people are actually working in those jobs in a given state.

What’s Killing White Women? [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (3/5/15)

Black women have a much higher mortality rate, but it has declined significantly—23 percent since 1999. Hispanic women also posted declines. (Hispanics of all age groups, both men and women, have lower mortality rates than average, a demographic phenomenon known as the Hispanic paradox.) Part of the jump in the death rate for whites is explained by the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse and overdoses that disproportionately affected whites. But that accounts for only half the total increase, according to the report. Other causes of death on the rise include suicide and respiratory disease. Some declined, including traffic deaths, homicides, and the cancers most closely linked to smoking. Though overdose deaths among blacks also increased, the rise was smaller. And overall mortality for black women fell dramatically, with declines in deaths from cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, and cancers, among other causes…We don’t have enough evidence to tell whether the increase is a temporary one linked to painkiller abuse or if it’s a long-term shift. The authors cite examples of other short-term spikes in mortality. Deaths increased for black women in the U.S. during the crack epidemic. For Russian men, death rates linked to alcoholism are still high but appear to be declining. A grimmer possibility: The pattern may reflect “a systematic reversal in the long-term trend of mortality decline” for white women, according to the Urban Institute paper. Such a shift could be linked to social and economic circumstances. Poorer people generally have poorer health for a variety of reasons, and growing inequality could be weighing on death rates.

Girls Still Lag Behind Boys at Math, Study Finds [Melissa Korn on The Wall Street Journal] (3/5/15)

Using results from a 2012 assessment given to about a half-million 15-year-olds around the world, a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds that even though more boys struggled to show basic proficiency in reading, math and science than did girls, boys still ultimately outperformed girls in math. The gap was widest at the top, with high-achieving boys scoring significantly higher than the top girls.

Here’s Why Jon Stewart Quitting ‘The Daily Show’ is So Painful for Democrats [Joshua Green on Bloomberg News] (2/11/15)

When placing political ads on television, buyers want to make sure they’re reaching people in the right party and that those people are likely to vote on Election Day. You don’t want to screw this up. A few years ago, when Donald Trump was on his birther tear, the ratings for Celebrity Apprentice tanked because his toxic right-wing politics drove away his heavily liberal audience. Although this chart is a couple years out of date (Piers Morgan!), you can see that Stewart’s audience is both a) extremely liberal, and b) very likely to turn out to vote. Even more so than the audience of the dearly departed Stephen Colbert. And this data undoubtedly understates the true influence of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report because both shows occupied such a prominent space in the Gen X/Gen Y psyche, even if Morgan had even more liberal, civic-minded viewers. All in all, this is rough news for Democrats.

The CIA’s Secret Psychological Profiles of Dictators and World Leaders Are Amazing [Dave Gilson on Mother Jones] (2/11/15)

The CIA studied the Vietnamese leader and revolutionary in the 1950s. Findings: The report remains classified, but a 1994 article by Thomas Omestad in Foreign Policy (not online) cites a retired Marine who saw it while working with the agency. The source told Omestad that the CIA misread Ho’s political motivations and goals. A product of the Cold War, the profile “exaggerated Ho’s Marxism and underestimated his ardent nationalism.”

Scientists Are Wrong All the Time, and That’s Fantastic [Marcus Woo on Wired] (2/27/15)

No matter how an experiment got screwed up, “negative results can be extremely exciting and useful—sometimes even more useful than positive results,” says John Ioannidis, a biologist at Stanford who published a now-famous paper suggesting that most scientific studies are wrong. The problem with science isn’t that scientists can be wrong: It’s that when they’re proven wrong, it’s way too hard for people to find out.

