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:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

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