Archive for October, 2015

30
Oct
15

Roundup – THE LOVE BUTCHER

Best of the Best:

Higher Pay? Some Disabled Say No, Thanks, as U.S. Forces It [Lorraine Woellert on Bloomberg News] (10/23/14)

Grossman, 36, has Down syndrome and is one of thousands of disabled adults who work for less than the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Some earn only pennies doing menial tasks in settings that more resemble day care than work. The practice, which has roots in a 1938 law, has been called a godsend by some and exploitation by others. Now the system slowly is being dismantled as Congress and President Barack Obama advance policies to raise wages for the disabled and move more people into mainstream employment. Swept up in the change are people like Grossman, his parents and his employer. All worry the new rules might leave physically and developmentally impaired adults with even fewer opportunities than they have now…Sub-minimum wage work will be in shorter supply beginning Jan. 1, when federal contractors are required to begin paying employees at least $10.10 an hour. The rule applies to hundreds of non-profit contractors that provide jobs to adults with disabilities. Many of those workers will get a raise, but others might be unemployed as companies make hard choices about who they can afford to keep on the payroll.

Making the world’s problem solvers 10% more efficient [Steven Levy on Medium] (10/17/14)

The IIT is India’s version of MIT and Stanford combined, and has produced a long list of now-celebrated engineers and executives at Internet companies here and abroad. But even in that elite school, it was difficult for students to get hold of relevant scholarly materials. For Indian high schoolers, it was nearly impossible. ‘If you knew the information existed, you would write letters,’ he says, ‘That’s what I did. Roughly half of the people would send you something, maybe a reprint. But if you didn’t know the information was there, there was nothing you could do about it.’ Acharya was haunted by the realization that the great minds were deprived of inspiration, and the wonderful works that did have the impact they would have because of their limited distribution. The eventual solution to this problem would be Google Scholar, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this November. Some people have never heard of this service, which treats publications from scholarly and professional journals as a separate corpus and makes it easy to find otherwise elusive information. Others have seen it occasionally when a result pops up on their search activity, and may even know enough to use it for a specific task, like digging into medical journals to gather information on a specific ailment. But for a significant and extremely impactful slice of the population: researchers, scientists, academics, lawyers, and students training in those fields — Scholar is a vital part of online existence, a lifeline to critical information, and an indispensable means of getting their work exposed to those who most need it.

The psychology of torture [Malcolm Harris on Aeon Magazine] (10/7/14)

In Behind the Shock Machine (2012), the Australian journalist and psychologist Gina Perry assailed the very validity of the Milgram experiments. Although she initially came to the study of Milgram with sympathy for the haunted doctor, Perry quickly found a more worthy object for her feelings: Milgram’s subjects. Reviewing transcripts from the experiments in the Yale archive, she found a lot of disobedience hidden in the obedience numbers, and a number of confounding variables. For example, Milgram made sure subjects knew the payment for participation was theirs even if they walked away, but in the transcripts this seems to have triggered reciprocity with the experimenters. One subject continues only after the experimenter tells him he can’t return the money. Another obedient subject remonstrates after she’s finished obeying, because she quickly understands what the experiment was really about and is disgusted. In the drive for quantitative results, the procedure ignored valuable qualitative information. ‘I would never be able to read Obedience to Authority again without a sense of all the material that Milgram had left out,’ Perry writes, ‘the stories he had edited, and the people he had depicted unfairly.’ In an unpublished paper Perry found in the archive, Milgram was quite candid with regard to his experiment’s true purpose: ‘Let us stop trying to kid ourselves; what we are trying to understand is obedience of the Nazi guards in the prison camps, and that any other thing we may understand about obedience is pretty much of a windfall, an accidental bonus.’ Milgram didn’t write a hypothesis for an experiment, he made a script for a play. It’s poor science, Perry writes, but it might be great art.

The Grand Illusion [Jim Holt on Lapham’s Quarterly]

One way researchers have tried to measure the subjective flow of time is by asking people of different ages to estimate when a certain amount of time has gone by. People in their early twenties tend to be quite accurate in judging when three minutes had elapsed, typically being off by no more than three seconds. Those in their sixties, by contrast, overshot the mark by forty seconds; in other words, what was actually three minutes and forty seconds seemed like only three minutes to them. Seniors are internally slow tickers, so for them actual clocks seem to tick too fast. This can have its advantages: at a John Cage concert, it is the old people who are relieved that the composition 4’33” is over so soon. The river of time may have its rapids and its calmer stretches, but one thing would seem to be certain: it carries all of us, willy-nilly, in its flow. Irresistibly, irreversibly, we are being borne toward our deaths at the stark rate of one second per second. As the past slips out of existence behind us, the future, once unknown and mysterious, assumes its banal reality before us as it yields to the ever-hurrying “now.” But this sense of flow is a monstrous illusion—so says contemporary physics. And Newton was as much a victim of this illusion as the rest of us are. It was Albert Einstein who initiated the revolution in our understanding of time. In 1905, Einstein proved that time, as it had been understood by physicist and plain man alike, was a fiction. Our idea of time, Einstein realized, is abstracted from our experience with rhythmic phenomena: heartbeats, planetary rotations and revolutions, the swinging of pendulums, the ticking of clocks. Time judgments always come down to judgments of what happens at the same time—of simultaneity. “If, for instance, I say, ‘That train arrives here at seven o’clock,’ I mean something like this: ‘The pointing of the small hand of my watch to seven and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events,’” Einstein wrote. If the events in question are distant from each other, judgments of simultaneity can be made only by sending light signals back and forth. Einstein proved that whether an observer deems two events at different locations to be happening “at the same time” depends on his state of motion. Suppose, for example, that Jones is walking uptown on Fifth Avenue and Smith is walking downtown. Their relative motion results in a discrepancy of several days in what they would judge to be happening “now” in the Andromeda galaxy at the moment they pass each other on the sidewalk. For Smith, the space fleet launched to destroy life on earth is already on its way; for Jones, the Andromedan council of tyrants has not even decided whether to send the fleet.

Porsche: The Hedge Fund that Also Made Cars [Rohin Dhar on Priceconomics] (10/24/14)

The company’s operational performance improved tremendously under Wiedeking’s decade-long management, and the company sold thousands of cars at very lucrative profit margins. And so, the CEO set his sights on an even bigger financial coupe: He’d acquire Volkswagen, the largest car manufacturer in Germany. At the time, Volkswagen produced 50 times more cars than Porsche. But, starting in 2005, the smaller competitor quietly bought up Volkswagen shares and options; by October 2008, Porsche announced that it controlled 74% of VW. At that moment, the hostile takeover of massive Volkswagen by little Porsche seemed inevitable. But just five months later, Porsche’s plan fell apart: just before completing the acquisition, the global financial crisis worsened and the company ran out of money. Porsche had gone severely into debt to buy out VW; all of a sudden, banks were very anxious to get their $13 billion in loans repaid. Porsche was left scrambling for a white knight to save it from its financial woes. In a stunning turn of events, that white knight ended up being Volkswagen, the very company Porsche had attempted to acquire.

The man with the golden blood [Penny Bailey on Mosaic Science] (10/21/14)

Forty years ago, when ten-year-old Thomas went into the University Hospital of Geneva with a routine childhood infection, his blood test revealed something very curious: he appeared to be missing an entire blood group system. There are 35 blood group systems, organised according to the genes that carry the information to produce the antigens within each system. The majority of the 342 blood group antigens belong to one of these systems. The Rh system (formerly known as ‘Rhesus’) is the largest, containing 61 antigens. The most important of these Rh antigens, the D antigen, is quite often missing in Caucasians, of whom around 15 per cent are Rh D negative (more commonly, though inaccurately, known as Rh-negative blood). But Thomas seemed to be lacking all the Rh antigens. If this suspicion proved correct, it would make his blood type Rhnull – one of the rarest in the world, and a phenomenal discovery for the hospital haematologists. Rhnull blood was first described in 1961, in an Aboriginal Australian woman. Until then, doctors had assumed that an embryo missing all Rh blood cell antigens would not survive, let alone grow into a normal, thriving adult. By 2010, nearly five decades later, some 43 people with Rhnull blood had been reported worldwide. Hardly able to believe what she was seeing, Dr Marie-José Stelling, then head of the haematology and immunohaematology laboratory at the University Hospital of Geneva, sent Thomas’ blood for analysis in Amsterdam and then in Paris. The results confirmed her findings: Thomas had Rhnull blood. And with that, he had instantly become infinitely precious to medicine and science. Researchers seeking to unravel the mysteries of the physiological role of the intriguingly complex Rh system are keen to get hold of Rhnull blood, as it offers the perfect ‘knockout’ system. Rare negative blood is so sought after for research that even though all samples stored in blood banks are anonymised, there have been cases where scientists have tried to track down and approach individual donors directly to ask for blood. And because Rhnull blood can be considered ‘universal’ blood for anyone with rare blood types within the Rh system, its life-saving capability is enormous. As such, it’s also highly prized by doctors – although it will be given to patients only in extreme circumstances, and after very careful consideration, because it may be nigh on impossible to replace.

How the U.S. Government Tested Biological Warfare on America [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (10/30/14)

As leaves turned red, and as San Francisco segued into the smoky autumn of 1950, Edward Nevin lay dying in a hospital bed. A rare bacteria had entered his urinary tract, made its way through his bloodstream, and clung to his heart — a bacteria that had never been seen in the hospital’s history. Before researchers could hypothesize the bacteria’s root cause, ten more patients were admitted with the same infection. Doctors were baffled: how could have this microbe presented itself? For nearly thirty years, the incident remained a secret — until Edward Nevin’s grandson set out to bring about justice. What ensued was a series of terrifying revelations: for two decades, the United States government had intentionally doused 293 populated areas with bacteria. They’d done this with secrecy. They’d done this without informing citizens of potentially dangerous exposure. They’d done this without taking precautions to protect the public’s health and safety, and with no medical follow-up. And it had all started in 1950, with the spraying of San Francisco.

We Are All Confident Idiots [David Dunning on Pacific Standard] (10/27/14)

The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance. In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

The Great Paper Caper [Wells Tower and Satoshi Hashimoto on Gentlemen’s Quarterly]

Frank’s self-image may be described as not merely healthy but hyperpituitary. When I asked him where he found the lunatic gumption not only to enter into the risky business of counterfeiting but to do so at the unheard-of scale of hundreds of millions of dollars, Frank replied with a shrug: “I can do anything I want. I can go to the moon. I’m good at figuring out stuff. I could do a heart transplant if I wanted to.” Are we to take Frank at his word? Should he be allowed by NASA to attempt a lunar landing? Should he perform your father’s triple bypass? I will say only this: Do not discount someone who apparently launched a currency-fraud scheme so cunning that he was able to rook the Secret Service and the Canadian government and then walk away from the whole mess a free and wealthy man. Possibly out of bureaucratic discretion, possibly sore from their humiliating dealings with the counterfeiter, the legal authorities here and abroad would say very little on the record about the Bourassa case. So what follows is largely a tale straight from the mouth of the guilty party, who was only too delighted to relate the long career of outrages he has visited upon the law.

Pipino: Gentleman Thief [Joshua Davis and David Wolman on Medium] (10/27/14)

By the early 1990s, the police viewed Pipino as the most talented thief in modern Venetian history. Over the previous three decades, he had been responsible for a string of daring and idiosyncratic heists. He was best known for stealing masterworks from the homes of Venice’s nobility and was thought to have excellent taste in art. He was also versatile: He once infiltrated the Swiss Consulate and made off with 150 million lira in cash. In the late 1970s, he tailed Cary Grant, who portrayed one of the most famous thieves in film history, and robbed him while he slept in his hotel room. Later, he freed a forlorn gorilla from the zoo in Rome (he felt bad for the animal), and robbed the Venice Casino, all of which made him a local legend. Pipino had a simple philosophy: Aristocrats liked to flaunt their wealth; thieves liked to take it. Sometimes the burglar took something important and aristocrats would pay to get the item back. Pipino had heard that some palazzo owners took it as a badge of honor that he had slipped through their windows because it confirmed their good taste. He viewed it as the price the rich had to pay every so often to exhibit their wealth and taste. Usually, the police negotiated “an arrangement” to get the works back. As Pipino saw it, everybody won. The police got to look like heroes, the bourgeois could brag that they’d been robbed by a famous thief, and Pipino made a living.

Taylor Swift Is the Music Industry [Devin Leonard on Bloomberg Businessweek] (11/12/14)

Swift’s success is an anomaly in an ailing industry that’s been in decline since 2000. Last month the Recording Industry Association of America reported that sales of CDs for the first half of 2014 were down 19 percent from the year before, to 56 million. In 2002 total album sales in the U.S. hovered at 681 million (down from 2001’s 763 million). The top 10 albums of 2002, after The Eminem Show and the 8 Mile soundtrack, included Nellyville (4.9 million albums sold), Avril Lavigne’s Let Go (4.1 million), and the Dixie Chicks’ Home (3.7 million). Compare that with this year: Before 1989, the year’s biggest album was Coldplay’s Ghost Story, which did a piddling 383,000 copies in its first week and has sold a total of 737,000 since its release in May. That’s roughly a third of Swift’s first-week sales, and 1989 is expected to sell another 400,000 copies in its second week. Swift is so far ahead of the pack that they can’t even see her. For a while, there was hope that digital downloads would make up for low album sales, but the RIAA reports that sales for this format declined by 14 percent in the first six months of 2014. Meanwhile, revenue from streaming services like Spotify rose 28 percent. But artists are often paid a fraction of a penny each time users stream a song.

Chocolate: Can Science Save the World’s Most Endangered Treat? [Mark Schatzker on Bloomberg News] (11/14/14)

Mark your calendar: January 1, 2020. As this future year unfolds, the gap between how much cocoa the world wants to consume and how much it can produce will swell to 1 million metric tons, according to Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut AG (BARN), the world’s largest chocolate maker. By 2030, the predicted shortfall will grow to 2 million tons. And so on. Because of disease, drought, rapacious new markets and the displacement of cacao by more-productive crops such as corn and rubber, demand is expected to outstrip supply by an additional 1 million tons every decade for the foreseeable future. Here, now, as you read these words, the world is running out of chocolate.

Dunkin’ and the Doughnut King [Greg Nichols on The California Sunday Magazine] (11/2/14)

Eight thousand miles from Modesto, along the southern tail of the Mekong River, the man who brought Cambodians into the California doughnut business stands to make a toast. Ted Ngoy is 74. His graying hair has retreated to the crown of his head, and his loose slacks cut an equatorial line across his small paunch. Only his doughnut-fed cheeks remain incongruously youthful. Before him, about 15 members of Cambodia’s upper crust nod appreciatively around a tamarind wood table. Among them are the official spokesperson for the royal government, a senator, a doctor whose name adorns a university, and the owner of the upscale butchery in which they all sit. They are in Phnom Penh, the muggy capital of Cambodia, a country of remembered atrocity and sputtering rebirth, of doughnut magnates–turned–high-society players. Several of those gathered have direct ties to the doughnut industry in California, where refugees from the war-torn nation taught one another to bake in neighborhood shops up and down the state, and where a few savvy businessmen amassed fortunes that allowed them to return to Cambodia and wield influence.