Masters of Love [Emily Esfahani Smith on The Atlantic] (6/12/14)

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time. But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.” The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It’s not that the masters had, by default, a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

How Gmail Happened: The Inside Story of Its Launch 10 Years Ago [Harry McCracken on Time Magazine] (4/1/14)

Gmail is often given as a shining example of the fruits of Google’s 20 percent time, its legendary policy of allowing engineers to divvy off part of their work hours for personal projects. Paul Buchheit, Gmail’s creator, disabused me of this notion. From the very beginning, “it was an official charge,” he says. “I was supposed to build an email thing.” He began his work in August 2001. But the service was a sequel of sorts to a failed effort that dated from several years before he joined Google in 1999, becoming its 23rd employee…The fact that Gmail began with a search feature that was far better than anything offered by the major email services profoundly shaped its character. If it had merely matched Hotmail’s capacity, it wouldn’t have needed industrial-strength search. It’s tough, after all, to lose anything when all you’ve got is a couple of megabytes of space. But serious search practically begged for serious storage: It opened up the possibility of keeping all of your email, forever, rather than deleting it frantically to stay under your limit. That led to the eventual decision to give each user 1GB of space, a figure Google settled on after considering capacities that were generous but not preposterous, such as 100MB.

Later, Baby: Will Freezing Your Eggs Free Your Career? [Emma Rosenblum on Bloomberg Businessweek] (4/17/14)

The egg freezing generation, those latchkey kids of glass-ceiling breakers, were taught “that you create your career, and then everything else falls into place,” says Lauren, a 34-year-old lawyer in Los Angeles who froze her eggs in January and, like many of the women interviewed for this article, declined to reveal her full name in a national magazine for fear of staying single forever. “But now I know it’s not as easy as that.” Work hard, put off kids, and you might find yourself at 40 hearing a fertility doctor deliver the bad news. According to a 2008 analysis of data from the National Survey of Family Growth, among women 40 to 44, there are equal numbers of those who are childless by choice and those who would like to have children but can’t conceive. Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning. The average age of women who freeze their eggs is about 37, down from 39 only two years ago. (“Desperation level,” as Brigitte Adams, a marketing director at a Los Angeles software company who froze her eggs at 39, puts it.) And fertility doctors report that more women in their early 30s are coming in for the procedure. Not only do younger women have healthier eggs, they also have more time before they have to use them.

Font War: Inside the Design World’s $20 Million Divorce [Joshua Brustein on Bloomberg Businessweek] (5/15/14)

Gotham is one hell of a typeface. Its Os are round, its capital letters sturdy and square, and it has the simplicity of a geometric sans without feeling clinical…Critics have praised Gotham as blue collar, nostalgic yet “exquisitely contemporary,” and “simply self evident.” It’s also ubiquitous. Gotham has appeared on Netflix (NFLX) envelopes, Coca-Cola (KO) cans, and in the Saturday Night Live logo. It was on display at the Museum of Modern Art from 2011 to 2012 and continues to be part of the museum’s permanent collection. It also helped elect a president: In 2008, Barack Obama’s team chose Gotham as the official typeface of the campaign and used it to spell out the word HOPE on its iconic posters. Among those who draw letters for a living, Gotham is most notable for being the crowning achievement of two of the leaders of their tribe, Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler. The two men seemed to be on parallel paths since the summer of 1970, when they were both born in New York. Hoefler and Frere-Jones were already prominent designers when they began operating as Hoefler&Frere-Jones in 1999, having decided to join forces instead of continuing their race to be type design’s top boy wonder. Each would serve as an editor for the other, and they would combine their efforts to promote the work they did together. Colleagues still struggle to explain what a big deal this was at the time…In January, Frere-Jones filed a lawsuit against Hoefler, saying that their company was not actually a partnership, but a long con in which Hoefler had tricked him into signing over the rights to all of his work, cheating Frere-Jones out of his half of the business.

