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:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

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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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19
Apr
15

Roundup – Princess of Thrones

Best of the Best:

The Plot Of ‘Paul Blart Mall Cop 2,’ Recreated With Quotes From Angry Critics [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk] (4/17/15)

This week brings us Paul Blart Mall Cop 2. Source material was more scarce than usual for this one, given that it didn’t screen for US critics and currently has zero positive reviews. Of those that did cover, the general consensus seems to be that it’s a terrible unfunny infomercial for the Wynn Casino. Most noted the copious product placement, the abundance of falling down, and general half-assedness of it all. Oddly, virtually every review, almost to a critic, took pains to point out that Kevin James seems like a nice and likable fellow, even while starring in a movie they all found as painful as catheter filled with hornets. Which he also co-wrote. The man has… something, that’s for sure.

Mean Girls Director Mark Waters Spills 10 Juicy Stories, 10 Years Later [Kyle Buchannan on Vulture] (4/30/14)

The MPAA wanted to give Mean Girls an R rating.
Though Mean Girls was rated PG-13 for “sexual content, language, and some teen partying,” that was a rating Paramount had to fight for, says Waters. “We had lots of battles with the ratings board on the movie. There was the line, ‘Amber D’Alessio gave a blow job to a hot dog,’ which eventually became ‘Amber D’Alessio made out with a hot dog.’ Which is somehow weirder! That’s the thing we found: When you’re trying to make a joke obey the rules and not use any bad words, it can actually become seamier, even.” Still, there were some things that Waters simply refused to change. “The line in the sand that I drew was the joke about the wide-set vagina. The ratings board said, ‘We can’t give you a PG-13 unless you cut that line.’ We ended up playing the card that the ratings board was sexist, because Anchorman had just come out, and Ron Burgundy had an erection in one scene, and that was PG-13. We told them, ‘You’re only saying this because it’s a girl, and she’s talking about a part of her anatomy. There’s no sexual context whatsoever, and to say this is restrictive to an audience of girls is demeaning to all women.’ And they eventually had to back down.”

Dear America, I Saw You Naked [Jason Edward Harrington on Politico] (1/30/14)

We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop. Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines. “They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket. We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.

Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie [Ben Paynter on Wired] (1/21/14)

Changing the agricultural game is what Monsanto does. The company whose name is synonymous with Big Ag has revolutionized the way we grow food—for better or worse. Activists revile it for such mustache-twirling practices as suing farmers who regrow licensed seeds or filling the world with Roundup-resistant super­weeds. Then there’s Monsanto’s reputation—scorned by some, celebrated by others—as the foremost purveyor of genetically modified commodity crops like corn and soybeans with DNA edited in from elsewhere, designed to have qualities nature didn’t quite think of. So it’s not particularly surprising that the company is introducing novel strains of familiar food crops, invented at Monsanto and endowed by their creators with powers and abilities far beyond what you usually see in the produce section. The lettuce is sweeter and crunchier than romaine and has the stay-fresh quality of iceberg. The peppers come in miniature, single-serving sizes to reduce leftovers. The broccoli has three times the usual amount of glucoraphanin, a compound that helps boost antioxidant levels. Stark’s department, the global trade division, came up with all of them…But here’s the twist: The lettuce, peppers, and broccoli—plus a melon and an onion, with a watermelon soon to follow—aren’t genetically modified at all. Monsanto created all these veggies using good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same tech­nology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia. That doesn’t mean they are low tech, exactly. Stark’s division is drawing on Monsanto’s accumulated scientific know-how to create vegetables that have all the advantages of genetically modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor. And that’s a serious business advantage. Despite a gaping lack of evidence that genetically modified food crops harm human health, consumers have shown a marked resistance to purchasing GM produce (even as they happily consume pro­ducts derived from genetically modified commodity crops). Stores like Whole Foods are planning to add GMO disclosures to their labels in a few years. State laws may mandate it even sooner.

The Inside Story of Tor, the Best Internet Anonymity Tool the Government Ever Built [Dune Lawrence on Bloomberg Businessweek] (1/23/14)

Tor, an acronym for “the onion router,” is software that provides the closest thing to anonymity on the Internet. Engineered by the Tor Project, a nonprofit group, and offered free of charge, Tor has been adopted by both agitators for liberty and criminals. It sends chat messages, Google (GOOG) searches, purchase orders, or e-mails on a winding path through multiple computers, concealing activities as the layers of an onion cover its core, encrypting the source at each step to hide where one is and where one wants to go. Some 5,000 computers around the world, volunteered by their owners, serve as potential hop points in the path, obscuring requests for a new page or chat. Tor Project calls these points relays. Its users are global, from Iranian activists who eluded government censors to transmit images and news during the 2009 protests following that year’s presidential election, to Chinese citizens who regularly use it to get around the country’s Great Firewall and its blocks on everything from Facebook (FB) to the New York Times. In addition to facilitating anonymous communication online, Tor is an access point to the “dark Web,” vast reaches of the Internet that are intentionally kept hidden and don’t show up in Google or other search engines, often because they harbor the illicit, from child porn to stolen credit card information. It’s perhaps the most effective means of defeating the online surveillance efforts of intelligence agencies around the world, including the most sophisticated agency of them all, the NSA. That’s ironic, because Tor started as a project of the U.S. government. More than half of the Tor Project’s revenue in 2012, or $1.24 million, came from government grants, including an $876,099 award from the Department of Defense, according to financial statements available on the project’s website.

Korea Craft Beers Get Boost in Challenge to $1.3 Billion Duopoly [Heesu Lee on Bloomberg News] (1/23/14)

The smell of fresh paint lingers at the renovated Vaneheim microbrewery in northeast Seoul, a sign of owner Kim Jung Ha’s optimism after a decade of struggling with the economics of South Korea’s lopsided beer market. Under revisions to alcohol laws announced by the finance ministry yesterday, house brewers like Kim will be allowed to distribute their beer through other bars and restaurants for the first time, while paying a lower rate of tax. The changes are expected to bring more competition to a $1.3 billion beer market that grew 6 percent in 2013 and is dominated by Hite Jinro Co. (000080) and Oriental Brewery Co., re-acquired this week by the world’s biggest beer maker Anheuser-Busch InBev NV.

Hesitate [Steve Fleming on Aeon Magazine] (1/8/14)

It has been known for many years that the subjective ease with which we process information — termed ‘fluency’ by psychologists — affects how much we like or value things. For example, people judge fluent statements as more truthful, and easy-to-see objects as more attractive. This effect has consequences that extend beyond the lab: the psychologists Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer, of the Stern School of Business in New York and the Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles respectively, found that if it a company name is easy to pronounce, it tends to have a higher stock price, all else being equal. The interpretation is that fluent processing of information leads people implicitly to attach more value to the company Fluency not only affects our perceptions of value; it also changes how we feel about our decisions. For example, if stimuli are made brighter during a memory test people feel more confident in their answers despite them being no more likely to be correct…Fluent decisions, therefore, are associated with feelings of confidence, control, being in the zone. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University in California, has termed this the feeling of ‘flow’. For highly practised tasks, fluency and accuracy go hand in hand: a pianist might report feelings of flow when performing a piece that has been internalised after years of practice. But in novel situations, might our fondness for fluency actually hurt us?

The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas’s Ancient Bronze Statue [Vernon Silver on Bloomberg Businessweek] (1/30/14)

The Apollo of Gaza is almost six feet tall and made of bronze. He has finely wrought curly hair, one intact inlaid eye, an outstretched right hand, and a green patina over most of his body, which weighs about 1,000 pounds. His slim limbs are those of a teenager, and he’s so unusually well preserved that his feet are still attached to the rectangular bronze base that kept him upright centuries ago. On the international market, bronzes have become the rarest and most disputed artifacts of antiquity. Few survive today; over the past 2,000 years most have fallen victim to recycling: melted in antiquity for weapons or coins and later for church bells and cannon. The survivors are mostly those saved by mishaps or disasters—sinking in shipwrecks or buried by volcanic ash. A find like the Gaza bronze does not happen often. In 1996 a recreational diver in Croatia discovered a heavily encrusted bronze statue of an athlete, which the government restored and sent on an international museum tour. In 1972 a snorkeler off Italy’s Calabria region found the Riace Warriors, a pair of bronzes later honored with a postage stamp and brought to life as animated stars in tourism advertisements…“A bronze of this size is one of a kind,” says Giacomo Medici, a dealer whose 2004 conviction in Rome for acting as a hub of the global antiquities trade led to the repatriation of works from the world’s biggest museums and richest collectors, including the Getty and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. If the Apollo could be sold, such a statue would bring “20, 30, 40 million euros, maybe more, 100 million for the highest quality,” Medici says, speaking by phone from house arrest at his villa north of the Italian capital. “You could make it a centerpiece of a museum or private collection.” By way of comparison, an ancient bronze a little more than half the Apollo’s size, depicting the goddess Artemis with a stag, sold for $28.6 million at Sotheby’s (BID) in New York in 2007. “That’s a good guide” for understanding the value of the Gaza bronze, says James Ede, chairman of London-based antiquities dealer Charles Ede. “Of course, it’s worth a lot of money if it can be sold, but it can’t be,” he says. A thicket of issues surrounding the Apollo’s provenance and ownership will make it hard to establish legal title, he says. It doesn’t help that Gaza is governed by Hamas, the Islamist movement considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. Says Ede, “It would be a hell of a furor if they tried to sell it.”

