Archive for July, 2015


Roundup – Imagine All Star People

Best of the Best:

Big Oil Is About to Lose Control of the Auto Industry [Reed Landberg on Bloomberg News] (4/16/15)

Costs are plunging in the electric car business as quickly as they did in the solar industry in the last decade. The price of lithium-ion batteries that power most electric cars has fallen 60 percent from 2010 and will keep declining at the same pace, BNEF estimates. That will bring the price of no-pollution cars within striking distance of ones that require gasoline within a decade. Fuel-cell cars also are moving from the laboratory to the showroom, starting in Japan with models from Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. By 2018, Japan will be the biggest market for fuel-cell vehicles, with 4,200 cars on the road, almost double the figure for the U.S., according to BNEF researcher Claire Curry. The future is not uniformly bright for clean energy. Investment in biofuels has plunged 90 percent since peaking at $29.8 billion in 2007. Gasoline substitutes made from corn and sugar in the form of ethanol represent about 10 percent of the U.S. fuel supply, but efforts to make an alternative from crops that can’t be eaten have stalled. And lower oil costs eat away at the economic rationale for cleaner fuels. See Also: – Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables [Tom Randall on Bloomberg News] (4/14/15) – Why Nuclear Power Is All but Dead in the U.S. [Eric Raston on Bloomberg News] (4/15/15) – Musk’s Cousins Battle Utilities to Make Solar Rooftops Cheap [John Lippert and Chris Martin on Bloomberg News] (4/14/15)

The Ugly Truth About What’s Going Wrong in American Law Schools [Paul Barrett on Bloomberg News] (4/16/15)

My colleague Natalie Kitroeff ably chronicles the dismal times in legal education. “Fewer people with high Law School Admission Test scores are applying to and enrolling in law school, and less-qualified students are filling their slots,” she reports in her latest dispatch, and she’s got the stats to prove it. In December, Kitroeff investigated a burgeoning controversy over why bar exam passage rates plummeted last year, a trend, she notes, that appears to be persisting, if at a more moderate rate, as results begin to trickle in this year.Are law students getting dumber, foreshadowing a future dip in the talents available to legal clients nationwide? Or are aspiring attorneys getting a bad rap? The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), the nonprofit that creates the multiple-choice portion of the test used by many states, goes with the diminished-intellect theory. “The group that sat [for bar exams] in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013,” NCBE President Erica Moeser said in a blunt memo to law deans last October. “That’s just baloney,” Brooklyn Law School’s Dean Nick Allard tells me. An innovative leader scrambling to keep his venerable institution afloat in a shrinking legal job market, Allard alleges darkly that unnamed pooh-bahs are fixing the system to exclude his scrappy students. “It’s a jaw-dropping story,” he says. “The NCBE is a powerful testing organization with a web of financial interests that has an outsize role in determining the future careers of law school graduates.” Tens of thousands of law school graduates, he adds, “are ripped off by the bar exam scam twice a year.” The NCBE’s Moeser flatly denies there’s anything awry. Her group rechecked its scoring and determined “the results are correct.” The best dispassionate analysis I’ve found suggests a testing snafu last year, but one that doesn’t account entirely for the larger air of crisis. Blogging at Law School Cafe, Deborah Merritt, a law professor at Ohio State University, explained in late March how a severe software glitch exacerbated test-taker anxiety and, through the magic of esoteric scoring techniques, rippled across the country. It’s a complicated account, well worth reading in full. Tallying the damage, Merritt estimates that “hundreds of test takers—probably more than 1,500 nationwide—failed the bar exam when they should have passed.” That’s not the tens of thousands of casualties mourned by Allard, but it’s a lot of people whose exams deserve another look. Over to you, NCBE. See Also: –The Smartest People Are Opting Out of Law School [Natalie Kitroeff on Bloomberg News] (4/15/15) –Is the Bar Exam Broken? Or Are Law Students Dumber? [Natalie Kitroeff on Bloomberg News] (12/10/14)

The end of Moore’s law [The Economist] (4/19/15)

If Moore’s law has started to flag, it is mainly because of economics. As originally stated by Mr Moore, the law was not just about reductions in the size of transistors, but also cuts in their price. A few years ago, when transistors 28nm wide were the state of the art, chipmakers found their design and manufacturing costs beginning to rise sharply. New “fabs” (semiconductor fabrication plants) now cost more than $6 billion. In other words: transistors can be shrunk further, but they are now getting more expensive. And with the rise of cloud computing, the emphasis on the speed of the processor in desktop and laptop computers is no longer so relevant. The main unit of analysis is no longer the processor, but the rack of servers or even the data centre. The question is not how many transistors can be squeezed onto a chip, but how many can be fitted economically into a warehouse. Moore’s law will come to an end; but it may first make itself irrelevant.

Malled: The Hollowing Out of an American Institution. ‘We Surrender’ [Matt Townsend on Bloomberg News] (11/21/14)

On a crisp Friday evening in late October, Shannon Rich, 33, is standing in a dying American mall. Three customers wander the aisles in a Sears the size of two football fields. The RadioShack is empty. A woman selling smartphone cases watches “Homeland” on a laptop. “It’s the quietest mall I’ve ever been to,” says Rich, who works for an education consulting firm and has been coming to the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, New Hampshire, since she was a kid. “It bums me out.” Built 24 years ago by a former subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD), Steeplegate is one of about 300 U.S. malls facing a choice between re-invention and oblivion. Most are middle-market shopping centers being squeezed between big-box chains catering to low-income Americans and luxury malls lavishing white-glove service on One Percenters. It’s a time of reckoning for an industry that once expanded pell-mell across the landscape armed with the certainty that if you build it, they will come. Those days are over. Malls like Steeplegate either rethink themselves or disappear. This summer Rouse Properties Inc. (RSE), a real estate investment trust with a long track record of turning around troubled properties, decided Steeplegate wasn’t salvageable and walked away. The mall is now in receivership. As management buys time by renting space to temporary shops selling Christmas stuff, employees fret that if the holiday shopping season goes badly, more stores will close. Should the mall lose one of its anchors — Sears, J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) and Bon-Ton Stores Inc. (BONT) — the odds of survival lengthen. “Rouse is basically saying ‘We surrender,’” said Rich Moore, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets who has covered mall operators for more than 15 years. “If Rouse couldn’t make it work and that’s their specialty, then that’s a pretty tough sale to keep it as is.” Rouse, based in New York, declined to comment beyond an e-mailed statement saying it had determined Steeplegate “would not meet our long-term return on investment criteria.”

The Waning Power of Political Dynasties [Louis Jacobson on Governing Magazine] (4/21/15)

This pattern was even stronger in last year’s U.S. Senate races. No fewer than six U.S. Senate candidates with noteworthy family ties lost races in 2014, all of them Democrats — Nick Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Udall of Colorado, Michelle Nunn in Georgia, Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Of course, a couple gubernatorial candidates with family histories in their state did win governorships last fall: Democrats Jerry Brown in California and Andrew Cuomo in New York, and Republicans Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas and Larry Hogan in Maryland, the son of a former congressman. (Although that fact was not widely known in Maryland, making it essentially a nonfactor in the race.) Still, 2014 results illustrate a growing tendency: Partisan affiliation increasingly trumps longstanding familiarity and accumulated goodwill from bearing a famous political name. In last year’s gubernatorial races, Democrats Brown and Cuomo won largely because they were running in two of the nation’s bluest states, while Hutchinson was running in one of the reddest. Carter, by contrast, faced an uphill climb as a Democrat in a red state, no matter his famous name.