Health Tip: Find Purpose in Life [James Hamblin on The Atlantic] (11/3/14)

There are a handful of junctures in life when a person’s sense of purpose is prone to twinkle and fade. In unemployment or professional stagnation; in financial or romantic straits, or after the death of a loved one; and, predictably, in retirement. To that point, the program Experience Corps seems to have stumbled into an elegant solution. For the past decade, the nonprofit has paired people ages 55 and older with students in kindergarten through third grade who need academic help. Across 19 U.S. cities, volunteers have taken up literacy coaching and proven that in their spare time they can significantly increase students’ test scores and morale. Which is great, of course. But the unexpected side effect of the programs was that the adults experienced significant health improvements, both mental and physical. The tutors’ rates of depression fell; and their physical mobility, stamina, and flexibility increased. They also showed improvements in executive functioning and memory. One of the drivers of those health benefits, according to Eric Kim, a doctoral candidate examining the intersection of social connection and physical health at the University of Michigan, is that the tutors developed a renewed sense of purpose in their lives. In research published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Kim and colleagues found that people with greater senses of purpose in life were more likely to embrace preventive healthcare: things like mammograms, prostate exams, colonoscopies, and flu shots. In the study, people rated their own sense of purpose on a multidimensional questionnaire that included incisive prompts like, “I sometimes feel I’ve done all there is to do in my life” and “I enjoy making plans for the future and working to make them a reality.” Even after the researchers accounted for socioeconomic factors that predict a person’s likelihood of getting preventive care, people with purpose in their lives were clearly more engaged in their own health.

The Banality of Islamic State: How ISIS Corporatized Terror [Cam Simpson on Bloomberg News] (11/20/14)

During a routine January 2007 patrol in Anbar province, in a town along the Euphrates called Tuzliyah al Gharbiyah, a unit of U.S. Marines stumbled on a cache of nine documents in a roadside ditch. They included financial records, payrolls, supply purchase records, administrative records, and other details of fund flows into and out of a single local cell in Anbar of a group then calling itself the “Islamic State of Iraq.” Not long after, Iraqi militiamen working with the U.S. stormed a home in a town farther down the Euphrates. They found a computer hard drive holding ledgers with 1,200 files detailing the finances and operations of provincial-level managers overseeing the cell and others like it across Anbar province. Taken together, the Anbar records allowed for a forensic ­reconstruction of the back-office operations of a terrorist ­insurgency from its local level up to its divisional headquarters. The data were handed over to the National Defense ­Research ­Institute of Rand Corp., a U.S. ­Department of Defense-funded think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif. Seven researchers set out to ­determine what the ledgers, receipts, memos, and other records meant. What they concluded in a 2010 report, written for then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, should be ­familiar to students of business management: The group was ­decentralized, organized, and run on what’s called the “multidivisional-­hierarchy form” of management, or M-form for short.

The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State [Christoph Reuter on Der Spiegel] (4/18/15)

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was the real name of the Iraqi, whose bony features were softened by a white beard. But no one knew him by that name. Even his best-known pseudonym, Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was. But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. SPIEGEL has gained exclusive access to the 31 pages, some consisting of several pages pasted together. They reveal a multilayered composition and directives for action, some already tested and others newly devised for the anarchical situation in Syria’s rebel-held territories. In a sense, the documents are the source code of the most successful terrorist army in recent history.

How to Become a Russian Billionaire With No Help from the Kremlin [Ilya Khrennikov on Bloomberg News] (11/20/14)

The record shows that on Aug. 14 FC Krasnodar beat Spartak Moscow 4-0. But the score line was about more than soccer, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its December issue. Galitskiy’s team, from a city of fewer than 1 million people 150 kilometers (93 miles) from the Black Sea, had trounced a big, metropolitan club, a nine-time Russian champion. Spartak is owned by Leonid Fedun, who was worth $4.4 billion as of Sept. 26. A former Soviet Army officer, Fedun in the 1990s oversaw the privatization of what became OAO Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer. Once again in his storied rise to become Russia’s biggest retailer, Galitskiy had proved to himself and the wider public that he, a self-made billionaire from the Russian hinterland, could more than compete with the country’s richest industrialists. He stands out because he’s not among the Moscow-based oligarchs who made their fortunes by using government ties to buy state oil refineries and metals plants at bargain prices in the 1990s. Nor is he among those who amassed their fortunes as friends and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin…Galitskiy, who was worth $12.3 billion as of Sept. 26, is the founder and largest shareholder of OAO Magnit. (MGNT) He started out in the business with a single store, called Tander, on Uralskaya Street in Krasnodar. At the end of September, Magnit had 9,020 stores scattered across Russia. With more than 240,000 employees, Magnit (Russian for magnet) is the country’s largest nonstate employer.

My Grandma the Poisoner [John Reed on Vice] (10/27/14)

When I was four or five, sometimes I’d walk into my grandmother’s bedroom to find her weeping. She’d be sitting on the side of the bed, going through boxes of tissues. I don’t believe this was a side of herself she shared with other people; she may have felt we had a cosmic bond because I had her father’s name as my middle name and his fair features. She was crying for Martha, her daughter, who died of melanoma at the age of 28. Ten years later, after Norman—her youngest child, my uncle—died, also at 28, she would weep for him. People were always dying around Grandma—her children, her husbands, her boyfriend—so her lifelong state of grief was understandable. To see her sunken in her high and soft bed, enshrouded in the darkness of the attic, and surrounded by the skin-and-spit smell of old age, was to know that mothers don’t get what they deserve. Today, when I think back on it, I don’t wonder whether Grandma got what she deserved as a mother; I wonder whether she got what she deserved as a murderer.

The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis [Jonathan Rauch on The Atlantic] (December 2014)

[I]n the 1990s, happiness economics resurfaced. This time a cluster of labor economists, among them David Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick, got interested in the relationship between work and happiness. That led them to international surveys of life satisfaction and the discovery, quite unexpected, of a recurrent pattern in countries around the world. “Whatever sets of data you looked at,” Blanchflower told me in a recent interview, “you got the same things”: life satisfaction would decline with age for the first couple of decades of adulthood, bottom out somewhere in the 40s or early 50s, and then, until the very last years, increase with age, often (though not always) reaching a higher level than in young adulthood. The pattern came to be known as the happiness U-curve. Meanwhile, Carol Graham, a development economist (she is now at the Brookings Institution, where I’m a senior fellow), was looking at Peruvians who had emerged rapidly from poverty. “How do these people think they’ve done?” she wanted to know. She told me she was startled to find that objective life circumstances did not determine subjective life satisfaction; in Peru, as in other countries, many people who had moved out of poverty felt worse off than those who had stayed poor. “I didn’t know how to explain it,” she said. Hunting around, she discovered the sparse literature on the economics of happiness, plunged into survey data, and found the same U-shaped pattern, first in Latin America and then in the rest of the world. “It was a statistical regularity,” she said. “Something about the human condition.”…The curve tends to evince itself more in wealthier countries, where people live longer and enjoy better health in old age. Sometimes it turns up directly in raw survey data—that is, people just express less overall satisfaction in middle age. But here’s a wrinkle: in many cases (including the two analyses I just cited), the age-based U-curve emerges only after researchers adjust for such variables as income, marital status, employment, and so on, thus looking through to the effects of age alone. Some scholars—including Easterlin, the grand old man of the field—take a dim view of making such adjustments. Carol Ryff, a psychologist who directs the University of Wisconsin’s Institute on Aging, told me, “To my mind, that’s how you obscure the story; that’s not how you clean it up.” But filtering out important life circumstances suggests something intriguing: there may be an underlying pattern in life satisfaction that is independent of your situation. In other words, if all else is equal, it may be more difficult to feel satisfied with your life in middle age than at other times. Blanchflower and Oswald have found that, statistically speaking, going from age 20 to age 45 entails a loss of happiness equivalent to one-third the effect of involuntary unemployment.

521 – Cartography’s Favourite Map Monster: the Land Octopus [Frank Jacobs on Big Think] (2011)

Real octopi are sea creatures, of course. But the Cartographic Land Octopus – CLO for short – need not worry about being in the right ecosphere. Being fictional, it is not restricted to the sea. It can (and need) do only one thing: instill map-readers with fear and revulsion. But the CLO’s pedigree does stretch back to the ocean. It is clearly descended from an older monstrosity, equally fictional but wholly sea-bound: the Kraken, a giant squid whose enormous tentacles dragged whole ships down to their watery graves. I suspect it’s those tentacles that explain why the octopus became cartography’s favourite land monster. They turn the CLO into a perfect emblem of evil spreading across a map: its ugly head is the centre of a malevolent intelligence, which is manipulating its obscene appendages to bring death and destruction to its surroundings. This is perfect for demonstrating the geographic reach of an enemy state’s destructive potential. It can even be used on a more abstract level, showing dangerous ideologies insipidly infiltrating and/or strangling the world. The Cartographic Land Octopus was born two-thirds into the 19th century, when the intra-European tensions were slowly gearing up towards the First World War; it flourished until the end of the Second World War. But it still maintains its grip on the cartographic imagination today.

Salvage Beast [William Langewiesche on Vanity Fair] (December 2014)

Every ocean voyage involves risk. This has always been, and will always be. Currently about 100,000 large merchant ships sail the seas. If past patterns hold, during the next 10 years some 25,000 of them will be categorized as insurance casualties. Another 1,600 will be lost—roughly one ship every two and a half days. Some fraud is involved, but most of the losses are real. Though safety is said to be improving, it is evident that the oceans remain wild and will not soon be tamed. In that light one of the greatest seafarers at work today is neither a naval commander nor an old-salt merchant mariner but a certain marine salvage master with a taste for chaos and a genius for improvisation. He is a burly South African, aged 53, by the name of Captain Nick Sloane. His job is to intervene where other captains have failed, and to make the best of ships that are sinking, burning, breaking apart, or severely aground. Usually those same ships are threatening to leak bunker fuel—the sludge that powers them—along with crude oil or other toxins in quantities that could poison the environment for years to come. Sloane boards the ships with small teams—by helicopter from overhead, or by Zodiac from oceangoing tugs—and once he arrives he stays aboard and fights, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. He is tenacious in part because of the financial stakes involved. By well-wrought tradition, rescuers are not recompensed for saving lives at sea, but those who save a ship have a claim to a large part of its value, including its cargo. The final payout involves calculations not only of the ship’s total value but also of the difficulty and danger involved in making the save. Today the payout is usually determined through Lloyd’s of London, after the work is done, and on average amounts to perhaps 12 percent of the assessed value, except in disputed cases referred to arbitration, where the payout may climb higher. Such cuts amount to millions of dollars. On the other hand, expenses have to be paid out of pocket, and if the salvors fail to save the ship, they may win nothing at all—not even a thank-you for trying. For bounty hunters this is known as the principle of “No Cure, No Pay,” a formulation printed in bold at the top of the Lloyd’s Open Form, the predominant salvage contract. In recent years, insurers have softened the edges by recognizing the value of attempting to avoid environmental damage even if a ship is ultimately lost, but to a large degree the business remains an all-or-nothing gamble.

One Man’s Quest to Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake [Andrew McMillen on Medium] (2/3/15)

Giraffedata is something of a superstar among the tiny circle of people who closely monitor Wikipedia, one of the most popular websites in the English-speaking world. About 8 million English Wikipedia articles are visited every hour, yet only a tiny fraction of readers click the ‘edit’ button in the top right corner of every page. And only 30,000 or so people make at least five edits per month to the quickly growing site. Giraffedata—a 51-year-old software engineer named Bryan Henderson—is among the most prolific contributors, ranking in the top 1,000 most active editors. While some Wikipedia editors focus on adding content or vetting its accuracy, and others work to streamline the site’s grammar and style, generally few, if any, adopt Giraffedata’s approach to editing: an unrelenting, multi-year project to fix exactly one grammatical error. Henderson has now made over 47,000 edits to the site since 2007, virtually all of them addressing this one linguistic pet peeve. Article by article, week by week, Henderson redacts imperfect sentences, tightening them almost imperceptibly. “I’m proud of it,” says Henderson of the project. “It’s just fun for me. I’m not doing it to have any impact on the world.” Every Sunday night before going to bed, Henderson follows an editing routine that allows him to efficiently work on the approximately 70 to 80 new ‘comprised of’ errors that appear on the encyclopedia each week. The entire process takes an hour, at most. He begins by running a software program that he wrote himself, which sends a request to Wikipedia’s server for articles containing the phrase ‘comprised of.’…The program then compares these titles against an offline database of articles that Henderson has edited within the last six months. Any matches get removed from the list. (He does this to avoid hitting the same article too often and pissing off overprotective editors who claim ‘ownership’ of certain articles.)…Henderson is more than happy to explain the trouble with ‘comprised of.’ Take the following sentence, for example: “The Wikipedia editorial community is comprised of many interesting people.” The problem is rooted in confusion over the verbs ‘to comprise’ and ‘to compose.’ Most style manuals advise against this usage. Better alternatives to the above example include the following: “The Wikipedia editorial community is composed of many interesting people.” Or: “The Wikipedia editorial community consists of many interesting people.” In a 6,000-word essay, Henderson lays out his case for why that phrase is ungrammatical. It is one of the top Google results for ‘comprised of.’

The Long, Strange Purgatory of Casey Kasem [Amy Wallace on Gentlemen’s Quarterly] (1/27/15)

When Casey Kasem’s wife got angry, it didn’t matter that the old man couldn’t walk and could barely talk. When Jean Kasem felt possessive, it just didn’t matter that her ailing husband—the legendary deejay whose warm, husky voice had once reached a reported 8 million listeners in seventeen countries—couldn’t swallow and was at risk for aspiration. Jean was upset that Casey’s two daughters from his first marriage had dared to visit their father without her permission. Her will would be done. It was after midnight on May 7, 2014, when Jean arrived at the Santa Monica convalescent hospital where her 82-year-old husband was suffering from Lewy body dementia, a disease similar to Parkinson’s. She told the nurse on duty that it was unacceptable that Kasem’s eldest daughters had come by the day before to talk with him and hold his hand. Jean said the facility offered “no privacy for Mr. Kasem,” according to the nurse’s sworn declaration, and therefore she was removing him immediately. The nurse told Jean that such a move could kill him. Kasem’s feeding tube, which was surgically implanted in his stomach, would require immediate medical intervention if it became dislodged, and Kasem’s doctor had refused to issue discharge orders. Jean didn’t relent. At 2:30 A.M., the sometime actress—a zaftig blonde who once played Loretta, the wife of Nick Tortelli, on six episodes of Cheers—put her bedridden husband in a wheelchair and rolled him out into the night. It had been just five years since Kasem signed off on his final countdown, but to look at him, you’d think it might have been much longer. Frail and bewildered, he was loaded into a white SUV that was driven by a private caregiver. Jean and Liberty, her 23-year-old daughter with Kasem, piled into a different SUV, this one black, and sped away. Just over a month later, Kasem would be dead—and about to embark on a posthumous journey that would take him halfway around the world.