Who Runs Freedom Industries? West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Mystery [Paul M. Barrett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (1/30/14)

Before the lawsuits and the retreat into federal bankruptcy court, before the change in ownership in a veiled roll-up by an out-of-state coal baron, before the Justice Department’s environmental-crimes investigation, the presidentially declared emergency, and the National Guard’s arrival—nine years before all of that—the co-founder of Freedom Industries, the company at the center of the Jan. 9 chemical spill that cut off tap water for 300,000 West Virginians, was convicted of siphoning payroll tax withholdings to splurge on sports cars, a private plane, and real estate in the Bahamas. And 18 years before that, in 1987, before he started Freedom Industries, Carl Kennedy II was convicted of conspiring to sell cocaine in a scandal that brought down the mayor of Charleston. Little known, even locally, Freedom was born and operated in a felonious milieu populated by old friends who seemed better suited to bartending at the Charleston-area saloons they also owned.

How Well Do Blindfolded Monkeys Play the Stock Market? [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (1/31/14)

In a kind of inversion of the high frequency trading performed by Wall Street algorithms, Golden spent 5 hours a day arbitraging this loophole. His huge victory reminds us of the clearest example of how finance professionals can perform better than random chance: cheating, loopholes, and investing in ways impossible for the rest of the market to match.

Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now [Mark Danner on The New York Review of Books] (12/13/13)

The American military had not yet become Rumsfeld’s military, with its emphasis on Special Forces; it was CIA officers who led the charge on horseback through Afghanistan, pointing their laser target finders to guide US bombers. Taliban fighters took punishment, then retreated, slipped away; as Wolfowitz had said the targets soon ran out. And when the critical moment came, with Osama bin Laden and much of his al-Qaeda force cornered at Tora Bora, Rumsfeld—so he tells us in his memoir—left the critical decisions to his combatant commander, General Tommy Franks:

Franks had to determine whether attempting to apprehend one man on the run…was worth the risks…. Still, the emphasis on bin Laden concerned me. To my mind, the justification for our military operations in Afghanistan was not the capture or killing of one person. Our country’s primary purpose was to try to prevent terrorists from attacking us again. There was far more to the threat posed by Islamist extremism than one man.

Still, “I made it clear to Franks that if he believed he needed more troops, he would get them as quickly as possible,” and “if someone thought bin Laden was cornered, as later claimed, I found it surprising that [Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet had never called me to urge Franks to support their operation.” We would hear echoes of this in Iraq. As Nixon discovered, the deft shedding of responsibility was a Rumsfeld trademark.

The Economics of Infomercials [Jon Nathanson on Priceonomics] (11/14/13)

The Graveyard Slot is an inverse inflection point in the profit curves of two very different businesses. For local TV stations, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Producing content to air on these hours would cost more than it would return. Selling the timeslot for pennies on the dollar isn’t ideal, but it’s a better alternative to airing color bars or going dark. But for certain companies – the kinds of companies who make Snuggies and ShamWows – the Graveyard is primetime. It’s dirt-cheap media space. It’s highly efficient for testing products and messaging against targeted consumer segments…These products certainly put the “fringe” in Post Late Fringe. It boggles the mind that anyone would want to buy them. But they’re serious business. Collectively, the U.S. market for infomercial products stood at $170 billion in 2009 and could exceed $250 billion by 2015. In fact, with the worth of the entire U.S. network and cable industry estimated at $97 billion as of 2013, DRTV is much bigger than TV itself. If nobody’s watching TV during the Fringe/Graveyard shift, who’s buying $200-250 billion worth of product? To put that into perspective: $250 billion will represent at least an entire percentage point of the U.S. GDP in 2015. Infomercials may be uniquely American, but how can they account for such a giant slice of America?…These products, like many others in the DRTV space, are not one-hit wonders, spawned in a garage by a couple of wackos with a pipedream. Rather, they are bets in the portfolios of much larger, highly capitalized intellectual property holding companies. Telebrands, maker of the PedEgg, is one such company. With revenues exceeding $500 million a year, it’s one of the major players in the DRTV products business. It’s the firm that brought you the Slice-O-Matic, the Pocket Hose, the Hurricane Spin Mop, and at least several hundred more pieces of single-purposed shlock. It’s also a chief participant in the “As Seen On TV” program. “As Seen On TV” is a sort of informal trade affiliation and open-source brand mark representing major DRTV brands in the retail business. As we’ll see, it’s the endgame behind most of today’s DRTV campaigns. The infomercials themselves are just appetizers; getting stocked at Walmart is the main course. That’s where the real money is made. (Retail sales account for approximately 90% of Telebrands’ revenues.)

The Economics of Selling Out [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (12/11/13)

The Wikipedia page for “selling out” describes Metallica as “an example of an artist being accused of selling out.” The group began as a heavy thrash metal band that attracted distinctly non-mainstream supporters. (Not only is metal a niche, but stylistic choices like a nine-minute stretch without lyrics in their second studio album clashed with the average listener’s expectations and radio play formats.) For their sixth studio album, Metallica hired a producer who had worked with Aerosmith and Bon Jovi and moved away from thrash and metal toward a more general rock sound. The producer explained that the band’s sound changed “to make the leap to the big, big leagues.”  And they did, as the album became one of the most commercially successful of all time. Fans debate if and when Metallica sold out (and whether they accept the change as an “evolution” of musical style, much like Rubio supporters debate the sincerity of his bipartisanship), but to many, their actions were clear: Metallica had given up their sound in favor of more generic, mainstream songs that would sell outside the thrash metal niche. One conception of selling out focuses on figures that use their work or position for commercial gain. This is especially true of musicians who sell the rights to their songs for advertising purposes. Fans want the purity of a true artist. They don’t want Lady Gaga featuring Miracle Whip in a music video because the company paid for the product placement. The other conception, which we’ve focused on, is the move mainstream. And remembering the principle of minimum differentiation, we can see why fans and supporters hate it so much: It leaves the market underserved. Fans of niches like thrash metal find that their favorite groups are continually tempted away from the genre. They are like the people on the beach, far away from the hot dog stand, and voters on the far left or far right who can’t find a champion to represent them. Politicians’ (bands’) move to center results in a world of bland, inoffensive, and identical candidates (music). Snobs complaining about popular bands’ later albums and figures blasting politicians’ bipartisanship can be annoying. They also serve as the only force fighting the market failure that pushes everyone toward the middle. But there’s more to people’s hatred of sellouts. With all due respect to artistic integrity, if the only obstacle between the average starving artist and a platinum album was his artistic sensibilities, all music would sound exactly the same. Being bland is helpful to famous names who want to maintain a big tent. But sounding mainstream doesn’t help artists without name recognition. They’ll just be lost in the crowd. It doesn’t matter how big your tent is if no one is going in. Instead, new musicians (politicians) need to stand out. The consumers (voters) who seek out unknown names have fringe musical tastes (voter preferences) that the bland mainstream is underserving. So artists (and politicians and so on) need to differentiate when they start their careers to attract members of the energized, disaffected niches — the thrash metal devotees, the Tea Partiers — who can propel them to major music venues or a high office. It’s only once these niches have fueled an artist’s or politician’s rise that the logic of going mainstream applies.

Big Hair on Campus [William D. Cohan on Vanity Fair] (January 2014)

One project The Donald isn’t crowing about on Twitter—or anywhere else, for that matter—is the public-relations problem known first as Trump University and then as the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, his effort to teach the great unwashed (for as much as $35,000 a head) his vaunted investing techniques. If Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, is to be believed, this particular (now defunct) Trump enterprise was nothing short of out-and-out fraud. Touré, a host of The Cycle on MSNBC, appears to agree. He tweeted to The Donald, “Why did you rob all those Trump University students out of their money?” Schneiderman thinks that’s a good question, and he wants a good answer. Last August the attorney general’s office filed suit against Trump and his associates for more than $40 million in New York State Supreme Court, claiming that between 2005 and 2011 they “intentionally” misled “over 5,000 individuals nationwide,” including some 600 New York State residents, who paid to “participate in live seminars and mentorship programs with the promise of learning Trump’s real estate investing techniques.” Schneiderman asserted that Trump personally made about $5 million from the endeavor—although Trump said he intended to donate any profits to charity. (Now he says that between legal fees and refunds no money is left to do so.)

