Archive for April, 2015

30
Apr
15

Roundup – Fake Movies in Movies

Best of the Best:

Why I fled Argentina after breaking the story of Alberto Nisman’s death [Damian Pachter on Haaretz] (1/25/15)

When my source gave me the scoop on Alberto Nisman’s death, I was writing a piece on the special prosecutor’s accusations against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, her (Jewish) Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, two pro-Iran “social activists” and parliamentarian Andrés Larroque. I learned that Nisman had been shot dead in his home. The vetting process wasn’t too tough because of my source’s incredible attention to detail. His name will never be revealed. Two things stood in my mind: my source’s safety and people’s right to know what happened that day, though not necessarily in that order. Of course, for both speed and the contagion effect, Twitter was the way to go. The information was so solid I never doubted my source, despite my one or two colleagues who doubted me because I only had 420 Twitter followers — a number now eclipsing 10,000. As the night went on, journalists contacted me in order to get the news from me even more directly. The first to do so was Gabriel Bracesco. Once I tweeted that Nisman had died, hundreds of people quickly retweeted the news and started following me. That was my first of many sleepless days. “You just broke the best story in decades,” lots of people said. “You’re crazy,” was another take. Either way, nobody questioned that the situation was very grave.

Ancient Wall in Istanbul Gives No Defense in Property Fight [Jack Fairweather and Onur Ant on Bloomberg News] (1/21/15)

For centuries, Istanbul’s ancient walls safeguarded the city from attack. What remains of those 1,600-year-old battlements has become the source of conflict. Residents and elected officials are fighting over preservation and development in the ancient Turkish crossroads, whose 14 million people make it the sixth-largest city in the world. “The city should be protecting its heritage rather than allowing swaths of concrete to be laid and new homes built,” said Ali Hacialioglu, a member of the board of the Chamber of Istanbul Architects. While emerging megacities such as Mumbai, Cairo and Rio de Janerio have all witnessed families tossed out of their homes to make way for high rises, Istanbul is one of the few to displace residents in the name of historic preservation, Hacialioglu says. The tensions have deepened not only because of evictions but from residents’ doubts that protecting the Ottoman inheritance is the real motivation. The drama is especially powerful because it follows a confrontation over developing Gezi Park, adjacent to central Taksim Square. A plan to build on a patch of green space there led to anti-government protests that claimed the lives of nine protesters and saw about 8,000 injured in 2013. Not far from landmarks such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, bulldozers have begun demolishing homes, some of which date to the 17th century, to create a buffer zone around a four-mile stretch of the historic city wall…Turkish officials have said in statements they’re following recommendations by the experts at the agency, whose full name is United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Residents fear that the resulting space will soon be built upon. Two other areas along the barricade already have been turned into apartments.

How to Build a Better Flu Vaccine Than This Year’s Fiasco [Sonja Elmquist on Bloomberg News] (1/22/15)

With this season’s flu vaccine only protecting 1 in 4 people, scientists are working on new manufacturing techniques and virus-killing methods to update the creaky, 80-year-old process now used to inoculate the population. Sometime this season, after many people got vaccinated, a strain of influenza that causes unusually serious illness evolved, letting the bug circumvent a protection that is still only about 60 percent effective in a good year. This year’s vaccine is much worse, at just 23 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To make the vaccine more effective, scientists and companies are reworking everything from its production to its distribution to the way it attacks the virus. The goal is to find methods that offer more protection and can react more quickly to unexpected changes. The flu virus can replicate in eight hours, so when it mutates, the change can slip past people’s immunity and quickly become dominant, said Ruben Donis, associate director for policy, evaluation and preparedness in the CDC’s influenza division. That makes it difficult for the world’s flu experts, who meet every February to formulate a vaccine for the next flu season in North America, as little as eight months away…Using a process discovered in 1931 and used in vaccines since 1935, manufacturers grow the virus by getting it to replicate in chicken eggs. That typically takes about a month, but can take weeks longer if the year’s dominant viruses don’t thrive well enough in the eggs, said Leonard Friedland, director of scientific affairs and public health in GlaxoSmithKline’s North American vaccines division. So why not just find a way to make manufacturing shorter? Two companies — Novartis AG (NOVN) and Protein Sciences Corp. — are already on it, with approval to sell vaccines in the U.S. that take just weeks to produce. Still, they represent a small share of the market, which remains dominated by the doses made using the traditional six-month egg process. Novartis’s cell-culture vaccine was approved in the U.S. in 2012, and its U.S. production plant was licensed by the Food and Drug Administration last year. Protein Sciences’ Flublok vaccine, made with a technology that manufactures the proteins that provoke an immune response without first growing the entire virus, was approved for all adults in October. The closely held company plans to increase production to be able to supply enough doses for the entire country in two years, Chief Executive Officer Manon Cox said in an interview.

Know What’s Killing More People in Nigeria Than Boko Haram? Lack of Drinking Water [Yinka Ibukun and Chris Kay on Bloomberg News] (1/26/15)

The lack of running water killed more people in Nigeria last year than Boko Haram. While the terror campaign claimed more than 4,000 lives, the shortage of potable water and poor sanitation led to about 73,000 deaths, according to WaterAid, a London-based nonprofit. The water deficit isn’t limited to isolated areas in the country’s vast north. In Lagos, about 15 million of the coastal metropolis’ 21 million have limited access to piped water.

Kim Jong Un Relies on Improbable Pair of Women Amid Purges [Sam Kim on Bloomberg News] (1/26/15)

While Kim Jong Un’s wife Ri Sol Ju and younger sister Kim Yo Jong are currently allies in sustaining one of the world’s most reclusive leaders, their overlapping influence makes them potential rivals in a regime where family ties aren’t strong enough to protect against Kim’s penchant for purges. These women of Pyongyang offer insight to an opaque regime that, while struggling to feed its people, is capable of maintaining 1.2 million men under arms and threatening neighbors with nuclear annihilation. Ri commands a growing following among the wives of North Korean elite while Kim Yo Jong now holds a senior position in the ruling Workers’ Party and serves as an adviser to her brother. “Uneasiness is inevitable in a relationship like this,” Kang Myong Do, a son-in-law of North Korea’s former Prime Minister, Kang Song San, said by phone. “The wife wouldn’t like it if her husband got too close to his sister; the sister wouldn’t like it if her brother got too close to his wife.” The sister would try to oust Ri if the first lady — a “rag-tag commoner” compared to Kim Yo Jong — sought political power beyond the role of burnishing her husband’s public image, said Kang, who now teaches North Korean studies at Kyungmin University near Seoul.

Some Lottery Retailers Beat the Odds—and Cost States [Jeffrey Stinson on Stateline] (1/27/15)

Most often, lottery officials say, the scams involve retailers who are cashing in winning tickets for a fee for people who don’t want to collect their jackpots personally bec ause they owe back taxes, child support payments or other debts that states generally deduct from lottery winnings. Or, they’re in the country illegally. States generally require prizes of $600 or more be claimed in person, and winners must show identification and their Social Security numbers. In addition to deducting delinquent taxes or other debts owed the state, states withhold federal and state income taxes from the payouts of larger prizes, usually $5,000 or more…Another scam involves unscrupulous retailers who shortchange unsuspecting customers who have returned to the store to scan their tickets. Clerks will tell them they’ve won less money than they really have, pay them the lesser amount and then claim the bigger prize money.

Can the U.S. Ever Fix Its Messed-Up Maternity Leave System? [Claire Suddath on Bloomberg News] (1/27/15)

For all Sweden’s efforts at gender equality, men still make about 35 percent more than women, according to a 2012 Swedish government report. And although the top five spots on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index are all held by Nordic countries, their percentage of female chief executive officers is no higher than the 5 percent achieved by Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. “I just know I’d get a promotion three years later than a colleague who is a man,” says Rydberg. “That’s how it is.” Intentionally or not, Sweden seems to have routed women onto the “mommy track,” a slower, less demanding career path for women with children. In the U.S. it often comes under the guise of the purposefully vague term “caregiver status,” which companies use when offering reduced hours and a lower salary to parents who need flexibility. In academia, universities will often pause the so-called tenure clock for female professors who take time off to have children. Some of these policies can be helpful. But they also have the side effect of segregating those who use them into positions where they’re just not expected to advance.

The Power of Story [Elizabeth Svoboda on Aeon Magazine] (1/12/15)

Our mental response to story begins, as many learning processes do, with mimicry. In a 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, the psychologist Uri Hasson and his Princeton University colleagues had a graduate student tell an unrehearsed story while her brain was being scanned in an fMRI machine. Then they scanned the brains of 11 volunteers listening to a recording of the story. As the researchers analysed the data, they found some striking similarities. Just when the speaker’s brain lit up in the area of the insula – a region that governs empathy and moral sensibilities – the listeners’ insulae lit up, too. Listeners and speakers also showed parallel activation of the temporoparietal junction, which helps us imagine other people’s thoughts and emotions. In certain essential ways, then, stories help our brains map that of the storyteller. What’s more, the stories we absorb seem to shape our thought processes in much the same way lived experience does. When the University of Southern California neuroscientist Mary Immordino-Yang told subjects a series of moving true stories, their brains revealed that they identified with the stories and characters on a visceral level. People reported strong waves of emotion as they listened – one story, for instance, was about a woman who invented a system of Tibetan Braille and taught it to blind children in Tibet. The fMRI data showed that emotion-driven responses to stories like these started in the brain stem, which governs basic physical functions, such as digestion and heartbeat. So when we read about a character facing a heart-wrenching situation, it’s perfectly natural for our own hearts to pound. ‘I can almost feel the physical sensations,’ one of Immordino-Yang’s subjects remarked after hearing one of the stories. ‘This one is like there’s a balloon under my sternum inflating and moving up and out. Which is my sign of something really touching.’ Immordino-Yang reported her findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 and in Emotion Review in 2011.

Grenades Cheaper Than a Coke Menace Central African Republic [Ilya Grindeff on Bloomberg News] (2/2/15)

In Bangui, one anti-balaka member said in an interview that a Chinese-made grenade would sell for as little as $1. At the meeting, the man, wearing a Christian cross around his neck, casually pulled one of the small black explosive balls from his leather satchel. It was for his defense, he said. As a safety measure, he’d wrapped sticky tape around the pin. Chinese, Sudanese and European arms and ammunition have poured into Central African Republic from neighboring countries, the Brussels-based Conflict Armament Research consultancy said in a report last month. Its investigators found vast quantities of cheap Chinese-made grenades throughout Central African Republic, some that were originally supplied to the Nepalese army, according to the group’s director of operations, Jonah Leff. “It is not yet clear why the grenades are in such wide circulation and precisely how they were transferred to CAR,” he said in an e-mail. Hand grenades often sell for less than bullets for AK-47 assault rifles, he said.

A Target and a Threat: What It’s Like to Be a Black Cop in America [Esmé E Deprez on Bloomberg News] (2/3/15)

For Sims, the combination of black skin and blue uniform makes him feel, by turns, like a threat and a target. Last summer, his beat partner almost died after being shot in the head, an event that still haunts him. He empathizes with minorities who feel unfairly treated, yet he’s also been the target of their scorn. As an officer, he says, he upholds the law, regardless of a lawbreaker’s race.

The Real Story Behind Jeff Bezos’s Fire Phone Debacle And What It Means For Amazon’s Future [Austin Carr on Fast Company] (1/6/15)

Bezos drove the team hard on one particular feature: Dynamic Perspective, the 3-D effects engine that is perhaps most representative of what went wrong with the Fire Phone. Dynamic Perspective presented the team with a challenge: Create a 3-D display that requires no glasses and is visible from multiple angles. The key would be facial recognition, which would allow the phone’s cameras to track a user’s gaze and adjust the 3-D effect accordingly. After a first set of leaders assigned to the project failed to deliver, their replacements went on a hiring spree. One team even set up a room that they essentially turned into a costume store, filling it with wigs, sunglasses, fake moustaches, and earrings that they donned for the cameras in order to improve facial recognition. “I want this feature,” Bezos said, telling the team he didn’t care how long it took or how much it cost. Eventually, a solution was discovered: Four cameras had to be mounted at the corners of the phone, each capable of identifying facial features, whether in total darkness or obscured by sunglasses. But adding that to the phone created a serious battery drain. And team members simply could not imagine truly useful applications for Dynamic Perspective. As far as anyone could tell, Bezos was in search of the Fire Phone’s version of Siri, a signature feature that could make the device a blockbuster. But what was the point, they wondered, beyond some fun gaming interactions and flashy 3-D lock screens. “In meetings, all Jeff talked about was, ‘3-D, 3-D, 3-D!’ He had this childlike excitement about the feature and no one could understand why,” recalls a former engineering head who worked solely on Dynamic Perspective for years. “We poured surreal amounts of money into it, yet we all thought it had no value for the customer, which was the biggest irony. Whenever anyone asked why we were doing this, the answer was, ‘Because Jeff wants it.’ No one thought the feature justified the cost to the project. No one. Absolutely no one.”…In late July, the Fire Phone finally went on sale, and it didn’t take long for the company to discover that consumers considered its smartphone effort utterly misguided. Reviewers knocked the device for its gimmicky features, especially Dynamic Perspective, which most found worthless and distracting. They also took issue with the Fire Phone’s bland industrial design and disappointing ecosystem; Amazon simply doesn’t offer the same library of apps or cohesion of services as Apple. But what Amazon got most wrong, they said, was the cost: The Fire Phone was too expensive for its customers. According to three sources familiar with the company’s numbers, the Fire Phone sold just tens of thousands of units in the weeks that preceded the company’s radical price cuts.

A License to Braid Hair? Critics Say State Licensing Rules Have Gone Too Far [Jenni Bergal on Stateline] (1/30/15)

Earl and Christine McLean, a hair braider in Little Rock, are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the state of Arkansas. They are among more than a dozen hair braiders who have sued in 12 states, with the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, arguing that occupational licensing laws impede their constitutional right to earn a living. The hair-braiding lawsuits are among many licensing battles that have erupted in numerous states. States with occupational licensing laws require that people who want to work in a particular occupation or profession for compensation must meet certain standards. Often, the individual must pass a test, undergo a specific amount of education or training and pay a fee. The boards that oversee licensure generally are comprised of people from that industry. Supporters of occupational licensing laws, which regulate everyone from doctors and dentists to door repair contractors and auctioneers, say that they are necessary to protect consumers and provide oversight. But a growing chorus of critics argues that many state licensing requirements are burdensome and create barriers to competition and job growth. They say that those who have licenses have an incentive to keep others out of the market, because with less competition they are free to charge consumers more.

