Archive for September, 2015


Roundup – A Talking Cat!?!

Best of the Best

This Is How Uber Takes Over a City [Karen Weise on Bloomberg News] (6/23/15)

Soon they sketched out a compromise. Uber would temporarily cease operations in Portland—a first for the company—and the city would put the lawsuit on hold and give Uber the deadline it wanted, promising to have a community task force figure out rules to get Uber back on the street by early April. It was a brilliant agreement. The city could look like it tamed Uber without costly litigation, and Uber cut in line and became a top political priority. It had a firm timeline, and if for some reason the process fell apart, Uber could say it tried to cooperate. The Wall Street Journal cited the agreement to show “How Sharp-Elbowed Uber Is Trying to Make Nice.”

Banned, but Bountiful: Marijuana Coveted by NFL Players as Invaluable Painkiller [Mike Freeman on Bleacher Report]

What’s clear is that numerous players smoke weed. Some because they like it. Some because it helps them deal with the rigors of football. Some because they believe marijuana helps ease the crushing and kaleidoscopic effects of concussions. All of this is done right under the nose of the league…Though not selected for that reason, 15 of the 16 players I surveyed said they smoke pot. All described using marijuana for medicinal purposes, while four said they also used it for recreational reasons. All 15 said they used pot after games to ease the soreness and injuries. They described smoking marijuana to calm the pain of sore ribs or a bruised thigh. None would say where they purchased the marijuana or how many ounces a week they smoke…Jackson said in the Sports on Earth article by Hruby: “There were times I had to take a little bit of pain pills. I always had some remaining in bottle. Never refilled a prescription or had to ask for more. In the back of my mind, I knew they were bad for me. But you’d see some guys popping a lot of pills as part of their normal, daily routine. Some guys were ordering big bottles of them. It’s a big problem. These guys are set up for a lifetime of addiction. I have non-football player friends dealing with opioid addictions. One is still in denial and one is just coming out of it. It’s really, really serious s—.”

Where Electric Vehicles Actually Cause More Pollution Than Gas Cars [Eric Jaffe on The Atlantic City Lab] (6/29/15)

For gas cars, calculating environmental damage was pretty straightforward. The researchers considered factors like a car’s fuel-efficiency rating (city miles for urban counties, highway miles for non-urban), pollutant dispersion (such as average wind patterns), and number of environmental damages (to health, infrastructure, crops, and so on). Together that data gave them the aggregate emissions of driving a certain gas car one mile in a given U.S. county. Determining the comparable damage from electric vehicles was a bit trickier. Here they used an EV’s fuel-efficiency equivalent (kilowatt-hours per mile) to figure out how much electricity it drew from a regional grid. They also knew the hourly emissions profiles for the five target pollutants at 1,486 power plants across the U.S. So for each county they knew how the grid responded when an EV plugged in, which told them how much environmental damage that car produced at the power plant. The researchers then converted all their damage estimates into dollar values…Metro areas in California performed best, with those in the Midwest doing the worst. Areas where EVs deserved significant subsidies included Los Angeles ($4,958), San Francisco ($3,086), and San Diego ($2,986). Dallas ($1,144) and Houston ($1,140) also fared well. Still, even in Los Angeles, where the environmental benefits of an EV relative to a gas car were highest, the calculations didn’t warrant the current federal subsidy of $7,500 per car…Elsewhere around the country, EVs showed few if any benefits relative to gas cars. At a subsidy of $184, metro New York was essentially a wash. And in many metros, EVs actually produced more environmental damage than gas cars: Atlanta (-$314), Chicago (-$900) and D.C. (-$1,077), among them. Those negative figures indicate that EVs should be taxed, rather than subsidized. In non-urban counties that tax rose to an average of $2,200, and in parts of the Midwest it neared $5,000 per car. On average, a U.S. county warranted an EV tax of $742.

Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools [Azmat Khan on Buzzfeed] (7/9/15)

Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded. But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.

Want to Meet America’s Worst Racists? Come to the Northwest [Casey Michel on Politico] (7/7/15)

Look at Oregon, for instance. As Walidah Imarisha of Portland State University’s Black Studies Department told me, “Oregon was founded as a state, as a territory, as a white homeland. Folks who answered that call wanted to build their perfect white society.” And not in the same vein of a three-fifths-clause South, where black Americans would be tolerated, if in servitude. Oregon would be different. While the state remained in the Union—and actually proved pivotal to Abraham Lincoln’s nomination on the Republican ticket—Oregon’s founders mentioned racial unity in the state’s original documents. To wit, the 1850 Oregon Donation Land Act allowed free land to whites alone. And during an 1857 vote on the constitution’s formulation, some 83 percent of participants voted to prohibit “free negroes” from living or working in the state. Chief Justice George Williams, who later served as attorney general for President Ulysses Grant, summed the sentiment, lobbying voters to “consecrate Oregon to the use of the white man, and exclude the negro, Chinaman, and every race of that character.” According to one researcher, Oregon was “the only state ever admitted with a black exclusion clause in its constitution.” There’s a reason, growing up in Portland, that my seventh-grade teacher informed us Oregon was often considered the most racist state west of the Mississippi. Remarkably, such laws remained in force in Oregon until 1926, allowing a white population to steer a demographic legacy apart from other parts of the country. At one point, Oregon boasted the highest per-capita membership in the Ku Klux Klan. For good measure, Oregon failed to ratify the 15th Amendment, allowing African-Americans the right to vote, until 1959; the state also didn’t formally ratify the 14th Amendment, allowing equal protection under the law, until 1973…Despite its current trappings of progress and tolerance, mid-20th century Portland, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, “was still considered the most segregated and prejudiced city on the West Coast.” Today, not only does Portland remain the whitest major metropolitan area in the country, but the city managed to slough its remaining African-American population even further in the 21st century, dropping from 6.6 percent in 2000 to 6.3 percent in 2010. Seattle’s decline has proven even steeper, with the city’s black population sagging from 8.4 percent to 7.9 percent in just 10 years, with no end to the drop in sight. All through it, Oregon—and the Pacific Northwest more broadly—remained a bastion of white supremacist visions of isolation and conformity. Trends peaked in the mid-1980s with Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations, helping to push the idea of the Northwest Territorial Imperative, of a piece with Covington’s recent push. Butler’s compound in northern Idaho eventually fizzled, but his dream, tied directly to the region’s days of primordial statehood, has continued.