Your “Thoughtful” Gifts Are Suboptimal [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (12/20/13)

The problem is that previous (and very unsentimental) research cited in the paper has found that gift givers consistently overestimate how much recipients will appreciate the amount of time, thought, or money put into a gift. It’s a finding from experimental conditions and in the aggregate, but it could be more true than we care to admit.

What Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Learned About the Business of War [Drake Bennett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (11/21/13)

Civilian Warriors is an angry book, and some of Prince’s contentions have made immediate headlines: He argues that ill-conceived State Department regulations led to Blackwater’s many firefights in Iraq; he has accused former CIA Director Leon Panetta of blowing his cover as an intelligence asset; and he contends that, had Blackwater still been providing security for America’s diplomats, Chris Stevens, the ambassador killed in Benghazi, would be alive today. And yet, Civilian Warriors is not just a rant about government incompetence. It’s also the tale of how Prince founded, ran, and then lost his company. Like many a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Prince never saw Blackwater as simply a moneymaking venture. He wanted it to prove two things he strongly believed in: the dynamism of the private sector, and that some of the world’s most frustrating problems—piracy, warlords, genocide—could be solved by small groups of highly trained men with guns.

How Do You Make Money Off Stolen Art? [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (11/21/13)

One solution is to steal artwork on commission for a private collector. The collector is unlikely to offer the full price, but stealing on commission removes all the risk for the thieves of trying to find a buyer. Which in the art world, where pliers have been used to steal million dollar paintings, can seem like the only risk. (For this reason, investigators believe museum employees and curators who steal pieces for personal enjoyment to be a major source of art theft.) There are, however, two major players in the art world who continue to see the stolen work as extremely valuable: the museum from which the art was stolen and the insurance company on the hook for covering the full cost of the stolen pieces.  According to an excellent article in the New York Times Magazine, it is the desire of the original owners (and their insurers) to reclaim stolen artwork that makes them valuable. The author notes that the going rate for stolen art on the black market is around 7% to 10% of its full value. This could be seen as the equivalent of buying a stolen iPhone or bike for a fraction of its value, but the author argues that the buyer is really acquiring the original owner’s desire to reclaim the artwork.

The Neuroscientist Who Discovered He Was a Psychopath [Joseph Stromberg on Smithsonian Magazine] (11/22/13)

“I got to the bottom of the stack, and saw this scan that was obviously pathological,” he says, noting that it showed low activity in certain areas of the frontal and temporal lobes linked to empathy, morality and self-control. Knowing that it belonged to a member of his family, Fallon checked his lab’s PET machine for an error (it was working perfectly fine) and then decided he simply had to break the blinding that prevented him from knowing whose brain was pictured. When he looked up the code, he was greeted by an unsettling revelation: the psychopathic brain pictured in the scan was his own. Many of us would hide this discovery and never tell a soul, out of fear or embarrassment of being labeled a psychopath. Perhaps because boldness and disinhibition are noted psychopathic tendencies, Fallon has gone all in towards the opposite direction, telling the world about his finding in a TED Talk, an NPR interview and now a new book published last month, The Psychopath InsideIn it, Fallon seeks to reconcile how he—a happily married family man—could demonstrate the same anatomical patterns that marked the minds of serial killers.

Penny Lane: Gitmo’s other secret CIA facility [Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo on The Associated Press]

In these buildings, CIA officers turned terrorists into double agents and sent them home. It was a risky gamble. If it worked, their agents might help the CIA find terrorist leaders to kill with drones. But officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans. For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, it was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf. At the same time the government used the threat of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA. Nearly a dozen current and former U.S officials described aspects of the program to The Associated Press. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the secret program, even though it ended in about 2006. The program and the handful of men who passed through these cottages had various official CIA codenames. But those who were aware of the cluster of cottages knew it best by its sobriquet: Penny Lane.

The Truth About Pork and How America Feeds Itself [Ted Genoways on Bloomberg Businessweek] (12/5/13)

A Fremont worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals in the workplace, describes a recent incident involving a “gut snatcher,” the person responsible for pulling innards from the abdominal cavity. One day last year, the snatcher still had one of his hands inside the carcass when a saw cut through the spine of the animal and sliced off four of his fingers. “I think he lose two of these,” the witness says, pointing to his middle and ring fingers. Then as if an afterthought, he adds that he too has lost part of a finger—the tip of his left pinkie—to a rib cutter. And his wife also lost her index finger, severed by a fat trimmer. In every case, he says, “they washed it up but never stopped production.” Equally troubling, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General has raised concerns that faster line speeds could compromise food safety. In May, the OIG released a report finding enforcement of protocols at the five pilot plants was so lax that between 2008 and 2011 three ranked among the top 10 violators of food safety requirements. That’s out of 616 pork-packing plants nationwide. As recently as last year, inspectors at the five test plants found hog carcasses bound for processing with lesions from tuberculosis, septic arthritis (with bloody fluid pouring from joints), and fecal smears. The OIG’s assessment warned that “recurring, severe violations may jeopardize public health.”

Curiously Strong Remains:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

The content on this site is provided as general information and entertainment only and should not be taken as investment advice. All site content shall not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial product, or to participate in any particular trading or investment strategy. The ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of firms affiliated with the author. The author may or may not have a position in any security referenced herein and may or may not seek to do business with companies mentioned via this website. Any action that you take as a result of information or analysis on this site is ultimately your responsibility. Consult your investment adviser before making any investment decisions.

15
Apr
15

Roundup – Matsuoka Shuzo [松岡修造 ] – あきらめかけているあなた (NEVER GIVE UP!!)

Best of the Best:

The Psychiatric Drug Crisis [Gary Greenberg via The New Yorker] (9/3/13)

Despite their continued failure to understand how psychiatric drugs work, doctors continue to tell patients that their troubles are the result of chemical imbalances in their brains. As Frank Ayd pointed out, this explanation helps reassure patients even as it encourages them to take their medicine, and it fits in perfectly with our expectation that doctors will seek out and destroy the chemical villains responsible for all of our suffering, both physical and mental. The theory may not work as science, but it is a devastatingly effective myth. Whether or not truthiness, as one might call it, is good medicine remains to be seen. No one knows how important placebo effects are to successful treatment, or how exactly to implement them, a topic Michael Specter wrote about in the magazine in 2011. But the dry pipeline of new drugs bemoaned by Friedman is an indication that the drug industry has begun to lose faith in the myth it did so much to create. As Steven Hyman, the former head of the National Institute of Mental Health, wrote last year, the notion that “disease mechanisms could … be inferred from drug action” has succeeded mostly in “capturing the imagination of researchers” and has become “something of a scientific curse.” Bedazzled by the prospect of unraveling the mysteries of psychic suffering, researchers have spent recent decades on a fool’s errand—chasing down chemical imbalances that don’t exist. And the result, as Friedman put it, is that “it is hard to think of a single truly novel psychotropic drug that has emerged in the last thirty years.”

Bull Rides, War Injuries, And The Holocaust: The Plot Of Nicholas Sparks’ ‘The Longest Ride,’ As Written By Critics [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk] (4/10/15)

Sophia loves art, as she explains: “I love art. I love everything about it.” (AV Club)

This guy’s “old-school” and says so. (“Call me old-school,” Luke says.) (Chicago Tribune)

The Final Insult in the Bush-Cheney Marriage [Peter Baker on The New York Times] (10/10/13)

[I]f it was a partnership of enduring and controversial consequences, it was also one that was widely misunderstood. That their final hours together would be consumed by a private argument over the pardon of Scooter Libby underscores the distance the two men had traveled. Over the course of conducting hundreds of interviews with key players in the Bush White House, including Cheney, and examining thousands of pages of never-released notes, memos and other internal documents, I came to see a relationship that differs substantially from the commonly accepted narrative. Even in the early days, when a young, untested president relied on the advice of his seasoned No. 2, Cheney was hardly the puppeteer that critics imagined. To the extent that the vice president exerted outsize influence in the first term, he became more marginalized over the course of the second, as Bush sought new paths to right his troubled presidency.