America’s best-selling cars and trucks are built on lies: The rise of fake engine noise [Drew Harwell on The Washington Post] (1/21/15)

Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry’s dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volkswagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks. Without them, today’s more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away. Softer-sounding engines are actually a positive symbol of just how far engines and gas economy have progressed. But automakers say they resort to artifice because they understand a key car-buyer paradox: Drivers want all the force and fuel savings of a newer, better engine — but the classic sound of an old gas-guzzler. “Enhanced” engine songs have become the signature of eerily quiet electrics such as the Toyota Prius. But the fakery is increasingly finding its way into beefy trucks and muscle cars, long revered for their iconic growl. For the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost, Ford sound engineers and developers worked on an “Active Noise Control” system that amplifies the engine’s purr through the car speakers. Afterward, the automaker surveyed members of Mustang fan clubs on which processed “sound concepts” they most enjoyed. Ford said in a statement that the vintage V-8 engine boom “has long been considered the mating call of Mustang,” but added that the newly processed pony-car sound is “athletic and youthful,” “a more refined growl” with “a low-frequency sense of powerfulness.” Among purists, the trickery has inspired an identity crisis and cut to the heart of American auto legend. The “aural experience” of a car, they argue, is an intangible that’s just as priceless as what’s revving under the hood.

The Death of Music Sales [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic] (1/25/15)

The recorded music industry is being eaten, not by one simple digital revolution, but rather by revolutions inside of revolutions, mouths inside of mouths, Alien-style. Digitization and illegal downloads kicked it all off. MP3 players and iTunes liquified the album. That was enough to send recorded music’s profits cascading. But today the disruption is being disrupted: Digital track sales are falling at nearly the same rate as CD sales, as music fans are turning to streaming—on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and music blogs. Now that music is superabundant, the business (beyond selling subscriptions to music sites) thrives only where scarcity can be manufactured—in concert halls, where there are only so many seats, or in advertising, where one song or band can anchor a branding campaign. Nearly every number in Nielsen’s 2014 annual review of the music industry is preceded by a negative sign, including chain store sales (-20%), total new album sales (-14%), and sales of new songs online (-10.3%). Two things are up: streaming music and vinyl album sales. Somewhere in America, an enterprising sociologist is fitting this into an interesting theory about how the emergence of new technologies in media ironically amplifies our interest in pop-culture anachronisms. So what about vinyl? It is rising, yes, rising like a wee baby phoenix, from a prodigious pile of ashes. Nine million two hundred thousand vinyl LPs were sold in 2014, up 51 percent annually, even faster than the growth in video streams. Nine million is a lot more than zero, but commercially speaking, its overall impact on the market is meager. Vinyl accounts for 3.5 percent of total album sales. The CD market (which is dead, remember) is 15-times larger.

Getting Out Of Afghanistan [E.B. Boyd on Fast Company] (1/28/15)

What’s made getting out of Afghanistan harder, more dangerous, and more expensive is that while the military is genius at optimizing everything involved in winning battles, it’s not as good at setting itself up for a smooth and efficient exit. “It’s like any large organization,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense think tank. “The focus is on the cool things, not the enablers.” Historically, less energy has been invested in capturing lessons about how to leave a war than how to win one. As one Army historian told me when I asked for details on previous demobilizations, “It’s just not a well-studied topic.” We ended up having more supplies on the ground in Afghanistan than we really needed and therefore more to pack up. We scrambled to set up the right systems to move everything home. And the deficiencies in our inventory processes meant we spent a lot of time simply trying to locate gear. In the end, the military did manage to pull it off. And it was a noteworthy feat. Some of it was due to the on-the-ground innovation by the troops (and civilians) handed this dog’s breakfast of a task. Some of it was due to lessons learned in Iraq’s wake, where planners struggled to get their arms around the task of packing up a theater. Some of it was just due to sheer brute force. But some of the pain and expense could have been avoided if the military as an institution thought as strategically about how to wrap up a war as it does about developing new weapons systems or mastering battlefield strategy.

Inside the box [on The Economist] (1/3/15)

Propst thought workers should have standing and sitting desks. He designed a perching seat, dreamed up display surfaces and created a prototype napping pad, an inch and a quarter thick and two feet wide (3cm by 60cm), that could be hung up for storage. Sleeping in the office, he thought, would make people more productive. He was, in many ways, ahead of his time. His ideas culminated in the first modular office system, the “Action Office 2”, in 1968. At that time many firms put managers in offices and their subordinates in open “bullpens”, at pedestal desks lined in rows. Now this space could be broken up by vertical panels that slotted together in many ways. Propst suggested giving each worker a clamshell arrangement that offered both privacy and a view, and equipping it with desks of different heights. Areas for informal meetings and coffee could be created. The possibilities were endless. Best, Propst believed, would be to join the panels at 120º angles. But his customers realised that they could squeeze more people in if they constructed cubes. A rigid 90º connector was therefore designed to join a panel to one, two or three more. Thus was born the cubicle, and Propst came to be known as its creator. He was horrified.

The Changing Face of Heroin [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (2/4/15)

Between 2006 and 2013, the number of first time heroin users nearly doubled, from 90,000 to 169,000, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Ninety percent of the people who tried the drug for the first time in the past decade are white, compared to an equal number of white and nonwhite users who got their start before the 1980s, according to a study published last year in JAMA Psychiatry. “Heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas,” researchers concluded. Perhaps not coincidentally, the past two years have seen a remarkable uptick in “harm reduction” laws that focus on saving lives, rather than incarcerating users.

‘From Atoms to Bits’: A Brilliant Visual History of American Ideas [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic] (2/9/15)

Another theme of Packalen and Bhattacharya’s research is that innovation has become more collaborative. Indeed, computers have not only taken over the world of inventions, but also they have changed the geography of innovation, Bhattacharya said. Larger cities have historically held an innovative advantage, because (the theory goes) their density of smarties speeds up debate on the merits of new ideas, which are often born raw and poorly understood. But the researchers found that in the last few decades, larger cities are no more likely to produce new ideas in patents than smaller cities that can just as easily connect online with their co-authors.

Why Samsung Design Stinks [Mark Wilson on Fast Company Design] (2/17/15)

Kevin Lee calls it “Steve Jobs Syndrome.” As the former head of product strategy and user experience design at Samsung Design America, Lee watched as the $100 billion Korean tech giant wrote check after check to countless Western design firms to develop future products for the Korean company. The designers would dig in their heels, refusing to budge on their grand idea or see how it might fit into Samsung’s vast production line. And Samsung management would either discard the idea entirely, or water it down so much that the product became another meaningless SKU in the hundreds of products Samsung sells today.

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’ [Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian] (2/24/15)

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site. The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include: Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases; Beating by police, resulting in head wounds; Shackling for prolonged periods; Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility; Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15. At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

The Mysterious, Murky Story Behind Soy-Sauce Packets [Tanya Basu on The Atlantic] (2/4/15)

But as ubiquitous as soy-sauce packets are, no one knows where they first came from. The major players in the to-go soy-sauce industry today—KariOut and W Y Industries—don’t claim to have created the packet. Some have attributed the design to Ben Eisenstadt—the founder of the sugar-substitute manufacturer Sweet’N Low and the designer of his company’s trademark bubblegum-pink packets—but that connection remains unconfirmed. The first sign of a soy-sauce packet that resembles the one popular today is a 1955 patent, filed by two men named Harold M. Ross and Yale Kaplan, that outlines a “dispensing container for liquids.” The packet would hold “a single serving” of “sauce or syrup,” which could be extracted with a squeeze.

Illinois Cops Pay Hackers $500 Ransom to Unlock a Computer [Matt Stroud on Bloomberg News] (2/23/15)

A suburban Chicago police department paid hackers $500 in Bitcoins to unlock a computer they had remotely disabled, according to a report. The Chicago Tribune reported that the Midlothian Police Department was the latest government department to be targeted by the virus known as Cryptolocker, which can disable a computer until an untraceable fee is paid…According to the report, which was the result of a Freedom of Information Act request, someone at the department opened an e-mail that contained the virus, which locked down the computer.  A pop-up window demanded $500 “in exchange for a virtual code that would return access,” according to the Tribune. The department felt it had no option but to pay up. Records show the department paid $606 in a money order, which included bank fees and surcharges, to a New York Bitcoin cafe. Hackers extorted $572 from a Tennessee sheriff’s office in a similar scam last year. In November, it was revealed that the City of Detroit refused to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars demanded by hackers because locked files weren’t pivotal to the city’s functioning.

Ten Years of Google Maps, From Slashdot to Ground Truth [Liz Gannes on re/code]

In 2005, nobody really knew what would come of online maps, or how they would become such a crucial aspect of daily lives in the Internet-connected world. How Google would partner with Apple to bring online maps to their true home, smartphones, but the alliance would fall apart. How Google Maps would have more than a billion users and become Google’s second-largest property after its search engine. Nobody had any idea, least of all Google. And this was only a decade ago…The grand example for Search by Location was you were supposed to be able to search for coffee shops near Palo Alto. But Taylor remembers that Sun Microsystems put its address at the bottom of every page of its website, and it named its products after coffee (most famously, Java). So that broke the entire example…That original product was made much more accurate by licensing Yellow Pages information, but it wasn’t the dramatic leap forward that people at Google — particularly now-CEO Larry Page — were hoping to make. So Google sought inspiration and talent from outside. Just before it went public, it made three relatively small acquisitions in 2004: Keyhole, Where2 and Zipdash. The three deals were led by Page and Megan Smith, who is now CTO of the United States

The life, death, and rebirth of BlackBerry’s hometown [Kevin Roose on Fusion] (2/8/15)

Much of RIM’s early success, locals tell you, can be traced to the University of Waterloo, a school that has become the Stanford of Canada due to its massive engineering department and record of placing “co-ops,” or paid interns, at huge tech companies. From RIM’s early days, the school provided the company with a steady stream of engineering talent. (RIM hired so many co-ops, the story goes, that it became jokingly referred to as the “University of RIM.”) In return for their labor, the students got four-month stipends, and—perhaps more alluring at the time—their own BlackBerrys with free, unlimited data plans…One of the scariest possibilities for locals was that all the smart, talented engineers who had moved to Waterloo to ride the RIM rocket ship would leave. In the weeks following the RIM layoffs, Apple hosted secret recruiting events in town, and Google and Samsung began wooing senior-level executives away from the region. Faced with the loss of its most valuable employees, Waterloo embarked on a city-wide retention drive. Local entrepreneurs formed a group called Tech Jobs Connex, with the explicit goal of finding new local jobs for laid-off RIM employees. The group hosted job fairs, taught résumé and interview workshops, and identified roughly 120 “tier-one” RIM workers, whom they desperately wanted to keep in the region. But a funny thing happened on the way to a mass exodus: Silicon Valley moved in. Sensing the opportunity to scoop up talented RIM engineers who were unwilling or unable to relocate to California, Google set up an office in Kitchener. Square moved to the region, too, as did Electronic Arts and Intel. Huawei, the huge Chinese electronics manufacturer, has plans to open an office in Kitchener-Waterloo this year. (There are rumors that Facebook, too, is coming to town, but nobody seems to want to jinx it by telling me outright.)

See Also: The Rise and Fall of BlackBerry: An Oral History [on Bloomberg Businessweek] (12/5/13)

How YouTube changed the world [The Telegraph] (2/9/15)

What is beyond debate is YouTube’s influence (spotted by a far-sighted Google in 2006, when it bought the site for $1.65 billion). Almost anyone can upload almost anything to YouTube, for free, and be in with a chance of reaching its one billion monthly users – whether they’re activists, terrorists, politicians or pop stars (or just the proud owner of a “mutant giant spider dog”). It has changed our world.

The Birth of the Philly Cheesesteak [on Priceonomics] (2/2/15)

Recognizing the cabbie as a regular customer, Pat gave half of a steak sandwich to the man for free. At the time, the creation was novel: to Philadelphians’ knowledge, no one had ever  made a steak sandwich before. Over time, word spread of the delicious snack, and demand grew. As winter set in, the brothers bundled up as best they could and battled the elements to sell their sandwiches. At some point, says Frankie Jr., a local bar took pity on them…So, Pat and his brother abandoned their trustworthy cart, moved their operations inside the establishment, and, with the luxury of a full kitchen, started pumping out steak sandwiches like never before…“Eventually,” says Frankie Jr., “Pat took over the bar, took over produce stand, then — lo and behold — bought out the owner and made it into his own restaurant.” The result, Pat’s King of Steaks, quickly became one of the city’s go-to lunch and dinner joints. It was open 24 hours a day — and for 18 of those hours, the brothers could be found in the kitchen, serving up steak sandwiches. They worked relentlessly and tirelessly to garner attention for their restaurant, sometimes conjuring up insanely conniving marketing ploys.

Fraudsters Pose as Cops, Court Officials in Jury Duty Scams [Jenni Bergal on Stateline] (2/13/15)

Det. Daryl Bagnuolo, of the Bergen County (New Jersey) Sheriff’s Office, thought it was strange when a local resident complained last year about a disturbing call his friend had received. The friend had been warned that he’d be arrested for failing to appear for jury duty unless he paid a hefty fine. The caller identified himself as “Major Paul Stevens” from the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office—a person who does not exist. Bagnuolo had no idea that the investigation he ended up launching would uncover a jury duty phone scam run out of a Georgia prison that targeted victims in at least a dozen states.

The Nine Primary Tactics Used to Influence Others [Shane Parrish on Farnam Street] (2/4/15)

Remember people change their mind for their reasons not yours. If you’re not effective, it’s probably because you’re looking at things through your lens and not theirs. Continuing to give the same arguments in the same way only solidifies resistance even more. So the next time you’re trying to convince someone of something you’ve already tried to change their mind on, trying picking a different approach. Better yet, pick three or four and use them in combination. Tactics work better when employed together.