Father of the brave: the man who rescues enslaved women from Isis [Mohammed A Salih on The Guardian] (7/13/15)

Abu Shujaa used to be a local merchant in Sinjar before the Isis assault, occasionally crossing the border into Syria on business. He is not willing to discuss the line of work he was in, but says it was instrumental in developing the network of people he currently manages. He was given his nickname while still a young man. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule he made illegal trips into Syria , the first when he was 18. Had he been caught, it may have cost him his life. He named his youngest son Shujaa too at the request of his friends. Abu Shujaa occasionally posts images and video of some of the people he has rescued on a Facebook page. One post shows an Isis propaganda image featuring a Yazidi boy aiming a pistol at the camera. In a subsequent post dated 10 June, he posted a photograph of himself with the same boy, after he was rescued, still dressed in the same Isis-style gown. Each of Abu Shujaa’s cells consists of between three and seven people and a number of safe houses across Isis-occupied territory in Syria. Six months ago, Isis caught and decapitated two members and placed their heads on poles in the middle of a roundabout in Raqqa, he said.

Could the gangs of Port-au-Prince form a pact to revitalise Haiti’s capital? [Michael Deibert on The Guardian] (7/14/15)

And Ti Bois, as it happens, does not appear to be the only baz that is gradually awakening to the fact that Haiti’s politicians have long used them as little more than cannon fodder, providing precious little in return as their districts sank ever-deeper into poverty. Across town, in the popular quarter of Saint Martin, a rabble-rousing deputy in Haiti’s lower house of parliament – known for his violent background and temper – recently showed up in his constituency to seek support for his political ambitions, as he always had. Instead of finding a receptive audience, he was relieved of his weapon, his money and sent out of the neighbourhood with a message not to return.

The Really Big One [Kathyrn Schulz on The New Yorker] (7/20/15)

When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover* some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says.

It’s The Trailer For ‘Ronda ArouseMe: Grounded And Pounded,’ The Ronda Rousey Porn Parody [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk] (8/26/15)

When asked about her body, Ronda Rousey famously said, “That’s why I think it’s hilarious when people say my body looks masculine or something like that. I’m just like, ‘Listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than fucking millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine.’ I think it’s femininely bad-ass as fuck because there’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose. Because, I’m not a do-nothing bitch.” It’s probably one of the most awesomely punk rock athlete quotes in history, and oddly enough, it’s probably one of the reasons that so many porn people (many of whom one might argue do have bodies that are made for fucking millionaires) absolutely love Ronda Rousey.

For late-starting backpacker, at 76, it’s the wander years [Victoria Kim on Los Angeles Times] (8/28/15)

It started with a quote he had heard on television about regret: that at the end of life, you are haunted not by the things you did, but by the things you didn’t do. A few months later, Hyo So booked a hostel bed in Cairo and took off solo from his Pico-Union apartment on his first-ever backpacking trip. Since then, he’s made his way through some 40 countries — crossing the Gobi Desert, chatting with Maasai tribesmen in Kenya, charming fellow backpackers in Kingston by singing “Jamaica Farewell.” He’s been mistaken for a beggar in Central America while holding an empty coffee cup, kept awake in threadbare dorm rooms with more than a dozen other beds, and inflicted with more than his share of traveler’s diarrhea. “Life is experiences — and not just the good, positive ones,” he says. “This is living.” So knows a thing or two about living — he’s 76 years old…Where today’s backpackers snap endless photos, blog about their travels and announce their every move on social media, So is very much analog. He doesn’t take photographs, instead committing to memory scenes like the relief of an angel at a Havana mausoleum that had him pondering his own mortality. His only photos are ones other travelers have taken and emailed to him. What he sees, feels, eats and learns on his travels he scribbles on scraps of paper, sometimes on the back of guitar sheet music. Jotted on those scraps are local words, the day’s weather, exchange rates, bus schedules. There are fleeting thoughts about human control of nature evoked by bonsai in Southeast Asia, insights on marriage derived from Maasai marital rites and their offerings of honey and sugar cane, reflections on religion upon hearing a 5 a.m. Muslim call to prayer in Tanzania. For all the great monuments, vast landscapes and beautiful artifacts he’s seen, what So remembers are the people he’s encountered.

Neighbor Calls Cops Because Black People “Don’t Belong” In St. Charles Subdivision [Danny Wicentowski on The Riverfront Times] (8/24/15)

On May 13, an anonymous resident contacted the St. Charles County Police Department to report suspicious activity: “Several [black male] subjects walking down the street with dogs and snapping pics of homes. Caller [advised] that this is an all white neighborhood and they do not belong.” The dog-walkers were the three children of Maritha Hunter-Butler, who’d moved her family into a 2,600-square-foot home just four days before the anonymous complaint. According to a police report, officers were dispatched to the area and took no action. “If the caller calls back,” the report concluded, “[advise] them that a black family lives in the neighborhood.”