The Craft Beer Movement [Phil Balliet on Priceonomics] (10/1/13)

In 1919, however, Prohibition struck a blow to the American brewing tradition by making the production, distribution and sale of alcohol illegal throughout the United States. It wasn’t the end of beer in America, but it was a bigger setback than many realize. When the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition in 1933, it only legalized home-wine making. A clerical error omitted the very important phrase “and beer.” This meant that while breweries selling beer could open for business, homebrewers remained outlaws for another forty-five years until President Carter signed amending legislation in 1978. For some Americans, the wait has been even longer. Because the federal statute left brewing laws up to each state to determine individually, states have been legalizing homebrewing in waves ever since. Homebrewing did not become legal in all 50 states until this July. This partly explains why we’re now enjoying such phenomenal growth in the industry. Over the past thirty-odd years, the number of homebrewers in America has skyrocketed to over one million and the number of craft breweries has grown by almost three-thousand percent. Now, a brewery opens for business almost every day of the year.

Cinnabon President Kat Cole: Hustling the Gut Bomb [Duane Stanford on Bloomberg Businessweek] (9/26/13)

Within days, Cole was on a flight to Sydney, with a layover in Los Angeles, where she grabbed a peek at Venice Beach. She spent 40 days in Australia opening the restaurant. She had to hire and train waitresses, some of whom didn’t show. She had to get grown men and women to believe she was qualified. “It was life-changing,” she says. “It was chaotic.” On the way home, Cole bought every business magazine she could find and read them all. At the time, Cole considered Hooters a temporary stop as she worked toward an engineering degree from the University of North Florida and planned for law school. Within a month, Hooters asked her to go to Mexico to open its first Central American location. Then came Argentina and two U.S. states. She opened five stores overall. “I came back to school and was failing because I hadn’t been there,” she says. By 1999, after she spent a year and a half opening stores, a Hooters vice president asked her to apply for a job managing employee training from headquarters in Atlanta. Cole, then 20, wore a suit to the first interview, even though it was over the phone from the office at the restaurant where she waited tables. “I just wanted to feel more professional,” she says. She became a vice president at 26 and would eventually assist analysts and bankers with due diligence on the chain’s sale to private equity. She still didn’t have a college degree. To remedy that, Cole enrolled in the Georgia State University Executive MBA program. Without an undergraduate degree, she had to take the GMAT. Along the way, she drew the usual loaded questions about how she progressed so fast. Cole points out that she had one male boss in 15 years at Hooters.

In Orthodox Jewish Divorce, Men Hold All the Cards [Abigail Jones on Newsweek] (4/8/15)

The trial for Epstein, David Epstein, Goldstein and Stimler began February 18 in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey. In addition to that FBI sting, the indictment drew on a kidnapping in November 2009, when a victim was lured from Brooklyn to Lakewood, tied up in a van, assaulted and shocked with a stun gun until he agreed to give his wife a get. A second kidnapping allegedly took place on October 17, 2010, when David Epstein and accomplices tied up a victim and beat him into giving the get. On August 22, 2011, David Epstein and others allegedly barged into a man’s home and assaulted him and his roommate, punching them in the face, handcuffing and blindfolding them, and binding their legs. Epstein’s alleged kidnapping service is neither a crazy aberration nor a hot new trend in Brooklyn’s Orthodox neighborhoods. Beat-downs and kidnappings are a long-whispered-about last resort for agunot who face years chained to men who won’t let them go. Controlled by husbands who manipulate their position, wield emotional and legal power, and leverage their marriages for their own gain, these women are a gruesome example of domestic abuse. Who, then, are the real villains in this story?

The Snowden Leaks and the Public [Alan Rusbridger on The New York Review of Books] (11/21/13)

It is harder than you might think to destroy an Apple MacBook Pro according to British government standards. In a perfect world the officials who want to destroy such machines prefer them to be dropped into a kind of giant food mixer that reduces them to dust. Lacking such equipment, The Guardian purchased a power drill and angle grinder on July 20 this year and—under the watchful eyes of two state observers—ripped them into obsolescence. It was hot, dusty work in the basement of The Guardian that Saturday, a date that surely merits some sort of footnote in any history of how, in modern democracies, governments tangle with the press. The British state had decreed that there had been “enough” debate around the material leaked in late May by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. If The Guardian refused to hand back or destroy the documents, I, as editor of The Guardian, could expect either an injunction or a visit by the police—it was never quite spelled out which. The state, in any event, was threatening prior restraint of reporting and discussion by the press, no matter its public interest or importance. This was par for the course in eighteenth-century Britain, less so now.

The Hidden Technology That Makes Twitter Huge [Paul Ford on Bloomberg Businessweek] (11/7/13)

All tweets share the same anatomy. To examine the guts of a tweet, you request an “API key” from Twitter, which is a fast, automated procedure. You then visit special Web addresses that, instead of nicely formatted Web pages for humans to read, return raw data for computers to read. That data is expressed in a computer language—a smushed-up nest of brackets and characters. It’s a simplified version of JavaScript called JSON, which stands for JavaScript Object Notation. API essentially means “speaks (and reads) JSON.” The language comes in a bundle of name/value fields, 31 of which make up a tweet. For example, if a tweet has been “favorited” 25 times, the corresponding name is “favorite_count” and “25” is the value…In fact, those 140 characters are less than 10 percent of all the data you’ll find in a tweet object. Twitter’s metadata is publicly documented by the company, open for perusal by all and available to anyone who wants to sign up for an API key. This metadata contains not just tidy numerals like “25” but also whole new sets of name/value pairs—big weird trees of data. A good example is in the “coordinates” part of the tweet. This value contains geographical information—latitude and longitude—in a format called GeoJSON, a dialect of JSON that’s used to describe places. This can seem complicated at first, but it’s actually awesome, because it means that simple-to-understand formats such as JSON can express some pretty complex ideas about the world. GeoJSON isn’t controlled by Twitter; it’s a published, open standard. Twitter has added another field, called “place.” Places are not just dots on a map but “specific, named locations.” They include multiple coordinates—they actually define polygons over the surface of the earth. A tweet can thus contain a very rough outline of a given nation. A few tweets can, with some digital fiddling, serve as a primitive atlas. And through some slightly complex math, they can reveal how far one tweeter is from another. Tweets also have a “created_at” field, which indicates the exact time at which they were posted.

Why America Has a Mass Incarceration Problem, and Why Germany and the Netherlands Don’t [Mike Riggs on The Atlantic City Lab] (11/12/13)

To understand America’s epidemic of over-incarceration, it helps to look to countries that don’t having our problem. In Germany and the Netherlands, for example, incarceration rates per capita are nearly 90 percent lower than in the U.S.: 79 per 100,000 residents in Germany and 82 per 100,000 residents in the Netherlands, compared to 716 per 100,000 residents in the United States. As those numbers suggest, Germany and the Netherlands do things a bit differently. A recent report [PDF] from the Vera Institute of Justice explains that the differences are both philosophical and practical. “Resocialization” and rehabilitation are central to the Dutch and German models, whereas the American model focuses on retribution and isolation from society. In Germany and the Netherlands, this means prison conditions are more humane, fines are preferred over incarceration, solitary confinement is rarely used, and sentences are far shorter than in the U.S. Both European countries even have laws governing solitary confinement: it “cannot exceed in any given year four weeks in Germany and two weeks in the Netherlands per individual offender.”

The Nuclear Fusion Arms Race Is Underway [Sam Roudman on Motherboard on Vice] (10/28/13)

[S]cientists today are much closer to creating fusion energy than they were 40 years ago. And while most large public research projects are still decades from producing a reactor that can compete in the marketplace, a number of private companies have jumped headlong into the fusion race. Propelled by advances in engineering and science, changes in public funding, and tens of millions in high-risk high-tech investment dollars, they’re betting they can create a scalable, sellable reactor in less than a decade…Fusion energy is produced by forcing two atoms together in a super hot gas called a plasma. It’s a process already familiar to all of us, since it powers the sun. A common approach for making fusion energy is to put two isotopes of Hydrogen—Deuterium with one neutron, and Tritium with two neutrons—under enough pressure and heat to make them merge, becoming an isotope of helium. But as they combine, a neutron spins off and creates heat. Harness enough heat, and you can operate a power plant with a renewable source of nuclear energy that produces little to no radioactive waste.