The Invention of the Slurpee [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (4/8/14)

Knedlik’s franchise didn’t have a soda fountain, so he began placing shipments of bottled soda in his freezer to keep them cool. On one occasion, he left the sodas in a little too long, and had to apologetically serve them to his customers half-frozen; they were immensely popular.  When people began to show up demanding the beverages, Knedlik realized he had to find a way to scale, and formulated plans to build a machine that could help him do so. He reached out to The John E. Mitchell Company — a Dallas-based outfit that had previously made cotton cleaning equipment, but had “pivoted” into selling aftermarket automobile air conditioners. The company developed an interest in becoming an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and agreed to help Knedlik with his vision. Five years of trial and error ensued, resulting in a contraption that utilized an automobile air conditioning unit to replicate a slushy consistency. The machine featured a separate spout for each flavor (only two at this point), and a “tumbler” which constantly rotated the contents to keep them from becoming a frozen block.  Initially, Knedlik thought to name his product “scoldasice” but when an ad-man friend persuaded him otherwise, he hired a young local artist, Ruth E. Taylor, to do branding. Taylor coined the “ICEE” name, and drew up a mock sketch of the iconic original logo — four letters placed in blue and red boxes, adorned with ice (a feature that has remained unchanged today). She also conceived the idea to use a polar bear, though the goofy (but endearing) mascot used by Knedlik was eventually developed by Norsworthy-Mercer, an external ad agency. Taylor’s designs were modified and finalized by a staff artist at Mitchell Company (the machine manufacturer), and the ICEE company formulated a business plan. For a rental fee, businesses could license a specified number of ICEE dispensers and have exclusive distribution rights in their territories.  By the mid-1960s, 300 companies had ICEE machines in operation; 7-Eleven was one of them.

Being Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (4/25/13)

However, academic work on beauty finds that much of what we find attractive is consistent over time and across cultures. In general, people find symmetry and averageness of features attractive in faces. When images of perfectly symmetrical faces are created in Photoshop, people like them better. The same is true of photos created by merging many faces to get a composite. Scientists speculate that we prefer symmetry and average features because they (at least at some point) indicated healthy genes or other evolutionary advantages. More evidence of a universal, objective basis for beauty comes from studies of babies presented with pictures of different faces. The pictures the babies gazed at the longest were consistently the ones rated as most attractive by panels of adults.

The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs [Ethan Watters on Pacific Standard Magazine] (3/3/14)

At the most quotidian level, Thornhill finds it easy to convince people that humans likewise manifest such instinctual behaviors to avoid infection and illness. Some of these habits very much parallel those seen in other creatures. I admitted to Thornhill that I had recently been displaying a bit of grooming behavior myself after the youngest primate in my care came home from preschool itching with head lice. Like Mashudu, we humans remove waste from our living quarters. We ostracize our sick, at least to the extent that we expect those with the flu to stay home from work or school. And similar to the lowly ant, we assign a small number of our fellows the solemn duty of hauling away and disposing of our dead. On examination, everyday life is full of small defensive moves against contamination, some motivated by feelings, like disgust, that arise without conscious reflection. When you open the door of a gas station bathroom only to decide you can hold it for a few more miles, or when you put as much distance as possible between yourself and a person who is coughing and sneezing in a waiting room, you are displaying a behavioral immune response. But these individual actions are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Thornhill and a growing camp of evolutionary theorists. Our moment-to-moment psychological reactions to the threat of illness, they suggest, have a huge cumulative effect on culture. Not only that—and here’s where Thornhill’s theory really starts to fire the imagination—these deep interactions between local pathogens and human social evolution may explain many of the basic differences we observe between cultures. How does your culture behave toward strangers? What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? What values do you share? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off? The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates. To survive, people in this latter sort of terrain must withstand a higher degree of “pathogen stress.” Thornhill and his colleagues theorize that, over time, the pathogen stress endemic to a place tends to steer a culture in distinct ways.