Japan’s Oldest Businesses Have Survived for More Than 1,000 Years [Joe Pinsker on The Atlantic] (2/12/15)

Century-old American companies like General Electric and Ford appear ancient when viewed alongside modern upstarts like Google and Facebook. But there are a number of Japanese firms—some of which have been around for more than a millennium—that exist on another scale of time entirely. Japan is home to some of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the world, among them a 1,300-year-old inn and a 900-year-old sake brewer. While this longevity is not confined to East Asia—the Italian gun manufacturer Beretta has operated since at least 1526 and the cymbal maker Zildjian was founded in 1623 in Turkey—these Sequoia-like firms are relatively common in Japan. The country is currently home to more than 50,000 businesses that are over 100 years old. Of those, 3,886 have been around for more than 200 years. As a point of comparison, only one in every four U.S. companies founded in 1994 was still operating in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in the past decade, some of Japan’s oldest businesses have finally shut their doors. Last month, the roughly 465-year-old seafood seller Minoya Kichibee filed for bankruptcy, which came after the news last year that the 533-year-old confectioner Surugaya met a similar fate. In 2007—after 1,429 years in business—the temple-construction company Kongo Gumi ran out of money and was absorbed by a larger company. Three companies going bust doesn’t quite make a trend, but it seems like there has to be something larger going on if a company that’s been around for more than a millennium suddenly blinks out of existence. The first question to ask about a company like Kongo Gumi is why it stuck around so long in the first place. For one thing, these companies tend to be clustered in industries that never really go out of style. Kongo Gumi specialized in building Buddhist temples—a pretty dependable bet in nation with a strong Buddhist history. The company’s first temple, near Osaka, was completed in 593, and has been rebuilt six times since then (by Kongo Gumi, of course). “There’s a pattern,” William O’Hara, the author of Centuries of Success, told The Wall Street Journal in 1999. “The oldest family businesses often are involved in basic human activities: drink, shipping, construction, food, guns.” The other reason these companies proliferate in Japan is because of how the country’s family-run businesses have been passed down through generations. Japanese business owners typically bequeathed entire companies to their eldest sons, and there’s a 10-foot-long 17th-century scroll tracing all of Kongo Gumi’s previous owners. But what fostered corporate longevity was that owners were permitted some leeway if they didn’t trust their offspring to take the helm: They could adopt a son, who would often marry into the family and go on to run the business…In Japan, a 2011 study found, businesses run by adopted heirs consistently outperformed those run by blood heirs. This explains a bizarre statistic about Japanese family life: Unlike in the U.S., where most adoptees are children, 98 percent of Japan’s adoptees are 25-to-30-year-old men.

Culture Brigade: Syrian ‘Monuments Men’ Race to Protect Antiquities as Looting Bankrolls Terror [Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin on The Wall Street Journal] (2/10/15)

Art historians and intelligence officials say that antiquities smuggling by Islamic State has exploded in recent months, aggravating the pillaging by government forces and opposition factions. Looting, often with bulldozers, is now the militant group’s second-largest source of finance after oil, Western intelligence officials say. “What started as opportunistic theft by some has turned into an organized transnational business that is helping fund terror,” said Michael Danti, an archaeologist at Boston University who is advising the U.S. State Department on how to tackle the problem. “It’s the gravest cultural emergency I’ve seen.”

How RadioShack Helped Build Silicon Valley [David Pierce on Wired] (2/5/15)

Read about the biggest tech stories of the 20th century, and RadioShack keeps popping up: Long before he founded Netscape, Marc Andreessen learned to program tooling around on a TRS-80, one of the first affordable personal computers and one of the first devices RadioShack ever produced. Kevin Mitnick, the first hacker ever on the FBI’s most-wanted list, learned his trade on the demo models at RadioShack because he couldn’t afford a computer of his own. John Draper, the phone phreaker known as “Captain Crunch,” hacked his way into free long-distance calls using a Touch Tone dialer he bought from RadioShack. Woz bought one too, and he says it cost him a fortune. He used it for the now-infamous Blue Box, which he and Steve Jobs used to make their own free calls without interference from Ma Bell. Without RadioShack, there’s no Blue Box. And as Woz tells it, without the Blue Box there’s no Apple. There’d probably be no Dell, either. It was inside his local RadioShack that a high-school-age Michael Dell first began tinkering with computers, all while saving up to buy his own Apple II. Which, as he recalls in “Direct from Dell,” he promptly took apart. (Can’t do that at RadioShack.) His parents were furious, but putting the computer back together was the beginning of the business that was the beginning of Dell. That store was also where he discovered he could buy computer parts, put them together himself, and sell them cheaper by going straight to buyers.

The Ideal Work Schedule, as Determined by Circadian Rhythms [Christopher M. Barnes on Harvard Business Review] (1/28/15)

Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation. Employees may want to be their best at all hours, but their natural circadian rhythms will not always align with this desire. On average, after the workday begins, employees take a few hours to reach their peak levels of alertness and energy — and that peak does not last long. Not long after lunch, those levels begin to decline, hitting a low at around 3pm. We often blame this on lunch, but in reality this is just a natural part of the circadian process. After the 3pm dip, alertness tends to increase again until hitting a second peak at approximately 6pm. Following this, alertness tends to then decline for the rest of the evening and throughout the early morning hours until hitting the very lowest point at approximately 3:30am. After hitting that all-time low, alertness tends to increase for the rest of the morning until hitting the first peak shortly after noon the next day. A very large body of research highlights this pattern…Managers who want to maximize their employees’ performance should consider this circadian rhythm when setting assignments, deadlines, and expectations. This requires taking a realistic view of human energy regulation, and appreciating the fact that the same employee will be more effective at some times of the day than others. Similarly, employees should take their own circadian rhythms into account when planning their own day. The most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness (within an hour or so of noon and 6pm). The least important tasks should be scheduled for times in which alertness is lower (very early in the morning, around 3pm, and late at night). Naps can be a good way to regulate energy as well, providing some short-term recovery that can increase alertness. A large body of evidence links naps to increases in task performance. However, even tired and sleep-deprived employees may find it difficult to nap if they work against their circadian rhythms. Fortunately, there is a nice complementary fit; naps are best scheduled for the low point of alertness in the circadian rhythm. Thus, smart managers and employees will schedule naps around 3pm, when they are less useful for important tasks anyway, such that they will be even more alert later on during the natural high points in their circadian rhythm. Unfortunately, we often get this wrong. Many employees are flooded with writing and responding to emails throughout their entire morning, which takes them up through lunch. They return from lunch having already used up most of their first peak in alertness, and then begin important tasks requiring deep cognitive processing just as they start to move toward the 3pm dip in alertness and energy. We often put employees in a position where they must meet an end-of-workday deadline, so they persist in this important task throughout the 3pm dip. Then, as they are starting to approach the second peak of alertness, the typical workday ends. For workaholics, they may simply take a dinner break, which occupies some of their peak alertness time, and then work throughout the evening and night as their alertness and cognitive performance decline for the entire duration. And in the worst-case scenario, the employee burns the midnight oil and persists well into the worst circadian dip of the entire cycle, with bleary eyes straining just to stay awake while working on an important task at 3:30am. All of these examples represent common mismatches between an optimal strategy and what people actually do. As I briefly noted above, there are of course individual differences in circadian rhythms. The typical pattern is indeed very common, and the general shape of the curve describes almost everyone. However, some people have a circadian rhythm that is shifted in one direction or the other.

When Musicians Unintentionally Steal [J. Wesley Judd on Pacific Standard Magazine] (1/29/15)

Throughout the 1990s, Marsh and his colleagues conducted a number of studies on this issue, the most notable of which used the game Boggle to gauge how well people remembered whether they or their partner (in this case a computer) had thought of a specific word. The results of that particular experiment led Marsh and his colleague, Dr. Gordon H. Bower of Stanford University, to recognize an “unambiguous existence of substantial unconscious plagiarism.” Bower, for his part, gives musicians the benefit of the doubt. “I think most of the cases are inadvertent,” he says over the phone. “Musicians are unaware because they have composed hundreds of songs in the life and heard thousands of songs. The material that they’re now trying to create has to somehow avoid duplication. It’s a herculean task of memory.” In the wake of their research, Marsh and Bower concluded that cryptomnesia is actually a good deal more common than anyone would realize.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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28
Apr
15

Roundup – Too Many Kings

Best of the Best:

Why Muslims are the world’s fastest-growing religious group [Michael Lipka and Conrad Hackett on Pew Research Center] (4/23/15)

The expected growth of Islam around the world is perhaps the most striking finding in the recent Pew Research Center report projecting the future of religious groups. Indeed, Muslims will grow more than twice as fast as the overall world population between 2010 and 2050 and, in the second half of this century, will likely surpass Christians as the world’s largest religious group. While the world’s population is projected to grow 35% in the coming decades, the number of Muslims is expected to increase by 73% – from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.8 billion in 2050. In 2010, Muslims made up 23.2% of the global population. Four decades later, they are expected to make up about three-in-ten of the world’s people (29.7%). By 2050, Muslims will be nearly as numerous as Christians, who are projected to remain the world’s largest religious group at 31.4% of the global population.

Panthers Attack Florida Farms [David Fleshler on The Sun Sentinel via Governing Magazine] (12/12/14)

A record number of Florida panther attacks on farm animals and pets took place this year, in what the state wildlife commission says is a consequence of the endangered cat’s increased population. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Friday confirmed 32 incidents of fatal panther attacks on animals such as goats, sheep, calves, dogs and cats, with more than 50 animals killed. This year also saw a record 20 panthers killed by vehicles. The commission attributed the increase in killings to the success of state and federal efforts to increase the panther’s population. The number of panthers today is estimated at 100 to 180, with the top figure representing a recent upward revision from 160. During the 1970s, the population may have fallen as low as 30.

Humala Says He Regrets Greenpeace Group Allowed to Leave Peru [Javiera Quiroga and John Quigley on Bloomberg Businessweek] (12/14/14)

Peru President Ollanta Humala said he regretted that a local court rejected his government’s effort to detain Greenpeace activists suspected of damaging pre-Hispanic desert drawings during an environmental protest. Many of the activists left the country after causing “irreparable” damage to the archaeological site known as the Nazca lines, Humala said in a statement on the presidential website dated yesterday. As many as 20 people entered the archaeological site without authorization last week to place a sign next to one of the geoglyphs, leaving a trail of footprints that may be impossible to remove, Deputy Minister for Cultural Heritage Luis Jaime Castillo said in a Dec. 10 interview. A Nazca court rejected a request from the attorney general’s office to detain the Greenpeace campaigners as their home addresses hadn’t been provided, Peru’s state news agency Andina reported Dec. 12.

Trader goes missing after £130m of clients’ cash disappears [Robert Mendick on The Telegraph] (12/21/14)

In an email sent to clients a fortnight ago, Mr Lewis admitted that his company, JL Trading, had stopped operating in 2009 after suffering heavy losses on disastrous foreign exchange deals. He confessed in the email that he had continued taking people’s money for the next five years in an attempt to turn his fortunes around, but that all those attempts had failed. In an email sent a month earlier – in response to growing concern from investors trying to get their money out – he claimed that his company was having “a stressful time” releasing $197 million (£126 million) from American brokers because of US red tape.

Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking That IQ Tests Miss [Keith E. Stanovich on Scientific American] (1/1/15)

I coined the term “dysrationalia” (analogous to “dyslexia”), meaning the inability to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence, to draw attention to a large domain of cognitive life that intelligence tests fail to assess. Although most people recognize that IQ tests do not measure every important mental faculty, we behave as if they do. We have an implicit assumption that intelligence and rationality go together—or else why would we be so surprised when smart people do foolish things? It is useful to get a handle on dysrationalia and its causes because we are beset by problems that require increasingly more accurate, rational responses. In the 21st century, shallow processing can lead physicians to choose less effective medical treatments, can cause people to fail to adequately assess risks in their environment, can lead to the misuse of information in legal proceedings, and can make parents resist vaccinating their children. Millions of dollars are spent on unneeded projects by government and private industry when decision makers are dysrationalic, billions are wasted on quack remedies, unnecessary surgery is performed and costly financial misjudgments are made. IQ tests do not measure dysrationalia. But as I show in my 2010 book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, there are ways to measure dysrationalia and ways to correct it. Decades of research in cognitive psychology have suggested two causes of dysrationalia. One is a processing problem, the other a content problem. Much is known about both of them.

Playing Chicken [Sasha Chapman on The Walrus] (January/February 2015)

Most doctors have little to do with animal medicine, unless they’re taking the family pet for a checkup. Likewise, vets rarely take more than a personal interest in human medicine. Each profession keeps to itself, and each tends to collect and analyze its own data separately, making it difficult to share information and identify cross-species health risks. And in the case of zoonotic diseases—those that move from animals to humans—there can be a tendency, between the professions, to develop an us-versus-them mindset. Vets are concerned with their own patients’ health, and doctors with theirs. We segregate these disciplines at our peril. Most of the emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases that have plagued humans in recent decades—including Lyme disease, H1N1, and Ebola—began in animal populations, and were first transmitted to human beings either directly or through our shared environment. Consequences can be devastating, as in the case of plague, which emerges periodically from animal reservoirs. As Hutchinson says, “We are all swimming in the same pool.” That pool has changed significantly in the last sixty years. Or, to be more precise, we changed the pool when we declared open season on bacteria, and began killing them off with antibiotics.

Invasion of the Asteroids [David Owen on Esquire via The Daily Beast] (February 1981)

It’s lunchtime in Manhattan, and the Playland arcade at Forty-seventh Street and Broadway is crowded. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Playland’s traditional clientele of Times Square drifters and truant schoolboys is what appears to be a full-scale assault team from the corporate tower of nearby Rockefeller Center. You can hardly move from one end of the place to the other without grinding your heel on somebody’s wing-tip shoe. Over near the Seventh Avenue entrance, a tall thin man with a briefcase pressed between his knees is hunched over a flashing pinball table called JAMES BOND. At a change station near the center of the room, a portly lawyer type is converting the contents of his wallet into enough quarters to bribe a congressional subcommittee. There are three-piece suits everywhere. But the densest agglomeration of gray wool by far stands at the very front of the arcade by a long bank of thumping, thundering machines, where a veritable legion of young executives is lined up three deep to play Asteroids. Asteroids, at the moment I am writing, is the most popular coin-operated game—video, pinball, or other—in the United States. It jumped to the number one spot not long ago by out-earning Space Invaders, a simple-minded but wildly successful Japanese import that swept this country after 
creating something close to mass hysteria (not to mention a coin shortage) in Japan. Introduced in December 1979, Asteroids quickly became standard equipment in bars, arcades, and airports all over the country. Tavern owners who had previously been scared away from coin-op games by pinball’s underworld reputation now began to clamor for Asteroids. Atari Inc., the game’s manufacturer, had trouble keeping production in step with demand. There are now sixty thousand Asteroids machines on location worldwide, most of them in the United States and most of them
astonishingly popular. Machines in hot locations have been known to bring in as much as one thousand dollars a week, enough to pay for themselves in a little more than a fortnight. Operators who tend fleets of machines are finding they have to make extra trips to their locations just to empty the coin boxes of the Asteroids machines.

