Archive for May, 2015

18
May
15

Roundup – Arcades in Movies

Best of the Best:

The Deadly Global War for Sand [Vince Beiser on Wired] (3/26/15)

Sand—small, loose grains of rock and other hard stuff—can be made by glaciers grinding up stones, by oceans degrading seashells, even by volcanic lava chilling and shattering upon contact with air. But nearly 70 percent of all sand grains on Earth are quartz, formed by weathering. Time and the elements eat away at rock, above and below the ground, grinding off grains. Rivers carry countless tons of those grains far and wide, accumulating them in their beds, on their banks, and at the places where they meet the sea. Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year. There’s so much demand that riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.) And the amount of sand being mined is increasing exponentially. Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry. In Dubai enormous land-reclamation projects and breakneck skyscraper-building have exhausted all the nearby sources. Exporters in Australia are literally selling sand to Arabs.

The 27 Club is a myth: 56 is the bum note for musicians [Dianna Theadora Kenny on The Conversation] (11/18/14)

I would like to give some comfort to those who might grieve the demise of the 27 Club. While the actual numbers of pop musician deaths don’t show a spike in deaths at age 27 and hence do not support the 27 Club, there appear to be qualities shared by the 27-ers that stand them apart from many other deceased young pop musicians, which may go some way to understanding how this club entered the pop culture psyche. These qualities include exceptional talent, the contribution of groundbreaking innovations in their musical genre, intense psychological pain, a squalid death at their peak, and immortalisation – each of “the tragic six” has become a cult figure.

-See Also: Stairway to hell: life and death in the pop music industry [Dianna Theadora Kenny on The Conversation] (10/26/14)

Music to die for: how genre affects popular musicians’ life expectancy [Dianna Theadora Kenny on The Conversation] (3/22/15)

For male musicians across all genres, accidental death (including all vehicular incidents and accidental overdose) accounted for almost 20% of all deaths. But accidental death for rock musicians was higher than this (24.4%) and for metal musicians higher still (36.2%). Suicide accounted for almost 7% of all deaths in the total sample. However, for punk musicians, suicide accounted for 11% of deaths; for metal musicians, a staggering 19.3%. At just 0.9%, gospel musicians had the lowest suicide rate of all the genres studied. Murder accounted for 6.0% of deaths across the sample, but was the cause of 51% of deaths in rap musicians and 51.5% of deaths for hip hop musicians, to date. This could be due to these genres’ strong associations with drug-related crime and gang culture. Heart–related fatalities accounted for 17.4% of all deaths across all genres, while 28% of blues musicians died of heart-related causes. Similarly, the average percentage of deaths accounted for by cancer was 23.4%. Older genres such as folk (32.3%) and jazz (30.6%) had higher rates of fatal cancers than other genres. In the case of the newer genres, it’s worth pointing out that members of these genres have not yet lived long enough to fall into the highest-risk ages for heart- and liver-related illnesses. Consequently, they had the lowest rates of death in these categories.

Americans Love Big Hot Suburbs [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic] (3/26/15)

If you pretend that the United States is populated exclusively by twentysomething graduates of national research universities, you’ll develop the sense that everybody is moving to the city centers of New York, Chicago, San Jose, and Boston. In fact, all three of those metro areas have seen more Americans leaving than coming in the last five years. The cities with the highest levels of net domestic migration since 2010 are Houston, Dallas, Austin, Phoenix, Denver, and San Antonio. Once again, we’re talking about Texas. More broadly, we’re talking about sprawly metros with fast-growing suburbs in the Sun Belt. The unavoidable takeaway from the Census report is that Americans have resumed the westward suburban ho of the early 21st century, before the Great Recession came crashing down. None of the 20 fastest-growing metros are in the northeast. Rather, they’re in the sunny crescent that swoops from the Carolinas down through Texas and up into the west toward the Dakotas. Americans are back to sun-worshipping.

-See Also: How Widespread Is Population Growth in the States? [Tim Henderson on Stateline] (3/26/15)

America’s Socialist Sports League: The NFL [Dave Berri on The Atlantic] (3/26/15)

The NFL equally shares its nearly $5 billion of national television revenue among all its teams. It also shares a substantial portion of its ticket and merchandise revenue, but not revenue from suites, sponsorships, or naming rights. All of this means that the link between a team’s record and the revenue it brings in is quite weak. In a recent paper published in the International Journal of Sport Finance, Michael Leeds, Peter von Allmen, and I look at the statistical link between a team’s wins and its total revenue in the NFL, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball. With respect to baseball we found that a 10 percent increase in regular season wins for an average team would lead to a 2.7 percent increase in revenue. The same result was uncovered for the NBA. In both of these leagues the national television revenue is shared, but other revenue streams, such as local media, gate revenue, and sponsorship revenue are—relative to what we see in the NFL—not shared as much. In the NFL, by contrast, a 10 percent increase in regular season wins for an average team only leads to a 0.14 percent increase in revenue. Because the NFL has embraced much more sharing, the financial incentive to win is muted. The impact of wins in the NFL is only a small fraction of what you see in the other two major North American sports.

Can States Slow the Flow of Military Equipment to Police? [Jake Grovum on Stateline] (3/24/15)

One reason the reaction to images of militarized police in Ferguson has reverberated in other states is the 1033 Program has been an equal-opportunity distributor, sending equipment all over the country to satisfy law enforcement requests. A Stateline analysis of 1033 Program data shows that the 50 states hold nearly $1.7 billion worth of equipment, an average of nearly $34 million per state. Per capita, equipment values held by states range from less than $1 for Alaska, Pennsylvania and Hawaii to more than $14 for Alabama, Florida, New Mexico and Tennessee. The type of gear the states have also varies widely. Alaska law enforcement, for example, has 165 rifles and almost $170,000 in night vision equipment, among other items. But law enforcement in Florida, has 47 mine-resistant vehicles, 36 grenade launchers and more than 7,540 rifles. In Texas, there are 73 mine-resistant vehicles and a $24.3 million aircraft. In Tennessee, there are 31 mine-resistant vehicles and seven grenade launchers. North Carolina has 16 helicopters and 22 grenade launchers…The steady flow of gear has made the program popular among law enforcement, some of which say it’s necessary to combat criminals who have access to ever-more-powerful weaponry…The Pentagon also defends the program. “Ninety-five percent of the property that is transferred to local law enforcement through this program is not tactical,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said last August. “It’s not weapons. It’s shelving, office equipment, communications gear, that kind of thing — furniture. I think it’s important to keep this thing in perspective.”

Chinese Maternity Tourists and the Business of Being Born American [Susan Berfield on Bloomberg News] (5/12/15)

She’d arrived in November as a customer of USA Happy Baby, one of an increasing number of agencies that bring pregnant Chinese women to the States. Like most of them, Happy Baby is a deluxe service that ushers the women through the visa process and cares for them before and after delivery. There are many reasons to have a baby in the U.S. The air is cleaner, the doctors generally are better, and pain medication is dispensed more readily. Couples can evade China’s one-child policy, because they don’t have to register the birth with local authorities. The main appeal of being a “birth tourist,” though, is that the newborn goes home with a U.S. passport. The 14th Amendment decrees that almost any child born on U.S. soil is automatically a citizen; the only exception is a child born to diplomats. He and her husband paid USA Happy Baby $50,000 to have an American son. If they had to, she says, they’d have paid more. After the birth, He observed yuezi, the traditional month of recovery for new mothers. She, her mother, and her 2-year-old daughter stayed in Rancho Cucamonga, a city about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Her apartment, in a complex with a pool, fitness center, and mountain views, was rented by USA Happy Baby. Her nanny was supplied by USA Happy Baby. She ate kidney soup and pork chops with green papaya prepared by a USA Happy Baby cook. She secured her son’s U.S. birth certificate, passport, and Social Security card with USA Happy Baby’s assistance…Homeland Security and the IRS have been investigating the growing business of “birth tourism,” which operates in a legal gray area, since last June. The industry is totally unregulated and mostly hidden.

Portland Has World’s First Vegan Mini-Mall [Maria L. La Ganga on The Los Angeles Times via Governing Magazine] (5/6/15)

And Bryan Zurek working the check-out stand _ a 27-year-old who hasn’t used an animal product since 2006, who plays in a punk band and whose right arm is covered with “animal revenge” tattoos…You’re wandering the well-stocked aisles of Food Fight!, a rare, all-vegan grocery store in the middle of what is billed as the world’s first vegan mini-mall. In Portland. In Oregon.

Police Struggle With Loss of Privileged Position [Noam Scheiber on The New York Times] (5/5/15)

During the urban crime epidemic of the 1970s and ’80s and the sharp decline in crime that began in the 1990s, the unions representing police officers in many cities enjoyed a nearly unassailable political position. Their opposition could cripple political candidates and kill police-reform proposals in gestation. But amid a rash of high-profile encounters involving allegations of police overreach in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Ferguson, Mo., and North Charleston, S.C., the political context in which the police unions have enjoyed a privileged position is rapidly changing. And the unions are struggling to adapt…In contrast to the unions’ hard-line public stance, many can be pragmatic behind the scenes when dealing with prosecutors over individual allegations of misconduct. In Baltimore, for example, there have been several recent instances when the police union declined to fund the legal defense of an officer whose behavior it had concluded was beyond the pale.

Shaq’s Still Scoring in Retirement [Ira Boudway on Bloomberg Businessweek] (4/24/14)

After 19 seasons in the NBA, O’Neal retired in 2011. He was one of the most dominant big men in the history of the game, a 7-foot-1, 325-pound behemoth with quick feet and explosive power. He won four championships and a Most Valuable Player award, played in 15 All-Star games, scored 28,596 points, and collected $292 million in paychecks from six teams. O’Neal is still hustling. During four days in New Orleans, he’ll make three stops on his never-ending promotional tour and be on national television every night. O’Neal is determined not to become an NBA relic, a legend kept forever young in highlight reels while he grows old in obscurity. He wants to be in your living room and on your Twitter feed as Shaq, the friendly giant who cracks wise and nudges you to buy a Buick or Gold Bond lotion. So far, he’s succeeding. Perry Rogers, his agent, says O’Neal makes more money now from endorsements, partnerships, and TV—$21.2 million last year—than he made from similar work when he was playing.

Special Report: The Real Story Behind Rising CEO Pay [Elliot Blair Smith on The Fiscal Times] (5/2/14)

This four-part series presents CEO pay and compensation consultants through a new lens, reporting how an executive is paid can be as important as how much — and detailing how Ira Kay of Pay Governance LLC and other executive-compensation specialists are little-known architects of pay-bracket bulge for the 1 percent.

GM Recalls: How General Motors Silenced a Whistle-Blower [Tim Higgins and Nick Summers on Bloomberg Businessweek] (6/18/14)

The “Valukas Report,” named for former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, who assembled it at GM’s request from interviews with 230 witnesses and 41 million documents, blamed a culture of complacency for the more than decade-long delay before the company recalled millions of faulty vehicles. It described employees passing the buck and committees falling back on the “GM nod”—when everyone in a meeting agrees that something should happen, and no one actually does it. On page 93, a GM safety inspector named Steven Oakley is quoted telling investigators that he was too afraid to insist on safety concerns with the Cobalt after seeing his predecessor “pushed out of the job for doing just that.” Reading the passage, Kelley felt like he’d been punched in the gut. The predecessor Oakley was talking about was Kelley. Kelley had sued GM in 2003, alleging that the company had dragged its feet addressing dangers in its cars and trucks. Even though he lost, Kelley thought that by blowing the whistle he’d done the right thing and paved the way for other GMers to speak up. Now he saw that he’d had the opposite impact: His loss, and the way his career had stalled afterward, taught others at the company to stay quiet. “He stood in the doorway of our bedroom with a stunned look on his face,” Beth Kelley, his wife of 23 years, says. “Maybe we’re just extremely naive, but we really thought that since this all happened, that something good would come out of it.” Kelley declined to comment for this article, but his allegations are laid out in court records and depositions. A number of friends and family did speak for the record. Kelley had been the head of a nationwide GM inspection program and then the quality manager for the Cobalt’s predecessor, the Cavalier. He found flaws and reported them, over and over, and repeatedly found his colleagues’ and supervisors’ responses wanting. He thought they were more concerned with maintaining their bureaucracies and avoiding expensive recalls than with stopping the sale of dangerous cars. Eventually, Kelley threatened to take his concerns to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Frustrated with the limited scope of a recall of sport-utility vehicles in 2002, he sued GM under a Michigan whistle-blower law. GM denied wrongdoing, and the case was dismissed on procedural grounds. Kelley’s career went into hibernation; he was sent to work in another part of the company, and GM kept producing its cars.

Breaking Bad Meets Fargo at Underbelly of Shale Boom [Alex Nussbaum and David Voreacos on Bloomberg News] (6/18/14)

“If I disappear or wake up with bullets in my back, promise me you will let everyone know that James Henrikson did it.” Those were the words Doug Carlile spoke to his family about his business partner before a masked gunman cut him down in the kitchen of his Spokane, Washington, house last December. Police say that Carlile’s murder was probably motivated by a series of complex business transactions that “went bad” in North Dakota’s oil fields. Spurred by breakthroughs in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, North Dakota now produces more than 1 million barrels of crude a day, surpassing OPEC members such as Qatar and Ecuador. The Bakken’s output, along with surges in Texas and elsewhere, has the U.S. poised to overtake Saudi Arabia next year as the world’s biggest source of crude. Where Teddy Roosevelt once hunted bison, drilling rigs and work camps now crowd the horizon. Along with oil prosperity has come a spasm of crime unlike any before on the prairie. Where farmers once sealed deals with a handshake, authorities now contend with drug gangs, meth labs, violent crimes, prostitution and investor fraud, all with the same aim in mind: making a quick score.

Airbnb’s Battle for New York [Felix Gillette and Sheelah Kolhatkar on Bloomberg Businessweek] (6/19/14)

Last summer, Podziba heard from his building’s superintendent that one of his tenants appeared to be frequently subletting her apartment. Every few nights a new set of occupants was seen coming and going from the third-floor unit. Podziba says he was concerned about safety. He didn’t want a bunch of people he hadn’t vetted constantly passing through the building. There was no doorman on-site to intervene if something should go wrong. At first Podziba didn’t know what to do. He did some research and learned that legislators in Albany had passed a law in 2010 explicitly prohibiting residents in multiunit dwellings such as his from renting out their apartments for less than 30 days, unless they were present. So not only was his tenant apparently violating her lease, which prohibited commercial use of the apartment, she also appeared to be breaking the law. Podziba contacted the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement to register a complaint. To his surprise, the regulatory agency informed him that in New York, the hefty fines for short-term rental violations aren’t levied against guests or hosts. They’re levied against building owners. After consulting with his lawyer, Podziba installed a surveillance camera to gather evidence, capturing the arrival and departure of all the luggage-toting visitors. He then hired a private investigator, who jumped on Airbnb and booked a stay in the tenant’s apartment. According to Podziba, his tenant—who was paying him $1,400 a month for the rent-controlled one-bedroom—was charging $220 to $260 a night to Airbnb guests. Podziba sent an e-mail to Airbnb, explaining how the renegade tenant was breaking various laws on his property and requesting that Airbnb remove her illegal listings. Airbnb e-mailed back a terse response: “As a platform, we do not arbitrate disputes between our users and third parties.” After a long and expensive struggle, Podziba got rid of his Airbnb-loving tenant, but he continues to harbor a strong grudge against the company—which has created a system that directly affects his property and yet will not accept his feedback at any level.

All 40 Runners Fail at 100-Mile Tennessee Mountain Race [Mike Buteau on Bloomberg News] (3/30/15)

None of the 40 runners who attempted to finish the 100-mile Barkley Marathons in the mountains of eastern Tennessee completed the race, the first time since 2007 that the endurance test had no finishers…In 30 years, 14 out of about 1,100 runners have completed the race, made up of five loops around a mountainous 20-mile course. With a finisher rate of about 1 percent, the Barkley has been labeled by many as the world’s hardest race. The 60-hour time limit passed Monday with no one having completed the race. A search began for the final runner on the course — Jamil Coury of Phoenix — when Coury hadn’t checked in 7 hours after the 48-hour limit to finish his fourth lap. He showed up before dark.

