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

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