News Corp.’s $1 Billion Plan to Overhaul Education Is Riddled With Failures [Laura Colby on Bloomberg News] (4/7/15)

The tablets were supposed to help revolutionize schools and upend a sector that News Corp.’s Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch said in 2010 was “waiting desperately to be transformed.” That hasn’t happened. By the end of June, Murdoch’s News Corp. will have invested more than $1 billion in Amplify, its division that makes the tablets, sells an online curriculum and offers testing services. Amplify, which never set a timetable for turning a profit, has yet to do so. It reported a $193 million loss last year, and its annual revenue represented only about 1 percent of News Corp.’s sales of $8.6 billion. The education effort has been riddled with technology failures, fragile equipment, a disconnect between tablet marketers and content developers, and an underestimation of how difficult it would be to win market share from entrenched rivals such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. in the kindergarten to high school education market.

The New Kings of Pop [Josh Dean on Bloomberg News] (4/17/15)

Kidz Bop was formed in 2002 and, for the first seven years and 16 records, was essentially a marketing concept—a popular series of compilation albums featuring a rotating cast of young session singers who covered pop hits. Craig Balsam and Cliff Chenfeld, the two record executives who created Kidz Bop, could easily have kept on with that successful formula, putting out albums of covers performed by anonymous kids, but they realized that the product would be even more attractive to its audience if those cheerful voices were attached to identifiable personalities. And so they shifted to a star-centric concept. Kidz Bop is now periodically replenished with personable preteens who are promoted almost as furiously as their albums, which are still covers of hit pop songs. Doing A&R for Kidz Bop has to be one of the least stressful jobs in music. Today’s foursome is the third lineup. They appear in Kidz Bop commercials, shill for McDonald’s and Macy’s, and star on a YouTube channel with almost 18 million views in a little more than a year. In 2014, Kidz Bop got its Sirius station, and the band/brand launched its first tour, performing 45 concerts across the U.S. This year, after a decade of putting out two records annually, Kidz Bop will release four, plus the occasional seasonal specials. In an industry filled with uncertainty, where a battle rages between artists and labels over the future of distribution, Kidz Bop is a rare success. The last album, Kidz Bop 27, made its debut at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart, the 10th consecutive Kidz Bop record to appear in the top five. Only eight artists in history have had more top-10 records than Kidz Bop’s 21, and more than 15 million Kidz Bop albums have been sold since the brand’s inception. Billboard has named Kidz Bop the “#1 Kids’ Artist” for five consecutive years, and in 2013 the band accounted for 18.8 percent of all children’s music units sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The Shazam Effect [Derek Thompson on The Atlantic] (December 2014)

Shazam became available in 2002. (In the days before smartphones, users would dial a number, play the song through their phones, and then wait for Shazam to send a text with the title and artist.) Since then, it has been downloaded more than 500 million times and used to identify some 30 million songs, making it one of the most popular apps in the world. It has also helped set off a revolution in the recording industry. While most users think of Shazam as a handy tool for identifying unfamiliar songs, it offers music executives something far more valuable: an early-detection system for hits. By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else…In fact, all of our searching, streaming, downloading, and sharing is being used to answer the question the music industry has been asking for a century: What do people want to hear next? It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

Curiously Strong Remains:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

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

16
Oct
15

Roundup – THE BUTTON

Best of the Best:

Outlook: Negative [Jacob Burak on Aeon Magazine] (9/4/14)

Of all the cognitive biases, the negative bias might have the most influence over our lives. Yet times have changed. No longer are we roaming the savannah, braving the harsh retribution of nature and a life on the move. The instinct that protected us through most of the years of our evolution is now often a drag – threatening our intimate relationships and destabilising our teams at work. It was the University of Washington psychologist John Gottman, an expert on marital stability, who showed how eviscerating our dark side could be. In 1992, Gottman found a formula to predict divorce with an accuracy rate of more than 90 per cent by spending only 15 minutes with a newly-wed couple. He spent the time evaluating the ratio of positive to negative expressions exchanged between the partners, including gestures and body language. Gottman later reported that couples needed a ‘magic ratio’ of at least five positive expressions for each negative one if a relationship was to survive. So, if you have just finished nagging your partner over housework, be sure to praise him five times very soon. Couples who went on to get divorced had four negative comments to three positive ones. Sickeningly harmonious couples displayed a ratio of about 20:1 – a boon to the relationship but perhaps not so helpful for the partner needing honest help navigating the world. Other researchers applied these findings to the world of business. The Chilean psychologist Marcial Losada, for instance, studied 60 management teams at a large information-processing company. In the most effective groups, employees were praised six times for every time they were put down. In especially low-performing groups, there were almost three negative remarks to every positive one. Losada’s controversial ‘critical positivity ratio’, devised with psychologist Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and based on complex mathematics, aimed to serve up the perfect formula of 3-6:1. In other words, hearing praise between three and six times as often as criticism, the researchers said, sustained employee satisfaction, success in love, and most other measures of a flourishing, happy life. The paper with the formula, entitled ‘Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing’, was published by the respected journal American Psychologist in 2005.

The Uranium Sting: Did Homeland Security Catch a Smuggler or Create One? [Stuart A. Reid on Bloomberg Businessweek] (9/11/14)

Since Sept. 11, undercover operations launched in the name of national security have become a common tactic in U.S. law enforcement. Of the more than 500 terrorism charges the federal government filed from 2001 to 2011, about 30 percent came from stings. While critics have faulted federal law enforcement for making fake terrorists out of vulnerable young men, government officials argue that stings deter would-be terrorists and round up “lone wolves” who might otherwise fall prey to real terrorist recruiters. Yet Campbell’s case represents a particularly baffling twist to the controversial practice. He was hardly a threat. As his e-mails and conversations with Cruzcoriano make clear, he revealed himself early on as a remarkably unsophisticated businessman and a highly suggestible target. It’s doubtful he would have even taken part in the deal absent the constant encouragement he received. “This went beyond a fishing expedition,” says Mike German, a former undercover FBI agent and a prominent critic of federal law enforcement. “It’s fishing in a place where you know there are no fish.”

The Human Factor [William Langewiesche on Vanity Fair] (October 2014)

NASA talked the airline into lending it a full-motion simulator at the San Francisco airport with which to run an experiment on 20 volunteer Boeing 747 crews. The scenario involved a routine departure from New York’s Kennedy Airport on a transatlantic flight, during which various difficulties would arise, forcing a return. It was devised by a self-effacing British physician and pilot named Hugh Patrick Ruffell Smith, who died a few years later and is revered today for having reformed global airline operations, saving innumerable lives. John Lauber was closely involved. The simulator runs were intended to be as realistic as possible, including bad coffee and interruptions by flight attendants…It all depended on the captains. A few were natural team leaders—and their crews acquitted themselves well. Most, however, were Clipper Skippers, whose crews fell into disarray under pressure and made dangerous mistakes. Ruffell Smith published the results in January 1979, in a seminal paper, “NASA Technical Memorandum 78482.” The gist of it was that teamwork matters far more than individual piloting skill. This ran counter to long tradition in aviation but corresponded closely with the findings of another NASA group, which made a careful study of recent accidents and concluded that in almost all cases poor communication in the cockpit was to blame.

Documents reveal how poultry firms systematically feed antibiotics to flocks [Brian Grow, P.J. Huffstutter and Michael Erman on Reuters] (9/15/14)

Major U.S. poultry firms are administering antibiotics to their flocks far more pervasively than regulators realize, posing a potential risk to human health. Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives. In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans. The internal documents contain details on how five major companies  – Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods – medicate some of their flocks.

The calculus of contagion [Adam Kucharski on Aeon Magazine] (9/16/14)

[Kermack] and McKendrick eventually published their findings in 1927, in a paper titled ‘A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Epidemics’ in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Over the course of 20 pages, they tackled one of the most important questions in epidemiology: what causes an epidemic to end? From influenza to plague, the number of cases in a real epidemic often rises exponentially at first. After a while, the disease reaches a peak level, and then the number of new cases starts to decrease. When McKendrick and Kermack began their research, people generally gave two possible reasons for the decline. Either the epidemic faded away because the infection had become less potent over time, or because there were no susceptible people left – everyone had been infected and either died or become immune. In their model, McKendrick and Kermack assumed that the pathogen stayed the same throughout the epidemic; the infection did not weaken over time. And yet the model still produced an eventual decline in cases. When the pair compared the model to the 1905 outbreak of plague in Bombay, the predicted number of cases matched the real disease level. So was the decrease in infection caused by a lack of susceptible people? Apparently not: in the model, there were always some susceptible individuals remaining at the end of the outbreak. McKendrick and Kermack had demonstrated that epidemics don’t necessarily decline because everyone has been infected. They can also end because there aren’t enough infected people left to sustain transmission. Once enough people are immune, infected individuals are unlikely to meet another susceptible person, which means that they generally recover before infecting others. This effect is inevitable in the later stages of an outbreak, but it is also possible to force an epidemic into this situation. In Ross’s model, the reduction in infection came from getting rid of mosquitoes. During a vaccination campaign, it comes from targeting a large chunk of the susceptible population.

Engineer modifies Segway to invent hands-free wheelchair [Madhumita Murgia on The Telegraph] (10/20/15)

A Segway rebuilt into a hands-free electric wheelchair with a top speed of 20km per hour is on the verge of mass production. The Ogo, built in a shed in New Zealand by Kevin Halsall, is based on Segway technology that enables the user to move intuitively, more precisely and hands-free. Mr Halsall began designing the prototype when his best friend Marcus Thompson was left paraplegic after a skiing accident and took four years to develop. It is now a finalist in the National Innovators Awards and is in the process of being commercialised.

Unraveling the Many Mysteries of Tituba, the Star Witness of the Salem Witch Trials [Stacy Schiff on Smithsonian Magazine] (November 2015)

Portions of her March account would soon fall away: The tall, white-haired man from Boston would be replaced by a short, dark-haired man from Maine. (If she had a culprit in mind, we will never know who it was.) Her nine conspirators soon became 23 or 24, then 40, later 100, ultimately an eye-popping 500. According to one source, Tituba would retract every word of her sensational confession, into which she claimed her master had bullied her. By that time, arrests had spread across eastern Massachusetts on the strength of her March story, however. One pious woman would not concede witchcraft was at work: How could she say as much, she was asked, given Tituba’s confession? The woman hanged, denying—as did every 1692 victim—any part of sorcery to the end. All agreed on the primacy of Tituba’s role. “And thus,” wrote a minister of her hypnotic account, “was this matter driven on.” Her revelations went viral; an oral culture in many ways resembles an Internet one. Once she had testified, diabolical books and witches’ meetings, flights and familiars were everywhere. Others among the accused adopted her imagery, some slavishly. It is easier to borrow than invent a good story; one confessor changed her account to bring it closer in line with Tituba’s. There would be less consensus afterward, particularly when it came to Tituba’s identity. Described as Indian no fewer than 15 times in the court papers, she went on to shift-shape herself. As scholars have noted, falling prey to a multi-century game of telephone, Tituba evolved over two centuries from Indian to half-Indian to half-black to black, with assists from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who seemed to have plucked her from Macbeth), historian George Bancroft and William Carlos Williams. By the time Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, in 1952, Tituba was a “Negro slave.” She engaged in a different brand of dark arts: To go with her new heritage, Miller supplied a live frog, a kettle and chicken blood. He has Tituba sing her West Indian songs over a fire, in the forest, as naked girls dance around. Sounding like a distant cousin of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, she says things like: “Mister Reverend, I do believe somebody else be witchin’ these children.” She is last seen in a moonlit prison sounding half-crazed, begging the devil to carry her home to Barbados. After The Crucible, she would be known for her voodoo, of which there is not a shred of evidence, rather than for her psychedelic confession, which endures on paper.

The Science of Picking the Right Music at Work [Seth Porges on Bloomberg News] (10/26/15)

Research by Teresa Lesiuk, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, has found that when workers are engaged in complex, brain-intensive tasks, listening to the music of their choice can improve their mood and productivity. The musical advantage is greater for some workers than others, however. For folks who were either complete novices or experts in their field, Lesiuk found little change in productivity. It was the moderate-skill workers in the middle who got the greatest output bump from listening. So if you need to keep your spirits up because you’re a middling coder who’s been tackling a tough script for hours, the right music to choose is, simply, your favorite music (study participants had their choice of song to listen to). A note to any bosses tempted to put the kibosh on their employees’ headphones habit: This is one area where you may not want to intervene. In a study that looked at computer programmers (a group that’s used to listening to music while they work), Lesiuk found that, after several weeks of being allowed to listen to whatever they wanted to, turning off the tunes caused a noticeable dip in both mood and productivity.

Brooklyn’s Baddest [Sean Flynn on Gentlemen’s Quarterly] (8/4/14)

In 1973, when Scarcella was sworn in, 1,680 people were murdered in New York City, and about as many were killed the next year and the year after that, all through the ’70s and into the ’80s. And then crime got really bad, and Bernie Goetz shot those kids on the subway, and the Central Park jogger got raped and beaten nearly to death, and the New York Post screamed DAVE, DO SOMETHING! on the front page, meaning Dinkins, the mayor. The murders peaked in 1990, at 2,245—almost seven times as many as in 2013—and didn’t start to dip until 1995, when Scarcella was five years out from his pension. He is 62 years old now, with a heavy brow and shaggy hair that’s only beginning to thin. He’s fit and trim, muscles ropy under the tattoos staining his arms, and he still keeps a duplicate of his gold shield, which has the same number as his father’s gold shield, in his pocket. He doesn’t look like what the papers are calling him, a rogue. When he left the job, he was as famous as a street cop can get, because he broke some of the most heinous cases in a city that stratified crime between horrific and merely appalling…And the rabbi. That case made Scarcella’s name. Chaskel Werzberger survived the Holocaust only to get shot in the face in Williamsburg in 1990. A robbery went bad, the thief panicked and jacked Werzberger’s station wagon to get away, killed him in the street. Dozens of detectives worked that case for weeks, got nothing but dead ends. Six months later, Scarcella and his partner found two men who said they were accomplices, and they fingered a guy named David Ranta as the shooter. Scarcella spent hours with Ranta, coaxing. “You’re Italian, I’m Italian,” Scarcella finally said. “This is your chance to tell me. Tell me what happened.” Scarcella wrote a confession for Ranta on the only thing he had, a manila file folder…But then, in the spring of 2013, something unusual happened: David Ranta was let out of prison. What made Ranta’s release so extraordinary was that prosecutors asked a judge to let him go. In March 2013, after two decades of fighting appeals, district attorneys in Kings County re-evaluated whether Ranta ever should’ve been locked up. And they decided no, he should not have spent twenty-three years in prison, should not have been torn away from his family, should not have lost the prime of his life, for a crime he almost certainly had nothing to do with. Twenty-three years after the fact, a witness said a detective (he did not say which detective) had told him to “pick the guy with the big nose” from a lineup. One of the alleged accomplices, a convicted rapist, says he lied to get a break on his own legal troubles. He says the other accomplice, a junkie with five open robbery cases, lied, too. Take away those witnesses, and all that’s left is a confession that Ranta has always insisted he never made; he says he signed the file folder with his purported statement on it when it was blank, thinking it was a form that would allow him to make a phone call. Ranta’s release was a big story, maybe bigger, even, than Scarcella arresting him. The City of New York agreed to pay Ranta $6.4 million before he even had a chance to sue.