A group of Chicago hospitals have found a groundbreaking new way to battle a deadly ‘superbug’ [Julie Steenhuysen and Sharon Begley on Reuters via Business Insider] (3/25/15)

The CDC is pointing to the success of the Chicago Prevention Epicenter, one of five such CDC-funded programs nationally that coordinate research between local scientists and public health officials. The Chicago study focused on four long-term acute care hospitals, which tend to have above average rates of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, called a “nightmare bacteria” because even the strongest antibiotics fail to subdue it…The program involved testing all patients for CRE infections at the time of admission and again two weeks later. Patients who developed CRE were isolated in a private room or in a ward with other CRE-infected patients. Healthcare workers wore protective gowns while tending to them, using some of the procedures used when caring for patients with Ebola. All infected patients were bathed in chlorhexidine gluconate, an antiseptic commonly used in hospitals. At the end of three years, cases of CRE infections fell by half, Dr. Michael Lin, an infectious disease expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told Reuters. Lin said the exact protocol might not be suitable for the average U.S. hospital, but shows how a focused strategy can help the CDC reach its goals.

In More Cities and States, Car Commuting is on the Skids [Tim Henderson on Stateline] (11/14/14)

Nationwide, the percentage of workers who commute by car declined from 88 percent in 2000 to 86 percent in 2010-2013, according to a Stateline analysis of census numbers.  Car commuting percentages were down dramatically in some urban areas, but also in smaller Western towns that are making a focused effort to promote alternatives. The places with the most dramatic declines include the District of Columbia, where the rate declined 11 percentage points to 39 percent; the Bronx, New York, where it was down 9 percentage points to 28 percent; and Hudson County, New Jersey (home of Jersey City), where it was down 8 percentage points to 47 percent. The rate increased in only three states—Louisiana, North Dakota and South Dakota—where new oil and gas jobs prompted people to travel long distances to work.

Steep Costs of Inmate Phone Calls Under Scrutiny [New York Times via Governing Magazine] (3/30/15)

Until the 1990s, inmates could place and receive calls to lawyers and family members at rates similar to those outside prison walls. But the prison phone system is now a $1.2 billion-a-year industry dominated by a few private companies that manage phones in prisons and jails in all 50 states, setting rates and fees far in excess of those established by regular commercial providers. The business is so considerable — some 500 million prison and jail phone calls totaling more than six billion minutes in 2014 — that it has caught the eye of private equity firms.

At Kodak, Clinging to a Future Beyond Film [Quentin Hardy on The New York Times] (3/20/15)

Rochester today is a much diminished place. According to the Census Bureau, median household income is about $30,900, about half the overall New York State level, and the F.B.I. says the murder rate is about five times that of New York City…Kodak tried to change and grow. It diversified into pharmaceuticals, paying $5.1 billion for Sterling Drug in 1988. Kodak’s researchers invented digital photography and put the technology in professional cameras in the 1990s. There were plans to move to digital consumer cameras, but the cash Kodak made on traditional photography made it complacent. By 2001, even before smartphone cameras, film sales started to fall by 20 to 30 percent every year. A huge expenditure to get Kodak into home printing, a last bid for the consumer, failed. Mr. Clarke isn’t pursuing anything so ambitious. And while Kodak was synonymous with Rochester for decades, the new C.E.O. lives across the country in San Francisco, where he stayed after the HP merger. While he has appeared at some local events, he has yet to meet Rochester’s mayor and rarely stays in town more than a few nights at a time. Few see him in the traditional Kodak mold, an executive who will be around for decades. “Clarke is what Kodak needs,” said William Pollock, who runs the Kingsbury Corporation, the small Rochester-area manufacturer that is teaming up with the new Kodak on touch-based sensors. “He’s more like an entrepreneur, and he never sleeps in the same place two nights running. People say, ‘He’s not Rochester, he’s not Kodak.’ I say, ‘Good for him.’ ”

The Brain’s Empathy Gap [Jeneen Interlandi on New York Times] (3/19/15)

In recent years, neuroscientists have begun to map empathy’s pathways in the brain. We know that the ability to identify other people’s thoughts and feelings as separate from our own (what psychologists refer to as having a “theory of mind”) is associated with a handful of interconnected brain regions known collectively as the “theory-of-mind network.” And we’ve begun to pin specific tasks — like identifying other people’s mental states, or making moral judgments about their actions — to specific parts of this network. But the picture remains incomplete. We still need to map a host of other empathy-related tasks — like judging the reasonableness of people’s arguments and sympathizing with their mental and emotional states — to specific brain regions. And then we need to figure out how these neural flashes translate into actual behavior: Why does understanding what someone else feels not always translate to being concerned with their welfare? Why is empathizing across groups so much more difficult? And what, if anything, can be done to change that calculus? So far, Bruneau says, the link between f.M.R.I. data and behavior has been tenuous. Many f.M.R.I. studies on empathy involve scanning subjects’ brains while they look at images of hands slammed in doors or of faces poked with needles. Scientists have shown that the same brain regions light up when you watch such things happen to someone else as when you experience them or imagine them happening to you. “To me, that’s not empathy,” Bruneau says. “It’s what you do with that information that determines whether it’s empathy or not.” A psychopath might demonstrate the same neural flashes in response to the same painful images but experience glee instead of distress. Similarly, stronger neural activity might correlate with how relevant a group or individual is to us, not what we feel for them. In a 2012 study, Bruneau showed that Arabs and Israelis displayed equal amounts of neural activity in their theory-of-mind regions when they read articles about their own group’s suffering as when they read about the other group’s suffering. But when they read about the suffering of South Americans — a group with whom they were not in direct conflict — their theory-of-mind regions quieted down. As far as the brain is concerned, he says, the opposite of love might not be hate but indifference.

‘They Didn’t Believe the Camels Were Ours’: What a journalist’s seven-year walk around the world reveals about global policing [Ken Armstrong Interviews Paul Salopek on The Marshall Project] (3/23/15)

To retrace humankind’s migration out of Africa, American journalist Paul Salopek is walking around the world, starting in Ethiopia and ending in Tierra del Fuego. His journey is the ultimate exercise in slow journalism, allowing him to canvass secluded reaches and capture remote voices, all at three miles an hour. He is now on the third year of his seven-year, 21,000-mile trek – and so far, he has been stopped by police and various security forces 42 times, all of them charted.

A Team of Biohackers Has Figured Out How to Inject Your Eyeballs With Night Vision  [Max Plenke on Science.Mic] (3/25/15)

Science for the Masses, a group of biohackers based a couple hours north of Los Angeles in Tehachapi, California, theorized they could enhance healthy eyesight enough that it would induce night vision. To do this, the group used a kind of chlorophyll analog called Chlorin e6 (or Ce6), which is found in some deep-sea fish and is used as an occasional method to treat night blindness.

Rolling Stone’s investigation: ‘A failure that was avoidable’ [Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll, and Derek Kravitz on The Columbia Journalism Review] (4/5/15)

Rolling Stone’s repudiation of the main narrative in “A Rape on Campus” is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from. In late March, after a four-month investigation, the Charlottesville, Va., police department said that it had “exhausted all investigative leads” and had concluded, “There is no substantive basis to support the account alleged in the Rolling Stone article.” The story’s blowup comes as another shock to journalism’s credibility amid head-swiveling change in the media industry. The particulars of Rolling Stone’s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail. As at other once-robust print magazines and newspapers, Rolling Stone’s editorial staff has shrunk in recent years as print advertising revenue has fallen and shifted online. The magazine’s full-time editorial ranks, not including art or photo staff, have contracted by about 25 percent since 2008. Yet Rolling Stone continues to invest in professional fact-checkers and to fund time-consuming investigations like Erdely’s. The magazine’s records and interviews with participants show that the failure of “A Rape on Campus” was not due to a lack of resources. The problem was methodology, compounded by an environment where several journalists with decades of collective experience failed to surface and debate problems about their reporting or to heed the questions they did receive from a fact-checking colleague.

Want Kids to Learn Math? Stop Teaching It [Susan Engel via Bloomberg Views] (4/6/15)

learning math can give us intellectual strengths different from the ones we get reading novels, studying history or poking around in a petri dish. However, these kinds of thinking are not necessarily tied to numbers, certainly not at the novice level. Advanced mathematics requires students to reason logically, be patient, methodical and playful in trying out solutions to a problem, imagine various routes to the same end, tolerate uncertainty and search for elegance. They need to know when to trust their quantitative intuitions and when to engage in counterintuitive thinking. However, such abilities are usually precluded by the typical K-12 curriculum — a dizzying array of isolated skills and procedures, which many college professors say they spend too much time getting students to “unlearn.” Research has shown that many students who do perfectly well on math tests often can’t apply a single thing they have learned in any other setting. We end up missing a chance to teach them what they would really need in order to go on to higher-level math or to think well. Instead of a good score in algebra, children need three things: 1. Time. For the most part, children think concretely when they are young, and become more capable of abstract thought later. A huge industry has grown up around the idea that we can game the human system and teach children to think abstractly before they are ready. Such strategies haven’t been very successful, and they preclude activities that would be much more compelling and useful to young minds. 2. Reading. Research has demonstrated that literacy is crucial to abstract thought. Children who read become capable of specific kinds of conceptual and logical thought not available to others. This opens the door to thinking about things that are not part of one’s immediate tangible experience, a crucial aspect of higher mathematics. 3. Intellectual challenges. Children who are immersed in informal quantitative reasoning come to more formal math tasks, at a later age, with much greater ease. Similarly, children who are asked to give reasons for their thinking, or speculate about the past and future, are well positioned to learn various kinds of logic and argument.

The Good Old Days Were Fine. These Days Are Better [Charles Kenny on Bloomberg News] (4/6/15)

This veneration of the past is widespread. A recent poll asked Americans which decade of the 20th century they would most like to go back to; the most popular answer was the 1950s. That’s linked to a human tendency to judge things on a relative basis. For those who lived through them, the 1950s were a happy time of growth in both income and opportunity, while the past decade has witnessed stagnation and rising inequality. Yet by almost every other objective measure, life is simply much better now than it was in the ’50s for just about everyone—and that should give us considerable confidence that progress will continue in the future. It’s hard to find a measure of the quality of life in the U.S. that was not markedly lower in 1950 than it is today. In that year the median family income was $28,000, compared with $64,000 in 2013. Life expectancy at birth was 68 years, vs. 79 today, and tuberculosis, syphilis, whooping cough, and measles were still considerable killers—with prevalence between 10 and more than a hundred times today’s levels. One reason for poorer health was lower-quality housing: About a third of houses still lacked decent indoor plumbing (compared with fewer than 2 percent today), and air conditioning was a rare luxury. The homicide rate did climb in the 1960s and ’70s, but it has dropped since, and the 1950s level was higher than today’s. The year 1950 was also when the Korean War broke out—1.5 million American men were drafted to fight, and more than 36,000 died (five times the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq).

The mobile-home trap: How a Warren Buffett empire preys on the poor [Mike Baker and Daniel Wagner on Seattle Times and The Center for Public Integrity] (4/2/15)

The disastrous deal ruined their finances and nearly their marriage. But until informed recently by a reporter, they didn’t realize that the homebuilder (Golden West), the dealer (Oakwood Homes) and the lender (21st Mortgage) were all part of a single company: Clayton Homes, the nation’s biggest homebuilder, which is controlled by its second-richest man — Warren Buffett. Buffett’s mobile-home empire promises low-income Americans the dream of homeownership. But Clayton relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15 percent, trapping many buyers in loans they can’t afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance, an investigation by The Seattle Times and Center for Public Integrity has found.

‘Iraq Is Finished’: Tribal leaders reflect on the enemy destroying their country from within [Emma Sky on The Atlantic] (4/8/15)

Another explanation came from Sheikh Abdullah al-Yawar, the paramount sheikh of the Shammar tribe, which has around 5 million members in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Last summer, in the wake of the Daesh takeover of Mosul, his mother and brother managed to escape just hours before their palatial 27-room house near Rabiah—northwest of Mosul on the Syrian border—was blown up, his photos and carpets destroyed, his horses scattered to the wilds. It was a house that I knew well and had visited many times. From 2003 onward, Abdullah had decided that he and his family would cooperate with international coalition forces to secure their area, rather than fight against them. Daesh did not suddenly take control of Mosul last summer, Abdullah told me over dinner with his family at his house in Amman. For years, there had been so much corruption in local government that Daesh had been able to buy influence and supporters. Government in Iraq, he said, was a business—a family business in which politicians in Baghdad and Mosul had stolen millions of dollars worth of the country’s wealth. Daesh had then been able to exploit this situation to take control, presenting itself as a better alternative to corrupt local government.

Gun Trouble [Robert H. Scales on The Atlantic] (January/February 2015)

One afternoon just a month and a half after the Battle of Gettysburg, Christopher Spencer, the creator of a seven-shot repeating rifle, walked Abraham Lincoln out to a grassy field near where the Washington Monument now stands in order to demonstrate the amazing potential of his new gun. Lincoln had heard about the mystical powers of repeating rifles at Gettysburg and other battles where some Union troops already had them. He wanted to test them for the rest of his soldiers. The president quickly put seven rounds inside a small target 40 yards away. He was sold. But to Army bureaucrats, repeaters were an expensive, ammunition-wasting nuisance. Ignorant, unimaginative, vain, and disloyal to the point of criminality, the Army’s chief of ordnance, General James Wolfe Ripley, worked to sabotage every effort to equip the Union Army with repeating rifles, mostly because he couldn’t be bothered. He largely succeeded. The Civil War historian Robert V. Bruce speculated that had such rifles been widely distributed to the Union Army by 1862, the Civil War would have been shortened by years, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Ripley’s bureaucratic victory over Lincoln was the beginning of the longest-running defense scandal in American history. I should know. I was almost one of Ripley’s victims. In June of 1969, in the mountains of South Vietnam, the battery I commanded at Firebase Berchtesgaden had spent the day firing artillery in support of infantry forces dug into “Hamburger Hill.” Every person and object in the unit was coated with reddish-brown clay blown upward by rotor wash from Chinook helicopters delivering ammunition. By evening, we were sleeping beside our M16 rifles. I was too inexperienced—or perhaps too lazy—to demand that my soldiers take a moment to clean their guns, even though we had heard disturbing rumors about the consequences of shooting a dirty M16. At 3 o’clock in the morning, the enemy struck. They were armed with the amazingly reliable and rugged Soviet AK‑47, and after climbing up our hill for hours dragging their guns through the mud, they had no problems unleashing devastating automatic fire. Not so my men. To this day, I am haunted by the sight of three of my dead soldiers lying atop rifles broken open in a frantic attempt to clear jams. With a few modifications, the weapon that killed my soldiers almost 50 years ago is killing our soldiers today in Afghanistan. General Ripley’s ghost is with us still. During my 35 years in the Army, it became clear to me that from Gettysburg to Hamburger Hill to the streets of Baghdad, the American penchant for arming troops with lousy rifles has been responsible for a staggering number of unnecessary deaths. Over the next few decades, the Department of Defense will spend more than $1 trillion on F-35 stealth fighter jets that after nearly 10 years of testing have yet to be deployed to a single combat zone. But bad rifles are in soldiers’ hands in every combat zone.

Complex organic molecules discovered in infant star system: Hints that building blocks of chemistry of life are universal [European Southern Observatory – ESO via Science Daily] (4/8/15)

For the first time, astronomers have detected the presence of complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, in a protoplanetary disc surrounding a young star. The discovery reaffirms that the conditions that spawned the Earth and Sun are not unique in the Universe.