Teacher who was late 111 times says he was eating breakfast [Shawn Marsh on The Associated Press via SFGate] (8/28/15)

In a decision filed Aug. 19, an arbitrator in New Jersey rejected an attempt by the Roosevelt Elementary School in New Brunswick to fire Anderson from his $90,000-a-year job, saying he was entitled to progressive discipline. But the arbitrator also criticized Anderson’s claim that the quality of his teaching outweighed his tardiness. Anderson was late 46 times in the most recent school year through March 20 and 65 times in the previous school year, the arbitrator said. Anderson said he was one to two minutes late to school “at the most” but was prepared and was never late for class. “I have to cut out eating breakfast at home,” he said Friday. Anderson remains suspended without pay until Jan. 1. A message seeking comment was left Friday with the school superintendent’s office. The arbitrator found that the district failed to provide Anderson with due process by not providing him with a formal notice of inefficiency or giving him 90 days to correct his failings before terminating his employment.

Hillary Clinton Has More Than a Million Fake Twitter Followers. What Does It Mean? [Wayne Rash on Yahoo! Tech] (8/27/15)

Fake Twitter followers abound among the U.S. presidential candidates as they gear up for the election in 2016. And Hillary Clinton isn’t the only candidate with more than a million of them. GOP frontrunner Donald Trump also has well over a million fake followers. Other candidates have them, too, but not as many (in large part because they don’t have as many followers, period).

Russell Wilson: The Chosen One [Stephen Rodrick on The Rolling Stone] (8/26/15)

Wilson is an investor in Reliant Recovery Water, a $3-per-bottle concoction with nanobubbles and electrolytes that purportedly helps people recover quickly from workouts and, according to Wilson, injury. He mentions a teammate whose knee healed miraculously, and then he shares his own testimonial. “I banged my head during the Packers game in the playoffs, and the next day I was fine,” says Wilson. “It was the water.” Rodgers offers a hasty interjection. “Well, we’re not saying we have real medical proof.” But Wilson shakes his head, energized by the subject. He speaks with an evangelist’s zeal. “I know it works.” His eyes brighten. “Soon you’re going to be able to order it straight from Amazon.”

The Fembots of Ashley Madison [Annalee Newitz on Gizmodo] (8/27/15)

It appears that as much as they tried, Ashley Madison was unable to create a process that was more automated and efficient than simply hiring people to generate fake profiles by hand. There’s definitely something dark and hilarious in Biderman’s huffing about profile-makers’ “creativity problems.” But generating thousands of real-sounding fake profiles is hard work. These emails make clear that the company engaged in a deliberate, elaborate, multi-year campaign to create fake profiles for audiences all over the world. And it was something that many senior employees know about. Indeed, earlier this week, the Daily Dot’s Dell Cameron reported that former Ashley Madison spokesperson Louise Van der Velde threatened to expose the “false data” on the site, writing in an email to the company’s general counsel that there are “really no women.” In a possibly deliberate irony, Ashley Madison’s logo is nearly identical to the poster for the remake of The Stepford Wives, a movie about a gated community where all the men replace their wives with beautiful, cheerful robots. And yet somehow, Ashley Madison kept growing and luring more men into its house of mirrors. Two software auditors who looked at the recent dump of the site code told me that you could see that the company’s main technical struggle had been with scaling. The original database appears to have been dumped into a newer, bigger schema at some point, and admins kept stretching the database beyond its limits, adding more and more profiles to keep up with demand.

The Trouble with Teaching Rape Law [Jeannie Suk on The New Yorker] (12/15/14)

Until the mid-nineteen-eighties, rape law was not taught in law schools, because it wasn’t considered important or suited to the rational pedagogy of law-school classrooms. The victims of rape, most often women, were seen as emotionally involved witnesses, making it difficult to ascertain what really happened in a private encounter. This skepticism toward the victim was reflected in the traditional law of rape, which required a woman to “resist to the utmost” the physical force used to make her have intercourse. Trials often included inquiries into a woman’s sexual history, because of the notion that a woman who wasn’t virginal must have been complicit in any sex that occurred. Hard-fought feminist reforms attacked the sexism in rape law, and eventually the topic became a major part of most law schools’ mandatory criminal-law course. Today, nobody doubts its importance to law and society. But my experience at Harvard over the past couple of years tells me that the environment for teaching rape law and other subjects involving gender and violence is changing. Students seem more anxious about classroom discussion, and about approaching the law of sexual violence in particular, than they have ever been in my eight years as a law professor. Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic. These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might “trigger” traumatic memories. Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well… I focus on cases that test the limits of the rules, and that fall near the rapidly shifting line separating criminal conduct from legal sex. These cases involve people who previously knew each other and who perhaps even previously had sex. They cover situations in which the meaning of each party’s actions, signals, and desires may have been ambiguous to the other, or misapprehended by one or both sides…I often assign students roles in which they have to argue a side—defense or prosecution—with which they might disagree. These pedagogical tactics are common to almost every law-school topic and classroom. But asking students to challenge each other in discussions of rape law has become so difficult that teachers are starting to give up on the subject…Now more than ever, it is critical that law students develop the ability to engage productively and analytically in conversations about sexual assault. Instead, though, many students and teachers appear to be absorbing a cultural signal that real and challenging discussion of sexual misconduct is too risky to undertake—and that the risk is of a traumatic injury analogous to sexual assault itself. This is, to say the least, a perverse and unintended side effect of the intense public attention given to sexual violence in recent years. If the topic of sexual assault were to leave the law-school classroom, it would be a tremendous loss—above all to victims of sexual assault.