The Untold Story Of Larry Page’s Incredible Comeback [Nicholas Carlson on Business Insider] (4/24/14)

Rosing explained that engineering was getting a reorganization: All engineers would now report to him, all project managers were out of a job. The news did not go over well. The project managers were stunned. They hadn’t been warned. They’d just been fired in front of all their colleagues. The engineers demanded an explanation. So Page gave one. With little emotion, speaking in his usual flat, robotic tone, he explained that he didn’t like having non-engineers supervising engineers. Engineers shouldn’t have to be supervised by managers with limited tech knowledge. Finally, he said, Google’s project managers just weren’t doing a very good job. As Page talked, he kept his gaze averted, resisting direct eye contact. Though he was an appealing presence with above-average height and nearly black hair, he was socially awkward. The news was met with a chorus of grumbling. Finally, one of the engineers in the room, Ron Dolin, started yelling at Page. He said an all-hands meeting was no place to give a performance review. What Page was doing was “completely ridiculous,” he said, and “totally unprofessional.”

The Ice Sculpture Business [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (4/28/14)

Typically, an ice sculptor started with a standard block of ice (40”x20”x10”), drew out his design on paper, traced it onto the ice, and spent “15-20 minutes chainsawing the stuff off that didn’t need to be there” before detailing it. In the last decade, specialized CNC ice machines have been introduced. The machines, which are operated using computer programs, quickly cut out logos and figures with unbridled precision, and have completely changed the industry.

Why Do We Eat, and Why Do We Gain Weight? [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker] (4/9/14)

In 2011, Mark Bouton, a psychologist at the University of Vermont, conducted a review of the types of conditional and operant stimuli that increase a craving for a specific food or our desire to eat more generally. He found that two types of cues play an important role. On the one hand, there are food-specific cues: a certain packaging or color associated with a preferred food (say, the distinctive red and orange of a Doritos logo and bag), a certain sound (someone opening the bag), a certain smell (the scent of the chips), or a certain taste (a hint of saltiness). But equally important are environmental cues that seem unrelated to food: the couch on which you typically watch movies while eating popcorn, a social gathering like a Super Bowl party, a sporting event, a shopping mall. These cues, in turn, are very difficult to unlearn. If you have a habit of snacking on Oreos while watching “Mad Men,” it will be tough to get through an episode without craving your cookie. (TV, in fact, is a particularly difficult stimulus to control; regardless of other ambient conditions, we tend to eat more when the television is on.)

Power, Pollution and the Internet [James Glanz on The New York Times] (9/22/12)

Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found. To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters. Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.

Clash of Civilizations? There’s No Such Thing [Charles Kenny on Bloomberg News] (3/12/15)

Huntington’s 1993 essay suggested that “Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state often have little resonance” in other cultures. Attachment to the nation-state was weakening, and “in much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap.” Battles among “princes, nation-states, and ideologies” were largely a thing of the past, as “the principle conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations”: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic, Latin American, and African. In some ways, Huntington’s essay looks impressively prescient. Many Arab countries were reaching economic and social development where “efforts to introduce democracy become stronger,” but Huntington warned the “principle beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements.” He noted that in Italy, France, and Germany, political reactions against Arab immigrants would become more intense, as would tensions between Northern (Muslim) and Southern (Christian) Nigeria — all of which now seems farsighted. And even if the evidence is weak that the world has become a lot more religious over the past few decades, it certainly hasn’t become any less so: Around the world, most of the countries for which we have data are seeing rising attendance at religious services. But there’s little evidence that support for the nation-state is being replaced by religious loyalties, or that democratic liberalism is waning, or that civilizations are drifting apart into religion-based regional blocs. And conflicts, while frequently involving cultural divides, remain stubbornly concentrated within, not across, Huntington’s civilizations.

The Luxury Repo Men [Matthew Teague on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/25/12)

Cage and his guys make a living taking from the rich. He’s one of a handful of the world’s most sophisticated repo men. And while the language may be different from the doorbusters who grab TVs, the game is the same: On behalf of banks Cage nabs high-dollar toys from self-styled magnates who find themselves overleveraged. Many of the deadbeat owners made a killing in finance and real estate during the economic bubble—expanding it, even—and were caught out of position when it burst. So now men like Cage steal $20 million jets like they were jalopies. And fast boats. Even, on one occasion, a racehorse.