It’s the Weekend! Why Are You Working? [Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats on The Harvard Business Review] (4/10/15)

One reason so many of us work on the weekend is that we receive pleasure from feeling productive. In a recent study, one of us (Francesca) asked a group of over 500 employed individuals to think about and describe one of four experiences: a time when they felt productive at work, very busy, unproductive, or not busy at all. When people wrote about a time when they felt productive, they reported feeling at their best and happy with life — more so than in any other condition. It is by feeling productive, these data suggest, that we believe we are making some sort of a difference in the world. But research also suggests another answer to the question of why we work when we’re supposed to be taking it easy: We tend to forego leisure in favor of working and earning beyond our needs. In a series of laboratory studies, Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago and his collaborators showed this was true even when they eliminated possible reasons participants could use for over-earning, such as uncertainty about the future and a desire to pass on money to others.

The True Story of Pretty Woman’s Original Dark Ending [Kate Erbland on Vanity Fair] (3/23/15)

That’s not exactly what happened, though Ziskin certainly contributed to the film’s conclusion. And while it would also be a good, dark Hollywood story if screenwriter J.F. Lawton were devastated by the way his gritty drama, originally called 3,000, was turned into the uber-rom-com Pretty Woman, that’s not what happened either. Lawton was a struggling screenwriter when he first wrote 3,000 in the late 1980s, a dark drama that drew inspiration from films like Wall Street and The Last Detail. As Lawton tells it, he was just trying to do something new to get a gig. “I was a screenwriter who was trying to get a job, I was unemployed and I was working in post-production and I was trying to sell scripts, and I had been writing all of these ninja scripts and comedies, and I just couldn’t get any attention.” So, it was time for a change. “I suddenly said, ‘Well, maybe I need to do something more serious and dramatic,’ and I had written a script called Red Sneakers which was about a one-legged lesbian standup comic who was an alcoholic, and all of a sudden, I got a lot of attention. People were really interested! People were talking to me.”

The Pentagon’s $10-billion bet gone bad [David Willman on The Los Angeles Times] (4/5/15)

Leaders of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency were effusive about the new technology. It was the most powerful radar of its kind in the world, they told Congress. So powerful it could detect a baseball over San Francisco from the other side of the country. If North Korea launched a sneak attack, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar — SBX for short — would spot the incoming missiles, track them through space and guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy them. Crucially, the system would be able to distinguish between actual missiles and decoys. SBX “represents a capability that is unmatched,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency told a Senate subcommittee in 2007. In reality, the giant floating radar has been a $2.2-billion flop, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. Although it can powerfully magnify distant objects, its field of vision is so narrow that it would be of little use against what experts consider the likeliest attack: a stream of missiles interspersed with decoys. SBX was supposed to be operational by 2005. Instead, it spends most of the year mothballed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The project not only wasted taxpayer money but left a hole in the nation’s defenses. The money spent on it could have gone toward land-based radars with a greater capability to track long-range missiles, according to experts who have studied the issue. Expensive missteps have become a trademark of the Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon charged with protecting U.S. troops and ships and the American homeland. Over the last decade, the agency has sunk nearly $10 billion into SBX and three other programs that had to be killed or sidelined after they proved unworkable, The Times found.

How Athletes Get Great [Jeremy Repanich on Outside Online] (8/6/13)

No cookie-cutter training plan is ever going to work. I’m a great example. Before my senior year of high school, I got up to 85 miles per week of training, which isn’t a lot for a pro, but was a lot for someone my age. When I came to college, I really got interested in physiology and took a scientific approach to my training. I found I was better at cross-country by training 35 miles per week with hill intervals instead of doing 85 miles per week. People need to pay attention to their training plans, because if something is not working for you as well as the next guy, it may be your biology, so you should try another plan…The cookie cutter approach to training is purely a facet of having a large group of people to train. If you’re writing a training book, then you have to be more broad. In the book, there’s a Danish scientist who biopsies his athletes and he’s found guys with huge fast twitch muscles and he tells them, “You’re working out too much because you’re causing your fast twitch muscles to take on the properties of more endurance muscle fibers.”…I think part of the genius of Usain Bolt is that if you read his biography, 9.58, he talks about how lazy he is and he likes his coach because his coach realizes he won’t show up for practice some days. Who knows what his proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, but probably it’s huge. Those guys get hurt if they train too much, or they convert their super-fast-twitch muscle fibers into normal fast twitch. They take on the properties of endurance muscle fibers. Bolt will ramp up to peak when he needs too. For some guys, less training is the best medicine.

How a bee sting saved my life: poison as medicine [Christie Wilcox on Mosaic Science] (3/24/15)

The idea that the same venom toxins that cause harm may also be used to heal is not new. Bee venom has been used as a treatment in East Asia since at least the second century BCE. In Chinese traditional medicine, scorpion venom is recognised as a powerful medicine, used to treat everything from eczema to epilepsy. Mithradates VI of Pontus, a formidable enemy of Rome (and also an infamous toxinologist), was said to have been saved from a potentially fatal wound on the battlefield by using steppe viper venom to stop the bleeding. “Over millions of years, these little chemical engineers have developed a diversity of molecules that target different parts of our nervous system,” says Ken Winkel, Director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne. “This idea of applying these potent nerve toxins to somehow interrupt a nervous disease has been there for a long time. But we haven’t known enough to safely and effectively do that.” Despite the wealth of history, the practical application of venoms in modern therapeutics has been minimal. That is, until the past ten years or so, according to Glenn King at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. In 1997, when Ellie was bouncing around from doctor to doctor, King was teasing apart the components of the venom from the Australian funnel-web, a deadly spider. He’s now at the forefront of venom drug discovery…Over the course of the 20th century, suggested venom treatments for a range of diseases have appeared in scientific and medical literature. Venoms have been shown to fight cancer, kill bacteria, and even serve as potent painkillers – though many have only gone as far as animal tests. At the time of writing, just six had been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for medical use (one other – Baltrodibin, adapted from the venom of the Lancehead snake – is not FDA approved, but is available outside the US for treatment of bleeding during operations). The more we learn about the venoms that cause such awful damage, the more we realise, medically speaking, how useful they can be. Like the melittin in bee venom. Melittin does not only cause pain. In the right doses, it punches holes in cells’ protective membranes, causing the cells to explode. At low doses, melittin associates with the membranes, activating lipid-cutting enzymes that mimic the inflammation caused by heat. But at higher concentrations, and under the right conditions, melittin molecules group together into rings creating large pores in membranes, weakening a cell’s protective barrier and causing the entire cell to swell and pop like a balloon. Because of this, melittin is a potent antimicrobial, fighting off a variety of bacteria and fungi with ease. And scientists are hoping to capitalise on this action to fight diseases like HIV, cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. For example, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, have found that melittin can tear open HIV’s protective cell membrane without harming human cells. This envelope-busting method also stops the virus from having a chance to evolve resistance.

Inside the Kremlin’s hall of mirrors [Peter Pomerantsev on The Guardian] (4/9/15)

The thing that Margo Gontar found easiest to deal with were the dead children. They were all over her computer screens – on news sites and social media – next to headlines that blamed the deaths on Ukrainian fascist gangs trained by Nato. It was early 2014, Crimea had just been taken over by soldiers who seemed Russian and sounded Russian but who were wearing no national insignia, and who Vladimir Putin, with a little grin, had just told the whole world were not Russian at all. Now eastern Ukraine was being taken over by separatists. Gontar was trying to fight back. She could usually locate the original images of the dead with a simple Google search. Some of the photographs were actually from other, older wars; some were from crime scenes that had nothing to with Ukraine; some even came from movies. Gontar posted her research on a myth-busting website called StopFake, which had been started in March by volunteers like her at the journalism school of Mohyla University in Kiev. It felt good being able to sort truth from lies, to feel some kind of certainty amid so much confusion. But sometimes things could get more complicated. Russian state-television news began to fill up with plump, weeping women and elderly men who told tales of Ukrainian nationalists beating up Russian-speakers. These witnesses seemed genuine enough. But soon Gontar would see the same plump women and the same injured men appearing in different newscasts, identified as different people. In one report, a woman would be an “Odessa resident”, then next she would be a “soldier’s mother”, then a “Kharkiv resident” and then an “anti-Maidan activist”…Before long, she found herself, and StopFake, becoming part of the story. Russian media had begun to cite StopFake in their own reports – but would make it look like Gontar was presenting the falsified story as truth, rather than debunking it. It was like seeing herself reflected in a mirror upside down. She felt dizzy. At times like this, she had always reached out to western media for a sense of something solid, but this was starting to slip too. Whenever somewhere like the BBC or Tagesspiegel published a story, they felt obliged to present the Kremlin’s version of events – fascists, western conspiracy, etc – as the other side, for balance. Gontar began to wonder whether her search for certainty was futile: if the truth was constantly shifting before her eyes, and there was always another side to every story, was there anything solid left to hold on to?

Why Colt Can’t Shoot Straight [Paul M. Barrett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (5/29/14)

In the 1970s, Colt and other American gunmakers, following the bad example of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, grew smug and lazy. Like Japanese and German car companies, more nimble foreign gunmakers grabbed market share. By the 1980s, Smith & Wesson had lost the U.S. police to Austria’s Glock, while Colt saw Italy’s Beretta snatch its main U.S. Army sidearm contract. In 1985, Colt plant employees who belonged to the United Auto Workers launched a protracted strike for higher pay. Replacement employees weren’t up to the task, and “quality suffered badly,” says Feldman, then an organizer for the National Rifle Association. In 1988 the Pentagon gave Colt’s M16 contract to FN Herstal of Belgium. Four years later, Colt filed for bankruptcy court protection from its creditors. “With the end of the Cold War,” says Hopkins, the firearms marketer, “it seemed like the company might never recover.”…Other gun industry veterans look at Colt and shake their heads. “I don’t know what it is about them—they just can’t get their act together, and this is not anything new,” says Paul Jannuzzo, an independent consultant based in Savannah, Ga. He headed Glock’s U.S. subsidiary from the early 1990s through 2003. During that period, the Austrian handgun maker didn’t bother to keep up closely with what Colt was doing, because the Connecticut company wasn’t a competitive threat, he says. Despite that, Jannuzzo continues, Colt retains a place in the hearts of many American gun owners. “For logo recognition, historical fame, and brand status, I would take Colt over any other name,” he says. “Perhaps Colt should just leave the Connecticut Valley and change their karma.”

See Also: Glock vs. Smith & Wesson: A Shootout for the Pentagon’s New Pistol Contract [Paul M. Barrett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (12/4/14)

Wounded turtle can return to the ocean thanks to a 3D-printed beak [Mariella Moon on Engadget] – RW

The company recreated the reptile’s upper and lower jaws through software, and it printed out the resulting design using medical-grade titanium. That beak has been surgically attached recently so the critter’s still in recovery, but it’s doing just fine, as you can see in the video below. Once it’s done recovering, the rescuers plan to release back to the ocean to live a normal turtley life. We’re happy for it — we really are! — but we’re also kinda sad that it would probably never meet the tortoise with a 3D-printed shell.

Every Killer Car in Mad Max: Fury Road Explained [Hannah Elliot on Bloomberg News] (5/12/15) – Clavennas

Colin Gibson is the man responsible for creating the movie’s pantheon of automotive insanity. As in previous movies, cars in this post-Apocalyptic desert wasteland are your weapons and your god. (The last one with Mel Gibson, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, came out 30 years ago.) They possess personalities as important as the leather-and-metal-clad maniacs who drive them. This film is one long car chase in a world drunk on “guzzoline.” As the head production designer and art director, Gibson previously worked with series writer and director George Miller on decidedly lighter fare: Babe. (He also led production for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.)…For the main story line, Gibson created 88 final cars, each with its own story and team of mechanics. But all told, he made 150 Frankenbeast vehicles—because when you’ve got one man with nothing to lose going up against a frothing militia of white-dusted War Boys, you’ve got to have some to burn. “There were cars that would only drive in reverse, and some had to snap in half,” Gibson says. Many of the wide-range shots were filmed with helicopters and drones at up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour. All the stunts were real. “The camera department was terrified,” he says. “When you have 80 cars flying at 80-km per hour, occasionally you have some that don’t keep up. We destroyed more than half of those in the actual making of the film.” After all that, Gibson has no injuries to report. “We had a lot of chapped lips,” he says, laughing. “I made the mistake of not putting in windscreens.”

Curiously Strong Remains:

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12
May
15

Roundup – ALL THE NAMES FROM EXPECT NO MERCY!

Best of the Best:

Neuroaesthetics: Researchers unravel the biology of beauty and art [Anjan Chatterjee on The Scientist] (5/1/14)

One type of damage that can affect artistic ability occurs in frontotemporal dementias, a group of degenerative neurological diseases in which patients experience profound personality changes. Such people can be disinhibited and disorganized, exhibit obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and have problems with language, attention, and the ability to make decisions. A few people with such dementias develop a propensity to produce art. This artwork is typically realistic, obsessive, and detailed—the graphical embodiments of acquired obsessive-compulsive traits. Some case studies support the hypothesis that disorders characterized by obsessive-compulsive traits can be accompanied by a preternatural ability to produce art. For example, one autism-afflicted child named Nadia could draw lifelike horses by the age of three despite many cognitive and social developmental delays. Among the most intriguing examples are those in which artists suffer some sort of brain injury or neurodegenerative disease that changes the way they paint in interesting new ways, as was the case with de Kooning. Another artist, German painter and printmaker Lovis Corinth, had a stroke that damaged the right side of his brain in 1911. Damage to the right hemisphere can stunt processing of information on the opposite side of one’s body and artists suffering such brain damage often neglect the left side of images that they produce. After his stroke, Corinth sometimes omitted details on the left side of his subjects’ faces, and textures on the left often blended into the background. (These later works were regarded highly by critics, one of whom wrote that Corinth had “become prescient for the hidden facets of appearance,” according to Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.1) Damage to the right side of the brain can also result in spatial processing impairment. After American artist Loring Hughes experienced a right-hemisphere stroke, she had difficulty coordinating the spatial relationship between lines, which forced her to abandon her realistic style and adopt a more expressive one. Artists with damage to the left side of their brains sometimes introduce more vivid colors and change the content of their imagery. The Bulgarian painter Zlatio Boiadjiev was known for his use of earth tones and a natural and pictorial style. Following a stroke that affected the left side of his brain, Boiadjiev’s paintings became richer, more colorful, fluid, energetic, and even fantastical. Similarly, when the Californian artist Katherine Sherwood suffered a left-hemisphere hemorrhagic stroke, her “highly cerebral” style, in which she incorporated esoteric images of cross-dressers, medieval seals, and spy photos, changed to a style that critics have described as “raw” and “intuitive.” Forced to use her left hand, she found it to be “unburdened,” allowing her to enjoy an ease and grace with the brush that her right hand never had.2 The Assessment of Art Attributes (AAA), which I published with collaborators in 2010, allows researchers to quantitatively assess an artwork’s formal visual attributes, such as overall complexity, balance, and color saturation and temperature, as well as the qualities of its content, including abstractness, realism, and symbolism. My lab recently applied the AAA to the works of Corinth, Boiadjiev, and Sherwood to reveal that the right hemisphere is not dominant for artistic production, as is commonly believed.3 Rather, the paintings of all three artists, two of whom had left-brain injuries, became more abstract and distorted, less realistic and accurate, following brain injury. The works were also rendered with looser strokes, more flatness, and greater vibrancy. Clearly, both hemispheres participate in artistic production. Clinical evidence also points to the effects of brain damage on art appreciation. Damage to the right frontal lobe, for example, impairs judgments of abstractness, realism, animacy, and symbolism, while damage to the right parietal lobe also impairs judgments of animacy and symbolism.4

The Trade of the Century: When George Soros Broke the British Pound [Rohin Dhar on Priceonomics] (5/15/14)

As Europe slept, Soros borrowed and sold pounds from anyone that he could. The Quantum Fund’s position exceeded $10 billion shorting the pound. Other hedge funds got wind of the the trade and the report from the Bundesbank and started following suit, also borrowing and selling pounds. By the time London markets opened for business and British treasury officials started their day, tens of billions of pounds had been sold and the the pound was dangerously close to trading below the levels mandated by the ERM. The Bank of England was about to have a very shitty day.

