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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