The Science of “Intuition” [Maria Popova on Brain Pickings] (October 2012)

One of the first things that modern research on intuition has clearly shown is that there is no such thing as an intuitive person tout court. Intuition is a domain-specific ability, so that people can be very intuitive about one thing (say, medical practice, or chess playing) and just as clueless as the average person about pretty much everything else. Moreover, intuitions get better with practice — especially with a lot of practice — because at bottom intuition is about the brain’s ability to pick up on certain recurring patterns; the more we are exposed to a particular domain of activity the more familiar we become with the relevant patterns (medical charts, positions of chess pieces), and the more and faster our brains generate heuristic solutions to the problem we happen to be facing within that domain.

Study Finds Swans Only Other Animals Who Mate For Few Years, Get Scared, End Things, Then Regret It [The Onion] (3/12/15)

Revealing how closely the waterfowl’s social behavior resembles that of humans, a study released Thursday by the University of Georgia has found that swans are the only other members of the animal kingdom that mate for a few years, get scared, decide to end things, and are later filled with immense regret.

Man Completes Life $130,000 Over Budget [The Onion] (3/10/15)

Sources confirmed that his life would likely be considered a loss, as it did not generate sufficient yields to justify its creation.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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Roundup – Transformers in a Nutshell

Best of the Best:

Philip K. Dick On Fine-Tuning Your B.S.-Meter To Spot “Pseudo-Realities” [Phillip K. Dick via io9] (2/25/15)

I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.

Expressing Your Insecurities to Your Partner Can Actually Create More Insecurities. Here’s Why. [Samantha Joel on The Science of Relationships] (2/23/15)

Again, the researchers found strong support for their model: People who expressed more vulnerabilities to their friend/partner tended to believe that this person saw them as insecure, which in turn led them to doubt that person’s authenticity, which in turn led them to believe that this person viewed them more negatively. Over time, this belief that the person viewed them more negatively led the person to express even more vulnerabilities, and thus the whole cycle would continue to worsen over time. Furthermore, these effects occurred independently from the friends’ partners’ views…Maybe, rather than trying to change how we express our insecurities to close others, we should instead try to change our perceptions of how those close others are reacting to our insecurities. If you believe that someone sees you as insecure or that they’re walking on eggshells around you, those beliefs are more likely a projection of your own feelings than they are an accurate assessment of how the person feels. You are far more aware of your own insecurities than anyone else is. In fact, research shows that it’s precisely when you’re feeling the most insecure that you’re most likely to underestimate how much the close people in your life care about you and how positively they feel about you. So, the next time a close friend or a romantic partner tells you something complimentary, try taking it at face value. In all likelihood they do mean it, or they wouldn’t be saying it.

American Sniper Fans React Completely Reasonably [Spilly on KSK] (2/25/15)

Hailey, you’ve got a strong contender for take of the week. There’s the capitalization of every word, the random usage of “Proff”, and the lack of a fourth digit in ‘2,000’. It’s really a quintessential Facebook comment, even without diving into the content. Once you do, you realize that if all award shows perfectly mirrored what Facebook deems is popular, every Pulitzer prize would be awarded to Buzzfeed clickbait articles about 90s kids.

Does Parenting Make People Happy or Miserable? [Bonnie Le on The Science of Relationships] (2/25/15)