Price for TSA’s failed body scanners: $160 million [Jennifer Scholtes on Politico] (8/17/15)

And for that money, lawmakers privy to classified reports say, the TSA has gotten a woeful failure rate. Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson has such low confidence in the scanners’ ability to catch explosives and weapons that he says the agency should make fliers walk through metal detectors after passing through the body imaging machines.

Donald Trump: Leader of the Mercantilist Zombie Apocalypse [Streetwise Professor] (8/25/15)

Perhaps to give him more intellectual credit than he deserves, Trump is a died-in-the-wool mercantilist who believes trade is a zero sum game, and who favors protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbor currency policies. He talks like it is the late-80s, and Japan is still an economic juggernaut that will overwhelm the US, completely overlooking the fact that Japan’s crypto-mercantilist policies gifted it a 25 year long lost decade, and that neo-mercantilist China is on the brink of the same fate. If it is lucky. Adam Smith is spinning in his grave. But alas, mercantilism is a like a zombie. It has no brain, and has proven impossible to kill. Which means, I guess, that in Donald Trump, it has found its perfect advocate.

Exclusive: Dozens of Clinton emails were classified from the start, U.S. rules suggest [Jonathan Allen on Reuters] (8/21/15)

While the department is now stamping a few dozen of the publicly released emails as “Classified,” it stresses this is not evidence of rule-breaking. Those stamps are new, it says, and do not mean the information was classified when Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner in the 2016 presidential election, first sent or received it. But the details included in those “Classified” stamps — which include a string of dates, letters and numbers describing the nature of the classification — appear to undermine this account, a Reuters examination of the emails and the relevant regulations has found. The new stamps indicate that some of Clinton’s emails from her time as the nation’s most senior diplomat are filled with a type of information the U.S. government and the department’s own regulations automatically deems classified from the get-go — regardless of whether it is already marked that way or not. In the small fraction of emails made public so far, Reuters has found at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails, that include what the State Department’s own “Classified” stamps now identify as so-called ‘foreign government information.’ The U.S. government defines this as any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to U.S. officials by their foreign counterparts. This sort of information, which the department says Clinton both sent and received in her emails, is the only kind that must be “presumed” classified, in part to protect national security and the integrity of diplomatic interactions, according to U.S. regulations examined by Reuters.

The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t [Steven Johnson on The New York Times] (8/19/15)

The problem with the O.E.S. data is that it doesn’t track self-­employed workers, who are obviously a large part of the world of creative production. For that section of the culture industry, the best data sources are the United States Economic Census, which is conducted every five years, and a firm called Economic Modeling Specialists International, which tracks detailed job numbers for self-­employed people in specific professions. If anything, the numbers from the self-­employed world are even more promising. From 2002 to 2012, the number of businesses that identify as or employ ‘‘independent artists, writers and performers’’ (which also includes some athletes) grew by almost 40 percent, while the total revenue generated by this group grew by 60 percent, far exceeding the rate of inflation. What do these data sets have to tell us about musicians in particular? According to the O.E.S., in 1999 there were nearly 53,000 Americans who considered their primary occupation to be that of a musician, a music director or a composer; in 2014, more than 60,000 people were employed writing, singing or playing music. That’s a rise of 15 percent, compared with overall job-­market growth during that period of about 6 percent. The number of self-­employed musicians grew at an even faster rate: There were 45 percent more independent musicians in 2014 than in 2001. (Self-­employed writers, by contrast, grew by 20 percent over that period.) Of course, Baudelaire would have filed his tax forms as self-­employed, too; that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also destitute. Could the surge in musicians be accompanied by a parallel expansion in the number of broke musicians? The income data suggests that this just isn’t true. According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-­employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-­Napster era — not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves. Somehow the turbulence of the last 15 years seems to have created an economy in which more people than ever are writing and performing songs for a living.

Trump’s mass deportation idea was tried in the 1930s [Russell Contreras on The Associated Press] (8/30/15) – RW

During the Great Depression, counties and cities in the American Southwest and Midwest forced Mexican immigrants and their families to leave the U.S. over concerns they were taking jobs away from whites despite their legal right to stay. The result: Around 500,000 to 1 million Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans were pushed out of the country during the 1930s repatriation, as the removal is sometimes called. During that time, immigrants were rounded up and sent to Mexico, sometimes in public places and often without formal proceedings. Others, scared under the threat of violence, left voluntarily. About 60 percent of those who left were American citizens, according to various studies on the 1930s repatriation. Later testimonies show families lost most of their possessions and some family members died trying to return. Neighborhoods in cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles became empty.