Leonardo da Vinci’s resume [Marc Cenedella] (4/13/15)

Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

Baseball is struggling to hook kids — and risks losing fans to other sports [Marc Fisher on Washington Post] (4/5/15)

According to Nielsen ratings, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent 10 years ago. ESPN, which airs baseball, football and basketball games, says its data show the average age of baseball viewers rising well above that of other sports: 53 for baseball, 47 for the NFL (also rising fast) and 37 for the NBA, which has kept its audience age flat…Baseball’s economic model is different from that of other sports. Its TV audience is primarily local and strong in pockets. In 11 markets where the sport does well — St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati and Boston top the list — the home team’s games are the most-watched programs on TV all summer…But many of those who study baseball’s appeal say they don’t see evidence that pace is the problem or the solution. Football games are often longer than baseball games, and few complain about their length, says Michael Haupert, an economist at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse who studies the business of baseball…But baseball’s troubles have at least as much to do with larger changes in society as with the rules of the game. In a time of rapidly shifting family structure, increased sports specialization and declining local identity, baseball finds itself at odds with social change. Participation in all sports has dropped by more than 9 percent nationwide over the past five years, according to an annual study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Only lacrosse has shown double-digit growth over that period. Baseball participation dropped 3 percent, basketball fell by 2 percent, and football lost 5 percent of its tackle players and 7 percent of touch players. About half of American children do not participate in any team sport. What’s distinctive about baseball’s decline is that kids leave the sport at a younger age than they fall away from basketball or football, though the dropoff is even steeper for soccer. A primary reason for kids switching out of baseball is rising pressure on youths to specialize in one sport. See Also: What the NBA gets that the other big sports leagues don’t [Roberto A. Ferdman on Washington Post] (4/6/15)

Returning to the Exurbs: Rural Counties Are Fastest Growing [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (4/15/15)

Winding up Route 400, a good 40 minutes’ north of Atlanta’s traffic-snarled freeways, are miles of farmhouses, interspersed with mobile homes, McMansions and thrift shops. Here, too, is Dawson County’s biggest draw: The North Georgia Premium Outlets, where tourists hunt for bargains at Burberry, Armani and Restoration Hardware. Despite the designer outlets, the vibe is decidedly rural Americana. Tractors chug the roads. Masonic symbols emblazon the county government building. It’s a “small town feel” that Ginny Tarver says drew her to the area from Naples, Florida, to get married and work as an executive  assistant in the county building. Dawson is one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia and reflects a demographic shift in the nation: a return to exurbia. New census data show that for the first time since 2010, the outermost suburban counties are growing faster than urban counties and close-in suburbs, according to analysis by the Brookings Institution. People are moving back to the exurbs, some for jobs, others for bigger and more affordable homes in a more wide-open space.

Repatriation Blues: Expats Struggle With the Dark Side of Coming Home [Debra Bruno on Expat on The Wall Street Journal] (4/15/15)

The struggle of repatriation is not just one of psychological adjustment. Multinational companies are finding that while they are using plenty of resources to prepare employees for an international transfer, they are less attentive to the other end of the move. The result, according to research by Brookfield Global Relocation Services, is that about 12 percent of employees leave the company within a few years of repatriation. While that percentage is similar to the overall attrition rate for companies, the number is a concern, “given the inordinate cost of international assignments,” says Diane Douiyssi of Brookfield.

Florida’s Hurricane-Free Stretch Has Insurer Bracing for Storms [on Bloomberg News] (4/15/15)

Wilma was the last hurricane to strike the state, in October 2005. It killed five people in Florida and caused $20.6 billion of damage, according to a National Hurricane Center report. The state hasn’t gone this long without a hurricane in records going back to 1851, NHC data show.

An Oral History Of How “Game Of Thrones” Went From Crazy Idea To HBO’s Biggest Hit [Nicole Laporte on Fast Company] (4/10/15)

GoT became an even bigger risk for HBO when the BBC, which had originally signed on a production partner, pulled out. With its elaborate sets and huge cast, the show costs a reported $6 million per episode. Now HBO would have to foot the whole bill.

‘Impossible’ Quantum Space Engine Actually Works – NASA Test Suggests [Arjun Walia on Collective Evolution] (2/3/15)

The propellant-less thruster is called the Cannae Drive, invented by Guido Fetta, and was tested by NASA over an eight day testing campaign that took place in August of 2013. It showed that a small amount of thrust was indeed achieved inside a container, again, without the use of any fuel. The results were then presented at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio in July the next year. You can access the paper (titled “Numerical and Experimental Results for a Novel Propulsion Technology Requiring no On-Board Propellant”) that was presented at the conference here and inventor Guido Fetta’s paper here. The paper is also available on NASA’s website, you can view it here, it’s the first link you see but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work…“Approximately 30-50 micro-Newtons of thrust were recorded from an electric propulsion test article consisting primarily of radio frequency (RF) resonant cavity excited at approximately 935 megahertz. Testing was performed on a low-thrust torsion pendulum that is capable of detecting force at a single-digit micronewton level” (source) According to, the inventor is claiming that the version NASA tested is flawed, which resulted in them collecting far lower thrust readings than the original model can provide. However, that point is irrelevant; the fact remains that there is thrust being generated from the vacuum.

The Student-Loan Problem Is Even Worse Than Official Figures Indicate [Josh Mitchell on Real Time Economics on The Wall Street Journal] (4/14/15)

Student loans are proving to be a much bigger burden on households than previously thought. Nearly one in three Americans who are now having to pay down their student debt–or a staggering 31.5%–are at least a month behind on their payments, new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests. That figure is far higher than official delinquency measures reported by the Education Department and the New York Fed. And it’s also likely the most accurate. Here’s why: The official measures reflect delinquencies as a share of all Americans with student debt, but millions of borrowers aren’t even required to make payments yet. Many are currently in college or grad school and thus don’t have to make payments until six months after they leave. Others are out of school and past that grace period but have received permission by their lender—the federal government in most cases—to suspend payments for a range of reasons, such as being unemployed. Including these borrowers in the broader pool of student-loan debt makes official delinquency rates artificially low. For example, figures from the New York Fed’s quarterly report on household credit shows roughly 17% of all student-loan borrowers were at least 30 days behind on a payment at the start of this year. That’s still a very high number, but misleading nonetheless. A more precise way of measuring delinquencies is to just look at borrowers who are required to make payments. In their new paper, St. Louis Fed researchers Juan M. Sánchez and Lijun Zhu determined that, as of Jan. 1, more than half of student-loan debt–55%– was held by borrowers who were in repayment. The remaining 45% weren’t in repayment. Stripping out the borrowers not in repayment, they concluded that 31.5% of Americans with student debt were at least 30 days behind on a payment at that time. This matches up with previous research from the New York Fed suggesting the actual delinquency rate is likely double the official delinquency measure, when excluding borrowers not in repayment.

A record 125 people were exonerated of crimes in 2014. Here are 6 of their stories. [German Lope on Vox] (1/29/15)

Cooperation with law enforcement helped increase the number of Americans absolved of previous criminal convictions to 125 in 2014 — a record high since the National Registry of Exonerations began tracking such cases in 1989…Some other findings in the report:

  • Six of the people exonerated in 2014 had been sentenced to death — three in Ohio, two in North Carolina, and one in Louisiana. Each had been imprisoned for 30 years or more.
  • Forty-seven of the 125 defendants exonerated in 2014 had pled guilty.
  • Most exonerations in 2014 — 103 of 125 — were done without DNA evidence.
  • In about 54 percent of cases, the exonerations dropped some convictions but left others on a defendant’s record.
  • There were exonerations in 27 states and some federal jurisdictions, including Washington, DC, in 2014.

Maurice Possley, senior researcher for the National Registry of Exonerations, said it’s possible that the total 2014 numbers will increase in the future. And it’s likely that some of the rise in exonerations since 1989 is due to the registry’s increased ability to find such cases.