How He and His Cronies Stole Russia [Anne Applebaum on The New York Review of Books] (12/18/14)

In other words, the most important story of the past twenty years might not, in fact, have been the failure of democracy, but the rise of a new form of Russian authoritarianism. Instead of attempting to explain the failures of the reformers and intellectuals who tried to carry out radical change, we ought instead to focus on the remarkable story of one group of unrepentant, single-minded, revanchist KGB officers who were horrified by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the prospect of their own loss of influence. In league with Russian organized crime, starting at the end of the 1980s, they successfully plotted a return to power. Assisted by the unscrupulous international offshore banking industry, they stole money that belonged to the Russian state, took it abroad for safety, reinvested it in Russia, and then, piece by piece, took over the state themselves. Once in charge, they brought back Soviet methods of political control—the only ones they knew—updated for the modern era.

Why young gun millennial moved back to Kirkwood [Joe Holleman on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

Not sure if you remember the fit I threw a year back about your article on the under-40 crowd in the city of St. Louis. I moved my wife and 2-year-old daughter from Kirkwood to the city because the historic housing and architecture was so appealing, as was the cost of living. I was ready to stand up and fight for our town and be one of the young guns ready to turn this place around. I’m going to do what my generation hates doing more than anything — especially to those who are older than us — and admit you were right. We only made it a year before we pulled the anchor and headed back to Kirkwood. Sure, it was an atypical summer and fall for the city, but after everything that went down with the Shaw/South Grand (neighborhood) and Ferguson, we bailed out. Back to Kirkwood, where people care about their communities more than by just adding cute coffee shops. I may be a coward for so quickly putting my tail between my legs and scurrying back to the county, but at least I’m doing what’s right for my family.

Parasites Cause Irish Shrimp to Eat Their Young [gordonmjackson on io9] (3/21/15)

The paper is the first to suggest parasites are directly causal to cannibalism.

This Piranha Feeding Frenzy Is The Stuff Of Nightmares [George Dvorsky on io9] (3/20/15)

As terrifying as this video appears, piranhas are rarely dangerous to humans. But as University of Nevada biology professor Zeb Hogan explains in National Geographic, they can be dangerous if they’re trapped in a backwater without food. And as demonstrated in this new video, these piranha are as aggressive as they are because they’re likely being regularly fed by people; when they congregate like this, they act just like they would if trapped in a small pool.

In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas [Judith Shulevitz on The New York Times] (3/21/15)

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material. Some people trace safe spaces back to the feminist consciousness-raising groups of the 1960s and 1970s, others to the gay and lesbian movement of the early 1990s. In most cases, safe spaces are innocuous gatherings of like-minded people who agree to refrain from ridicule, criticism or what they term microaggressions — subtle displays of racial or sexual bias — so that everyone can relax enough to explore the nuances of, say, a fluid gender identity. As long as all parties consent to such restrictions, these little islands of self-restraint seem like a perfectly fine idea. But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.

Family arrested in fake kidnapping plot to teach 6-year-old stranger danger, police say [Susan Weich on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (2/6/15)

A 6-year-old boy’s mother, grandmother and aunt are accused of staging a kidnapping, then holding the child for four hours to teach him about “stranger danger.” They hatched the plot to scare the boy because they said he was “too nice” to people, police said. The boy’s mother, Elizabeth Hupp, grandmother, Rose Brewer, and aunt, Denise Kroutil, engaged the help of Nathan Firoved, who worked with Kroutil at a gas station. Firoved waited for the boy to get off his bus after school, then lured the child into his pickup, police say. While in the truck, Firoved, 23, told the boy he would never “see his mommy again,” and he would be “nailed to the wall of a shed,” police said. As the boy started to cry, Firoved showed him a handgun and told the child if he didn’t stop crying he would hurt him, authorities said. Firoved continued driving the boy around in his truck, then because he would not stop crying, Firoved bound the boy’s hands and feet with plastic bags and covered his face with an adult-sized jacket so he couldn’t see, police said. Later, Firoved took the boy — still blindfolded — to the basement of the boy’s home and left him there, authorities said. The boy’s aunt, Kroutil, removed his pants and told him he could be sold into “sex slavery.” She also chastised him because he did not try to resist her. He did not recognize her voice. The child was kept confined in the basement for an undetermined time before he was untied and told to go upstairs. There his family lectured him about staying away from strangers, police said.

‘Lone Ranger’ protester takes to the streets for the first time after St. Louis shooting [Jesse Bogan on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (3/31/15)

She’d heard all the gunfire the night before that killed a man and woman, and injured a 9-year-old girl in the hand. Hawkins, who has a grown daughter in community college, didn’t have any art supplies laying around. She went across the street from her apartment and borrowed two crayons and one sheet of yellow paper from the same rec center that serves as the city’s emergency homeless shelter during cold nights. She drew six hearts on the paper and spelled out the word “PEACE” in large letters. “You don’t need a big crowd to make a big shine,” she said. “The Lone Ranger made a big impact.” She felt encouraged by honks from passing vehicles and the kids who waved from a school bus. “A couple guys gave engaging looks,” she said. “Hey, that’s encouraging, too.”…As Hawkins rounded a corner during her walking protest Tuesday near Menard Street and Park Avenue, she came across the most recent crime scene. She noticed a car pulling up and knew right away that it was full of family members of slain victims. Three women got out of the car and walked toward the spot. Soon after, a man would show up with balloons to tie on a post. “May we offer you peace for your family,” she told them. One of the women was distraught and just said: “Damn. Damn. Damn.” Hawkins left them alone and talked about how “senseless” the killings were. She did what she thought she could do to avoid any more violence by carrying her sign. “You know, we just spread peace one slice at a time,” she said.

The 10 Biggest Blunders in The History Of Espionage [Esther Inglis-Arkell on io9] (2/9/15)

James Jesus Angleton was a dedicated civil servant, and one of the most respected spy hunters in the non-communist world. He was the head of counterintelligence at the CIA for twenty-one years. The fact that he got that position after one particular incident is a testament to his talents. Kim Philby was a shining star in British intelligence, sent to Washington in 1949 to be the liaison between the CIA and MI6. Every week, the two men had lunch. They held court at Harvey’s restaurant in Washington. Angleton was impressed by Philby’s Cambridge background, and since felt proud that he could out drink the British spy, every lunch became a martini drinking contest. In 1951, two of Philby’s friends defected to Moscow. That didn’t look good, but Angleton maintained belief in Philby’s complete innocence. His claim was hollow, considering he burned all the documents pertaining to his long lunches with his friend. To be fair, after years of investigation, MI6 concluded that Philby was innocent as well. Were they right? Here’s a hint – the portrait of Philby in this entry was taken from a Soviet stamp. Philby defected to Moscow and admitted he had been recruited by the USSR whilst at Cambridge. The revelation caused Angleton to become increasingly paranoid, believing that the CIA had been systematically undermined by the KGB, until he eventually left the agency.

In the Crosshairs [Nicholas Schmidle on The New Yorker] (6/3/13)

The session went well. Kilbane told me that he was struck by Kyle’s “aura,” noting that whenever “he walked in the room the dynamic would change, the energy in the room would shift.” Afterward, a larger group went out for dinner, closed the hotel bar, and hung out in Kyle’s suite, drinking until late. The SEALs began telling stories, and Kyle offered a shocking one. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, he said, the law-and-order situation was dire. He and another sniper travelled to New Orleans, set up on top of the Superdome, and proceeded to shoot dozens of armed residents who were contributing to the chaos. Three people shared with me varied recollections of that evening: the first said that Kyle claimed to have shot thirty men on his own; according to the second, the story was that Kyle and the other sniper had shot thirty men between them; the third said that she couldn’t recall specific details. Had Kyle gone to New Orleans with a gun? Rumors of snipers—both police officers and criminal gunmen—circulated in the weeks after the storm. Since then, they have been largely discredited. A spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, told me, “To the best of anyone’s knowledge at SOCOM, there were no West Coast SEALs deployed to Katrina.” When I related this account to one of Kyle’s officers, he replied, sardonically, “I never heard that story.” The SEAL with extensive experience in special-mission units wondered how dozens of people could be shot by high-velocity rifles and just disappear; Kyle’s version of events, he said, “defies the imagination.” (In April, Webb published an article on SOFREP about the incident, but took it down after concluding that Kyle’s account was dubious.) Perhaps this story, like the one about the gas station, contains a kernel of truth. Both narratives, however, portray Kyle as if he really were the Punisher, dispensing justice by his own rules. It was possible to see these stories as evidence of vainglory; it was also possible to see them as attempts by a struggling man to maintain an invincible persona. Kilbane, having read Kyle’s book, knew about his drinking habits and his battles with combat stress. Watching Kyle put down pint glass after pint glass of whiskey-on-the-rocks, he said, “It made me think there were still demons bouncing around in there.”

North Koreans Walk Across Frozen River to Kill Chinese for Food [Bloomberg News] (1/14/15)

A spate of murders by North Koreans inside China’s border is prompting some residents to abandon their homes, testing China’s ability to manage both the 880-mile (1,400-kilometer) shared frontier and its relationship with the reclusive nation. The violence reflects a growing desperation among soldiers, including border guards, since Kim Jong Un took over as supreme leader in Pyongyang three years ago. As well as seeking food, they are entering China to steal money. “Bribes were one of the key sources of income for these guards to survive, but after Kim Jong Un came to power and tightened controls, it became difficult for them to take bribes, thus the criminal deviations,” said Kang Dong Wan, a professor of international relations at Busan’s Dong-a University in South Korea.

Melting Glaciers Imperil Kathmandu, Perched High Above Rising Seas [Natalie Obiko Pearson on Bloomberg News] (1/13/15)

A month’s walk from the nearest sea, Kathmandu — elevation almost a mile — is as vulnerable to climate change as the world’s coastal megacities. The capital of the poorest Asian country after Afghanistan already is feeling the effect: Rising temperatures are crimping power and food supplies as rural migrants stream to a city of 1 million that’s among the world’s most crowded. “Kathmandu is the country’s production and consumption center,” said Mahfuzuddin Ahmed, an adviser in the Manila-based Asian Development Bank’s regional and sustainable development department. “Any climate-related hazards that spill into the national economy will be amplified there.” The mountainous Himalayan nation may have crossed a tipping point of irreversible damage. Its glaciers have lost about a third of their ice reserves since 1977. Just like giant icebergs in the ocean, those glaciers play a critical role in the high-altitude jet streams that can delay monsoons, prolong droughts or spawn storms.

Meet the New Egypt, Same as Old Egypt, Four Years After Uprising [Tarek El-Tablawy on Bloomberg News] (1/20/15)

The blast walls surrounding the state security headquarters in Cairo bear none of the graffiti that covers the rest of the city, yet on it Salama Mohamed sees the latest chapter in the story of Egypt. The imposing, fortress-like compound under former President Hosni Mubarak was home to the most feared of security services, its plain-clothed officers working on extracting confessions. Mohamed knew them well. His father, a mechanic, was picked up for undisclosed reasons years earlier. He was released two weeks later, a shadow of his former self. “He came out from there broken,” said the 28-year-old office clerk, after moving across the street from the headquarters. “Now look at them. They hide behind the walls and then come back out even meaner than they were before.”

Obama’s Lists: A Dubious History of Targeted Killings in Afghanistan [Der Spiegel] (12/28/14)

Death is circling above Helmand Province on the morning of Feb. 7, 2011, in the form of a British Apache combat helicopter named “Ugly 50.” Its crew is searching for an Afghan named Mullah Niaz Mohammed. The pilot has orders to kill him. The Afghan, who has been given the code name “Doody,” is a “mid-level commander” in the Taliban, according to a secret NATO list. The document lists enemy combatants the alliance has approved for targeted killings. “Doody” is number 3,673 on the list and NATO has assigned him a priority level of three on a scale of one to four. In other words, he isn’t particularly important within the Taliban leadership structure.The operations center identified “Doody” at 10:17 a.m. But visibility is poor and the helicopter is forced to circle another time. Then the gunner fires a “Hellfire” missile. But he has lost sight of the mullah during the maneuver, and the missile strikes a man and his child instead. The boy is killed instantly and the father is severely wounded. When the pilot realizes that the wrong man has been targeted, he fires 100 rounds at “Doody” with his 30-mm gun, critically injuring the mullah. The child and his father are two of the many victims of the dirty secret operations that NATO conducted for years in Afghanistan. Their fate is described in secret documents to which SPIEGEL was given access. Some of the documents concerning the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the NSA and GCHQ intelligence services are from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Included is the first known complete list of the Western alliance’s “targeted killings” in Afghanistan. The documents show that the deadly missions were not just viewed as a last resort to prevent attacks, but were in fact part of everyday life in the guerilla war in Afghanistan. The list, which included up to 750 people at times, proves for the first time that NATO didn’t just target the Taliban leadership, but also eliminated mid- and lower-level members of the group on a large scale. Some Afghans were only on the list because, as drug dealers, they were allegedly supporting the insurgents…A new chapter begins in Afghanistan next week. A new government has been elected, and the majority of NATO troops have been withdrawn. It is now up to the Afghans to decide what their future will look like. The West has achieved some of its goals. Al-Qaida has been defeated, at least in Afghanistan, and its former leader, Osama bin Laden, is dead. But the Taliban remains undefeated, as it demonstrated with the recent attack on a Pakistani school. It will be impossible to bring peace to Afghanistan without involving the Taliban. A 2009 CIA study that addresses targeted killings of senior enemy officials worldwide reaches a bitter conclusion. Because of the Taliban’s centralized but flexible leadership, as well as its egalitarian tribal structures, the targeted killings were only moderately successful in Afghanistan. “Morover, the Taliban has a high overall ability to replace lost leaders,” the study finds.

The Story Behind AOL’s Iconic Yellow Running Man [Adrienne LaFrance on The Atlantic] (12/11/14)

Early on, we didn’t really do a lot of focus grouping or testing. The hierarchy was very flat. There was a lot of, you could almost say gut instinct. [AOL leadership] was very brave in terms of being behind such a wholesale digital and functional redesign of the service. We were able to do something that was very different from everything else. The color schemes that I had were not standard. It was warm, friendly. It was a very different direction to take. So sort of going back to where the running man came from, that’s where he came from. Because the company at the time was moving very quickly. The AOL Instant Messenger team actually took the man and started using it for AIM. Pretty soon he was just used everywhere. It was a very organic thing that just sort of evolved and pretty soon he was just attached to the brand.