The Rise of Nintendo: A Story in 8 Bits [Blake J. Harris on Grantland] (5/14/14)

At first glance, Radarscope may have appeared to be just another shoot-’em-up space game, but it distinguished itself with incredibly sharp graphics and an innovative 3-D perspective. After receiving positive feedback from test locations around the Seattle area, Arakawa invested much of NOA’s remaining resources in three thousand units. But a few weeks later, before the rest of the arcade cabinets even arrived, Arakawa felt an ominous chill upon revisiting the test locations, where he noticed that nobody was playing his crucial new game. That foreboding was validated after the three thousand units finally arrived and Stone and Judy found that operators had little interest. Radarscope was fun at first, the consensus appeared to be, but it lacked replay value. With so much invested in this game, the last remaining hope was for a designer in Japan to quickly create a game and send over processors with that new game to America, where NOA employees could swap out the motherboard and then repaint the arcade cabinets. This task was given to Shigeru Miyamoto, a floppy-haired first-time designer who believed that videogames should be treated with the same respect given to books, movies, and television shows. His efforts to elevate the art form were given a boost when he was informed that Nintendo was close to finalizing a licensing deal with King Features, enabling him to develop his game around the popular cartoon series Popeye the Sailor Man. Using those characters, he began crafting a game where Popeye must rescue his beloved Olive Oyl by hopping over obstacles tossed in his way by his obese archenemy, Bluto. Shipments containing the code for Miyamoto’s new game began to arrive. Due to last-minute negotiation issues with King Features, Nintendo had lost the rights to Popeye, which forced Miyamoto to come up with something else. As a result, Arakawa, Stone, Judy, and a handful of warehouse employees didn’t know what to expect. They inserted the new processor into one of the thousands of unsold Radarscope machines and then watched the lights flicker as the words “Donkey Kong” came to life on the arcade screen. The initial impression was that this was a silly game with an even sillier name. Who would possibly want to play a game where a tiny red plumber must rescue his beloved princess by hopping over obstacles tossed in his way by an obese gorilla? Yet, with no remaining options, Stone and Judy set out across the country to sell it. Never before had there been a quarter magnet quite like Donkey Kong. It was so successful, in fact, that it eventually attracted the attention of a major Hollywood studio, whose high-priced legal team believed that the game violated copyrights, and they threatened to crush Nintendo. To avoid this potentially crippling blow, Arakawa turned to the only lawyer he knew in Seattle: Howard Lincoln, an elegant, imposing former naval attorney whose only claim to fame was having modeled for Norman Rockwell’s painting The Scoutmaster when he was a child.

Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers [Jesse Katz on Los Angeles Magazine] (4/14/14)

Under Major League Baseball’s byzantine rules and the U.S. Treasury Department’s outdated restrictions, the only way for a Cuban ballplayer to become a free agent—and score a fat contract—is to first establish residency in a third country. That detour is a fiction, winked at from all sides, and one that gives traffickers command over the middle crossing. The five men piloting Puig’s vessel, mostly Cuban Americans, belonged to a smuggling ring whose interests ranged from human cargo to bootleg yachts to bricks of cocaine. At least two were fugitives—one, on the run from a federal indictment in Miami, was alleged to have extorted Cubans traveling this very route. They were all in the pocket of Los Zetas, the murderous Mexican drug cartel, which charged the smugglers a “right of passage” to use Isla Mujeres as a base.

Want to Know If Your Food Is Genetically Modified? [Molly Ball on The Atlantic] (5/14/14)

In state after state where labeling has been proposed, the politicians pushing it—mostly Democrats—tell the same story. The issue, they say, was hardly on their radar until a massive amount of constituent pressure put it there. In Vermont, the campaign for labeling was spearheaded by a coalition of organic farms and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Campaigners knocked on 80,000 doors and got 30,000 Vermonters to send postcards to their state legislators. Labeling proponents have focused their message not on attacking GMOs themselves but on consumers’ right to information…No widely accepted science supports the idea that GMOs are inherently dangerous to people’s health or the environment. To proponents, including many in the agribusiness industry, opposition to GMOs is nothing more than a dangerous mania, and the people in the grip of it are akin to those who refuse to vaccinate their children or who deny that human activity is changing the Earth’s climate. Yet the grassroots fervor around the topic—driven by Internet rumors, liberal anti-corporatism, and mothers concerned about their children—is undeniable. More than a million people have signed a petition to the Food and Drug Administration asking it to label GMOs, the most of any petition in the agency’s history.

Allis Markham, Hollywood Taxidermy’s Rising Star [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg Businessweek] (5/22/14)

In March, Markham began offering eight-person beginner taxidermy classes in Prey’s studio. The students, mostly women (and mostly tattooed), pay $265 for nine hours of instruction, during which they take a dead starling from frozen to mounted. “Starlings are big pests,” Markham tells a group of students in April, explaining that their specimens had been killed by a farmer in Wisconsin and mailed to her in a plastic English muffin bag. “They were introduced by a naturalist who thought it was a shame we didn’t have any of the birds Shakespeare wrote about, and now they’re among the most numerous birds in North America.” Markham walks around the room checking on her students’ progress. First they gut the birds, remove their brains and eyeballs, and clean all the tissue away from the bones. Next they remove fat from the skin using a spinning metal brush called a fleshing wheel. After rolling the birds in Chinchilla dust to remove excess oil, they blow-dry the feathers, reinforce the skulls with clay, and stick in tiny glass eyeballs. “I’m going to call my bird Clarice, after Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs,” says one student with pink hair. So far, Prey’s 11 classes have all sold out. Markham’s next project is to procure vintage taxidermy for an indie film. She’s so booked that she recently had to turn down jobs for Christian Louboutin—the shoe company wanted birds and butterflies for a press event—and I-D magazine, which asked for a “full-size ostrich in an upright position” for an editorial. After a long day, Markham’s happy to go home to her husband and her living foster dogs. “I come in smelling like heifer or tiger meat or whatever I’ve been working on, and the dogs go wild,” she says. “They must think I’m, like, the best hunter in the world.”

Beauty ≠ truth [Philip Ball on Aeon Magazine] (5/19/14)

Why shouldn’t scientists be allowed their own definition of beauty? Perhaps they should. Yet isn’t there a narrowness to the standard that they have chosen? Even that might not be so bad, if their cult of ‘beauty’ didn’t seem to undermine the credibility of what they otherwise so strenuously assert: the sanctity of evidence. It doesn’t matter who you are, they say, how famous or erudite or well-published: if your theory doesn’t match up to nature, it’s history. But if that’s the name of the game, why on earth should some vague notion of beauty be brought into play as an additional arbiter? Because of experience, they might reply: true theories are beautiful. Well, general relativity might have turned out OK, but plenty of others have not. Take the four-colour theorem: the proposal that it is possible to colour any arbitrary patchwork in just four colours without any patches of the same colour touching one another. In 1879 it seemed as though the British mathematician Alfred Kempe had found a proof – and it was widely accepted for a decade, because it was thought beautiful. It was wrong. The current proof is ugly as heck – it relies on a brute-force exhaustive computer search, which some mathematicians refuse to accept as a valid form of demonstration – but it might turn out to be all there is. The same goes for Andrew Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, first announced in 1993. The basic theorem is wonderfully simple and elegant, the proof anything but: 100 pages long and more complex than the Pompidou Centre. There’s no sign of anything simpler. It’s not hard to mine science history for theories and proofs that were beautiful and wrong, or complicated and right. No one has ever shown a correlation between beauty and ‘truth’. But it is worse than that, for sometimes ‘beauty’ in the sense that many scientists prefer – an elegant simplicity, to put it in crude terms – can act as a fake trump card that deflects inquiry. In one little corner of science that I can claim to know reasonably well, an explanation from 1959 for why water-repelling particles attract when immersed in water (that it’s an effect of entropy, there being more disordered water molecules when the particles stick together) was so neat and satisfying that it continues to be peddled today, even though the experimental data show that it is untenable and that the real explanation probably lies in a lot of devilish detail.

Where Are the Most Child Tax Credits Claimed? [Alan Cole on Tax Foundation] (4/29/15)

There is substantial variation among counties. In total, the range spans from a high of 31% in Shannon County SD to a low of 5% in Sumter County FL. There is even strong variation among counties within the same state. In California, for example, only 7% of filers in San Francisco County take the CTC. However, a couple hundred miles down I-5 in Kings County, 25% of filers take the CTC. There are several reasons for this variation. One of the most obvious of these is that highly urban areas are usually populated with more single adults than families. For this reason, San Francisco County (7%), Arlington County VA (6%), and New York County NY (6%) all have very few CTC takers. These are three of the four lowest proportions – but, as mentioned, the absolute lowest number comes from Sumter County in Florida (5%). Sumter County is a different story, one shared with Charlotte County (9%) and Citrus County (10%) in the same state, as well as several counties in northern Michigan. These counties have so few CTC takers because they have so many more retirees than the national average…In Sumter County, for example, almost half of all personal taxable income comes from Social Security, pensions, or private retirement accounts. There are other factors besides age, though. The CTC is means-tested, meaning that families with high incomes are often not eligible. For this reason, Falls Church VA (9%) has very few people taking the credit, even though it is a perfectly nice place to raise children. Falls Church is simply too wealthy, and many of its residents are ineligible.

Ten Days in Kenya With No Cash, Only a Phone [Charles Graeber on Bloomberg Businessweek] (6/5/14)

I had traveled from New York to Nairobi to learn how to do exactly this—to pay for things with a phone—and to understand why Kenya has gained a reputation as the mobile payments future. Almost everyone in the country uses M-pesa (M, for mobile; pesa is payment in Swahili) to transfer money from one phone to another via encrypted short message service, or SMS. In all, there are about 18.2 million active customers in a nation twice the size of Colorado…It is Safaricom’s version of mobile money that has become common currency in Kenya. The company grew out of Kenyan Posts & Telecommunications, the former state monopoly, and has been publicly traded since 2002. It introduced M-pesa in 2007, and people now make about 80 billion shillings in monthly M-pesa transactions and move more than 130 billion shillings in and out of the mobile system via 45,000 independent agents throughout the country. M-pesa took off almost instantly because it made it safer for Kenyans to send money home (instead of having cash carried by a cousin, say, on a bus prone to breakdowns, traffic accidents, and theft) and because M-pesa on a SIM card allowed millions of Kenyans without a bank account to become their own personal ATMs, especially appealing to farmers between harvests. If a Kenyan didn’t have a phone, she could simply borrow one; all she needed was a SIM card to be in business.

Welcome to Baku, the Filthy-Rich Capital of Azerbaijan [Christopher Bagley on Bloomberg News] (6/6/14)

Since 2006, when the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline prompted a surge in crude oil exports — up to a million barrels a day travel through neighboring Georgia and on to Turkey and the West — there’s been no shortage of cash in Baku. Now, the city is eager for the prestige that goes with it…If you’re not in the oil or gas business, or a follower of the Eurovision Song Contest, which this city hosted in 2012 after speed-building a purpose-made arena, it’s unlikely that Baku is top of mind. Despite a handful of recent news articles anointing it as the Caucasus’s answer to Dubai, Azerbaijan is not yet an established tourist destination, in part because of its draconian visa policy, which requires many foreigners to obtain an official invitation, usually from a hotel or registered Azerbaijani travel agent.

The Rise of the Tribute Band [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (5/19/14)

Similar to how “cover bands” play hit songs written or popularized by famous bands instead of their own material, “tribute bands” do not perform original songs. Instead, they exclusively perform songs by the band they pay tribute to, usually mimicking the band’s appearance, style, and name. With Only One Direction, fans get to see a performance very similar to One Direction at a fraction of the price. The success of Only One Direction is not an anomaly. While a few tribute acts are overzealous fans badly imitating their heroes, select tribute bands have enjoyed fame since tributes to The Beatles first sold out venues that once hosted The Beatles themselves. Tribute bands got their name from their roots reproducing the experience of seeing a performance by a band whose members died or split up. Today, however, you can book a Coldplay, Adele, or even Justin Bieber tribute act. A surprising number sell out major venues in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, hire an agent, and even record albums. Tribute bands make an obscene amount of business sense. It’s also unclear whether they are legal. Regardless, an increasing number of musicians seem to be enjoying the benefits of performing as second string music stars…Many bars don’t realize they need to pay for permission to host a band playing a few AC/DC songs (and cafes and stores often don’t realize that they have to pay to play CDs). So agents from BMI and ASCAP cross the country to educate them, while lawyers back up that education with legal threats that angry owners often compare to shakedowns. But as BMI and ASCAP represent almost the entire catalogue of copyrighted work, once a venue has paid them, it can play any music in any format, whether that means pushing play on a Spice Girls CD, paying a cover band to play hits from the eighties, or bringing in a Kiss tribute band.

Twinkie’s Miracle Comeback: The Untold, Inside Story of a $2 Billion Feast [Steven Bertoni on Forbes] (4/15/15)

Before they could reinvent Hostess, the new owners had to rebuild it–no small thing. The deal closed in April 2013. For their $410 million Metropoulos and Apollo got those cake brands, the recipes and five factories. There were no employees, no marketing, no delivery routes, no shelf space–no sugar or cocoa or flour. No one had bought a Twinkie or a Ding Dong for six months. Moreover, the new business plan called for the same output using a fraction of the labor. The old Hostess dessert division required 9,000 employees and 14 factories to pump out just under $1 billion worth of cakes a year. The new plan called for 1,000 people and five plants (that number was soon cut to three as one was sold, another shuttered). William Toler, a veteran of Metropoulos turnarounds, was brought in as CEO. Metropoulos’ recipe was threefold. First he spent $110 million modernizing the remaining factories–everything from a utomation (massive, new $20 million Auto Bakers) to improving air flow in the bakeries so they’d be more tolerable for workers in the hot summer months. “You must improve employee conditions, fix the cracks on the floor and those types of things,” says Metropoulos. “It affects the pride, energy and culture of the plant, and that translates into everything.” Next came a $25 million SAP software system to manage inventory and logistics. Shipping posed the biggest challenge of all. Because Wonder Bread had a shelf life of only a few days, the old Hostess relied on more than 5,000 delivery routes to drop off product to individual stores several times a week. It was incredibly expensive (each route required a driver, a truck, gas and insurance), eating up 36% of revenue each year. Worse, it limited the stores that c ould be reach ed. Gas stations and convenience stores were too small to warrant a stop. Dollar stores and pharmacies used independent distributors and were unreachable with this network. Since the new Hostess just had the cakes, not the bread, it could rethink everything. A switch to a centralized–warehouse model would both save money and get Hostess products into more shops. The problem: Twinkies–with a reputation as the cockroach of the food kingdom, able to survive flood, famine and nuclear war–had a shelf life of only about 25 days. And since the warehouse model meant food might have to sit in storage as long as two weeks, even Twinkies risked going stale. The magic bullet turned out to be chemistry. Metropoulos spent millions on R&D, working with food lab Corbion to tweak the formula of starches, oils and gums in Twinkies, finally arriving at an acidity level that would prevent staleness and discoloration. The singular goal: Make the Twinkie warehouse-friendly. And while none of this will make Alice Waters’ heart flutter, the team succeeded in making the indestructible snack even more so–it’s shelf life was more than doubled, to 65 days. Hostess switched to a warehouse system.

Increase in Bike Deaths Prompts Concerns [Daniel C. Vock on Governing Magazine] (10/28/14)

The number of U.S. bicyclists killed in traffic increased in 2011 and 2012, despite an overall decline in cycling fatalities that stretches back to the 1970s, according to a new analysis by a traffic safety group. A total of 722 American cyclists died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012, compared to 680 deaths in 2011 and 621 in 2010, reported the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state transportation safety agencies. The 16 percent uptick in bicycle deaths during that period came at a time when motor vehicle deaths increased by 1 percent. There are some indications that the increase in cyclists deaths correspond with an increase in the number of cyclists overall, but the data is limited. We don’t really know that more Americans are riding bycycles at all…Most of the cyclist deaths in the three-year period occurred in California, Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois and Michigan. Florida had the largest increase in the country, with 37 more deaths in 2012 than in 2010. Michigan had the largest decrease from 2012 to 2010, with 10 fewer deaths.