The Mysterious Case of the 113-Year-Old Light Bulb [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (9/22/14)

Citing these advancements, Shelby claimed that its bulbs lasted 30% longer and burned 20% brighter than any other lamp in the world. The company experienced explosive success: According to Western Electrician, they’d “received so many orders by the first of March [1897], that it was necessary to begin running nights and to increase the size of the factory.” By the end of the year, output doubled from 2,000 to 4,000 lamps per day, and “the difference in favor of Shelby lamps was so apparent that no doubt was left in the minds of even the most skeptical.” Over the next decade, Shelby continued to roll out new products, but as the light bulb market expanded and new technologies emerged (tungsten filaments), the company found itself unable to make the massive monetary investment required to compete. In 1914, they were bought out by General Electric and Shelby bulbs were discontinued. Seventy-five years later, in 1972, a fire marshall in Livermore, California informed a local paper of an oddity: A naked, Shelby light bulb hanging from the ceiling of his station had been burning continuously for decades. The bulb had long been a legend in the firehouse, but nobody knew for certain how long it had been burning, or where it came from. Mike Dunstan, a young reporter with the Tri-Valley Herald, began to investigate — and what he found was truly spectacular. Tracing the bulb’s origins through dozens of oral narratives and written histories, Dunstan determined it had been purchased by Dennis Bernal of the Livermore Power and Water Co. (the city’s first power company) sometime in the late 1890s, then donated to the city’s fire department in 1901, when Bernal sold the company. As only 3% of American homes were lit by electricity at the time, the Shelby bulb was a hot commodity…Once settled, the bulb was placed under video surveillance to ensure it was alive at all hours; in subsequent years, a live “BulbCam” was put online. Last year, the bulb’s groupies (of which there are nearly 9,000 on Facebook), received another scare when it lost light…At first it was suspected that the light had finally met its demise, but after nine and half hours, it was discovered that the bulb’s uninterrupted power supply had failed; once the power supply was bypassed, the bulb’s light returned. The 113-year-old bulb had outlived its power supply — just as it had outlived three surveillance cameras. Today, the bulb still shines, though, as one retired fire volunteer once said, “it don’t give much light” (only about 4 watts).

Not So Foolish [Steven Poole on Aeon Magazine] (9/22/14)

The present climate of distrust in our reasoning capacity draws much of its impetus from the field of behavioural economics, and particularly from work by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the 1980s, summarised in Kahneman’s bestselling Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011). There, Kahneman divides the mind into two allegorical systems, the intuitive ‘System 1’, which often gives wrong answers, and the reflective reasoning of ‘System 2’. ‘The attentive System 2 is who we think we are,’ he writes; but it is the intuitive, biased, ‘irrational’ System 1 that is in charge most of the time. Other versions of the message are expressed in more strongly negative terms. You Are Not So Smart (2011) is a bestselling book by David McRaney on cognitive bias. According to the study ‘Why Do Humans Reason?’ (2011) by the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, our supposedly rational faculties evolved not to find ‘truth’ but merely to win arguments. And in The Righteous Mind (2012), the psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls the idea that reason is ‘our most noble attribute’ a mere ‘delusion’. The worship of reason, he adds, ‘is an example of faith in something that does not exist’. Your brain, runs the now-prevailing wisdom, is mainly a tangled, damp and contingently cobbled-together knot of cognitive biases and fear. This is a scientised version of original sin. And its eager adoption by today’s governments threatens social consequences that many might find troubling. A culture that believes its citizens are not reliably competent thinkers will treat those citizens differently to one that respects their reflective autonomy. Which kind of culture do we want to be? And we do have a choice. Because it turns out that the modern vision of compromised rationality is more open to challenge than many of its followers accept.

Fixing the Best Schools in the World [Amanda Little on Bloomberg Businessweek] (9/24/14)

Shanghai public schools placed first worldwide on the recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) exams, which are administered every three years by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The average scores of Shanghai students in reading, science, and mathematics were more than 10 percent higher than the scores of students in the legendary Finnish school system, which had been top-ranked until 2009, when Shanghai was first included in the testing, and about 25 percent higher than those of the U.S., which ranked 36th. While some critics dispute the PISA rankings, arguing that U.S. schools are evaluated as a national collective, not city-by-city as Chinese schools are, most agree that China produces formidable test takers. The school system in Shanghai, the nation’s largest and wealthiest city, is widely accepted as the most rigorous education system in the world. But Qiu thinks it can do better. Throughout his career he has been pushing the system to improve and adapt alongside China’s fast-changing economy. Today, Qiu is an elder statesman among a growing number of younger, more radical pioneers who think the Chinese education system, for all its success, is archaic and in need of sweeping reform. Qiu and the others believe that test scores alone aren’t a reliable predictor of long-term success—for students or the economy at large…Jiang Xueqin, a teacher at a top Beijing high school who recently published Creative China, a treatise on education reform, stresses that the Chinese system still puts excessive emphasis on rote learning and memorization, and not enough on the skills students need to build careers and an economy that’s innovative and not derivative.

The Bacon Boom Was Not an Accident [David Sax on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/6/14)

This incessant demand drained the volatility out of the pork belly futures market, and trading on belly contracts slowed to a trickle. In 2012, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ceased the trade in pork belly contracts, due to lack of volume. The shouts of the belly pit, where broad-chested men once made great fortunes on fatty pig parts, fell silent. “[Bacon’s] the reason the market died,” says Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, a market research firm specializing in the pork business. “That market had a well-deserved reason for volatility. It was a speculators playground because it was so vulnerable. As the volatility shrank, the volume of the trades shrank.”

Mechanical Turk: The New Face of Behavioral Science? [Rosie Cima on Priceonomics] (10/15/14)

[I]f you’re doing a study of human psychology or behavior, and sample only consists of American undergraduate students who are either: (a) need beer money, or worse yet (b) are required by the same few professors to volunteer as subjects; you might come away with the mistaken impression that all humans are like western undergraduates. In these fields they’ve become the standard subject for the species at large, which is a status they might not deserve. In a study titled, “The Weirdest People in the World?” researchers conducted a kind of audit of studies that exclusively sample US college students — who, among other similarities, tend to hail from societies that are “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD)”. They found that American undergraduates in particular were vastly over-represented…They then compared the results of WEIRD-biased studies to studies that researched the same effect, but sampled subjects from non-WEIRD populations…“The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity.” The problem is, undergrads are easy — they’re around, they’re cheap, they have few qualms about sacrificing themselves for science. They’re at the “top of the vase”. This is called “convenience sampling.”  So how can researchers effectively, and economically, “shake the vase” and get a more representative sample of humans at large? Many think it involves the internet. And a growing number of them think it involves Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

The Little-Known Story of How The Shawshank Redemption Became One of the Most Beloved Films of All Time [Margaret Heidenry on Vanity Fair] (9/22/14)

Darabont, a “rabid and devoted” Stephen King fan, nursed a chimera: turning one of the writer’s stories into a film. Not many novelists have seen their work sail past as many movie-studio gatekeepers as King, starting with 1976’s blood-soaked hit Carrie. The author famously hated director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel The Shining—King felt actor Shelley Duvall’s Wendy was “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film”—but he didn’t punish other filmmakers. Instead, King maintains a policy of granting newbie directors in need of a calling card the rights to his short stories for one dollar. In 1983 a 20-something Darabont handed King a buck to make The Woman in the Room, one of the few amateur short films based on his work that the author enjoyed. But Darabont’s real obsession was a prison yarn, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, from Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas that represented King’s attempt to break out of the genre corner he’d written himself into over the years. With his ultimate goal a feature film, Darabont waited for his résumé to lengthen enough to support his aspirations before approaching King again. “In 1987, my first produced screenplay credit was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” says Darabont. “And I thought, Perhaps now is the time.” Once Darabont received King’s blessing, he set about adapting Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The 96-page story is anything but cinematic, consisting largely of Red ruminating about fellow prisoner Andy, confounding Hollywood’s predilection for high-concept “Harry Potter meets Die Hard” loglines. Even King “didn’t really understand how you make a movie out of it,” says Darabont. “To me it was just dead obvious.” Still, Darabont says he “wasn’t ready” to sit down at his word processor right away, and five years passed, as he focused on paid jobs writing scripts for The Blob and The Fly II. Darabont, who “wanted to honor the source material,” mimicked the novella’s narrative thrust in his screenplay and even lifted some dialogue verbatim. Other plot points were entirely his invention, sharpening the film’s themes and adding dashes of cinematic violence. In King’s story, a minor character, Brooks, dies uneventfully in an old folks’ home. The movie dedicates a poignant montage to the now more pivotal Brooks’s inability to make it on the outside and his subsequent heart-wrenching suicide by hanging. Tommy, a young con who can clear Andy’s name, trades his silence for a transfer to a minimum-security prison in King’s version. The script has Tommy “chewed to pieces by gunfire.” And Darabont condensed King’s several wardens into the corrupt Warden Norton, who eventually blows his brains out rather than pay Lady Justice for his sins. Alfred Hitchcock reportedly said some version of “To make a great film you need three things: the script, the script, and the script.” Robbins says of Darabont’s finished adaptation, “It was the best script I’ve ever read. Ever.” Freeman repeated a variation of that accolade—if not the best script, certainly among the top.

Stepping off the Golden Gate Bridge [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (10/16/14)

Spanning just under two miles from San Francisco to Marin County, the Golden Gate is a grand, towering structure.  On the day it opened to public use in 1937, The Chronicle declared it a “thirty-five million dollar steel harp;” it’s since been deemed “the most beautiful, most photographed structure in the world,” and is a heralded as a marvel of engineering. But the bridge has a dark side not mentioned on its website: it is, by far, the most popular suicide destination in the United States — and the second most popular in the entire world, trailing only China’s Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. Estimates of the number of Golden Gate Bridge suicides widely vary — mainly because many victims’ bodies drift out to sea and are never recovered — but in 77 years, over 1,600 have been confirmed. Until 1995, an “official tally” was kept by the media, but as publicity mounted for the 1,000th jump (one local radio host even offered a case of Snapple to the “lucky” victim’s family), the count was disbanded. Still, is it well-documented that between 20 and 40 people jump from the bridge every year…When a person leaps from the platform (220 to 245 feet high, depending on tides), he tumbles through the air for four seconds, before hitting the water at 75-80 miles-per-hour. Roughly 95% of jumpers die from impact trauma — crushed organs, shattered bones, snapped necks; most initial survivors find themselves paralyzed and quickly drown, or succumb to hypothermia in the frigid waters. Incredibly, 34 people have survived the jump, most by way of a fortuitous gust of wind, or a perfect entry (feet-first, at a slight angle). In post-trauma psychological assessments, nearly every survivor relates that the split-second he let go, he immediately wished he hadn’t.

Curiously Strong Remains:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

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

16
Oct
15

Roundup – THE UNINVITED

Best of the Best:

The Phantom Fame: ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast,’ Secretly TV’s Most Influential Show [Sean T. Collins on Grantland] (10/7/15)

Williams Street, Space Ghost’s production company, soft-launched the shows that would become its network in a bottle in late 2000 to fill in the gap left when SGC2C went on hiatus. The future ratings powerhouse Adult Swim, which officially debuted as a late-night programming block in September 2001, was effectively a giant Space Ghost spinoff. Two of its initial series, The Brak Show and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, starred Coast to Coast characters; a third, Sealab 2021, followed in the flagship’s Hanna-Barbera-remixing wake. The fourth, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, starred characters created for a rejected Space Ghost episode by staffers David Willis and Matt Maiellaro out of boredom; it would go on to become Adult Swim’s longest-running show, with its writers, producers, and breathlessly bizarre comedy setting the tone for what was to come. What came next conquered much of cable. Like the show that spawned it, Adult Swim is still seen as a diversion for stoners — TV’s equivalent of pizza-flavored Combos. But Adult Swim slowly expanded from a programming block that aired in the wee hours twice a week to take over Cartoon Network’s entire nighttime programming. The reason is simple: Adult Swim has been no. 1 in the ratings among the sweet, sweet target demo of adults 18-34 for over a decade, unceasingly trouncing the more traditional (and much more widely discussed) boys of late night. And the methods with which it first built up and then utilized that dominance are far more diverse and influential than simply adding the distinctive scent of good kush. Without Space Ghost Coast to Coast, none of it would have ever happened.

Schoolboy [Jordan Ritter Conn on Grantland] (10/7/15)

Gunn becomes animated while listing Stanford’s merits, an Englishman defending the uniquely American institution of college athletics. “Let’s look at the academy model in most countries,” he says. “You’re 16, 17, 18 years old, and your entire life revolves around soccer. You’re going to school, but just barely. So you have this system, and it produces some really fantastic players. But what does it do for most of the other players? It just spits them back out. They’d dedicated their lives to soccer, but they’re still not good enough to play professionally. Now what? They don’t have many options. If you’re the club, then that’s great — all you need to do is develop a few really good players. But for society, for developing human beings, is that really something we want? I think we have something really special here in the United States. There’s always talk about how we should be copying these other countries, and in some ways that might be true. But in other ways, they should be copying us.”

5 Things to Know About Oregon’s Now Legal Marijuana Market [Noelle Crombie on The Oregonian] (10/1/15)

— Retail marijuana sales will be limited to dried flowers, plants and seeds. A staggering variety of marijuana-infused foods, candies, drinks and other edibles, as well as potent marijuana concentrates are not available to recreational shoppers. —  The Oregon Health Authority will oversee sales of recreational marijuana at more than 200 medical marijuana dispensaries statewide. Next year, recreational marijuana production, processing and retail sales will be overseen by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which is still drafting rules for the industry. —  For now, pot shoppers in Oregon get a tax holiday. A 25 percent temporary sales tax doesn’t kick in until Jan. 4, 2016. That tax will be replaced late next year with a 17 percent state tax, estimated to generate more than $30 million a year. Local governments may add up to another 3 percent tax, provided their voters approve. —  While sales of recreational marijuana get underway today, numerous Oregon cities and counties are blocking recreational sales, either through opt-out provisions approved by the Legislature or by refusing to give business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries. —  Marijuana use can still get you fired. Oregon’s new marijuana law doesn’t affect employers’ ability to establish drug-free policies and it doesn’t prevent them from firing you if you test positive for marijuana, even if you’re not impaired on the job.

South Africa ‘a country at war’ as murder rate soars to nearly 49 a day [The Guardian] (9/29/15)

South Africa’s murder rate has jumped 4.6% in the past year, with almost 49 people killed every day. A total of 17,805 murders were committed from April 2014 to March 2015, an increase of 782 deaths from the year before in a population of 54 million. The government admitted authorities were struggling to tackle the problem, but said the 10-year trend showed a decline in overall crime. Opposition parties and analysts criticised the numbers and said there was a lack of clear strategy to bring crime under control. The murder figures, which have risen each year from a low of 15,554 in 2011-12, reflect a reversal of what many had hoped was a long-term progress in reducing violent crime.