Chicago Teen Dodges Daily Violence Threat for Hoop Dream [Elizabeth Campbell and Louise Kiernan on Bloomberg News] (11/5/13)

At 16, Edward is a rising star at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, the South Side high school that produced guard Derrick Rose of the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls and the No. 2 college recruit last season, Duke University’s Jabari Parker. He’s also a teenager in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods. He and his parents don’t just have to negotiate the usual concerns about injuries, eligibility and scholarships. They have to protect his life. The toll of Chicago’s gun violence surrounds the family. Last summer, they saw a man die next to their Washington Park apartment building, killed in a spray of bullets moments before Edward’s mother, Nafeesah, was about to walk out the door. His sister’s high-school lab partner was shot to death outside a Simeon game in January. And Edward’s own grandfather was shot two years ago just a few yards from this porch.

Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures [Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati on Reuters] (11/12/13)

The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script. There’s the court order authorizing the takeover of her children’s three Tehran apartments in a multi-story building the family had owned for years. There’s the letter announcing the sale of one of the units. And there’s the notice demanding she pay rent on her own apartment on the top floor. Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh ultimately lost her property. It was taken by an organization that is controlled by the most powerful man in Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. She now lives alone in a cramped, three-room apartment in Europe, thousands of miles from Tehran.

Blockbuster Video: 1985-2013 [Alex Pappademas on Grantland] (11/7/13)

Even now, it’s hard to feel warm feelings for a Blockbuster. The company was a Borg-cube dedicated to pushing big-time Hollywood product. They frowned on NC-17 movies and foreign films and employees with long hair. If you wanted those things, you could go somewhere else, until you couldn’t, because Blockbuster also frowned on sharing any marketplace with a “somewhere else.” They transformed the home-video business by plowing under the competition, then failed to adapt fast enough as that business continued to change. Mourning them is like mourning some big, dumb robot that has succumbed to rust after standing all night in the rain.

Master of Many Trades [Robert Twigger on Aeon Magazine] (11/4/13)

So, say that we all have at least the potential to become polymaths. Once we have a word, we can see the world more clearly. And that’s when we notice a huge cognitive dissonance at the centre of Western culture: a huge confusion about how new ideas, new discoveries, and new art actually come about. Science, for example, likes to project itself as clean, logical, rational and unemotional. In fact, it’s pretty haphazard, driven by funding and ego, reliant on inspired intuition by its top-flight practitioners. Above all it is polymathic. New ideas frequently come from the cross-fertilisation of two separate fields. Francis Crick, who intuited the structure of DNA, was originally a physicist; he claimed this background gave him the confidence to solve problems that biologists thought were insoluble. Richard Feynman came up with his Nobel Prize-winning ideas about quantum electrodynamics by reflecting on a peculiar hobby of his — spinning a plate on his finger (he also played the bongos and was an expert safe-cracker). Percy Spencer, a radar expert, noticed that the radiation produced by microwaves melted a chocolate bar in his pocket and developed microwave ovens. And Hiram Maxim, the inventor of the modern machine gun, was inspired by a self-cocking mousetrap he had made in his teens.

How General Motors Was Really Saved: The Untold True Story Of The Most Important Bankruptcy In U.S. History [Jay Alix via Forbes] (11/18/13)

In the popular version of the company’s turnaround story, as GM teetered toward liquidation in 2009, an Obama-appointed SWAT team, led by financier Steven Rattner, swept in and hatched a radical plan: Through a novel use of the bankruptcy code they would save the company by segregating and spinning out its valuable assets, while Washington furnished billions in taxpayer funds to make sure the company was viable. The real GM turnaround story, significant in saving the auto industry and the economy, is contrary to the one that has been published. In fact, the plan that was developed, implemented and then funded by the government was devised inside GM well before President Obama took office. In what follows, the inside story of this historic chapter in American business unfolds, laying bare the key facts. GM’s extraordinary turnaround began long before Wagoner went to Washington in search of a massive loan to keep GM alive. My involvement in that story began in GM’s darkest days, five years ago on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, when I visited Wagoner at his home that morning, presenting a novel plan to save General Motors.

The Tequila Curse [Ted Genoways on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/17/13)

To slake North America’s seemingly bottomless thirst (sales have almost tripled since 1995), and to meet growing demand in Asian and European markets, tequila producers have tripled the production of pure agave over the past decade through new growing, production, and distillation methods. But these methods, scientists warn, have left the region vulnerable to severe ecological impacts. Connoisseurs, meanwhile, complain that tequilas produced by the new methods are of such low quality that they can be enjoyed only by the frozen margarita crowd. After decades of focusing exclusively on increased foreign sales, tequila producers may finally be forced to ask: How big is too big?

You can increase your intelligence: 5 ways to maximize your cognitive potential [Andrea Kuszewski on The Scientific American] (3/7/11)

First of all, let me explain what I mean when I say the word “intelligence”. To be clear, I’m not just talking about increasing the volume of facts or bits of knowledge you can accumulate, or what is referred to as crystallized intelligence—this isn’t fluency or memorization training—it’s almost the opposite, actually. I’m talking about increasing your fluid intelligence, or your capacity to learn new information, retain it, then use that new knowledge as a foundation to solve the next problem, or learn the next new skill, and so on. Now, while working memory is not synonymous with intelligence, working memory correlates with intelligence to a large degree. In order to generate successfully intelligent output, a good working memory is pretty important. So to make the most of your intelligence, improving your working memory will help this significantly—like using the very best and latest parts to help a machine to perform at its peak. The take-home points from this research? This study is relevant because they discovered:

1. Fluid intelligence is trainable.

2. The training and subsequent gains are dose-dependent—meaning, the more you train, the more you gain.

3. Anyone can increase their cognitive ability, no matter what your starting point is.

4. The effect can be gained by training on tasks that don’t resemble the test questions.

Je Regrette [Carina Chocano on Aeon Magazine] (10/16/13)

In a culture that believes winning is everything, that sees success as a totalising, absolute system, happiness and even basic worth are determined by winning. It’s not surprising, then, that people feel they need to deny regret — deny failure — in order to stay in the game. Though we each have a personal framework for looking at regret, Landman argues, the culture privileges a pragmatic, rationalist attitude toward regret that doesn’t allow for emotion or counterfactual ideation, and then combines with it a heroic framework which equates anything that lands short of the platonic ideal with failure. In such an environment, the denial of failure takes on magical powers. It becomes inoculation against failure itself. To express regret is nothing short of dangerous. It threatens to collapse the whole system. In starting to lay out the possible uses of regret, Landman quotes William Faulkner. ‘The past,’ he wrote in 1950, ‘is never dead. It’s not even past.’…Not surprisingly, it turns out that people’s greatest regrets revolve around education, work, and marriage, because the decisions we make around these issues have long-term, ever-expanding repercussions. The point of regret is not to try to change the past, but to shed light on the present. This is traditionally the realm of the humanities. What novels tell us is that regret is instructive. And the first thing regret tells us (much like its physical counterpart — pain) is that something in the present is wrong.

Reagan Revolution Misses Tax Fiefdoms Flourishing in U.S. [Tim Jones and John McCormick on Bloomberg News] (10/28/13)

In Illinois, which has the 11th highest state and local tax burden in the U.S., overlapping government agencies managing everything from mosquito abatement to fire protection collect billions of dollars, employ tens of thousands and consume resources that could help pay pension deficits and $7.5 billion in outstanding government bills. “The big focus is on Washington D.C. and deficits and tax increases,” said Dan Cronin, chairman of the DuPage County board in the longtime Republican stronghold west of Chicago. “But people frequently overlook a significant chunk represented by under-the-radar government — quiet, sleepy, unaccountable.” Across the country, there are 38,266 special purpose districts, or government units distinct from cities, counties and schools, each with its own ability to raise money. Since President Ronald Reagan declared in his 1981 inaugural address that government “is not the solution to our problem — government is the problem,” their numbers have jumped 32 percent.

Curiously Strong Remains:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

The content on this site is provided as general information and entertainment only and should not be taken as investment advice. All site content shall not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial product, or to participate in any particular trading or investment strategy. The ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of firms affiliated with the author. The author may or may not have a position in any security referenced herein and may or may not seek to do business with companies mentioned via this website. Any action that you take as a result of information or analysis on this site is ultimately your responsibility. Consult your investment adviser before making any investment decisions.