In South Africa, Ranchers Are Breeding Mutant Animals to Be Hunted [Kevin Crowley on Bloomberg News] (3/11/15)

Operators don’t guarantee kills, yet to leave hunters disappointed is generally seen as bad business, says Peet van der Merwe, a professor of tourism and leisure studies at South Africa’s North-West University. Killing lions was the biggest revenue generator for the country’s hunting industry in 2013, followed by buffalo, kudu, and white rhinos. As the hunting industry has grown, so have the numbers of large game animals that populate South Africa’s grasslands. In other parts of Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania, the opposite has been true: Large mammal populations have been decimated as farms and other human activities encroached on wild areas. But South Africa is one of only two countries on the continent to allow ownership of wild animals, giving farmers such as York an incentive to switch from raising cattle to breeding big game.

Which Companies Get the Most Federal Subsidies? [Mike Maciag on Governing Magazine]

Good Jobs First, an economic development watchdog group, published Tuesday what it considers to be the first comprehensive database of corporate subsidies at the federal level, tallying awards from 137 different programs. In all, the federal government has awarded grants and allocated tax credits totaling $68 billion since 2000. Spanish electric utility company Iberdrola was identified as the largest single recipient of federal grants and tax credits in the group’s report. The company has received nearly $2.2 billion since 2000, mostly stemming from investments in power generation facilities supported by the Recovery Act.

How To Make $500,000 A Year On Twitter [Nicole Laporte on Fast Company]

But for a one-man operation, the schedule was challenging, he says, and earlier this year he was called out by BuzzFeed and Gizmodo for posting a number of untrue, or, in some cases, untrue-ish, facts. (One of the latter had to do with a Huggies diaper that sends out a tweet when a baby pees; Sanchez maintains that a prototype of the diaper was made, even if it didn’t actually hit the market.) “There are so many tweets going out each day that it was tough for one person, being me, to make sure that every single one of them was completely true,” he says, adding, “Anything that I posted up there, I thought was true. And I’m always bummed to find out that it isn’t.” Sanchez is visibly still hurt by the incident—which he calls “my first public mess”—though he’s eager to talk about it, perhaps because it wound up prompting a major maturation in himself and his company. “It was really the first time I was really publicly attacked on the Internet. And, you know, BuzzFeed is a really popular website. And it was Lindsay Lohan’s face and my face on their front page. It was after that that I was like, okay, UberFacts needs to be treated like a real brand. It has a large following and I want to put more work in it and make it better. I just want to increase the quality of it.”

Zimbabwe Can’t Pipe Water so Taxes Private Supplies Instead [Brian Latham on Bloomberg News] (10/22/14)

Zimbabwe’s government hasn’t been able to supply piped water to much of the southern African nation’s capital, Harare, for most of the past decade. Now it’s taxing private suppliers as it struggles to pay state workers. The levy on water pumped from boreholes and supplied by tankers to private houses, imposed on Oct. 1, is one of a host of taxes that the government has put in place, ranging from duties on cellphone airtime to increased import duties on cars and motor fuel, to shore up sagging revenue amid slowing economic growth…In addition to an inadequate water and power supplies, most roads are riddled with potholes, and few streetlights work. That’s a legacy of the almost decade-long recession that began in 2000, triggered by a botched land reform program that slashed exports of crops such as tobacco, and has reduced the size of the economy by half, according to government estimates. The state is struggling to pay salaries that consume 76 percent of the budget.

Coens’ Wood Chipper Draws Crowds as Fargo Laments Image [on Bloomberg News] (10/24/14)

Jason Gireto donned a plaid hunting cap to pose for the requisite souvenir: a photo with colleagues shoving a white-socked mannequin leg into the wood chipper used in the 1996 Academy Award-winning dark comedy “Fargo.” Yet even as hundreds of visitors a year flock to the machine made famous in a vivid bit of movie mayhem, local leaders are working to update the perception of Fargo, the place. The world should know the North Dakota city as a diversified engine of regional growth — not the peculiar locale depicted in the film by the Coen brothers and an FX television series, they say.

Administration sets record for withholding government files [Ted Bridis on The Associated Press] (3/18/15)

The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press. The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged. Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years. The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever. Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up. It also spent about $28 million on lawyers’ fees to keep records secret.

States Not Eager to Regulate Fertility Industry [Michael Ollove on Stateline] (3/18/15)

States are split about whether surrogacy contracts, usually between prospective parents and an egg donor, are permissible. But other aspects of ART are simply unaddressed by the states. For example, states don’t regulate how many children may be conceived from one donor, what types of medical information or updates must be supplied by donors, what genetic tests may be performed on embryos, how many fertilized eggs may be placed in a woman or how old a donor can be. Lawmakers are wary of touching assisted reproduction, Darnovsky said, because of the incendiary politics that surround the issue of abortion, which touches on conception and embryos. In terms of the number of people involved, the issue is significant. The CDC reports that about 12 percent of women of childbearing age have used infertility services and that 1.5 percent of all infants born in the U.S. are conceived using ART.

Ultra-Orthodox ‘Superwomen’ Demand Place With Men in Israeli Parliament [Alisa Odenheimer on Bloomberg News] (1/5/15)

Esty Shushan, an Israeli mother of four, dutifully cast her ballot for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in every election until two years ago. By then, the 37-year-old Shushan, an advertising and marketing consultant, had had it with voting for a party that won’t put women on its parliamentary ticket. Ahead of March 17 parliamentary elections, Shushan and other like-minded women are campaigning to change that policy by rebelling against ultra-Orthodox parties at the ballot box. “Not only will I not vote for them, I’m going to try and reach out to as many other women as possible,” Shushan said. “I’m going to explain to them: They can’t ask for your vote without giving you representation.” This ballot box challenge to parliament’s two ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, factions is another trial for a community seeking to preserve its way of life and grappling with a new law that would force its men to comply with the country’s compulsory military service. Shushan and her backers say they are frustrated by the political sidelining because haredi women often singlehandedly support families of eight and more to let their husbands engage in the full-time religious study the community so prizes.

Lucasfilm Owns All of Your Droids [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (12/19/14)

“Droid” is a pretty popular word these days. It’s the name brand of a variety of popular smart phones produced by Verizon. It graces the pages of hundreds of science fiction novels and appears in countless films. It is used to describe a wide array of robots, both human-like and and not-so-human-like. And in every instance of its use, Lucasfilm either makes money, or takes legal action. That’s because technically, George Lucas invented the word in 1977 — and some 30 years later, just before Verizon rejuvenated “Droid”, Lucas trademarked it. For some companies, this has come with financial and/or time-consuming repercussions.

Behind the Driving Increase [Wendell Cox on New Geography] (3/18/15)

Ridership and road travel data also shows that there has been little relationship between the annual changes in driving and transit use over the period of the gas price increases and the subsequent decrease. Advocates of greater transit funding have claimed for decades that transit can be effective in attracting drivers from their cars. This was transit’s time. However, the highly publicized transit ridership increases have been small in context and have shown virtually no relationship to the changes in automobile use in urban areas…Driving volumes have risen and fallen, with little response in transit ridership. If there were a significant relationship between transit ridership and travel by car, the two lines on the chart would nearly follow one another. However, the lines show virtually no relationship. In relation to the actual changes in travel by car and light vehicle, the changes in transit are imperceivable. Transit ridership remains relatively small, at approximately two percent of all trips and five percent of work trips.

Gone in 30 Seconds: Motorcycle Thieves, Stunt Riders, and One Wild CHP Sting [Greg Nichols on The Los Angeles Times] (3/18/15)

Trudeau and Watson tapped a young investigator, Gary Clifford, who was new to the unit. The trio came up with a plan: Watson and Clifford, a pair of tall, fit white guys who could reasonably pass for shady characters, if not entirely menacing ones, would pose as underworld players from Las Vegas. (A few high-profile vehicle theft rings had been dismantled in Vegas in recent years, so the story had an air of credibility.) The undercover officers—“UCs” in law enforcement parlance—would be introduced to the suspect through an informant and claim they were looking for bikes and parts to take back to Nevada, where vehicles registered in California are hard to trace. Trudeau, the details man, would run surveillance and coordinate a perimeter security team. Over the course of a few transactions, the UCs would build a rapport with the crotch rocket marauder, ply him for incriminating information, and take him down.

Inside Graphene City, Birthplace of a Wonder Material [Victoria Turk on Motherboard on Vice] (3/9/15)

Back in 2010, graphene sprung into the public eye when two UK-based scientists won the Nobel Prize for their work on the two-dimensional material. It was hailed as a wonder material: stronger than steel yet many times lighter, more conductive than copper, more flexible than rubber. The British government bet big on graphene in the following years, pledging £50 million funding for research and development in 2011. There was talk of a new industrial revolution. “We’re going to get Britain making things again,” said ​George Osborne, chancellor of the Exchequer. Four years later, and graphene is still making headlines. But despite the hype, questions abound over how it could actually be used. When will we see the material making its way into everyday products? What can you actually do with graphene?

“The First Roadie—Ever” [Ben Cullum on Texas Monthly] (3/13/15)

Known far and wide as “Lovey,” after his preferred endearment for everyone he meets, Dorcy is credited by Willie with being the first-ever roadie—and as “the world’s oldest living roadie” by nearly everyone else. Given the tangled switchbacks of history, it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. Dorcy, who turns 90 in May, started as a bandboy in 1950 for Hank Thompson—in that day, more a personal valet than the seasoned road crew celebrated in songs by Motorhead and Tenacious D, or on screen in the 1980 cult classic filmed in Austin, Roadie, starring Meat Loaf. In the 65 years since then, Dorcy has toured and/or worked with Ray Price (with whom he relocated to Nashville for half a decade), Elvis Presley (“when he was young”), Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Leon Payne, Johnny Bush, Johnny Cash, Faron Young, Jerry Jeff Walker, David Allan Coe, and Willie, among countless others lost to time. This colorful legacy extends beyond the stage, where he served as a muse of sorts to Waylon Jennings (“Ode to Ben Dorcy”), Red Sovine (“Big Ben Dorsey the Third”), and Kinky Friedman, who based a character on him in Roadkill, his novel set aboard Willie’s bus. Even before he found his life’s calling, Dorcy was already a veteran of the nomadic lifestyle: Dropping out of high school in San Antonio, he toured with the Ice Capades, a kind of ice-skating spectacle, and may have been bound for the Winter Olympics before WWII interceded. He served on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, and still carries shrapnel in his knee from a Japanese Zero at the Battle of Cape Gloucester. During a five-year diversion to Hollywood in the sixties, he was a deliveryman for Nudie Cohn (tailor to the Singing and later Rhinestone Cowboys), and later a gardener and chauffeur for John Wayne, whom he met while playing a Tennessee Volunteer in The Alamo (filmed in Brackettville). Along the way, he danced with Ann-Margaret; rubbed shoulders with Sinatra, and shared a private joke with Marilyn Monroe.

We Live in an Age of Irrational Parenting [Jennifer Senior on New York Magazine]

If you fancy yourself a normalish, reasonably rational parent, you probably read, with equal parts horror and fascination, about the recent travails of a Maryland couple that tried to allow their children to walk the one mile from a local park to their home in Silver Spring. They were charged by child protective services with “unsubstantiated” child neglect —  itself a near-oxymoronic and self-canceling term —  which means their case will be held on file for five years. There are many things wrong with this action, not least what it says about the excesses of parenting culture (more on this in a bit), but among the most egregious is that it runs completely contrary to the trends in child safety that have emerged in the past couple of decades. Bluntly put: It’s hard to think of a safer time and a better place than the United States of 2015 to raise children — but we act as though the opposite were true…Canvass a modest-size group of parents, and you’ll hear that all of them, at some point or another, have been rebuked for making judgment calls that were theirs alone to make. Leaving a child unattended in a locked car for five minutes, because that’s what their mothers used to do. Strapping a child into the back of a taxi or car without a car seat. Back in the 1980s, the psychologist Jerome Kagan presciently noticed that something was happening to American parents: Absent having any other conspicuous way to prove moral worth — by taking care of their own parents, say, or heading up local civic organizations — we instead try to show our virtue through parenting. It’s become our new plumage, how we parent, peacockishly displayed on Facebook and in playgrounds and at birthday parties; the result is a culture of surveillance and judgment rather than compassion and collaboration, and frankly, it’s exhausting — nor is it doing anyone one lick of good.

Who Invented the Computer Virus? [Rosie Cima on Priceonomics] (3/17/15)

In 1981, Richard Skrenta was in 9th grade and a force to be reckoned with. He was mischievous, very, very clever, and armed with an Apple II. One of his favorite things to do with it was write code to prank his friends’ pirated computer games…Eventually Skrenta’s friends stopped letting him touch their floppy disks — they stopped lending him games, they stopped playing games he had pirated, etc. But Skrenta was a determined prankster, and Apple was a very different company back then, one that welcomed tinkerers of all stripes. The Apple II was much closer to a Raspberry Pi than a Macbook Pro. Skrenta pored over technology books, looking for holes in the Apple II’s system. Eventually, he worked out a way to insert code that would execute, onto games, without ever touching the disks himself: “I hit on the idea to leave a residue in the operating system of the school’s Apple II. The next user who came by, if they didn’t do a clean reboot with their own disk, could then be touched by the code I left behind.” He took two weeks to write this “residue,” in assembly language. He called the program Elk Cloner. Elk Cloner was what is known as a “boot sector” virus. This is how it spread: when an uninfected disk was inserted into an infected computer (the school computer), the computer infected the floppy disk, i.e. it made a copy of Elk Cloner in the floppy disk’s boot sector — code that runs automatically on boot. When a student brought any infected floppy disk (and Skrenta seeded many) to another computer, and booted the computer with the infected floppy disk inside, the computer was infected with a copy of Elk Cloner. The virus caused subtle errors, until the 50th time you inserted the disk into a computer. Then, instead of your game starting, the following poem came on the screen: “Elk Cloner: The program with a personality / It will get on all your disks / It will infiltrate your chips / Yes, it’s Cloner! / It will stick to you like glue / It will modify RAM too /Send in the Cloner!” This timed-release was to let the program go undetected for longer, thus give it a better chance of spreading — by the time a user saw this message, they could have already spread Elk Cloner to hundreds of disks and computers, and they would be seeing the message everywhere, for weeks and weeks…Spread it did. In a scene right out of a movie, Elk Cloner ended up on Skrenta’s math teacher’s graphing software. The teacher was very upset and, suspecting Skrenta, accused him of breaking into his office. His cousins in Baltimore caught it (Skrenta lived in Pittsburgh), and, years later, he discovered that a sailor in the US Navy had, too. Scientific American mentioned it, a few years later, when the relatively benign Elk Cloner had been replaced by a host of much more malignant viruses.

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous [Gabrielle Glaser on The Atlantic] (April 2015)

Nowhere in the field of medicine is treatment less grounded in modern science. A 2012 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University compared the current state of addiction medicine to general medicine in the early 1900s…The American Medical Association estimates that out of nearly 1 million doctors in the United States, only 582 identify themselves as addiction specialists. (The Columbia report notes that there may be additional doctors who have a subspecialty in addiction.) Most treatment providers carry the credential of addiction counselor or substance-abuse counselor, for which many states require little more than a high-school diploma or a GED. Many counselors are in recovery themselves. The report stated: “The vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care.”