Cancer Largely Due to Biological ‘Bad Luck’ Rather Than Behavior [Chitra Somayaji on Bloomberg News] (1/2/15)

A formula that plotted the number of stem-cell divisions over a lifetime against the risk of cancer showed a correlation and explained two-thirds of cases, according to a research paper published this week in the journal Science. The study, conducted by mathematician Cristian Tomasetti and geneticist Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, is based on previously published cancer statistics. The research may bolster arguments that cancer often can’t be prevented, with risky behavior such as smoking and excessive exposure to the sun being less of a cause than chance. That would support focusing more resources on diagnosing the disease in early stages and on treatments to reduce mortality rates.

Anti-terror plan to spy on toddlers ‘is heavy-handed’ [Robert Mendick on The Telegraph] (1/4/15)

The document accompanies the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, currently before parliament. It identifies nurseries and early years childcare providers, along with schools and universities, as having a duty “to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”. The consultation paper adds: “Senior management and governors should make sure that staff have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas which can be used to legitimise terrorism and are shared by terrorist groups. “They should know where and how to refer children and young people for further help.” But concern was raised over the practicalities of making it a legal requirement for staff to inform on toddlers.

Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy [Catherine Brahic on The New Scientist] (7/16/14)

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form – naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

Making Craft Brew in Mississippi, the Land That Beer Forgot [Patrick Clark on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/28/14)

When Mark and Leslie Henderson opened Lazy Magnolia Brewing in 2004, their hometown of Kiln, Miss., was an unlikely place to make beer…While the nation has become obsessed with local brews, Mississippi has resisted the trend. It may be the driest place in the country: The state enacted its own version of Prohibition in 1907, 13 years before the 18th Amendment took effect, and was the last state to rescind its ban on making alcohol—in 1966. Until recently, Lazy Magnolia was the lone dot on Mississippi’s beer map. The Hendersons almost didn’t get on the map at all. First they had to persuade state regulators that operating a packaging brewery—one that makes beer for distribution, as opposed to consumption on the premises—was even legal. One state official warned Mark Henderson that he could be fined $25,000 and sent to jail for six months. An incredulous local banker turned the couple down for a loan. “You’re going to sell a bunch of froufrou beer to South Mississippians?” Mark Henderson, 40, recalls the man asking.

The Tragedy of the American Military [James Fallows on The Atlantic] (January/February 2015)

If I were writing such a history now, I would call it Chickenhawk Nation, based on the derisive term for those eager to go to war, as long as someone else is going. It would be the story of a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously. As a result, what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military. Outsiders treat it both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules. The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now. A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness. Americans admire the military as they do no other institution. Through the past two decades, respect for the courts, the schools, the press, Congress, organized religion, Big Business, and virtually every other institution in modern life has plummeted. The one exception is the military. Confidence in the military shot up after 9/11 and has stayed very high. In a Gallup poll last summer, three-quarters of the public expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military. About one-third had comparable confidence in the medical system, and only 7 percent in Congress…Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War. Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in 2001, believing (as he told me) that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades…Because he felt strongly enough about that failure of elite accountability, Moulton decided while in Iraq to get involved in politics after he left the military. “I actually remember the moment,” Moulton told me. “It was after a difficult day in Najaf in 2004. A young marine in my platoon said, ‘Sir, you should run for Congress someday. So this shit doesn’t happen again.’ ”

Why Cairo Recycles Better Than New York City in Waste-Picking Tale [Salma El Wardany on Bloomberg News] (1/19/15)

Milad Tadros is a magician. He makes trash disappear — at zero cost to taxpayers. The 32-year-old is part of Cairo’s army of about 70,000 zabbaleen, Arabic for garbage people, serving the city of 12 million. For decades, they’ve weathered dictatorship and revolution to create one of the world’s greenest waste-management systems in a capital known for its dirt. How they scratch a living out of 15,000 tons of daily garbage — equivalent to 35 loaded Boeing 747 jumbo jets — is an extreme lesson in the invisible hand of the market at work. Two-thirds is recycled, more than in New York City, without any technology. The zabbaleen work for cash tips and sell plastic bottles, paper, glass and aluminum cans to factories. Pigs — kept out of sight — gobble up the organic waste. “Over the years, the garbage collectors have created an enviably efficient model that is both viable, profitable and costs the government nothing,” said Suzie Greiss, the head of Egypt’s Association for the Protection of the Environment, a local nonprofit group working in the area. For Tadros and company, life’s about to change. The government is putting him on the payroll for the first time and ending the effort undertaken by ousted President Hosni Mubarak to contract the services to foreign companies. That effort failed because residents never got the hang of carrying their trash to dumpsters.

The music in you [Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis on Aeon Magazine] (1/8/15)

In 1999, the same authors, working with their colleague Elizabeth Johnson, demonstrated that infants and adults alike track the statistical properties of tone sequences. In other words, you don’t have to play the guitar or study music theory to build up a nuanced sense of which notes tend to follow which other notes in a particular repertoire: simply being exposed to music is enough. And just as a baby cannot describe her verbal learning process, only revealing her achievement by frowning at the word squash, the adult who has used statistical learning to make sense of music will reveal her knowledge expressively, clenching her teeth when a particularly fraught chord arises and relaxing when it resolves. She has acquired a deep, unconscious understanding of how chords relate to one another. It’s easy to test out the basics of this acquired knowledge on your friends. Play someone a simple major scale, Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti, but withhold the final Do and watch even the most avowed musical ignoramus start to squirm or even finish the scale for you. Living in a culture where most music is built on this scale is enough to develop what seems less like the knowledge and more like the feeling that this Ti must resolve to a Do. Psychologists such as Emmanuel Bigand of the University of Burgundy in France and Carol Lynne Krumhansl of Cornell University in New York have used more formal methods to demonstrate implicit knowledge of tonal structure. In experiments that asked people to rate how well individual tones fitted with an established context, people without any training demonstrated a robust feel for pitch that seemed to indicate a complex understanding of tonal theory. That might surprise most music majors at US universities, who often don’t learn to analyse and describe the tonal system until they get there, and struggle with it then. Yet what’s difficult is not understanding the tonal system itself – it’s making this knowledge explicit. We all know the basics of how pitches relate to each other in Western tonal systems; we simply don’t know that we know.

How Lego Became The Apple Of Toys [Jonathan Ringen on Fast Company] (1/8/15)

About a decade ago, it looked like Lego might not have much of a future at all. In 2003, the company—based in a tiny Danish village called Billund and owned by the same family that founded it before World War II—was on the verge of bankruptcy, with problems lurking within like tree rot. Faced with growing competition from video games and the Internet, and plagued by an internal fear that Lego was perceived as old-fashioned, the company had been making a series of errors. Day-to-day management had been handed in 1998 to a “turnaround expert” with no toy background who continued to live in Paris, as business writer David C. Robertson outlines in his 2013 Lego history, Brick by Brick. There were disastrous detours away from the core experience, including the abysmal morning cartoon ­Galidor, and experiments with bigger, more macho minifigures with a line called Jack Stone. The company kept opening Legoland theme parks around the world, despite having limited expertise in hospitality. Sales of several of Lego’s most successful products, including Lego’s Star Wars and Harry Potter lines, bobbed up and down based on movie release schedules over which Lego had no control. And the company wildly increased the number of products it released each year, resulting in a dreadful 2002 Christmas season, when major retailers ended up with around 40% of their Lego stock unsold. Enter Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, a deeply process-based thinker—and, not incidentally, a father of four—who arrived from ­McKinsey & Co. in 2001 and was promoted to CEO three years later, when he was 36. (He took over from Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, grandson of Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen.)…Knudstorp began turning the company around by making several key moves: improving processes, cutting costs, and managing cash flow. Then came stabilization. “But after that, we knew there’d be a third phase of organic growth,” he says. That required figuring out what a modern Lego should even be, which Knudstorp accomplished in part by investing in a kind of research the company had never done before—deep ethnographic studies of how kids around the world really play. Today, Lego may know as much about that subject as any organization on earth.

Cities Forge Policy Apart From States [Jenni Bergal on Stateline] (1/15/15)

Republicans have seized their largest state lawmaking majorities since the 1920s, but many Democratic-dominated cities are likely to take matters into their own hands this year by passing progressive measures that go beyond or even conflict with state laws. On issues ranging from the minimum wage to fracking to drones, a number of cities acted on their own in 2014, and the trend is expected to continue—even in states where Democrats control state government. Meanwhile, some states are pushing back by barring local governments from adopting such measures.

Seven of the Most Unintentionally Creepy Ads of All Time [Natalie Kitroeff on Bloomberg Businessweek] (1/13/15)

3. Kay Jewelers, Part 2

Here, a step-dad shows off his totally normal relationship with his future stepdaughter by giving her the same necklace he gave her mother.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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24
Apr
15

Roundup – T-FORCE

Best of the Best:

To Stop the Coffee Apocalypse, Starbucks Buys a Farm [Bryan Gruley and Leslie Patton on Bloomberg Businessweek] (2/13/14)

Caressing the leaves of Par 1 Plan 1, Mario says it’s a cross between a Costa Rican variety known for the bright flavor favored by U.S. coffee drinkers, and an African breed with a bitter taste but the resilience to battle a fungus ravaging Latin America’s coffee crop. After a year in the nursery, a few hundred of these seedlings will be replanted nearby. Seeds from the trees that can fend off disease and yield the most abundant, high-quality beans will be replanted again in a cycle that could take five years before Par 1 Plan 1 is ready for Costa Rican farmers. The plant Mario is holding might never be responsible for a Starbucks venti latte, but its grandchild or great-grandchild might. “We have hopes,” he says.

How the Beatles Went Viral: Blunders, Technology & Luck Broke the Fab Four in America [Steve Greenberg on Billboard Magazine] (2/7/14)

Suspending all sales and promotion staff vacation during Christmas week, Capitol sprung into action on Dec. 26, its promotion men hand-delivering the Beatles’ 45 single to key stations by 9 a.m. Before the morning was over, top 40 stations around the country were hammering the record. Record stores were immediately besieged, as teens rushed to spend their Christmas money. As one New Jersey retailer told Billboard, “Sales started out like an explosion.” Moving the release date up had an unexpected benefit. In 1964, the average American teen listened to the radio for more than three hours per day. With kids out of school for Christmas week, that number was undoubtedly even higher. And, equally important, the most common stocking-stuffers received by teens that Christmas were transistor radios, which had become cheaper than ever. Although popular since the mid-’50s, the Japanese-made transistor radio experienced exponential sales growth in the mid-’60s, as inexpensive off-brands proliferated. While 5.5 million radios had been sold in the United States in 1962, by 1963 that number nearly doubled to 10 million. So ubiquitous was the transistor radio as a holiday gift in 1963 that the popular comedy songwriter Allan Sherman recorded a “12 Days of Christmas” parody keyed around having received a Japanese transistor radio “on the first day of Christmas,” with more details about the radio piling up with each successive verse: “It’s a Nakashuma/It’s the Mark 4 model-that’s the one that’s discontinued/And it comes with a leatherette case with holes in it so you can listen right through the case/And it has a wire with a thing on one end that you can stick in your ear.” The transistor radio was the technological spark that lit the fuse of teen culture in the ’60s. Like the Internet in the last decade, it was a vehicle of public music discovery and sharing. Like the Walkman in the ’80s, it made music portable and private in new ways that energized listeners. One could take it anywhere-the schoolyard, the beach, wherever-and share music with friends. But one could also listen through an earplug while walking down the street, sitting in the back of the class or lying in bed at night, under the covers, so parents wouldn’t know. Prior radios had neither portability nor the earplug. Subsequent technologies-the boom box, Walkman, iPod-enhanced the public or private listening experience, but not both. The Maysles’ documentary shows the Beatles taking their Pepsi-branded transistor radio everywhere, listening both collectively and through earplugs to top 40 stations. In a meta moment, they do a face-to-face interview with a DJ in their hotel suite while simultaneously listening to the interview being broadcast live on their radio. So imagine, if you will, teenagers across America turning on their new transistor radios during Christmas vacation in 1963, listening for hours, everywhere, alone and with their friends, and hearing -over and over again-a new sound that excited them even more than their new piece of hardware.

Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? [Lori Gottlieb via The New York Times] (2/6/14)

Is the trade-off of egalitarian marriage necessarily less sexual heat? It’s possible that the sexual scripts we currently follow will evolve along with our marital arrangements so that sameness becomes sexy. Regardless, more people marrying today are choosing egalitarian setups for the many other benefits they offer. If every sexual era is unhappy in its own way, it may be that we will begin to think of the challenges of egalitarian marriages less as drawbacks and more like, well, life, with its inherent limitations on how exciting any particular aspect can be. “It’s the first time in history we are trying this experiment of a sexuality that’s rooted in equality and that lasts for decades,” Esther Perel said. “It’s a tall order for one person to be your partner in Management Inc., your best friend and passionate lover. There’s a certain part of you that with this partner will not be fulfilled. You deal with that loss. It’s a paradox to be lived with, not solved.”

Why Abercrombie Is Losing Its Shirt [Matthew Shaer on The Cut on New York Magazine] (2/9/14)

From 1992, when he was hired at Abercrombie, to the early aughts, Jeffries presided over one of the more impressive runs in the history of modern American retail. And he did it by turning an all-but-moribund clothing brand, best known as a fusty safari outfitter, into a multibillion-dollar behemoth with more than a thousand storefronts and a style that competitors were tripping over one another to imitate. Unlike his peers, who tended to view the youth market with clinical detachment, Jeffries had a Peter Pan–like ability to commune with the whims of the average American teen. As a former colleague once said, ideally, Jeffries “would like to be a guy with a young body in California.” He was able to predict what his customers desired because that’s what he desired too. But by the early aughts, Jeffries was eager to expand the company, and that spring, he summoned a group of executives to his office to discuss the creation of a new line of apparel to be developed under the code name “Concept Four.” At the time, Abercrombie comprised three separate brands. Abercrombie Kids was for grade-schoolers; Hollister, a SoCal-inspired line launched in 2000, was for young teenagers; and Abercrombie & Fitch, with its prep-meets-vintage aesthetic, was for high-school and college kids. Concept Four, Jeffries announced, would target the professional crowd that had aged out of the core Abercrombie brand. It would still be recognizably Abercrombie—jeans, button-ups, polos—but slightly more muted: no shorts with racy language scrawled across the rear…Concept Four launched in 2004 as Ruehl No. 925, complete with a fictional backstory, involving a nineteenth-century Greenwich Village merchant, concocted by the marketing department. Initially, Jeffries was optimistic, and he spoke publicly of Ruehl as embodying “the fantasy of college kids of America moving from Indiana to the big city.” He invested heavily in an expensive ad campaign featuring black-and-white close-ups of lower-­Manhattan brownstones—a self-consciously classier approach than the nude black-and-white images that graced Abercrombie storefronts and shopping bags. And in order to enforce the luxury nature of the brand, he stipulated that apparel prices should be 25 to 35 percent higher than they were at Abercrombie stores. But Jeffries badly mistimed his entry into the market. Already, online sales were generating an ever-growing pile of revenue for the apparel industry, and fast-fashion retailers such as H&M were churning out low-price approximations of high-end items. Consumers failed to see the appeal of a line that trafficked in the same basic style as Abercrombie, especially when it was prohibitively expensive. In 2009, after spending untold millions, Abercrombie closed all 29 Ruehl storefronts nationwide.