The Alphabet of Satire [Stefan Kanfer on City Journal] (Winter 2015)

Yet today, Goldberg would be a forgotten celebrity—like hizzoner himself—had he confined himself to comic strips. Though his gags rapidly found their way into public conversation, they dated just as quickly. The pictures were amusing enough, but character was never his strength. “Mike & Ike—They Look Alike,” for example, concerned two morons who punned on standard phrases: “Ike, use the word ‘icing’ in a sentence.” “Sure, Mike—the patriotic gentleman rose and sang, ‘Sweet land of liberty, of thee “I sing.” ’ ” But all along, the graduate engineer had been waiting for an opportunity to express himself. From college onward, Goldberg had been fascinated with the devices that were changing America—vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, the telephone, the telegraph, the automobile, the airplane. Finally, as the Roaring Twenties ended, a national magazine gave him the space for comic commentaries. “The Inventions of Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts” first appeared in the January 26, 1929, issue of Collier’s. “In my cartoons,” Rube noted, “Professor Butts invented elaborate machines to accomplish such Herculean tasks as shining shoes, opening screen doors, keeping moths out of clothes closets, retrieving soap in the bathtub and other innocuous problems. Only, instead of using the scientific elements of the laboratory, I added acrobatic monkeys, dancing mice, chattering false teeth, electric eels, whirling dervishes and other incongruous elements.”

Dear Meerkats, Pay No Attention to the Human Stalking You [Patrick McGroarty on The Wall Street Journal] (4/28/15)

Habituation is a common tactic among researchers and rangers seeking close encounters with the continent’s wild beasts. The practice expanded rapidly in the latter half of the twentieth century in tandem with an explosion of tourism and study of African fauna. Now, an army of habituators across the continent’s parks and reserves are busy befriending everything from hornbills to hippos. Meerkat mollification is painstaking work: Habituators spend months ingratiating themselves to the peripatetic colonies, edging closer and closer until the meerkats learn to ignore them. Some habituators talk to themselves on approach to familiarize skittish meerkats to human voices. The goal is to train the meerkats not to scurry when high-paying guests descend from safari vehicles for a closer look…Based in the sand and scrub of southern Africa’s Kalahari desert, habituators are the toast of selfie-snapping visitors. They also draw the ire of some environmentalists who say their work infringes on the desert’s natural order…But many scientists say familiarizing African animals and humans is the only way to ensure tourists will catch a glimpse of them. Those visitors provide nearly all the revenue used to protect the elephants, lions and apes that still roam Africa’s shrinking wilds, they say…Winning over the animals requires constant affirmation. Each day, Mr. Satekge or a colleague arrives before the meerkats emerge from their burrows, and returns at dusk before they scamper underground in a puff of dust…The fruits of their labors are evident. Leopards in South Africa’s Kruger National Park today use game-viewing trucks to step down from treetop perches. In East Africa’s Virunga Mountains, gorillas turn somersaults for tourists who pay hundreds of dollars to spend time among their shrinking numbers. Intrepid visitors to Cape Town plunge into the frigid Atlantic alongside great white sharks drawn to the chum tour companies use to draw them near.

Soccer Violence Escalates in Europe [Naftali Bendavid on The Wall Street Journal] (4/29/15)

Eruptions have become too frequent to list. In Spain, a 43-year-old fan died in a bloody 200-person brawl in November outside a Madrid stadium. Dutch fans in February rampaged through Rome, damaging a priceless 400-year-old fountain. Greece briefly suspended its soccer leagues this year after a series of violent outbreaks. Racist incidents, from throwing bananas at black players to anti-Semitic or antigay chanting, also appear to be rising; the U.K.-based group Kick It Out counted 71 discriminatory incidents in Britain this season compared with 43 at this point last year…Experts say statistics on soccer-related violence should be treated with caution, but some, at least, are troubling. In Germany, officials reported 7,863 soccer-related offenses last season, up from 4,576 in 2005-06. Italy saw 1,515 last year, up from 1,161. In Spain, penalties for sports-related offenses jumped by 22% last season from the previous year. Elsewhere figures suggest a halting improvement; Britain and Romania reported drops in many categories.

Bill Withers: The Soul Man Who Walked Away [Andy Greene on The Rolling Stone] (4/14/15)

Withers has been out of the spotlight for so many years that some people think he passed away. “Sometimes I wake up and I wonder myself,” he says with a hearty chuckle. “A very famous minister actually called me to find out whether I was dead or not. I said to him, ‘Let me check.’ ” Others don’t believe he is who he says: “One Sunday morning I was at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. These church ladies were sitting in the booth next to mine. They were talking about this Bill Withers song they sang in church that morning. I got up on my elbow, leaned into their booth and said, ‘Ladies, it’s odd you should mention that because I’m Bill Withers.’ This lady said, ‘You ain’t no Bill Withers. You’re too light-skinned to be Bill Withers!’ ”

This Is How Fast America Changes Its Mind [Alex Tribou and Keith Collins on Bloomberg News] (4/26/15)

Eleven years after Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the Supreme Court on April 28 will hear arguments about whether to extend that right nationwide. The case comes amid a wave of gay marriage legalization: 28 states since 2013, and 36 overall. Such widespread acceptance in a short amount of time isn’t a phenomenon unique to gay marriage. Social change in the U.S. appears to follow a pattern: A few pioneer states get out front before the others, and then a key event—often a court decision or a grassroots campaign reaching maturity—triggers a rush of state activity that ultimately leads to a change in federal law.

Key Takeaways From New Census Population Data on Cities [Mike Macaig on Governing Magazine] (5/21/15)

Population growth picked up in several of the nation’s largest cities in recent years. Some of the better-known destination cities, like Austin and Denver, continue to experience impressive population gains year after year. But others that didn’t fare as well over the prior decade also appear to be welcoming more residents. Dallas’ population, for example, has grown 6.7 percent since 2010 after changing little between 2000 and the 2010 decennial Census. A few others that lost population during the prior decade have seen their population tallies stabilize, as is the case in Chicago and Baltimore. While growth slowed somewhat over the past 12 months, the population increases still represent an improvement over what many cities experienced a decade ago. When compared to July 2010 data, no city with at least a half million residents lost population with the notable exception of Detroit. These larger cities grew an average of 4.9 percent over the four-year period. That’s a faster average rate than that of mid-size and smaller cities, representing a reversal of what occurred over the prior decade.

2015’s Most Diverse Cities in America [Richie Bernardo on WalletHub]

And thanks to its ever-expanding diversity, the U.S. remains forward-looking and extremely adaptable to change. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, economies generally fare better when they openly embrace and capitalize on new ideas. Conversely, those relying on old ways and specialized industries tend to be more susceptible to the negative effects of market volatility. As the culmination to our series on diversity studies, this final installment combines our previous reports on economic class diversity, ethno-racial and linguistic diversity, and diversified economies with household diversity to paint the clearest image of America’s cities today. Recognizing that economic opportunity follows diversity, where in the U.S. would you rather live? Better yet, where would your unique background be most valuable to society?

Where Has Housing Grown the Fastest Since 2010? [Jake Grovum on Stateline] (5/21/15)

In every state except for Rhode Island, the number of housing units increased between 2010 to 2014. North Dakota outpaced the rest of the states with 10% growth, more than double the next closest state, Texas, with 4.3%. On average, the number of housing units in the states and the District of Columbia grew 1.8%.

High Times on Wall Street [Dune Lawrence on Bloomberg Businessweek] (6/19/14)

Reliable figures are hard to come by, but the market for marijuana is large and growing. From 2002 to 2010, the amount of marijuana consumed in the U.S. likely increased about 40 percent, with consumers spending $30 billion to $60 billion in 2010, according to a February report by Rand Corp. for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Regulatory and legal questions, as well as the stigma associated with cannabis, muddy the prospects for investors. Privateer Holdings, another private equity fund focusing on the industry, is an instructive example. Privateer started by approaching 10 billionaires, all outspoken advocates of legalization, all of whom passed, says Chief Executive Officer Brendan Kennedy (no relation to Michael Kennedy). It took Privateer 18 months starting in 2011 to raise $7 million. Over four years, executives of the fund approached 20 banks about setting up a basic business checking account. Seventeen turned them down, and the three that initially agreed ended up closing the accounts. The money is starting to flow more easily. Privateer raised $15 million in February and expects to secure more than $50 million in July. One of the companies it has invested in, Leafly, is an online competitor to High Times, calling itself “the world’s largest cannabis information resource.”