See Also: Why Alcoholics Anonymous Works [Jesse Singal on New York Magazine] (3/17/15)

DOT&E Report: The F-35 Is Not Ready for IOC and Won’t Be Any Time Soon [Mandy Smithberger on The Strauss Military Reform Project on The Center for Defense Information at The Project On Government Oversight] (3/12/15)

Inside-the-Beltway wisdom holds that the $1.4 trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program is too big to cancel and on the road to recovery. But the latest report from the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) provides a litany of reasons that conventional wisdom should be considered politically driven propaganda. The press has already reported flawed software that hinders the ability of the plane to employ weapons, communicate information, and detect threats; maintenance problems so severe that the F-35 has an “overdependence” on contractor maintainers and “unacceptable workarounds” (behind paywall) and is only able to fly twice a week; and a high-rate, premature production schedule that ignores whether the program has demonstrated essential combat capabilities or proven it’s safe to fly. All of these problems are increasing costs and risks to the program. Yet rather than slow down production to focus resources on fixing these critical problems, Congress used the year-end continuing resolution omnibus appropriations bill—termed the “cromnibus”—to add 4 additional planes to the 34 Department of Defense (DoD) budgeted for Fiscal Year 2015. The original FY2016 plan significantly increased the buy to 55, and now the program office is further accelerating its purchase of these troubled planes to buy 57 instead. At some point, the inherent flaws and escalating costs of a program become so great that even a system with massive political buy-in reaches a tipping point. The problems described in the DOT&E report show that the F-35 has reached a stage where it is now obvious that the never-ending stream of partial fixes, software patches, and ad hoc workarounds are inadequate to deliver combat-worthy, survivable, and readily employable aircraft. This year’s DOT&E report also demonstrates that in an effort to maintain the political momentum of the F-35, its program office is not beneath misrepresenting critically important characteristics of the system. In sum, the old problems are not going away, new issues are arising, and some problems may be getting worse.

The myopia boom [Elie Dolgin on Nature Magazine] (3/18/15)

The modern rise in myopia mirrored a trend for children in many countries to spend more time engaged in reading, studying or — more recently — glued to computer and smartphone screens. This is particularly the case in East Asian countries, where the high value placed on educational performance is driving children to spend longer in school and on their studies. A report last year3 from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the average 15-year-old in Shanghai now spends 14 hours per week on homework, compared with 5 hours in the United Kingdom and 6 hours in the United States. Researchers have consistently documented a strong association between measures of education and the prevalence of myopia. In the 1990s, for example, they found that teenage boys in Israel who attended schools known as Yeshivas (where they spent their days studying religious texts) had much higher rates of myopia than did students who spent less time at their books4. On a biological level, it seemed plausible that sustained close work could alter growth of the eyeball as it tries to accommodate the incoming light and focus close-up images squarely on the retina. Attractive though the idea was, it did not hold up. In the early 2000s, when researchers started to look at specific behaviours, such as books read per week or hours spent reading or using a computer, none seemed to be a major contributor to myopia risk5. But another factor did. In 2007, Donald Mutti and his colleagues at the Ohio State University College of Optometry in Columbus reported the results of a study that tracked more than 500 eight- and nine-year-olds in California who started out with healthy vision6. The team examined how the children spent their days, and “sort of as an afterthought at the time, we asked about sports and outdoorsy stuff”, says Mutti. It was a good thing they did. After five years, one in five of the children had developed myopia, and the only environmental factor that was strongly associated with risk was time spent outdoors6. “We thought it was an odd finding,” recalls Mutti, “but it just kept coming up as we did the analyses.” A year later, Rose and her colleagues arrived at much the same conclusion in Australia7. After studying more than 4,000 children at Sydney primary and secondary schools for three years, they found that children who spent less time outside were at greater risk of developing myopia.

The Shrinking Middle Class, Mapped State by State [Tim Henderson on Stateline] (3/19/15)

The struggles of middle-class American families and growing income inequality have risen to the top of the national agenda. A new Stateline analysis shows that in all 50 states, the percentage of “middle-class” households—those making between 67 percent and 200 percent of the state’s median income—shrunk between 2000 and 2013. The change occurred even as the median income in most states declined, when adjusted for inflation. In most states, the growing percentage of households paying 30 percent (the federal standard for housing affordability) or more of their income on housing illustrates that it is increasingly difficult for many American families to make ends meet.

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05
May
15

Roundup – Kickstart My Heart

Best of the Best:

Inside the Powerful Lobby Fighting for Your Right to Eat Pizza [Andrew Martin on Bloomberg News] (3/5/15)

For decades, pizza makers have relied on the food’s natural advantage: Everybody loves it. Some 41 million Americans — more than the population of California — eat a slice of pizza on any given day. If pizza were a country, its sales would put it in the top 100 of global gross domestic product…Until recently the U.S. government was inclined to agree. Pizza is such an efficient cheese-delivery vehicle that a farmer-funded promotional agency, authorized and overseen by the federal government, pushed fast-food chains to load up pizzas with more cheese. That effort led to Pizza Hut’s 2002 “Summer of Cheese” campaign and partially funded Domino’s 2009 introduction of its “American Legends” pizzas — pies topped with 40 percent more cheese. “These specialty pizzas are as American as apple pie,” Domino’s crowed, as part of its marketing campaign. More recently, though, pizza has become a target, lumped into a nutritional axis of evil along with French fries and soda. New federal nutrition standards for school lunches, part of a 2010 law, squarely targeted pizza’s dominance in cafeterias. Menu-labeling rules, which take effect later this year, have seemed particularly onerous to pizzeria owners. And in the popular imagination, no less than First Lady Michelle Obama and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, though they claim to love the stuff, have emerged as enemies of pizza in their push for healthier school lunches.

A League of His Own: How Sepp Blatter controls soccer [Tariq Panja, Andrew Martin, and Vernon Silver on Bloomberg News] (4/30/15)

Every four years FIFA’s roughly 475 employees put on a tournament of a sport so simple it essentially requires just one piece of equipment, a ball. Under its “Fair Play” banner, FIFA also acts as a global rulemaker and regulator for competition among its 209 ­national member associations, which are ­organized into six regional confederations, such as the one meeting in the Bahamas. Sponsors and broadcasters pay dearly to be part of the action. A combined 30 billion viewers in more than 200 countries made the 2014 World Cup the most-watched televised event in history. Over the four years ended December 2014, the fiscal four-year cycle for a World Cup, FIFA grossed about $5.72 billion, mostly from broadcast rights, but also from sponsorships from the likes of Coca-Cola and Adidas. Of that, $358 million went to prize money for the teams that actually played, with World Cup expenses totaling $2.22 billion. (Host countries are responsible for most of the expenses, such as stadiums.) Brazil spent more than $10 billion on its 2014 World Cup. That was even after it rejected FIFA requests such as motorcycle escorts for board members, says Luis Fernandes, Brazil’s former deputy sports minister. Over the past decade, as income has surged, FIFA has banked cash reserves of $1.52 billion, up from essentially zero. As for the rest of the billions, it’s not clear precisely where that money went. There are some clues. FIFA’s personnel ­expenses were $397 million. But good luck finding Blatter’s pay in the annual report. “We have hidden it so you cannot find it,” says Markus Kattner, FIFA’s head of finance and administration. “We’re not publishing it, first of all, because we don’t have to.” As long ago as 2002, Blatter made 1 million Swiss francs a year, plus bonuses, a FIFA executive at the time says. Several estimates based on the size of FIFA’s compensation pool put his current pay in the low double-digit millions. FIFA also paid $27 million, mostly from its marketing budget, to make the 2014 film United Passions, a flattering retelling of the soccer federation’s history starring Tim Roth as Blatter. One item FIFA proudly announces as its biggest nonevent expense: $1.56 billion spent over the past four years on ­“solidarity” programs for member nations, including $1 billion for practice fields, local coaching, and other handouts. It’s pure pork ­barrel politics. Most of the money goes to small associations from places without much of a soccer program or any chance at all at a World Cup, such as the Cayman Islands or Montserrat.

Leonard Cohen’s Montreal [Bernard Avishai on The New Yorker] (2/28/15)

The Quiet Revolution transformed Montreal, at least for a while, into a kind of Andalusia: contesting religious-linguistic cultures rubbing each other the right way. Jews shared professional and literary ties with les Anglais, but we shared an affinity with French Catholics, for religious traditions that were thickly esthetic and that we, each in our own way, both loved and loved to distance ourselves from. We also intuitively understood congregational routine, authoritative interpretation of sacred literature, the prestige of historical continuity—we understood that messiahs matter in this world, that the divine emerged within the precincts of a discipline, commandments, and the mass, all of which produced decorum before they produced grace. As Cohen writes in “Hallelujah,” you cannot feel so you learn to touch: works, not just faith alone. Our rivalry with Catholics at times seemed fuelled by an unacknowledged tenderness, theirs for our historical struggles, professional erudition, and exegetical trenchancy, ours for their majestic spaces, genuflecting hockey champions, and forgiving, suffering servant—a Jew, after all. “I love Jesus,” Cohen told his biographer, Sylvie Simmons. “Always did.” But, he said, “I didn’t stand up in shul and say, ‘I love Jesus.’ ” My mother—the amiably innocent scion of another Bialystoker family—took me, overdressed (oisgeputzt), to Eaton’s department store to see the Christmas pageantry; and then, more reverentially (and to my father’s dismay), she took me to the Shrine’s wax museum, to see depictions of the passions of the saints. When I first heard a recording of Judy Collins’s iconic rendition of Cohen’s “Suzanne,” at McGill in the fall of 1967, a year after my mother’s sudden death—heard about the lonely wooden tower and its occupant searching out the drowning—it occurred to me that I had never expected much empathy from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It also occurred to me that Cohen, whose father had died when he was nine, knew loss, and that the distance from mama’s boy to ladies’ man could be short. Which brings me, finally, to McGill. If our emancipation was not in civil society, it was on that campus. The university had been chartered in 1821 to provide English and Scottish Protestants a colonial piece of the Enlightenment, above the atavism of habitant manors and parishes; the student population at the Arts and Sciences Faculty, in the mid-sixties, was something like forty-per-cent Jewish. Cohen was a legend by the time I got there. He had graduated in 1955, and had published three books of poetry and two novels; the National Film Board had made a fawning documentary about him. It was at McGill that Cohen found Irving Layton (he said of Layton, “I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever”). Klein, Layton’s teacher, had been there in the thirties, studied law, and went on to simultaneously write “The Rocking Chair,” a poetic tribute to French Canada, and edit The Canadian Jewish Chronicle. (Secretly, he also wrote speeches for Sam Bronfman). By the time Cohen got to McGill, Klein had fallen silent, spiralling into, among other sources of melancholy, a never-completed exegesis of Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

A Death [Stephen King via The New Yorker] (3/9/15)

The wind gusted, bringing the sound of singing. It was coming from the church. It was the Doxology.

This Stealth Attack Boat May Be Too Innovative for the Pentagon [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg Businessweek] (8/21/14)

A major challenge for Ghost is that the Navy’s policy is to buy only technologies in which it has announced interest. “It is not procedure to procure a system without established requirements,” says Commander Thurraya Kent, spokeswoman for the Navy’s research, development, and acquisitions arm. In the fall of 2009 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) briefly expressed interest in funding the Ghost project, but Sancoff declined its request for a formal proposal because the agency required use rights to all of Juliet Marine’s patents. “I’m a startup company—this is how I’ll earn money, by owning the technology,” says Sancoff. Darpa declined to comment. Over the years, Sancoff sent the Office of Naval Research images of his design. “They laughed at me; they thought I was crazy,” he says. “‘Those jet engines can’t run underwater in those tubes. That boat can never be stable. You can never supercavitate those hulls.’ Obviously I was discouraged.” In October 2009, after about six months working in the hangar, Sancoff got a frantic call from his patent attorney. “He said, ‘I got something in the mail, I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been practicing for 35 years,’ ” remembers Sancoff. The letter, from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with a recommendation from the Office of Naval Research, turned out to be a secrecy order, forbidding Juliet Marine from filing its patents internationally or talking with anyone, including potential investors, about its technology. “They didn’t explain why. … They wouldn’t talk with my lawyer. They wouldn’t talk with me,” says Sancoff. For two summers, Ghost’s trial runs were conducted only at night. “We were going out at like 3 a.m.,” says Joseph Curcio, a marine engineer who taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and designed robotic systems for the Navy before joining Juliet Marine in 2010 as vice president of research and development. “We’d have to cover the [propellers] with a blanket and move the boat in the dark. We weren’t allowed to let anyone take pictures.” The secrecy orders were lifted after two years, also without explanation. That’s when Kinsella of Avalon Ventures heard about Ghost and joined the company’s board, investing $10 million.

Why This Movie Perfectly Re-Created a Picasso, Destroyed It, and Mailed the Evidence to Picasso’s Estate [Kate Calautti on Vanity Fair] (4/25/14)

Such was the case for scenic artist Michael Stockton’s copy of Guernica, in the film Basquiat. Turns out, when you want to feature a famous painting in a movie, you can’t simply slap a poster of a Monet or a Picasso in a frame and yell, “Action!”—nor can you cart the real thing from its space on a museum wall to the set (there’s too much margin for loss or destruction). The task is often a “thorny challenge,” as described by Basquiat production designer Dan Leigh, and it involves a rights-clearance process so time-consuming and detail-oriented, it’s worthy of a department unto itself. And once an image is supplied for use in a film, its disposal is governed by an entirely separate set of rules—Guernica’s being a particularly unique example. It wasn’t always this complicated. Prior to the mid-90s, art-image rights were less regulated—until two major copyright lawsuits, for 12 Monkeys and The Devil’s Advocate, resulted in major compensation for production studios. “Rights issues are generally more restrictive now than in the past,” explained The Devil’s Advocate’s art director Dennis Bradford. He wasn’t involved in Advocate’s clearance issues or its ensuing consequences, but believes, “Studios are now more risk averse and take a more conservative approach in their policies in general.” A painting image’s journey from conception to perception is labyrinthine—and wildly different—from film to film.

The Front Page 2.0 [Michael Kinsley on Vanity Fair] (May 2014)

There will always be a demand for high-quality news—enough demand to support two or three national newspapers, on papyrus scrolls if necessary. And the truth is that if only two or three newspapers survive, in national or global competition, that will still be more competition than we have now, with our collection of one-paper-town monopolies. A second truth is that most newspapers aren’t very good and wouldn’t be missed by anybody who could get The New York Times or USA Today and some bloggy source of local news. A third truth is that former roadblocks—people’s refusal to get their content online or to pay for it—are melting away like the snow. A fourth truth is that rich foundations and individuals appear downright eager to jump in and supply foreign or other prestige news if newspapers won’t. Former Times executive editor Bill Keller just quit the paper to help start a nonprofit to cover justice issues. Paul Steiger, formerly managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, founded ProPublica—a nonprofit that produces top-quality investigative journalism. Somewhere in that agglomeration of developments, newspapers will survive in some form or other at least equal to any available today. It will all work out somehow.

How America’s Overmedicating Low-Income and Foster Kids [Chris Kardish on Governing Magazine] (March 2015)

Children in the United States are on drugs for longer and more often than kids in any other country. And for children on Medicaid or in foster care, the numbers are far higher. In Kentucky, for example, a child in the Medicaid program is nearly three times as likely to be prescribed a mind-altering psychotropic medication as a kid under private insurance. For a Kentucky foster child, the likelihood is nearly nine times the norm. Kentucky is hardly alone in overprescribing psychotropics, a class of drugs that ranges from stimulants to antidepressants and antipsychotics. Between 1997 and 2006, American prescriptions for antipsychotics increased somewhere between sevenfold and twelvefold, according to a report by the University of Maryland. And just as in Kentucky, the nationwide numbers for children in foster systems or on Medicaid are startlingly higher than for other children. An average of 4.8 percent of privately insured children are prescribed these drugs every year; among kids on Medicaid, the number is 7.3 percent, according to the most recent study, which looked across 10 states. For children in foster care, it’s a whopping 26.6 percent.