Oil Thieves of the Niger Delta [Alex Okeowo on Bloomberg Businessweek] (2/20/14)

We met at the bar before setting out, and Sekibo introduced me to a friend of his, a 34-year-old who asked that his name not be published. (Sekibo’s name has been changed to protect his identity, too.) His friend said he’d been stealing oil for six years. The government, he said, needs to give everyone a basic salary of 70,000 naira a month (about $427); otherwise the theft will not stop. Although oil companies operating in the delta have paid villages reparations after especially bad oil spills, the region remains underdeveloped, with few roads, little electricity or clean water, and impoverished schools. The nearest hospital is two hours away. Several in the bar were wary of a visiting journalist, but Sekibo assured me, “I’ve explained to them why it’s important you watch us work. For people to know how we are suffering here.” More than 90 percent of Nigeria’s budget comes from oil and gas; until recently, the country was Africa’s leading exporter of oil. And yet Nigeria refines less than one-fifth of its own output—so little, in fact, that it has to reimport its own oil, refined elsewhere, at a higher cost. This is the situation that Sekibo and his peers exploit. In their eyes, not only are they stealing oil as a tax on the companies that pollute their communities, but they are also providing a much-needed and more affordable source of domestic fuel. And even though politicians floated the idea of building refineries in the delta, it hasn’t happened, and there are few jobs. A 2011 report by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta finds the youth unemployment rate in the region is 40 percent.

The True Story of the Monuments Men [Jim Morrison on Smithsonian Magazine] (2/7/14)

Nowhere, notes Nicholas, were more of those treasures collected than at Altaussee, where Hitler stored the treasures intended for his Fuhrermuseum in Linz, Austria, a sprawling museum complex that Hitler planned as a showcase for his plunder. On that first foray, Kirstein and Posey (portrayed in pseuodyminity by actors Bob Balaban and Bill Murray, respectively) had also discovered Michelangelo’s Madonna, which was spirited out of Bruges, Belgium, by the Nazis in September 1944 as the Allies advanced on the city. Within days, they’d also found priceless works by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. They summoned the only Monuments Man for the job, George Stout, who had pioneered new techniques of art conservation before the war working at Harvard’s Fogg Museum. Early in the war, Stout (given the name Frank Stokes as played by George Clooney in the film) unsuccessfully campaigned for the creation of a group like the Monuments Men with both American and British authorities. Frustrated, the World War I veteran enlisted in the Navy and developed aircraft camouflage techniques until transferred to a small corps of 17 Monuments Men in December 1944. Stout had been crossing France, Germany and Belgium recovering works, often traveling in a Volkswagen captured from the Germans.  He was one of a handful of Monuments Men regularly in forward areas, though his letters home to his wife, Margie, mentioned only “field trips.”

The Unlikely Tale of How ARM Came to Rule the World [Ashlee Vance on Bloomberg Businessweek] (2/24/14)

ARM is basically a company of chip engineers. The business model it invented is simple: Tech companies shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they need a new chip for a product. Instead, they can look over ARM’s roster of chip parts, buy some basic things, and then do a bit of extra custom design work of their own to make their product unique. Other companies have similar models, but none offer the product breadth of ARM, which has chips that can run pretty much anything that has a computer, from coffee pots to data-center servers and everything in between. About half of ARM’s revenue comes from mobile products, while the rest comes from chips that go into TVs, media players, sensors, cars, printers, and other gear. Companies pay ARM in two basic ways. The first is a kind if all-you-can-eat subscription to ARM designs. For about $10 million per year, a major player like Samsung can pick and choose from the entire chip catalog. The second way is royalties. Mobile phones bring in 20¢ to 40¢ apiece—a bit more for smartphones—and there are pennies or fractions of a penny to be had from other devices…ARM’s top-tier customers such as Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, and Nvidia employ hundreds of their own chip designers for customization work. Much of Apple’s success has come from the snappy performance of its products and its long-lasting batteries. The features are a direct result of tweaks Apple made to ARM designs, and the ways in which Apple married its software to the silicon. Despite having its own large chip team, Apple still saves hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year by not having to produce everything from scratch. The ARM model is based on this idea of spreading risk, R&D investments, and profits. ARM does the underlying dirty work and makes more money when its customers sell more things. Companies like Apple and Samsung get to focus their attention on higher-level innovations instead of grunt work. And the contract chipmakers like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSM) and Global Foundries cater to dozens of ARM customers and can divvy up their orders among factories to keep them running at full capacity.

The Kingpin at Rest [Alma Guillermoprieto on The New York Review of Books] (2/25/14)

His capture was so easy that one wonders if he was tired of the hard life, looking to be caught, needing some relief from the pressure of transporting thousands of tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, you name it, in addition to the daily agony of deciding whom to kill, whom to trust. And then there was all the money requiring cleaning, tons of that too, literally, barrels and cratefuls of cash coming in every week: What to do with the boxes of it left over once the bodyguards, spies, goons, hit men, police officers, judges, mayors, governors, customs officials, army generals, prison guards, railroad workers, trucking bosses, journalists, ranch hands, relatives, cabinet ministers, bank officers, helicopter, jet, and airplane pilots, business associates, and barbers have been paid off? This last item is not negligible; the person who comes in to wield scissors very close to your neck once a month or so and monitor your half-hearted attempts at a disguise—a moustache, a dye job—is someone you definitely want to tip richly if you’re Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán. Everyone has to be tipped, in fact, every single person you come into contact with—if you’re Guzmán and there’s a seven-million-dollar reward on your head. Tipped and feared. The jefe was reported to drive around Sinaloa and the states of Durango, Chihuahua, and Sonora with an army of bodyguards, in armored cars, lookouts everywhere. It’s a tiresome business, and so it becomes a real question: What was Guzmán doing, slumbering in an apartment building right on Mazatlan’s main tourist drag, five days after Navy special forces knocked down the reinforced metal door to one of his seven houses in the Sinaloa capital of Culiacán, giving him just enough time to escape through one of the tunnels that connected the houses to each other and to the public water system? In the mountains and craggy valleys of the Sierra Madre, Guzmán has been impossible to capture even on those occasions when the security forces showed some interest in doing so. But he fled from Culiacán last week not to the Sierra but to Mazatlán. Perhaps he thought he’d been tipping to everyone´s satisfaction, and miscalculated.

In Fake Classes Scandal, UNC Fails Its Athletes—and Whistle-Blower [Paul M. Barrett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (2/27/14)

Acting as an unnamed source, Willingham had been feeding information since 2011 about academic fraud to a reporter with the News & Observer in Raleigh. The coverage had put UNC on the defensive. But rather than seriously investigate the connection between sports and classroom corruption, top university administrators used vague committee reports to obfuscate the issue. Willingham’s conversations with the elderly Friday hadn’t addressed the tradecraft of whistle-blowing. Still, he’d encouraged her to act on her concerns. “At his memorial,” she says, “I realized I had to speak up.” In November 2012, she went public with what she knew. College sports is a $16 billion business, and it coexists uneasily with its host—nonprofit, tax-exempt institutions dedicated to education and research. The tension has become acute at UNC, in large part because of Willingham’s decision at Friday’s memorial service. What she disclosed has devastated UNC’s image of itself and may potentially hobble its athletic program. Beginning in the 1990s and continuing at least through 2011, UNC’s Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies offered more than 200 lecture courses that never met. The department also sponsored hundreds of independent study classes of equally dubious value. Internal reviews have identified forged faculty signatures and more than 500 grades changed without authorization. The students affected were disproportionately football and basketball players.

Where Have All the Lobbyists Gone? [Lee Fang on The Nation] (2/19/14)

On paper, the lobbying industry is quickly disappearing. In January, records indicated that for the third straight year, overall spending on lobbying decreased. Lobbyists themselves continue to deregister in droves. In 2013, the number of registered lobbyists dipped to 12,281, the lowest number on file since 2002. But experts say that lobbying isn’t dying; instead, it’s simply going underground. The problem, says American University professor James Thurber, who has studied congressional lobbying for more than thirty years, is that “most of what is going on in Washington is not covered” by the lobbyist-registration system. Thurber, who is currently advising the American Bar Association’s lobbying-reform task force, adds that his research suggests the true number of working lobbyists is closer to 100,000. A loophole-ridden law, poor enforcement, the development of increasingly sophisticated strategies that enlist third-party validators and create faux-grassroots campaigns, along with an Obama administration executive order that gave many in the profession a disincentive to register—all of these forces have combined to produce a near-total collapse of the system that was designed to keep tabs on federal lobbying. While the official figure puts the annual spending on lobbying at $3.2 billion in 2013, Thurber estimates that the industry brings in more than $9 billion a year. Other experts have made similar estimates, but no one is sure how large the industry has become. Lee Drutman, a lobbying expert at the Sunlight Foundation, says that at least twice as much is spent on lobbying as is officially reported. Trade association documents, bankruptcy filings and reports from political consulting firms reviewed by The Nation show that many of America’s largest corporations have spent much more on lobbying than they’ve officially disclosed. In some cases, the quarterly registration system, used by the public and journalists, shows only one-tenth of the amount that firms spend to win favorable treatment by the federal government.

The First Lesson of Marriage 101: There Are No Soul Mates [Christine Gross-Loh on The Atlantic] (2/12/14)

“The foundation of our course is based on correcting a misconception: that to make a marriage work, you have to find the right person. The fact is, you have to be the right person,” Solomon declares. “Our message is countercultural: Our focus is on whether you are the right person. Given that we’re dealing with 19-, 20-, 21-year olds, we think the best thing to do at this stage in the game, rather than look for the right partner, is do the work they need to understand who they are, where they are, where they came from, so they can then invite in a compatible suitable partner.”

American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga [Alexis C. Madrigal on The Atlantic] (2/24/14)

In the worst-case Delta earthquake scenario presented by the state, 600 people would die and there would be $500 billion in damage. “But only 20 percent of that economic loss was due to reduced water exports or a loss of the water pumping system,” Michael noted. The real costs would be to the infrastructure of the Delta itself, not to mention its property owners, and the state isn’t unveiling any big plan to guard against those damages. In fact, by strengthening the levees, instead of building the tunnels, the state could get more flood protection for the water supply. The levee system is actually improving, thanks to smart investments by the state over the last 25 years. And for only a few billion dollars more, Michael maintains, the state could seismically upgrade the Delta’s levees, securing the water supply and the people who live behind them. Then, the state could pour the rest of the proposed tunnel outlay, more than $10 billion, “into local and alternative water supplies”—a bunch of different water fixes in a bunch of different places. That would make local communities more self-reliant and help solve the Delta’s environmental problems, because the pumps wouldn’t need to pull so much water out of the Delta. A grid of small solutions is exactly what UCLA’s Mark Gold, director of the school’s Coastal Center, thinks could get Los Angeles to zero imported water by 2050. He rattles off actions could be taken in the near future: Invest in technological breakthoughs and infrastructure operations research. Change the laws that restrict the use of treated wastewater. Capture more stormwater. Desalt groundwater.

How Microryza Acquired the Domain Experiment.com [Rohin Dhar on Priceonomics] (2/19/14)

Instead of working on the rebranding, Denny surfed the web, wistfully looking at domains that would not be theirs. On a whim, he typed in Experiment.com. He found that the name was not being used for anything, so he fired off an email to the owner of the site (the owner’s email address was listed in the domain’s public registration info). Denny explained in the email that Microyza helped crowdfund scientific experiments and enquired whether the domain was for sale. The owner of Experiment.com wrote Denny back within 30 minutes. A few minutes later, they were on a Skype video call, even though it was around midnight. The owner of the domain loved the team’s mission. He had a masters in physics and had bought the domain in 1996 hoping that one day it would be used for some noble purpose. At the end of the call, the owner of the domain told Denny that he would consider selling Experiment.com to them because he liked their work.

The Mammoth Cometh [Nathaniel Rich on The New York Times] (2/27/14)

This cloning method, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, can be used only on species for which we have cellular material. For species like the passenger pigeon that had the misfortune of going extinct before the advent of cryopreservation, a more complicated process is required. The first step is to reconstruct the species’ genome. This is difficult, because DNA begins to decay as soon as an organism dies. The DNA also mixes with the DNA of other organisms with which it comes into contact, like fungus, bacteria and other animals. If you imagine a strand of DNA as a book, then the DNA of a long-dead animal is a shuffled pile of torn pages, some of the scraps as long as a paragraph, others a single sentence or just a few words. The scraps are not in the right order, and many of them belong to other books. And the book is an epic: The passenger pigeon’s genome is about 1.2 billion base pairs long. If you imagine each base pair as a word, then the book of the passenger pigeon would be four million pages long. There is a shortcut. The genome of a closely related species will have a high proportion of identical DNA, so it can serve as a blueprint, or “scaffold.” The passenger pigeon’s closest genetic relative is the band-tailed pigeon, which Shapiro is now sequencing. By comparing the fragments of passenger-pigeon DNA with the genomes of similar species, researchers can assemble an approximation of an actual passenger-pigeon genome. How close an approximation, it will be impossible to know. As with any translation, there may be errors of grammar, clumsy phrases and perhaps a few missing passages, but the book will be legible. It should, at least, tell a good story.