04
Apr
15

Roundup – Kevin James Falling Down

Best of the Best:

Occidental Justice: The Disastrous Fallout When Drunk Sex Meets Academic Bureaucracy [Richard Dorment on Esquire] (3/25/15)

The system, as it was designed and reformed over the past few years, worked here. The OCR investigation of Occidental created a campuswide, historically high sensitivity to allegations of sexual assault. The college exercised its discretion broadly, without transparency—a lone adjudicator instead of the three-person panel; an expansive, extralegal definition of incapacitation; the selective choice of which questions Jane had to answer—just as the federal guidelines allow. The criminal burden of proof proved too high a barrier for Jane to meet, but the college’s lower preponderance standard delivered the desired outcome for her. And John’s expulsion, with a potential mark on his transcript for sexual assault, is likely to result in a life of diminished opportunity. There were no mistakes at Occidental, and if John’s experience with college justice sounds reasonable—if it sounds fair—then this is all much ado about some kid getting exactly what he deserved. If, however, something about this doesn’t sound quite right, and if the L. A. Superior Court judge ultimately finds John’s “strong position” from the hearing is enough to overturn Occidental’s ruling, then there will be more and more conversations (and lawsuits) about whether colleges, with their myriad competing interests (reputation and ranking, building endowment and protecting athletic programs), can ever be competent and trustworthy stewards of justice. Whether everyone might be better served by a better-funded, better-trained police force that uses advanced police work (see page 94) to investigate all claims of sexual assault (and if it doesn’t, it’ll have to answer to the elected officials who have to answer to voters). Whether more prosecutors might be convinced to stop limiting themselves to slam-dunk cases—as many critics claim—and start taking more chances to try putting sexual assailants behind bars (and face removal from office if they refuse to do so). Whether colleges might be allowed to leave the actual investigation and adjudication to law-enforcement experts while still providing sustained, on-the-ground support and guidance for the accuser and the accused. Or, ideally, all of the above, anything that would treat sexual assault as far too serious an accusation for jerry-built adjudication—and too terrible an offense to treat as less than a crime. Such an approach would also benefit women who don’t go to college and face a 30 percent greater risk of being assaulted between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four than do their college-attending peers, according to one recent study of the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey data from 1995 to 2011.

The Surprising Way Psychologists Measure Narcissism [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (6/18/13)

The NIP stresses that there are no right or wrong answers. And while many of the traits it measures are usually considered undesirable (exploitiveness, vanity), others are not (authority, self-sufficiency). But the test’s motives are still very transparent, which would make most potential participants wary of taking it. This was the dilemma faced by several academics researching the performance of companies run by narcissistic CEOs. Their solution? Measure the size of the CEOs’ signatures on documents they filed publicly with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The bigger the signature, the more narcissistic the CEO. It’s a clever idea, but are there really no vain, self-centered CEOs writing their signature in small print? The researchers point to past studies that link large signatures with high self-esteem and status.

The Gift of Doubt [Malcolm Gladwell on The New Yorker] (6/24/13)

And from there Hirschman’s analysis took flight. People don’t seek out challenges, he went on. They are “apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.” This was the Hiding Hand principle—a play on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky. Then, trapped in mid-mountain, people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job. “We have ended up here with an economic argument strikingly paralleling Christianity’s oft expressed preference for the repentant sinner over the righteous man who never strays from the path,” Hirschman wrote in this essay from 1967. Success grew from failure.

Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization [Drake Bennett and Michael Riley on Bloomberg Businessweek] (6/20/13)

As the Cold War set in, intensified, thawed, and was supplanted by global terrorism in the minds of national security strategists, the firm, now called Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), focused more and more on government work. In 2008 it split off its less lucrative commercial consulting arm—under the name Booz & Co.—and became a pure government contractor, publicly traded and majority-owned by private equity firm Carlyle Group (CG). In the fiscal year ended in March 2013, Booz Allen Hamilton reported $5.76 billion in revenue, 99 percent of which came from government contracts, and $219 million in net income. Almost a quarter of its revenue—$1.3 billion—was from major U.S. intelligence agencies. Along with competitors such as Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), CACI, and BAE Systems (BAESY), the McLean (Va.)-based firm is a prime beneficiary of an explosion in government spending on intelligence contractors over the past decade. About 70 percent of the 2013 U.S. intelligence budget is contracted out, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) says almost a fifth of intelligence personnel work in the private sector.

How Caffeine Can Cramp Creativity [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker] (6/17/13)

When we drink a caffeinated beverage, the caffeine quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier—an interface of sorts between the brain and the body’s circulatory system, designed to protect the central nervous system from chemicals in the blood that might harm it—and proceeds to block the activity of a substance called adenosine. Normally, a central function of adenosine is to inhibit the release of various chemicals into the brain, lowering energy levels and promoting sleep, among other regulatory bodily functions. When it’s blocked, we’re less likely to fall asleep on our desks or feel our focus drifting. According to a recent review of some hundred studies, caffeine has a number of distinct benefits. Chief among them are that it boosts energy and decreases fatigue; enhances physical, cognitive, and motor performance; and aids short-term memory, problem solving, decision making, and concentration. But all of that comes at a cost. Science is only beginning to unravel the full complexity behind different forms of creative accomplishment; creativity is notoriously difficult to study in a laboratory setting, and the choice of one approach over another limits the way that creativity can be measured. Still, we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways. This ability depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind.

West, Texas: The Town That Blew Up [Drake Bennett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/3/13)

Harris had fought chemical and industrial fires often in his 31 years as a firefighter and, seeing the size of the blaze, said he wanted to make sure the local volunteers knew what they were up against. The plant often stored significant quantities of ammonium nitrate, a potentially explosive solid fertilizer, but Harris was primarily concerned about fumes from anhydrous ammonia, a liquefied gas fertilizer kept at the plant in pressurized tanks. Anhydrous ammonia is toxic when inhaled. “Go home,” Harris told Pratka. “And if you start smelling things y’all get out of town.” Then he climbed the railroad embankment that separated the park from the plant, crossed the tracks, and dropped out of sight.

The Road To Resilience: How Unscientific Innovation Saved Marlin Steel [Charles Fishman on Fast Company] (6/17/13)

The United States still makes more stuff, by dollar value, than any nation in the world except China, which moved into the top spot only in 2010. And the United States still has hundreds of thousands of factories. The ones we notice are big—GE, Toyota, Whirlpool—but most are small, like Marlin Steel. The average U.S. factory has just 40 employees. Many such factories get trampled on price alone and disappear without notice, taking a steady trickle of jobs with them. Marlin saved itself by facing a truth that few threatened manufacturers can stomach: It was failing because it had gotten everything wrong. It had the wrong customers; it had the wrong products; it had the wrong prices. Greenblatt realized—just in time—that even wire baskets could be innovative. The simplicity of Marlin’s technology is not what we typically associate with innovation—there’s no algorithm, no microchip, no touch screen. Instead, Marlin learned how its products could help its customers, providing the quiet innovation that can give a fellow U.S. factory a critical edge and help keep jobs in the United States. Today, a decade later, Marlin Steel is outcompeting not just Chinese factories but German ones as well. Its sales are six times the 2003 level, and it has almost double the number of employees. The staffers have health insurance and 401(k) accounts (five employees are on pace to be 401(k) millionaires) and an average wage four times what it was a decade ago. The little Baltimore factory runs double shifts. Most remarkably, Marlin is still making wire baskets—just not bagel baskets. Or at least not very many.

Does life have a purpose? [Michael Ruse on Aeon Magazine] (6/24/13)

But this essay is not concerned with dinosaurs themselves, rather with the kind of thinking biologists use when they wonder how dinosaur bodies worked. They are asking what was the purpose of the plates? What end did the plates serve? Were they for fighting? Were they for attracting mates? Were they for heat control? This kind of language is ‘teleological’ — from telos, the Greek for ‘end’. It is language about the purpose or goal of things, what Aristotle called their ‘final causes’, and it is something that the physical sciences have decisively rejected. There’s no sense for most scientists that a star is for anything, or that a molecule serves an end. But when we come to talk about living things, it seems very hard to shake off the idea that they have purposes and goals, which are served by the ways they have evolved…Why do we still talk about organisms and their features in this way? Is biology basically different from the other sciences because living things do have purposes and ends? Or has biology simply failed to get rid of some old-fashioned, unscientific thinking — thinking that even leaves the door ajar for those who want to sneak God back into science?

The Malice at the Palace: An oral history of the scariest moment in NBA history [Jonathan Abrams on Grantland] (3/20/12)

Stephen Jackson (guard/forward, Pacers): [Toward] the end of the game, I recall somebody on the team told Ron, “You can get one now.” I heard it. I think somebody was shooting a free throw. Somebody said to Ron, “You can get one now,” meaning you can lay a foul on somebody who he had beef with in the game.

Jack Handey Is the Envy of Every Comedy Writer in America [Dan Kois on The New York Times] (7/15/13)

This idea — the notion of real jokes and the existence of pure comedy — came up again and again when I asked other writers about Handey. It seemed as if to them Handey is not just writing jokes but trying to achieve some kind of Platonic ideal of the joke form. “There is purity to his comedy,” Semple said. “His references are all grandmas and Martians and cowboys. It’s so completely free from topical references and pop culture that I feel like everyone who’s gonna make a Honey Boo Boo joke should do some penance and read Jack Handey.”