How A Lawsuit Over Hot Coffee Helped Erode the 7th Amendment [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (5/10/14)

Despite the rhetoric of businesses under attack by greedy Americans, the evidence does not show an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits winning jackpots. As Priceonomics wrote previously, rather than exploding, the number of tort (injury) cases in America decreased 25% from 1999 to 2008 and fell 9% in the nineties. Only 5% of civil cases result in punitive damages for an average $50,000 to $60,000, not millions. Today, the full story of the McDonalds coffee case has gone viral. A quick Google search will reveal many media outlets that ran stories on the case. Recently Upworthy posted a video produced for the New York Times about Liebeck’s story and it went viral. But the main reason revealing the truth of Liebeck’s case finds such an interested audience is that the misinterpretation of Liebeck as a greedy woman who won the lottery through her lawsuit is accepted as fact. And that has a lot to do with how it was used as a public relations strategy by special interests.

The end of sleep? [Jessa Gamble on Aeon Magazine] (4/10/13)

It is very difficult to design a stimulant that offers focus without tunnelling – that is, without losing the ability to relate well to one’s wider environment and therefore make socially nuanced decisions. Irritability and impatience grate on team dynamics and social skills, but such nuances are usually missed in drug studies, where they are usually treated as unreliable self-reported data. These problems were largely ignored in the early enthusiasm for drug-based ways to reduce sleep. They came to light in an ingenious experimental paradigm designed at the government agency Defence Research and Development Canada. In 1996, the defence psychologist Martin Taylor paired volunteers and gave each member of the duo a map. One of the two maps had a route marked on it and the task was for the individual who had the marked map to describe it accurately enough for their partner to reproduce it on their map. Meanwhile, the researchers listened in on the verbal dialogue. Control group volunteers often introduced a landmark on the map by a question such as: ‘Do you see the park just west of the roundabout?’ Volunteers on the stimulant modafinil omitted these feedback requests, instead providing brusque, non-question instructions, such as: ‘Exit West at the roundabout, then turn left at the park.’ Their dialogues were shorter and they produced less accurate maps than control volunteers. What is more, modafinil causes an overestimation of one’s own performance: those individuals on modafinil not only performed worse, but were less likely to notice that they did. One reason why stimulants have proved a disappointment in reducing sleep is that we still don’t really understand enough about why we sleep in the first place. More than a hundred years of sleep deprivation studies have confirmed the truism that sleep deprivation makes people sleepy. Slow reaction times, reduced information processing capacity, and failures of sustained attention are all part of sleepiness, but the most reliable indicator is shortened sleep latency, or the tendency to fall asleep faster when lying in a dark room. An exasperatingly recursive conclusion remains that sleep’s primary function is to maintain our wakefulness during the day.

Citizen Bezos [Steve Coll on New York Review of Books] (7/10/14)

Among the management books Bezos read devotedly were ones by and about Walmart executives. He became inspired by Walmart’s example of delivering low prices to customers and profits to shareholders by wringing every dime possible out of suppliers. By 2004, Amazon had acquired significant market power. It then began to squeeze publishers for more favorable financial terms. If a book publisher did not capitulate to Amazon, it would modify its algorithms to reduce the visibility of the offending publisher’s books; within a month, “the publisher’s sales usually fell by as much as 40 percent,” Stone reports, and the chastened victim typically returned to the negotiating table. “Bezos kept pushing for more” and suggested that Amazon should negotiate with small publishers “the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” This remark—a joke, one of Bezos’s lieutenants insisted—yielded a negotiating program that Amazon executives referred to as “the Gazelle Project,” under which the company pressured the most vulnerable publishers for concessions. Amazon’s lawyers, presumably nervous that such a direct name might attract an antitrust complaint, insisted that it be recast as the Small Publisher Negotiation Program. Around this time, Amazon also jettisoned its in-house writers and editors and replaced them with an algorithm, Amabot, that relied on customer data rather than editorial judgment to recommend books. The spread of aggression and automation within Amazon as the company grew larger and larger echoed classics of the science fiction genre to which Bezos was devoted. An anonymous employee bought an ad in a Seattle newspaper to protest the change. “DEAREST AMABOT,” the ad began. “If you only had a heart to absorb our hatred… Thanks for nothing, you jury-rigged rust bucket. The gorgeous messiness of flesh and blood will prevail!” Will it, though? Over the last decade, Amazon’s growing market share and persistent bullying, particularly in the realm of digital books, where it now controls about two thirds of the market, raise the question of how well competition and antitrust law can protect diverse authors and publishers. Amazon has become a powerful distribution bottleneck for books at the same time that it is also moving to create its own books, in competition with the very publishers it is squeezing.

Everything You Need to Know About Facebook’s Controversial Emotion Experiment [Michelle N. Meyer on Wired] (6/30/14)

For one week in 2012, Facebook altered the algorithms it uses to determine which status updates appeared in the News Feed of 689,003 randomly selected users (about 1 of every 2,500 Facebook users). The results of this study were just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). As the authors explain, “[b]ecause people’s friends frequently produce much more content than one person can view,” Facebook ordinarily filters News Feed content “via a ranking algorithm that Facebook continually develops and tests in the interest of showing viewers the content they will find most relevant and engaging.” In this study, the algorithm filtered content based on its emotional content. A post was identified as “positive” or “negative” if it used at least one word identified as positive or negative by software (run automatically without researchers accessing users’ text). Some critics of the experiment have characterized it as one in which the researchers intentionally tried “to make users sad.” With the benefit of hindsight, they claim that the study merely tested the perfectly obvious proposition that reducing the amount of positive content in a user’s News Feed would cause that user to use more negative words and fewer positive words themselves and/or to become less happy (more on the gap between these effects in a minute). But that’s not what some prior studies would have predicted. Previous studies both in the U.S. and in Germany had found that the largely positive, often self-promotional content that Facebook tends to feature has made users feel bitter and resentful—a phenomenon the German researchers memorably call “the self-promotion-envy spiral.” Those studies would have predicted that reducing the positive content in a user’s feed might actually make users less sad. And it makes sense that Facebook would want to determine what will make users spend more time on its site rather than close that tab in disgust or despair. The study’s first author, Adam Kramer of Facebook, confirms —on Facebook, of course—that they did indeed want to investigate the theory that seeing friends’ positive content makes users sad.

The Power of Two [Joshua Wolf Shenk on The Atlantic] (July/August 2014)

For centuries, the myth of the lone genius has towered over us, its shadow obscuring the way creative work really gets done. The attempts to pick apart the Lennon-McCartney partnership reveal just how misleading that myth can be, because John and Paul were so obviously more creative as a pair than as individuals, even if at times they appeared to work in opposition to each other. The lone-genius myth prevents us from grappling with a series of paradoxes about creative pairs: that distance doesn’t impede intimacy, and is often a crucial ingredient of it; that competition and collaboration are often entwined. Only when we explore this terrain can we grasp how such pairs as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy all managed to do such creative work. The essence of their achievements, it turns out, was relational. If that seems far-fetched, it’s because our cultural obsession with the individual has obscured the power of the creative pair.