The Cities Where Millennials are Taking Over the Housing Market [Patrick Clark on Bloomberg News] (9/28/15)

Most of those cities don’t enjoy reputations for being particularly hip. What they are, generally, is cheap—and probably a little hipper than they get credit for. That makes a difference as young homebuyers finally shake off the effects of the recession and enter the housing market. Historically, people 25-34 have made up the largest share of homebuyers, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com. (More specifically, Smoke cited data that showed the age cohort is the most likely to take out a mortgage to buy a home, rather than to refinance.) The explanation is straightforward. People in their early 20s are less likely to be ready to buy, and people past their mid-30s are more likely to have already bought. The millennial generation has bucked that trend, for reasons that have been cause for disagreement and consternation. Slow wage growth, student loan debt, a preference for city living, and a tendency to start families later have all been posited as reasons millennials have been slower to buy than previous generations. The new findings may lower some of the alarm about first-time homebuyers. Thirty-seven percent of mortgage borrowers who bought homes were millennials, up from 31 percent in 2014. A survey conducted by Realtor.com, meanwhile, found the most common reason millennials decided to buy homes this year was that they were making more money.

Teen prosecuted as adult for having naked images – of himself – on phone [Joanna Walters on The Guardian] (9/20/15)

A teenage boy in North Carolina has been prosecuted for having nude pictures of himself on his own mobile phone. The young man, who is now 17 but was 16 at the time the photos were discovered, had to strike a plea deal to avoid potentially going to jail and being registered as a sex offender. Experts condemned the case as ludicrous. The boy was, however, punished by the courts, and had to agree to be subject to warrantless searches by law enforcement for a year, in addition to other penalties. The young man was also named in the media and suffered a suspension as quarterback of his high school football team while the case was being resolved. Cormega Copening, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was prosecuted as an adult under federal child pornography felony laws, for sexually exploiting a minor. The minor was himself.

Avoiding Stupidity is Easier than Seeking Brilliance [Shane Parrish on Farnam Street Blog] (6/11/14)

Simon Ramo, a scientist and statistician, wrote a fascinating little book that few people have bothered to read: Extraordinary Tennis Ordinary Players. The book isn’t fascinating because I love tennis. I don’t. In the book Ramo identifies the crucial difference between a Winner’s Game and a Loser’s Game. Ramo believed that tennis could be subdivided into two games: the professionals and the rest of us. Players in both games play by the same rules and scoring. They play on the same court. Sometimes they share the same equipment. In short the basic elements of the game are the same. Sometimes amateurs believe they are professionals but professionals never believe they are amateurs. But the games are fundamentally different, which is Ramo’s key insight…In his 1975 essay, The Loser’s Game, Charles Ellis calls professional tennis a “Winner’s Game.” While there is some degree of skill and luck involved, the game is generally determined by the actions of the winner. Amateur tennis is an entirely different game. Not in how it is played but in how it’s won. Long and powerful rallies are generally a thing of the past. Mistakes are frequent. Balls are constantly hit into nets or out of bounds. Double faults are nearly as common as faults…Ramo found this out because he gave up trying to keep track of conventional scores — “Love,” “Fifteen All,” etc. Instead he simply looked at points won versus points lost…After discovering that there are, in effect, two different games and realizing that a generic strategy will not work for both games he devised a clever strategy by which ordinary players can win by losing less and letting the opponent defeat themselves. “… if you choose to win at tennis – as opposed to having a good time – the strategy for winning is to avoid mistakes. The way to avoid mistakes is to be conservative and keep the ball in play, letting the other fellow have plenty of room in which to blunder his way to defeat, because he, being an amateur will play a losing game and not know it.” If you’re an amateur your focus should be on avoiding stupidity.

Putin Faces Growing Exodus as Russia’s Banking, Tech Pros Flee [Irina Reznik, Ksenia Galouchko, and Ilya Arkhipov on Bloomberg News] (9/20/15)

Publicly, the Kremlin has dismissed concerns about any “brain drain.” Still, the subject is sensitive in a country with deep scientific traditions now looking to educated workers and advanced technologies to help diversify its slumping economy from dependence on natural resources. In June, President Vladimir Putin called for a crackdown on foreign groups he accused of “working like a vacuum cleaner” to lure scholars into emigration. Departures of academics have spiked in the last year and a half, Vladimir Fortov, president of Russia’s Academy of Sciences, told state television in March. The outflow goes beyond the high-tech sector, which was showered with Kremlin attention and support under former President Dmitry Medvedev but has seen tightening restrictions since Putin returned to the presidency in 2012. Financial and legal professionals also are leaving, according to lawyers and consultants.

Stung by costs, some of Minnesota’s medical marijuana patients back to buying on streets [Kyle Potter on Associated Press via The Minneapolis Star-Tribune] (9/20/15)

Just two months after Minnesota launched its medical marijuana program, some patients turned off by high costs say they are back to buying the drug illegally because it’s the only way they can afford it. State officials and the companies hired to make marijuana products trumpeted the program’s medical approach — pills and oils, no leaf products — when it launched in July. But some patients say the highly restricted and regulated system is costing them hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month— none of it covered by insurance. Company executives defend their prices — a small vial of marijuana extract can run nearly $130 in Minnesota, more than double the cost of a similar product in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal and they’ve sold it medically for more than a decade — and say costs will fall over time. But they’re also taking steps to help some buyers, including raising money to cut the price for lower-income patients. According to state data, nearly one in five of the 491 registered patients hadn’t returned to buy more medication in the last month, though state officials stress there are many possible explanations.

The richest places in America all have one thing in common [Emily Badger and Lazaro Gamio on Washington Post] (9/18/15)

Kansas City, St. Louis and and Baltimore are missing holes on a map of American prosperity. They are relatively low-income, encircled by wealth. Cross their county lines into the suburbs, and households there make, in many cases, nearly twice as much. Same with Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Dallas. The pattern is a classic American one, built through decades of postwar wealthy flight to the suburbs and disinvestment in cities. But it’s striking today how deeply entrenched this geometry remains at the county level, especially in an era when poverty is expanding into the suburbs and wealthier households are moving back in.

20 Years Of ‘Heat’: Michael Mann Discusses His LA Crime Classic [Vince Mancini on FilmDrunk] (9/18/15)

De Niro’s Neil McCauley based on a guy named, you guessed it, Neil McCauley. The real McCauley was a career criminal from the Midwest who did seven years in Alcatraz, where he had a “near spotless conduct record” and worked as the prison’s chief electrician before his release in 1962. In 1963, he sat down for coffee with Chuck Adamson, the major crimes detective who was tracking him, and the two had a conversation very similar to the one in the film. A year later, McCauley and his gang were trying to rob a supermarket, unaware that Adamson had been tracking them the whole time. As McCauley tried to flee on foot, Adamson shot and killed him on someone’s front lawn. Adamson eventually left police work to become a writer, befriending Michael Mann and eventually writing for Mann’s Miami Vice. Mann was taken with the McCauley-Adamson story, especially the idea that two guys could have such a mutual respect, but still be compartmentalized enough that they wouldn’t hesitate to kill each other. Jon Voight’s “Nate,” McCauley’s fencer/fixer was, according to Mann, based on Edward Bunker, an ex-con and LA underworld figure who wrote memoir called No Beast So Fierce.

Data on Use of Force by Police Across U.S. Proves Almost Useless [Matt Apuzo and Sarah Cohen on New York Times] (8/11/15)

When the Justice Department surveyed police departments nationwide in 2013, officials included for the first time a series of questions about how often officers used force…The Justice Department survey had the potential to reveal whether officers were more likely to use force in diverse or homogeneous cities; in depressed areas or wealthy suburbs; and in cities or rural towns. Did the racial makeup of the police department matter? Did crime rates? But when the data was issued last month, without a public announcement, the figures turned out to be almost useless. Nearly all departments said they kept track of their shootings, but in accounting for all uses of force, the figures varied widely. Some cities included episodes in which officers punched suspects or threw them to the ground. Others did not. Some counted the use of less lethal weapons, such as beanbag guns. Others did not. And many departments, including large ones such as those in New York, Houston, Baltimore and Detroit, either said they did not know how many times their officers had used force or simply refused to say. That made any meaningful analysis of the data impossible.

How Russian Hackers Stole the Nasdaq [Michael Riley on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/17/14)

As much as hacking has become a daily irritant, much more of it crosses watch-center monitors out of sight from the public. The Chinese, the French, the Israelis—and many less well known or understood players—all hack in one way or another. They steal missile plans, chemical formulas, power-plant pipeline schematics, and economic data. That’s espionage; attack code is a military strike. There are only a few recorded deployments, the most famous being the Stuxnet worm. Widely believed to be a joint project of the U.S. and Israel, Stuxnet temporarily disabled Iran’s uranium-processing facility at Natanz in 2010. It switched off safety mechanisms, causing the centrifuges at the heart of a refinery to spin out of control. Two years later, Iran destroyed two-thirds of Saudi Aramco’s computer network with a relatively unsophisticated but fast-spreading “wiper” virus. One veteran U.S. official says that when it came to a digital weapon planted in a critical system inside the U.S., he’s seen it only once—in Nasdaq…Thus began a frenzied five-month investigation that would test the cyber-response capabilities of the U.S. and directly involve the president. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies, under pressure to decipher a complex hack, struggled to provide an even moderately clear picture to policymakers. After months of work, there were still basic disagreements in different parts of government over who was behind the incident and why…While the hack was successfully disrupted, it revealed how vulnerable financial exchanges—as well as banks, chemical refineries, water plants, and electric utilities—are to digital assault. One official who experienced the event firsthand says he thought the attack would change everything, that it would force the U.S. to get serious about preparing for a new era of conflict by computer. He was wrong.

Pitbull: Get Rich or Die Shilling [Emma Rosenblum on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/17/14)

In the decade since, Pitbull has become ubiquitous and is moving into the territory of empire builder, along the lines of 50 Cent or Jay Z. His publicist, Tom Muzquiz, a peppy man with spiky hair who’s lingering at the next table, promised to figure out the perfect day for us to spend together to help me understand his boss’s reach and ambition. And it didn’t involve a yacht or a crazy night out in South Beach or anything to do with his outsize lifestyle. Exciting for Pitbull, now, is thinking about things other than partying, studio time, and ladies. (He has six children with an undisclosed number of women.) This hotel restaurant isn’t just where Pitbull asked to meet on this day, it’s where he conducts business; he doesn’t have a normal office, so he holds meetings here, sometimes jumping from one table to the other. The location is perfect for Pitbull, as it’s private enough but doesn’t deny him the pleasure of a Greek chorus of Yes Men. He asks that I keep it a secret. If it gets out, Muzquiz says, “it could create problems.” Along with Zigel and Muzquiz, the group consists of Pitbull’s manager, Mike Calderon, and a few large, intimidating men whose purpose seems to be laughing when Pitbull tells a joke. At one point someone’s phone goes off. The ringtone is Timber, Pitbull’s most recent No. 1 hit, which features Kesha singing, “It’s going down, I’m yelling Timber!” Pitbull rolls his eyes.

Is Every Speed Limit Too Low? [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (7/23/14)

Every year, traffic engineers review the speed limit on thousands of stretches of road and highway. Most are reviewed by a member of the state’s Department of Transportation, often along with a member of the state police, as is the case in Michigan. In each case, the “survey team” has a clear approach: they want to set the speed limit so that 15% of drivers exceed it and 85% of drivers drive at or below the speed limit. This “nationally recognized method” of setting the speed limit as the 85th percentile speed is essentially traffic engineering 101. It’s also a bit perplexing to those unfamiliar with the concept. Shouldn’t everyone drive at or below the speed limit? And if a driver’s speed is dictated by the speed limit, how can you decide whether or not to change that limit based on the speed of traffic? The answer lies in realizing that the speed limit really is just a number on a sign, and it has very little influence on how fast people drive…Luckily, there is some logic to the speed people choose other than the need for speed. The speed drivers choose is not based on laws or street signs, but the weather, number of intersections, presence of pedestrians and curves, and all the other information that factors into the principle, as Lt. Megge puts it, that “no one I know who gets into their car wants to crash.”…One reason is that a minority of drivers do follow the speed limit. “I’ve found that about 10% of drivers truly identify the speed limit sign and drive at or near that limit,” says Megge. Since these are the slowest share of drivers, they don’t affect the 85th percentile speed. But they do impact the average speed — by about 2 or 3 mph when a speed limit is changed, in Lt. Megge’s experience — and, more importantly, the variance in driving speeds. This is important because, as noted in a U.S. Department of Transportation report, “the potential for being involved in an accident is highest when traveling at speed much lower or much higher than the majority of motorists.” If every car sets its cruise control at the same speed, the odds of a fender bender happening is low. But when some cars drive 55 mph and others drive 85 mph, the odds of cars colliding increases dramatically. This is why getting slow drivers to stick to the right lane is so important to roadway safety; we generally focus on joyriders’ ability to cause accidents — and rightly so — but a car driving under the speed limit in the left (passing) lane of a highway is almost as dangerous. Traffic engineers believe that the 85th percentile speed is the ideal speed limit because it leads to the least variability between driving speeds and therefore safer roads.

If the World Began Again, Would Life as We Know It Exist? [Zach Zorich on Nautilus] (6/19/14)

In 11 of Lenski’s flasks, the E. coli cells grew physically larger, but bacteria in one flask divided itself into separate lineages—one with large cells and the other with small cells…No other population in the experiment did the same; a historically contingent event seemed to have taken place. Even 26 years later, none of the other E. coli lineages evolved it. In this case, contingency seems to have won out over convergence. In 2003, another contingent event took place. The number of E. coli in one of the flasks increased to the point where the normally translucent nutrient solution turned cloudy. At first Lenski thought that the flask had been contaminated, but it turned out that the E. coli, which normally just feed on glucose in the solution, had developed a way to consume a different chemical in the flasks, called citrate. After 15 years, or 31,500 generations, just one of the populations was able to consume the substance.2 Its population size quickly expanded by a factor of five. This “historical contingency” gave Lenski and his graduate student Zachary Blount a chance to examine the likelihood that it would happen again if they rewound the tape. Blount went to the archive of frozen E. coli, and selected 72 samples collected at different periods in the experiment from the population that later evolved citrate metabolism. He thawed them out, and let them grow. Eventually, four out of the 72 samples acquired the ability. What’s more, the mutations only occurred in populations that had been frozen after 30,500 generations. Genetic analysis showed that several genes had undergone mutations that “potentiated” the evolution of citrate metabolism before that point. In other words, the ability to consume citrate was contingent upon other mutations that had come before it. Those formed a fork in the road, altering the path that generations after would be able to travel.