Why Do We All Think We’re Above Average? [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (7/17/13)

One explanation given is that evidence of this overconfidence effect has been observed in the United States in Europe – and Westerners are an unusually individualistic and egotistical bunch. Some researchers testing for the effect in more “collectivist” cultures like Japan found that the effect disappears, while others did not. What gives? The answer proposed by two psychologists – one American, one Japanese – is that since, in general terms, these other cultures wrap up social relationships into their sense of self-worth, asking only about them as individuals misses out on what they consider important. When they asked Japanese students about friends and family members, they found that students rated them as above average in comparison to others – a finding replicated in other non-Western cultures.

Microsoft’s Lost Decade [Kurt Eichnewald on Vanity Fair] (August 2012)

Microsoft’s low-octane swan song was nothing if not symbolic of more than a decade littered with errors, missed opportunities, and the devolution of one of the industry’s innovators into a “me too” purveyor of other companies’ consumer products. Over those years, inconsequential pip-squeaks and onetime zombies—Google, Facebook, Apple—roared ahead, transforming the social-media-tech experience, while a lumbering Microsoft relied mostly on pumping out Old Faithfuls such as Windows, Office, and servers for its financial performance. Amid a dynamic and ever changing marketplace, Microsoft—which declined to comment for this article—became a high-tech equivalent of a Detroit car-maker, bringing flashier models of the same old thing off of the assembly line even as its competitors upended the world. Most of its innovations have been financial debacles or of little consequence to the bottom line. And the performance showed on Wall Street; despite booming sales and profits from its flagship products, in the last decade Microsoft’s stock barely budged from around $30, while Apple’s stock is worth more than 20 times what it was 10 years ago. In December 2000, Microsoft had a market capitalization of $510 billion, making it the world’s most valuable company. As of June it is No. 3, with a market cap of $249 billion. In December 2000, Apple had a market cap of $4.8 billion and didn’t even make the list. As of this June it is No. 1 in the world, with a market cap of $541 billion.

Study: Associate’s Degrees and Technical Certificates Can Yield More than 4-Year Degrees [Adrienne Lu on Stateline] (9/3/13)

Among the lessons of the study: (1) Short-term credentials, such as two-year degrees and technical certificates, can be worth more than bachelor’s degrees in early years…(2) Those who graduate from flagship campuses who entered the job market directly after graduation did not earn more than graduates of regional college campuses. (3) In all five states [Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia], those who graduated with engineering degrees earned the most. (4) Graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math earned more than other majors, but the study found no evidence that those with science degrees in subjects such as biology or chemistry earned higher wages.

Proving CEOs Overpaid for Luck Helped Stir Pay Backlash [Steve Matthews on Bloomberg News] (8/22/13)

In a 2001 paper based on her work as a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, the 43-year-old labor economist documented that chief executive officers at U.S. oil companies got raises when their company’s fortunes improved because of changes in global oil prices beyond their control. The same pay-for-luck phenomenon occurred with multinational businesses when currency fluctuations, rather than management strategies, boosted results, she found…In one field experiment, she and Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan sent fictitious responses to 1,300 help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. Using similar resumes, they randomly assigned names that were black-sounding, such as Lakisha and Jamal, or white-sounding, such as Greg and Emily. Letters with “white” names received 50 percent more callbacks — a result she and Mullainathan described in a paper…The study reflects social norms that may be partly responsible in lowering women’s pay, said Bertrand, who is married and has two children, ages 3 and 6. In a separate report published in May, she and her co-authors found that couples have an aversion to a wife earning more than a husband — so much so that when the wife’s salary approaches her husband’s, it can result in reducing her labor-force participation and marriage satisfaction and creates a higher likelihood of divorce. Surveys suggest most women can’t “have it all,” Bertrand said. College-educated women with careers spent a larger share of their days “unhappy, sad or stressed and tired” compared with mothers who stayed home, according to data she has studied.

Food Truck Economics [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (3/14/13)

The food truck was a creative response to particular economic conditions and an absence of government regulations preventing their formation. The confluence of these factors meant that the cost of creating a  food business was lower than ever before. As a result, thousands of food trucks flourished and created a new model. Food trucks can launch fast and cheap, instantly get customer feedback, and iterate quickly to improve their product. Restaurants can’t do any of this.  ut what is the future of food trucks? At some point, there will be enough new entrants to the market that the profits will be competed away and the market will be saturated. Or perhaps local governments will start to heavily regulate food truck permits like they do taxi medallions and liquor licenses. Already, we’re seeing evidence of each of these trends that might curb the food truck movement.

The More You Multitask, the Worse You Get at It [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (8/14/13)

People generally recognize that multitasking involves a trade-off – we attend to more things but our performance at each suffers. But in their study “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers,” Professors Ophira, Nass, and Wagner of Stanford ask whether chronic multitasking affects your concentration when not explicitly multitasking. In effect, they ask whether multitasking is a trait and not just a state. To do so, they recruited Stanford students who they identified as either heavy or light “media multitaskers” based on a survey that asked how often they used multiple streams of information (such as texting, YouTube, music, instant messaging, and email) at the same time. They then put them through a series of tests that looked at how they process information…those who did not regularly multitask had higher accuracy and a faster response time, which suggested they could better filter out the extraneous information…Although light multitaskers slightly outperformed heavy multitaskers, the most striking result was the increase in the number of false alarms (wrongly indicating that the letter had been present in the previous screen) by heavy multitaskers as the task got more complicated.

The Toobin principle [Jay Rosen’s Press Think] (8/6/13)

Last week on his CNN program Piers Morgan had just about finished a little speech on how you can’t have any bloke with a security clearance spewing classified information “on a whim” when James Risen, national security reporter for the New York Times, interrupted him: which document that’s come out don’t you want to talk about? Meaning: which of the things we’ve learned from Edward Snowden would you, as a journalist, prefer not to know? Which part of the surveillance story that’s come to light should have remained in darkness? It was a good question. Piers Morgan did not have much of a reply. When, on the same program, Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker said that public discussion about previously classified materials was “a good thing” but he still thought Edward Snowden was a criminal and shouldn’t have done what he did, Risen interrupted: “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it wasn’t for him,” he said. “That’s the thing I don’t understand about the climate in Washington these days, is that people want to have debates on television and elsewhere, but then you want to throw the people who start the debates in jail.” It was a sharp observation. Jeffery Toobin didn’t have much of a reply…The question that bothers me most can be put this way: Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver? I call it unanswered but it’s more than that. It’s like we can’t face it, so we choose not to frame it that way. The question is less unaddressed than it is repressed by a political system that can’t handle the weight of what it’s done. But now that system is being forced to face what happened while it wasn’t looking— at itself.

Trigger [Michael Hall on Texas Monthly] (December 2012)

The guitar—a Martin N-20 classical, serial number 242830—was a gorgeous instrument, with a warm, sweet tone and a pretty “mellow yellow” coloring. The top was made of Sitka spruce, which came from the Pacific Northwest; the back and sides were Brazilian rosewood. The fretboard and bridge were ebony from Africa, and the neck was mahogany from the Amazon basin. The brass tuning pegs came from Germany. All of these components had been gathered in the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and cut, bent, and glued together, then lacquered, buffed, and polished. If the guitar had been shipped to New York or Chicago, it might have been purchased by a budding flamenco guitarist or a Segovia wannabe. Instead it was sent to a guitarist in Nashville named Shot Jackson, who repaired and sold guitars out of a shop near the Grand Ole Opry. In 1969 it was bought by a struggling country singer, a guy who had a pig farm, a failing marriage, and a crappy record deal. Willie Nelson had a new guitar.

Where Is Dick Fuld Now? Finding Lehman Brothers’ Last CEO [Joshua Green on Bloomberg Businessweek] (9/12/13)

Those still in contact with him say Fuld holds no illusion of a public redemption. “I will never heal from this,” he told the staff of Spring Hill at a lunch a few weeks after the bankruptcy. Lehman’s fall was particularly painful, friends say, because Fuld sees himself as having adhered to a code of honor during the 15 years he was building Lehman from an unwanted American Express castoff into a major Wall Street player. He famously demanded loyalty of everyone around him and demonstrated his own by keeping much of his wealth tied up in the firm—he even bought Lehman shares on margin, says a friend. That money vanished in the crash. Friends say Fuld, whose net worth once exceeded $1 billion, may have lost that much. Meanwhile, the legal morass he left in his wake is closing in on him—and threatens to wipe out whatever dignity and wealth he may have left. For all that he’s tried, Fuld can’t seem to escape the reach of the past. Although many of his peers also made disastrous decisions, no one on Wall Street has paid a steeper price in reputation and personal fortune. This owes partly to Fuld’s hubris, brutish manner, and aggressiveness—which earned him the nickname “the Gorilla”—but also, his handful of defenders insist, to circumstances and twists of fate beyond his control. As Brad Hintz, a former Lehman chief financial officer, says, “He’s the great Greek tragedy of the crisis.”