First, the age of parents and their children play a role in how happy parents are. Parents who are older and who have older children tend to be happier given that they are relatively more mature and financially stable. Further, parents of older children feel more effective at parenting and may experience greater happiness if they have positive and supportive relationships with their older children. Gender, marital status, and education level matter too. For instance, men tend to experience greater well-being from becoming parents. The picture is less clear for women; parenthood has been linked to greater happiness in some studies and to less happiness in other studies, likely because women tend to engage in child rearing tasks that center upon both routine and play, while men tend to spend a greater proportion of their caregiving time on play. In addition, married parents tend to have relatively greater happiness than their non-married counterparts given the increased social support available to married adults, lower financial strain, and greater help with chores and housework. And lastly, parental education and socioeconomic status relate to happiness as well. Specifically, parents of higher education and socioeconomic status find less value and fulfillment in parenting relative to those who are lower in socioeconomic status and education, with research indicating that these parents may find parenting to conflict with other goals in their lives, such as their careers…So, does parenting make people happy or miserable? What we’ve learned from research is, it depends! Some parents may be happier than others on average, but on the whole, having children can be both stressful and demanding, but can also provide parents with great joy and meaning in many ways.

Astrology could help take pressure off NHS doctors, claims Conservative MP [The Guardian] (2/24/15)

David Tredinnick said astrology, along with complementary medicine, could take pressure off NHS doctors, but acknowledged that any attempt to spend taxpayers’ money on consulting the stars would cause “a huge row”. He criticised the BBC and TV scientist Professor Brian Cox for taking a “dismissive” approach to astrology, and accused opponents of being “racially prejudiced”.

Sharing A Room Before Sharing Vows? What You Should Know Before Cohabiting [Jana Lembke on The Science of Relationships] (2/19/15)

One recent study of 280 cohabiting individuals found that people’s primary reasons for living together mattered for their relationship quality.4 Specifically, cohabiting for the purpose of spending time together was linked with greater relationship satisfaction, higher commitment, and lower conflict. In contrast, other reasons for cohabiting were associated with less desirable outcomes. People who reported living together to “test the relationship” reported greater ambivalence about the relationship, while those citing “convenience” as the main reason reported lower commitment – a risk factor for cheating. These findings mean that identifying specific motives behind wanting to live with someone is important in deciding whether cohabitation will likely help or harm the relationship. Another study suggests that it’s important for both partners to be clear about their goals when it comes to making relationship decisions like moving in together. The researchers found that regardless of whether partners were dating, cohabiting, or married, those who reported engaging in more thoughtful decision-making processes (e.g., reflecting on the risks and benefits of the decision; communicating intentions) were more dedicated to their partners, more satisfied with their relationships, and less likely to cheat. In other words, cohabitation is more likely to confer positive relationship outcomes when partners are on the same page about the decision and they engage in proactive discussions about potential challenges. The bottom line: Cohabitation is increasingly seen as a relationship milestone, but it doesn’t mean that engagement is around the corner. In fact, moving in with a dating partner for shortsighted reasons or just because you’ve been with them for awhile may invite problems later on. There may be value in cohabiting to spend more time with your partner on a daily basis, but when you anticipate spending a lifetime together, why rush?

The Open-Office Trap [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker] (1/7/14)

In June, 1997, a large oil and gas company in western Canada asked a group of psychologists at the University of Calgary to monitor workers as they transitioned from a traditional office arrangement to an open one. The psychologists assessed the employees’ satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward. The employees suffered according to every measure: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and, instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity fell. In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation. When David Craig surveyed some thirty-eight thousand workers, he found that interruptions by colleagues were detrimental to productivity, and that the more senior the employee, the worse she fared. Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers have been closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance. Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness. In a 2005 study that looked at organizations ranging from a Midwest auto supplier to a Southwest telecom firm, researchers found that the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn’t change the way that things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature, or choose how to conduct meetings, spirits plummeted.

Smart Girls Wear Flats, Leave Heels Behind [Rachel Bergstein via Bloomberg News] (5/16/12)

The 1950s were a historically rigid decade, in which women could be either a lonely intellectual or a vapid sexpot. The question of whether one could be both an Audrey and a Marilyn didn’t emerge until the 1960s, when the sexuality of the stiletto and the practicality of the flat merged in the low-heeled boot — made for flirting, butt-kicking and, most important, walking.