An Oral History of Ghostbusters [Jason Matloff on Esquire] (2/24/14)

IVAN REITMAN: I was told about the idea before, back in the Belushi days. It just didn’t register, and I didn’t pay much attention to it. But finally, I read it and thought, “Wow, this is an amazing idea.” But it would have cost something like $200 million to make. It took place in the future, with many groups of Ghostbusters functioning in an intergalactic setting…I had lunch with Danny [Dan Aykroyd] at Art’s Delicatessen, and I basically said, “There’s a great idea here, but the script you’ve written is impossible to make. Don’t you think we should set it on planet Earth and not in the future, which would make all the extraordinary stuff feel funnier?’, And then I pitched the idea of having them start at a university. Dan was great, and very open. So I called up Harold Ramis and pitched him what I wanted to do.

Who Killed the Romantic Comedy? [Amy Nicholson on Los Angeles Weekly] (2/27/14)

The romantic comedy is dead. In 1997, there were two romantic comedies among the top 20 box office performers. In 1998 and 1999, there were three. Each cracked $100 million in sales. Even as recently as 2005, five romantic comedies topped $100 million at the box office. Contrast that with 2013: There’s not one romantic comedy in the top 50 films. Not even in the top 100. Men and women are still falling in love, of course. They’re just not doing it on screen — and if they do, it’s no laughing matter. In today’s comedies, they’re either casually hooking up or already married. These are comedies of exasperation, not infatuation. It’s not only that audiences are refusing to see romantic comedies. It’s that romantic comedies aren’t getting made, at least not by the major studios. The Big Wedding, 2013’s sole boy-meets-girl-meets-matrimony comedy, was unceremoniously dumped into theaters by big indie Lionsgate and limped to No. 101 on the chart. What happened?

10 Essential Relationship Lessons that Men Should Learn about Women [Science of Relationships]

Men should know that…

  1. …being around an attractive woman can impair his cognitive ability (link).

  2. …women find humor attractive perhaps because it shows his cognitive sophistication and intelligence (link).

  3. …if they ask a woman for casual sex, she may perceive him as dangerous (link).

  4. …women were more in love actually initiated sex less often, perhaps as an invitation for seduction (link).

  5. …women are typically more picky about who they date than men, but that this may have more to do with dating norms (i.e., men are expected to approach women and ask them out rather than vice versa) than with innate differences between men and women (link).

  6. … on average women are more sexually satisfied than men (link).

  7. …they benefit from marriage more than women because it leads them to drink less and eat healthier (link).

  8. … when women fake orgasm, it is likely done to preserve their male partner’s feelings (link).

  9. …they are likely much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa (link).

  10. …they are more likely to find women with higher pitched voices more attractive and that a higher voice may indicate higher fertility (link).

10 Essential Relationship Lessons that Women Should Learn about Men [Science of Relationships]

Women should know that…

  1. …men fall in love faster than they do (link).

  2. …their sense of humor doesn’t typically matter to men (link).

  3. …contrary to stereotypes men associate romantic images with pleasant more than sexual images (link).

  4. …if they’re looking for a man who prefers romance to sex, they should look for a male who is low in extroversion (link).

  5. …men who are more in love act more affectionately (e.g., sharing their feelings, making each other laugh, giving hugs and kisses, etc.) toward them (link).

  6. …men like cuddling more than they may think (link).

  7. …healthier men are likely to have happier relationships and more satisfying sex life (link).

  8. …contrary to popular belief, men are more likely to say “I love you” first in a relationships (link).

  9. …married women drink more alcohol than single women (link).

  10. …there is a good chance their male friends find them physically attractive, even if those male friends are in a romantic relationship (link)

Soccer Club With 200 Fans Earns $14 Million From Transfers [Alex Duff and Lucia Baldomir on Bloomberg News] (3/19/14)

A Uruguayan soccer club led by a U.K. racehorse owner has an unusual sideline: trading elite South American players who never appear in a game. Deportivo Maldonado SAD, which plays in Uruguay’s second-tier championship, was set up in 2010 when Malcolm Caine and London-based lawyer Graham Shear became president and vice-president, according to company registry documents obtained by Bloomberg News in Montevideo. Maldonado had previously operated as a member-owned club since 1928. Routing transfers through Uruguay can ease the tax burden of investors who own player transfer rights, which is common in South America, according to Ariel Reck, a lawyer in Buenos Aires who works on transfer deals. Soccer ruling body FIFA’s regulations allow players to be registered with three clubs in a season and play for two, Reck said…Deportivo Maldonado earned 10.1 million euros ($14 million) since 2011 by trading Brazil’s Alex Sandro to Porto and loaning Paraguay’s Marcelo Estigarribia to Juventus, according to regulatory filings. In January, it loaned another Brazilian, Willian Jose da Silva, to Real Madrid. There is no record of the three players appearing for Deportivo Maldonado, which last season averaged 208 fans at its homes games, according to data on soccer website transfermarkt.com. Maldonado’s player-trading income is about double the average first-division team in Uruguay over the same period, transfermarkt.com data shows.

GM’s Supplier-Squeezing Days Gave Birth to Flawed Models [Keith Naughton, David Welch, Jeffrey Green, Mina Kimes on Bloomberg News] (3/21/14)

As it became clear that GM’s planned Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions wouldn’t get made on a money-saving global design, Gary Altman, the models’ chief engineer, told the group they needed to find other ways to reduce costs, including a suggestion to pull parts from existing models, said a person who was at the meeting in the automaker’s suburban Detroit technical center. Those same Cobalts and Ions are among 1.6 million vehicles that GM recalled last month over an ignition-switch flaw the company says is behind 12 deaths. U.S. investigators and regulators want to know what went wrong, who knew about it and why the nation’s largest automaker took so long to mount a recall of models made a decade ago. Altman’s message, while by no means a directive to build unsafe vehicles, reflected the environment at GM: The cars were the product of a culture of cutting costs and squeezing suppliers, as described by five people with knowledge of the automaker’s engineering, management and suppliers in the decade preceding its 2009 bankruptcy.

What Do People Do on Facebook When They Are Breaking Up? [Dr. Benjamin Le on The Science of Relationships]

Here are the most common ways participants worked through breakups on Facebook:

  • 28% minimized their Facebook use or took a “Facebook vacation,” or tried to keep their breakup and other personal information off of Facebook.
  • 23% engaged in relational cleansing by changing their relationship status on Facebook (e.g., to “single” or “it’s complicated”) or removing or untagging posts and pictures that referenced their past relationship.
  • 10% creeped or stalked their exes (or their exe’s friends/family) on Facebook.
  • 9% avoided their former partner’s profile and/or unsubscribed from their ex’s feed.
  • 8% didn’t change their Facebook behavior and continued to interact with their exes by chatting, commenting on their posts, liking their updates, and tagging them in pictures.
  • 4% actively mourned the loss of their relationship on Facebook by making emotional posts about their partner or end of the relationship.
  • 4% defriended or blocked their former partner (and/or their ex’ friends/family).
  • 4% used status updates or pictures to emphasize the new and fun things they were doing.

He Remade Our World [Mark Danner on The New York Review of Books] (4/3/14)

Bush has finally reached the innermost Russian doll: a score or more of top lawyers in the Justice Department, including the deputy attorney general and possibly the attorney general himself, and the director of the FBI, and perhaps other attorneys at the CIA and elsewhere in the national security bureaucracy, are about to resign en masse over a secret, highly intrusive, warrantless surveillance program less than eight months before Bush will have to face the voters. And it is all going to happen today—and Bush has up until this moment known nothing about it. It will be an enormous scandal with George W. Bush playing hapless witness to his own destruction…Such a mass resignation would certainly have led immediately to high-profile hearings on Capitol Hill, though the intense press coverage probably would have exposed Stellar Wind before they could be convened—exposed it and likely severely curtailed or ended it, given the circumstances: senior Justice Department lawyers, who resigned rather than violate the law, criticizing advocates of a secret program that snooped on Americans’ telephone calls and e-mails without a warrant.

In the Darkness of Dick Cheney [Mark Danner on The New York Review of Books] (3/6/14)

And yet is there not something distinctly odd in pointing, in 2007—not to mention in the memoirs of 2011 and the film interview in 2013—to “the kind of authority and influence we had back in ’03”? Four years after the Americans had declared victory in Iraq—even as the vice-president was “strongly recommending” that the United States attack Syria—more than a hundred thousand Iraqis and nearly five thousand Americans were dead, Iraq was near anarchy, and no end was yet in sight. Not only the war’s ending but its beginning had disappeared into a dark cloud of confusion and controversy, as the weapons of mass destruction that were its justification turned out not to exist. The invasion had produced not the rapid and overwhelming victory Cheney had anticipated but a quagmire in which the American military had occupied and repressed a Muslim country and, four years later, been brought to the verge of defeat. As for “authority and influence,” during that time North Korea had acquired nuclear weapons and Iran and Syria had started down the road to building them. Given this, what exactly had the “demonstration model” demonstrated? If such demonstrations really did “guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity…to flout the authority of the United States,” how exactly had the decision to invade Iraq and the disastrous outcome of the war guided the actions and policies of those authority-flouting countries? The least one could say is that if the theory worked, then that “authority and influence we had back in ’03,” in conquered Baghdad, had been unmasked, as the insurgency got underway, as an illusion. The pinnacle of power had been attained not in Baghdad but long before, when the leaders decided to set out on this ill-starred military adventure. By invading Iraq Bush administration policymakers—and at their head, Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—had managed to demonstrate to the world not the grand extent of American power but its limits. The most one could say is that the “demonstration model” had had the opposite result of that intended, encouraging “rogue states,” faced with the prospect of an aggressive United States determined to wield its unmatched conventional military forces, to pursue the least expensive means by which to deter such an attack: nuclear weapons of their own. Now the Iraq war suggested that even if the Americans did invade, a determined core of insurgents equipped with small arms, suicide vests, and other improvised explosive devices might well be enough to outlast them, or at least outlast the patience of the American public.

Working to Death in China [Charmika Monet on The Diplomat] (3/26/14)

Despite having the some of the world’s best-kept records on the subject, however, death from overwork is far from unique to Japan. Instances of it have been known to occur the world over, not least in China, which now reportedly leads the world in work exhaustion-related deaths. It is estimated that some 600,000 people die from work-related stress and its effects every year in China. This number comes as no surprise to those familiar with the anti-suicide nets in infamous Chinese labor mills such as Foxconn. Long hours, rough conditions, low pay and poor future prospects have been a recipe for work stress-induced suicide at facilities across the country. While such figures remain alarmingly high, they account for a relatively small percentage of the total number of karōshi victims in China. Perhaps surprisingly, manual laborers have largely proved resilient to poor work conditions and strenuous physical demands. It’s the so-called “mental labor” jobs, such as those in the advertising field, that have been the primary contributor to dangerously high levels of work-related stress. These kinds of jobs can be found at all socioeconomic levels, with a slightly disproportionate representation by the middle class. IT employees have shown some of the highest levels of work-related stress with 98.8 percent reporting the negative influence of their job on personal health.

As Cash Use Drops, Do Crime Rates Follow? [Drake Bennett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (3/28/14)

The idea that this reduction in the supply of cash might cut down on street crime has been suggested before. The new paper, by a team of six authors, found a way to test it. In the poor neighborhoods where most American street crime happens, people weren’t early adopters of credit cards. They have not been patronizing coffee shops that take Square, but cash still has drained out of those local economies in its own particular way: People now receive welfare payments in the form of debit cards instead of checks. A lot of the cash circulating in poor neighborhoods comes from public assistance payments, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Those payments once took the form of checks or actual food stamps. TANF recipients, most of whom lacked bank accounts, would take their checks to check-cashing shops, SNAP recipients could trade their food stamps for cash&mdashand all this cash in pockets and homes at a particular time each month meant recipients were targets for theft. In the late 1990s, however, the federal government stopped sending out checks and instituted a program in which the recipients were issued special debit cards onto which the value of the benefits were electronically transferred. Suddenly, people no longer had checks to cash or food stamps to trade. They still had ways to transform the benefits into cash—selling goods bought with SNAP benefits, for example—but these tactics require a bit more ingenuity. The research paper takes advantage of the fact that the program was rolled out in eight phases in Missouri. That meant the researchers could look for an effect by comparing the parts of the state where the so-called Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system had been instituted with otherwise similar areas where it hadn’t. Economists call this a “natural experiment.” In this particular natural experiment, the effect they found was large: a 16.6 percent reduction in total crime per 100,000 persons, a 22.7 percent decline in assault, and drops of 13 percent for burglary and 16.3 percent for larceny. The researchers found no effect on rape, which would be expected, since it’s not a crime typically committed for financial gain. More surprising—and more problematic for the paper’s hypothesis—was that the researchers found no statistically significant effect for robbery. Since assaults showed such a dramatic effect, if the “less cash, less crime” hypothesis were to be true, the assaults most likely to be affected by the EBT move would be those related to getting people’s cash—in other words, robberies…Since the EBT shift took place in the late 1990s, it can’t explain the crime reduction that took place earlier in the decade. And the authors don’t claim that cash causes all the drop in crime even in the period they reviewed. Still, if their results hold up under further examination, they’ve found a real effect.

The Fascinating Neuroscience Of Color [Eric Jaffe on Fast Company] (3/20/14)

Step back for a moment to one of Conway’s biggest findings, which came while examining how monkeys process color. Using a brain scanner, he and some collaborators found “globs” of specialized cells that detect distinct hues—suggesting that some areas of the primate brain are encoded for color. Interestingly, not all colors are given equal glob treatment. The largest neuron cluster was tuned to red, followed by green then blue; a small cell collection also cared about yellow. Knowing that humans might also be hardwired for certain hues could be a gateway into understanding the neural properties of emotion. Since researchers know that certain colors provoke strong feelings in people—blues and purples are more pleasant than yellows, for instance, while greens tend to be the most arousing—they might then work backwards to uncover the basic mechanisms for these feelings. (Designers, meanwhile, could use these emotional connections to help them match color schemes to the mood of a room or a brand or a website.) Emotions are just the start. Take, for example, the crisp and effortless way you distinguish a green from a blue. If researchers like Conway can trace the neural circuitry that guides that distinction, they might enhance our understanding of how the brain categorizes things more broadly—relevant or not relevant, left or right. From there it’s a short step to the architecture of human decision-making.