Rotterdam Rats Are Being Trained to Sniff Out Crime [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg Businessweek] (9/17/13)

Rotterdam’s police have spent two years training a squadron of five rats to sniff out drugs, explosives, gunshot residue, blood, and other substances. The rodents, which reportedly have an average success rate of 95 percent, are all named after famous fictional detectives. There’s Magnum, Poirot, Derrick (named for the Oberinspektor in a German TV series), and Jansen and Janssen, the Dutch names for the bumbling, mustachioed duo from The Adventures of Tintin. The five Rotterdam rat detectives won’t actually travel to crime scenes, and they won’t be permitted to crawl on suspects to sniff them out in the flesh. Instead, they’ll sniff clothes that have been handled by suspects to check for substances linked to criminal activity. “If a shooting were to take place today and several suspects were arrested, tests for gunshot residue would require chemicals, microscopes, and employees, all taking at least two hours,” Monique Hamerslag, who trained the rats, told Spiegel International. “Rats can do the same thing in two seconds.” (The police department has said that rats’ findings won’t be admissible in court but will be used to speed up searches.)

The Market Failure of First Dates [Sarah Scharf on Priceonomics] (9/19/13)

Over 66% of the men we spoke with chose “she was boring” as one of the top three dating turn-offs they encounter, making it the biggest turn-off on our list. This outcome may seem surprising given that first dates are often designed to cover the basics and stick to neutral territory. But according to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, this “don’t ruffle feathers” model of first dates is exactly the problem. As he writes, “when going on a first date, we try to achieve a delicate balance between expressing ourselves, learning about the other person, but also not offending anyone – favoring friendly over controversial – even at the risk of sounding dull.” While not rocking the boat may seem like ideal strategy for getting a second date, Ariely argues that sticking to neutral topics (haven’t we all been on a date where the weather was discussed ad nauseum?) creates a ‘bad equilibrium’ – an outcome where both sides converge, but neither side is pleased with it. In an experiment he ran with online daters, subjects were forced to eschew safe topics in their messages and only throw out probing, personally revealing questions like “How many lovers have you had?” or “Do you have any STDs?” The result? Both sides were more satisfied with the outcome. So the next time you find yourself on a “boring” date, the solution may be to push the envelope – and converge upon a new equilibrium. Of course, this strategy may not work for everyone. According to one survey respondent who tried to spice up a first date, “We went to a comedy show and she got offended…. as I laughed.”

The day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham [Jeff Maysh on The Guardian] (9/5/13)

In the history of professional football, no fan had ever come from the stands and played for their team. That’s not to say fans have never influenced a sporting result. Jeffrey Maier was a 12-year-old American baseball fan who became famous when he deflected a batted ball in play into the Yankee Stadium stands during Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series, between New York and the Orioles. There’s footage of Fernanda Maia, a quick-thinking Brazilian ball-girl, setting up a goal with a deft pass to a Botafogo player in the Campeonato Carioca final between Botafogo and Vasco da Gama. The closest story to that of Steve Davies’s is that of music fan Scot Halpin, who became a rock ‘n’ roll legend when he attended The Who’s sold-out show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in November 1973. The 19-year-old rock fan, then living in Monterey, California, bought a pair of scalped tickets for the show. When drummer Keith Moon collapsed for a second time due to drink and drugs, Halpin was invited to the stage and filled in for an entire set, drumming with his heroes. But what happened that night at Court Place Farm in the 71st minute was even more remarkable. It made a legend of Steve Davies, the courier from Milton Keynes. Sadly, Steve’s magical moment occurred before camera phones and YouTube. Almost every West Ham fan can tell you his story, yet there exists little evidence of what exactly happened: in the dusty archives of the Oxford Mail, the brown envelope that should hold the match reports from 1994 is empty.

The Social Life of Genes [David Dobbs on Pacific Standard Magazine] (9/3/13)

Scientists have known for decades that genes can vary their level of activity, as if controlled by dimmer switches. Most cells in your body contain every one of your 22,000 or so genes. But in any given cell at any given time, only a tiny percentage of those genes is active, sending out chemical messages that affect the activity of the cell. This variable gene activity, called gene expression, is how your body does most of its work. Sometimes these turns of the dimmer switch correspond to basic biological events, as when you develop tissues in the womb, enter puberty, or stop growing. At other times gene activity cranks up or spins down in response to changes in your environment. Thus certain genes switch on to fight infection or heal your wounds—or, running amok, give you cancer or burn your brain with fever. Changes in gene expression can make you thin, fat, or strikingly different from your supposedly identical twin. When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live. Every biologist accepts this. That was the safe, reasonable part of Robinson’s notion. Where he went out on a limb was in questioning the conventional wisdom that environment usually causes fairly limited changes in gene expression. It might sharply alter the activity of some genes, as happens in cancer or digestion. But in all but a few special cases, the thinking went, environment generally brightens or dims the activity of only a few genes at a time. Robinson, however, suspected that environment could spin the dials on “big sectors of genes, right across the genome”—and that an individual’s social environment might exert a particularly powerful effect. Who you hung out with and how they behaved, in short, could dramatically affect which of your genes spoke up and which stayed quiet—and thus change who you were.

Taxonomy: The spy who loved frogs [Brendan Borrell on Journal of Nature] (9/11/13)

As Brown made his career studying biodiversity in the Philippines over the next two decades, he could not escape Taylor’s long shadow. The elder herpetologist had logged 23 years in the field over his lifetime, collecting more than 75,000 specimens around the world, and naming hundreds of new species. There is a darker side to Taylor’s legacy, however. He was a racist curmudgeon beset by paranoia — possibly a result of his mysterious double life as a spy for the US government. He had amassed no shortage of enemies by the time he died in 1978. An obituary noted that he was, to many, “a veritable ogre—and woe to anyone who incurred his wrath”. More damaging, perhaps, were the attacks on his scientific reputation. After the loss of his collection in the Philippines, many of the species he had named were declared invalid or duplicates. The standards of taxonomy had advanced beyond Taylor’s quaint descriptions, and without the specimens to refer to, his evidence seemed flimsy.

The Brain That Changed Everything [Luke Dittrich on Esquire] (10/25/10)

When a surgeon cut into Henry Molaison’s skull to treat him for epilepsy, he inadvertently created the most important brain-research subject of our time — a man who could no longer remember, who taught us everything we know about memory…He’s an old man now, overweight, wheelchair-bound, largely incommunicative. Lately, Henry’s creeping decrepitude has itself suggested some new experiments. During another meeting, Corkin quizzed Henry on how old he thought he was. He guessed that he was perhaps in his thirties. Then she handed him a mirror. “What do you think about how you look?” she asked while he stared at himself. “I’m not a boy,” he said eventually.

The Science of Snobbery [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (9/9/13)

Tsay took the actual audition recordings of the top 3 finalists from 10 prestigious international classical music competitions and asked a group of participants to select the winners. One group watched a video audition, the second group listened to an audio recording of the same audition, and a final group watched the video audition with the sound turned off. As her study participants were untrained in classical music, Tsay expected them to do no better at choosing a winner than random chance. This proved true for the first two groups, who chose the winner less than 33% of the time. But to everyone’s surprise, the amateurs did significantly better than chance when watching only a silent video. Tsay then replicated the experiment with professional musicians and found the same results. Despite their expertise, the musicians also did no better than chance at picking the winner based on audio or video recordings. But when they watched a silent video recording, they too performed dramatically better. Expert judges and amateurs alike claim to judge classical musicians based on sound. But Tsay’s research suggests that the original judges, despite their experience and expertise, judged the competition (which they heard and watched live) based on visual information just as amateurs do…In follow up experiments, Chia-Jung Tsay found that those judging musicians’ auditions based on visual cues were not giving preference to attractive performers. Rather, they seemed to look for visual signs of relevant characteristics like passion, creativity, and uniqueness. Seeing signs of passion is valuable information. But in differentiating between elite performers, it gives an edge to someone who looks passionate over someone whose play is passionate.

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