NRA-Backed Law Spells Out When Indianans May Open Fire on Police [Mark Niquette on Bloomberg News] (6/4/12)

Indiana is the first U.S. state to specifically allow force against officers, according to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in Washington, which represents and supports prosecutors. The National Rifle Association pushed for the law, saying an unfavorable court decision made the need clear and that it would allow homeowners to defend themselves during a violent, unjustified attack. Police lobbied against it.

The stress of being bisexual drives young people to drink [George Dvorsky on io9] (6/7/12)

A study from the University of Missouri is suggesting that young adults who don’t identify their sexual orientation as being either exclusively heterosexual or homosexual tend to misuse alcohol more frequently than people who have a firmly defined sexual orientation. The authors of the study speculate that college students who are coming out as bisexual, or experimenting with their sexual orientation, in college may be stressed out because of it, and as a result, are engaging in risky behaviors — most notably heavy drinking.

America was bombed 1,000 times during World War II [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9] (6/7/12)

School children in Japan were asked to make gigantic balloons, thirty-three feet in diameter. The first prototypes were made out of paper, but later ones were made from silk. The balloons, when filled with hydrogen gas, were buoyant enough to carry a thirty-three pound bomb, as well as a few incendiary bombs and thirty-six sandbags. When released they would shoot up to 35,000 feet. They’d leak gas, slowly dropping, until a barometer caused one of the sand bags to drop off into the sea, at which point they’d go up to 35,000 feet again. The balloons could travel on air currents at up to 120 miles per hour, and so, when the last sandbag fell, they descended onto North America. For navigatorless objects, drifting on the wind, a surprising amount of them made it over the sea. Out of the nine thousand launched, about one thousand reached land, while the rest exploded in the sky or dropped into the ocean. The bombs went off as far east as Kansas and Texas. Some drifted down to Mexico, and some up to Canada. Although the bombs caused a few fires, American officials asked people not to talk widely about them. The bombs didn’t cause any actual casualties until 1945. Six people, five of them children, were killed at a church picnic, when they saw a deflated balloon and touched the bomb, not knowing what it was. A sad but touching epilogue came from the Japanese children who had built the balloons, also not knowing what they were. In the late 1980s, they sent letters and paper cranes to the families of the people who’d been at the picnic.

10 Weirdest Urban Ecosystems On Earth [Charlie Jane Anders and Kelly Faircloth on io9] (6/14/12)

Mitsubishi bought a reef and built it out into an artificial island, a kilometer long, so the company would have a base for undersea coal mining operations in the area. And for many years, it was the world’s most densely populated place, with 85,500 people per square kilometer in 1959 — and 135,000 people per square kilometer in the densest areas. The name, Gunkanjima, is Japanese for “Battleship Island,” because the artificial island resembles a battleship when seen from the ocean. The island was completely closed down in 1975, when the coal ran out, and now it’s quite possibly the world’s largest ghost town.

America’s Most Important Cities: 1978 vs. 2010 [Jordan Weissman on The Atlantic] (6/26/12)

First, there’s the fall of the Rust Belt and the rise of the Sun Belt. As the country’s economy eased away from manufacturing, which tends to be clustered in discrete regions, and towards services, which can be almost anywhere, people moved away from the old, frigid, and declining industrial centers towards states with cheap real estate and warm weather. Population growth ultimately means economic growth. And so you see the emergence of places like Riverside, Phoenix, Orlando, and Tampa. Second, there’s the dominance of finance. If New York had the same GDP today that did in 1978, it would still have the second largest economy of any American metro region. Instead, it nearly doubled. Same for Chicago. Not coincidentally, both of those cities consistently top lists of the world’s financial centers. This has allowed them to overcome their slow population growth by generating more economic activity per resident. These are still massively populated metro areas. But they’re also cities of bankers or commodity traders instead of retirees.