The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect [Gideon Lewis-Krause on Wired] (7/22/14)

On the subject of judgment, though, it became clear even in those early days that a sort of editorial consciousness was at work in Word’s spell-check and autocorrect systems. Judgement, for example, isn’t a misspelling—just about every dictionary lists it as an acceptable alternative. But autocorrect tends to enforce primary spellings in all circumstances. On idiom, some of its calls seemed fairly clear-cut: gorilla warfare became guerrilla warfare, for example, even though a wildlife biologist might find that an inconvenient assumption. But some of the calls were quite tricky, and one of the trickiest involved the issue of obscenity. On one hand, Word didn’t want to seem priggish; on the other, it couldn’t very well go around recommending the correct spelling of mothrefukcer. Microsoft was sensitive to these issues. The solution lay in expanding one of spell-check’s most special lists, bearing the understated title: “Words which should neither be flagged nor suggested.” I called up Thorpe, who now runs a Boston-based startup called Philo, to ask him how the idea for the list came about. An inspiration, as he recalls it, was a certain Microsoft user named Bill Vignola. One day Vignola sent Bill Gates an email. (Thorpe couldn’t recall who Bill Vignola was or what he did.) Whenever Bill Vignola typed his own name in MS Word, the email to Gates explained, it was automatically changed to Bill Vaginal. Presumably Vignola caught this sometimes, but not always, and no doubt this serious man was sad to come across like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel. His email made it down the chain of command to Thorpe. And Bill Vaginal wasn’t the only complainant: As Thorpe recalls, Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs. Thorpe went through the dictionary and took out all the words marked as “vulgar.” Then he threw in a few anatomical terms for good measure. The resulting list ran to hundreds of entries: anally, asshole, battle-axe, battleaxe, bimbo, booger, boogers, butthead, Butthead …With these sorts of master lists in place—the corrections, the exceptions, and the to-be-primly-ignored—the joists of autocorrect, then still a subdomain of spell-check, were in place for the early releases of Word. Microsoft’s dominance at the time ensured that autocorrect became globally ubiquitous, along with some of its idiosyncrasies. By the early 2000s, European bureaucrats would begin to notice what came to be called the Cupertino effect, whereby the word cooperation (bizarrely included only in hyphenated form in the standard Word dictionary) would be marked wrong, with a suggested change to Cupertino. There are thus many instances where one parliamentary back-bencher or another longs for increased Cupertino between nations. Since then, linguists have adopted the word cupertino as a term of art for such trapdoors that have been assimilated into the language.

Coke Confronts Its Big Fat Problem [Claire Suddath and Duane Stanford on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/31/14)

Americans may not have figured out the answer to the obesity epidemic, but for years they’ve pointed to Coca-Cola and other soda as one of the causes. Coke has tried fighting against this. It’s tried ignoring it. Now it accepts this as a reality. This is the problem Douglas has to confront. He has to persuade people to drink Coca-Cola again, even if they don’t guzzle it like water the way they did before. Cultural shifts don’t happen overnight. They build slowly—a sip of coconut water here, a quinoa purchase there, and suddenly the American diet looks drastically different than it did 10 years ago. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the $75 billion soda industry. For decades, soft-drink companies saw consumption rise. During the 1970s, the average person doubled the amount of soda they drank; by the 1980s it had overtaken tap water. In 1998, Americans were downing 56 gallons of the stuff every year—that’s 1.3 oil barrels’ worth of soda for every person in the country. And then we weren’t as thirsty for soda anymore, and there were so many new drink options that we could easily swap it out for something else. Soft-drink sales stabilized for a few years; in 2005 they started dropping, and they haven’t stopped. Americans are now drinking about 450 cans of soda a year, according to Beverage Digest, roughly the same amount they did in 1986.

Inside YouTube’s Fame Factory [Sarah Kessler on Fast Company] (8/4/14)

A sea of girls is hoisting cell phones into the air. It’s impossible to tell whether it’s a line or whether there’s something extremely interesting toward the center of the mob. A scream erupts from a far corner. “What’s happening?” I ask a tall blonde girl next to me. “I don’t know. Someone came out,” she says…Some kids are here to see beauty vloggers like Michelle Phan (6.7 million subscribers), who posts tutorials about makeup and life advice on her channel. Another, typically older, crowd prefers the Jon Stewart-esque commentary of Philip DeFranco (3.3 million subscribers) and the news-based comedy channel he created called SourceFed (1.4 million subscribers). Others enjoy following daily updates from a family of six that goes by the name “Shaytards” (2.4 million subscribers). The Fine Brothers (9.3 million subscribers), who mostly direct rather than star in videos on their channel, attract an audience that is half comprised of people older than 25, though you’d never guess it here. Other corners of YouTube, like the extremely popular video game YouTubers, aren’t even represented at VidCon, where teenage girls running after cute boy YouTubers are the most visible force. A father-daughter pair have posted themselves strategically between the conference center and hotel, where they have decided there will be the greatest likelihood of spotting a star. Well, one star, in particular: Jenna Marbles (13.5 million subscribers), a 27-year-old with a colorful sense of fashion and a penchant for irreverent sarcasm. The girl’s father pulls his iPhone out of his pocket to show me a video of his daughter crying deliriously with happiness. “This is what happened when Jenna followed her on Twitter.” He turns to his now embarrassed daughter, “show her the notebook.” His daughter rolls her eyes at him before she sheepishly pulls out a thick spiral notebook from her backpack. She has lined its pages with colored construction paper, on which she has pasted frames from each of Jenna Marbles’ more than 200 videos. Written below each photo in marker is her favorite line from that video. “If we can find Jenna Marbles and give her the book, we win, and I can go home,” her father tells me.

The Making of Vladimir Putin [Strobe Talbott on Politico Magazine] (8/19/14)

Putin’s aggression only makes sense against the backdrop of what has been the defining theme of his presidency: turning back the clock. For years that has meant repudiating the transformational policies of his immediate predecessors and reinstating key attributes of the Soviet system within the borders of the Russian Federation. But there were also indications that, if given a chance, Putin might extend his agenda, his rule, and what he hopes will be his legacy beyond those borders. In 2005, he famously lamented that the breakup of the Soviet Union “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Three years later, Russia invaded Georgia and granted “independence” to two breakaway ethnic conclaves, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Not until this year, however, did Russia expand by military conquest and unilateral decree its own territory by seizing Crimea. In doing so, Putin also proclaimed the right to “protect our compatriots and fellow citizens”– i.e., Russian-speaking minorities – elsewhere in the near abroad, from Estonia on the Baltic to Kazakhstan in Central Asia. Therein lies the most malignant manifestation of Putinism: it violates international law, nullifies Russia’s past pledges to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors, carries with it the danger of spinning out of control and sparking a wider conflict, and establishes a precedent for other major powers to apply their own version of the Putin Doctrine when convenient (think of China, for example, and its running feuds with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan over territorial and maritime claims). While Putin has earned the ism that Safire attached to his name more than 14 years ago, the phenomenon he personifies — its content, motivation and rationale, as well as the constituencies behind it — predates the appearance of Putin himself on the scene. A number of students of recent Russian history — including some, like myself, who have dealt with Putin — can, in retrospect, trace the roots of his policies today back more than a quarter century to the battle between Soviet reformers and their reactionary and revanchist foes.

The Hedge Fund and the Despot [Cam Simpson and Jesse Westbrook on Bloomberg Businessweek] (8/21/14)

In March 2008, McGee met secretly with a member of the political machine of Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe and Africa’s most notorious living despot. In 1979, Mugabe had led one of two guerrilla groups that liberated the former Rhodesia from a white-minority regime, a conflict that left an estimated 30,000 dead. Mugabe won democratic elections in 1980 but soon consolidated his power. He unleashed his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on a rival guerrilla force, killing an estimated 20,000, including thousands of civilians. The world was slow to react, but finally, in 2003, the U.S. levied sanctions against Mugabe and his cohorts, threatening any U.S. individuals or companies that backed them. By 2008, when McGee was ambassador, Mugabe and his ruling party had wrecked Zimbabwe’s economy and were on the brink of losing power. McGee was deeply skeptical of his informant during their first meeting, but he found one of his tips plausible: The dictator was about to lose a first round of elections, and Mugabe knew it. The regime was cash-starved; its currency was virtually worthless outside the country, with Zimbabwe’s central bank printing money 24 hours a day. Inflation had hit an estimated 500,000 percent. The total value of all the currency in the economy was estimated at just $100 million. The election was five days away; defeat for Mugabe posed a viable threat to his rule for the first time. The informant was right: Mugabe lost that first round to Morgan Tsvangirai. Two weeks after the loss, McGee spoke to the insider again. “He told us the regime was preparing for war,” he recalls. Mugabe’s men were setting up command centers for torture and killing in areas that voted for the opposition, the man told McGee, and regional party leaders like him were told to draw up lists of people to target. The ambassador learned that Mugabe’s government had landed critical funding, totaling $100 million, only days after the vote. The regime even provided hundreds of trucks and other vehicles to ferry militias to regions that favored Tsvangirai. Reports of violence across the country soon poured into McGee’s embassy as Mugabe’s militias sought to punish opposition activists, drive their supporters from their homes, and intimidate the rest into backing Mugabe in the next round of elections…McGee wouldn’t find out for years, but as the attacks were unfolding, and as he worked with Washington to financially isolate Mugabe, a Wall Street consortium provided the $100 million for the dictator’s government. These millions secured the rights to mine platinum, among the most valuable of minerals, from central Zimbabwe. Several firms were involved in the investment, including BlackRock (BLK), GLG Partners, and Credit Suisse (CS). The most vital player was Och-Ziff Capital Management (OZM), the largest publicly traded hedge fund on Wall Street. An Och-Ziff spokesman declined to comment for this article. Now some of its African investments are at the center of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Secret History of Guns [Adam Winkler on The Atlantic] (September 2011)

Opposition to gun control was what drove the black militants to visit the California capitol with loaded weapons in hand. The Black Panther Party had been formed six months earlier, in Oakland, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Like many young African Americans, Newton and Seale were frustrated with the failed promise of the civil-rights movement. Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were legal landmarks, but they had yet to deliver equal opportunity. In Newton and Seale’s view, the only tangible outcome of the civil-rights movement had been more violence and oppression, much of it committed by the very entity meant to protect and serve the public: the police…Malcolm X and the Panthers described their right to use guns in self-defense in constitutional terms. “Article number two of the constitutional amendments,” Malcolm X argued, “provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.” Guns became central to the Panthers’ identity, as they taught their early recruits that “the gun is the only thing that will free us—gain us our liberation.” They bought some of their first guns with earnings from selling copies of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book to students at the University of California at Berkeley…Civil-rights activists, even those committed to nonviolent resistance, had long appreciated the value of guns for self-protection. Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a permit to carry a concealed firearm in 1956, after his house was bombed. His application was denied, but from then on, armed supporters guarded his home. One adviser, Glenn Smiley, described the King home as “an arsenal.” William Worthy, a black reporter who covered the civil-rights movement, almost sat on a loaded gun in a living-room armchair during a visit to King’s parsonage…After the February incident, the Panthers began a regular practice of policing the police. Thanks to an army of new recruits inspired to join up when they heard about Newton’s bravado, groups of armed Panthers would drive around following police cars. When the police stopped a black person, the Panthers would stand off to the side and shout out legal advice. Don Mulford, a conservative Republican state assemblyman from Alameda County, which includes Oakland, was determined to end the Panthers’ police patrols. To disarm the Panthers, he proposed a law that would prohibit the carrying of a loaded weapon in any California city…The Panthers’ methods provoked an immediate backlash. The day of their statehouse protest, lawmakers said the incident would speed enactment of Mulford’s gun-control proposal…Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”…The fear inspired by black people with guns also led the United States Congress to consider new gun restrictions, after the summer of 1967 brought what the historian Harvard Sitkoff called the “most intense and destructive wave of racial violence the nation had ever witnessed.” Devastating riots engulfed Detroit and Newark. Police and National Guardsmen who tried to help restore order were greeted with sniper fire. A 1968 federal report blamed the unrest at least partly on the easy availability of guns. Because rioters used guns to keep law enforcement at bay, the report’s authors asserted that a recent spike in firearms sales and permit applications was “directly related to the actuality and prospect of civil disorders.” They drew “the firm conclusion that effective firearms controls are an essential contribution to domestic peace and tranquility.” Political will in Congress reached the critical point around this time. In April of 1968, James Earl Ray, a virulent racist, used a Remington Gamemaster deer rifle to kill Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. King’s assassination—and the sniper fire faced by police trying to quell the resulting riots—gave gun-control advocates a vivid argument. Two months later, a man wielding a .22-caliber Iver Johnson Cadet revolver shot Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. The very next day, Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the first federal gun-control law in 30 years. Months later, the Gun Control Act of 1968 amended and enlarged it. Together, these laws greatly expanded the federal licensing system for gun dealers and clarified which people—including anyone previously convicted of a felony, the mentally ill, illegal-drug users, and minors—were not allowed to own firearms. More controversially, the laws restricted importation of “Saturday Night Specials”—the small, cheap, poor-quality handguns so named by Detroit police for their association with urban crime, which spiked on weekends. Because these inexpensive pistols were popular in minority communities, one critic said the new federal gun legislation “was passed not to control guns but to control blacks.”

Back to Baghdad: Life in the City of Doom [Roy Scranton on The Rolling Stone] (7/17/14)

I’d always been ambivalent about being a veteran. On the one hand, I was proud of my service. I’d done something difficult that few Americans show the courage or wherewithal to do, and I’d come out stronger for it. My year in Iraq with the 1st Armored Division was spent mainly on two kinds of missions: For the first six months of our tour, in 2003, we picked up artillery rounds all over Baghdad. We kept Iraqi kids from blowing themselves up and denied insurgents weapons. For the next six months, I drove a Humvee around a Sunni neighborhood in south Baghdad called Dora, and then down the highway to Karbala and Najaf, looking for roadside bombs and snipers. On the other hand, the war was the most dehumanizing experience of my life. Inside the wire, we lived like prisoners, staring at the same walls and the same faces, lifting weights, watching DVDs, killing time until we got to go back home. Outside the wire, we moved in an alien, hostile world luminous with adrenaline and danger. Over time, as we were shot at, mortared and sometimes blown up, fear and rage built up in us like toxins, until we were praying for reasons to shoot – not people, mind you, just fucking hajjis. We harassed and intimidated hajjis on the street. We humiliated hajjis in their homes. We ran hajji cars off the road when they got in our way. We locked hajjis up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of us did worse. Some of us did a lot worse. Meanwhile, the war itself never made any sense. Like many veterans, when it came to my role, I relied on a rhetoric of professionalism, camaraderie and a narrow focus on personal experience to help me ignore heavy questions about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Later, I let the relative peace following America’s 2011 withdrawal confirm the official narrative: We had made mistakes with the invasion, but the surge had worked, and we’d left Iraq a functioning democracy. I had my doubts, but it was a story I wanted to believe. Over time, I took up a mantra of comforting phrases that numbed those doubts and fuzzed out my connection to the big picture: “The war was fucked, but I did my job. I’m proud of my service, but it’s complicated. I did the best I could in a bad situation.” Watching ISIS take Fallujah in January had made me realize just how empty those phrases were. To see an Al Qaeda splinter group take over a third of Iraq, while the so-called democratic government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki revealed itself to be a dysfunctional hybrid of anarcho-capitalism and tyranny, meant having to give up the illusion that we might have done some good in Iraq. It meant having to confront the possibility that we didn’t just leave Iraq – we had lost Iraq.