Inside Monsanto, America’s Third-Most-Hated Company [Drake Bennett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/3/14)

In a Harris Poll this year measuring the “reputation quotient” of major companies, Monsanto ranked third-lowest, above BP and Bank of America and just behind Halliburton. For much of its history it was a chemical company, producing compounds used in electrical equipment, adhesives, plastics, and paint. Some of those chemicals—DDT, Agent Orange, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—have had long and controversial afterlifes. The company is best known, however, as the face of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. On May 24, cities worldwide saw the second annual “March Against Monsanto.” In New York City, a couple thousand protesters gathered in Union Square, next to a farmers’ market, to hear speakers charge that the company was fighting efforts in states all over the country to mandate the labeling of GM foods; that organic crops were being polluted by GM pollen blown in on the wind, only for Monsanto to sue the organic farmers for intellectual-property theft; that Monsanto had developed a “Terminator” gene that made crops sterile. Some of the protesters were dressed as bees—studies have found a connection between the colony collapse die-off of honeybees and a common class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. (Monsanto does not make neonicotinoids, but it does incorporate them into some of its seed treatments.)…Widespread public suspicion of GM crops has not stopped their spread: According to the Department of Agriculture, 90 percent of the corn and cotton and 93 percent of the soybeans planted in the U.S. last year were genetically modified. These are commodity crops used mostly for animal feed and fuel ethanol, but they also provide the corn syrup in bottled beverages and the soy lecithin in chocolate bars. And with the public still leery of the technology, it was perhaps inevitable that after a stretch of relative quiet the GMO wars would heat up again. The latest front is over food labeling: In the past two years, ballot initiatives that would have mandated labeling narrowly lost in Washington State and California; in May, Vermont’s governor signed a bill into law. While the debate about the impact of GM crops on the environment continues, the question of their effect on human health looks increasingly settled. The National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, Britain’s Royal Society, the European Commission, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among others, have all surveyed the substantial research literature and found no evidence that the GM foods on the market today are unsafe to eat. One of the few dissenting research papers, a 2012 study in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology that found tumors in rats fed modified maize, was retracted by the journal last fall after questions were raised about the researchers’ methodology.

Pablo Escobar’s hippos: A growing problem [William Kremer on BBC News] (6/26/14)

It was in 2007, 14 years after Escobar’s death, that people in rural Antioquia, 200 miles north-west of Bogota, began phoning the Ministry of Environment to report sightings of a peculiar animal. “They found a creature in a river that they had never seen before, with small ears and a really big mouth,” recalls Carlos Valderrama, from the charity Webconserva He went to look, and found himself faced with the task of explaining to startled villagers that this was an animal from Africa. A hippopotamus. “The fishermen, they were all saying, ‘How come there’s a hippo here?'” he recalls. “We started asking around and of course they were all coming from Hacienda Napoles. Everything happened because of the whim of a villain.” Situated halfway between the city of Medellin and Bogota, the Colombian capital, Hacienda Napoles was the vast ranch owned by the drugs baron Pablo Escobar. In the early 1980s, after Escobar had become rich but before he had started the campaign of assassinations and bombings that was to almost tear Colombia apart, he built himself a zoo. He smuggled in elephants, giraffes and other exotic animals, among them four hippos – three females and one male. And with a typically grand gesture, he allowed the public to wander freely around the zoo. Buses filled with schoolchildren passed under a replica of the propeller plane that carried Escobar’s first US-bound shipments of cocaine…When Hacienda Napoles was confiscated in the early 1990s, Escobar’s menagerie was dispersed to zoos around the country. But not the hippos. For about two decades, they have wallowed in their soupy lake, watching the 20sq km (8 sq mile) park around them become neglected and overgrown – and then transformed back into a zoo and theme park, complete with water slides. All the while, the hippos themselves thrived, and multiplied. Nobody knows how many there are. The local environmental authority, which bears responsibility for them, estimates between 50 and 60, with most living in the lake at the park. But 12 are known to have paddled past the flimsy fence and into the nearby Magdalena River – and maybe many more.

India’s ‘Plastic Man’ Turns Litter Into Paved Roads [Akash Kapur on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/10/14)

As much as 40 percent of the country’s municipal waste remains uncollected, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of the waste that is collected, almost none is recycled. Most of it sits in open dumps such as the one in Madurai, leaching into the soil and contaminating groundwater. Some of it is burned, releasing dioxins and other toxic chemicals into the air. Much of India’s garbage is made up of plastic—a scourge of the nation’s new consumer economy. The country’s Central Pollution Control Board says more than 15,000 tons of plastic waste are generated daily. Although the nation’s per capita consumption of plastic is low compared with that of the U.S., it’s expected to double over the next five years as India continues to develop. This poses huge environmental, social, and economic challenges…Vasudevan sees an opportunity. A professor of chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, near Madurai, he insists that plastic gets a bad rap. Rather than an incipient environmental calamity, plastic, in Vasudevan’s opinion, is a “gift from the gods”; it’s up to humans to use it wisely. And he’s devised a way to transform common plastic litter—not only thicker acrylics and bottles but also grocery bags and wrappers—into a partial substitute for bitumen in asphalt. In recent years his method has been gaining recognition. He’s become known as Plastic Man and travels throughout India instructing engineers how to apply it. The college holds a patent for his technique but often licenses it for free. To date, more than 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) of plastic roads have been laid in at least 11 states. The Central Pollution Control Board and the Indian Roads Congress, two leading government bodies, have endorsed the method.

Secrets of the Creative Brain [Nancy C. Andreasen on The Atlantic] (July/August 2014)

A more empirical approach can be found in the early-20th-century work of Lewis M. Terman, a Stanford psychologist whose multivolume Genetic Studies of Genius is one of the most legendary studies in American psychology. He used a longitudinal design—meaning he studied his subjects repeatedly over time—which was novel then, and the project eventually became the longest-running longitudinal study in the world…Terman eventually used the Stanford-Binet test to select high-IQ students for his longitudinal study, which began in 1921. His long-term goal was to recruit at least 1,000 students from grades three through eight who represented the smartest 1 percent of the urban California population in that age group. The subjects had to have an IQ greater than 135, as measured by the Stanford-Binet test. The recruitment process was intensive: students were first nominated by teachers, then given group tests, and finally subjected to individual Stanford-Binet tests. After various enrichments—adding some of the subjects’ siblings, for example—the final sample consisted of 856 boys and 672 girls…“The Termites,” as Terman’s subjects have come to be known, have debunked some stereotypes and introduced new paradoxes. For example, they were generally physically superior to a comparison group—taller, healthier, more athletic. Myopia (no surprise) was the only physical deficit. They were also more socially mature and generally better adjusted. And these positive patterns persisted as the children grew into adulthood. They tended to have happy marriages and high salaries. So much for the concept of “early ripe and early rotten,” a common assumption when Terman was growing up. But despite the implications of the title Genetic Studies of Genius, the Termites’ high IQs did not predict high levels of creative achievement later in life. Only a few made significant creative contributions to society; none appear to have demonstrated extremely high creativity levels of the sort recognized by major awards, such as the Nobel Prize. (Interestingly, William Shockley, who was a 12-year-old Palo Alto resident in 1922, somehow failed to make the cut for the study, even though he would go on to share a Nobel Prize in physics for the invention of the transistor.) Thirty percent of the men and 33 percent of the women did not even graduate from college. A surprising number of subjects pursued humble occupations, such as semiskilled trades or clerical positions. As the study evolved over the years, the term gifted was substituted for genius. Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, a crucial conclusion from Terman’s study is that having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative. Subsequent studies by other researchers have reinforced Terman’s conclusions, leading to what’s known as the threshold theory, which holds that above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t have much effect on creativity: most creative people are pretty smart, but they don’t have to be that smart, at least as measured by conventional intelligence tests. An IQ of 120, indicating that someone is very smart but not exceptionally so, is generally considered sufficient for creative genius.