Even for Companies, the U.S. Is Split Between Haves and Have-Nots [Sam Wilkin on Harvard Business Review] (8/27/15)

Economywide ROIC has trended downward since the 1980s, falling from above 6% in the mid-1960s to 5% in 1980, then to 3% in 1990, and to only a bit more than 1% by 2010. Deloitte attributes this fall in part to rising competitive intensity, as a result of new technologies and lower entry barriers. But this phenomenon of rising competitive intensity does not, evidently, apply to all firms. An increasing number of U.S. companies have enjoyed supernormal rates of return. In 1960, only a tiny proportion of major American firms earned an ROIC of 50% or more. The proportion rose slowly and relatively steadily, reaching 5% by the mid-1990s. It then leapt suddenly to 14% by the 2005–2007 period. So although you might expect that in a hypercompetitive environment, ambitious companies would constantly wrest market share from the leading firms, the reality is quite the opposite…What are the underlying drivers of this trend? There are many. But the one I would point to first is the rising popularity and growing applicability of patents. McKinsey notes that since the 1960s, the industries that have sustained the highest average returns are those that “rely on sustainable competitive advantages such as patents and brands.” And patenting activity has recently exploded. The number of patents filed in the U.S. doubled over the 30 years from 1960. The figure then grew by about 3.5 times over the subsequent 20 years. This acceleration was in part driven by the extension of patent law to apply to software in the 1980s, and then by its further extension to business processes in 1998.

The Lowly Lightbulb Outshines Solar and Wind on U.S. Power Grids [Naureen Malik on Bloomberg News] (8/13/15)

Lighting accounts for about 5 percent of a home’s energy budget and switching to more efficient bulbs is one of the fastest ways to cut those costs, according to the Energy Department. LEDs use 75 to 80 percent less energy than incandescents and last 25 times longer. LEDs will account for 83 percent of the lighting market share by 2020 and almost all of it 10 years later, the Energy Department says. The cost of the bulbs has fallen by more than 85 percent in six years, according to ACEEE, a Washington-based non-profit that promotes conservation. Bulbs are now available for less than $5.

This Company Is Still Making Audio Cassettes and Sales Are Better Than Ever [Jeniece Pettitt on Bloomberg News] (9/1/15)

The audiocassette tape is not dead. In fact, one Springfield, Mo., cassette maker says it has had its best year since it opened in 1969. “You can characterize our operating model as stubbornness and stupidity. We were too stubborn to quit,” said National Audio Company President Steve Stepp. NAC is the largest and one of the few remaining manufacturers of audiocassettes in the U.S. The profitable company produced more than 10 million tapes in 2014 and sales are up 20 percent this year…NAC has deals with major record labels like Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group as well as a number of small contracts with indie bands. About 70 percent of the company’s sales are from music cassettes while the rest are blank cassettes. “There was a drive from the independent bands to get that warm analog sound again, and it just continued to grow and grow,” said NAC Production Manager Susie Brown. The company still uses machines built in the 1970s in its production lines.

Music Festivals: Peace, Love and a Business Battle [Neil Shah on The Wall Street Journal] (7/30/15)

The competition shows how much the $6 billion North American concert industry—long focused on arenas, amphitheaters, and stadiums—is tilting toward music festivals, which offer dozens of artists, specialty foods and other amenities…Consolidation of the festival business could mean more homogenous festival lineups, music experts say, if Live Nation and AEG Live push major acts with whom they have established relationships. The big companies’ ability to centralize deals with suppliers and headliners could potentially bring down ticket prices, although critics point out they’ll have more power to raise prices as well…For years, Live Nation and AEG Live kept a relatively low profile in the fledging U.S. festival scene. Long popular in Europe, the multiact, multiday concerts emerged in force in the U.S. only in the 2000s, and often were a niche entertainment for young, hard-core music fans…Outdoor festivals are expensive to produce, often lose money in their initial years and are vulnerable to factors like weather. Much of the proceeds from ticket sales goes to performers. But festivalgoers are a captive audience for one, two or three or more full days, which means more splurges on water, food and alcohol. Festivals also provide revenue streams via things like VIP packages, corporate sponsorships and live-streaming online. These revenues are largely controlled by the promoter. Festivals can be much more profitable than traditional shows for promoters. For a large, established weekend festival, a promoter’s profits could be $5 million to $10 million, according to Jim Glancey, head of the Bowery Presents, a top promoter that runs many of New York City’s best-known music venues. For a traditional sold-out show for a single artist, where tickets sold for $50 to $75, the promoter’s profits might be around $40,000 to $45,000.

Are Republicans Becoming the Party of White Identity Politics? [on Reason Magazine] (8/21/15) – RW

In the minds of many conservatives, identity politics represents the very worst of special-interest-mongering and “playing the race/gender/whatever card.” As with political correctness, criticism of American identity politics isn’t entirely unwarranted, but it gets muddied by folks who invoke the phrase anytime constituencies suggest they have social or legal concerns not directly relevant to straight, white, Christian men. In Europe, meanwhile, straight, white, Christian men and women have become their own sort of special-interest group, and one whose particular identity politics now form a core tenet of right-populist political movements. Could the same thing happen here? The Federalist’s Ben Domenech is worried that it could, with the rise of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump representing the proverbial canary in the coal mine. “Donald Trump could transform the Republican Party into a coalition focused on white identity politics,” reads the subhead on Domenech’s article. “We’ve seen this in Europe, and it’s bad.”

“Hitler Didn’t Snub Me — It Was Our President” [Lawrence W. Reed on Foundation for Economic Education] (8/21/15) – RW

Owens won the 100-meter sprint, the long jump, the 200-meter sprint, and the 4 x 100 sprint relay. In the process, he became the first American to claim four gold medals in a single Olympiad. Owens waved at Hitler and Hitler waved back, but the nasty little paper-hanger expressed his annoyance privately to fellow Nazi Albert Speer. He opined that blacks should never be allowed to compete in the games again. A side story of Owens’s Berlin experience was the friendship he made with a German competitor named Lutz Long. A decent man by any measure, Long exhibited no racial animosity and even offered tips to Owens that the American found helpful during the games. Of Long, Owens would later tell an interviewer, “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler.… You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Lutz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.” Back home, ticker tape parades feted Owens in New York City and Cleveland. Hundreds of thousands of Americans came out to cheer him. Letters, phone calls, and telegrams streamed in from around the world to congratulate him. From one important man, however, no word of recognition ever came. As Owens later put it, “Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send a telegram.”