Medicaid ADHD Treatment Under Scrutiny [Christine Vestal on Stateline] (10/8/14)

Doctors have considerable leeway in deciding the best course of treatment for a child with the condition, no matter who is paying the bill. But children covered by Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the poor, are at least 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. Georgia alone spends $28 million to $33 million annually on these treatments out of its $2.5 billion Medicaid budget, according to the Barton Child Law and Policy Center here at Emory University. That is partly because of the toll poverty takes on kids and a lack of resources in poorer schools. But some states believe there are other factors at work. Several have begun to investigate whether doctors and mental health providers who bill Medicaid for ADHD are rigorously using evidence-based guidelines when diagnosing and treating it.

What is Google’s Market Share for Search? [Rohin Dhar on Priceonomics] (2/20/15)

This 68% market share number appears to be the generally accepted number in the press for Google’s market share in the U.S. and is based off of reports by comScore, the leading company of tracking web market share statistics. comScore puts its data together by tracking the website usage of the users in its panel, as well as by placing tracking cookies on various websites. Combined, that provides a sample to estimate how much traffic websites are getting from search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. But is this figure actually correct?…In our experience, 68% market share for Google feels wrong. If anything, based on years of looking at the actual traffic numbers for various websites, it seems way too low: Google is much more dominant than that.

Fact-checking grandma [Lyz Lenz on Aeon Magazine] (2/24/15)

In 2012, Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, both at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, analysed 7,000 articles from The New York Times to assess what made stories go viral. What they discovered was that stories which elicited strong emotion – both positive and negative – were the ones that got shared most often. People believe the stories that they connect to, the ones that affirm their view of the world, truth be damned…There is more at stake here than just ideology and truth. When Amanda Reith in Pennsylvania saw her daughter in a viral image, she felt outraged and upset. Reith’s daughter is now a healthy teenager but in 2007 she underwent treatment for stage IV neuroblastoma, and the image showed her aged seven, bald and smiling, in a cheerleading outfit and holding pom-poms. Reith had shared the picture in a community forum in 2009 and was later shocked to see the image being shared on Facebook with the message: ‘“Like” to show this little girl you care. “Share” to tell her she’s beautiful. Pray for her to beat cancer.’ Worse, the picture was being used to promote spam. Ostensibly, Facebook users were sharing and ‘liking’ the image to support a little girl with cancer. In reality the Facebook page that published the picture was using it to garner ‘likes’ with the intention of selling the page to someone else or using it to sell products. Reith told CNN that, while she was happy to help raise awareness for cancer, seeing her daughter’s picture shared as a hoax was painful. ‘What makes me truly angry, though, is knowing that they’re using it as an insidious way to make money,’ Rieth said. ‘That’s not what her survival is about to us.’

The Email Scam with Centuries of History [Rosie Cima on Priceonomics] (3/5/15)

This kind of scam is called advance fee fraud, because the victim is asked to pay a small fee in advance of receiving a large payment (which never comes). It’s also called a “Nigerian money offer” because many of these email scams — although certainly not all of them — are operated out of Nigeria, and Nigerian criminals led the wave to revive these scams in the Internet era. In the 1980s, Nigeria was home to a bunch of mail and fax-based advance fee scams. It’s also called a 419 scam, which is the section of the Nigerian criminal code dealing with fraud. This scam’s history reaches much farther back than that, though. In fact, a 1898 New York Times description of the scam could easily describe the version still in circulation today, only they call the con the “Spanish Prisoner.” From an article titled “An Old Swindle Revived”:…The letter details the trials and tribulations of one “Serge Solovieff,” an imprisoned Russian banker, who needs help recovering funds he’s hidden in America. The envelope enclosed a newspaper clipping about Solovieff’s arrest. One copy of this letter was discovered in the 2000s by Richard Seltzer. Seltzer posted it online, and many more people, who had found almost identically worded letters, found his by googling Solovieff’s name and got in touch with him. You can see photos of these other examples on the website. Their letters were written in different handwriting, suggesting that none of them were written by Solovieff…The Times article quoted above — which again dates from 1898 — cited police authorities as saying the swindle had been in operation for “more than 30 years,” and warned Americans against it. But it turns out that the French had suffered these spammy letters even longer ago than that.  The 1832 memoirs of Eugène François Vidocq, a French criminal-turned-private-investigator, detail a swindle executed by prisoners. “[Prisoners] obtained the address of certain rich persons living in the province,” Vidocq writes. “Which was easy from the number of prisoners who were constantly arriving. They then wrote letters to them, colloquially referred to as ‘letters of Jerusalem.’”…The letter had a 20% response rate, according to Vidocq.

The Plot to Free North Korea With Smuggled Episodes of ‘Friends’ [Andy Greenberg on Wired] (3/1/15)

That smuggling mission was planned and executed last September by the North Korea Strategy Center and its 46-year-old founder, Kang Chol-hwan. Over the past few years, Kang’s organization has become the largest in a movement of political groups who routinely smuggle data into North Korea. NKSC alone annually injects around 3,000 USB drives filled with foreign movies, music, and ebooks. Kang’s goal, as wildly optimistic as it may sound, is nothing less than the overthrow of the North Korean government. He believes that the Kim dynasty’s three-generation stranglehold on the North Korean people—and its draconian restriction on almost any information about the world beyond its borders—will ultimately be broken not by drone strikes or caravans of Humvees but by a gradual, guerrilla invasion of thumb drives filled with bootleg episodes of Friends and Judd Apatow comedies. Kang likens the USB sticks to the red pill from The Matrix: a mind-altering treatment that has the power to shatter a world of illusions.

The Vanishing [Sean Flynn on Gentlemen’s Quarterly] (March 2014)

I met captain Desmond Ross, a leading aviation-security expert, at his local pub in the Pyrmont neighborhood of Sydney. He was born in Belfast, was taught to fly by the Royal Air Force, and has spent most of his career in aviation security, including years in Southeast Asia. He understands, as all aviation professionals understand, that certain protocols should be followed when civilian airliners blink off radar screens. Ho Chi Minh control should have been in contact with Kuala Lumpur within three minutes of MH370 not showing up, preferably two, and most definitely not seventeen. Civilian controllers should have contacted their military counterparts, and there should be a record, written and audio, of those communications. If they exist, they’ve never been released. More important, when unidentified and unresponsive aircraft appear on military screens, fighter jets are supposed to be scrambled. Those pilots are supposed to visually identify the rogue plane, waggle their wings as a signal to land if need be, drift in close if there’s no response. “They can look into the cockpit. If the pilot’s not there, they can see that. If the pilot’s dead, they can see that,” Ross said. “This is not rocket science. That is standard operating protocol. Everybody knows it, everybody understands it.” If any of that had happened, the fate of MH370 would likely be known. That those things did not happen leaves, to Ross’s mind, a binary choice. “Either incompetence, total dereliction of duty, which amounts to criminal negligence,” he said, “or a conspiracy. What else is there?” He let that hang for a moment. Then: “You have to discard most of the conspiracy theories.” He ticks off the main ones, and a few variations of each. There’s no evidence either the pilot or co-pilot was suicidal. “There’s no point in hijacking it and not taking credit,” he said, “unless they fucked up and they’re keeping it under wraps because they want to try again.” At that point, nine months after the fact, no one had. And stealing it? “If someone is really believing in this day and age that they can hide an aircraft and 239 people,” he said, “they’re kidding themselves.” That leaves incompetence, gross dereliction of duty, and so forth. Ross favors that option. Which would explain why questions aren’t answered and records aren’t released and there are wide, yawning holes in the narrative begging to be filled with conspiracies. “Malaysia’s dug themselves a trench because they’re trying to save face,” he said. “Do not underestimate that, saving face. If that’s the case, they’ve dug themselves such a fucking trench they could bury all of Kuala Lumpur.”

Wet Wipes Box Says Flush. New York’s Sewer System Says Don’t. [Matt Flegenheimer on New York Times] (3/13/15)

The city has spent more than $18 million in the past five years on wipe-related equipment problems, officials said. The volume of materials extracted from screening machines at the city’s wastewater treatment plants has more than doubled since 2008, an increase attributed largely to the wipes.

How Luck Works [Carlin Flora on Aeon Magazine] (3/6/15)

If behaviour influences luck, do people who think of themselves as lucky behave differently from the rest of us? A 2009 study co-authored by Maia Young assessed whether students believed in stable luck as a trait they themselves possessed. She found a relationship between the belief in stable luck (versus fleeting luck) and measures of achievement and motivation, including whether or not the students persisted at tasks or chose challenging ones to begin with. Lucky people, it seems, are go-getters. ‘You can see how someone who believes in stable luck will be more motivated to pick difficult goals and then stick with them. If you believe luck is this chance, fleeting luck that you can’t rely on because it ebbs and flows, you might be less motivated to stick with hard tasks, the challenging tasks,’ explains Young. Young’s finding dovetails with the work of Richard Wiseman, a former magician who is now Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and author of the book The Luck Factor (2003). The best way to look at luck, Wiseman argues, is as a stable trait – not one that people are born with, but one they can cultivate. Wiseman searched for people who considered themselves consistently very lucky or unlucky until he gathered 400 subjects. He found that ‘lucky’ people are adept at creating and noticing chance opportunities (such as meeting an important businessman at a café), listen to their intuition, have positive expectations that create self-fulfilling prophesies, and have a relaxed and resilient attitude about life’s trials. Poor unlucky souls are more tense and anxious than lucky ones. Wiseman broke down the tendencies of the lucky group into behavioural interventions such as getting people to imagine how things could have been worse when they were faced with misfortune or, more generally, asking them to ‘switch up your daily routine’. As a result, 80 per cent of the unlucky group reported that, after just a month, they were happier, more satisfied with their lives, and yes, luckier.

The Berlin Wall’s great human experiment [Leon Neyfakh on The Boston Globe] (10/12/14)

Alesina and Fuchs-Schundeln used data from a German survey administered in 1997, and split the respondents into two groups based on where they had lived before reunification. What they found was that, at that point, people from the East still tended to believe in the social-service model. They were also more likely to support a robust government program to help the unemployed, and significantly more inclined to believe that social conditions, rather than individual will, determined a person’s lot in life…The differences between the two Germanys went far beyond economic ideology. West Germans all had access to Western television networks, including one that was American-controlled; they watched uncensored newscasts, shows like “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” and commercials for everything from Corn Flakes to Volkswagens. Most East Germans could get those broadcasts too, but a significant proportion of them—between 10 and 15 percent—lived in areas the signal didn’t reach. These people, concentrated mainly in Dresden and the surrounding Elbe Valley, were sometimes referred to as “the valley of the clueless,” forced to watch “political propaganda and Soviet-produced movies,” wrote Leonardo Bursztyn, a management professor at UCLA, and his German coauthor Davide Cantoni. Western television, Bursztyn and Cantoni found, had an impact on East Germans and how they spent their money: Those who’d had access to it were much more inclined to buy Western products they’d seen advertised than those who had not…Television affected people’s mindset in other ways as well. In a separate but related study, it was shown that watching Western TV had actually shaped East Germans’ views about work and chance, making them “more inclined to believe that effort rather than luck determines success in life.” Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of life in East Germany was the surveillance state…Economists Helmut Rainer and Thomas Siedler used survey data to try to figure out whether living that way had left a psychological scar. They looked at the results of a Germany-wide survey that had been administered twice a year since 1980: According to their analysis, East Germans were much less trusting toward other people than their counterparts. Perhaps discouragingly, their mistrust did not lift easily when the Stasi’s reign ended. When the researchers compared survey data collected not long after reunification to data collected in 2002, it was clear that living in a democracy for a decade had not made East Germans significantly more trusting of others. Other studies have shown additional lasting differences. One found that, because in East Germany women were encouraged to work more than they were in the West, East Germans were significantly more likely to believe that men and women are equal. Another found that, because the East German regime ran official doping programs for athletes, East Berliners were much more accepting than West Berliners of performance-enhancing drugs 20 years after reunification. Another paper, by Tarek Hassan of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, looked at how businesses grew and spread when the border fences fell, and found that they tended to follow networks of personal connections. Ossis who did a lot of business with the former Wessis after reunification were disproportionately likely to have had friends, or friends of friends, on the other side of the wall before it was torn down.

Liberals and Conservatives Consume News Differently, Study Finds [John McCormick on Bloomberg News] (10/21/14)

The study found that hard-core conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than other groups in the survey, with 47 percent citing Fox News as their main source for government and political information.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, 88 percent trust Fox News.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions on Facebook that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

When it comes to those who hold “consistently liberal” views, the study found:

  • Less uniformity in media loyalty. They rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some—like National Public Radio and the New York Times—others use far less.

  • More trust than distrust in 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.

  • More likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network—as well as to end a personal friendship—because of politics.

  • A greater tendency to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

The Church of In-N-Out Burger [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (9/8/14)

While the verses grapple with longevity, trust, obedience, and faith, they all espouse a common message: adhere to God’s word. Shortly after they were printed on In-N-Out’s wares, Richard Snyder felt he had to sermonize this belief a bit more forwardly. At the time, In-N-Out had a well-known, 30-second jingle (“In-N-Out: that’s what a hamburger’s all about!”) that aired on California radio stations. On Christmas eve, 1987, Snyder decided to switch things up, despite many people in the company advising him against it. The same familiar melody played, but a solemn question replaced the words — “wouldn’t you like salvation in your life?” — followed by In-N-Out’s endorsement. While the campaign stirred some controversy, it was never Snyder’s intention to offend: according to one journalist, “If he went up to Heaven and saw Jesus, he didn’t want [Jesus] to think he’d been too afraid of what people might think not to [spread his word].” To this day, each Christmas, several radio stations in Los Angeles country still play the modified advertisement.

The Many Accents of California [Anita Creamer on The Sacramento Bee via Governing Magazine] (9/11/14)

Vowel sounds are big in the study of linguistics. In the mouths of Californians, coastal and noncoastal alike, vowels are on the move – from the front of the mouth to the back for some vowels but, in the case of others, the reverse. “Back” has gradually become “bock” in Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example, as the vowel sound has moved away from the front of the mouth. But in San Francisco, “boot” has shifted in the opposition direction, into a slightly softened “beaut” sound. The same shifts are happening in the Central Valley, too, only a little more slowly, D’Onofrio said.

How Stimulus Money Went to Companies That Rob State and Federal Treasuries of Billions Each Year [Franco Ordonez and Mandy Locke on Governing Magazine] (9/8/14)

A review of public records in 28 states uncovered widespread cheating by construction companies that listed workers as contractors instead of employees in order to beat competitors and cut costs. The federal government, while cracking down on the practice in private industry, let it happen in stimulus projects in the rush to pump money into the economy at a time of crisis. Companies across the country avoided state and federal taxes and undercut law-abiding competitors. They exploited workers desperate for jobs, depriving them of unemployment benefits and often workers’ compensation insurance. Exactly how much tax revenue was forfeited on stimulus projects isn’t clear. This is: The government enabled businesses bent on breaking the rules. Regulators squandered the chance to right a rogue industry by forcing companies’ hands on government jobs. The scheme persists in federal contracting, while government officials acknowledge the mistreatment of hourly wage workers and steep losses to the U.S. treasury. The result? In Florida, a McClatchy analysis shows nearly $400 million a year in squandered tax revenue from construction firms and their workers. In North Carolina, nearly $500 million a year. And in Texas, a staggering $1.2 billion. The problem known as misclassification is so well-understood in the U.S. economy that government has vowed to fix it for years. Federal investigators have hammered private companies doing private work, collecting millions in back wages from restaurateurs, nail salon owners and maid services. But when American tax dollars are at stake, as with President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, few in government even talked about the problem, let alone prevented it.