Off the Grid in a Florida Suburb, Fighting Municipal Code [Theodore Ross on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/10/14)

Speronis first took an interest in detaching from the system during the years she spent caring for her husband, Zenny, who suffered from a neurodegenerative disorder. As his condition worsened, she turned to homeopathic treatments and other unconventional regimens: raw foods, colloidal silver, an avoidance of refrigeration and air conditioning, a focus on the promotion of regular bowel movements. It was a struggle to explain to the people around her, but she provided for Zenny without doctors, pharmaceuticals, or any medical assistance until his death at 84 in 2010. She self-published a book about “freeing” him from the health-care system and “home deathing him naturally.” Speronis had worked as a real estate agent and a massage therapist, but most of her savings went to making her husband comfortable in his last days. This included the earlier purchase in 2009 of a $495,000 waterside home on a palm-lined street in Cape Coral. Speronis knew she didn’t have the money to make the mortgage payments, so she engaged in what she called a “strategic default.” Using her knowledge of the real estate industry to delay foreclosure, she stayed afloat by selling off her possessions. After the lender finally took the house in April 2012, Speronis underwent a radical ascetic conversion. She surveyed what remained of her things and asked, “Do I really need this? Is this of value to me?” She got rid of everything, from her BMW convertible to her wedding album, and attempted to establish a fully self-reliant existence. In June of that year, she bought an RV and moved onto a rented property in a nearby wooded area. She stayed for seven months, teaching herself to live without most modern conveniences…In a new home off Del Prado Boulevard, which she bought from a friend, Speronis removed and sold the oven, refrigerator, and air conditioning units, even the ducts. The house was already off the electrical grid. An earlier resident had been stealing municipal power, and the city had cut the lines and removed the meters. Speronis subsisted primarily on a year’s supply of dried and canned food she’d bought while she had the RV. She drank and bathed in rainwater, filling a four-gallon, solar-heated camp shower. Her only connection to city services was the sewer: She flushed waste down the toilet, again with rainwater. In true American fashion, Speronis began writing about her experiences as a pioneer of the subdivision. She started a blog called Off the Grid Living in Southwest Florida—One Woman’s Story. One day last November, Liza Fernandez, a reporter for WFTX, the local Fox (FOX) affiliate, decided to do a story on her. Near the end of the broadcast, Fernandez noted that Speronis’s rudimentary setup violated “most codes and ordinances” in Cape Coral and that “anyone caught living in such a home could be forcibly removed.”…The day after the Fox segment on Speronis aired, an officer from the Cape Coral code compliance division knocked on her door, rousing her two dogs, Suzie, a chihuahua, and Faith, a mixed breed. Speronis didn’t answer. The officer, taking note of the water barrels and severed power lines, stuck a placard on the door declaring the property unfit for human habitation. “Any person entering this property without official authorization,” it read, “is subject to removal and/or arrest.”…Fox continued to run segments on her, gleefully accusing the city of retaliating against her after seeing its report. City representatives offered a series of unconvincing denials, first saying they believed the home was vacant, then citing an open compliance violation—mulch blocking the municipal right-of-way—and finally a “citizen complaint.” Records, however, show the complaint had come from a city employee who had watched the show and alerted his colleagues.

Dov Charney’s Sleazy Struggle for Control of American Apparel [Susan Berfield on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/9/14)

The shareholder meeting lasted about an hour. Close to noon, the five board members entered the conference room with Charney, their chairman, for their annual face-to-face meeting. Allan Mayer, a Hollywood public-relations man whom Charney had put on the board in 2007, gave Charney an ultimatum: Resign voluntarily, give up the voting rights to his 27 percent stake, and receive a multimillion-dollar severance and a four-year consulting contract. Otherwise, be fired for misconduct. Among the charges in the termination letter: Charney had the company pay for a few plane tickets for his family; misused company money in other ways; and violated the company’s sexual-harassment policy. According to the letter, the board “recently learned that you presented significant severance packages to numerous former employees to ensure that your misconduct vis-à-vis these employees would not subject you to personal liability.” The board also cited a case that had received a lot of publicity and had been resolved confidentially. In 2011, Irene Morales, a sales associate, accused Charney of using her as a sex slave and sought damages of a quarter-billion dollars. An arbitrator dismissed those claims but found the company “vicariously liable” for the conduct of another employee who had created a fake blog in Morales’s name. Then the employee posted erotic photos of Morales on it. Charney told some board members and his lawyers that he had photos of Morales and of others accusing him of harassment that showed the women weren’t victims. The board members and lawyers didn’t object to the idea of him using the photos as part of his defense. The photos were sent to several newspapers and websites. But no one imagined that someone would put together a phony blog and post the photos there. At the June 18 meeting, Charney refused to accept either of the board’s choices. He argued that the business was doing well now, that the supposedly new misconduct was really old misconduct, and in any case it didn’t amount to enough to fire him. He noted that since he had renewed his employment contract in 2012, no new sexual-harassment cases had been filed against him. The board listened but was unmoved. An afternoon deadline was extended to early evening. Charney left the conference room several times to call his lawyer, his parents, some colleagues. Nine hours after the meeting began, he told the board he wouldn’t resign. They had a press release ready. It said Charney had been ousted as chairman, suspended as chief executive, and would be officially fired after a 30-day waiting period, as his contract required.

What’s Killing the Children in Jadugora, India? [Rakteem Katakey, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Tom Lasseter on Bloomberg News] (7/8/14)

Sanjay and Rakesh live near Jadugora, a town of 19,500 people about 850 road miles (1,370 kilometers) from New Delhi in east India’s Jharkhand state. Once ringed by lush tribal forests, Jadugora is today a troubling portrait of modern India, its outskirts a postcard of pastel-painted mud houses scattered amid tidy rice fields, its center the hub of India’s uranium mining industry that is fueling an unprecedented nuclear power boom. It’s here that state-run Uranium Corp. of India Ltd. is licensed by the Indian government to gouge hundreds of thousands of tons of uranium ore out of the ground each year, while just over a hill, an easy walk from the village, 193 acres of ponds holding mildly radioactive waste stand largely unguarded save for no-trespassing signs. For years, these desperately poor people living in scattered villages in the shadow of these mines have been tormented by a mystery: What’s causing the wasting diseases that are deforming and killing so many of their children? Sanjay’s 70-year-old grandfather, a bare-chested, barefoot man rendered lean by hard work and a sparse diet, offers an observation shared by many here — that before the mines came, children did not crawl around in the dirt and die. He might be dismissed as an illiterate, grieving relative of a crippled boy and a dead girl except that outsiders, including the Jharkhand High Court and environmental activist groups, suggest he may be right. In February, the High Court in the state capital of Ranchi filed a petition that pointed to the mines operated by Uranium Corp. since 1967. Shocked by photographs of the area’s sick and deformed children in the Indian press, the court ordered the company and relevant government agencies to explain what measures they were taking to protect the health of those living in villages around the mines…In 2007, an Indian physicians group published survey results showing villagers near the mines reported levels of congenital deformities and deaths from such deformities far higher than those 20 miles away. In 2008, the Jharkhandi Organization Against Radiation, a local activist group, collected water samples from 10 Jadugora-area locations, including wells and streams. Seven were shown to have unsafe levels of heavy metals — including lead, a byproduct of uranium mining, and mercury. Bloomberg News reporters in June took water samples at two sites. Results from an independent testing laboratory found mercury and lead levels within acceptable government guidelines. The lab did find a potentially problematic reading for uranium in water that could make its way into local wells. In response to the High Court’s petition, Uranium Corp. and government agencies in March and April filed 337 pages of affidavits and exhibits, obtained by Bloomberg News and never before made public, amounting to a categorical denial by the company that it bears responsibility for Jadugora-area health issues. A similar query in 2004, one company document said, was dismissed for lack of evidence before India’s Supreme Court. The affidavits also included a document from a provincial regulatory agency detailing Uranium Corp.-backed studies conducted from 2010 to 2012 in 16 villages involving 4,557 examinations of children and adults that produced no cases of congenital malformation. That included three villages near Jadugora where Bloomberg News reporters easily found children and adults with deformities.

Pentagon report predicted West’s support for Islamist rebels would create ISIS [Nafeez Ahmed on Medium] (5/22/15)

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.” According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.