Trump Has Done Well, but Not as Well as the Stock Market [The Associated Press via The New York Times] (8/20/15)

By the measure of success he holds most dear — wealth — Donald Trump has done well. Since 1987, when the real estate mogul published his best-seller “Art of the Deal,” his net worth has jumped 300 percent to $4 billion, according to figures from wealth-tracker Forbes magazine. Turns out, though, there was an easier way for Trump to add to his wealth than all the deal-making and TV shows — and far more effective. It’s the same strategy many wealth advisers are telling middle-class families to follow: Stick your money in an index fund tracking the stock market and forget about it. If Trump had done that in 1988, he would be worth $13 billion today, more than triple the Forbes estimate.

The Late, Great Stephen Colbert [Joel Lovell on Gentlemen’s Quarterly] (8/17/15)

And then he talked about the Food Network show Chopped. The reason he loves Chopped is that it’s a show that is wholly about process, about creation within a limited range of possibilities. “This show,” he said, meaning The Late Show, “is Chopped. Late-night shows are Chopped. Who are your guests tonight? Your guests tonight are veal tongue, coffee grounds, and gummy bears. There, make a show.… Make an appetizer that appeals to millions of people. That’s what I like. How could you possibly do it? Oh, you bring in your own flavors. Your own house band is another flavor. You have your own flavor. The audience itself is a base dish, like a rice pilaf or something. And then together it’s ‘Oh shit, that’s an actual meal.’ And that’s what every day is like at one of these shows. Something is one thing in the morning, and then by the end of the day it’s a totally different thing. It’s all process.”…He was part of the same Second City class that included Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello and Chris Farley. “Our first night professionally onstage,” he said, the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.” “It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.” (You’re welcome, Dune nerds.)

Selfie madness: too many dying to get the picture [Matt Siegel on Reuters] (9/3/15)

Yet despite the risks, selfies are more popular than ever, according to data from Google Trends. Searches for the term were up eight times in 2014 over the previous year, leading the Internet search giant to dub it “The Year of the Selfie”. Selfies tend to attract a type of person already more likely to push the boundaries of normal behavior, says Jesse Fox, an assistant professor of communications at Ohio State University. Her research says people exhibiting the so-called Dark Triad of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy – are likely to pursue selfie glory regardless of who gets hurt in the process. “It’s all about me. It’s putting me in the frame. I’m getting attention and when I post that to social media, I’m getting the confirmation that I need from other people that I’m awesome,” Fox told Reuters. “You don’t care about the tourist attraction you’re destroying; you don’t care about annoying people in your social media feed … you’re not even thinking about the consequences of your actions, so who cares if you’re dangling off the side of the Eiffel Tower?”

Obama’s Econ Advisers: Occupational Licensing Is a Disaster [Mikayla Novak on The Foundation for Economic Education] (9/2/15) – RW

The data show that licensed workers earn on average 28 percent more than unlicensed workers. Only some of this observed premium is accounted for by the differences in education, training and experience between the two groups. The rest comes from reducing supply, locking competitors out of the market and extracting higher prices from consumers. What makes professional licensing so invidious is that it serves as a barrier to entry in the labor market, simply because it takes so much time and money to obtain a license to work. For young people, immigrants, and low-income individuals, it can be extremely difficult to stump up the cash and find the time — sometimes hundreds or even thousands of hours — to get licensed. The fees to maintain a license can also be exorbitant. Compounding the problem is that licensing requirements are spreading into more industries, such as construction, food catering, and hairdressing — occupations where it used to be easy to start a career…Defenders of occupational licensing say that workers need to be licensed because without it consumers would be harmed by poor service. In the absence of licensing, children will be taught improperly at school, patients won’t get adequate health care in hospital, home owners will not get their leaky sinks fixed, and somebody could fall victim to an improper haircut. But, in the name of promoting quality, licensing regulations perversely raise costs and reduce choices for consumers. The CEA concludes that, by imposing entry barriers against potential competitors who could undercut the prices of incumbent suppliers, licensing raises prices for consumers by between 3 and 16 percent. Moreover, the effect of licensing on product quality is unclear. The report notes that the empirical literature doesn’t demonstrate an increase in quality from licensure. By restricting supply, licensing dulls the incentive for incumbents to provide the best quality products because the threat of new entrants competing with better offerings is diminished. Perversely, the inflated prices offered by licensed providers may force some consumers to seek unlicensed providers, or to use less effective substitutes, or to do jobs themselves — in some cases increasing the risk of accidents. In a blow to the notion of efficient government bureaucracy, the CEA indicates that government licensing boards routinely fail in monitoring licensed providers, contributing to the lack of improvement in quality.

The Plot Of Faith-Based Domestic Drama ‘War Room,’ Recreated With Reviews [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk] (9/4/15)

Last weekend, War Room, a little-known “faith-based” film from Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the writing/directing team behind Fireproof (Kirk Cameron vs. internet porn) and Facing the Giants (Christian football movie, not to be confused with Riding Giants), became the highest-grossing new movie of the weekend. It trounced both No Escape and We Are Your Friends, despite opening on half as many screens as WAYF and a third as many as No Escape. I’d heard only bits and pieces about the film, directed by Southern, Baptist-preaching brothers, like that it apparently counseled prayer as a way to cure domestic violence.