U.S. Government insists that mermaids do not exist [Charlie Jane Anders on i09] (7/3/12)

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement explaining that no evidence of the existence of mermaids “has ever been found.” NOAA explains helpfully that belief in mermaids may go back as far as 30,000 years, to a time when humans first began “to sail the seas.” So why does this government agency feel the need to clarify for the public that Ariel isn’t really hanging out in the ocean with Flotsam and Jetsam? Discovery News explains. Apparently, it’s all because of a show on Animal Planet (Discovery’s sister channel) called Mermaids: The Body Found.

5 Ways Process Is Killing Your Productivity [Lisa Bodell on Fast Company] (5/15/12)

But it’s not a good thing when there are so many processes in place that they restrain the people they’re supposed to help. If your team spends its days asking for permission before executing, taking an hour to complete expense reports or time sheets, attending redundant meetings, or answering irrelevant emails, you’ve got a problem. Exactly when are employees supposed to find the time to innovate when every task or topic is labeled “urgent” and every deadline is ASAP? Something will eventually give, and that something is going to be the part of the job they can keep pushing off until later.

[Clients From Hell] (8/21/13)

A description of a logo a client wanted:

I would like to create a logo of a heartbroken woman in a wheel chair with mascara running down her cheeks and with her torso shaped like a broken heart held together with safety pins – and when she looks into the mirror, the reflection she sees is a Sexy Jessica Rabbit, Powerful Woman and [the] broken heart is now her proud/inflated chest.  The mirror should be inside of a door frame and there should be 9 keys dangling above the key hole on the door.  Make sense? Your thoughts?

I told her she would have to get a full illustrator for this “logo”. It never came to fruition.

Tweets of the words “beer” and “church” by U.S. county [Monica Stephens on FloatingSheep via Robbie Gonazalez on io9] (7/6/12)

San Francisco has the largest margin in favor of “beer” tweets (191 compared to 46 for “church”) with Boston (Suffolk county) running a close second. Los Angeles has the distinction of containing the most tweets overall (busy, busy thumbs in Southern California). In contrast, Dallas, Texas wins the FloatingSheep award for most geotagged tweets about “church” with 178 compared to only 83 about “beer.”

10 Science Experiments That Looked Like the End of the World [Keith Veronese on io9] (7/6/12)

New Zealand experimented with the use of bombs to create artificial tsunamis, between 1944 and 1945. By strategically placing bombs, the military scientists behind New Zealand’s Project Seal believed they could divert explosive energy through water, causing tsunamis and tidal waves. After thousands of test explosions, New Zealand ceased experimentation, because military scientists kept having trouble with funneling the explosive energy in a horizontal direction. If New Zealand’s tsunami bomb experiments had been successful, tsunami creation could have gone mainstream — allowing anyone with a conventional explosive device to create widespread chaos and death with ease.

The Dream Will Never Die:An Oral History of the Dream Team [Lang Whitaker on Gentlemen’s Quarterly] (July 2012)

Allan Houston (college squad player): The clock ran out—we had a twenty-minute clock—and we were up. And everybody looked around sheepishly, like, This is not supposed to happen. Nobody said anything for a few minutes.

Karl Malone (Team USA): We took them for granted, and they kicked our butt. And Coach Daly just had that look on his face like, “Well, this is what we told you guys. You gotta be ready.” After that, we was chomping at the bit to play them again that same day, but he didn’t let us. He let us stew on it a little bit.

Chris Webber (college squad player): When we busted their ass, they didn’t say any prima donna stuff—”We let you win.” That night was special. I remember me and Bobby Hurley decimating the golf course on some golf carts because we were so excited.

Houston: Back at the hotel, I was on the same elevator as Bird and C-Webb, and C-Webb was chirping. Bird got off the elevator and said, “Don’t worry, tomorrow’s a new day.” He kind of left us with that thought. And yeah, we got back in there, and it was a new day. [laughs]

Charles Barkley (Team USA): We sent them a little message.

Webber: We didn’t score a point. Not one point. Not a point on a free throw, not a point in the game. We were the perfect wake-up call for them, and they were the perfect reality check for us.

Curiously Strong Remains:


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