The Drugging of the American Boy [Ryan D’Agostino on Esquire] (3/27/14)

One of the most shocking studies of the rise in ADHD diagnoses was published in 2012 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It was called “Influence of Relative Age on Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children.” Nearly one million children between the ages of six and twelve took part, making it the largest study of its kind ever. The researchers found that “boys who were born in December”—typically the youngest students in their class—”were 30 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD than boys born in January,” who were a full year older. And “boys were 41 percent more likely to be given a prescription for a medication to treat ADHD if they were born in December than if they were born in January.” These findings suggest, of course, that an errant diagnosis can sometimes result from a developmental period that a boy can grow out of. And there are other underlying reasons for the recent explosion in diagnoses. Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and the editor of Psychological Bulletin, the research publication of the American Psychological Association, presents evidence in a new book that ADHD diagnoses can vary widely according to demographics and even education policy, which could account for why some states see a rate of 4 percent of schoolchildren with ADHD while others see a rate of almost 15 percent. Most shocking is Hinshaw’s examination of the implications of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which gave incentives to states whose students scored well on standardized tests. The result: “Such laws provide real incentive to have children diagnosed and treated.” Children with ADHD often get more time to take tests, and in some school districts, tests taken by ADHD kids do not even have to be included in the overall average. “That is, an ADHD diagnosis might exempt a low-achieving youth from lowering the district’s overall achievement ranking”—thus ensuring that the district not incur federal sanctions for low scores. In a study of the years between 2003 and 2007, the years in which the policy was rolled out, the authors looked at children between ages eight and thirteen. They found that among children in many low-income areas (the districts most “targeted” by the bill), ADHD diagnoses increased from 10 percent to 15.3 percent—”a huge rise of 53 percent” in just four years.

A vast hidden surveillance network runs across America, powered by the repo industry [Shawn Musgrave on BetaBoston on The Boston Globe] (3/5/14)

License plate scanning technology has been around for ­decades — the British police originally adopted it in the 1970s to track the Irish Republican Army members — but it only came into wide use in the last decade as cheaper but highly effective models became available. These scanners use high-speed cameras and optical character recognition technology to capture up to 1,800 plates per minute, even at high rates of speed and in difficult driving conditions. The scanner also ­records the date, time, and GPS location of each scan. Since 2008, more than 60 Massachusetts police departments have started using scanners to track down drivers with unpaid tickets, no insurance, or driving stolen vehicles, but the trend has raised concern about potential privacy invasions. In December, Boston police suspended their use of plate scanners altogether after a Globe inves­tigation reported questionable data management, includ­ing the accidental public release of more than 69,000 ­license plate numbers that had been scanned over six months. Meanwhile, private companies were quietly and rapidly finding ways to profit from much larger databases with little public discussion. Digital Recognition Network, with the help of about 400 repossession companies across the United States, has increased the number of ­license scans in its database tenfold since September 2010, and the firm continues to add another 70 million scans per month, according to company disclosures. Digital Recognition’s top rival, Illinois-based MVTRAC, has not disclosed the size of its database, but claimed in a 2012 Wall Street Journal interview to have scans of “a large majority” of vehicles registered in the United States.

Facebook’s Plan to Conquer the World — With Crappy Phones and Bad Networks [Mat Honan on Wired] (2/24/14)

For many people in the developing world, Facebook is the Internet. And while that may be somewhat true in America too, we Yanks can at least pull up the world’s leading social network on desktops and iPhones and Galaxy S4s with robust Internet connections, gorgeous screens and easy access to a reliable power grid. Meanwhile, in Africa and Asia and South America where Facebook is trying attract another 5 Billion users, that technological sophistication is far from given. Facebook faces massive hurdles there that are just unknown here. As Facebook looked out across the globe it wanted to conquer, it saw a mish-mash of unreliable networks, low resolution screens, and shitty processors. There were all manner of various flavor of Android, problems with local language support, confusion over pricing, and unreliable or non-existent power grids. There’s the question of how you make social connections between people with no address books, no email address, no university affiliation, and who are perhaps the very first person in their village to sign up for Facebook. The challenges weren’t just difficult, they were epic…That infrastructure doesn’t really exist where the world is coming online via mobile networks: typically on feature phone or cheap Android handsets. Instead of broadband LTE, these phones often only have tenuous connections to 2.5G towers. They may only have the ability to charge up once a week, when a truck rolls through town with portable batteries. Data plans can often be eaten up by a single shared photo. Local language support is often non existent. If Facebook wants those users–and it does–it has to give them an entirely other experience than the one it delivers to North America.

Billionaires Buying Islands Off Australia Find Perilous Paradise [William Mellor on Bloomberg News] (3/26/14)

After paying A$12 million ($10.9 million) for lovely Lindeman in 2012, the Chinese-Australian entrepreneur plans to spend more than A$200 million building a luxury resort on the 8-square-kilometer (3-square-mile) island, while keeping a prime secluded site for his own vacation retreat. “When you first see the Great Barrier Reef, it blows your breath,” he says in cheerfully fractured English. “Buying Lindeman was a bargain. It took me 10 minutes to make up my mind.” How much of a bargain is a source of debate within the cloistered world of private-island sales. Although the Great Barrier Reef is renowned as one of the planet’s most beautiful and precious places, it has a perilous history. Over the past 80 years, investors have poured billions into resorts here, only to discover that the reef can be as treacherous for them as it was in 1770 for British explorer James Cook, whose HMS Endeavour ran aground near a spot he aptly named Cape Tribulation.

Myanmar’s Growing—and Dangerous—Jade Trade [Christina Larson on Bloomberg Businessweek] (3/25/14)

Much of the prized jade in Myanmar is mined in northern Kachin state, where the 8,000-person Kachin Independence Army is fighting for independence. The ownership of the mines is unclear; national oversight is impossible; and international monitors and nongovernmental organizations are not able to operate in the region.

Meet the Super Taskers [Kat McGowan on Psychology Today] (1/1/14)

The existence of supertaskers came as a surprise to [David Strayer of The University of Utah], an attention expert. His experiments have proven that while we think we can handle several tasks at once—driving while fiddling with the radio, say—most of us can’t. We slow down, trip up. The very concept of multitasking is a myth. Our brains don’t do two things at once; instead, we rapidly switch between tasks, putting heavy burdens on attention, memory, and focus. In Strayer’s studies, talking on a cellphone while driving (perhaps the most ubiquitous type of multitasking) leaves people as cognitively impaired as if they’d had two or three drinks. About five years ago, however, Strayer found an exception to this rule. He was running an experiment in which people were supposed to use a driving simulator while doing two mental tasks: memorizing the order of words that were interspersed with simple math problems. “It’s really hard to do,” Strayer says. Unsurprisingly, most participants tailgated, smashed into simulated obstacles, and couldn’t correctly solve the math problems. (It’s thanks to such research that laws prohibit texting while driving.) Yet as he crunched the data, Strayer discovered a volunteer who could do all three tasks at the same time—flawlessly. Did the program have a glitch? Did the guy cheat? “Nope,” says Strayer. “This person was phenomenal.” Through other soul-sucking multitasking tests, Strayer has since found that about 2.5 percent of people he studies have exceptional abilities. They don’t get overloaded. In fact, a few actually get better when doing both tasks at once—a paradox that Strayer suspects is related to the reasons why elite athletes or musicians sometimes shine the brightest under the most difficult circumstances.

The Man Who Destroyed America’s Ego [Will Storr on Matter on Medium] (2/25/14)

Thousands and thousands of Americans just knew it in their guts. The idea of self-esteem as a social panacea was too good to question. It spread through the country and much of the Western world. Heads big and small were systematically stuffed full of their own wondrousness. As the 1980s became the 1990s, schools and kindergartens began boosting self-esteem in classes, encouraging children to write letters to themselves, telling themselves how special they are. Five-year-olds in a Texas nursery were made to wear T-shirts that said ‘I’m loveable and capable’ and to recite the mantra daily. High school awards were dropped by the thousands, and grades were inflated to protect the esteem of low achievers. (One teacher argued, “I don’t think it’s grade inflation. It’s grade encouragement.”) Meanwhile, in the courts, judges offered self-esteem boosts to drug dealers, sex workers, and people who wrote bad checks. Court appearances were rewarded with key rings; those who completed periods of drug-free living were given doughnuts…In 1996 Baumeister, now teaching at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, co-authored a review of the literature that concluded that it was, in fact, “threatened egotism” that lead to aggression. Evil, he suggested, was often accompanied by high self-esteem. “Dangerous people, from playground bullies to warmongering dictators, consist mostly of those who have highly favorable views of themselves,” he wrote. It was an astonishing theory because it ran counter to everything that society and the experts who inform it had been saying for years. It wasn’t low self-esteem that caused violence: It was when self-esteem was artificially high.

Welders, America Needs You [Matthew Phillips on Bloomberg Businessweek] (3/20/14)

Decades of attrition have left the U.S. with welders who largely lack the advanced skills needed today. The average age of a welder in the country is 55; the wave of coming retirements will leave manufacturers at a disadvantage. The American Welding Society estimates that by 2020 there will be a shortage of 290,000 professionals, including inspectors, engineers, and teachers. “We’re dealing with a lost generation,” says Gardner Carrick, vice president for strategic initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. “For 20 years we stopped feeding young people into the trades, and now we’re scrambling to catch up.”

Bot & Dolly and the Rise of Creative Robots [David Pescovitz on Bloomberg Businessweek] (3/20/14)

To do what director Alfonso Cuarón envisioned—but said “could not be done”—Bot & Dolly flipped a typical Hollywood approach on its head. The effect of weightlessness is usually achieved by filming actors flying around a soundstage on wires and adding computer graphics later. In Gravity’s case, Cuarón and visual effects company Framestore animated 3D digital storyboards of the entire film, a technique called previsualization, before live-action shooting with the actors even began. As a result, the live action had to perfectly match the preexisting digital choreography. After a few tests in San Francisco, Bot & Dolly loaded its 3,000-pound robots onto a cargo plane and headed for Cuarón’s set in London. Once there, the machines became part of an elaborate dance in the soundstage. A robot-mounted camera moved around Sandra Bullock in a way that matched the rough computer-generated sequences of a spacecraft interior or of a spacesuit hurtling toward earth. The focus was solely on the actors’ faces, though, as the rest of the film was created entirely inside a computer. Once the live action shots were in the can, that footage was digitally combined with the computer graphics. “Rather than moving an actor through a world, our robots moved the cameras, set pieces, and lights around the actor,” Kinnebrew says. According to Bot & Dolly Senior Producer Bill Galusha, the process was partly inspired by the classic Fred Astaire scene in Royal Wedding where he appears to be dancing on the walls and ceiling.

How Japanese Single Malts Surpassed Scotland’s Finest [Elin McCoy on Bloomberg News] (3/19/14)

The quest to make world-class whisky in Japan began in 1918, when chemist Masataka Taketsuru journeyed to Scotland to pry out the country’s whisky-making secrets. Upon his return, businessman Shinjiro Torii, founder of what would become beverage giant Suntory Holdings Ltd., hired him to set up Japan’s first serious whisky distillery in Shimamoto. (Suntory announced a deal to purchase Beam Inc., maker of Jim Beam bourbon, in January.) Ten years later, Taketsuru left for a site in snowy, remote Hokkaido prefecture that more closely resembled the terroir of the Scottish Highlands. He built the Yoichi distillery and founded rival whisky empire Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Global recognition and appreciation of Japanese whiskies didn’t come until the 21st century. Many people first learned the country was making whisky from the 2003 Sofia Coppola film “Lost in Translation.”

The Town That Turned Poverty Into a Prison Sentence [Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville on The Nation] (4/14/14)

Harpersville’s experiment with private probation began nearly ten years ago. In Alabama, people know Harpersville best as a speed trap, a stretch of country highway where the speed limit changes six times in roughly as many miles. Indeed, traffic fines are by far the biggest business in the town of 1,600, where there is little more than Big Man’s BBQ, the Sudden Impact Collision Center and a dollar store. In 2005, the court’s revenue was nearly three times the amount that the town received from a sales tax, Harpersville’s second-largest source of income. The fines had become key to Harpersville’s development, but it proved difficult to chase down those who did not pay. So, that year, Harpersville decided to follow in the footsteps of other Alabama cities and hire JCS to help collect. JCS is considered a significant player in the private probation universe. Founded in Georgia in 2001 by a group of locals with backgrounds in law enforcement and the finance industry, the company has since expanded its operations to Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. Business has been good: between 2006 and 2009, JCS more than doubled its revenue, to $13.6 million, according to a profile in Inc. magazine. And while recent revenue statements for the privately held company aren’t available, what is known is that JCS operates in some 480 courts across the country. In larger courts, JCS can net as much as $1 million in probationers’ fees each year, according to an estimate by Human Rights Watch. To keep business booming, JCS representatives crisscross the South promoting the company as a free and effective “supervision services” program (“Helping municipal court clerks kick their heels up in joy,” the company promises in one magazine ad). And yet, if private probation has seemed like a solution for struggling Southern cities, it has been a disaster for the many poor residents increasingly trapped in a criminal justice system that demands money they do not have, then punishes them for failing to pay.

Fur Heritage Fades as Trapper’s Work Canada’s Loneliest [Greg Quinn on Bloomberg News] (3/19/14)

Just 455 Canadians in a population of 35 million called hunting and trapping their job in Statistics Canada’s latest household survey; the least common occupation in a nation that had its origins as a fur-trading colony overseen by Hudson’s Bay Co. Connections to the land are now scarce, with seven in 10 Canadians living in urban areas while demand for fur clothing has waned.

The robots are coming [Michael Belfiore on Aeon Magazine] (3/12/14)

The challenge of enabling a machine to accurately perceive the ever-changing world around it, formulate plans for moving about, and then execute those plans before the information taken in through its sensors becomes hopelessly out of date, (functions that most two-year-old children are pretty good at) is what DARPA programme managers term ‘DARPA-hard’. It’s hard because each one of those functions – perception, planning, movement – requires powerful yet portable computers to make lots of calculations in the shortest amount of time possible. That is why robots have until recently been relegated to controlled environments such as factories, where the number of variables requiring calculation can be kept to a minimum. But DARPA has proven, through the Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge auto races of 2004, 2005, and 2007 that led to the development of driverless cars, that robots can be made to function autonomously in the chaos of the real world. Computers have gotten fast enough and small enough, and sensors and algorithms have gotten powerful enough, to make autonomous navigation through city streets at least possible.

The Story behind the Rob Ford Story [Ivor Tossell on The Walrus] (March 2014)

The journalists say they were just doing their jobs, but the lawyers who defend them when lawsuits materialize say that until recently being a good journalist was not enough. In 2009, the practices that enabled the telling of the Rob Ford story were written into Canadian law, and the change—a new defence for libel—came as no accident. Rather, it represented the culmination of decades-long hard work by a group of lawyers who felt that up until then Canadian libel law had been more intent on protecting reputations than on fostering debate.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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