The Unlikely Cities That Will Power the U.S. Economy [Christopher Cannon, Patrick Clark, Jeremy Scott Diamond, and Laurie Meisler on Bloomberg News] (9/3/15)

Like many high-tech locales, Huntsville owes its 21st century economy to an initial burst of funding for government research. It was a town of 16,000 residents working in cotton mills and on watercress farms when, in 1950, the U.S. Army relocated a team of rocket scientists to Redstone Arsenal, a local installation that produced chemical munitions during World War II. In the decades that followed, NASA designed, assembled, and tested the rockets that put the first men on the moon. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and dozens of lesser-known aerospace and defense companies have swarmed to Huntsville.

Students Bombed the SAT This Year, in Four Charts [Natalie Kitroeff and Janet Lorin on Bloomberg News] (9/3/15)

This year’s high school graduates did worse on the SAT than their peers last year. And there’s more bad news for the College Board, which administers the test: Fewer people are taking the SAT than are taking the ACT, its top competitor. Students in the high school class of 2015 turned in the lowest critical reading score on the SAT college entrance exam in more than 40 years, with all three sections declining from the previous year. Meanwhile, ACT Inc. reported that nearly 60 percent of all 2015 high school graduates took the ACT, up from 49 percent in 2011.

The Ketamine Cure [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg News] (8/19/15)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved ketamine for the treatment of mood disorders, but dozens of medical studies show that it can quickly alleviate severe depression. There’s no regulation to stop doctors like Brooks from administering ketamine for nonapproved uses—a practice known as “off-label” treatment—but insurers typically don’t cover it. Over the past three years, Brooks has treated about 700 patients, some who’ve traveled from as far away as Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Israel, and Europe. He gets six to 10 daily inquiries from potential patients online. Of those Brooks treats, he estimates that about 70 percent show improvement…researchers at Yale, including Dennis Charney, who’s now dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, stumbled upon the drug’s promise as a mood stabilizer. They’d set out to study how depression is affected by glutamate, a neurotransmitter essential for brain functions including memory, learning, and the regulation of emotions. To do so, they gave seven clinically depressed patients ketamine, which is known to block certain glutamate receptors in the brain…The group’s findings, published in Biological Psychiatry in 2000, were largely ignored. The study was tiny, and because of ketamine’s reputation as a party drug, scientists were reluctant to follow up…Six years later, Charney, who’d gone on to work for the National Institutes of Health, initiated a replica study with 17 patients. “This was a population that had failed on average six different antidepressants, and some had also failed electroconvulsive therapy, which is generally regarded as a treatment of last resort,” says Husseini Manji, one of Charney’s co-authors, who’s now the global head of neuroscience for Janssen Research & Development, a Johnson & Johnson company. Within a day of getting one ketamine infusion, 70 percent of the subjects went into remission. Since then, scientists at institutions including Yale, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Baylor College of Medicine have performed dozens more studies that corroborate the findings. Additional studies show that ketamine works by producing long-lasting changes in the brain, reversing neural damage caused by stress and depression and potentially decreasing inflammation and cortisol levels.

First female US army rangers ‘open up new doors for women’ [Alan Yuhas on The Guardian] (8/20/15)

Erickson Krugh, a second lieutenant, admitted that he was “pretty skeptical” about the women’s ability to keep up in the physical challenges. “Honestly, that was smashed pretty fast,” he said. “I completely believed they were going to run into the walls, just physical walls and break down. That was just never the issue,” he said. Instead, he and Griest echoed comments by army leadership and observers, who found that the women struggled more with the tactical leadership segments of the course. Those skills are taught in basic training for male combat infantry units, they noted, and male students often struggle with them as well. Two other male rangers said that they, too, were skeptical – until during arduous marches they discovered that Haver and Griest, in their respective teams, were the only rangers willing to take up their load despite being as “broken” as the men. Every man who was asked said they trusted the women and did not care whether the ranger on their right or left was a man or woman.

Judge: Missouri right-to-farm doesn’t cover marijuana [The Associated Press on Governing Magazine] (9/2/15)

A new constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to farm doesn’t protect a woman who reportedly grew marijuana in her home, a Missouri judge ruled this week. Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green ruled against a woman Tuesday whose public defender tried to argue that cultivating marijuana falls under the farming-rights amendment, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported. Public defender Justin Carver argued that Green should set aside a grand jury indictment against Lisa A. Loesch. She was charged in 2012 after Jefferson City police arrested her for allegedly growing pot in her basement…Green ruled that the amendment only applies to livestock and “legitimate” crop cultivation, and even those practices still are subject to regulations. The “argument that growing marijuana in a basement constitutes a ‘farming or ranching practice’ goes way beyond the plain meaning of ‘farming or ranching practice,'” Green wrote. “Simply put, marijuana is not considered a part of Missouri’s agriculture.” Carver also said the right-to-farm amendment removed marijuana from the state’s criminal code, which Green rejected. Green countered Carver’s arguments that laws against growing pot violate state and federal rights.