What Happened to Motorola [Ted C. Fishman on Chicago Magazine] (8/25/14)

Three months after Chris Galvin left Motorola, the company’s numbers began to turn around dramatically. The Razr proved to be a monster hit, with 50 million selling in its first two years on the market. By the end of 2004, Motorola’s market cap—the market value of its outstanding shares—hit $42 billion. The person celebrating was Galvin’s replacement, Ed Zander. Formerly the COO of pioneering computer company Sun Microsystems (now owned by Oracle), Zander was a skilled corporate showman who entertained with verve and humor. At a leadership seminar in Silicon Valley after he took the job, Zander joked to the audience that the Motorola he inherited was so slow moving, so blind to the coming convergence of telecommunications technologies, that he cried on his first day. With the success of the Razr, he could soon put his tears on hold. Motorola began generating billions in cash. In Zander’s first two years, the stock price doubled. The new CEO rode the Razr as long as possible, producing a dizzying variety in different colors and shapes and with slightly different features. The big carriers demanded it, says Zander, who currently sits on several boards: “Verizon would want the power button on one side, and AT&T would want it on the other.” Meanwhile, in arguably one of the worst decisions ever made by a major corporate CEO, Zander struck a deal with his Silicon Valley friend Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple. Together their companies created a Motorola iTunes phone, the first phone connected to Apple’s music store. “We can’t think of a more natural partnership than this one with Apple,” Zander said at the time. Named the Rokr, the phone launched in the fall of 2005. Jobs, who introduced it, called it “an iPod Shuffle right on your phone.” Zander says he believed that by working with Apple, Motorola could become cool again. But much as it had taught the Chinese to compete with it years before, Motorola was teaching one of the most creative, competitive, and consumer-savvy companies of all time how to make a phone.

Curiously Strong Remains:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

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

01
Oct
15

Roundup – Evolution Is, As Evolution Does

Best of the Best:

Officials: Islamic State arose from US support for al-Qaeda in Iraq [Nafeez Ahmed on Insurge Intelligence via Medium] (8/13/15)

A new memoir by a former senior State Department analyst provides stunning details on how decades of support for Islamist militants linked to Osama bin Laden brought about the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS). The book establishes a crucial context for recent admissions by Michael T. Flynn, the retired head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), confirming that White House officials made a “willful decision” to support al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists in Syria — despite being warned by the DIA that doing so would likely create an ‘ISIS’-like entity in the region…Back in May, INSURGE intelligence undertook an exclusive investigation into a controversial declassified DIA document appearing to show that as early as August 2012, the DIA knew that the US-backed Syrian insurgency was dominated by Islamist militant groups including ‘the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq.’ Asked about the DIA document by Hasan, who noted that ‘the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups,’ Flynn confirmed that the intelligence described by the document was entirely accurate. Telling Hasan that he had read the document himself, Flynn said that it was among a range of intelligence being circulated throughout the US intelligence community that had led him to attempt to dissuade the White House from supporting these groups, albeit without success…Having provided extensive support for former al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni insurgents in Iraq from 2006 to 2008 — in order to counter AQI — US forces did succeed in temporarily routing AQI from its strongholds in the country. Simultaneously, however, if Roland Dumas’ account is correct, the US and Britain began covert operations in Syria in 2009. From 2011 onwards, US support for the Syrian insurgency in alliance with the Gulf states and Turkey was providing significant arms and cash to AQI fighters. The porous nature of relations between al-Qaeda factions in Iraq and Syria, and therefore the routine movement of arms and fighters across the border, was well-known to the US intelligence community in 2008. In October 2008, Major General John Kelly — the US military official responsible for Anbar province where the bulk of US support for Sunni insurgents to counter AQI was going — complained bitterly that AQI fighters had regrouped across the border in Syria, where they had established a ‘sanctuary.’ The border, he said, was routinely used as an entry point for AQI fighters to enter Iraq and conduct attacks on Iraqi security forces.

Starting Over [Malcolm Gladwell on The New Yorker] (8/24/15)

What Campanella was describing in New Orleans is the classic pattern of African-American demographic mobility. For crucial periods of this country’s history, African-Americans were far more likely than whites to be mobile—to move across state or regional lines. New Orleans was shaped by the first of those waves: the former plantation slaves who moved to urban areas after emancipation. The second of those waves was the Great Migration, extending into the middle of the last century, when hundreds of thousands of African-American families in the South made the long journey to the industrialized North in search of economic opportunity. But from 1970 to the present the reverse has happened. Black Americans are much more likely to stay in place and much less likely than whites to engage in what the sociologist Patrick Sharkey calls ‘contextual mobility’—moves significant enough to change circumstances and opportunities. Robert Sampson once mapped the movement of African-Americans participating in a Chicago housing experiment over a seven-year period starting in the mid-nineteen-nineties, and the graphic consists of tight clusters of very short lines—spanning a few city blocks, or extending one or two neighborhoods over. How often do African-Americans from the poorest neighborhoods of the South Side leave the city of Chicago? ‘Rarely,’ Sharkey said. What happens instead is ‘churning’—minor moves in which the new home pretty much replicates the environment and the conditions of the old home. The sociologist Stefanie DeLuca recently interviewed poor African-American families in Baltimore and Mobile about their reasons for moving, and No. 1 on the list was ‘unit failure’: their home became so unlivable that they had no choice but to look for another place. They moved not because they were deliberately choosing a better life but because they had to—because the landlord evicted them, or the rent went up, or they suffered through a breakup, or there was a change in their housing subsidy…’The main lesson of our analysis is that intergenerational mobility is a local problem,’ the economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez conclude in a landmark study of U.S. economic mobility, published last year. They mean that the things that enable the poor to enter the middle class are not primarily national considerations—like minimum-wage laws or college-loan programs or economic-growth rates—but factors that arise from the nature of your immediate environment. The neighborhoods that offer the best opportunities for those at the bottom are racially integrated. They have low levels of income inequality, good schools, strong families, and high levels of social capital (for instance, strong civic participation). That’s why moving matters: going to a neighborhood that scores high on those characteristics from one that does not can make a big difference to a family’s prospects…One of the tragedies of Katrina was that so many of New Orleans’ residents were forced to move. But the severity of that tragedy is a function of where they were forced to move to. Was it somewhere on the Salt Lake City end of the continuum? Or was it a place like Fayetteville? The best answer we have is from the work of the sociologist Corina Graif, who tracked down the new addresses of seven hundred women displaced by Katrina—most of them lower-income and black. By virtually every measure, their new neighborhoods were better than the ones they had left behind in New Orleans. Median family income was forty-four hundred dollars higher. Ethnic diversity was greater. More people had jobs. Their exposure to “concentrated disadvantage”—an index that factors in several measures of poverty—fell by half a standard deviation…For reasons of geography, politics, and fate, Katrina also happened to hit one of the most dysfunctional urban areas in the country: violent, corrupt, and desperately poor. A few years after the hurricane, researchers at the University of Texas interviewed a group of New Orleans drug addicts who had made the move to Houston, and they found that Katrina did not seem to have left the group with any discernible level of trauma. That’s because, the researchers concluded, ‘they had seen it all before: the indifferent authorities, loss, violence, and feelings of hopelessness and abandonment that followed in the wake of this disaster,’ all of which amounted to ‘a microcosm of what many had experienced throughout their lives.’ Katrina was a trauma. But so, for some people, was life in New Orleans before Katrina.

The Coddling of the American Mind [Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt on The Atlantic] (September 2015)

The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse. The dangers that these trends pose to scholarship and to the quality of American universities are significant; we could write a whole essay detailing them. But in this essay we focus on a different question: What are the effects of this new protectiveness on the students themselves? Does it benefit the people it is supposed to help?…There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding. But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

Pennsylvania AG Refuses to Resign and Blames Her Legal Troubles on Porn  [Craig R. McCoy, Jessica Parks, and Matt Gelbon on The Philadelphia Inquirer via Governing Magazine] (8/13/15)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane proclaimed her innocence on criminal charges Wednesday, and blamed her legal troubles on enemies trying to conceal their involvement in emails laced with “pornography, racial insensitivity, and religious bigotry.” Kane, charged with leaking confidential grand jury information and lying about it under oath, said she would not step down as the state’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, despite calls to do so from Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat like herself, and other officials…Kane, 49, the first woman and first Democrat to be elected attorney general, is charged with conspiracy, perjury, obstruction, official oppression, and other crimes. The head of her security detail, Patrick Reese, is also charged. Prosecutors say Kane ordered him to illegally spy on others involved in the grand jury investigation by reading their emails. In her first public comments since prosecutors brought the case against her last Thursday, Kane focused not on the criminal acts they say she committed, but instead on the so-called Porngate. That scandal flared last year when Kane revealed that prosecutors, investigative agents, and other staffers in her office had exchanged X-rated emails on state computers on state time, in a practice that began years before she took office. She said Wednesday that her effort to crack down on the porn set in motion events that culminated in the criminal case against her.

China’s Building a Huge Canal in Nicaragua, But We Couldn’t Find It [Michael D McDonald on Bloomberg News] (8/19/15)

It is true, as supporters of the canal quickly point out, that public works of this magnitude tend to move in fits and starts. The Panama Canal itself was decades in the making. However, for a project that made so little sense to so many skeptics from the very beginning, the almost non-existent initial progress — along with the struggles to raise financing — is only fanning those doubts…Many people doubt that [Nicaraguan President Daniel] Ortega — a former guerrilla who rose to international fame when he defeated U.S.-backed forces in the 1980s — and his Chinese partners ever truly intended to build a canal.  Conspiracy theories abound as to what their real intentions are. It has become something of its own cottage industry. A small sampling: The project is a land grab by Ortega; or a tool to whip up support ahead of next year’s elections; or a Chinese plan to threaten U.S. hegemony in the region by mapping out infrastructure designs so close to its shores. While Wang, a billionaire who made his fortune largely in the telecom industry, hasn’t received official public backing from Beijing, China watchers say it’s unlikely he’d have signed such a deal without getting the green light at first from home.  In extending its influence throughout Latin America and the rest of the developing world, China’s record on these mega projects is spotty. Several have been put on hold long after companies began the work, like a $3.5 billion resort in the Bahamas and a $1.3 billion refinery upgrade in Costa Rica.

Wisconsin grapples with 6,000 untested sexual assault kits [Andrew Hahn on Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel] (8/8/15)

Thousands of DNA samples taken from victims of suspected sexual assaults have sat untested in police storage across Wisconsin for as long as 19 years, erasing in some cases any chance that suspects could be tried for crimes, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review has found. To sort out the more than 6,000 untested kits — including at least 2,566 in the city of Milwaukee — a team of experts led by the state Department of Justice has developed a protocol to standardize treatment and investigation of sexual assault cases that it hopes to carry out later this year, the conclusion of more than two years of planning. There are many reasons kits could sit untested in storage. In some cases, testing the kit wasn’t necessary for a conviction, but the evidence must be held until the perpetrator serves the complete sentence. In others, victims have not decided whether to press charges. But because incomplete records have been kept with the kits, there is no way to tell why they have not been tested. In short, officials do not know how many kits are in storage that should be tested. Jill Karofsky, executive director of the Department of Justice Office of Crime Victim Services, said officials face hurdles because they don’t know what victims were told when samples were taken.

Islamic State’s Medieval Morals [Noah Feldman on Bloomberg Views] (8/16/15)

It’s been 150 years since U.S. law allowed masters to rape enslaved girls and women. Almost all modern Muslim societies banned slavery in the last century. So why is Islamic State turning back the clock, actively embracing and promoting enslavement of Yazidi women, thereby enabling them to be raped under one interpretation of classical Islamic law? Islamic State’s goal isn’t primarily about money or sex, but about sending the message that they are creating an Islamic utopia, following the practices of the era of the Prophet Muhammad. They want to go back in time, to the days of the earliest Muslims and the Prophet’s companions. The more medieval the practice, the more they like it. Our horror at this self-conscious neo-medievalism should teach us a lesson about the evolution of our beliefs and what it means to be modern. Begin with the sober acknowledgment that we aren’t light years ahead of Islamic State — more like a century and a half. Slavery in the U.S. isn’t a distant relic. We’re still dealing with its aftereffects, in the form of persistent racial inequality and long-lived symbols of the Confederacy. And we would do well not to forget that American slavery, particularly in its last half-century before abolition, was one of the most brutal slave systems in recorded human history. In comparison, the history of Islamic slavery is relatively mild. Slaves of African descent were not only tortured to increase cotton yields, but also, in the case of the women, subjected to systematic and lawful rape. My Harvard Law colleague Annette Gordon-Reed has shown in her work on Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson that there were occasional examples of more complicated, partially mutualistic relationships between slave women and masters. But this was, she points out, the exception rather than the rule — and it became increasingly rare as slavery in the Deep South reached its brutal climax, before abolition came by the sword…As modern people, we’re always gambling that we will make things better when we change them. Sometimes we’re wrong. It would be naive to think that history, including modern history, is a series of gradual improvements. From the excesses of the French and Russian revolutions to the horrors of fascism and totalitarianism, the modern age has given us plenty of examples of modernism gone awry. The fact that something is new and seems good is no guarantee that it is moral, any more than antiquity is proof of morality. But part of being modern is recognizing an emerging consensus on the wrongness of past practices like slavery.

Miami’s Model for Decriminalizing Mental Illness in America [John Buntin on Governing Magazine] (August 2015)

In the early 2000s, some 113,000 people were arrested in Miami-Dade County every year. An estimated 20 percent suffered from a mental illness. As a result, at any given moment in time, some 1,700 individuals with mental illnesses were in the county lockup. Until recently, they were housed on the upper floors of the Y-shaped, 10-story detention center, making it the largest psychiatric facility in Florida. The fact that Florida’s largest mental health facility was — and is — a county jail isn’t unusual. The Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles is California’s largest psychiatric facility; Chicago’s Cook County Jail is Illinois’. Both incarcerate about 3,000 mentally ill occupants at any given time. State prisons house large numbers of people with mental illnesses too. Indeed, prisons today contain more than 10 times the number of people with mental illnesses than all state psychiatric hospitals combined. That’s partly the result of decisions taken by governors and lawmakers during the most recent recession. Between 2009 and 2012, states cut funding for the mentally ill by slashing spending on so-called behavioral health services by some $4.35 billion, even as demand for those services was rising. Not surprisingly, the number of people with mental illnesses in jails surged. According to the Council of State Governments, jails in this country now report that between 20 and 80 percent of their inmates suffer from a mental illness. Miami-Dade County has long had a more acute problem than most. By one estimate, more than 9 percent of Miami residents suffer from a mental illness — a rate that is approximately three times higher than the national average. It also has a large homeless population, most of whom have mental health issues and substance abuse problems. Yet over the course of the past decade, Miami-Dade County has emerged as a national model for how a county can develop strategies to combat the criminalization of mental illness…In short, the county is trying to build a comprehensive system. That’s due largely to the efforts of one person, Judge Steve Leifman. Since joining the bench in 1996, Leifman has pushed police to adopt a pre-arrest diversion program that keeps thousands of people picked up by police agencies across the county out of jail. He’s created a model postbooking diversion program that offers people charged with misdemeanors and second- and third-degree felonies an opportunity to get out of jail and go into treatment. Leifman has also developed a network of case managers and peer specialists to support people with mental illnesses who enter the postbooking diversion program, and worked with researchers, corporations and pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative ways to identify and address the needs of the neediest members of this population. In addition, he’s been one of the leaders of an effort that has brought the legislature to the brink of passing the first major overhaul of the laws governing treatment of the mentally ill in 41 years, while also convincing the state and county to sign over a 180,000-square-foot facility to serve as a comprehensive treatment center. Conditions in metro Miami certainly aren’t perfect. For one thing, the U.S. Justice Department continues to monitor the Pre-Trial Detention Center closely. Yet Miami-Dade County’s experience also suggests something hopeful: When local government thinks in terms of systems rather than programs, dramatic improvements can result — even with a problem as difficult as dealing with people with mental illnesses who encounter the criminal justice system.