Baseball Caught Looking as Fouls Injure 1,750 Fans a Year [David Glovin on Bloomberg News] (9/9/14)

About 1,750 spectators get hurt each year by batted balls, mostly fouls, at major-league games, or at least twice every three games, a first-of-its-kind analysis by Bloomberg News has found. That’s more often than a batter is hit by a pitch, which happened 1,536 times last season, according to Elias Sports Bureau Inc. The 8-year-old boy was one of four fans injured at the May 20 game, according to a “foul-ball log” and other first-aid records at the Braves’ Turner Field. Unlike the National Hockey League, which mandated netting behind the goal line and higher Plexiglas above the side boards after a teenage fan was hit by a puck and died in 2002, Major League Baseball has done little to reduce the risk. Its policy is that each team is responsible for spectator safety…To the delight of devotees, about 53,000 of the 73,000 fouls hit each season enter the seats, according to Edwin Comber, creator of foulballz.com, a website that analyzes the most likely location in each ballpark for them to land. Many spectators greet them eagerly, lunging or racing for fouls. Others want to avoid them but can’t react in time.

Homemade Tank Powered by Game Boy Fights Wars of Future [Flavia Krause-Jackson and Nicole Gaouette on Bloomberg News] (9/9/14)

In a backyard in Aleppo, Syrian rebels built a tank for urban combat. All it took was an Android smartphone to download a do-it-yourself manual. They patched together some rusty car parts, with a Game Boy console and flatscreen television controlling a machine gun. The result: a weapon smaller than a Mini Cooper, an ideal alternative in narrow alleys to the 70-ton Abrams tank the U.S. used in Iraqi deserts and Afghan valleys. From Aleppo to Ukraine’s Donetsk, combat and war planning are moving to urban settings where Internet access facilitates 21st-century guerrilla tactics. With 1.5 million people a week migrating to cities — mostly in the developing world — the new battlefields will be slum-ridden yet wired megalopolises such as Lagos and Mumbai, where insurgents and crime bosses can exploit technology to control lawless rings of territory.

Southern States Are Now Epicenter of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (9/8/14)

The original face of AIDS was that of a middle-class, often white gay man living in New York City or San Francisco. That picture has changed over time as people of color have become disproportionately affected by the epidemic. Today, the face of AIDS is black or Latino, poor, often rural—and Southern. Southern states now have the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses, the largest percentage of people living with the disease, and the most people dying from it, according to Rainey Campbell, executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition, a non-profit group serving the 16 Southern states and Washington, D.C. Fifty percent of all new HIV cases are in the South. The HIV infection rate among African-American and Latina women in the South now rivals that of sub-Saharan Africa. In some Southern states, black women account for more than 80 percent of new HIV diagnoses among women. States in the South have the least expansive Medicaid programs and the strictest eligibility requirements to qualify for assistance, which prevents people living with HIV/AIDS from getting care, according to a Southern AIDS Coalition report. In the South, Campbell said, people living with HIV have to reach disability status before they qualify for aid. This is significant, because nationally the vast majority of HIV/AIDS patients rely on Medicaid for their health insurance, according to research conducted by the Morehouse College of Medicine.

Bionic Hands Mimic Human Control With Sensation of Touch [Michelle Fay Cortez on Bloomberg News] (10/9/14)

In one study, U.S. surgeons connected electrodes to nerves in a man’s forearm that were stimulated when someone placed something in his bionic hand. The procedure allowed the patient to tell when he was touching something without having to see it. In the other report, Swedish scientists surgically connected a titanium rod to existing bone, nerves and muscles in an undamaged part of the arm, then ran wires through the prosthesis helping the patient control its use more precisely. “What is fascinating about this is the perception of touch actually occurs in the brain, not in the hand itself,” said Dustin Tyler, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Research University in Cleveland, who led the U.S. effort. “Losing the limb is just losing the switch that turns that sensation on or off.” Both results were reported yesterday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Igor Spetic, 48, said he vividly remembers the first time he felt his right hand again, two years after it was amputated following an industrial accident. Researchers working to craft his prosthetic pulled a curtain to limit his view and then placed a large, hard block into his palm. “I hadn’t felt anything other than pain for two years,” he said by telephone. The new sense of feeling “was amazing. It felt like my hand was actually working, that I didn’t have a prosthetic. That’s how close to reality it was for me.” The new hand allows Spetic to perform routine tasks in a laboratory without serious thought or concentration, he said, including picking up and drinking from a flimsy water bottle without squirting it all over or plucking stems from a cherry without bursting it. There are currently 19 spots on the prosthetic that Spetic can feel. That’s likely to double or triple within a year, Tyler said in a telephone interview.

Can Graffiti Be Copyrighted? [Gabe Friedman on The Atlantic] (9/21/14)

This past spring, Miami street artist David Anasagasti’s work started popping up in Japan and South America. It was the type of global exposure that Anasagasti didn’t want: American Eagle Outfitters had built an international advertising campaign around his best-known, oldest image—half-squinting, drowsy eyeballs layered on top of one another…In July, Anasagasti hired a lawyer and filed a copyright-infringement lawsuit, accusing American Eagle of stealing his work and seeking monetary damages. If it sounds novel to apply copyright to graffiti art, that’s because it is: Lawyers who work in this area say it’s not clear anyone has ever tried this in court. Copyright law, as its name suggests, lays out the rules for when it’s okay to copy something. But does it extend to art that’s on public walls? It very well may. “Given what I know of the case, this is one of the most blatant examples of copyright infringement,” said Philippa Loengard, assistant director of Columbia Law School’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media, and the Arts.

A New Look at Why Surgical Rates Vary [Michael Ollove on Stateline] (9/23/14)

Several years ago, a California study showed that a half-dozen elective surgeries were being performed far more often in Humboldt County than they were in the rest of the state. The procedures included hip and knee replacements, hysterectomies and carotid endarterectomies, a surgery to remove plaque buildup in the carotid arteries. Geographical variation in the delivery of health care can harm patients and increase costs. That is especially true when it comes to surgery, which is usually more expensive and riskier than less invasive treatments. Medicaid makes up a huge portion of state budgets, so the issue of health care variation is a pressing one for states looking to hold down costs. In Humboldt County, doctors, hospitals, and others involved in health care wondered why surgeons in their area operated so often, and if they could do anything to get closer to the state norms. To find out, they launched the Humboldt County Surgical Rate Project, which brought together doctors, health-care advocates, community organizations, unions, colleges and small employers…As it turned out, a large part of “what was actually happening out there” was surprisingly simple: Patients in Humboldt County weren’t playing a big enough part in their own health care decisions.

Domestic Abuse is Challenge for States [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (9/22/14)

Because the movement to help battered women largely has been driven by white, middle-class women, said Deer, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, “the attention is on generic domestic violence, (without legislators) really thinking about the nuances of race and class.” Advocates stress that states must consider the influence of race, culture and other demographic factors to craft effective strategies. African-American women, for example, are most likely to be killed by an intimate partner. Domestic abuse among Asian/Pacific Islander communities often involves more than one family member battering the same victim in the home, according to the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence. And Latinas are less likely to seek help from a shelter, preferring to find protection from friends and family. Gays and lesbians experience domestic violence at rates equal to or greater than the general population; 50 percent of transgender people experience domestic violence.

The Invention of the Chilean Sea Bass [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (4/28/14)

As recounted in Hooked: A True Story of Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish, in 1977 an American fish merchant named Lee Lantz was scouring fishing boats in a Chilean port. Lantz’s business was finding new types of fish to bring to market, and he became excited when he spotted a menacing looking, five-foot long toothfish that inspired him to ask, “That is one amazing-looking fish. What the hell is it?” The fishermen had not meant to catch the fish, which no one recognized. But as the use of deep-water longlines became more common, toothfish, which dwell in deep waters, started appearing in markets. Taking it for a type of bass, Lantz believed it would do well in America. But when he tried a bite of the toothfish, fried up in oil, it disappointed. It had almost no flavor. Nevertheless, as G. Bruce Knecht, author of Hooked, writes:

[Lantz] still thought its attributes were a perfect match for the American market. It had a texture similar to Atlantic cod’s, the richness of tuna, the innocuous mild flavor of a flounder, and its fat content made it feel almost buttery in the mouth. Mr. Lantz believed a white-fleshed fish that almost melted in your mouth — and a fish that did not taste “fishy” — could go a very long way with his customers at home.

But if the strength of the toothfish (a name Lantz didn’t even know — he learned that locals called it “cod of the deep”) was its ability to serve as a blank canvas for chefs, it needed a good name. Lantz stuck with calling it a bass, since that would be familiar to Americans. He rejected two of his early ideas for names, Pacific sea bass and South American sea bass, as too generic, according to Knecht. He decided on Chilean sea bass, the specificity of which seemed more exclusive…It took a few years for Lantz to land contracts for his new find. Initially, he made only a few small sales to wholesalers and other distributors despite offering samples far and wide. Finally, in 1980, a company struggling with the rising cost of halibut that the company used in its fish sticks bought Lantz’s entire stock, banking on people not tasting the difference between halibut and toothfish beneath the deep fry.  From there, Chilean sea bass quickly worked its way up the food chain. Chinese restaurants purchased it as a cheap replacement for black cod (Chilean sea bass is, after all, a type of cod). Celebrity chefs embraced it, enjoying, as Knecht writes, it ability to “hold up to any method of cooking, accept any spice,” and never overcook.

How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future [Eileen Gunn on Smithsonian Magazine] (May 2014)

Jordin Kare, an astrophysicist at the Seattle-based tech company LaserMotive, who has done important practical and theoretical work on lasers, space elevators and light-sail propulsion, cheerfully acknowledges the effect science fiction has had on his life and career. “I went into astrophysics because I was interested in the large-scale functions of the universe,” he says, “but I went to MIT because the hero of Robert Heinlein’s novel Have Spacesuit, Will Travel went to MIT.” Kare himself is very active in science fiction fandom. “Some of the people who are doing the most exploratory thinking in science have a connection to the science-fiction world.” Microsoft, Google, Apple and other firms have sponsored lecture series in which science fiction writers give talks to employees and then meet privately with developers and research departments. Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the close tie between science fiction and technology today than what is called “design fiction”—imaginative works commissioned by tech companies to model new ideas. Some corporations hire authors to create what-if stories about potentially marketable products.

The inventor of everything [Ben Popper on The Verge] (4/14/14)

I take a left turn down Calle San Pablo into an unassuming industrial park, the research and development center for Cool Planet, a young company that claims it can use leftover plants to produce a miraculous fuel: a $1.50 gallon of gasoline that also bolsters sustainable agriculture and even combats climate change. I’m here to meet Mike Cheiky, the founder of Cool Planet and a prolific inventor and entrepreneur. In 1975, he started Ohio Scientific, one of the earliest personal-computing companies. He followed that with a string of startups whose innovations included biofuels, touchscreens, batteries, voice recognition, and fuel injectors. Cheiky’s ventures have always done well raising money. Two weeks ago Cool Planet announced a $100 million round of funding from names like Google Ventures, British Petroleum, General Electric, and ConocoPhillips. All told, his last three companies — Cool Planet, Zpower, and Transonic — have raised at least $300 million from some of the biggest players in Silicon Valley…I press him on the science behind Cool Planet. What about quantum chemistry, an esoteric and largely theoretical field, that he boasted was key to the company’s technology during a talk at Google’s Solve For X event? He responds with a bewildering string of scientific terms: zeolite catalysts, quantum wells, substitute benzene rings, angstroms, and hydrocarbon fragments…I later run his comments by three experts, including professors in quantum chemistry and zeolite catalysts. They tell me Cheiky’s got his science a bit mixed up and is making exaggerated claims. But it’s not until I call the University of Wisconsin that I really find the smoking gun. I reach William Banholzer, PhD, a chemical engineer who previously spent eight years as the chief technology officer at Dow Chemical. “I actually use Cool Planet as a teaching example of outrageous claims that defy common sense,” Banholzer says. He means that quite literally: Banholzer has created a PowerPoint presentation using Cheiky’s claims from his Google Solve for X talk, along with early Cool Planet presentations and charts. He doesn’t need to know exactly how Cheiky’s patented process works to conclude that it’s wrong: there simply isn’t enough energy in most plants to get the quantity and quality of fuel Cheiky claims he can produce. “And if you’re going to make biochar,” says Banholzer, “everything I just said about the amount of plant material you’d need gets even worse.” Banholzer is uniquely qualified to assess whether someone is selling snake oil or pitching solid science. In addition to working as Dow Chemical’s CTO, he spent years helping to manage its venture capital arm. He saw hundreds of companies claim to have amazing new technology and learned to separate fact from fiction. His lesson on Cool Planet is meant to help business students do the same. “Students get sucked in, because they want to believe,” says Banholzer. “They see GE and these other big people put their money in. Because these companies put their money in, the students immediately jump to the idea, ‘Oh well they must know what they’re doing, it means there is something pretty good there.’ So I use Cool Planet as an example of ‘Don’t forget your engineering.’”

Writing Mother’s Day Cards at Hallmark: An Inside Look [Claire Suddath on Bloomberg Businessweek] (5/1/14)

Hallmark didn’t invent the greeting card—that credit belongs to a London art shop way back in 1846—but its modern-day form is almost exclusively the creation of Joyce Hall. He founded the company in 1910, when, as an 18-year-old traveling salesman, he arrived in Kansas City and started selling postcards out of two shoeboxes. Five years later he’d switched to greeting cards; after a fire destroyed his inventory, he purchased printing presses to make them himself. In 1932, just four years after Mickey Mouse’s first film, Hall licensed Disney characters to put on his cards—a prescient move that makes the Hallmark-Disney collaboration one of the oldest licensing agreements still in existence. Then, in 1935, the company asked store owners to stop selling cards behind the counter. Instead, it provided free-standing display shelves that look a lot like the ones in greeting card aisles today.

The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease [Nina Teicholz on The Wall Street Journal] (5/6/14)

“Saturated fat does not cause heart disease”—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for chicken over sirloin, canola oil over butter. The new study’s conclusion shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

Is This How We’ll Cure Cancer? [Matthew Herper on Forbes] (5/7/14)

Blood was taken out of 6-year-old Emily’s body, passed through a machine to remove her white cells and put back in. Then scientists at the University of Pennsylvania used a modified HIV virus to genetically reprogram those white cells so that they would attack her cancer, and reinjected them. But the cells attacked her body, too. Within days Emily was so feverish she had to be hospitalized. Hallucinating, she asked her father, “Why is there a pond in my room?” She was sent to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. A doctor told her family that there was only a one-in-1,000 chance she would survive the night. Then the miracle breakthrough: Doctors gave Emily a rheumatoid arthritis drug that stopped the immune system storm–without protecting the cancer. Emily awoke on her 7th birthday and slowly recovered. A week later her bone marrow was checked. Emily’s father, an electrical lineman named Tom Whitehead, remembers getting the call from her doctor, Stephan Grupp: “It worked. She’s cancer free.” She still is, two years later–taking piano lessons, wrestling with her dog and loving school, which she couldn’t attend while sick. “I’ve been an oncologist for 20 years,” says Grupp, “and I have never, ever seen anything like this.” Emily has become the poster child for a radical new treatment that Novartis , the third-biggest drug company on the Forbes Global 2000, is making one of the top priorities in its $9.9 billion research and development budget…But the developments at Penn point, tantalizingly, to something more, something that would rank among the great milestones in the history of mankind: a true cure. Of 25 children and 5 adults with Emily’s disease, ALL, 27 had a complete remission, in which cancer becomes undetectable. “It’s a stunning breakthrough,” says Sally Church, of drug development advisor Icarus Consultants. Says Crystal Mackall, who is developing similar treatments at the National Cancer Institute: “It really is a revolution. This is going to open the door for all sorts of cell-based and gene therapy for all kinds of disease because it’s going to demonstrate that it’s economically viable.” There are still huge hurdles ahead: Novartis has to run clinical trials in both kids and adults at hospitals around the world, ready a manufacturing plant to create individualized treatments for patients and figure out how to limit the side effects that nearly killed Emily. But Novartis forecasts all that work will be done by 2016, when it files with the FDA.

Sonic Boom [Megan Garber on The Atlantic] (5/1/14)

And it’s work that hints at questions that are much broader, and much older, than Bourbon Street itself. How do you design cities and civic spaces in ways that account for people’s varied reactions to sound itself? Where does “sound” end, and “noise” begin?

Curiously Strong Remains:

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