Russian town besieged by hungry bears [Alec Luhn on St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (9/4/15)

Dozens of hungry bears have besieged a small town in Russia’s far east, roaming the streets and attacking residents. In the past month, more than 30 bears have entered inhabited areas in Russia’s Primorsky region, located between China, North Korea and the Sea of Japan. Local authorities have had to shoot at least two animals. Luchegorsk, a town of 21,000 on the river Kontrovod near the Chinese border, has been particularly affected. Two large bears – a brown bear and a Himalayan bear – are now “ruling over” Luchegorsk, wandering the streets and scaring local people, the Primorskaya newspaper reported. Asian black bears have also been seen, and a further three dozen bears are circling the town, according to other reports. Local people say they are afraid to leave their homes and that the streets are filled with the sounds of sirens and loudspeakers telling citizens not to go outside for their own safety, VladNews reported.

How I Broke the Internet [Stephen L. Carter via Bloomberg Views] (8/19/15)

The 2015 Ad Blocking Report, released earlier this month by PageFair and Adobe, estimates that some 16 percent of U.S. consumers used ad blocking in the second quarter of 2015, a 48 percent jump in a single year. The global news isn’t much better for online advertisers: In Europe, for instance, the year-over-year increase was 35 percent. The report estimates lost global revenue due to blocking software at nearly $22 billion. “For at least some players in the media industry,” wrote tech reporter Mathew Ingram in Fortune, “this looks like a cross between a Class 5 hurricane and a neutron bomb headed straight for their balance sheets.” Adblock Plus (the dominant app, and the one that I use) hides animated, pop-up and video ads, plus those that otherwise “obscure page content.” Unobtrusive ads are allowed, and advertisers can apply to be added to the “whitelist” of ads that are permitted past the filters. The idea is to balance the need of websites to generate revenue with the irritation of users forced to click their way past annoying ads to get where they are going. It’s the whitelist that leads to advertiser complaints. Some have even compared the tactic to blackmail.

The World’s Biggest Pet Store Has 250,000 Animals [Ben Crair on Bloomberg News] (8/18/15)

Today, Zajac’s pet shop fills a 130,000-square-foot warehouse in an industrial part of Duisburg. It’s called Zoo Zajac, and it unfurls, like an airport terminal, along a horseshoe in the road. It’s more than twice the size of the White House and three times as large as a Whole Foods Market. It is, according to Guinness World Records, the biggest pet shop in the world. A visitor can spend as much as €9,000 ($10,000) on a two-toed sloth or as little as €1.19 on a box of crickets. She can buy armadillos, meerkats, coatis, and monkeys; or fill aquariums with jellyfish, tetras, shellfish, and piranhas. Zoo Zajac sells 50 species of tarantula and maintains one of the finest reptile collections in western Europe—better, even, than many zoos. It houses about 250,000 individual animals of 3,000 different species. A walk around the place is essentially an endurance sport, which is why Zajac, a heavy man with two bad knees, zips up and down the aisles on a black moped. The vehicle never leaves the premises and logs more than 2,500 miles a year…In 2012, Zajac added a controversial mammal to his inventory. Animal-rights activists picketed the store and called him greedy and irresponsible. More than 25,000 people sent a protest letter from PETA that included a cartoon of Zajac strangling the creature with a price tag around its neck. Zajac says he received multiple bomb and death threats. One pet food manufacturer withdrew its products from the store’s shelves. Even the German Pet Trade & Industry Association didn’t support him. “He offers some animals that we, the association of this industry, aren’t very happy with,” Schreiber says. The addition wasn’t vicious or endangered, but the most conventional pet of all. Zoo Zajac started selling puppies.

Kids from Larry Clark’s Kids: ‘We were like the United Nations of skateboarding’ [Kiron Heirot-Darragh on The Guardian] (8/19/15)

Alex Corporan, a Kids cast member, one of the first skateboarders for Supreme, and a cultural attaché for lifestyle brands, started out as a metal head in lace-up Doc Martens. “Skateboarding in New York, prior to Kids, was a clubhouse,” he says. “No one really liked us, no one cared about us. We were part of a scene that no one understood – a bunch of mixed-race kids together, hanging out. “We shared everything, did everything together. It was a circle of trust; you had that, and that’s all you had.”…When Zoo York released “Mixtape” in 1997, the east coast scene was in full swing. By the late 1990s, merchandise was being sold all over the world. “It’s everywhere now,” says Estevez. “Skateboarding wasn’t [always] cool. We’d show up to the party and everyone would get bummed out, like ‘Ugh, who invited the skaters? Fuuuuck. Hide the beer.’”

China stock probes send shivers through investment community [Pete Sweeney and Engen Tham on Reuters] (9/1/15)

Chinese fund managers say they have come under increasing pressure from Beijing as authorities’ attempts to revive the country’s stock markets hit headwinds, with some investors now being called in to explain trading strategies to regulators every two weeks. One manager at a major fund – part of the “national team” of investors and brokerages charged with buying stocks to revive prices – said a friend, also an executive at a large fund, was recently summoned for a meeting with regulators, along with all other mutual funds that had engaged in short-selling activity. “If I don’t come back, look after my wife,” his friend told him, handing the manager his home telephone number…While foreign investors are unlikely to be a major factor behind stock market swings, given their relatively low participation in the market compared with domestic players, they are seen as more politically vulnerable to investigations. “The foreign fund community definitely feels like it is being monitored more carefully than it’s been in a very long time,” said one foreign fund manager. “Nobody is pointing at you and saying you are doing anything illegal. But it’s enough to ask people to walk through all their trades, and ‘why is this account trading so much?’ That ramps up the pressure”. Some Chinese believe the collapse in Chinese stocks was engineered by foreigners, and there has been speculation that it was caused by the U.S. government to embarrass China as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) considered including the yuan in its currency basket. There are no signs yet the pressure has caused foreign funds to withdraw from the market altogether or pull out staff from the country.

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