Ex-Virginia Lawmaker Vows to Marry the Teenager He Got Pregnant (and Run for Senate) [Travis Fain on The Daily Press (Newport News, VA) via Governing Magazine] (5/22/15)

Former Del. Joe Morrissey promised Thursday to marry the mother of his latest child, which would cement a relationship that got him tossed into the jail cell that served as his nightly home during the last legislative session. Morrissey, 57, held a joint press conference with 19-year-old Myrna Pride Thursday to correct, he said, misinformation floating about their relationship and his fitness as a father. He confirmed that he has four children by four women. Two of the children are adults, one a young child and the latest a two-and-a-half-month old named Chase, he said. Any talk of him not being involved in his younger children’s lives is false, Morrissey said. With Pride seated next to him and Chase in another room at Morrissey’s office the long-time — and once disbarred — criminal attorney known as “Fightin’ Joe” said the three live together in downtown Richmond.

A ‘Pattern or Practice’ of Violence in America [Matt Stroud and Mira Rojanasakul on Bloomberg News] (5/26/15)

DOJ involvement in any form can be expensive. That 2012 consent decree with the New Orleans Police Department came in at more than $10 million. DOJ involvement cost Seattle at least $5 million. Just last week, Albuquerque’s city council agreed to pay $4.5 million for a federal independent monitor of its embattled police department. In the best possible circumstances, the expense and time prove worthwhile. It took DOJ four years to reach a consent decree with the LAPD after opening its investigation in 1996. A Harvard study published in 2009 found that crime rates decreased significantly over the eight years that the consent decree was in force. People became more satisfied with the way officers conducted themselves, complaints of racial biases decreased, and “both the management and the governance of the LAPD have also changed for the better,” the study concludes. Mixed outcomes are more common. After eight years under a consent decree, Pittsburgh’s police department made “long-term improvements in police accountability,” according to a 2005 study by the Vera Institute, a New York-based think tank focused on criminal justice policy. Since then, Pittsburgh’s police department has made headlines involving violent incidents, including the 2010 beating of an unarmed high school student. A former police chief, Nate Harper, is serving time in federal prison for conspiracy and fraud charges. And while New Orleans’ ongoing DOJ consent decree hasn’t led to police chiefs being thrown in federal prison, it’s not going as smoothly as one might hope. Just last week, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan scolded the New Orleans Police Department to “pick up the pace” in implementing much-needed changes to the force. “I’ve made clear that my disappointment is not going to continue,” the judge said.

Instead of Playing Golf, the World’s Elderly Are Staging Heists and Robbing Banks [Carol Matlack on Bloomberg News] (5/28/15)

South Korea reported this month that crimes committed by people 65 and over rose 12.2 percent from 2011 to 2013—including an eye-popping 40 percent increase in violent crime—outstripping a 9.6 percent rise in the country’s elderly population during the period. In Japan, crime by people over 65 more than doubled from 2003 to 2013, with elderly people accounting for more shoplifting than teenagers. In the Netherlands, a 2010 study found a sharp rise in arrests and incarceration of elderly people. And in London, police say that arrests of people 65 and over rose 10 percent from March 2009 to March 2014, even as arrests of under-65s fell 24 percent. The number of elderly British prison inmates has been rising at a rate more than three times that of the overall prison population for most of the past decade. The U.S seems to have escaped the trend: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of elderly crime among people aged 55 to 65 has decreased since the 1980s. While the population of elderly prison inmates has grown, that mainly reflects longer sentences, especially for drug-related crimes.

That’s Business, Man: Why Jay Z’s Tidal Is a Complete Disaster [Devin Leonard on Bloomberg News] (5/28/15)

At Terminal 5, Jay Z’s backup band halted in the middle of Say Hello to let him freestyle. He laid out the case for Tidal and skewered his competitors in verse: “So I’m the bad guy now, I hear, because I won’t go with the flow?” He said Apple executive Jimmy Iovine had offered him “a safety net,” presumably in the form of a payment for endorsing the company’s forthcoming streaming-music service, and that Google had “dangled around a crazy check.” (Apple and Google declined to comment.) Jay Z dissed “middlemen,” griping that YouTube paid him “a tenth” of what he deserved. “You know n—-s died for equal pay, right? You know when I work, I ain’t your slave, right?” Jay Z even drew parallels between his situation and the police killings of young black men such as Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.

Palestine’s abandoned parliament – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 46 [Ilene Prusher on The Guardian] (5/29/15)

Today, the only life to be found inside what were supposed to be Palestinian corridors of power, is a tired dog who doesn’t bother to bark at us and a desert snake curled up on top of a door frame. The main plenum hall, built in a semi-circle on levels that descend towards a speaker’s platform at the bottom of the hall, is roomy compared to the current space in the city of Ramallah – the meeting place of the Palestinian Legislative Council. When the builders broke ground in 1996, the Israelis were not in the know and several politicians – including Yitzhak Rabin, as Qurei explains in the film – soon raised opposition. When the story hit the press, many Palestinians were sceptical of the very idea of putting a parliament building in Abu Dis. Some embraced the concept as a workable interim solution – a long-term agreement over Jerusalem was to be decided further down the road in the final status talks that never came – but critics viewed it as too big a compromise on their basic principle of a state whose capital is in Jerusalem. Hassan Kazen, a retired construction worker with a heavily lined face, sits on a tattered bench outside the gates of the empty parliament building. He remembers when it was being built and things were infinitely more hopeful. “I’m not optimistic today, but back then, I was. Our parliament should be inside Jerusalem,” he said. “Why did they put it here anyway?”

St. Louis’ ‘Rose Man’ killed in hit-and-run crash; suspect arrested [Joel Currier on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (5/18/15)

A bullet ended the life of St. Louis’ original “Rose Man.” A car took the life of his sibling successor. Jerrel Dean Nixon sold roses in area nightclubs as the “Rose Man,” a nickname he adopted from his brother after he was shot to death in 2008. Nixon was struck and killed Sunday night by a hit-and-run driver in St. Louis. He was 64, the same age as his brother, Lee Nixon, when he was killed seven years ago while selling roses at a Washington Park nightclub. St. Louis police say Jerrel Nixon was crossing Natural Bridge Avenue at Farrar Street in a crosswalk just before midnight Sunday when he was struck. A 2011 Chrysler 200 that was speeding east on Natural Bridge ran a red light and hit Nixon in the crosswalk.

How Ty Cobb was framed as a racist [Kyle Smith on New York Post] (5/31/15)

Why the determination to brand Cobb as the worst racist ever? Stump apparently believed a more sensational book would lead to more sales. But a large part of the story, Leerhsen notes, is simply that the accurate perception of Cobb as a hothead simply got mixed up with the fact that he was born in Georgia in 1886. Bad temper, Southerner: Must have been a racist. That’s both too broadly damning — not only were Southerners not necessarily racist, Cobb’s own father fought for better treatment of blacks — and it lets us off the hook too easily. Detecting sin in someone else is a way of announcing to the world, and to yourself, your own virtue.

Questions surround south city crash involving off-duty St. Louis cop [Jeremy Kohler on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (4/30/15)

Moments after his van crashed into a woman’s property in the Bevo Mill neighborhood just before midnight on March 27, Mark Rodebaugh was the only person those who live there saw around the wreckage. They said he was stumbling and slurring words, telling witnesses that he messed up and that he had insurance. Rodebaugh, an off-duty St. Louis police officer, was not arrested or tested for alcohol. Witnesses said six officers — including Capt. Dan Howard, one of Rodebaugh’s former supervisors — had responded to the crash. Police Chief Sam Dotson said Wednesday night that Rodebaugh had said he wasn’t driving and refused a breath test…The police department acknowledged this week that Mark Rodebaugh was suspended from duty on April 9 for 30 days, but would not discuss the reason. A police source said it was for conduct unbecoming an officer…Police had Rodebaugh’s van towed away. More than a month later, Linda Simon said, no one has compensated her for the damage to the fence. Her insurance company totaled her car and paid off the loan. She hopes her rates don’t go up.