Latinos Now the Majority in Watts, But Blacks Still Hold Power [Esmeralda Bermudez and Paloma Esquivel on The Los Angeles Times via Governing Magazine] (8/11/15)

Nearly 40 percent of residents in the neighborhood live below the poverty line, and 50 percent have less than a high school degree. The population is also relatively young, with almost 40 percent under the age of 18. Of the four elected officials who represent the area at the city, state and federal level, two are white and two are black. The four housing developments are primarily run by all-black boards. Why Latinos have so little power is a complex, sensitive topic in the neighborhood, which saw its demographics shift rapidly in the 1990s.

The Difficult Task of Determining Real Medical Costs [Martha Bebinger on Kaiser Health News via Governing Magazine] (8/17/15)

The Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based public policy research group, called the offices of 96 dentists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists and gastroenterologists across the state last month, asking for the price of five basic services. The results show that prices vary widely. But getting the information wasn’t easy. Dentists tended to have prices handy and offer them without resistance, said Anthony, the study’s author. “Ophthalmologists were pretty good. Dermatologists were problematic. Their staffs did not know that there is a law in place.” Anthony, who was the undersecretary for consumer affairs in Massachusetts when the law took effect, says the fact that some offices she contacted refused to provide price information is very disappointing.

Spygate to Deflategate: Inside what split the NFL and Patriots apart [Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham on ESPN OTL]

The makeup call carried public fallout. In his 40-page decision on Sept. 3 that vacated Brady’s suspension over Deflategate, Judge Richard M. Berman rebuked Goodell and the NFL, saying that the commissioner had “dispensed his own brand of industrial justice.” Columnists, analysts and even some NFL players immediately pounced, racing to proclaim that Goodell finally had suffered a crushing, perhaps legacy-defining defeat. From the Saints’ Bountygate scandal through Deflategate, Goodell is 0-5 on appeals of his high-profile disciplinary decisions. Even an influential team owner, Arthur Blank of the Falcons, publicly said Goodell’s absolute disciplinary power should be reconsidered, an extraordinary proposal that quickly gained momentum. It didn’t matter that Berman only ruled on whether the league had followed the collective bargaining agreement, not on Brady’s guilt or innocence. It didn’t matter that the Patriots had accepted the league’s punishment in May. For the second time in less than a decade, in the eyes of some owners and executives, Goodell had the Patriots in his hands, and let them go. The league lost, again. The Patriots won, again. “In 20 years,” says a coach of another team, “nobody will remember Deflategate.” And so it was that in mid-June, while Deflategate’s appeal rolled on, Kraft hosted a party at his Brookline estate for his players and coaching staff. Before dinner, the owner promised “rich” and “sweet” desserts that were, of course, the Super Bowl champions’ rings. On one side of the ring, the recipient’s name is engraved in white gold, along with the years of the Patriots’ Super Bowl titles: 2001, 2003, 2004 and, now, 2014. A photograph snapped at the party went viral: There was a smiling Tom Brady, in a designer suit, showing off all four of his rings, a pair on each hand. On the middle finger of his right hand, Brady flashed the new ring, the gaudiest of the four, glittering with 205 diamonds — and no asterisks.

5 Charts Showing How Nearly Every Age Group Is Less Employed [Mike Macaig on Governing Magazine] (9/4/15)

The employment-to-population ratio tells a different story. This measure has declined over the last 15 years, a fact that’s often partially attributed to the aging of the workforce. Breaking down the employment-to-population ratio by age group, though, shows all segments of the workforce are employed at rates below pre-recession levels, with the notable exception of the oldest workers.

It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner [Ariana Eunjung Cha on The Washington Post] (8/11/15)

In reality, it turns out that having a child can have a pretty strong negative impact on a person’s happiness, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person’s life in the first year is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner. Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä followed 2,016 Germans who were childless at the time the study began until at least two years after the birth of their first child. Respondents were asked to rate their happiness from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied) in response to the question, ‘How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?’…The study’s goal was to try to gain insights into a longstanding contradiction in fertility in many developed countries between how many children people say they want and how many they actually have. In Germany, most couples say in surveys that they want two children. Yet the birthrate in the country has remained stubbornly low — 1.5 children per woman — for 40 years. Margolis, a sociology researcher at the University of Western Ontario, and Myrskylä, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, found that most couples in their study started out pretty happy when they set out to have their first child. In the year prior to the birth, their life satisfaction ticked up even more, perhaps due to the pregnancy and anticipation of the baby. It was only after birth that the parents’ experiences diverged. About 30 percent remained at about the same state of happiness or better once they had the baby, according to self-reported measures of well-being. The rest said their happiness decreased during the first and second year after the birth. Of those new mothers and fathers whose happiness went down, 37 percent (742) reported a one-unit drop, 19 percent (383) a two-unit drop and 17 percent (341) a three-unit drop. On average, new parenthood led to a 1.4 unit drop in happiness. That’s considered very severe. To put things in perspective, previous studies have quantified the impact of other major life events on the same happiness scale in this way: divorce, the equivalent of a 0.6 ‘happiness unit’ drop; unemployment, a one-unit drop; and the death of a partner a one-unit drop. The consequence of the negative experiences was that many of the parents stopped having children after their first. The data showed the larger the loss in well-being, the lower the likelihood of a second baby. The effect was especially strong in mothers and fathers who are older than age 30 and with higher education. Surprisingly, gender was not a factor.

States Turn to Smokers for Band-Aid Budget Fixes [Michael Macaig on The Guardian] (August 2015)

In the long term, cigarette taxes represent a less-than-ideal revenue source, because the money they bring in is gradually declining. An analysis by the Government Accountability Office estimated Americans consumed 299 billion cigarettes in 2010, down from 456 billion in 2000. “If you’re depending on cigarette revenue for education, you better be thinking about the years down the road,” says Norton Francis, a researcher with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. They also don’t raise as much money as projected, even in the short run. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation reported that tobacco tax collections failed to meet initial revenue targets in 72 out of 101 recent tax increases. States typically route most tobacco tax revenue to their general funds. A portion of the money does go to tobacco control programs aimed at smoking cessation and preventing kids from starting to smoke. However, as of 2011, only two states were funding tobacco control programs at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Woman who claims she was tricked into sex with friend was lesbian, court told [Helen Pidd on The Guardian] (9/9/15)

Newland denies five counts of sexual assault between February and June 2013. The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had earlier testified to having willingly worn the blindfold during numerous sexual encounters with someone she believed was Kye Fortune. She said Kye told her he was recovering from a brain tumour and did not want her to see his scars…The court heard that the pair spent at least 100 hours together in person after striking up an intense online relationship over two years, and even became engaged. At each meeting, the complainant wore a blindfold, not just when they had sex but when they sunbathed or watched films together and even on one occasion when they went out in Kye’s car. The woman told the court she only uncovered the deception after ripping her blindfold off and seeing she had actually been having sex with Newland. The jury was shown packaging found in Newland’s flat after her arrest, which had contained an “ultra cyberskin penis”. Her alleged victim testified that it was the same as the one she had seen strapped to Newland when she removed her blindfold.

Cab Companies Sue Florida Over Uber, Lyft [Michael Asulen on The Miami Herald via Governing Magazine] (9/9/15)

Taxi companies in Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale have sued the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the latest attempt to curb the growth of tech companies like Uber and Lyft. The lawsuit filed Tuesday said that smartphone apps and GPS tracking used by ridesharing companies should be treated the same as taxis’ fare meters under Florida law and be subject to testing and approval by the state.

What Do Women Want? This Year, a Ford Mustang [Hannah Elliot on Bloomberg News] (9/8/15)

Global sales of the Mustang hit 76,124 vehicles for the first half of 2015, up 56% year to date, according to Polk/IHS global sales data. Total sales among women in particular are up 40 percent over last year, giving Mustang 36 percent of the entire female sports car market…Merkle said ladies tend to choose the (4-cylinder, more efficient) EcoBoost engine option over the V6 and V8 versions more often than men. They also tend to choose the drop-top option slightly more often than their male counterparts, he said: 15 percent of female Mustang buyers choose the convertible versus 13 percent for men…In the U.K., Ford has logged more than 2,000 orders for the Mustang since January and scheduled extra production to meet the greater-than-expected demand. Several European sales lists sold out in minutes, according to Ford. Australia and New Zealand have each exceeded demand as well, with 3,000 orders placed in Australia and 400 in New Zealand. In China, which saw sales start last winter, Mustang is already nearly the top-selling sports car there, with popular hubs in Beijing, Guangdong, and Shanghai.

State streamlines roadkill-reporting process [Sari Lesk on Stevens Point Journal Media via PostCrescent] (8/4/15)

Motorists who kill deer in auto crashes no longer need to contact local police to get a permit allowing them to keep the game meat. A new state Department of Natural Resources call center can issue permits at any time of day or night. Previously, a motorist who wanted to keep a roadkill carcass had to contact local police who then had to send an officer who would issue a permit before the animal could be removed from the site. The law changed to save both drivers and officers time after crashes — particularly important when officers may be busy with emergencies, Portage County Sheriff Mike Lukas said. And there are a lot of crashes in Wisconsin — about 26,000 deer are killed by vehicles every year, according to the DNR.

Of Balloons and Bagels: Unusual State Taxes Flummox Consumers [Elaine S. Povich on Stateline] (8/17/15)

A ride on a tethered balloon is subject to Kansas’ 6.5 percent sales tax (along with any local taxes) because the ride is labeled an amusement. A ride on an untethered hot air balloon, however, is categorized as transportation, and is not taxed. In New York, home to unrivaled bagels, if you buy a whole roll with a hole at a bagel shop or supermarket, you don’t pay tax. If, however, you buy that bagel sliced, with lox and cream cheese (New York style), it’s subject to a 4 percent state sales tax, along with local taxes. That can add up to a levy of nearly 9 percent in some jurisdictions…In New York, those nicely dressed bagels are taxable because they are sold ready to eat, especially if they are toasted. According to Geoffrey Gloak, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, the general rules go like this: If it’s heated, it’s taxable. If it’s a sandwich, it’s taxable. If it’s served ready to eat on the premises, it’s taxable. If it’s sold for off-premises consumption (to go) the same way a supermarket would sell it—cold and in a bag—it’s not taxable.

For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II [Mike Dash on The Smithsonian Magazine] (1/28/13)

Slowly, over several visits, the full story of the family emerged. The old man’s name was Karp Lykov, and he was an Old Believer–a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 17th century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday; for him, Peter was a personal enemy and “the anti-Christ in human form”—a point he insisted had been amply proved by Tsar’s campaign to modernize Russia by forcibly “chopping off the beards of Christians.” But these centuries-old hatreds were conflated with more recent grievances; Karp was prone to complain in the same breath about a merchant who had refused to make a gift of 26 poods of potatoes to the Old Believers sometime around 1900. Things had only got worse for the Lykov family when the atheist Bolsheviks took power. Under the Soviets, isolated Old Believer communities that had fled to Siberia to escape persecution began to retreat ever further from civilization. During the purges of the 1930s, with Christianity itself under assault, a Communist patrol had shot Lykov’s brother on the outskirts of their village while Lykov knelt working beside him. He had responded by scooping up his family and bolting into forest. That was in 1936, and there were only four Lykovs then—Karp; his wife, Akulina; a son named Savin, 9 years old, and Natalia, a daughter who was only 2. Taking their possessions and some seeds, they had retreated ever deeper into the taiga, building themselves a succession of crude dwelling places, until at last they had fetched up in this desolate spot. Two more children had been born in the wild—Dmitry in 1940 and Agafia in 1943—and neither of the youngest Lykov children had ever seen a human being who was not a member of their family. All that Agafia and Dmitry knew of the outside world they learned entirely from their parents’ stories. The family’s principal entertainment, the Russian journalist Vasily Peskov noted, ‘was for everyone to recount their dreams.’

New Fossil Discovery May Change What We Know About Human Evolution [Danny Lewis on The Smithsonian Magazine] (9/10/15)

On October 7, 2013, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger posted a job ad on Facebook looking for fellow scientists with a very particular set of skills: they had to have caving experience, be small enough to fit through an opening barely seven inches wide and be able to leave immediately for South Africa. Berger chose six women out of 60 applicants and sent them down a narrow channel deep inside a cave about 30 miles from Johannesburg. Inside, they found a trove of fossilized remains belonging to a previously unknown human relative. Named Homo naledi—naledi means “star” in the local Sotho language—the ancient species could offer new insight into the story of human evolution…Back in 2013, Berger, a researcher at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, was alerted to a possible find by a pair of spelunkers visiting Rising Star Cave, a popular site for caving expeditions. Steven Tucker and Rick Hunter were exploring less-traveled sections of the well-mapped cave system and decided to try scrambling through a crevasse known as Superman’s Crawl. Once through, they discovered a small cavern filled with fossil skeletons and bone fragments. When Tucker and Hunter later sent photos and video of the site to Berger, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, Ed Yong writes for The Atlantic…The resulting find has been one of richest ever discovered in a region that was already called The Cradle of Humanity for its wealth of fossilized hominid remains. By the time Berger’s team finished their dig, they had collected about 1,550 fossil specimens belonging to about 15 individuals—more than any other ancient human dig site in Africa, Jamie Shreeve writes for National Geographic. But while Berger and his team had expected the bones to be from an early ape-like ancestor such as Australopithecus, they soon realized that this was something different—something more human.

The Aftermath of Break-Up: Can We Still Be Friends? [Dr. Gary Lewandowski on The Science of Relationships] (9/22/15)

In other words, the best predictor of whether partners will remain close after break-up was how strongly a person desired to maintain the relationship while it was intact. A few other interesting correlations that emerged from their data: – Pre-breakup satisfaction did not relate to post-breakup closeness. So simply being happy or sad in your relationship before it ended didn’t reveal much about how the relationship would evolve after break-up. – Perceiving higher quality of potential alternative partners was associated with fewer negative emotions about the ex-partner post-breakup. In this case it may be easier to have less negative feelings about your ex when you think other potential partners are high quality. – Those who invested more in the relationship pre-breakup had more contact with their partner post-breakup, but had more negative emotions about their ex…what’s in it for the highly committed by staying friends? The researchers tested whether it had to do with wanting to get back together, but the likelihood and desire for reunion didn’t make a difference. One possibility is that commitment has more to do with dedication to the person rather than dedication to the relationship itself. Thus, once the romantic aspect of the relationship dissipates, a person can still remain committed to the person but in a non-romantic way. Continued closeness also suggests that the partner may be more rewarding (e.g., good to talk to, fun to hang out with) which may also explain why there was greater commitment during the relationship. You never want to make too much of correlations, but the investment findings have a bit of an, “I can’t quit you” feeling to them. It appears that when people put a lot into the relationship (e.g., time, money, effort) while it was intact they have more contact post-breakup, but it increases negative feelings toward the ex. People may seek increased closeness to help ease feelings of loss, but at the expense of feeling worse about the ex-partner.

Curiously Strong Remains:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

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




Categories