Ferguson shooting leads cop and ex-con to find each other’s humanity [Christine Byers on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (5/17/15)

Wood, 58, joined the Bel-Ridge police about 32 years ago, and spent the past 28 in Ferguson. The robust Army veteran looks like he’s wearing a protective vest under his shirt, even when he’s not. Before Aug. 9, he figured retirement was still at least a few years away. But a fellow officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown that day, and the furor that followed, changed everything. He said he saw good officers harassed, threatened and pushed to their mental limits by angry protesters. It made the cops paranoid about responding to calls for service — and even about going home, after their personal information was published on the Internet…Foster, 38, would be an unlikely person to change that outlook. He didn’t have much respect for the police either. His record includes drug charges. He served about seven years in prison. By his own account, “I’m not no perfect person.” His father, Dennis Foster Sr., saw a murder in 1983 and was himself killed later in an apparent attempt to silence him as a witness. His mother was killed in a car crash one day while coming home from work. In the mid-1990s, Foster’s uncle, Emmitt Foster, a condemned killer, died a relatively slow death in a flawed execution. Some of the tattoos covering Foster’s torso, arms and legs tell a story of pain. Teardrops are inked below his right eye. An angel drawn on his back declares: “Cried so many tears.” Since his release from prison last year, Foster has worked a series of odd jobs, most recently with a firm that helps restaurants meet health codes. He cleans vents and fan hoods. He never joined the Michael Brown protests, but he empathized with those who regarded all police as heartless and brutal. His encounter with Wood on April 21 changed that perspective…Foster was leaving his sister’s home, he said, when without provocation his brother, Lorenzo Foster, 39, shot him in the face. Bleeding, he stumbled to the next-door neighbor’s home for help. Lorenzo followed, firing a shot that grazed Dennis Foster’s scalp, and then disappeared…Foster, his jaw broken, could only mumble. With no time to wait, Wood hoisted him over his shoulder and ran toward the SUV, parked about two houses away. He dumped Foster into the back seat and floored the gas pedal. Once Foster was in the ambulance, Wood ran back to the scene, his shirt and vest drenched in the victim’s blood. Wood didn’t hear a small group of protesters nearby, shouting at the police. Their presence at Ferguson police incidents, even sick calls, had become commonplace. But Foster’s aunt, Deanne Winters, who had rushed to the scene out of concern for the safety of both nephews, heard it and became enraged. “Go ahead and kill him already, because that’s what you’re going to do anyway,” she recalled one protester yelling. She and other family members joined hands with a police commander in prayer for the safety of them all, including Lorenzo.

Murderers’ prison break has left New York in ‘crisis situation’, governor says [Joanna Walters on The Guardian] (6/8/15)

He also said that the complicated escape operation, in which the two men cut holes in their steel cell walls and a long network of pipes leading out of the prison to a manhole cover in a public street, could have taken days to accomplish. Matt and Sweat escaped from adjoining cells by cutting holes in pipes in the prison’s heating system and had the time and nerve to leave a note bearing a smiley face and the words “Have a nice day”. They escaped in the early hours of Saturday morning from Clinton correctional facility, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border…Cuomo said authorities did not know how the pair acquired the power tools they would have needed. It was confirmed that the prison’s inventory of tools was intact and the focus was on outside contractors doing refurbishment work at the prison, which houses 3,000 inmates in the village of Dannemora, and was built in 1865.

Why are migrants fleeing Moscow? [Alec Luhn on The Guardian] (6/8/15)

Immigrant life is hard. Wages are low, and workers face discrimination and are poorly integrated into Russian society. Times have recently got more difficult than ever. The rouble has plummeted, and with falling oil prices and western sanctions, the World Bank is predicting that Russia will enter recession this year. Added to that are strict new regulations that cut further into migrant labourers’ earnings, leaving workers like Akbar rethinking their future…Last year saw a mass exodus of tens of thousands of German, American and British citizens. There were also large net decreases in the number of citizens from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan, traditionally sources of cheap labour for Russia – although they were partly compensated for by an influx from Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (countries that have or are set to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, established this year) and by a massive 858,000 Ukrainians fleeing conflict. Even so, reports suggest a downward trend in the number of labour migrants. The head of the Federal Migration Service said the number of immigrants entering Russia in the first half of January was 70% less than during the same period the year before. Yusuf Salimov of Tajik Railways said that during seasonal influxes in previous years, some trains carried up to 900 people from Dushanbe to Moscow. This year, he says, it’s been more like 100 to 150.

Satellite Images Show Economies Growing and Shrinking in Real Time [Jeff Kearns on Bloomberg News] (7/9/15)

Tavneet Suri, an associate professor of applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, is using a similar strategy to study housing conditions for her native Nairobi, Kenya. In the city’s Kibera slum, she combined surveys from researchers visiting homes with satellite photos that show structures and upgrades such as new metal roofs…GiveDirectly, a New York-based charity that makes payments to the extremely poor in Kenya and Uganda, uses satellite photos to help determine who gets donations. Families in structures with thatched roofs are more likely to receive funds than people in sturdier buildings.

Exhibit of Michael Brown’s death scene ‘atrocious’, activists say [Zach Stafford on The Guardian]

If you’re not careful as you walk into the Gallery Guichard on Chicago’s south side, you could trip over police tape that surrounds a life-size mannequin of Michael Brown’s dead body while a video of Eartha Kitt looks over him singing Angelitos Negros. Nooses and other paraphernalia largely associated with racism in the south decorate the rest of the space, a neon sign spelling out “Strange Fruit” glares against a white wall, and a Confederate flag with the names of the nine victims of the Charleston massacre – with a price tag of $4,500 – hangs behind the Kitt video. The piece sold over the weekend. The goal of this exhibition, entitled Confronting Truths: Wake Up!, by New Orleans-based artist Ti-Rock Moore is to start a larger discussion on the violence she sees white privilege produce in America from her perspective as a white female artist.

Regulating Sex [Judith Shulevitz on The New York Times] (6/27/15)

The hypothetical crime cobbles together two of the draft’s key concepts. The first is affirmative consent. The second is an enlarged definition of criminal sexual contact that would include the touching of any body part, clothed or unclothed, with sexual gratification in mind. As the authors of the model law explain: “Any kind of contact may qualify. There are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched.” So if Person B neither invites nor rebukes a sexual advance, then anything that happens afterward is illegal…The obvious comeback to this is that no prosecutor would waste her time on such a frivolous case. But that doesn’t comfort signatories of the memo, several of whom have pointed out to me that once a law is passed, you can’t control how it will be used. For instance, prosecutors often add minor charges to major ones (such as, say, forcible rape) when there isn’t enough evidence to convict on the more serious charge. They then put pressure on the accused to plead guilty to the less egregious crime…He understands that the law will have to bring a light touch to the refashioning of sexual norms, which is why the current draft of the model code suggests classifying penetration without consent as a misdemeanor, a much lesser crime than a felony. This may all sound reasonable, but even a misdemeanor conviction goes on the record as a sexual offense and can lead to registration. An affirmative consent standard also shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused, which represents a real departure from the traditions of criminal law in the United States. Affirmative consent effectively means that the accused has to show that he got the go-ahead, even if, technically, it’s still up to the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn’t, or that he made a unreasonable mistake about what his partner was telling him…SO far, no one seems sure how affirmative consent will play out in the courts. According to my informal survey of American law professors, prosecutors and public defenders, very few cases relying exclusively on the absence of consent have come up for appeal, which is why they are not showing up in the case books. There may be many reasons for this. The main one is probably that most sexual assault cases — actually, most felony cases — end in plea bargains, rather than trials. But prosecutors may also not be bringing lack-of-consent cases because they don’t trust juries to find a person guilty of a sex crime based on a definition that may seem, to them, to defy common sense…Nonetheless, it’s probably just a matter of time before “yes means yes” becomes the law in most states. Ms. Suk told me that she and her colleagues have noticed a generational divide between them and their students. As undergraduates, they’re learning affirmative consent in their mandatory sexual-respect training sessions, and they come to “believe that this really is the best way to define consent, as positive agreement,” she says. When they graduate and enter the legal profession, they’ll probably reshape the law to reflect that belief.

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